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Choosing A Platform For Your eBook

May 31st, 2012 . by Peggy

Kindle reader on the iPadThe Kindle platform is great for many types of content, but not for all. When I offer my presentations and classes, I have a few slides that help walk Authors through the following choices. Your content might work for all platforms, or not.

For the sake of simplicity, I break eBook platforms into two major categories: PDF, and ePub. Both of these are compatible with Mac and PC platforms, and both can be sold off your own website. And, both can be used for the same content. But they will look quite different.

We all know what a PDF is. Static, colourful, suitable for things like charts, diagrams, fill-in-the-blanks, and of course, easily printable. Designers LOVE a PDF, because they know, without a doubt, that what they see on their screen is precisely what the consumer will see when they purchase it and open it. There is no fluidity to the content. It stays where you put it. This reliability is what caused the explosion of the PDF format in the first place. It can also be distributed and created more easily, and for most people wanting to sell a self-help or business book from their blog or website, the PDF option provides a very smooth experience for the consumer. The creator can use the simplest possible sales mechanism: the PayPal shopping button, which has virtually no maintenance, and is extraordinarily easy to setup, even for non-techies.

Plus, there really isn’t much to worry about in terms of things like tech support for the user. Once the consumer has downloaded the PDF, they can even use their Kindle device or software to open the file, as well as Acrobat Reader, Adobe Digital Editions, or various other software, making it extremely user-friendly.

However. (Ahem.) Let’s suppose that the user doesn’t shop that way for their eBooks. If they do a search on Amazon.com for your keywords, they will miss you entirely. And further, let us also suppose that you want to take advantage of the DRM support provided by ePub-based platforms like Amazon Kindle. And even further, let’s suppose that you just don’t want to be the one managing the shopping cart – you’d rather leave that to Amazon. And after all that, let’s just say you want it on Kindle so that you can win the bet with your know-it-all brother. (Matt, you lose.)

The big dividing line between PDF’s and ePubs is that ePubs are really all about text – not design. While they continue to evolve, and yes, images and so on can work beautifully, you’re really never quite sure what the consumer is going to see when it gets to their end.The Kindle platform is very user-friendly, virtually eliminates piracy, and allows the reader to conveniently carry their library in their mobile phone. All of that works the way it does because content for Kindle is really just text, and therefore, a very small file size. It’s about the raw, flowable text: not charts, not diagrams, not comparison tables, and certainly not large or complicated images.

Upon dissecting an ePub, which is the base of the proprietary Kindle format, you’ll find yourself looking at an html file – essentially, a web page. That’s right. Tags, text, and image files. Does your content rely on images to explain concepts? Do you have not a piece of prose, but a workbook in which users must perform exercises or fill in blanks? Do you rely on dramatic spacing and a series of complicated indents to set apart portions of your content,  such as in poetry?Do you have sidebars or flyouts? Do you rely on colour to make distinctions in the text? If so, you may wish to reconsider the use of the Kindle platform, and instead, stick to PDF’s.

While ePubs have evolved dramatically, and continue to do so, the reality is that there is just too much out of your control as the creator of an ePub with a lot of graphics, colour, or special text placement on the page. The content may not look like you expect it to on all devices and all platforms. (And in fact, I can virtually guarantee you that it will not.) If that’s the case, will it still make sense? Be readable?

Understanding the nature of the ePub or Kindle platform before we start to write allows us to create content that exploits its benefits, rather than getting caught its traps. For example, novels and non-fiction prose are very well suited to the ePub – Kindle platforms. That is exactly the sort of content for which the platform was invented, and, using even the most basic marketing will virtually guarantee some sales. Creating content that relies on rich descriptions and high-impact language will do best in this situation.

This is why regardless of recent advancements in ePubs, I still caution users to rely on only the most simple formatting when creating content that they intend publish via Kindle, or a multi-platform ePub uploader such as Smashwords. When content is uploaded into useful systems like this, the interface to the creator forces the content to be reduced to its very bones, thereby ensuring compatibility to multiple retail platforms. For ePubs, simpler source content guarantees better results, and that’s why the PDF isn’t going anywhere: we still need it for its reliability of design and function.

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Video Marketing Tips For Small Biz

April 10th, 2010 . by Peggy

I’ve been saying for some time now that if you don’t start to take video seriously as a major marketing/educational medium, you and your book or other business are toast.

In this article on Biznik.com, Contributor Michael Shuett (who works with a video production company in Washington State) clearly states it yet again. “Being without a professional video will soon be equivalent to not having a website; it will be as necessary as it used to be to have a listing in the Yellow Pages.”

Shuett offers statistics from the Unica State of Marketing 2010 study, which clearly demonstrates that most organizations intend to use video (especially in mobile social media content) this year as part of their marketing strategies. We have known for some time that search results always favour video content over any other content, including text, blog updates, and even audio.

The big obstacle for most of us? We freak out when someone suggests that we should be on camera. I also have a face made for radio, but I still get up there and do video regularly. Consider these options for freaked-out video creators;

  • Narrate A Slide Show: This is the least threatening and easiest way to start with video. If you do any sort of speaking or teaching, a good first video exercise might be to take one of your training sessions and simply narrate it while you flip through your slides. This way, only your voice is present, and people will see your presentation, not your face. You can use a variety of tools to create this, including Jing (free) and/or Camtasia (not so free).
  • Prioritize Audio Quality: Use a good quality microphone – sound quality is essential. You can get away with crappy lighting and bad photography if people can still hear your message, but if they can’t hear you, they stop watching. A headset is my preference, and seems to get the best results, partly because it’s maintained at a steady distance from my mouth at all times and doesn’t move around. However, I recognize that this can make you look like you’re trying to launch a space shuttle. If you’d prefer a handheld (and there are cases where I prefer a handheld – see a future post about that) you can get away with a surprisingly affordable one. I paid about $160 US for my headset a couple of years ago (here’s a link to something similar – very comfortable, as I wear these a lot) and about $35 for my handheld (including shipping) on eBay. Test everything before you start shooting. (Best tip: be sure the microphone switch is turned to the ‘on’ position. No joke – I’ve done it.)
  • Do It Yourself: Although Shuett suggests that video should be professionally-produced or nothing, I must say that I disagree. Video created on-the-fly with a gritty home-grown quality can provoke a better response than professional quality. I mean really, who trusts a script? (You can always tell when it’s a script and someone’s reading from a cue card.) It’s so easy to just sit in front of your webcam and make a fast recording. I’ve even created video while driving. (Safely and legally, I swear.) Homegrown is better than nothing.
  • Use YouTube’s Natural SEO Benefits: The overwhelming majority of video viewed on the web these days is still ultimately hosted on YouTube.com. When uploading a video there, you’ll be prompted with a variety of fields, including one specifically for keywords. (Be sure to do your keyword research up front.) Don’t neglect all these other fields – fill them out completely! People don’t necessarily have to find your very own website to discover you. Simply searching YouTube will help them find your video, and this will lead them back to your site, because of course, your URL is clearly present there for them to click on.
  • Don’t Edit: After the first few years dealing with editing video, I’m now really a one-take sort of girl. If I mess up seriously, I’ll re-take it, but I hate chopping in second cameras, voiceovers, etc. What a drag, and a delay to posting. I just shoot and post. I will vaguely outline what I want to say verbally before turning on the camera, but I rarely even write it down anymore. If you know your stuff, it comes easily anyway.
  • Be Funny: This is synonymous with being real, keeping it loose, etc. Boring = viewers who leave. Funny = believability. If you’re not naturally funny, don’t try to fake it, but keep it friendly at least.

Recently, for the first time, I was recognized in a crowd at a business event, because people had seen me on video. They already trusted me and my company, because they had seen me talk about their subject, and they knew my style. I’ve always said, if a fat chick in her late 30′s isn’t credible these days, who is? It’s the one thing I have going for me. (Along with good teeth.) Find out what you’ve got going for you, and use it on video.

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