D’vorah Lansky Interviews Jason Matthews

Dvorah LanskyAuthor and book marketing wizard, D’vorah Lansky recently interviewed me on the subject of How Authors Can Benefit by Publishing Their eBooks on Multiple Platforms. It’s an hour video packed with info on this topic including questions on publishing with Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iPad, Smashwords, selling pdf files from your own sites, teaching a Udemy video course and more. If you don’t have an hour, read the cliff notes below. You can also learn about D’vorah and her work at both http://www.bookmarketingmadeeasy.com/ and http://DigitalPublishingVirtualSummit.com.

Jason, how did you get involved in the digital publishing / eBook world? In 1992 I wrote a screenplay and eventually signed with a film agent. Then I watched a decade pass with no deals. I finally rewrote the screenplay as a novel and also wrote a sequel, but both of those tasks took seven more years. By that time I had little patience for agents or publishers, so after a few rejections I decided to self-publish. I remember the exact moment it occurred in 2009, watching a college football game with a player named “Kindle” and the proverbial light-bulb turned on in my head. I knew then that my novels must be made available for Amazon Kindle owners and began the investigation of how to do that.

Why do you feel it is important for authors to publish their book digitally? Whether the author is traditionally published, or a newbie Indie or something in between, she/he must make those stories available digitally because ebooks are growing exponentially while print publishing is a flat industry. It’s also been shown that people who read ebooks are far more active readers and buyers. Ebooks enable an enormous portable library for people to read anywhere, even from their cell phones (you’d be surprised how many do).

In addition to Amazon, what are the top publishing options authors should consider, and why? This is currently the big question, and the answer isn’t the same for every author. In my experience Amazon is the king—Amazon is all that matters to me since they sell about 90% of my ebooks. Amazon even has a program called KDP Select, which requires a 90 day exclusive clause that the ebook is only available at Amazon and literally nowhere else including an author’s website. KDP Select offers special promotions and can really help spread an author’s name within the e-reading circles. Surprisingly, I’ve opted not to do KDP Select to keep my ebooks available everywhere possible. Because I teach these methods, my books must be available at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, directly through my own websites and even as paperbacks via CreateSpace. Incredibly, all of these things are possible to do at no cost. For other authors, Amazon might be all they need although I would recommend having print copies available at CreateSpace, Lightning Source or Lulu. Print copies do not violate the terms for KDP Select.

If an author has published to Amazon, what benefits are there to also publishing to Barnes and Noble’s Nook? I know some authors who have great sales at Barnes & Noble. A small number sell more there than at Amazon and some sell with reasonable amounts like 25% of what they sell at Amazon. My ratio used to be about 15%, but lately it’s plummeted to 3% for Barnes & Noble sales compared to Amazon. However, that could change at any time so it makes sense for me to keep my books on their shelves. It’s really difficult to pull books from a retailer when they have sold well in the past. Anything could happen in the months ahead.

I know you have a video series in progress where you talk about how you take great care to publish and harness the marketing tools for both Kindle and Nook but your Kindle sales still overtake your Nook sales at a rate of 39:1. What can you share with us about your findings? Some of that is my venting to Barnes & Noble, meaning I wish they were doing the same business for me as Amazon. I find the entire platform at B & N less reader/author friendly including how their search engines operate, a lack of categories, lack of tags and how they recommend books to readers based on demonstrated preferences. Part of it is also this—I believe B & N got into the e-reading game reluctantly and a bit too late. They resisted the initial digital surge until finally realizing the brick and mortar design alone could not stand afloat, and so they introduced the Nook in Oct. 2009, well after the Kindle was established in Nov. 2007. It’s a great product and B & N was a great store, but why did it take them so long to get on board digitally? In the past week Microsoft invested heavily in Barnes & Noble with a pledge of $600 million to help the company compete with Amazon and Apple. Okay, we knew Microsoft didn’t like Apple, but it doesn’t take much now to see Microsoft and Amazon aren’t in bed either. Personally, I think Bill Gates may have just dumped over half a billion dollars. I wonder if Barnes & Noble is a doomed company still relying heavily on brick and mortar sales. If that’s true, it’s a good thing for Mr. Gates that he can easily afford the $600 million.

Are you familiar with publishing aggregates such as Lulu.com and Smashwords.com and what can you share with us about these companies? I’m a huge fan of Smashwords, a company that’s done more for ebooks and Indie authors than anything outside of Amazon. I met the CEO, Mark Coker, at the 2010 San Francisco Writers Conference and got his autograph (first one he’s signed). Smashwords helps new authors in more ways than I can list here. It does a dual publishing job of converting documents into multiple formats to be read on many devices while also distributing ebooks to companies like Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo and Diesel for sales. Smashwords does a tremendous amount of work while taking a smidgeon of profits (around 5%). Lulu, in my opinion, used to make more sense than it does now. For publishing ebooks, just upload directly to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple (if you’re a Mac user) and Smashwords for distribution to the rest. For paper versions, I recommend CreateSpace or Lightning Source over Lulu, but Lulu is not a bad platform either. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, which makes the integration of ebook and print versions on their site seamless.

Jason, what else would you like to share with our community of authors, coaches, and speakers, regarding publishing their eBooks? This question could be answered in an entire book, or several–believe me because I’ve written them. If I could only impress one idea to a new author getting a book released, it would be this; experiencing success as an Indie author is most likely to happen if you do three things well. First, your book must be fantastic. It must be well-edited and make people want to read it entirely then share it with others who might benefit. Second, you must do everything possible to get the word out about your book, and this is probably wiser with free methods like blogging, participating in forums and using social media. Third, you must have thick skin for the nay-sayers while also having devout persistence when the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years. These things typically don’t happen overnight. There are a million Indie authors releasing ebooks, but only a tiny fraction will succeed. To be successful, you must have those three attributes to rise above the masses.

What one thing would you have our listeners do, in the next 24-hours, to take action on what you shared with us today?

Build an Internet Platform or Internet Presence list and identify your strong areas and those that need work. Think of it like a checklist or an outline or even a marketing plan, whatever works best for you. Items on the checklist don’t need to be worked on in a specific order, all can be done simultaneously in bits and pieces. These should include:

  • Writing the book
  • Editing the book (and this can be done in a several ways)
  • Cover design
  • Formatting the ebooks for Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and your own sites
  • Formatting for print versions (CreateSpace, Lightning Source, Lulu)
  • Building social media presence (Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube)
  • Building a blog and/or website
  • Identifying the best forums for your subjects and participating at least occasionally.

Once you have the list (checklist, outline or marketing plan), refer to it monthly to identify which elements need the most work and stick with it.

Succeeding as an author today is perhaps equally as difficult whether one attempts to get published traditionally or enter the world of self-publishing. In both cases, the author will be required to market her/his books. The main benefit in choosing the self-publishing route is bypassing the waiting game; getting a book out there in little time and working on sales is a rewarding momentum boost for many Indies.

If that sounds like you then I recommend my book, How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free. It’s a guide for learning everything it takes to make and sell books in a digital world on a budget everyone can afford. There is also advice for those who’d like to spend money wisely.

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NCX Files for Ebook Navigation

ebook readers and NCX filesFor Indie authors who want to sell ebooks, it has become important to know about NCX files, which stands for Navigation Control for XML. This is especially important if your book is non-fiction and/or has important chapter titles and plans to be converted to epub format, which is the standard now used by Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble Nook and many others. In fact some retailers, like Kobo, are now requiring these NCX files, and many retailers, like Apple and Barnes & Noble, could make them mandatory soon for Indie authors selling ebooks.

NCX files and linked Table of Contents (TOC) are very similar elements for adding navigation within the book. It’s easy to confuse the two. While it’s smart and common to find a TOC at the very beginning with hyperlinks that connect chapter titles to locations within an ebook, it’s also wise to do a similar thing with NCX files.

These NCX files are relatively new but quickly becoming mainstream. It’s really just a simple way of telling conversion software how to identify the TOC and create a user-friendly map or means of accessing that element quickly from anywhere within the book. For example, if you were reading somewhere  in the middle of an ebook and instantly wanted to see the chapter headings, the NCX file will allow for that. If the ebook did not contain this file and only provided a TOC for navigation links, then the reader would have to go back to the beginning. Not a huge deal, of course, but the NCX file does make this a bit simplified.

So how do you create them? For Indie authors planning to upload with Smashwords, which is a great idea, it can be done by following the explanations given in the Smashwords Style Guide and is really quite simple. Basically, all that’s needed to create an NCX file is to list the chapter number and title in this fashion–Chapter 1: Example for the First Chapter. That would be the wording to go into the TOC as well as to begin the page title where the first chapter is located. Then each subsequent chapter number and title would follow in the same manner throughout the TOC and the ebook. This way, the software used for converting documents, like Microsoft Word into things like epub files, can easily recognize the intent and create a handy navigation guide for readers anywhere within an ebook.

Another way to create NCX files is with html coding for a document. There’s a nice Wikipedia article for EPUB that also has a section with examples for html coding that includes inserting the NCX file.

Of course for non-fiction and/or fiction with important chapter titles, you should also have a Table of Contents with hyperlinks to the actual places within the document. For authors still wanting to know more about creating a TOC, especially for Kindle ebooks, here is a previous post on adding linked TOCs.

And some books really don’t require this at all. My second novel, Jim’s Life, has such short chapters (and so many of them) there was never any need to title them or worry about a TOC or navigation. Maybe that’s true for your ebook too, and so this won’t be something to worry about, although for most Indie writers, the NCX file will be mandatory soon so we might as well get familiar with it.

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Tagging Books-Tag My Book, Does it Help with Amazon Search Results?

tags for books, book taggingFor authors who want to sell ebooks or paperbacks, having their Amazon books tagged seems like it can be a big deal. Tag-my-book parties are even common at forums for writers including Goodreads, Authonomy and more although they have been banned from Amazon forums for “gaming the system.” But regardless of the ethics or lack of  ethics, does tagging really help?

What exactly are tags for books, you might ask? If you visit any book at Amazon, try one of mine for example, and scroll down past the product description and reviews, you’ll find a list of tags that customers (or others) have used to identify genres and subject matter of a book. This is meant to be helpful to browsers searching for books of similar nature and for Amazon to group books accordingly. In my example some of the tags will be: self publishing, sell ebooks, ebook business, writers, kindle, online marketing, etc. You can click on an individual tag and find a huge list of books with the same tag, usually ranked from highest number to lowest. Therefore, the consensus of many authors is–having more tags is great and having lots of commonly used tags–even better.

What are commonly used tags? Words like Kindle, adventure, fantasy, romance, humor, fiction, science fiction, history, young adult, vampire, christian fiction… the list goes on. Amazon has a page of commonly searched tags here. But tags don’t have to be so general; they can be much more specific as many of mine are like social marketing and ebook publishing.

How does a Tag Party work? A collection of authors (and sometimes readers/family/friends) agree to add tags, up to 15 per person, to each others books. A forum list develops with an agreement to tag everyone on the list and get tagged too. The more people in the party, the better. Once several dozen people are tagging each others books, in little time a book can achieve a fair number of tags.

However, at first glance it appears this helps with visibility and book sales, but that really hasn’t been proven to me yet. For example, currently my book has more tags for the tag term “epublishing” than any other Amazon book and will come up very high if you click a tag that says “epublishing.” But if you type the same term “epublishing” into an Amazon search box, my book doesn’t even appear in the top 100 results. Odd, isn’t it? The question becomes; what percentage of Amazon buyers really search for new books by using tags? Conversely, we know that many book buyers, myself included, search for books by typing terms into the search box.

The tag term “sell ebooks” currently places my book #2 in a tag search, but if you type that into a book search it comes up as #1 probably because those words are a part of the title. So, I’m still in the school of thought that keywords in the title are far more important than a huge number of tags. I’d still like to know, do the tags help? Maybe. I know of at least one reader, from her forum comments, who says she uses tags to search for new books of a certain subject. Maybe there’s more people like her, but I believe she represents the exception and not the rule.

Still, when it comes to selling both ebooks and paperbacks, Independent authors (Indies) should try a bit of everything and hope it helps. There are several good places to join tagging parties. You can find them on Amazon Kindle discussions at the Meet Our Authors Forum and currently at the Kindle Book Forum, though that might get moved to the former due to Amazon’s restructuring of what they consider to be blatant self-promotion. You can also find taggers at Goodreads, Authonomy and even some of the Indie groups on Facebook.

By far the best place I’ve found to date is at Kindle Direct Publishing New April 2011 Tag My Book. This group is serious and selective on who they accept. You will have to get your tagging act together, however, or you will not be tagged. This means you will have to learn how to copy and paste the author’s preferred 15 tags and do it for everyone on the list before you will be added to the list. There’s a thorough explanation for newbies at the start of the thread. Once that’s done, the tags on your books will increase by HUGE amounts. If you think you can handle that, try this exceptional tagging group.

Also for trans-continental efforts, notice that for a US Amazon author to tag a UK Amazon book, she/he must have made a purchase from UK Amazon. This rule is true regardless of the country of the author’s origin and the country of Amazon products (US, UK, Germany, Japan, France, etc.)

Any other highly recommended groups or opinions on this? Please share them in the comments section.

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Amazon Cracks Down On Indies Self Promotion, No More Indie Author Spam

shameless self promotionIn a move clearly designed to keep both Kindle forum users and Indie authors happy, Amazon has created a special place within the discussions just for self promotion (although this probably makes far more pure readers happy than authors). It was bound to happen as Kindle owners who use the forums to discuss the e-reading device and their favorite ebooks were mostly tired of being perpetually bombarded with promotional spam from self-published, Indie authors.

From Amazon’s announcement:

Amazon recently created a new community for authors. The `Meet Our Authors’ community is designed to give authors a space to engage with one another and promote their latest and greatest works.

With the advent of the new community, we will no longer allow self promotional posts in other communities. Starting on Monday, May 16th, all “shameless self promotion” activity will be limited to the `Meet Our Authors’ community. Promotional threads outside of these forums will be removed.

We invite authors and interested readers to come join the discussion at:


So far it seems to be a lot of concern about nothing. Still business as usual for Indie authors at Amazon forums, just a little more segmented.

What do you think? Wise move or just putting all those Indies out on their own little island like Gilligan and the castaways?

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Add a TOC Table Of Contents Bookmark to Kindle Ebooks

Table of ContentsYou may have run into slightly complex methods for formatting ebooks. Mobipocket Creator and HTML files are common, but I’ve found great results can be had by uploading a well-formatted Microsoft Word Doc (.doc) to Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple iPad.

Save 87% Format MS Word for Kindle

For non-fiction titles and books with a Table of Contents section, one extra thing readers will appreciate is the inclusion of a TOC link. This isn’t just a page at the beginning with Chapter headings and hyperlinks to places within the document, but also a TOC bookmark, which the e-readers (like the Kindle) will automatically recognize and add to their Menu option. It’s quite simple if you’re familiar with adding a bookmark in Word.

All you need to do is place the cursor at the beginning of the page for the Table of Contents. Then click Insert and choose Bookmark. When the Bookmark tab opens, type in “toc” without the quotes and Add it. Once saved and uploaded to Kindle, for example, that will become a Menu option for Kindle readers to go to the Table of Contents from anywhere in the ebook.

This method also works for the Cover image by bookmarking it with “cover” and also where the book really begins (like the intro or prologue) by bookmarking that with “start.” (Again, do not actually type the “quotes” as I have for the demonstration, but type the words: toc, cover and start.)

Obviously these are just little things that make it nicer for readers, especially for books with TOCs. How will you know if you’ve done it correctly? Download the Kindle Previewer from Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/?docId=1000765261. It will accept MOBI, EPUB, HTML and OPF files under the File tab to Open. I use Calibre or 2epub.com to convert my Word Docx to MOBI and then open them on the Kindle Previewer. All of the hyperlinks and TOC elements and menu options should work perfectly. The same is true for my books on people’s Kindles, even when directly uploading Word Doc files in the way explained above.

If it’s not right, make the correction and try again. One of the best aspects of e-publishing is the ability to make changes quickly and easily.

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