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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, December 06, 2013

ELECTRIFY YOUR WRITING

"In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody."
―Oscar Wilde

While I'm not a very successful author in terms of sales, I have a fair amount of experience at it, especially in electronic book sales, so I thought I'd pass on some tips and thoughts on the process.  There are a lot of people writing books these days and they all want to put their stuff up online because it is so easy and cheap to do so.  Good for you, if you want to, I encourage you to do so!  But you want to do it right, and here are some things I've learned from having materials online for about five years.
  • First off, make sure your book looks as professional as possible: that means make it look like any average paperback book you own. Quote in the beginning, copyright page, dedication, everything. Just find one you like the look of and use it as a template. If you have more than one book out, think about excerpting the first chapter in the back of a different book, with a teaser: also from Joe Blow, the Magic Spoon!
  • Something else to do when you prep the book is to pick the best font for the job. Here is a link with good advice on fonts; don't pick anything too fancy and make sure its an established, quality font instead of some boutique one.
  • A good font will have proper spacing and work in italics, bold, and have a full range of alphanumeric characters. Many free and fancy home made ones will not do this or even space the characters very effectively, leaving awkward looking gaps. Garamond and Georgia are the fonts I used. 
  • Some people advise you use sans-sarif fonts on e-readers (like arial, for example) but I disagree. Readers expect to see those little bars at the top and bottom, even if they aren't aware of it.  They look like a proper publication and more professional.
  • Keep in mind that some sites won't accept every font as well. Amazon for example has a specific list of fonts that they will display on their readers. You will want to make sure you have that for use or the site might reject your book.
  • When you finish your document, you'll want to convert it into a format that readers can use. An up to date version of Windows can convert files into PDF, which a lot of readers can handle, but I highly recommend getting a program like Caliber that will convert files into ebook formats such as Epub and Mobi.
  • I advise very strongly to keep your price very low. I know it feels like you're being cheap or being ripped off, but consider this: if you get a big publishing company to buy your book and sell it on the shelf with lots of publicity and so on, you still will only see about 1 buck per copy of book that sells. Sure, you get a bunch as an advance, but that's an advance on expected sales, its royalties up front. If you sell your book for 1.99 on Amazon you get 70 cents a book. On Nook you get 80 cents a book. Think of it this way: this is some independent writer you've never heard of and have no idea how good they are. You're probably not going to spend 5 bucks or more on a book. But 2 bucks? That's worth a shot. Its okay to raise the price once you get another book on the shelf (for the first book) but keep it low. I would advise nothing higher than 5 bucks.
  • Take a look at the existing sites for e-books and look at their "new releases" section. See how small the covers are? You need a cover that stands out and is distinguishable even at that size. Your book cover won't be bigger than a playing card on the screen at any time for shoppers, so you have to keep it distinct and clearly visible. The title should be very legible and easy to spot. Don't make your name bigger than the title (I know publishers do that all the time, but they're selling the name as a brand like Steven King. Nobody knows you).
  • Also, keep in mind when you put your book up that it will be up there until an EMP wave wipes out the internet or you take it off the site. That means it never gets cycled off the shelf like a real book, and you don't have to compete for shelf space with the latest Dan Brown book.
  • However, you are lost in a sea of books. Everyone is writing a book these days and that means the market an avalanche of which you're just a snowflake. So you have to stand out. Reviews help a lot, but bulk does as well. The more books you have out there, the more visible you are and the better your sales chances are. Even just having 2 books up helped my sales more than one.
  • So when you put your book up there, make sure its the best it can be. No weird grammar, no awkward sentences, no big mistakes. You are on probation for readers. There's a lot of lousy books with typos and nonsense in them in print from big publishing houses, but people are more tolerant of that from an established company than Marge Jones publishing a book about her cat. Most of the time you only get one shot. Make it count.
  • Incidentally, Amazon's interface and payment scheme is not very friendly. Barnes & Noble is a better interface and both B&N and Smashwords both give quicker returns; you only have to get 25 bucks of earnings before Smash sends you money and B&N is even better; only 10. You have to earn 100 bucks on Amazon before they send you a dime.
  • Oh one last thought: you're going to need an ISBN. They aren't terribly expensive, but you have to have one. I advise buying them in lots of like 10. Bowker sells them for about 11 bucks a piece and you must have one to publish online. Plus it feels more professional and impressive to have one.
Just some thoughts to help you work on your book.  This is just for e-books, there's more to think about if you self-publish print books.  Take a look around the internet, there's a lot of help out there.  Just remember this: never ever pay to be published.  Ever.  Ever.  You're the talent.  They pay you for your content, not the other way around.
Its okay to pay an editor.  Its okay to pay a cover designer, in fact I recommend both if you can.  Its okay to pay a printer for a copy of your book.  But never pay anyone to publish your work.

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