Monday, 7 November 2011

Self-Publishing Tips & Tricks #1: Preparation

Self-publishing is not as simple as most people assume. In fact, it's a bloody baptism by fire. Everyone and his dog has an opinion on it, and how best to go about it. I thought I'd throw in my two penneth and run a miniseries of hints and tips that I've picked up over the months that I've been playing this game, starting with the basics. Lesson number one is Preparation.

So you've written your magnum opus. Your blood, sweat and tears have gone into your manuscript, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is more important to you than your firstborn. You've scouted round the options and decided that epublishing is the way forward. So now what?

Firstly, your book isn't finished. You've got a killer title, the best storyline, the most empathetic characters, and a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. But do you have a cover? A synopsis? You'd be surprised how often people fall at this hurdle. Honestly, writing your synopsis may well take as long again as writing the damn book.

Let's start with the cover. Firstly, make sure that it's the same shape as a regular paperback cover. You'd be surprised how many people don't do this, and what a big psychological effect it has on potential readers. When people hear "book" (even "ebook") they expect to see a certain product, presented in a certain way. Even though what you're selling is an electronic commodity that doesn't exist outside of cyberspace, it still needs to look like a book. Familiarity breeds sales. You don't have to spend a fortune or be a Photoshop wizard to make this happen: I make my covers in Microsoft Publisher using photos that I've taken myself or royalty-free images. You can buy very decent images for a very reasonable price if you do a bit of canny googling.

Never, ever rely on a template cover. How many times when you're browsing Amazon's catalogue do you skip over them, assuming them to be public domain works? I know I do. Remember, the point of a cover is to attract people to your book. A pretty cover may seem an inane reason to buy a book, but it's the first thing that any potential reader looks at. Best tip ~ look at what the bestsellers in your category look like. You'll find that there are patterns in every genre, and you'd better follow them. Remember: familiarity breeds sales!!

Once your cover is done, you need a synopsis. You basically have about 3 lines in which to hook a reader and get them interested. You know that old saying that a first impression is made in 5 seconds and can never be changed? Well this is your first impression. Your synopsis may run to a dozen lines, but if you've not hooked their interest by the third, I guarantee you most people will stop reading or stop paying attention. "When" clauses are always popular ~ "When Jack and Jill went up the hill, little did they expect how quickly they'd be coming back down...". Yes that's a nursery rhyme, but note that I've introduced the two main characters, I've set up the action ('went up the hill') and also added an element of suspense (why did they come down so quickly? how? what were they doing up the hill in the first place?) And that's only the first line.

Keywords are important. Words and phrases that people search for a lot. You know these words, we see them repeated time and time again: paranormal romance // epic fantasy // vampire // space opera // coming-of-age etc etc. If any of these terms apply to your book, use them! It will make your book more searchable, both on the platform where you're selling (e.g. Amazon) but also on search engines. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the topic of a whole other blog so I'll only touch on it briefly here, but remember that keywords are pretty much the beginning and the end of getting your book noticed. Google has some fantastic tools that will help you check the popularity of certain keywords, and I advise everyone to use them.

Now you're feeling pretty smug. Thanks to a friend with an art degree that's been going to waste all these years you've got a fantastic cover, and a synopsis that leaves your readers drooling to hear more. Think you're ready? Think again. Chances are you've written your book in MS Word, and you've spent ages formatting it just so. Well scratch that, because everything will be wrong. Go to Smashwords and download their Style Guide. There is more information in there than I can ever impart in a blog, and all of it is valuable. Best of all, it's free. Word has a pesky habit of including hidden formatting in its documents that will go haywire when you try and convert the file to a .mobi (the Kindle file) and your beautiful book will end up looking like something a three year old could have produced.

Once you've cleaned up your document, I strongly urge you to make the .mobi yourself. A reliable conversion tool can be downloaded (free!) from Mobipocket. This part always divides people, with some sticking to their Word file, some making a HTML doc, and others making a .mobi, but for me, it's the .mobi every single time. I've got a Kindle and I can upload my .mobi straight onto it, meaning that I can see exactly what any reader is going to see. Not got a Kindle? If you're serious about this, get one. Consider it an investment. They're not that expensive (think what you'd pay for a first run of a POD service!!) and not only will you get a tool that will help you see exactly what you're expecting people to pay for, but you get a great piece of technology to boot. You can always download a Kindle viewer for your computer, but honestly, they're a waste of time. I have yet to find one that actually resembles what I see on the screen of my Kindle.

So now you've got your beautiful, sleek .mobi file, a perfect cover, killer synposis, and you're ready to go. You've uploaded it to Amazon and had kittens looking at *your* book on the Amazon website. Now you can just sit back and let the sales roll in, right? Wrong! Have you even thought about SEO, marketing, pricing, advertising, and all the rest of the kit & caboodle that comes with trying to make your voice heard over the 850,000+ other voices that are all screaming for attention?? Lesson 2: Pricing. Coming soon...

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

1 comment:

  1. There is one thing I would like to say to budding authors. Do NOT rely on Spell Check. This is a huge mistake. Spell Check cannot differentiate between quite a lot of words - for example: here/hear were/wear/where etc. If you use the incorrect word, it will not pick it up.
    Hence the huge number of spelling errors I find in self-published books I am downloading on Amazon.
    Get an editor/proofreader. Try me or try someone else, but please get someone to go over your book before publishing.



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