My Babelcube Experience (part 2) Getting Interesting

translate buttonMy optimism for self-pub opportunities spiked when I heard about Babelcube and their book translation services. I filled out a profile, uploaded books and began working with translators. I also wrote a blog post on that initial aspect (see part 1 of My Babelcube Experience).

Now comes part 2, what I’ve learned since a few translations have just been published. The answer is a fair amount. Some notes:

Babelcube uses Draft2Digital as a distributor, which doesn’t distribute to Amazon anymore so how does that work? Not sure, but it might explain why these titles went live two weeks ago to Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Scribd, but just today on Amazon and Google. Support mentioned they’re switching distributors.

Full length novels are much harder to get translated than shorter works or non-fiction. I still haven’t had any offers on my novels that are 96,000 and 105,000 words, but every other book has been translated, is being translated or has received offers.

Babelcube Spanish Book WebsitesNon-fiction seems easier to get deals. Perhaps it’s because the writing is simpler. How-to books attract attention, here and apparently abroad. One thing to beware of for authors of how-to guides: recognize any differences that exist in America (or your home nation) compared to the final destination. For example, my guides deal with websites and software that are popular in the US but not always elsewhere, so some changes were made accordingly. It helped to point that out to the translators ahead of time.

Take your time getting qualified readers to check the sample offer. Why rush into a decision when the book may take a few months once you agree on a deal? Babelcube doesn’t give advice or support there, leaving each author to find a solution. Fiverr, Facebook and Yahoo answers are places to get translations checked if you don’t have friends that read well in certain languages. However, you may have to take the word of strangers you don’t really know or trust.

Don’t ask proofreaders to read more than a few assorted paragraphs unless you’re giving something in return. If you have multiple books and offers in Spanish, for example, try not to wear out your Spanish-reading friends by asking them to read and critique large sections of each title.

Babelcube Italian Book Self PublishingDon’t expect masterpieces. These translators are working for free on the hopes of selling books and making a cut on the sale. They’re unlikely to be perfect in what they do. Of course you expect competency, but in some cases you may ask yourself, “Is it better to have something in a foreign language or nothing at all?” These can be hard choices.

Don’t upload MS Word .doc. Instead use .docx–it converts better. My uploads got stuck in a Babelcube cyber-vortex that took several emails and Twitter and Facebook mentions to sort out, segue to the next tip.

Don’t rely on prompt customer support whether you email them, make a post on their Facebook page or @-message them on Twitter. Presently Babelcube has slower than average customer support, which is surprising for a fledgling company that seems to have a good product and a jump on any competition. They should make an effort to speed things up and take social media a bit more seriously, IMO.

Below is the status of some of my titles. The top three have just been published, while the fourth is months away.

Babelcube translation status

There are some good translators out there. There are also some not so great people to beware of.

If you get along well with your translator, add their name to the cover design and give them some kudos in the “About the Author” section. Whatever extra credit you give should help in their interest at marketing the book in their country, which may be easier for them than you.

Part of me wonders if time and tech will make this obsolete. Google translate has come a long way in a few short years. I remember trying the program when it was younger, and it was terrible. These days it’s getting more intelligent fast, especially with non-fiction. Might there be a limited time before Babelcube’s service will be offered by Google and Amazon or some other computerized function?

Now for the real question: how are sales? At this point it hasn’t been enough time. Two of my titles just came out and I’m curious how they’ll do. I hope they aren’t duds because the translators spent several weeks on them. Sales will be a main focus of part 3 of this experience. I’ll let you know.

What do you think about this: good idea, not so good idea or waste of time? Please share comments.


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An Author and a Blog

This Jason Matthews article first appear at TheBookDesigner.

girl writing

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At a recent writers conference I listened to a lecture from Laurie McLean of Foreword Literary, an agent I admire. She discussed the challenges of getting published and how writers can increase their chances by building a stronger author platform using social media and other tools. During the talk Laurie said something along the lines of, “At the very least, new authors should be blogging,” which was followed by a moment of silence from hundreds of aspiring authors seated in the auditorium.

That’s a bold statement, I thought, wondering how many throats just swallowed hard, the great majority belonging to writers who probably weren’t blogging. It’s ironic how Laurie’s comment affected me, since I’ve been recommending the same thing since 2010 while maintaining two blogs during that time. One is dedicated to things related to self-publishing, the other is for anything else in the universe that I feel like writing about.

And yet I’m still not sure how to quantify the importance of it; surely there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to whether an author should blog, how frequently to post or at what word count. These days when writers ask me for blogging advice, I revert to an “it depends” answer, although Ms. McLean may disagree and probably has ample evidence.

Of course I believe a blog boosts an author’s online presence. One that functions well can be an author’s HQ, leading to everything else the world might want to know about her/him. The social media and book links are there, the updates and events, the musings, sample chapters, maybe some photos and video.

But is a blog essential? Can one manage with just Facebook and Twitter, or perhaps by simply writing great books? If you don’t have a blog already, it’s important to know they can drain your time and energies. For newbies, there’s a significant learning curve to make the most of the tech involved. But even after the posts start piling up, building an audience takes time, and you may be blogging to crickets for months on end while only spammers leave comments. In worst cases, blogs can feel like a burden with no measurable reward. You may even question if the blog is helping you or hurting you as an author.

After the lecture and standing ovation, I asked Laurie if she would expand on her comment. Since she’s landed lucrative publishing contracts and has been in the writing business far longer than WordPress or Blogger, I took her reply to heart as an agent who understands many aspects of publishing that an indie author like me may never know.

She said, “I strongly believe that blogs should be a standard component of any writer’s toolkit. Not only does it get you writing on a regular schedule, it lubricates your writer’s brain, eases that fear of putting yourself out there in the world, facilitates networking with your peers and readers, and makes you focus on your author brand and how you want your work to be known.”

Blogging for Authors video courseSAVE 63% Coupon Code BLOG7

It’s About Writing

I have to agree because this is the crux: blogging gets you writing. Authors need that as athletes need exercise and musicians need to make music. And it doesn’t have to be the same kind of writing we do for our books. Blogging can an athlete’s cross-training or a musician’s jam session with friends, where we work on different muscles and skill sets knowing it benefits the whole and makes us better at what we do. That’s why I love my “anything in the universe” blog, where the most popular posts often have nothing to do with the subjects of my books. These cross-training posts are just stuff I find interesting and want to write about, like the life expectancy of NFL players.

It’s Visibility

Author platform boils down to online presence. Each element adds to the big picture (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, website, Amazon Author Central, Google Plus, YouTube), but having a blog is the crème de la crème if used well. Nothing else has the same potential as a blog used consistently over time, plus all those other elements can be implemented into it. People from all over the world routinely visit my blogs from posts written years ago, and these visitors arrive from thousands of different Google subject searches. For example, this morning someone visited my blog from a post I made in May of 2011 while plenty of others visited posts written at least two years back. Nothing else I do online has that kind of lasting power. Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus mentions come and go like paper flyers taped to street signs compared to the perpetual billboards of blog posts. If you like the concept of more bang for your buck, then blogging will reward your cyber investment better over time.

Cat on Computer Laptop

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It’s Embracing Tech

In 2009 I recoiled at the thought of having a blog, not knowing exactly what one was and dreading another thing in my life that required maintenance. It sounded like work, and I didn’t know if I had time for it. You may feel the same way. Understandable. A Facebook friend summed it up by saying, “When I started out, I was scared of the site as I’m in my senior years and learning it nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. But now that’s a distant memory.” Like her, I also came to embrace the learning curve and even excel at it. The good news is how user-friendly these things have become.

How Frequent, How Many Words?

Here comes the real divide. Some advice says blog as much as you can, several times a week if possible. Others tout quality over quantity with more developed posts winning out in the long run. My belief is to blog however it fits into your schedule. As a reader, sometimes I prefer short messages with immediate gratification while other times I’m willing to delve into a topic. It’s smart to write both ways too. For those who fear the burden of regular, well developed posts, you can allow select others to add articles in the form of guest-blogging.

“It has been said over and over that you should write every day,” Laurie added. “A twice weekly, or even once weekly blog post, can add to achieving this goal of daily writing. I advise my clients to blog 1/3 of the time about their ‘product’ (works in progress, books for sale, etc.), 1/3 about some personal aspect of their lives (make sure it is something you want to share such as a hobby or interest rather than photos of your children and your home address), and 1/3 about the craft of writing (solving plot problems, tips on pacing, character development or dialogue, etc.). Follow this formula, write a 250-500 word blog post twice a week, and by the time you have a book to sell, you’ll already have an audience to market to.”

That’s good advice though I haven’t always followed it. On one of my blogs, I post about once a week. On the other, closer to once a month. This method doesn’t cause me to stress over them, which helps stay sane.

The most blog-induced stress I’ve experienced was when I posted every day for a month as an experiment, attempting to make the posts as interesting as possible. That was a writing challenge comparable to NaNoWriMo. By the end of the month, I was spent but the results were remarkable. Visitor traffic had more than doubled as did the number of subscribers.nanowrimo

Do they Sell Books?

My experience has been a mixed bag: the non-fiction blog sells non-fiction books better than my anything blog sells novels. This estimate is based on the number of Amazon links that get clicked by visitors, a helpful stat to monitor. A smarter approach is to think of them for building an audience and networking, and not to value them based solely on book sales.

What I’ve Found to Work

  • blogging about topics that really interest me
  • posting frequently when possible, or as seldom as once a month with quality articles
  • doing it consistently for years
  • making it engaging, asking questions to readers
  • discussing topics that get a range of opinions, even controversial ones
  • discussing new topics that people haven’t heard much about

What Doesn’t Work

  • blogging primarily about my books or sample chapters
  • writing about my daily happenings, life or family
  • posting without much substance just to get something out there

Getting Started for Newbies

The free platforms at WordPress.com and Blogger are fine choices for authors on a budget. There’s no monthly hosting cost, but it’s wise to purchase a custom domain name at around $10 per year. WordPress.org is an upgrade for those willing to pay for more template options and monthly hosting. Also many websites have a blog tab or function enabling you to create a blog and website in one location.

Essentials that Benefit any Blog

  • links to your social media sites, preferably easy to recognize icons
  • links to your books on Amazon and other retailers, preferably icons
  • subscription or follow links in two locations, one at the top of the page and another at the end of each post
  • social media buttons for retweeting on Twitter, sharing on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc.
  • sharing enabled with your social media sites and Goodreads, etc. to display your latest post as they happen
  • navigation to other pages (e.g., About – Contact – Sample My Books)
  • mobile friendly features for cell phone and tablet visitors

Conclusion

Every author has different needs, time frames and skill sets. Like Laurie, I believe every author can benefit by having a blog, but I don’t think every author needs one. If you have extra time, want to improve your writing, want to bolster your online platform and are in this for the long haul, then yes, you should be blogging. If you’re writing to satisfy another goal and not sure how important it is to you, blogging may feel like a burden you don’t need. Or you may have limited time and the ability to write amazing books, which people read and share with others (the ultimate goal). In that case, you probably don’t need one either.

By the way, thank you to Laurie for letting me share these insights. She’s at Fuse Literary and knows her stuff.

What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments.


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Facelift or Botch for Amazon Author Central?

Seems like every time I publish something, like a video training course, the internet gives it a new spin. In this case Amazon Author Central profile pages got a facelift which may be a botched job. It appears an effort was made to have more show at the top of the page at the sacrifice of information about each item. This is the new look and I’ll explain the differences:
Amazon Author Central Oct 2014The biography is a thin column beneath the main photo, which shows less text than the old version (I need to shorten the URLs to appear on one line). Also only two photos display, whereas the old version showed a choice of boxes beneath the main one allowing readers to click on eight options. Just one blog post is listed unless you click the “pan sideways” button, where before several blog headlines were shown prominently. It took me a few minutes to figure that out as I am used to scrolling down, not panning sideways. Fortunately you can still scroll down and find the old information, but it’s not as apparent at first glance since it’s further down from the landing zone. The video area shows higher on the page but only one, where before there was a choice of eight like the photos. “Author Updates” have replaced “Latest Tweet” and “Blog Posts” so that’s kind of a toss-up. The horizontal book presentation has a lack of reviews displayed. This is a bit concerning for books with many good reviews, in the event people don’t scroll down further to see the reviews. Although for books with great covers and few reviews, it might help a bunch.

The image below is from the UK Author Central, which never displayed blog posts and must be next in line for the facelift (France already got hers, Germany and Japan waiting).

Amazon Author Central Oct 2014 2Perhaps it’s just a matter of getting used to the changes, but at first glance I prefer the old version. If they could figure out a way to add the reviews to the horizontal book display, I’d like it better. Plus the photos and video options from before were a nice touch.

What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments. Have you seen your new look and made any changes?


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2014 Digital Author and Indie Self-Publishing Conference LA

digital author and self publishing conferenceThe Annual Digital Author and Indie Self-Publishing Conference is focused on the new paradigms for authors in an increasingly digital world where the publishing giants are Amazon, Apple, Smashwords and other digital resources, rather than the Big Five Publishers. As the market changes, many authors are now publishing through a growing field of Independents, or becoming their own publisher.

This year’s conference takes place from Oct. 17th – 19th at Los Angeles Valley College.

Attendees can “turn back time” and get in at last months’ prices by going to the club rate here: http://www.wcwriters.com/specials.

Or they can still get the 2-for-1 rate here: http://www.wcwriters.com/241.

Additionally, as faculty I (Jason Matthews) am entitled to bring a free guest, but I need to know immediately if you would like to attend.

Additionally again, I can offer a free scholarship or two to deserving clients, who should attend this conference but just can’t afford anything. Seriously. I can award the prize on my behalf. Pretty cool, just let me know.

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Authorly for Book Apps

authorly bear(This article by Jason Matthews first appeared on TheBookDesigner.)

Authorly turns books into apps. Don’t feel bad if you’ve heard the term a thousand times but still don’t know exactly what an “app” is; the tech learning curve never ends. App is short for application though that probably doesn’t clarify much.

This is similar to enhanced ebooks (EEBs), something we discussed in a previous post. Since the digital medium is capable of so much more than mere ink on mere paper, this boils down to storytelling helpers like audio, video, even reader options to the direction and outcome of a storyline. In theory, apps engage readers with major possibilities including:

  • narration and sound effects
  • animations and visual effects
  • hotspots
  • plot choices and alternative endings
  • questions and answers
  • forum participation with other readers
  • word-to-word highlighting
  • author interviews and more

Many of those advanced features aren’t commonly used today, though that could change fast. The short answer is an app can make any book more interactive and improve the user experience. Ebook apps are predominantly in illustrated children’s books, but other uses should expand to every genre and any book. Those that are short on text and heavy on other elements, like images or video, are perfect candidates. Think cookbooks, comics, travel guides, any form of education, etc., while also imagining possibilities for fun extras in mystery, thriller and romance genres.

Authorly is a web-based digital publishing system that enables anyone to design their own book app, even with a do-it-yourself option. That’s exciting because not long ago if you wanted an app and weren’t ultra tech savvy, you’d need to hire a designer and pay handsomely for it, a real gamble that left many authors deep in the red. iBooks Author from Apple performs a similar service but it’s only been accessible to Apple users via the iBooks Store, which left many unable to utilize it. Authorly publishes these apps to Apple iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Appstore and the Nook App Marketplace. Anyone with an Apple or Android device can create and buy an Authorly app.

How difficult is it for technophobes?

It’s not much harder than learning any new software and requires no programming skills. It utilizes drag and drop features.

What does it cost and what are the terms?

Authorly has a free do-it-yourself program. They also have paid versions ($20/page, less for bulk orders) if you’d like their pros to help out. (Think of a page as an individual screen of images and accompanying text.) Authors choose the price of the finished product. On sales, Authorly keeps 20% of the royalties while the retailers take another 30%, leaving the author with the final 50%.

CEO Adam Kaslikowski reports the majority of authors prefer the paid services while approximately 25% choose the DIY program. Because Authorly has created such a buzz, there is currently a queue of several weeks for apps to be produced and uploaded to retailers. They are adding to their staff to keep up with demand. Adam also mentioned the large number of illustrated books for children, comics and educational books using the service.

Using It

Authorly was founded a few years ago, but in February of 2014 they opened the self-publishing branch. I played around with it. The program appears to have been built around concepts for picture books, designed to work with individual pages that consist of images and text. I uploaded some to get my feet wet. At first glance, it’s similar to creating a Power Point but with fewer gadgets and options.

Authorly project example

The website and actual software have a distinct beta-stage feel. In my first moments I ran into obstacles with simple tasks, like losing text boxes after creating them by clicking my cursor somewhere else. Unfortunately the onsite “Help” tab currently goes to a 404 Page Not Found link. That led me to try another browser, and switching from Firefox to Chrome made a big difference, which helped getting things to stay put. I then added images, video, text and brief audio clips of me narrating sentences. The next task was to play around with new slides and enhancements. Like many authors, I’m familiar with programs like MSWord, Power Point and Google Presentations so I assumed adding elements, editing and assigning animations would be similar on Authorly as to those common programs, but that isn’t really the case. In my opinion it’s less intuitive for a first time user, causing me to send an email to request tutorial info on basics. Even a YouTube search of “Authorly Tutorial” currently yields nothing, which may be an indicator of how new it is. (A screen-cast of one their pros creating a project would work wonders.) The other surprise was not being able to view what little I had created, to see it as it would be seen with a Preview or Present mode. Maybe I wasn’t doing it properly, but again without any tutorial guidance, that was my take. My guess is these things will see improvements in the user-friendliness department in the near future.

To get a feel for how some initial projects look coming out of Authorly, which were probably created by their pros, see the video below (more complex animations are in the works):

Melissa Pilgrim is an author who creates projects for all mediums—film, TV, theatre and books. One of her children’s books, Animal Motions (Indigo River Publishing), is an illustrated story that was recently turned into an interactive app via Authorly. Melissa is among the 75% of authors who enlist the help of Authorly’s design team. She says, “Working with Authorly was a wonderful experience. They encouraged me to design all the concepts dealing with the animations and audio hotspots. Since I am new to app technology, they also let me know what was possible to do in regards to the animations now, and what will be available later in the future as the technology progresses.

Animal Motions“The word-by-word highlighting on the ‘Read To Me’ and ‘Auto Play’ options was a valuable feature they wanted to add, for they felt it would help children learn to read as they had fun acting out and listening to the story—and I completely agree! The added sound effects/hotspots they provided were fantastic too (which were each based on a list of sounds I requested), for they allow children to learn the sounds animals really make.”(See the Animal Motions app at Amazon, iTunes or Melissa’s website.)

Authorly also has created their own library called BookFair, a monthly subscription service to unlimited access to the books selected by staff.

Conclusions

I have some thoughts for authors considering adding elements like these. First and foremost, recognize that the more data your book contains, the more it will probably cost the buyer. If you want videos embedded into a book, it’s wise to keep them as short as possible with smaller file sizes. I’d recommend video clips that are less than a minute. Adam Kaslikowski says $4.99 is a sweet spot for app prices, while $9.99 is an upper limit to avoid.

Another thing to remember is to make sure your app enhances the storytelling of the book, and you’re not just leaping into this as a thing to try for extra sales. Professionalism is a must, something that needs to be reiterated among indie author circles. It would be great to be approved for the BookFair, reserved for the best Authorly apps. Also note that changes can be made after publishing, but there is typically a charge based on the amount of change.

I’m also hoping the future design of the software is more accommodating to larger books with more text and less enhancements. For the time being, a novel app will probably need to be made some other way but it would be cool if that were more feasible. Just my opinion. I like the potentials here.

For more information, visit Authorly.com.


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