Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guest Post by Rob Siders of 52 Novels

It’s wonderful that Joe has opened his doors to the independent publishing community so that he can take a much-deserved break. I imagine that much of what will be written here while Joe’s on hiatus will be from authors chronicling their journeys and giving advice on what worked for them.

My angle is from the other side of that... the services side. At my ebook design shop, 52 Novels, we see a lot of manuscripts and work with a lot of authors. As a result, we’ve gotten feedback on what’s worked for people, and we give frequent advice on how to put your best foot forward when becoming an independent author/publisher.

It’s no longer enough to simply write a great book. You’ve also got to think about your ebook as a core part of your marketing, rather than simply the thing that your marketing is designed to move.

Here’re some of the things we often advise:

1. Make sure your manuscript is in publishable shape

This seems elementary, but you’d be surprised by the number of authors we work with whose manuscripts aren’t ready... typos, incorrect punctuation, missing modifiers, characters whose names change (sometimes more than once). The story can be fine. And the book may have been rewritten, multiple times perhaps, to solve the sag in the second act. But it’s critical for anyone entering this business to ensure that their product is tested.

We’re well aware that an author may have read his or her book a hundred times. But we’ve made enough ebooks --- nearly 400 as of this writing --- to know that seeing them on an ereader for the first time reveals things the author missed on paper or while staring at the manuscript on their computer monitor. Even the pro authors we work with tell us they find things on their device that they’ve never seen before. The better you handle the editing on the front end, however, the less you have to worry about things on the back end.

Some ideas:

  • Find or form a writer’s group. Some of the best story and structure advice I’ve ever gotten has come from my peers.
  • Ask five people you trust to read the book. Give them each a new red pen and require them to drain the ink barrel.
  • A good copyeditor is worth every penny you’ll spend, so hire the best one you can afford.
  • Set up a crowdsource editing project using Amazon Mechanical Turk.
  • Use a service like ErrNet to proofread your book. It’s fast, inexpensive, and will help you spot things you may have overlooked.

Because your book is at the center of your marketing, you cannot rush this. The temptation to engage in “just in time publishing” is great. Resist.

2. Make sure you think about your book’s packaging as a whole

One of the things I like best about making books for Joe is that he understands the book-as-centerpiece concept. Completely.Passionately. As such, when he sends me a new manuscript to work on, it’s usually just one of several components that become a new Konrath/Kilborn/Kimball product.

For example, take SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT. It’s an extreme example, but I think it works well here. The book itself is the culmination of several different stories, plots/subplots, and character arcs that intertwine between a couple of universes that Joe and co-author Blake Crouch created over nearly a decade.

To keep all of these datapoints straight, Joe and Blake created a network of collateral material that enhance the reader’s experience beyond simply reading the epic novel.

  • Want to know when Luther Kite makes his first appearance? Go to the Cast of Characters page and follow the internal link to Kite’s first time on stage in Part Two. Every major character has an entry on the Cast of Characters page that’s clickable to their first appearance in the book.
  • Curious about how Jack Daniels got her start hunting down serial killers? Check out the full story chronology --- for both Joe’s and Blake’s books --- in the back matter.
  • Because SKU takes place in periods before, after and concurrent to Joe’s and Blake’s related work, head to the Storyline Endnotes section to find out what happened before or after events in this book.

But these things aren’t the true brilliance of this collateral material. What makes this stuff so great --- from a business perspective --- is that it’s driving readers to buy other books by Joe and Blake.

So, you’re probably asking “what if this is my first or second book?” At minimum you should think about some of the things you find in paper books: an author bio, acknowledgments, a dedication, a one-sheet hype page, blurbs. (A quick story on blurbs... a legacy-published author with whom I worked recently is indie publishing her first Young Adult novel. She asked her beta readers --- tweens and their parents --- to blurb the book. Brilliant!)

If you’ve got a few short stories, clean them up and include them as bonus content (and then publish them as stand-alones later so you can link to them from a bibliography in subsequent ebooks you publish). If you’ve started another book, polish the first chapter or two and add that content as a teaser.

Maybe you’ve got a friend who’s also publishing a first book. Team up and swap out teaser chapters to include in your back matter. Better still, find TWO friends who are publishing for the first time and trade out space at the back. (There’s an added benefit here in that the more you have at the back of the book, the bigger your free sample will be at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But that’s a technical discussion for another time.)

3. Consider adding POD to your product mix

With the tidal wave of independent ebook publishing well upon us, it sounds a little odd saying you should also add print to your product mix. If you consider readership on the whole, there’s a wide swath of book buyers who still go exclusively for paper, and many more who buy paper in addition to ebooks. Even with the release of the Kindle 4 at $79 for the ad-subsidized model, the death knell of paper has yet to be rung.

If you can afford it, don’t leave paper sales on the table.

4. Don’t cut corners on your cover

Joe’s dedicated a lot of space at the Newbie’s Guide to this topic already, but I have to give my full-throated endorsement of this. Your cover must --- no ifs, ands or buts --- be the enticement to your sales page. In short, find a designer who gets what an ebook cover is supposed to do: look fantastic and entice a buyer when it’s the size of a postage stamp.

Some things to consider when evaluating a cover scaled to a small size:

  • Is the title legible at that scale?
  • Does the cover tell a story?
  • Does the design echo the book’s theme/tone/mood?
  • Would I want to learn more about this book based on a 5 second glance?
  • If the book is part of a series, does the design effectively and consistently convey the author’s or the series’ brand?

Please indulge me a moment and click through to my Web site’s Recent Projects page. Scan the collection of book covers, all done by different designers (although some are represented more than others). The image dimensions for those covers are all roughly the size you’ll find in search results at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. While you’re there, jot down some notes about the ones you like while considering the questions above. Something might not be to your personal liking, but the ones that stand out to you likely answer the questions above with a “Yes.”

5. Finally, make sure your product description --- the copy that appears on your product page--is working on your book’s behalf.

This also seems elementary, but I find a lot of books whose covers appeal to methat fail to convert me to a buyer because the product description falls flat. Amazon gives you 4,000 characters to write your sales copy. Use every last one of them! A two sentence plot synopsis and a nugget from your About the Author copy might be all you can come up with… and it might not be enough to sell someone who’s on the fence about sampling your book, let alone on the fence about buying it.

These days, I buy ebooks almost exclusively. As a result, I don’t spend a lot of time in book stores like I used to, combing the stacks reading jacket copy.

In a digital store, your Web site product description is your jacket copy.

With ebooks, I’ll take a chance on an author I’ve never read if they can sell me from their product description page. I don’t care where they were born or where they live or that they used to sell Pop-Tarts door-to-door before they started writing. Sell me on your story. Convert me to a sale. Convince me I should spend $3 on you, Unknown Author.

Rob Siders runs 52 Novels, an ebook design shop. Kindle. ePub. POD. Amazon. Barnes & Noble. Apple. Kobo. Smashwords. CreateSpace. Lightning Source. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.

Joe sez: I'm the reason Rob got into this biz. He did a favor for me years ago, put a bug in my ear to keep him in mind if I ever needed anything techy. When some readers complained about my Kindle formatting errors, I turned to Rob and he learned how to create perfect (and wonderfully artistic) ebooks.

Now it is his fulltime job.

Rob is very busy, but he's worth waiting for. Amazon is using him to create the ebook for Stirred, and I've gotten emails from Amazon's tech staff asking, "How'd he do that effect?"

Lots of people can help you format a readable ebook. But Rob's work goes beyond that, and turns your ebook into something beautiful.

But don't take my word for it. Try him for yourself.


Ruth Harris said...

A huge, monster, mega second for Rob whose done 8 books for me and my DH. Rob creates elegant books that present your work in the best possible way. Do yourself and your book a favor & turn it over to Rob.

And don't forget Amy, who keeps Rob on time and on track. Please! Let's hear it for the wives, too!

Anonymous said...

How good is Errnet? I might consider using them for my novel I'm wrapping up. Anyone have experience with them?

Bradley J Milton said...

Valuable Advice.

Worth pointing out that sometimes character names change on purpose. I use that to effect in Huckleberry Milton; happens when characters are engaging in entertaining 'routines,' pantomime, time travel, going psychedlic, etc. If done right, lends quite a powerful effect.

I also found it useful to mention the characters of other successful authors in a story. This will attract more fans. Plus, never write a nondescript scene without putting some advertising in. For example, I did not write "He opened the door and looked into the nondescript hotel room. Maid service had already come. Nothing seemed to be the matter." Instead: "He opened the door and looked into the nondescript hotel room. Maid service had already come. New Jack Kilborn novel laying on floor near the bed. Apparenty maid has huge reading habit and accidentally dropped book while she was working. Otherwise, nothing seemed to be the matter." See how that works? It's simple.

Looking back, I believe I was just a tad hasty in getting Huckleberry Milton to market. I thought I had a good reason to do so; at the time, I was capitalizing on being in the news for taking out the "n-word" in the new edition of Huckleberry Finn. The media was beckoning. It seemed to be the perfect time to strike. But if I could change anything, I would add a brief time-travel scene to the book involving the TV show Soul Train. If you change the VHOLD on your teeVee just right, and put on your rose-tinted psychedelic FreakOut glasses (all vendors at Haight-Ashbury used to sell them for eighty-five cents), you would be transported in time. Subtle, and a point probably lost on most readers, but it would solve the 'teleport worm' problem I had in chapter five.

Claude Nougat said...

Rob, thanks for a post full of good advice for everything from editing to covers! A must-read forany newbie and surely everyone should follow Joe and Ruth's advice to come to you...

I'm sorry now I didn't but for me it's too late. I've published two ebooks now using my own illustrations as book covers and (shudder) I hope they work! In any case I'm hopeful because (without knowing you) I applied your advice: as a minimum the cover has to convey the book's mood and still work in postage stamp size, quite a challenge!

That also means covers have to be far more linear and with a simpler design than those used for print books, wouldn't you agree? It's really a whole new ball game!

Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the thoughtful post. I am working towards publishing my first novel of a series....does your service do printed books as well? If not, do you have reccomendations as to places to find services that cover printed books? What about a place to find a good editor?

Rob @ 52 Novels said...

@Ruth: Thanks, Ruth. And, yes, let's hear it for the wives. I'm adrift without mine.

ErrNet is primarily geared toward academic and business writing, so it'll report as errors things routinely used in fiction, such as intentional misspellings and bad grammar. The best part is the report itself... everything it catches is right there in front of you. You can ignore the intentional errors and focus on the ones that should be fixed. Plus, the system is fast and the results appear in just a few seconds.

I know that they're working on improving the algorithm so that the system works better for fiction, as well as adding a marked up version of your document in Word.

I also like that ErrNet a small business. Tom and his crew are top-shelf.

Todd Trumpet said...

If this is the kind of advice we can expect from Guest Posts...

...I'm looking forward to the other 99!

Nice job, Rob.


barbdela said...

Yes, it is a new world. I call it "skywriting" The name of my new blog. I have two long ago books out of print and Now four of them that agents gave up on on Kindle--In the cloud as I like to think of them. Check my blog at google blogger I need friends Barbara de la Cuesta

Sean McCartney said...

Great post. Very true. I have worked with Rob's group for my short stories called Treasure Tales which are supplements to my Treasure Hunters Club novels and they are fantastic. I am working with them again for my next series entitled Black Knights. they are professional and very, very helpful to newbies.


Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of ErrNet before but I'm definitely going to give that a shot. Maybe editing is so tricky because as readers, we're trained to pay attention to the story and not to the source code, so we miss punctuation and typographical details. So if this can work, this is a brave new chapter in publishing. On the other hand, those who are good editors will soon be yet another outsourced population of newly homeless professionals.

William Doonan

Anonymous said...

ErrNET looks interesting -- but charging by the PAGE rather than the WORD for checking ELECTRONIC text baffles me.

That would make sense if they were checking page-layouts -- but for just the text itself? Huh?

Especially when their FAQ explicitly states that there is no minimum font size or spacing requirement, other than headers having twice as much space around them as ordinary text does.

Stella Baker said...

Based on the recommendation on Joe's blog, I had Rob's company do my first book, 4 Gigs of Trouble, last summer. One of the things I liked best about them is how great they are to work with...Amy never made me feel stupid for asking my newbie questions and they worked with me to accommodate my desired release date. Of course, they did a great job.

Publishing your work takes a whole lot of "stuff"...time, time, some money, more time, and help from others who have the skills you don't (hence, the money!). It can be overwhelming to newbies, which is why I appreciated the professionalism and kindness at 52 Novels.

Steve Peterson said...

Another good way to evaluate your cover: Show it to random people and ask, after a glance, what they feel the book is about. If they say "romance" and you've written a thriller, or vice versa, it's time to rethink the cover.

Don't get caught up in the artistic merit of the cover too much... its primary purpose is to sell your book, not to be a great piece of art. Realize that there can be a huge difference between "what you like" and "what sells".

I.J.Parker said...

I'm also one of Rob's and Amy's customers. They do a great job. Kindle etc. did not balk at all when I uploaded, and Rob did give me good advice about "plumping" up a short story.

I have a couple of readers, but essentially I'm a capable editor. As for the covers: I had to teach myself. I write special books and had never been altogether happy with the covers provided by my traditional publishers. Some were, in fact, dreadful.

Michael Langlois said...

Another endorsement for Rob and his team. They went above and beyond for me, and the end result was stunning.

Thanks, Rob! Looking forward to the next one in a few weeks!

Melissa Pearl said...

This is awesome. Thank you so much. I'm about to go on line with my first book at the end of this month. This is a very timely post.

Thanks :)

Archangel said...

that's sharp and clear guidance Rob... telling from your vast experience what's what. Meat, not just tasty but sometimes misleading fat, nourishes us on this journey. Thanks for taking the time and if you need any help putting ebook as you and Joe plan, together, you know from our conversations we are in the same city. Just say the word.


Archangel said...

Amy (Rob's girl)... hang in there. And I would be happy too, to read an article from you here as well, from your point of view. Everyone sees differently, works differently. I hear through the grapevine you have a great heart for us bearded, bedraggled, fierce and feisty authors...
and that's just us women. lol

Thanks Amy. If you need help, let us know and we will try.


David Gaughran said...

Thanks Rob,

That was an interesting post - I especially enjoyed your comments on effective back-matter. I have heard great things about your service and recommend it to everyone.


Three Hoodies Save the World said...

A great post. Full of invaluable tips that most of us overlook.

D. Robert Pease said...

Joe, or Rob, what book(s) do you think show off the coolest things you've done with ebooks? Visually, and content-wise? I'd love to buy a few, just to look at how you put them together.

Unknown said...

Just wanted to give a plug for Rob to any author looking for great service. I have used Rob on my last novel, and I am looking forward to working with him on the next. Great service. A real professional.

Shelby Cross said...

I have Rob and Amy handle all my stories, and you are right--they are absolutely worth waiting for. Polite, professional, and polished. In this business, you look for the people you can trust, and you keep 'em.

bettye griffin said...

I just want to know if reply #1 is by the same Ruth Harris who wrote the book about Ellen who started A La Carte and was married to Phil, who drove the yellow convertible, and if so, will you be re-publishing that book (and for the Sony and not just Kindle?) I loved it!

Blake Crouch said...

@ D. Robert....I can't speak for all of Rob's catalog of course, but I think I can speak for Joe and me and say that Serial Killers Uncut is the most cutting edge ebook (in terms of exploiting all the features allowed by the form) we've ever released. It took me a week and a half just to assemble it to send it to Rob.

Ruth Harris said...

Hi Bettye,

OMG! What a surprise.

Yes, I'm THAT Ruth Harris & the book's title is A SELF-MADE WOMAN. It's not in e-version yet but will be. Meanwhile, I've already published e-books of some of my other books: DECADES, LOVE AND MONEY, MODERN WOMEN + a few more.

They're only on Amazon right now but if you let me know what file format works with Sony, I'll be glad to send you files of whichever books you want.

You can also find me at Anne R Allen's blog: http://annerallen.blogspot.com/p/about-ruth-harris.html

PK HREZO said...

Rob and 52 Novels formatted my eBook FLOAT earlier this year(first time self-pubbing) and he did an amazing job. I was so satisfied with the finished product. He really is professional and efficient and I will be using him in the future for sure..
It's so worth the price to have a professionally crafted product!

Jon Olson said...

Thanks Rob, and Joe.

Jon O.
The Petoskey Stone

D. Robert Pease said...

Thanks, Blake. Off to buy a copy now.

D. Robert Pease said...

Ok, I just purchased and perused Serial Killers Uncut and YEAH baby! There are some great concepts in there. I love to see you guys thinking outside the box. My only thought was, you could be reading along, at 75% or so on your kindle thinking you had a whole bunch of story to go, only to get to the end because there is so much back matter. But that's a small price to pay for all the bonus material.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Thanks so much for this post. So many excellent ideas. I'm so glad I checked Joe's blog today, despite his blogging break :)

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

And Ruth, I love your covers!

Kiana Davenport said...

@Ruth Harris...that a great cover! I've noticed it before and have covetted the pink!

Rob...thanks for all your tips. Your four books that stood out the most for me are BANANA HAMMOCK, CODENAME:SNAKE, THE WALK, and Joe's NEWBIE'S GUIDE TO EPUBLISHING. Bright colors, Bold lettering, Clean space.

I consulted a design pro/marketer for my ebook covers HOUSE OF SKIN and CANNIBAL NIGHTS and he said exactly what you suggest for ebooks ..."Think postage stamp! Keep it BRIGHT, BOLD, CLEAN."

But, hmmm, maybe next book I'll come to you.
Happy writing, everyone. Especially Joe.

Unknown said...

Wavin' atchya, Rob!

Superfab post here!!!

And I can sure vouch for Rob...It's because of him that all my books look sooo damn good on Kindle, Nook and all the Smashwords channels too!!!

I'm sooo thrilled to have Rob (and his lovely wife Amy) as a huge part of my D. D. Scott-ville team!!!

And huge thanks to Joe for recommending him!!!

Cheers, Y'All!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Amazon, for lowering the price of my ebook to 99 cents against my will to ensure I don't make any money. Love ya.


katy leen said...

Nice post with good info. And glad Amy is getting acknowledged, too. I recently put out my first ebook and worked with 52 novels. When I was initially choosing a designer, I narrowed it down to about three and sent out inquiries to each one. It was Amy's handling of my inquiry and questions that led me to choose them.

So happy I did. Rob's work is fab and only matched by his dedication. My design needs included some challenges that he could easily have bowed away from, but instead he worked with me until everything clicked.

Somewhere in their company info it says something like: "We're not satisfied until you're satisfied." With some folks that would just be a slogan. With Rob and Amy, it's a commitment.

My book has not been out long, but I've had lots of compliments on how it looks and how easy it is to navigate. While I'm pleased with the good work, I'm even happier to be working with good people. Thanks guys:)

Archangel said...

@'anonymous'..."Anonymous said...
Thanks Amazon, for lowering the price of my ebook to 99 cents against my will to ensure I don't make any money. Love ya.


please let us know what happened, when and how? what was your original price, genre? Maybe we can help.



Anonymous said...

please let us know what happened, when and how? what was your original price, genre? Maybe we can help.

I woke up on Tuesday morning to find the price changed from $2.99 to 99 cents. I contacted KDP support and they claimed to be matching the price at Barnes and Noble, but that price is still $2.99. I have no idea how long it will be stuck at the reduced price. Very frustrating because they are taking profits out of my pocket. The book is a thriller.

Archangel said...

@anonymous, re your thriller being bargain basemented by b and n, then amaz, please write to me, we may be able to help, gratis. projectscreener@aol.com

also google konrath and amazon barnes noble price setting, I know Joe has written about this somewhere in thefiles here


Vik Rubenfeld said...

What kind of effects can be in the page layout of .mobi files? Is there an example of a book Rob designed that I can buy to see it?

Thanks in advance to all for any info.

Jeny said...

I have a book formatting service. I wish I could be on the level of Rob someday though I am more on the print on demand category than eBooks. All the best to you Rob.


Phil Bryant said...

Thanks Joe and Rob for teaming up and providing some useful services to the growing online publishing options. I knew I needed to use a professional copy editor and critique for my historical novel and a cover designer, I would agree that this makes a big difference in how something looks and reads, we'll scope 52 Novels out as we move towards getting my sequel ready for the editing phase; having things under one roof would be a big help! They Met at Shiloh is my first offering and I've learned a lot about the pitfalls and the details that go into getting something ready to sell.

But, we had to do it all ourselves with little in the way of expert advice pertinent to ebook or self publishing in general.

Susie Bright said...

I want, very badly, to read the novel that Rob would finish if he wasn't tied to the yoke of his enraptured design clients. If you would just sign that contact, I sent you, Rob, with your quill dipped in blood...

Much props, Susie

Rob @ 52 Novels said...

@Everyone: Thanks for everything... especially recognizing Amy's efforts in our operation. She's what makes it all work right. Without her, the whole crew at 52 Novels is toast.

@Vik Rubenfeld: Visit http://52novels.com/recent-projects to see a sample of some of our work. A new one that's not shown on our Recent Projects page is TRADE SECRETS by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout (http://amzn.to/raThLz). We did Kindle, ePub, Smashwords and print (coming soon) for them.

@Jeny: Lots of room in here. ;-) Thanks for the well-wishes, and best to you, as well.

@Phil Bryant: We'llbe around when you're ready. Query us here: http://52novels.com/contact.

@Suise: Oh, go on. You're much too kind.

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