The Author Toolbox: Getting Professional Help With Your Writing Career (Part 2)

After an agent, editor, and cover designer, there are still others out there who can offer professional help as you launch your writing career. Here are a few more to consider bringing onto your team.

Tool #4: Get help to format the inside of your book for publication. Formatting applies not only to the inside of a print book with special scene break graphics and those giant first letters to start a chapter, but also to the uninterrupted flow of the ebook version that makes it possible to enlarge the font without messing up all the spacing. Again, a traditional publisher will do the formatting for you, but if you’re going the indie route, you may need some help in the form of a professional or simply professional advice.

My first toe-dip into the indie world came with a non-fiction book and a very tight budget. For the print version, I chose to go with CreateSpace (an Amazon offshoot) and found that they walked me through the entire process. After picking the trim size I wanted, I was given the option to either hire someone to help or download a template to fit my selected size. The template file contained pre-populated headers and footers, front matter, and even a few sample chapters filled with random typing, but the key was having all of the margins and font sizes already set. It took some time, but all I had to do was copy and paste the text of my manuscript into the appropriate places and my formatting was essentially done. I added my own clip art graphic into the scene breaks and customized a few of the fonts but ended up with a professional looking interior.

When it comes time for the ebook formatting, the file type you end up with (mobi, epub, etc.) will depend on the distribution platform in order to comply with specific ereader specifications. Some writing programs, like Scrivener, will compile your book into different ebook formats automatically. However, you will need to create additional pieces inside Scrivener to then include in the compile such as the cover image, copyright page, table of contents, and back matter links to your other books available on that specific sales platform. With trial and error—and lots of testing of the compiled file—you can somewhat easily let your writing program do the ebook formatting for you.

When I first started, I chose to use Smashwords for most of my ebook distribution with KDP for the Kindle/Amazon version. Their publishing model at the time had a “meat grinder” approach where you uploaded a single specifically formatted file and their program churned out a version in several different formats. In order for this to work, the uploaded manuscript needed very clean formatting as outlined in their free style guide. This guide walked me through a step-by-step process to remove the hidden formatting in my document, create a linked table of contents, and even how to create a version that would make Amazon happy if I uploaded it directly to KDP instead of going through Smashwords. Even if you chose to use a different ebook distributor or upload directly to different sales platforms, their free style guide is an excellent resource.

Tool #5: Find a printing service to create physical copies of your book. Like the other topics in this section, this obviously depends on your path of traditional versus indie because a traditional publisher will do this for you. The larger publishers will actually invest capital in a certain-sized print run and allocate warehouse space in order to take advantage of a cheaper cost per book when printed in bulk. Small publishers tend to use the print-on-demand model which only prints individual copies once they are ordered. If you indie publish, your book will likely fall under this same POD model unless you have a large garage and a prominent speaking tour to regularly sell books yourself.

Two of the popular printing companies—CreateSpace and Ingram Spark—also provide distribution services to place the book into bookstore catalogs for both online sales and potential brick-and-mortar store placement. There are also options to make the book available for libraries and internationally. Before you choose which company is right for you, compare their royalty rates, ISBN number costs, ease of set-up, initial fees, and distribution reach as well as your goals. With Amazon holding such a large share of the book selling market, the seamless integration with CreateSpace and higher royalty rate on Amazon sales might tip the scale in their favor. However, Ingram’s reputation is built on distribution to other retailers so you’ll make more money from sales outside of Amazon and if you want a hardcover book with a lot of colored pictures, they can do that for much cheaper. I know of some indie authors who use CreateSpace for Amazon only and Ingram Spark for the rest of their distribution, but obviously that requires more work initially.

Tool #6: Find a distributor for your ebook. If you’ve spent any time around indie authors and their online communities, there is a lot of debate over the best way to get your book into the hands of readers. When you reach this point, do your research and then decide what works best for your personal goals and skill set.

For some technologically brilliant people, they prefer to directly upload their book to each of the main selling platforms (Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iBooks, Kobo for international readers, etc.) and continue to control the entire process. Others choose to use an ebook distributor like Smashwords, Draft2Digital, or BookBaby to manage some or all of the distribution for them. Many use a combination approach by placing their book directly with KDP and a few of the other big names, but use a distributor to catch all the smaller markets.

The choice of an ebook distributor comes down to two main factors: technological challenges and pricing strategy. If technology scares you or you don’t want to invest the necessary time to learn how to format, some distributors will do the file conversion for you which may be worth the tradeoff in control. As for pricing, if you want to offer a book for free—either temporarily or permanently—as part of your marketing plan, then certain distribution models may limit your options depending on if they allow you to set your price as zero.

Amazon’s KDP will only allow you to price your book for free if you are a part of their Select program or through a price match. In the Select program, Amazon gets exclusive ebook distribution rights for 90 days and in exchange you get five days where you can offer your book for free. This is helpful when launching a new book and when using price pulsing to gain visibility and increase sales. However, anyone who typically reads on a different ereader cannot get your book. For some indie authors, Amazon’s higher overall market share makes this trade-off worthwhile either temporarily at a book launch or long-term.

For those not wanting all of their proverbial eggs—ebooks—in one basket, they choose to scatter their ebook across multiple platforms and then use other pricing strategies to create a free book as needed. One strategy is to put the Nook version on Draft2Digital and the rest on individual platforms where you’re allowed to price as free. When you want to run a sale, go to each account and set those prices as free, wait a day or so for the change to take effect, then contact Amazon using the “tell us about a lower price” spot on the book’s sales page (beneath the product details but above the author’s biography) to paste in the URL where you saw the book for sale cheaper. Once verified, Amazon will usually match their competitors’ price. The key being usually. Sometimes it takes a few more follow-up emails or other readers reporting the lower price to get them to take action.

Tool #7: Hire an audio book voice. Having your book also available in an audio version seems like a lot of work, but the chance to reach an audience who primarily “reads” during long-distance commutes is worth the hassle. There’s also the chance to stand out above the crowd based on the relative number of other audio books available. Of course, the very thought of trying to produce a quality audio book on top of the print version and ebook as well as market the whole package while continuing to work on the next book…well it can be overwhelming.

That’s why the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) is such a popular tool. Not only do they help produce the audio book, but they provide easy access on Amazon, Audible.com, and on iTunes. Once you set up an account, you’ll have several options when it comes to the voice talent. Some authors read the book themselves. Other authors hire someone else to read their book and pay them either a flat fee or a percentage of the royalties on the sale of the audio book. That choice will depend on the preference of the voice talent, your sales projections, and even the balance in your bank account.

Tool #8: Hire a publicist to help promote your book launch. Unlike the majority of the free or super-cheap tools in this book, this option is expensive. However, if you are writing about a time-sensitive or cutting-edge non-fiction topic, the extra exposure gained from the work of a quality publicist may be the catalyst for a successful book launch, especially if they can get you onto various television or radio interviews. Of course, if your topic has the potential to be the next Atkins diet or South Beach diet or any number of other crazes to sweep the nation, chances are you’ve gotten a traditional publisher for your book and they may have an in-house publicist to do this work for you.

What exactly does a publicist do? In simple terms, a publicist is a press agent who helps gain public exposure to your book through press releases, setting up media interviews, and even creating public events like book signings or tours. If you’d like to at least investigate this option, ask around your writing circles or stalk more successful authors for recommendations of who they use. A Google search will yield multiple results but it’s harder to know if the listed names are truly worth their fees without doing your homework and checking their references.

If you can’t afford the price tag for a publicist, don’t worry. Other than tapping into their existing professional connections in various media outlets, most of what a publicist does can be duplicated with a lot of elbow grease and the help of a few friends on your launch team.

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