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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CreateSpace vs Ingram Spark Explained

Thank you to Giacomo Giammatteo for explaining the major differences between CreateSpace and Ingram Spark for self-publishing paperbacks. This article makes it very clear, pointing out your options. Giacomo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the “No Mistakes” Careers series.

I have done a few posts on printing for the self-published author, but the more I play around with social media, the more confusion I see among indie authors. Most of the confusion stems from misinformation or old information regarding the two biggest players in the indie author printing game—CreateSpace and Ingram (either Spark or Lightning Source).

First, to clear up a simple thing that always bothers me—it’s Lightning Source, not Lightening Source. There is no ‘e’ in the name, just like there is no ‘e’ in the lightning that you see during a storm.

And to clear up a few other misconceptions—there are lots of options available to indie authors. In Choosing a Self-Publishing Service, Mick Rooney and I covered quite a few possibilities, and Mick’s site The Independent Publishing Magazine has plenty of articles on those options. But for this post, we’re only going to deal with two options—CreateSpace and Ingram Spark.

What To Compare

Determining what to compare is a major consideration for a blog post. If we go into detail on all the choices, it would require a book to do a proper justification. We don’t have time for a book, so I picked what seems to be the biggest concerns for most indie authors…(continue reading this article by Giacomo Giammatteo).

 


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Amazon Author Central: Marketing Books Like a Pro

Amazon Author Central video courseA new video course for maximizing your abilities to reach a global audience as an Amazon author. For a limited time a COUPON CODE will be available making the course free: BACKTOSCHOOL (https://www.udemy.com/amazon-author-central-marketing-books-like-a-pro/?couponCode=BACKTOSCHOOL).

Indie authors have more ways to sell ebooks with Amazon than at any other retailer because Amazon has enabled so many useful tools for them. Surprisingly, many authors are not using these options at all or not effectively. Authors who make the most of the available tools sell more books and generate more reviews, which helps continue the cycle.

This video walks new and established authors through the steps of doing everything in their power to make the most of their Amazon presence. You’ll learn to:

  • create a complete and efficient Author Central profile for Amazon USA and nations around the world.
  • make Amazon Associate-Affiliate program profiles and benefit from additional commissions on future sales.
  • build Global Amazon links for purchases and reviews to be left in the proper nation worldwide.
  • maximize your Amazon potentials.

Whether inserted in a website, blog, email signature or within the book itself, you’ll discover how easy and wise it is to always use Global Amazon links, which gives you an advantage since it is still not being done by many authors.

Taught by Jason Matthews, author-speaker-blogger-publishing coach, who has mentored thousands of writers with his guide, How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks.

It’s time to make of the most of your Amazon potentials. Click here for the FREE COUPON while supplies last.

 


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Playtime with Amazon’s Search Engine and Selling Prompts

Amazon CartThis article by Jason Matthews first appeared on The Book Designer.

In 2012, Forrester Research reported that more people use Amazon’s search engine than Google’s when searching for products to buy. That wasn’t a surprise. Google’s search engine was designed to provide information and sell advertising while Amazon’s was designed to sell products. Hearing this news excited me as an indie author selling books. I realized the need to pay more attention to a powerful search engine: Amazon’s.

Consider how readers find books at Amazon. People often shop for specific titles that are recommended to them by friends and family. In those cases, the title or author name is usually known and won’t be difficult for the shopper to find. Sometimes people browse titles and read descriptions, often clicking on Amazon up-sell icons as in the “customers who bought this item also bought” variety. And then some people discover books entirely on their own using search terms. It’s with these cases where authors can have the most influence to help buyers discover their books. Authors accomplish this by employing keywords, individual words or short phrases that can be part of your title, subtitle, categories, KDP dashboard selections and more.

If you feel any dread when it comes to keywords (or metadata), you’re not alone. Many authors have a limited understanding of these digital entities and struggle to add elements to their books to assist with Amazon’s search engine. Fortunately there’s good news for those who recoil when it comes to keyword research; this can be fun. Think of it as a game where you play around and experiment with Amazon’s search engine. (Great video tutorial course with coupon code: KEYWORD7.)

Remember that most of this boils down to one smart question: are readers able to find your book without knowing the exact title or author name? The answer may be a resounding no at first, but these things can be improved upon.

Step 1: Get familiar with Amazon’s search engine.

Select the book department since most people who buy books shop there. Your starting point should look like this:

Amazon search engine

As you probably know, the search engine is the orange highlighted box above where you can type.

Step 2: Recognize the Selling Prompts that appear.

As you type letters into the box, Amazon immediately offers time-saving prompts of what it thinks you might be searching for. (This is my belief of course; the formula for Amazon’s search engine is a secret. I’m speculating the obvious, that these prompts are related to what previous customers have searched for and bought.) For example, start typing the letters T-H and watch the green box of prompts become active below:

Amazon search engine 2

Amazon thinks you might be shopping for bestsellers like The Fault in Our Stars, or The Goldfinch or perhaps A Game of Thrones. Take it two letters further with T-H-E-R for the change in results below:

Amazon search engine 3

Now Amazon prompts you with people, book titles and subjects. It thinks you might be searching for Theresa Caputo (star of Long Island Medium television show), books on therapy or popular titles like Wherever You Go, There You Are. (These prompts change over time, so your results may be different. Amazon likes to sell and recommend what’s hot now.)

Consider how these selling prompts may influence people as they type. Because the prompts are time-savers, people actually looking for those items will often scroll down and click on them. But how many of these prompts influence buyers who were searching for something else? Once the prompt appears a buyer may think, “Hmm, I’d love to know more about Theresa Caputo.” It probably happens frequently with Mrs. Caputo benefitting because she’s already a celebrity and her name begins with the same letters as many titles and subjects: T-H-E-R.

Step 3: Your Turn to Experiment

Now that we’ve chatted about Amazon’s search bar and selling prompts, how might this feature help you sell books? Begin by playing around with multiple search terms related to your book, analyzing the prompts along with their results when clicked. Then you can make incremental changes to your keywords and metadata that will help your book match up with those terms over time. Even though prompts may change in the months ahead, there are still good strategies that come from this.

Let’s discuss some examples. Like any book, yours has a title, possibly a subtitle, categories, keywords and interior text that help both readers and Amazon’s search engine determine the content. (I didn’t mention the description because my experiments have shown Amazon’s search engine does not currently index the words of the description, although Google’s does).

For instance, let’s say you wrote a novel called The Day I Met Dad about a man traveling into the past in attempt to get to know his father, who had died just before his son’s birth. The novel has elements of science-fiction, family relationships and humor. Those genre-related terms may enter your keyword list, but one subject of major importance is time travel. You may consider all sorts of keywords like time machine, time travel, time traveler, time traveling or even versions with the British spelling: travelling. My advice is to begin by typing the word “time” into the search bar. You may also need to start typing the next word to see results relevant to your novel. Here are prompts that arise with T-I-M-E–T:

Amazon search engine 6

Clearly the term “time travel” is a great choice because it’s the first selling prompt. When clicking on that prompt for “time travel” you may notice the book results are different than if you had typed “time travels” into a search. This is why it’s important to experiment with closely related words. I would also choose a keyword like “time travel fiction” over “time travel novel” for the same reason.

Other things to consider are the books that result after clicking the prompt. How many results does Amazon list, shown on the left corner of the screen? More results can make it more challenging to rise to the first page, which is why it helps to optimize each element of your book as I’ll explain later. How many of the titles have “time travel” in them? The title and subtitle carry huge metadata importance to Amazon’s search engine, so if your novel doesn’t have that element in the title, it will be more difficult to rise to the first page of results. In that case a subtitle would help, like The Day I Met Dad: A Time Travel Fiction. I know some authors may find that subtitle unattractive, but it will assist immensely with the search engine offering the book from a subject search. (It’s an option that can always be added later to a KDP book.)

For another example, let’s say you wrote a memoir about overcoming a history of drug abuse. A preliminary list of keywords might include drug abuse, drug abuse memoir, drug addict, drug addiction, drug addiction recovery and more. When playing around with Amazon’s search prompts, some things become apparent by the time these letters are typed: D-R-U-G–A.

Amazon search engine 7

The top three results are all relevant to the story, which would make great keyword choices. When I added a “d” to the end, “drug addiction recovery” was also a good choice.

What about genre? I believe subject matter and genres are less like to change as much over time compared to prompts for people, characters and bestselling titles. Let’s say you wrote a novel that involves elements of historical romance. Type H-I-S-T into the search bar and see these prompts:

Amazon search engine 9

Again, I would choose “historical fiction” and “historical romance” over “historical novel” or “historical novels.”

We could go on all day with analyzing selling-prompts, and you can at home with your own examples. Below are some tips for implementing keyword choices to help Amazon’s search engine connect these terms to your book, along with reminders for how time may change things.

Titles and Subtitles

When possible, adding a keyword or two to titles and subtitles helps immensely with search results. This is easier for nonfiction, but many fiction books can benefit as well by finding ways to get keywords into the title or subtitle, as in the time travel example above. Obviously this is something you’ll want to do only once, and so it makes more sense with genre and subject matter than a term that might be just a trend.

KDP Keywords

Amazon lets you insert seven keywords (or short phrases) into a box in the KDP dashboard. Use all seven choices with some variety, e.g. not just related to time travel. There’s no need to insert your author name, especially if you’ve created a profile at Amazon Author Central. If you published through a press that doesn’t give you access to your KDP dashboard, find out what those keywords are and consider requesting a change if they don’t seem helpful. This is a very quick process and can be changed again any time. You may want to check your keywords in Amazon searches every six months and see the results for both selling prompts and your book in the results. It’s really easy to make alterations when that seems like a wise choice.

Categories

Amazon lets you pick two categories and will sometimes assign extras of its own choosing. These categories should be keyword related and often can be linked to special Amazon-recognized keywords as this tutorial explains: Make Your Book More Discoverable with Keywords. This is another area than can be checked over time and easily changed in your KDP dashboard.

Interior Book Text

For paperbacks with the Look Inside feature, Amazon indexes about the first 20% of the book’s text for search terms. You can load up with a dozen or more keywords and add them to the bottom of your copyright page, which generally doesn’t get read by readers but does by Amazon’s search engine. This might be a line like “Subjects include: time travel, time travel fiction, time travel books, science fiction, humorous fiction, family relationships, fathers and sons” and a few more terms you found during research. Remember to place this somewhere that will be read by the search engine but probably not by readers. I make changes to this about once a year, but I’m fairly obsessive about these things.

Description

Amazon does not currently index the book’s description even though their tutorials claim they do. Believe me; I’ve experimented plenty of times with my own titles. However, Google does index the Product Page description, and so Google search results for your description will show up listing the Amazon book. For that reason, and because Amazon could alter their program, it’s worthwhile to include the same “Subjects include:” line discussed above at the very end of your description to help with Google searches, though this is the least effective method outlined here.

Extra Option: Cross-Test at Google Keyword Planner

Since this post is already long and focused on Amazon, I don’t want to over-complicate it. But for those who want to go the extra step, you can cross-test keyword choices at Google’s Keyword Planner to get rough numbers on how many people type your exact keyword choices into Google searches. A similar ratio should exist at Amazon.

Remember that you can experiment with keywords and categories, then give it a few months to a year, and make changes if you don’t see improvements when searching for your book. And you don’t have to be as obsessive as I am to benefit from it. Have fun while making discoveries.

 


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