10 Reasons Why Should You Attend a Writers Conference

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I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t have any hopes or dreams of becoming a 1%er. I don’t want to fritter my money away, but I don’t want to horde it like some kind of miser either. I try to invest smartly. As someone with high ambitions in my writing endeavors I am intentional about investing in myself. To that end, I try to attend at least one writers convention every twelve to eighteen months. I try to limit my travel expenses (I usually bank up free airline miles in order to reduce prices) but I do believe I get a great value in them.

Usually I come home from a conference with a journal full of notes—things I’ve learned, plans I’ve made, and people I’ve met. I don’t honestly think that I can digest all of that immediately… not really even in a year. I try to find one to three things that I can learn and implement over the next year in my writing, platform building, networking, marketing, and beyond. Dropping a couple hundred dollars is a strategic investment. It becomes easier to spend that on yourself when you believe in your future as a writer… understand this is not a quick fix or magic pill, but if you learn a few things at a convention or workshop and work to get better those dollars will pay off dividends in the future.

Here are 10 things you might gain or take home from a writers conference:

  1. Networking with other writers
  2. Meeting literary agents or publishing professionals
  3. You will get energized and inspired
  4. It can be a tax write off
  5. You may get opportunities to pitch agents and publishers
  6. Your expectations will become grounded in reality (for better or worse)
  7. You will gain resources (notes, handouts, books, etc.) to use forever
  8. You are likely to find something that was never on your radar (an underground community, a newly launching service or agency, a new outlook on some topic)
  9. It transitions you from a hobbyist to a professional
  10. Get updates on trends and how the publishing world is changing
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Congratulations, a Publisher Signed You—now wait for the other shoe to drop

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That moment that a publisher says yes is an emotional moment. You’re probably riding on cloud nine… even if it’s not a well-known publisher, it’s a deeply validating thing to be told “yes, we want you.” Some less than scrupulous “publishers” take advantage of that sentiment and offer really bad contracts. This is the very reason that literary agents are a thing, or at least part of the reason.

I signed with a traditional publisher and negotiated some better terms for myself, a better royalty rate and some nuances of the audio rights. I went through the contract in detail, knowing a few things about both contracts and sales from previous non-publishing experience. Shortly after signing, the company restructured some of their sales stuff, blah blah blah, and they wanted all authors to sign a contract addendum that promised to make them much more money. I did all the math on my original contract and liked where we’d arrived. I should have looked much closer at the addendum—I actually lost more than 50% of my royalties because I didn’t do the math—it only made me lots of money if books were purchased through the publisher’s website (who does that!? Nobody goes to the Simon & Shuster website to buy books—they go to a retailer’s site). Lesson learned: never take someone’s word for it—always double check. I now make about twenty-five cents per book sold.

The school of hard knocks is brutal. But at least I can make a bunch on person to person sales, right? Well… almost. My Indie books cost me about five bucks to produce and so I make about ten bucks each sale. My traditional publisher gives a smaller than normal discount. Unless I’m buying in bulk I do not get the market-norm of a 40-50% discount off retail price. I got 30%… plus shipping is high. Watching your bottom line on details like this is critical—but very easy to slip into the background. My $16.99 book (which cost’s less than $4 to print) cost me $11.87 to buy, plus a buck and a half to ship. My books cost me about thirteen and a half dollars apiece.  In the end, I felt like Lando Calrissian in Empire Strikes Back: “This deal is getting worse all the time.” I wanted to sell them for $15 each, but with a booth fee of $150 plus travel expenses, I’d have to sell more than a hundred books to break even. (This is the reason I always push my Indie titles at the same table… that number is more like 15 books, which is manageable.

Always do the math. Always read the fine print. If you have been offered a contract, many literary agents are willing to sign someone for a one-time, quick deal (although those bad publishers may put a short time limit to sign, making authors cave early under the false sense of urgency).

Following are some bad contract clauses that you should be on the lookout for in the event that you are offered a publishing deal. (I am not a literary agent nor a professional, so don’t take this as legal advice—but all contracts are negotiable, and these are aspects that can do you more harm than good, so beware!):

  1. The contract is forever (until you die+70 years)
  2. Right of first refusal on your next book (unless it’s a series—obviously)
  3. The option to match any other publisher’s bids on subsequent manuscripts (good luck ever getting published elsewhere!)
  4. A “net” royalty agreement/structure (that thing I signed in the above, tragic tale)
  5. Any requirement that an author purchases books
  6. Any requirement that the author purchase paid services from the publisher
  7. Author’s discount for personal copies is less than 40%
  8. Any mandatory marketing fees
  9. A Kill fee clause
  10. Clauses that make your contract automatically renew
  11. Noncompete clauses which
  12. Advances that must be paid back (how about we sign you up for this nice loan while we publish your book?)
  13. Royalty rates that drop when sales dip below a benchmark
  14. Indemnity clauses that mean only an author can be sued (and not the publisher)
  15. Copyright reservation is retained by the publisher and not the author (publisher usually registers them in author’s name and then gains specific rights for a specific time period.)

Where Indie Authors Waste the Most Cash

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I may have mentioned somewhere along the way that I’ve competed on the “pro bbq” circuit in the past. I enjoy cooking (mainly because I enjoy eating!) At one point, I considered launching a small BBQ joint and even consulted the Small Business Association about it. “The most important thing in a new venture like this,” the advisor told me, “is being able to limit waste.” It’s not any different in other businesses, either. And that’s what writing is: your business.

I was sitting off to the back of an after-party at a comicon with another author (cuz that’s where they stick the writers… actually, we migrated there naturally,) and we were laughing about places/things that were an absolute financial suckhole–things that were a colossal failure to even make back the money paid. These are usually author services or advertising avenues. Most of our experiences were the same, and we universally agreed that dollar for dollar, we wish we’d have spent the money on editors, instead.

Without further ado, here is a list of the top worst places to spend money for authors:

  1. Blog Tours & social media blitzs (twitter tours)
  2. Press Releases
  3. Writers contest entry fees at print journals
  4. Online Writers Courses or Classes
  5. Manuscript submissions services
  6. multiple books on the art and craft of writing (moreso if you never get around to reading them–buying them can be a form of procrastination for many)
  7. subscriptions to writer’s websites
  8. Travel for Conventions outside of writers’ areas (conventions/conferences are a great investment, but there are usually ones close enough they don’t require airfare)
  9. Professional Video Trailers for Books
  10. Paid Beta Reviews
  11. Writing Software that went unused

Granted, this is not by any means an exhaustive list—but it’s the items that were repeatedly noted by other authors on a couple forums and writers groups I belong to. They might prove profitable for some people, so this list isn’t a “never use these things,” kind of warning. It should, however, tell you that if you’re going to pay for any of the things on the list you should certainly count the cost and understand that it might be wasteful, there might be ways to achieve the same end result for free, and if you’re on a tight budget but planning to spend cash those dollars might be better served elsewhere.

Another thing comment that came up from many authors alongside those large money holes were time wasters. Spending too much time on bad promo efforts was big. Copy and pasting the same message to four-hundred Twitter feeds or Facebook groups is a huge time-suck; nobody pays attention to those things anyway—their full of bots and fake accounts and incredibly cluttered (even if you get a sale after those four hours, four hours spent doing marketing correctly will pay off better in the long run.)

Where money is best spent, in my experience, is in editing and cover art. A solid cover helps open the door and pique a reader’s interest.  Inevitably, they will crack it open and read a couple paragraphs or click the Look Inside feature. If the first things they see are clunky writing, boring writing, or errors they are apt to pass on a purchase.

As I’ve promised to so many people, you can DIY Indie publish your book with no cash out of pocket. It is absolutely possible! Most people don’t have the full skillset required and everyone should try to outsource things like edits and beta reads so they get fresh eyes and perspective on a story. Some people will sprinkle in some wisdom and set a budget, even a small one, and try to step up their game. If you are pooling some money to invest in your book the best expenditures you can make are 1.editing and 2. cover art… and in that order.

When Should I Quit My Dayjob to be a Full-Time Indie Author?

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If you saw the 2007 movie Wild Hogs starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, and Martin Lawrence, you’ll know what I’m talking about today. Martin Lawrence is a writer and stares at a blank page for a year, trying to start his novel when his wife pops in to remind him that he promised to go back to his job at “The Firm” if he hadn’t completed the book after a year. Turns out The Firm is a sewage pumping company and Lawrence can’t write a single word in 365 days.

Most people, at least for big chunks of time, are like that character: we can stare at a blank page for a long time. The dream to become a big-time author is a great dream, but when there’s a mortgage to pay and kids to feed, it might not be sensible. Of course, authors aren’t usually sensible people. If you ask Google when you should quit your dayjob you will find a plethora of people advising you to quit now—many claim that the added stress of a “must succeed or I will die” mentality will somehow propel you into the upper echelons of the publishing sphere and you’ll never look back.

That’s some crap advice. That’s how you wind up flipping burgers at age 40. Most of the people on those first few pages of a web search who advised writers to quit their jobs list the importance of things like “multiple streams of income” and “Lifetime Value” customers. They are the people who are writers (though I’ve never heard of most of them) but sell other writers online classes, courses, workshops, and programs or mentoring services. That is, they sell much more than books and spend most of their time selling writers a product that most authors I’ve talked to say were a waste of their money in retrospect.

I’m not speaking ill of training courses (heck, I love showing others how to succeed), self-investment, or in writers who offer classes or programs—but when it’s your primary source of income then you haven’t really quit your dayjob to write… you just took an even more volatile dayjob that forces you to muddy up the Indie writing pool with some murky promises about what success looks like.

I’ve always been a big fan of hoping to be the exception but planning to be the rule. There are always the exceptions that we hear about, but the rule is far more likely. I read often about authors who made $10,000 in a month, but we rarely hear about how little they made in subsequent months. The internet is stuffed full of articles about authors who made the leap of faith and became wildly successful. Towards the bottom of so many of those articles you will find a tiny sales pitch about buying their seminar or services—that should be an indicator. One page, put up by an “Indie Publisher” who looks suspiciously like a vanity press claimed “it’s easy, quit your dayjob now and publish with us—follow out simple steps and be a huge success,” or something like that.

Quite certainly I am the unpopular voice in the room when I say “don’t.” There is at least some truth in the above statement that you need multiple streams of revenue to be successful and your dayjob is one of them. Until you’ve made the proper preparations and have achieved a certain amount of success do not put all of your eggs in one basket.

It’s certainly not what most people want to hear—but most people who write a book also want to be told that their book is “the best thing I ever read and I couldn’t put it down.” They want to be the exception rather than the rule. Really, most don’t want to hear, “I found a spelling/grammar error every third page or so, one of your supporting characters has no personality, and there are major plot-holes and inaccuracies in chapter eight.” That same sentiment carries over and is why we want to hear “you can do it! Quit now!” rather than the truth: this is actually hard work and takes a lot of planning, commitment, wisdom, and effort in order to succeed and profit margins will be razor thin for longer than you want to know.

One of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve received on the topic has been “don’t quit your dayjob until you can no longer adequately do both jobs well (and your writing is able to carry your financial burdens.)” I’d echo that sentiment. Until you are a proficient swimmer, don’t jump into the deep end without your floaties on.

 

What the Heck is NaNoWriMo

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If you’ve been around on the internet for any amount of time as an author and read articles, forums, and other posts about writing and publishing then you’ve probably come across the term Nanowrimo. Just like any subculture, writers have their own vocabulary and this completely made up word might confuse the uninitiated.

Nanowrimo is a combination of words: National Novel Writing Month, which happens to be November. Nanowrimo is a challenge to write a full novel (or 50,000 words) between November 1 and midnight of November 30. The challenge has become something of a big deal and there are a variety of websites and methods participants may use to track and measure progress, encourage others, provide feedback, etc.

The word count is a measurement of a rough draft—not an edited manuscript. Writers are encouraged not to make edits or changes, but rather just get the novel written. Everything can be fixed in the edits, later.

Much like running a marathon or 5k, there is no prize. It’s a challenge more than a competition. Every person who makes it across the finish line is a winner. However, many of the websites that track participants have unique incentives and may offer prizes; some participants have gone on to have their novels picked up by literary agents or publishers.

Completing the nanowrimo challenge, which has been around since 1999, means you have written a book approximately 200 pages in length. Divided equally, it’s about 1,700 words per day or 3 single spaced 8×10 pages with normal font sizing.

The official website for the creative challenge is at http://nanowrimo.org.

 

Pros and Cons/Indie vs. Traditional Publishing

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Traditional Publishing is that world where a writer submits his book to a trade publishing house and gets a “book deal.” The book is revised, contracts signed, and then the publisher is responsible for all of the production costs, distribution, and sales. Based on their pay structure, they cut the author a royalty check based on the contract. Up until Indie publishing became a real thing, this was always known simply as “Publishing.”

Indie Publishing is a world that lets a person color outside of the lines. It usually refers to self-published writers who are effectively their own publisher doing all of the things a trade house would do, but with stylistic freedom to try new things. This may also include many smaller Indie Publishing Houses. We rarely use the word “self-publish” because of how stigmatized the word has become (usually reserved more for Vanity Press publishers.) Indies reserve complete creative and financial control of their books.

Vanity Publishing is the kind of press that sets up just to print a book that someone wants to see in print to make themselves feel good (vanity/self-validation), give as a gift or for something like a school or church fundraiser, etc. These places serve an actual purpose (making church cookbooks or printing school yearbooks) but often disguise themselves as traditional publishers, indie publishers, or “hybrid publishers” in order to prey upon Indie authors. Vanity Publishers make their money off of the author rather than off of the book (but still hope to skim a little off the top as well.) Avoid any “publisher” who wants to sell you a “publishing package” or makes their money off of author services. If you can’t outsource all of your needs where they have fees (editing, cover design, formatting, ebook conversion, promo materials, etc.) OR they apply intense pressure to sign their contract, then a publisher is likely a vanity publisher in disguise. We won’t dignify them with our comparison and they should be avoided.

The difference between Indie and Traditional might be something like being on a payroll versus being a private contractor. When you have a boss, manager, or foreman you have to do things his or her way. They may or may not like your own creative approach to the job. A private contractor can say, “This is how I’m doing it—if you don’t like it, don’t hire me for your next job.” They only get to eat when they work, so they have to stay hungry to make the house payment.

Here are some strengths and weaknesses of each:

Pros:

Traditional

Prestige and Validation

Store distribution is easy

Work with a professional team

No upfront fees/costs

Possible advance on royalties

Literary prize potential

Easier to become a “name brand” author

Indie

Creative control

High royalty rates

Quick Payments

Faster time to market

Control over format, rights, etc.

 

Cons:

Traditional

Very slow process

Loss of creative control

Low royalty rates

Lack of significant marketing help

Possible contract issues

Indie

Do everything yourself

No prestige

Difficulty getting on store shelves

Assume all financial risk

Lack of any marketing

 

Every author has to decide what he or she really wants out of being an author. For many, the Indie route will be a stepping stone that helps build a platform for success, for others it is the only way they would ever want to go. Some are “traditional only.” All of those are personal choices and perfectly fine. Many well-known authors, choose a hybrid approach (no, not those fake vanity publishers). They will have some self-published books along with some traditional titles to maximize how much they make from their labors. Think about it, people don’t buy books based on the publishing house—they buy based on the author—his or her name is the brand. Some of these authors will even sign contracts for a book’s US rights and then use the indie route for all worldwide, overseas sales to maximize all marketing opportunities and capitalize on consumer interest. Indies have to stay smart.

At the end of the day it boils down to a few things: creative control and money. And at least at some level, money is always important… you can negotiate creative aspects or walk away based on your heart… but money is more set in stone. Printers and distributors must get paid.

I know a few Indies who sell about a hundred books a month with their online sales. They’ve created a demand and an audience is responding. That is a pretty high number, to be honest, but it is perfectly achievable with a lot of sweat and tears. Indies make about $4 per book (an average I’ve found to be about right) across the 3 major mediums. That’s $4,800 per year and 1,200 books sold. A big name in writing might make over a dollar per book with a traditional press, but the more unknown authors make more like 75 cents per book. Those same sales numbers net the writer less than a grand… one of my traditional publishers made some contract changes saying it would be more profitable. Should have had an agent take a look—my royalties on my last check were about a quarter per book. The above numbers would earn me just three hundred bucks. For a year.

Everyone needs to make those decisions sooner and rather than later.

 

 

A Fiery Crash-Course in Facebook Ads for Indie Authors

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I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with Facebook Advertisements. We have a love hate relationship—mainly because once I think I’ve found something that works for me, my own hubris becomes my downfall. It is difficult to narrow down exactly what motivates consumers to make a purchase. I excel at this when face to face, but find using automated systems to grate my nerves. Alas, I cannot afford to spend 100% of my time on a sales floor, and so online advertising (Facebook being the primary method we will discuss) to be a necessity.

Before you begin—make sure that you have all of the necessary pieces in place. Before you wade into the choppy waters of Facebook Ads you should have already setup an author webpage, social media accounts (including an author one for Facebook, it must be different than your personal account or Facebook won’t give you access to ads,) an email service such as MailChimp or Constant Contact, and an optional blog.

Check your heart and head—are you purchasing ads to sell books and make money or are you trying to build something? Understand that if you are trying to make bank by selling your books, Facebook ads probably shouldn’t be your primary funnel. Effective ads are generally ones that help you break even and perhaps make a little profit. It has to be about more than the money—and if you are in charge of your own ads and promo as an author, then you’re probably a relatively unknown commodity for now, so building brand awareness is worth the risk levied by adverts and reduced profit margins (everyone’s got to pay the piper.)

Decide what you want to achieve—are you looking for more followers, email signups, drive website traffic, or are you trying to sell more copies of your book. I will concentrate on the latter for this article. Also, for the sake of keeping it easy, we won’t cover things like tracking conversions via pixel

Do your research—just like you’ve got to be in the right audience to sell your fantasy novel or your nonfiction “choose your own adventure” knitting challenge to a live audience, you’ve got to know as much about the demographic you plan to advertise to. Take advantage of the Audience Insight feature in Facebook’s ad tools to get (scarily) detailed information audience pools based on what they like and follow.

Cover appeal—as important as a book cover and back cover text is to your physical novel, appealing graphics and ad copy are equally vital to the success of an ad. If you choose to run ads, don’t do everything right and then drop the ball here—that amounts to a fumble on the one yard line. For graphics, make sure no more than 20% of your image is covered in text or the system will block it—be sure to set a hook with an amazing image that evokes emotion. For your ad copy, identify a pain to avoid or benefit to be gained by reading, use a call to action like “click to know more” or “sign up for mailing list,” and try to create a sense of urgency.

Know your numbers—do the math with me. Remember when I said to check your heart? Let’s check it against your wallet—by the time your book gets to the consumer, everyone will want to have gotten their cut. Let’s look at a hypothetical 300 page 6×9 novel.
Reader pays $15 for book on Amazon. Amazon takes $6 for distribution and shipping. Createspace takes about $4.50 for printing. You now have about $4.50 in royalties—you can about another $0.25 if you setup this sale via an Amazon Associates account, too. Facebook wants their advertisement money in the end.
For the sake of the math let’s assume a click costs you $0.20 and everything is typical about your budget and clickthrough averages for indie book ads. The average clickthrough rate is 0.2% and the average conversion rate is 1-2% (that’s one or two people buying your book for every hundred clicks). That’s not good, but at least we know where the norm is. You need to get $4.50 in order to break even with one sale, but at two-tenths of a percent, you will have spent $20 for every $7.36 made at an average 1.5% conversion rate (with Amazon Associates included) meaning you lost almost $15 trying to sell your book.
However, the low clickthrough rate means that for every book you sold, thousands and thousands of people had an ad on their screen, so at least there is some brand awareness being built on some deep level. But counting the cost is hard when it’s this difficult to make the numbers match up to simply break even.

Count the Cost—simply put, the conversion rate dictates your maximum spending if you insist on breaking even. To find that number, multiply your book’s profit ($4.50) by the average conversion rate (1.5%) to get the number of cents you would want to cap your CPC at (6.75 cents). Markets fluctuate and change regularly, each month (even weekly) you should take the temperature of the advertisement to see how well it is selling (though you may have to guess, since traffic sent to Amazon for sales is difficult to separate from all sales). If your book is converting sales at something closer to ten percent your breakeven point is closer to $0.45. Constantly keep an eye on your numbers so you don’t get hit with a giant bill and very little sales!

The How-To:

First, go to https://www.facebook.com/ads and click to create an ad. Select what you want your ad to do (send people to your link—either your website, privately hosted page, or an amazon URL from your Associates account).

Follow the prompts in the wizard that will help you build your ad. Pick your demographic and input their likes, interests, etc. You want a very specific audience (use the Audience Insight feature to find them) that will be interested in your book and also likely to purchase. You want your target audience somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people; stay within those bookends or risk becoming unheard on the low-end or white noise on the high-end.

Set your placements, budget, and ad delivery details and save the info. The next part is to input your graphic, ad copy, URL, and anything else. The trick is to balance the ad so it is highly appealing, intensely targeted, and doesn’t muddy the waters by overdoing it. It must be succinct and powerful.

Submit it when you are ready for it to go off to review to the Facebook Ad team for approval, and good luck. The turn-around is pretty quick. They want your money.

There are many bloggers and experts who advise steering clear of Facebook ads like they were a plague. Many have gone so far as to say that using Facebook ads to sell books is impossible to do without losing money. I see little results with them when I’m trying to push fiction, but do better than breaking even when I’m pushing my nonfiction, so there are some variables.

The jury is still out, and the market is constantly changing. Facebook ads are one tool in your marketing toolbox. I make the most sales when I’m selling person to person at events and make the most money when pushing self-published books that cost me less than five dollars to produce.  Perhaps online marketing will get better, easier, and more profitable… perhaps you will find the key to success and never have to leave your writing cave. Give it a try, but don’t jump in headfirst… wade in slowly. This lake’s got nasty surprises for the unwary.

Taking Credit Cards (Square and PayPal)

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The future is now… except for some of the older crowd. Many people, even in the older/less technologically proficient crowd enjoy the ease and access of credit cards. Every day we become more and more of a cashless society. If you are at a book festival, signing, or author talk and don’t have the opportunity to process credit card transactions, you are limiting the number of books you can sell.

In the past, taking credit cards meant having merchant accounts, paying large fees, processing minimums, bulky equipment, and a lot of tracking and hassle that made it much too inconvenient for authors to deal with. Nowadays it’s simple. Even large segments of the “technophobic” crowd are passingly familiar with how to use online banking and run an iPad or android tablet. Luckily, that’s all that is required.

As a general rule of thumb, Paypal has proven that it lags behind Square and other physical methods of taking payments. It is still the standard for online purchases made person to person and for eBay transactions. Paypal is owned by eBay (or at least a member of the same circle of companies) and as such it’s important to remember that it operates as a financial institution but it is not one—that means it is not FDIC Insured, etc. They do take credit cards, but cards must be linked to accounts, etc. which can mean extra steps that make it highly inconvenient for casual shoppers who just want a quick and easy transaction (that ease and convenience is what attracts people in the first place.)

Square is a different animal altogether. It was created by its designers who couldn’t complete a transaction because the seller could not accept a credit card. With this in mind, it became a convenient way for people at swap meets, yard sales, etc. to accept credit cards. As a musician who played in a band that wanted to sell t-shirts at a merchandise booth it became an effective way to sell products to an increasingly cashless demographic.

Why you should accept credit cards:

Numbers vary, but I’ve heard it said that sales increase 20-25% or more when a seller accepts plastic; that number certainly helps pay for those transaction fees, most of which cost you mere pennies, and then some.

In addition to the financial motivation, there are other reasons. It legitimizes you as a business in the eyes of consumers. It levels the playing field with other vendors. It encourages impulse buying (what you want). It eliminates the risk of bad checks.

How Square works:

Other services are pretty similar, but I’ll discuss Square since I am familiar with it. More detailed info can be found at https://squareup.com.

Signup for a square account and link it to whatever existing bank account you want to receive payments from. Enter your address to get the card reader hardware mailed and download the software app to either your apple tablet or phone or your android tablet or phone. For simplicity, it’s best if you have run the app from a device that has a data service plan and location settings are turned on (as if you wanted to use a gps program). Using the app, sign in to the account you created with Square and you can take payments immediately!

There is a slightly higher fee to type in the card account number/info (when/if you can’t use the swiping device that plugs into your headphone jack) but it’s a hand feature in case you lose or forget it, or the card refuses to read when swiping. The app also has a bunch of neat features. I have all of my books’ prices saved so that I can easily tap each title to ring up the item; I also have my local sales tax rate saved in the settings to automatically add onto the total. If you don’t use these features you can always do the math and type in the amount you are charging and charge whatever amount is necessary. If you run all of your transactions through the software (including cash sales) it gives you a nice log to show sales amounts and numbers (with or without tax) which is nice if a vending event/location charges a percentage against your sales.

Other Alternatives:

I can’t speak to ease of use or reliability of these others, but Square is not alone in the services they provide. Here are a number of other companies that provide a similar service. Alternatively, many mobile phone companies also have their own service as well.

Clover Go
iZettle (for non United States users)
Paypal Here
Inner Fence
Spark Pay
Intuit GoPayment
Vend
Lightspeed
CardFellow
ChargePass
QuickBooks Payments
…and more.

Keys to Making People Excited About Your Book

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People ask me all the time, “Which book that you wrote is your favorite?” That’s difficult to answer, but honestly, it’s typically whichever book I’m currently working on. The correct answer isn’t the title of one of your books, it’s enthusiasm. You need to be excited about your stories. If you are not, no one else will be either.

  1. You’ve got to be excited about your book—not just the fact that you wrote it, but it has got to genuinely be a book you would buy. To test this, you’ve got to let it simmer… once your final draft is done, let it sit a few months in a drawer or on a hard drive… go do something else, start a new book, even… then come back and read it with fresh eyes. If it doesn’t excite you, then it’s time to reevaluate the book (even a final draft isn’t necessarily a final draft).
  2. Great Cover Copy. Your blurb/elevator pitch has to be on point. I write about this elsewhere with sample formulas. Aside from your opening page, this is your opportunity to set a killer hook. An amazing tagline is also great tool (a one sentence summary).
  3. Amazing First Page. What comes up when you click Amazon’s Look Inside feature—or what does a reader do when you put a book in his or her hand (besides read the cover copy)? People default to the first page. Give them some irresistible bait. Don’t be hokey, cheesy, or overly gimmicky. Be good. Incidentally, this is also a critically important piece for literary agents who are deluged with read requests every day.
  4. Superb Cover Art. Maybe this should’ve been higher on the list since it’s practically sequential, but the cover is the very first thing a reader sees. If it reeks of sub-par quality or feels amateurish the reader isn’t likely to be receptive to your enthusiasm and might not even bother reading the cover copy.
  5. Know Your Reader. People are meant to be in community, so find out where your reader are and what they like—engage them on familiar ground. I write mostly SF/F and there is little surprise that I do well at comic conventions. If you write something similar to Chicken Soup For the Soul, a scrapbooking or quilting club is a great place to talk about your book and engage readers. I would terribly at a historical society meeting, but a nonfiction author who writes on regional interests could do well. Identify your target audience; go to your target audience.

As much as I wish there was a magic bullet to make your book irresistible to consumers, there is not. No special formulas or methods, just pure, unadulterated hard work, enthusiasm, ability to sell, and drive to keep promoting your book. When your energy runs low, take a break. If it doesn’t come back, fake it. Push through until something breaks—if your book is good and if you’re present with your prime target audience, persistence will always rule over resistance.

Be tenacious. Be excited. You’ve got this.

Where to get Art for your DIY Cover

Typesetter

For many DIY authors who have either a familiarity with software and aspects of design, access to great templates for covers, or just want to try their own hand making covers, knowing where to get license free artwork is a boon.

One quick caveat on cover art, many people have made many, many really bad book covers. Good enough to satisfy doesn’t cut it. This is one more area where the failure of indies (or their apathy towards the subject) has made the term “self-published” synonymous with “crap.” Please don’t take a dump on the pile and add to it. If you are committed to releasing a DIY cover into the wild, please make sure that it doesn’t reflect poorly upon indies as a whole. There are many services who will gladly contract with you to design the cover you have in mind (but check their portfolio, first, to make sure he or she isn’t some fly-by night with a demo copy of Photoshop striking out with no more skill than you.) If you see multiple images that you’d love merged into your ideal graphic but don’t have the skill to seamlessly integrate them, please don’t go alone.

There are many places to acquire stock images for use in your covers.  http://www.istockphoto.com and http://www.shutterstock.com are both highly recommended. I have memberships at both and use Shutterstock often. I have also been a member of http://www.deviantart.com for many years. Its forum has been a mostly fruitful place for me to hire professional illustrators for a variety of writing-related commissions.

For the ultimate in DIY on the cheap you can search for free images at sources that aggregate CC0 license stock images. Please use these places and not Google Image Search. A Google search will show copyrighted images and you can quickly find yourself in legal trouble for infringement—and an author who willfully infringes on the copyright of someone else (pretty close to plagiarism) will find little support from the community at large. CC0 stands for Creative Commons Zero. Under the terms of the license, all images may be used, displayed, or modified freely for personal or commercial use. The only stipulation is that identifiable faces should not be used in potentially offensive ways (like erotica book covers). No attribution is needed. (More here: https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

My favorite site tops this list, others follow.

  1. https://pixabay.com
  2. https://www.pexels.com/
  3. http://unsplash.com/
  4. http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/
  5. http://publicdomainarchive.com/
  6. http://littlevisuals.co/
  7. http://pickupimage.com/
  8. http://www.pdpics.com/
  9. https://stocksnap.io/
  10. http://skitterphoto.com/

Picking your cover art and design motifs are one thing, but remember the practical things, too. Your spine’s thickness will depend upon exactly how many pages are in your book, and whether your pages are white or crème (they have different thicknesses that add up.) Rather than do all of the math, I’d recommend searching online for a “book cover calculator” that will adjust your spine width for you and give you a template to design over with proper bleed and trim edges. Both Createspace and Ingramspark have these features built into their creation wizards and allow users to upload their own files for quality proofing by their own experts (mostly Skynet computers who gained sentience.)

Because of the large file sizes and opportunities to constantly tweak, change, or mess up, I recommend saving often, and save in multiple formats. I always save any final WIP that I intend to upload as a Photoshop PDF with all layers merged together and at 300DPI (always work in 300DPI—you can always lose quality, but never gain it). Some publishers have maximum file sizes to keep their servers from imploding; merging the layers helps bring that size down.

When all is said and done and you are done tweaking and adjusting your graphics, make sure to get a physical proof ordered by your printer. Oftentimes colors will represent as darker or lighter when ink hits the paper. I try to intentionally upgrade the vibrancy of my covers so that they pop more. Printed covers tend to either look darker or more faded out than they do on the screen.

Happy designing, and don’t feel bad if you get unhappy results. I’ve scrapped many pieces that I didn’t love… and my biggest regrets come from using artwork that wasn’t quite ready for the world to see. Don’t publish unfinished art or unedited stories. The world won’t thank you for not doing that… but it will ridicule you if you do.