I get a lot of people asking me how I got started, where to go and what to do. This page is totally dedicated to helping authors who are starting out or even those who have been doing it a while that are just looking for some fresh info or a different look at things. Acronyms: CS/Createspace, IS/IngramSpark, MSW/Microsoft Word, KDP/Kindle Direct Publishing, & AMS/Amazon Marketing Services.
What I'm going to cover:
Writing: Why do you write & My process
Editing: YES YOU NEED TO!
ISBN's: To buy or not to buy
Print format & Covers: Createspace & IngramSpark, Indesign & Photoshop
eBook format: (Smashwords & Kindle Direct Publishing)
Social media & Marketing: Facebook, Instagram, Amazon Marketing Services, YouTube, Newsletters
School visits: How to contact & what to charge
PCIP: Catalogue codes for libraries
Summation of the points: Takeaways
FIRST BIG TIP
Microsoft Word/MSW: This is TOTALLY my opinion, but after many headaches and literally hours on the phone with support, I will never use MSW again for my books. I used Adobe's Indesign for all my children's book for all the pictures.
I used MSW for BtA: Lillian, and didn't have too much trouble, I used the same format for BtA: Olivia but wanted headings. I finally figured it out (hours and one sleepless night later b/c the "Different first page" wasn't working) and then I had trouble converting to PDF which even support couldn't help me with, because MSW won't allow you to export as a PDF with text formats AND correct trim size. Trying to add headings to the first book, same problems. Long story short, I'll be using something else for the rest of my books. I'm going to try Indesign. I'll let you know how it goes.
The silver lining for MSW is that it's really good for ebooks I've found. You don't have to worry so much about the text and picture placement for children's books and for novels you just have to create links for the chapters, which I Googled how and didn't find it that difficult.
So WHY do you write? This is going to be a huge question moving forward.
FUN: If you're writing just to get a book done for your family and friends, then all of this info is still good for you, but you just won't have to go as in depth with the marketing and other components. Createspace will print anything. Mistakes or not, right size, pictures, color, B&W, doesn't matter. It's relatively easy to get a book printed.
PROFESSIONAL: However, if you're like me and are looking for this as a career, I'll help you as much as I can. Because the bottom line is you want to look & sound professional knowing this is going to be a marathon... not a sprint. The chances of you being "discovered" overnight are just as remote as you becoming a famous actor in Hollywood. You're going to have to push and work and sacrifice to make it happen.
MY PROCESS: I'm not going to talk a whole lot about this except for my personal experience. Many people say to write everyday. Specific time specific length of time. I have never done this. Not sure why, it's just never been my flow. It's put me in some tight spots, but fortunately I write well under pressure.
For my novels, I write down tons of notes, block out chapters (the first few at least), then just starting typing. My books play out like a movie in my head and I just write down what I "see" and "hear." Keep in mind both have taken me about nine months to write and it's pretty much all I eat, sleep and breath for that time. It's a lot of pressure and stress. Hopefully I can get out of my procrastination habit, but not likely ;-P
For my children's I write them all down. Sure I have marks, arrows, and numbers because I never write something straight from beginning to end. Usually I come up with an ending then figure out how to get to the end. But for whatever reason trying to type these out as I create just never seems to work. So I put them down on notebook paper, and once I'm finished and feel good, I type them out.
My suggestion is do what comes naturally to you, but MY BIGGEST TIP is build in 3-5 months past your goal date of PUBLISHING to get things done. Inevitably things just take longer; proof readers have lives, illustrators get behind, YOU need more time and it absolutely SUCKS to feel rushed and unprepared. I've done this twice with the first two BtAs and I won't do it with the next. There are mistakes, things I'd like to change or add, and I didn't give myself time to build up the hype. Learn from my mistakes and give yourself plenty of time.
Long of the short: You need it. I don't care how good your are at grammar, spelling and punctuation, someone else, preferably profession, needs to read your story. For my short picture books, I don't hire anyone, but my mom and wife read through them. My wife reads through my novels and is actually my editor. I've hired a proofreader (PR) to go over my books after that. My mom and friends read it AND EVEN THEN I FOUND MISTAKES AFTER I PRINTED IT! Not mad obviously, just making a point. It also depends on how professional you want to look. I paid my proofreaders $1000-1500. Yeah it's that important. If your book is riddled with errors, people will stop reading it let alone recommend it to friends.
Again, being in a rush here is bad. I tried to give some of what I wrote to my PR before I was done with BtA: Olivia so I could hit my deadline. It was a disaster because I ended up moving a huge chunk of it, changing the continuity and flow. I had to pay her again to reread what I had already sent her because it was just to confusing otherwise.
Once they're done, print some proof copies. Reading the actual print version is different than looking at it on your computer for the last few months. Give some to friends too. AND YOU READ IT SLOWLY! I find more mistakes than anyone because I know my story the best. I've found continuity errors, wrong names, wrong words (spelled right so it's not caught by Word, dual vs. duel or spilt vs split), missed tabs or quotations. Trust me, it takes time, but you'll thank yourself you did.
ISBN NUMBERS: International Standard Book Number
This is the code specifically unique to your book and title. The bottom line is Createspace/CS will give assign/give you an ISBN and a barcode for FREE (the top barcode with 9000). However, they own certain rights then with your book about distribution. Now I've never really gotten to the point where this is an issue. I even used these ISBNs for IngramSpark/IS but apparently it's not supposed to work. IS is another Print On Demand/POD company I highly recommend submitting to, however, they charge for uploads ($50) and ISBNs ($85) and any major changes ($25) you need to upload. They do run promotions for free uploads from time to time (currently "SELFPUB" until 6/30/18) so I'd use CS to iron out the wrinkles then upload to IS during a promotion. The main difference is IS will do hardback and CS does not. And you do need two different ISBNs for paper vs. hardback so you'd have to buy an ISBN somehow if you want your book in hardback.
Again, it really depends on WHY you're writing: Fun or Professional. If it's just for fun then the free ISBN from CS is probably all you'll need. It allows you to get you book in print AND make available on Amazon if you want which is pretty cool. But if you're writing for a career, then you're going to want to invest in buying ISBNs from Bowker. I personally bought 100 for $575 simply because of the amount of books I have (and one single ISBN is $125). Again, each book needs a separate ISBN/Barcode for paperback and hardback so it can add up quick. (From what I understand eBooks don't need them, I just used my print one from CS).
I did this to look more professional. As you can see from the barcodes, the bottom one looks way more like a book you'd find in a book store and doesn't have the tell-tale sign 9000 that screams SELF-PUBLISHED (not that there's anything wrong with that). Here's the catch though, BUYING ISBNs DOES NOT GIVE YOU A BARCODE. HOWEVER, you can get one for free. Amy Collins at newshelves.com is an associate of mine who has worlds of knowledge about self-publishing. I highly suggest signing up for her newsletter, but here's the link for HOW TO get free barcodes. Barcodes usually cost $25 each, so you can imagine how thrilled I was. Now if you watched the video you noticed they put the price $14.99 above the small barcode as "51499" that's how all books are. I have Adobe Indesign and Photoshop so I added the "$14.99 U.S. $18.75 Can." to the file pic and just saved it with those prices, again to look more professional. The Canada price was just whatever current exchange rate was at the time.
PRINT FORMAT & COVERS
Print Format: This can be a fairly tedious process, but not hard really if you're using the right program. I suggest Adobe Indesign. Definitely for picture books and maybe even novels. (See above for my rant on Microsoft Word). But whatever program you use just realize that you'll need to be able to convert it to a PDF for CS and IS.
This was the issue I was having with MSW. It wouldn't convert properly and there was issues when CS was preparing my novels.
Whatever program you use, make sure it has some type of gutter margin setting or a mirrored margin. Basically what this is, is it helps with the margins needed specifically for books. The gutter margin is the middle of the book and larger than the outside margins.
Also, look at some books. See how they're laid out. I based mine off of Harry Potter sort of. Interior title page, acknowledgments, dedication, second title page, blank pages in-between. Again, professional vs fun.
TRIM SIZE - This is pretty important as I've found out a little too late. Companies only print paper and hardback in certain sizes. Hardback is usually the limited one. I suggest finding a book size you like and then checking IS for their options here: Trim Sizes (it's the second to last page). Again please learn from my mistake b/c now I'm going to have to reformat my books' interior and cover for either a slightly smaller or larger size to get the hardback version printed correctly.
This is my favorite part though, because you can literally make it look like however you want. Thankfully my wife is in advertising so I have an edge because she knows Indesign. But I've messed with it and it's really not that hard once you learn the basics. Once I test it out on BtA: Avery I'll let you know.
Cover: Once you have your interior how you like and know how many pages there'll be, you need to make a cover. You know the old saying "Don't judge a book by its cover."? Well that's true, but people do. After multiple professionals, seminars and workshops I can tell you that A GOOD COVER IS VERY IMPORTANT. Fun: Not that big of deal. Professional: VERY BIG DEAL. Again I am super blessed by having a wife that knows her stuff aka PHOTOSHOP. She's designed both BtA Covers (actually got free lance job for another publishing company from them) and she laid out all my kids book covers in Photoshop. I pay $35 a month to use all Adobe products and it's well worth it. CS makes it very easy to put the information in and generate a cover template, but you'll want/need some sort of design program to build it. CS even has people you can hire to do this, but it might look generic. My suggestion is find a friend or a good designer that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and make a decent cover. Also, do some research for your genre as to what the bestseller book covers look like. My wife saved me from making a big mistake in designing my own cover (which you can see on the secret page.)
All of this I learned basically from downloading CS's pdf file about making a book. I highly recommend reading this before you get started. They also have tons of resources, so you might as well make an account for free. Once you get your book loaded they'll run it for errors in printing. Once you correct those you can order a proof of your book (You can only order up to 5 but if you call them you can get more.) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! If you read my editing section, you catch so many silly mistakes (maybe even big ones) by reading an actual print copy of your story. Trust me, you'll thank me later for doing so.
There's a lot that goes into this because, well, this is how your book is going to be perceived by people who aren't for sure sales (friends and family.) Take you time. Have fun designing your book to what you want, and if you don't like the proof, it's SUPER EASY and FREE to change it and resubmit it to CS. Like I mentioned above, once you get it all worked out, submit it to IS during a promotional period. I'd still get a proof from them because they'll use different printers which could give a slight variance of color.
EBOOKS: SMASHWORDS & KINDLE DIRECT PUBLISHING/KDP
So I'm sure you've all heard of Kindle, the Amazon eBook. Who you may not know about is Smashwords. I LOVE SMASHWORDS and here's why: The format you use for Smashwords is good for EVERYONE. They have a program called the Meatgrinder. If you format your book right, they take that file and convert it to ALL OTHER EBOOK FORMS and distributors. The only one they DON'T SUBMIT to is Amazon Kindle. But here's the cool part, the format you make for Smashwords is compatible to upload directly to KDP. Basically killing like ten birds with one stone.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an eBook version as well. Ebooks still make up 25% of the market (50% still print and 25% audio). It's tedious, stressful, and frustrating because of the coding you basically have to do to make it look right and link table of content chapters to the actual chapters in the book. You've already done the hard part in writing the book, you might as well take the few days to make an eBook version.
The creator of Smashwords actually has a FREE STYLE GUIDE you can read that goes through all the steps. It can be a little tricky depending on what version of MSW you have, but it can be done. And as with anything else, if you don't feel comfortable or have the time you can hire Smashwords to do it for you.
But once you get it all formatted for Smashwords, hop over to KDP and upload it there to be distributed across Amazon. Smashwords does actually make the mobi. file for Kindle users and you make more $$ if people download your book directly from them, but no one knows about Smashwords. How many people know about iBook, Nook and Kindle? Exactly.
Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, AMS, YouTube, & Newsletters... OH MY!
There is enough stuff to keep you busy for 10 lifetimes and keeping up with all of it can literally drive you crazy. There's going to be a lot of trial and error in this part and most importantly what you're comfortable with. I have accounts for all of these services BUT I only focus on 1-2 maybe. There is a ridiculous amount to learn about all of these. So my advice, pick one that you really like and focus on that. Whatever you talk about to people, point them in that direction. Now that my website is up, that's where I going to tell people to go because they can join any of my accounts from there AND it's the only place they can sign up for my newsletter which is very important.
NEWSLETTER: From what I've heard and understand this the best tool. I have struggled to be sure but I use Mailerlite now! I absolutely hated Mailchimp. Not user friendly. Customer service slow and unhelpful. **If I could go back and change anything I did, it would be to get this going from the beginning. If I had had this I would've been able to tell the thousands of people who bought the first book, that the second book was out and my website is up. This is something you can start now. Wherever you go, trade shows, grocery stores, schools, you can have people sign up for your newsletter. Do a drawing for a free signed book, cost you maybe $10 for the book and S/H. You don't have to, but gives people incentive to sign up.
The thing about a newsletter is the people who sign up WANT to hear from you. This is hands down the best way to specifically reach your fans. All the other social media ways only might reach them. A newsletter can be specific content just for you, announcements, contests, events you're attending, when you release a new book. Think about Instagram for a moment, if you have fans that follow 2000 other people (which is quite common) the chances of them seeing your post are remote and the post will probably get pushed down into the-forgotten-zone very fast. Emails are always there and if you have a set schedule of when you send them out (I'm going to do the first and third Tuesday of the month for specific reasons) then people will be expecting them. A professional said AT LEAST 2 times a month. And it doesn't have to be much. It can be the TOP 5 topics related to your books, what you've been doing, exclusive look at previously unreleased content. The more special and personal it feels, the more your fans will enjoy the connection and be more likely to support you both socially and financially. If you want to know what mine looks like, then sign-up on the home page :-D
Instagram and others: I know I just bashed on Instagram but this is the social media I like the best. It's easy, there's a lot you can do to make it interactive, and it uses pictures. I can't honestly say how many or if I've gotten any sales from it, but this is just another way to connect with your fans. For me, Instagram is a happy medium between Facebook, Twitter (which I never use), SnapChat (never use) and Tumblr. You can easily post pics and comments and videos AND post stuff you're putting on Instagram to Twitter, FB and Tumblr. What's helped me the most gain followers is getting with another Grammer (if that's what they're called) that has a lot of followers (the more the better) and doing some sort of giveaway contest together. I got 100 new followers in one day from a famous author giving away my books on her account. Stipulation was they had to follow me and comment. I've also started an INSTAGRAM LIVE SHOW the second Tuesday of the month @7cst (which is why I'm sending out my newsletter the week before to remind people). It's 5-10 minutes and it goes by fast. Sometimes I talk book stuff, other times have been giving my cats catnip and doing a tour of my new house. Again it's about making a connection with your fans.
A couple that I'll mention but I haven't done much with are Pinterest and Reddit. Pinterest, if you're unfamiliar, is like a virtual pin up board where you "pin"/post things you like on your various themed "boards"/pages. The reason Pinterest is appealing is because of a pins shelf-life which is 3-5 months vs. maybe 24 hours for an Instagram post or Twitter feed AND the whole basis for Pinterest is sharing. So my next task is building my Pinterest boards. Reddit apparently is the go to to get hype going. If something goes viral, Reddit probably had something to do with it and knew about it days or a week ahead of time. I'm really unfamiliar with Reddit but it's called the "Front Page of the Internet" and is basically a discussion website where members can vote Up or Down on various links, posts and images.
Amazon Marketing Services/AMS: I am brand new to this but I'm excited for it's potential. Sign up for a free account here. The gist is you're making an ad campaign for your book (way easier than it sounds). Pick a book you want to promote (it's suggested to have 10-20 reviews first). The "toughest" part is coming up with your keywords (you can have up to 1000, suggested 200-300 at least). You'll have your specific key words for your book, but 90% of them will be names of other popular authors and books that remotely similar to yours or just popular in general (like Harry Potter) because people are always searching for those and you want your book to be associated with them. Your ad will pop up anytime someone searches for those key words, depending on how much you want to spend. The man who knows it all is Derek Doepker www.ebookbestsellersecrets.com. One of the few webinars and programs I actually felt was worth the money.
Pricing: You set your daily limit of how much you want to spend in total (Ex. my limit is $2.00). Then you tell Amazon how much want to pay them whenever someone clicks on your ad. YOU ONLY PAY WHEN THEY CLICK. Click pricing can range from $0.05 to whatever but you probably don't want to go above $0.50. Mine is set at $0.10 so that means I can get up to 20 clicks. However, depending on what others are doing your $0.10 click may not be very high up or even on the next page. In other words, people who pay Amazon more per click get better ad space. Once I reach my $2 limit, Amazon stops running the ad for the day and will start again the next. So you're only paying for people to actually see your page which is AMAZING! From there it's going to be a lot of trial and error (I've done a few campaigns for a week each now) gathering data on which words work and maybe increase the click price for certain key words that do well.
The reason I LOVE AMS is it's cheap and once you get it figured out, it's doing the work for you while people buy you book. Giving you time to do more important stuff like spend time with family & friends or get more writing done.
YouTube: This one is obviously completely optional, but good for promotion, especially for kids books. My page is not very exciting, simply me reading the books (CM Healy). But it’s free publicity and nice to give people a $.04 card to help promote yourself. It was easy for me because I have a GoPro, but I’m sure a good phone video would do the job. I edit it in iMovie (which is fairly simple for me) post it, add closed captions and viola; I have a video promoting my book forever on the world wide web. Just another medium to reach more people.
School Visits: Most of what I do is explained on my School Visits page, but so far this has been my most lucrative venture. However, a lot of that has to do with me having nine books of varying age ranges and my presentations are VERY KID FRIENDLY.
When I first started I didn't charge for my actual visit. Mistake#1 I had several locations take advantage of this and not even send home my order form with then kids. I seriously earned $0 for my time and travel from like 14 schools/daycares. I also gave these places a full set of seven books in hopes it would generate interest by actually seeing the books. Mistake #2 $75 worth of books and most of the locations didn’t even thank me.
So what I have learned is to 1) Charge for my visits $100 for ½ day and $200 for a full day and 2) Don’t give out free books. Most of the time the library/school will want to buy a few or a whole set, so that’s better business. Now IF a librarian asks for a donation of 1-2 books, of course I’ll oblige. The toughest part of this business is being tough. I would LOVE to do visits for free and give a free set of books to each school I visit. But the bottom line is THIS IS A BUSINESS. This is how I pay my bills and feed my family. I’m nice, but I’m worth the price of my work. Another author told me it’s “perceived worth.” If you offer yourself for free then that’s the type of service they think they’re getting. Trust me. You’ve put in a lot of hard work. YOU’RE WORTH IT!
I have TONS of people constantly asking me to see the letter I send to schools as well as the order form and flyer. So here ya go
OVERVIEW: As I mentioned before, it's a lot. Some things are one and done, others you start and build as you go, and others are still almost a daily/weekly basis. Find what you like, enjoy, are good at, and focus on that.
PICP: Publisher's Cataloguing-In-Publication
This is really just for those looking to be professional. This is the crazy coding you see in the front of books designated by the Library of Congress or a trained cataloger. The one for Beyond the After: Princess Lillian can be seen to the right.
The Donohue Group can do this for you for $95 per book or $161 for eBook and print. I just did both my novels in print form for now (good for both paper and hardback). But slowly I’ll procure the PCIP for all my books.
I will say libraries are more likely to buy your book and put it on the shelf to be checked out if it has this code. So, whether they buy it or you donate a copy, they’ll be able to quickly put in this code and get your book rolling in their system.
Here’s the main points from each section in a nutshell.
First Big Tip: Don't use Microsoft Word for print versions, but okay for eBook.
Writing: Why are you writing (fun vs professional) and find your process. Set a deadline, and build in 3-5 months past your due date as a buffer.
Editing: Get a good professional proof reader for novels/short stories. The more eyes the better. Read your book in print format before you publish it.
ISBN's: Createspace’s FREE ISBN is fine for fun, maybe not for professional.
Print format & Covers: Get familiar with Adobe’s Indesign and Photoshop, or find a friend who is. Have a good cover by doing research in that genre.
eBook format: Use Smashwords Style Guide to format for all eBooks, then upload to KDP for Amazon distribution.
Social media & Marketing: You can’t do it all. Find what you enjoy and are good at and focus on that.
PCIP: Professional look only and for trying to get into Libraries.
If anything doesn’t make sense, read over the section or of course feel free to email me any questions you have.
You can't do everything. There is SO MUCH to do out there. SO MANY webinars. SO MANY tips and tricks and things to do. SO MANY newsletters (but read mine ;-P) Pick one you like and that works for you and FOCUS on that for a few months, then if it doesn't pan out try something else. But you have to give things time and you definitely can't do everything or you'll get super overwhelmed and burned out fast.
Bottom line, do your research to do it right or have enough money to hire someone to do it for you. I didn't have the capital to invest so I had to learn. It was frustrating at times, but overall I'm glad I learned since I'm going to be making several more books. Hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes and save yourself some strife.
Fun or professional, there's a lot that goes into making a book. For professional, it's going to cost $$$. How much depends on you. I can't illustrate my own books and that has been my biggest expense. But I see it as an investment for the long haul. Which is also the timeline. Unless you get incredibly lucky and get discovered by some book blogger with millions of followers, it's going to take time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. But it all starts with taking a step, and then another, and then another. It's tough but I have to remind myself each and every day. And even though I haven't reached my goal of financial independence, I've written a book, several actually, and that's something no one can take away from me. Celebrate the small with the big. Allow yourself a break. Enjoy what you're doing. And most importantly, never stop believing.