Size Matters

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You are a writer. You put words on paper to satisfy that inexorable need burning within your soul. Guess what: nobody cares.

I know, that sounds crass and even rude—but there are some hard truths to the publishing industry. Mostly gone are the days of high-falutin literary fiction novels meant to examine the human condition in painfully drawn-out purple prose. I have mixed feelings about that, but one thing is true: this is a business and businesses are concerned with what they can make a profit off of. You might have the best novel ever written with words that pierce the heart and sunder the soul. If it won’t sell, there’s no point and you may have been better off becoming a preacher than a writer.

Because of the nature of business wanting to maximize its profits, you might have a book that sells reasonably well, but it still gets no respect from the shelves of bookstores, or even from publishers and agents. It is more economical for publishers, book buyers/distributers, and bookstores to produce, assemble, and store for resale shorter books rather than longer ones. Think about it: it costs more to pay for editors for a 400 page book instead of a 200 page one—the same goes for ink and paper used to create the paperback.

Business economics rules the bookstore. If you have a 6×9 $19.99 600 page book for sale and it sits on a sales shelf two deep and sell both copies in a day, that’s $40. If that same title is competing for an equally popular 6×9 $12.99 200 page book, that shelf space can now gross $78 and not require constant restocking. These are the little details that writers don’t usually think about and often fail to understand. Bookstores don’t care if your writing is superior or if you’re the next big thing: what matters most is the price per square inch your titles can make them at the end of the fiscal quarter. It’s callous and cruel—but there is very little room for art in business… but if you know this sort of fact going into your formatting and book-writing, you can mitigate the potential fall-out from this sort of issue.

I made the mistake of writing a 200,000 word epic out of the gates. It’s a real rookie mistake and one common to people who write because they have stories burning within them and more gumption to write what they know rather than do the initial research and look at market norms and understand the publishing world. It shows a level of professionalism when writers know and understand the generally recognized market guidelines.

Because consumers have generally accepted market norms based on different genres, the type of book you write will dictate the acceptable word length. Nobody wants a 40,000 word fantasy epic. That doesn’t work, but it’s perfect for a corset-ripping romance or a YA book.

Typically, the maximum word count of ANY book caps out at 150,000. Rules can be broken (especially if your name is King, Martin, Rowling, etc. and you have a proven track record of topping the bestsellers chart. My advice is to be the rule, rather than the exception. Play by the rules—it will save you much frustration in the long run). Following is a list of a generally acceptable minimum/maximum word count to use as a guide (plus or minus 5,000-10,000 words is generally acceptable.)

 

Literary, Commercial, Women’s fiction: 80,000 to 110,000 – larger is typically better.

Crime Fiction: 90,000 to 100,000

Mysteries, Thrillers, Suspense: 70,000 to 90,000 – Cozy Mysteries are on the shorter end of the spectrum, more serious ones should steer towards the deeper end.

Romance: 40,000 to 100,000 – The sweet spot is in the middle… also the title I will use if I ever decide to write a bodice-ripping romance story.

Fantasy: 90,000 to 140,000 – about 100,000 is a good place to start. Readers expect a thick read and anything less than 90,000 might not get a second look.

Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000

Horror: 80,000 to 100,000

Science-Fiction: 90,000 to 125,000

Historical: 100,000 to 120,000

Young Adult Fiction (YA): 50,000 to 80,000

New Adult Fiction: 60,000 to 85,000

Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000

Picture Books: 500 to 700

Because of the fact that this is a business, I would be careful to balance my formatting against whitespace and the layout/line spacing of the printed book. If you can shrink the spacing down without causing eyestrain for a reader or without running sentences right up to the edge of the paper, it’s worth looking into. From a purely economical perspective, shrinking line spacing from 1.5 to 1.15 can prevent waste and still produce an impressive book.

 

The Best Way to Get Better

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Congratulations. You wrote a book. Now the actual work begins… and not just the editing—but everything else, too. For writers, the storytelling is the easiest part (usually—at least it’s the most driven part.)

The next thing I’m about to say may be difficult to hear for some people: if this is your first book, the overwhelming odds are that it’s not very good. I say that from looking at numbers and statistics as well as my own experiences (including my first novel!) Nobody is an Olympic lifter after a week in the weight room (even if you’re the strongest person at your gym—you’re still not ready.) Writing is a craft and a skill that develops with time and practice. But there’s some good news: it’s easy to get better… the best way to be a better writer is to write. And then write some more.

If you want make the step from “writer” to “good writer,” I’d recommend following what I did.

After completing my fantasy epic that nobody read called “The Kakos Realm, Book 1,” I joined a writers circle. I quickly learned that I’d done everything wrong—even though I’d somehow managed to sell my book to a small traditional press (which is no longer in business.) I learned that my book was 50,000 words longer than books were allowed to be. I also learned that my writing was not all that great (even if my storytelling was decent—there’s a difference.)

In that time, I also discovered a fairly active online community for short fiction, critiques, magazine submissions, etc. and I began writing shorter pieces. And the criticism kept pouring in. I wrote more, and still stumbled over some of the same issues in my writing (typically, the same issues that plague newer writers such as passive verbs, as-you-know-bob/info-dumps, and excessive descriptions. My writers group cared enough to tell me and point out my flaws. Luckily, I also learned where I was good: plot twists, devices, and dialogue. But criticism hurts. A lot. Criticism sucks, but it helped refine my art and craft to something that I’m happy with.

After more than three years of writing nothing other than short fiction I felt like I’d arrived at a better place. I learned a few important things in that era (and published like 30 stories and wrote many others.) I learned how to start a story and set a hook. I learned to be succinct and how to cut extraneous material by writing with hard word-count limits. I learned how develop characters and how to end a story. I learned how to tighten sentences so that they read with a cadence and flow. I learned how to edit, redraft, summarize, and submit stories. The editing alone is huge!

If you want to be a better writer, go small. Focus in on a few short-fiction projects, even if just for the sake of improving your craft (write a few pieces for contests—find a secondary purpose if you need one—but you really ought to write some short pieces…it will improve your writing.)

Here are the next follow-up steps after you feel as if you’ve become proficient in learning to start a story, handle the plot elements, eliminate passive verbs, hook readers, write tight dialogue, and end the tale.

  1. Go to writers conferences. There are many other things other than writing a story (but also story elements) that you can pick up at a convention or conference… even if it’s just to network you should try going to one a year. Invest in yourself. Your writing will be better for it.
  2. Get involved in a writer’s circle. You need objective feedback and peers who both know your struggle and can help you with crucial aspects of writing like beta reading, etc.

State of Writing

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Blitz mode! I have some vacation days I used last week and I got 2 new pages done for the WotT comic, edited to the 1/3 mark on TKR3, got a ton of blog things written and scheduled, and made serious headway on my nonfiction project. I have a few more days coming this week and my art team is hoping to get me three pages; I’m going to shoot for two more chapters edited this week–maybe even get to the halfway mark (my chapters are long if you’re familiar with the Kakos Realm series.) I might also get to fixing the next round of edits from WotT2 which have been on my to do list as well.

13 Point Roadmap to Becoming an Indie

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I have the privilege of meeting lots of young/up and coming writers when I do booths at conventions. They often look at my table with a large number of paperbacks bearing my name and ask with wide eyes, “You did all this?”

It’s a perfect open door for me to share with authors about the form, craft, nuts and bolts, etc. of writing. It’s a big world, and so there is no sense getting bent out of shape or jealous when another writer wants to break in. Wishing for others to fail (even secretly) is not a strategy for success… and so I’ve tried to be as much of an encourager and guide as possible to other authors (even when criticism is needed.)

One thing often asked by those wide-eyed writers is, “How?” When you hold a paperback in your hand, there are so many things that will have gone into it in order to make it a reality, and so I’ve created a handy-dandy roadmap for those with fierce DIY inclinations… the best part is that this checklist/guide is a potentially FREE route to having that book in print, available for purchase in all 3 major formats, and on bookstore shelves (provided you have the network/skills to get art and editing done without a cost.) Something I tell almost every person who asks me about writing/self-publishing: “If someone’s trying to sell you a ‘publishing package,’ run away. It’s either a scam or they’re making money off of authors, not books.”

  1. write book
  2. edit book to high quality and properly format
  3. secure cover art
  4. write back cover text including bio
  5. decide on book pricing
  6. upload all files to Createspace and Ingramspark
  7. push novel to kindle for ebook version
  8. add bio to amazon author profile
  9. put book into distribution through both Createspace and Ingramspark (search for and utilize an Ingram coupon code to avoid fees. I’ve never been able to not find a code).
  10. mirror ebook version to Smashwords so that it is pushed to all major retailers (itunes, BN, kobo, etc.)
  11. partner with producer on ACX and have book converted to audio
  12. work to build a platform (social media, website, and email campaign service).
  13. begin adverts utilizing amazon associates

Of course, this roadmap is only really relevant if you have already decided to go the independent route, as many people do. Even many traditional authors (even well-known ones) choose to engage in both sides of the business, letting publishing houses handle much of their work, but also dabbling with some indie/self-pub stuff, too.

There’s many ways to do it, and the order doesn’t need to be followed in a truly linear fashion (I often do steps 3 and 4 during my 3rd draft, for example.) If you choose to follow these 13 steps, you should have all the major pieces in place to begin your journey as an indie (from here, the only one who can stop you from succeeding is you! Don’t wax apathetic or release the book into the wild and “hope for the best.” You’ve got to keep a steady hand on it, but you’ve got this.) You’re an author, so do author stuff!

Setting the Price of Your Book

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This is a pretty tricky thing—it’s much more difficult than you might think and it’s, quite honestly, something I’ve always struggled with. Many smaller presses have what feels like outrageously inflated prices… sometimes that’s true, but sometimes that my own background context wreaking havoc with my economic sense. I grew up as a reader from a young age and often bought books at library sales, used book bins, and mass market copies off a shelf at the local drug store; if I was about anything close to $20 it had to be a hardcover novel that just released. In the back of my mind I’m still thinking that all paperbacks ought to be $5.99, just like my dad thinks a soda ought to cost a nickel and we should crack open a fire hydrant if we want to cool down in the summer heat.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to live in the past and to base your books’ prices on that… even if you print copies of your book in bulk to resell, you’re going to have paid around $5.99 (give or take a dollar) apiece just to have it printed and shipped to you. I’m constantly tweaking my prices and looking at the issue and realizing that many readers nowadays are used to paying $12-15 for a new book. Their metric is different; $12.99 is the new $5.99… people interested in my books at signings seldom balk at an approx $15 price tag given the size and weight of the book they are looking at.

But that’s not to say that you should price all your books at $15. You’ve got to decide a few things with your pricing: 1. What is your goal/purpose in writing, 2. Are you communicating true value with your book, and 3. Is your price market feasible.

  1. Are you in this to make some money or are you willing to make less money so that more people will be able to buy your book based on a low price? Many writers (myself included) are more interested in having readers and building a solid base and fandom than they are with making money. This may change at some point, but at least for now I am just trying to break even with my book sales. If you are trying to price your book so cheap that people can’t hardly refuse to buy it (trust me—they still will) then you might be limiting your books potential market feasibility.
  2. If you set your book price too low, you do risk communicating that your writing has low value/worth… sometimes low cost things are “cheap” and oftentimes free things aren’t worth the $0.00 price tag. If you want people to buy in and take you seriously as a writer do two things: make sure that it is indeed good (honest reviews from beta readers, your book was edited well, it’s not a rip-off of some other story) and don’t give away something that has real value/cost (unless it’s a specific promo tactic).
  3. You need to make sure that your book can enter mainstream distribution and is feasible. Regardless of whether or not you would give away your book, resellers/bookstores do not feel the same way. If your book costs $5 to manufacture and you want to sell it for $7.50, it will not be available on Amazon and bookstores won’t sell it because there is no margin for them to mark it up and sell it. You could buy copies and store them and then enter them into distribution, but for a bookstore to carry it, they demand certain wholesale prices (they will sell the book at $7.50, but will only pay $3.37 per copy which you will have about $7 invested into at the end of the day after production and 2-way shipping costs… plus another dollar or so that it will cost you if the book is returned to clear space for new books—that $7.50 book costs you about $8 at the end of the day—it’s just not feasible to lose $5 on every book that you “sell” (wholesale cost versus your actual cost). You’ve got to take that into consideration when looking at the costs. Thankfully, there are some handy built-in guides within Createspace and IngramSpark that will help you, and some general recommendations at the bottom of this article.

I sell my books at a discount at conventions for a slightly reduced price…I sell my $16.95 book for $15 for a nice and simple round number. I plan on changing that in the future, unless a buyer signs up for my newsletter, tweets a pic of meeting me, or buys multiple books. At the end of the day, even if I discount my book to $15, I still have to pay sales tax on that. If I am invested into the book for $6 and take $15, my profit isn’t $9. Sales tax is about $1.50, making my profit $7.50, and another $0.50 for a credit card fee at 3% (all these figures are rounded and approximate) but you can see how nickels and dimes hemorrhage out of the sale. You’re only taking home $7 off of that $17 book, and you still have to pay for a booth/table fee as is common to most conventions… and this is at the self-published rate. This same book gets way worse if you’re published through a small press and your author discount is something like 20-40% off rather than the actual production cost. (by the above metric, before I pay for my booth fees I’ve lost about $2 for every book sold if I bought it from my traditional publisher at a 20% discount. Bleeding. Money.)

The solution is to be smart and not flush your wallet down the toilet. If I sell my 350 page  fantasy novel that costs me about $5 shipped for $16.99 and then add tax (Square does this nicely for you in their app) then the consumer pays their tax and you pay about .50 in banking fees, netting you about 11.50 (more, actually, but you need to keep that portion set aside to pay taxes at the end of the year).

I know… this seems like math overload and you just want to write stories, right? Here is some good info on how to set a price point which I’ve gleaned from the internet (after arriving at similar numbers from my own experience over the years.) There is as much danger in setting a price too low as there is in setting it too high… although, setting it too low has a built in lowest-price threshold since it can’t go into distribution if it’s too low.

Most average sized (300-400 page) trade paperbacks fall into the 13.95-17.95 price range. Of course, you should still visit a few bookstores for books similar to genre before landing on a reasonable price. Don’t fall prey to the thought that someone will buy your YA dystopia instead of the newest Maze Runner because its $2 cheaper. Readers buy consumable content—you have to have a good story and convince them of it. Plus, they are probably going to buy both rather than picking a title (and then you’ve just lost money you shouldn’t have and undersold/devalued yourself). Avid readers are more both/and than they are either/or.

The best place to find your low-price threshold will be the most expensive distributor you will use. I am an advocate of using both Createspace and Ingramspark for a variety of reasons written about elsewhere. The latter is slightly more expensive to both print and distribute, but it helps you determine what your lowest price will be after allowing for all costs, fees, and wholesaler discounts.

Thinking about it in these terms is cold and calculating, I know, but it’s a must to establish pricing boundaries. However, don’t think about it only in these terms. Think about it also from the value readers get and the investment of your time. But hold your horses… you can’t sell it for $100, either. You have to find a balance, like all things in life, and then feel free to find the best path that works for you.

As far as ebook pricing goes, all the same ideas still apply, but the costs are different and more relative to bandwidth and electronic gobbledygook that few understand or care about (it’s less real to us on this side of the internet.) Luckily there is a general consensus and rough guide for pricing based on word length:
$0.99 Flash Short-stories: Under 3K
$1.99 Short-stories: 3-7K
$2.99 Novellette Stories: 7-15K
$3.99 Novella Short-stories: 15-35K
$4.99 Short Novels: 35-50K
$5.99 Mid-sized Novels 50-70K
$6.99 Large Novels: 70-140K

Of course, all of these are just suggested guidelines. If you’re either famous or unknown these rules go straight out the window with great frequency. Besides, I’m just a guy with a blog who has learned a few things via the school of hardknocks—what do I know, anyway? Find what works for you—and if something isn’t clicking, change it!

Books-A-Million Hates Indie Authors

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Books-A-Million hates Indie authors. There. I said it. After jumping through hoops with their extremely reluctant to talk corporate guys via email I’ve been told that there is no wiggle room. It doesn’t matter that I have a following in an area near a store I wanted to do a signing at, not does it matter that the manager was excited and wanted me to come. Under no circumstances will they carry a book that was printed at a POD press. If it hasn’t sat on a shelf in a warehouse somewhere, they refuse to let it in a store. Of course, they still want you sell it through their online portal where they can enjoy the convenience of making profit without the overhead of storage (the main point of POD) which is just hypocrisy.

Their iron-clad principle is a huge slap in the face of indie writers across the board. It shows their unwavering allegiance to the giant book machine that churns out only mass-produced rewrites of the last “big thing” that corporate suits decided was good literature and guards against any new voices in the industry. It stifles the creative ones and force-feeds readers the same old stuff. Not that all of it is bad (I enjoy Crichton and King, but wouldn’t have read some great stories had I not also read Indie books).  Really, there is much truth in Pierre Tristam’s column when he responded to a New York Times Article about bookstores, BAM in particular. (see https://flaglerlive.com/65608/end-of-bookstores-pt)

Tristam predicts that they will eventually go out of business because of their self-serving interests. “They’re to literature what Steak and Shake is to good food. They have merchandise, but they have no soul… When’s the last time our Books-A-Million hosted a writer’s reading, an interesting lecture, a book party of any sort? The company is too interested in pushing marketing gimmicks to care much about books and writers.”

I anticipate the rise of Indie bookstores—places that care about you and what you are reading, and even have recommendations. I go into chain stores and love the smell, but I’m increasingly discouraged by employees who clearly haven’t read a book since grade school. (“How do you even work here?” “I know how to brew espresso; I don’t need to know how to read.”) I’m envisioning a place like the record store in John Cusack’s High Fidelity…and I’ve been in stores just like that. Hopefully they can figure out how to work with Indie authors and not see them as a revenue source to be exploited (see other article’s I’ve written). That will mean not screwing over writers with terrible consignment terms and demands for wholesale pricing terms lower than market norms… it will also mean Indie retailers ought to find a familiarity with a work they agree to carry and not pretend to be a mini-me version of the soulless bookstore giants in an effort to make a couple bucks.

If larger stores (and smaller ones too) don’t figure out how to connect with real people again they fall the way Family Christian Stores and Borders have done. We can cry about the decline of brick and mortar or stores can try and retain their relevance. Tristam doesn’t even think that Amazon killed the retail giants—rather, they shot themselves in the foot. The internet does a much better job at being a nameless, faceless conglomerate that has everything in stock at any given time—and that’s where Books A Million will fail: they can’t stay afloat if they try to compete while limiting their stock, remaining as the fifty shades of beige that is their consumer appeal, and poking Indies in the eye at the same time.

Maybe BAM doesn’t hate indie authors—but they certainly don’t like us very much.

Be a Rockstar at Book Signings

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I recently did a signing at a major chain bookstore. Great. Kudos for me; I’ve done them before. It’s no big deal if you work it properly and do the right due diligence beforehand. Something didn’t quite set with me right, though, and as I got everything together I realized what it was: this store treated authors like music venues treated musicians. You might be thinking “I’d love to be a rockstar!” That’s not what I mean. Most modern venues typically abuse artists and seek to steal their platforms, or at the very least, profit greatly on it. It’s often called Pay to Play by bands not working the national scene and I’ll explain how it’s bad for authors and bad for music artists

For most venues since the rise of social media, the thought has gone like this:
1. Artist has friends/followers. 2. Require overtly or implicitly that their friends must show up. 3. Capitalize on the built in fan-base. 4. Require all promotion, advertising, etc. be done by artist; the venue might hang a flyer. 5. Collect money from fan-base for purchases (and possibly even require bands to pay in order to perform, some are overt, others as hidden fees for “equip/stage rental” sound-guy fee, etc.
It actually reminds me of a Spongebob Squarepants flashback episode where Spongebob gets the frycook job and negotiates an initial salary of paying Mr. Krabs $100 an hour.

Many bookstores have figured out that this model, while generating less sales, requires zero investment and no work on the part of the staff (and usually the person booking an author event is the same person who would have to do this extra legwork). This has always typically been the norm in smaller, Indie stores; it seems like relations managers at bigger chains have keyed in on this.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. The store was eager to discuss a signing and it’s in a medium-sized town about two hours from my home. The large store I was at continually asked me how much I was planning to spend on adverts and how many of my local friends I could expect to come and buy books in the store along with whatever other shopping they might do, (just like paying a cover charge and then buying drinks at the venue). After explaining how well I’d done in a sister store, I told them how many books I’d expect to sell (15-20) in my time there with a similar setup and gave them estimates on how many books they should buy. I got there and they didn’t have me setup anywhere visible to the customers as they entered, in fact, I was barely able to see or talk to a customer until after the shoppers had already checked out and headed back for the exit. (I should’ve probably asked to be moved—I did arrive early, so that’s on me, but I had assumed they would want to put me in the best place for success. That just wasn’t so, so I’m now explicit on what I’d like my setup to look like). They also ordered more than twice what I’d recommended they buy. I really tried to sell ten books—but didn’t quite make it. The store sent all the books back the next day, even though some of my contacts did go to the store mid-week looking for them (because they’d ordered so many I had to pay return shipping to the printer who destroyed the overstock and I actually lost money for every book they carried because of the slim profit margin on larger books+return shipping costs.) Was a pretty bad weekend if I was only going to make money (add in costs of travel, food, etc.)

Once the event wrapped up, I had the distinctly dirty feeling that I got whenever my band had a poorly attended concert because the venue had done nothing but hamper our cause with bad practices. I should probably note that managers aren’t necessarily intending to trip you up—they just want to do less work or perhaps don’t realize that they are turning a potentially successful event into a difficult one. Education and clear communication helps fix that.

There has to be a happy medium where stores partner with readers. Sometimes fans will come in to see an author (I usually generate a handful, but they usually have my books already) but an author is really there to help the store make more sales and connect with readers. Of those customers I did talk with, I sold more books by other people than my own via recommendations or helping direct shoppers to other parts of the store. If a store is relying only on your efforts to sell books to your existing fan-base and stick you in a broom-closet for the signing they shouldn’t be surprised when it goes poorly. To ensure better success, have a specific checklist of requests for them and be upfront that you are there to help them sell books, but will be most successful if they:

-Put you where you can make eye contact with people entering the store
-Make announcements every 30-60 minutes via intercom
-Take out a social media ad and/or tag local readers they know who might enjoy your book based on genre
-Have the signing area prepped and ready prior to my arrival (and perhaps set a copy of the books at the register with a sign stating the signing/autograph details and times—if they could do this a few days in advance that’s a bonus! You can even leave a note that you’re willing to sign books if they purchase the book prior to the event and leave them with the manager to be picked up later)
-Use wisdom and have reasonable expectations for book sales

Here’s the moral of the story: don’t do book signings to make money. In fact, be happy if you break even. Find the most economic ways to get to the signing, keep your costs down, and go with the attitude that you are there to meet, greet, and network in order to build up future success (I flew to Printer’s Row with free airline miles and split booth costs with other authors so that I pretty much broke even—do what you have to so you get out there; sacrifice, but within reason). Understand that the stores don’t really care that much about you—they are in the business of selling books. Help them do that, but also help them understand that you can’t help them if they don’t set you up to succeed. Be smart, and happy selling.

Get Your Rear in Gear (back-cover matter that matters)

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I’ve written previously about how a book’s cover must be good. It’s got to engage and set a hook. Essentially, the cover has to make them want to pick the book up; the back cover matter has to keep it in their hand. It’s really a one-two punch that makes them want to buy your book. It’s their first peek at what you have and it’s your responsibility as an author to keep them there.

Think of your book like a house. If the outside is a dump, they won’t want to look inside—that’s the cover. A blurb is their peek through the door or window; if there’s a dead hooker lying on the floor, they probably don’t want to go in—the same goes for if it looks trashed and sloppy. Buying the book is the reader’s agreement to come inside and live in this house for a while. Nobody wants to stay in a meth-house with dead prostitutes, no matter how cheap that AirBnB might be… not again.

A lot of Indie writers make the mistake of flying by the seat of their pants on the back cover (myself included). It’s easy to look at it flippantly and think dang, I just wrote 100,000 +/- words… another 200 is a cakewalk. It is not. These might be the most difficult to write well and might be your most important. You have one short page worth of text to convince someone to take this book home—it’s got to be the best page. If you’re like most Indie writers, this will probably also be the text you have at the top of your book description on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, Smashwords, etc. It is going to be your primary ad copy so do it right.

While I write both nonfiction and fiction, I’m concentrating on fiction here on cover content advice.

What should be on my back cover?
Space is limited, so remember that this is expensive real estate and everything has to work perfectly. What goes on your back cover may be as important as what you are sure to leave off!  If you have an endorsement, it had better be a good one—someone recognized as a bona fide expert or name in the genre… anything less can become a waste of space. Make sure your short bio is written tightly and include a photo, but make it a quality headshot that is cropped neatly. A shortlist of things on your rear would include 1. Blurb/text 2. Small photo 3. Short Bio 4. One-line Hook (sometimes called a logline), single-sentence elevator pitch, or gripping headline 5. Optional endorsement.

 

Back cover elements of the primary text:
The above elements are a pretty good rule of thumb—but how do you write the actual text? Your content should be similar to the story overview pieces you might have included in a query letter to prospective literary agents or publishers. A good formula for this is to 1. introduce your characters (and any brief elements that are necessary to the environment—don’t build a world here or focus on the setting, but if it’s in the 1800’s or an alien planet, you might mention it). 2. Describe the central conflict they face and 3. highlight the stakes. Ask the question what will happen if your protagonists fail.

There are many approaches to take and many writers swear by certain elements/formulas. Here are a few elements you may want to be sure to highlight.
-keep the book “at a glance friendly.” If it looks overwhelming to a casual reader, they probably won’t wade into the text with much sincerity.
-try to provoke emotions or entice readers with questions or promises
-use a rhythm and voice that sets a tone. Think of the book as a movie and the back cover like a movie trailer—you have just a few short sentences to suck them in. Build a cadence and hook them.
-probably the most important is to focus on what your book is about, not what happens in its pages. You aren’t summarizing the plot, you are crafting a hook to the story at large

One formula you might try is proposed by author and editor Victoria Mixon (victoriamixon.com) and goes like this:
When [identity] [protagonist name] [does something], [something happens]. Now, with [time limit/restrictions], [protagonist] must [do something brave] to [accomplish great achievement]/ or [sacrifice high stakes].
Here’s what my book, Wolf of the Tesseract, looks like with this formula:

While investigating a series of strange murders in her neighborhood, college student Claire Jones is kidnapped by a handsome werewolf who claims he’s rescuing her from the clutches of an evil sorcerer. But she can’t run forever and if Claire and her companion can’t reclaim an arcane artifact to end the warlock’s reign of terror, he will unleash the dark god Sh’logath’s cataclysmic power upon the universe, shattering dimensional barriers, and devouring all reality.

Other things to keep in mind:
–The font should be readable and sized appropriately. Pick a color that stands out and is easy to read. I’ve erred here before and quickly made corrections. Sometimes it doesn’t look as nice on paper as it does on a screen; always purchase a galley copy to double check how it looks in print if you are self-publishing.
–Keep the blurb on the shorter side—it should be succinct. Think about the success of Twitter: the shorter something is, the more likely it is to be read.
–Typos, and grammar or style errors are a sure giveaway to a reader that the book was pushed out too early. I’ve found some in my own books and always go back and fix them ASAP… sometimes things get missed by editors, but it creates a huge obstacle to selling people your book. Thanks to POD, you can fix most of these as they arise, but it’s a better plan to avoid them in the first place.
–Pick a consistent voice for your text and think about your audience before you put pen to paper. If the writing comes off as pretentious or juvenile you will probably alienate readers (even if you are targeting pretentious or juvenile readers.) Some voices work, some don’t. Give it thought before you read so you can color it appropriately.

One of the better articles I’ve read about this from fellow bloggers can be read here:
https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2013/05/casey-demchak-back-cover-copy/

 

 

Are We There Yet? Plot Your Roadmaps.

Typesetter

I’ve written before about having a plan. It’s important to have at least some sort of a plan for marketing, promotion, and also writing. I’ve been both a seat-of-the-pants writer and also an outliner when it comes to my manuscripts. I strongly recommend some kind of written track to help you get from the beginning of the story and to the end; having an outline, or at least some sort of well-rounded chapter summary will help immensely when you are editing.

This week we are talking about Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Perhaps this is the most important kind of story to have a map for your plot arcs. I read a great article recently about building a story map for CYOA storylines. As a teenage fan of them, I’d always wanted to write a CYOA… and maybe I will do just that in the near future.

In the meanwhile, I’d recommend that you check out this interesting article over here:
http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/cyoa-choose-your-own-adventure-maps

My advice for this week is to play with maps that trace out the story plot arcs. It helps keep your main focus pointed and allows you to interweave your subplots seamlessly around the primary arc and then tied them altogether in a succinct way that will have greater impact to your reader. It will also let you know where you are in your story progression so you can properly build a climax and denouement, etc.

Whatever works for you is great–just make sure that it actually works and your not just avoiding the extra work of writing an outline (but, like I always say–writers write… so when I’m playing with my thoughts and putting them on paper so I remember my ideas it’s just a matter of reorganizing them into an outline, anyway). I’ve found it’s easier and quicker to get where I’m going when I know the way there.

Book Piracy Survey

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I was selling books at my booth at a comicon and had been discussing my stories which were of interest to someone I was pitching to. He actually had the gall to simply tell me he would read it after he pirated it from the internet. It kind of took me aback for a second, but we had a chat about ethics and piracy and how some of my stories have made more money for internet pirates than they’ve ever generated for me. In fact, one of my books was reposted under a new author with the same summary description and a poorly edited cover with an altered title and my name covered with a black box and new name over it.

In retrospect, I don’t think he “had the gall” to tell me his intentions. I think I had a good enough rapport with him that he was just being honest and it kind of slipped out. When I think of books and publishing, epiracy isn’t usually something I think about right away… I always think of movies and music as being the target of pirates because our culture has told us so much about it via the media… pretty much every video since the 1980s has had some kind of FBI warning giving us consequences for intellectual content violations and the Napster scandal of the early 2000s told us that Lars, Metallica’s drummer, would personally show up at your house and beat you with a wooden shoe if you downloaded music illegally. Nobody has really talked about books… I mean, pirates can’t even read, right?

Interestingly, Nielson’s did a study on book piracy, as reported in the NYT in March 17. “E-book piracy currently costs U.S. publishers $315 million each year in lost sales.” I know this sounds pretty benign as an Indie/self-published author… but when you look at it realistically, it means that YOU are a U.S. publisher—so this has a direct effect on you.

Here are some of their findings.

  • The majority of illegal downloaders are 18 to 34 years old, educated and wealthy (the digitally savvy generation).
  • Roughly 30% of illegal downloaders either obtain their content from friends via IM, email, or flash drive or from downloading from public/open torrent sites.
  • Illegal downloaders acquire, on average, 13 to 16 ebooks per year—only 3 to 7 of these ebooks are acquired illegally.
  • Men are more likely to pirate a book then women (66% of illegal downloaders are male).
  • 44% of illegal downloaders surveyed reported that they would be much less likely to illegally download ebooks if they believed it harmed the author.

What I found in my conversation was that this data is absolutely true: almost half of these illegal downloaders simply don’t understand how obtaining an ebook illegally affects an author. That 44% doesn’t realize that they directly impact the writer’s bottom line. The craziest thing is the mental disconnect between the wallet and the internet: “The most common age-range of an e-book pirate is between 30- and 44-years-old with a yearly household income between $60,000 and $99,000.” Heck, if I could make 60k annually from my books I’d do this full time!

If you want to read someone’s book and make over 30k per year, you should probably pay the man. If you really can’t afford it, probably just ask him or her on the condition that you will refer all your friends and leave a stellar review online! I can’t think of a time I ever turned away someone who wanted to read my stories… if you REALLY can’t afford to get it, here’s the best way (and it even helps the author)… ask your local library to get a copy. If it’s not in their network they will purchase it!