MS Word for CreateSpace Paperbacks, Free Course Limited Time Offer


Happy 2015! Brand new Udemy course just released – Make Paperbacks with CreateSpace: Sell More Books on Amazon – featured 1 week for FREE January 1st – 7th. All the training in the comfort of your own home as a New Year’s gift. (Share with a writer you love.)

Everything you need to format MS Word for CreateSpace paperbacks. Making books is easier than ever. The course helps you:

  • save time
  • save money
  • design your book the way you want it
  • sell books with CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand company
  • have readers enjoying your printed book all over the world!

Offer expires January 8th. To redeem the course for FREE, use coupon code HAPPY2015 or copy and paste the URL, https://www.udemy.com/make-paperbacks-with-createspace-sell-more-books-on-amazon/?couponCode=Happy2015.

And if you enjoy the course and the free gift, please do the courtesy of leaving a course review at Udemy.

Thank you and Happy New Year.


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Smashwords or Draft2Digital for Ebook Distributor?

smashwords or draft2digitalThis article by Jason Matthews first appeared on The Book Designer.

You’re selling ebooks on Amazon. Where else? The options keep expanding as a rising global market embraces digital books. There are dozens of potential retailers, but only a few of the big sellers have enabled indie authors to directly upload in do-it-yourself fashion. KDP Amazon was the first to offer that. In recent years, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play have followed suit. Apple iTunes allows DIY uploading too, if you’re a Mac user.

Beyond those options, other retailers exist that are only available through a distributor. Since 2008, Smashwords (SW) has been the established solution, where authors can upload for sales and also distribution to many retailers that don’t enable direct uploading. Smashwords admits it is primarily a distributor, where most authors will make about 90% of their earnings via the SW distribution partners and not direct sales from the SW bookstore.

Lately more distributors have emerged, some charging upfront for their services and others free of cost with their earnings made on a cut of any sales, usually around 10% of the retail price like with SW. I prefer the no-cost-up-front companies. One choice is Draft2Digital (D2D), and it’s often compared to SW. Each distributor has pros and cons, but is this just a case of apples and oranges or is there a frontrunner? I’ve written on this in the past as have many others, but since e-publishing is an ever-changing industry, it’s nice to reevaluate some of the deciding factors.

Fear the Meatgrinder?

The most obvious difference is the formatting to be done before uploading. SW CEO, Mark Coker, is an expert on formatting that will be compatible for all reading devices. The Smashwords Style Guide, is a 27,000 word manual explaining the majority of requirements for the average ebook. Its length and scope have been reported to cause hair-loss, migraines and contemplated suicides for tech-challenged authors. In contrast, Draft2Digital doesn’t have a style guide. Their goal is “to support your style guide.” Just send them your Word doc, RTF or EPUB file and they’ll convert it.

An intriguing contrast: do we trust D2D’s program as an intuitive ebook formatter or do we buckle down and learn to do it ourselves? Not surprisingly, this factor alone divides the masses. Some writers (like me) appreciate the knowledge to upload with their own personal touches, while others love skipping that learning curve altogether. Would you prefer not to learn how to create an NCX file or even know what an NCX file is? Would you prefer not to be subject to the rigid requirements of the Meatgrinder, the endearing name given to the SW file converter and spell-check software on steroids? You don’t have to worry about that with D2D. Hey, if Google can build a car that drives on autopilot, D2D can probably design a program to format ebooks.

I wonder if quality is compromised. Are aesthetically unpleasing ebooks getting published more by D2D than SW? I believe that’s probably true, but I also think the quality is getting better all the time.

Sales Potential

This is what matters to me: who are the distribution partners? Presently D2D will get your ebook into

  • Apple
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Scribd
  • Page Foundry

(Recognize that all of those except PF can be done on a DIY basis, though it’s harder for PC owners to get into Apple. Still, there’s value in doing things once and having it relayed to all channels, or after the inevitable updates happen when a reader points out a typo or you decide to add your latest link to the About the Author page.)

Outside of Amazon, those first three retailers are the main players. Apple is now my second biggest seller. But those retailers aren’t exclusive to D2D.

SW distributes to

  • Apple
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Scribd
  • Page Foundry

In fact, SW has been doing it longer and also distributes to

  • Baker & Taylor Blio
  • Flipkart (India)
  • Oyster
  • txtr (Germany)

plus three channels to libraries

  • Library Direct
  • Baker & Taylor Axis 360
  • Overdrive

Note that India represents a ton of potential readers, and as the digital age matures Flipkart could be a great source of sales. For current ebook distribution partners and sales potential, the advantage clearly goes to SW.

Paperbacks

Want your book in print with the same ease of skipping the format learning curve? D2D also enables a paperback version to be uploaded to CreateSpace (CS), Amazon’s print-on-demand company. Again, I prefer to upload directly, but formatting books for CS can be a Herculean task for newbies, known to drive even pacifists to seek gun applications and home addresses for Microsoft Word designers. Interior templates exist and formatters too, but D2D is offering an attractive option for CS paperbacks. I haven’t tested their system to comment on performance, though I admit being a fan of the concept. Can you envision being chauffeured to a book signing in a Google car while D2D formats your next release in paperback? It’s a nice thought. Fortunately CS has an excellent digital previewer for analyzing results and determining what changes need to be made. Advantage for paperbacks goes to D2D.

(As an update to using D2D for paperbacks at CreateSpace: don’t do it unless you already know how to perfectly format a CreateSpace PDF. And if that’s the case, why not upload your PDF directly to CS? What D2D sends to CS is pretty much a joke from what I’ve seen.)

Small Victories

Another bonus with D2D is monthly payments compared to quarterly payments from SW. D2D also doesn’t stamp their edition with their name as SW does (Smashwords Edition), making it a more attractive copyright page for those who feel the self-publishing stigma is a factor. I’ve also checked my titles at B&N online and noticed the D2D book description displays entirely while the SW description is limited to the short version. Small advantages to D2D.

Leveled Playing Field: Sales Reports, Speed, Preorders

In recent times D2D had much faster sales reporting and speed of uploading to retailers, especially after updates were made (price change, newer version, metadata, etc.), but SW has evolved and caught up in both regards. I believe the speed for updates taking effect at retailers still leans to D2D, but the new sales data from SW is more detailed and appealing.

Another SW special has been setting up a book for preorders before publishing. The benefit: on the day of release the retailers will count all of the preorder sales as if they happened in one day, which can result in your book showing up at the top of popular charts, thus resulting in even more sales. Recently D2D set up preorders too, and it works in the same way. Just publish your book with a firm future date listed for release.

Price Points

At SW you can create coupons to make your book available at any discount, even for 100% off. This is handy in case you’d like to advertise specials for things like gifting copies or generating reviews. At both vendors you can set your price to always be free, but the coupon option is a bonus for authors who would prefer to charge most of the time. Advantage here to SW.

The Future

Expansion is an important element. SW has been expanding its distribution channels since they began. In the past year SW has added OverDrive, txtr, Scribd, Flipkart and Oyster. Just recently D2D added Scribd and Page Foundry and mentions they have plans in the works to expand. D2D has also seen its titles briefly removed from B&N and Kobo shelves, though they were replaced and that was largely due to retailers taking a stand on adult material. Hopefully that won’t happen again.

I like betting on proven winners, and since Mark Coker has such established history and ongoing presence in the publishing community, my choice is to stick with SW and plan for more expansion.

Decisions

There are a few options that make sense. I recommend always directly uploading to KDP Amazon of course (plus B&N, Kobo and Google Play if you want to).

Option A: Use SW exclusively. Bottom line: it has the most retailers under its belt, and learning basic formatting is good for you and not really that bad, just like eating spinach.

Option B: Use D2D exclusively. It gets you into the most important biggies like SW does, plus it can make CS paperbacks. And it’s as simple as sending them whatever you have.

Option C: Use a combination. Decide which one for Apple, B&N, Kobo, Scribd and Page Foundry based on the personal preferences. Consider D2D for CS paperbacks and rest assured that Smashwords will get you into FlipKart, Oyster, txrt, Baker & Taylor, the library channels and the new set of retailers destined to join the field.

Ultimately it boils down to your skill sets, your time and your needs.

Have a comment? Please share them in the comments section.


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Indie Author’s Take on Google Play: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This article by Jason Matthews first featured at The Book Designer.

The official name for interested authors is the Google Books Partner Program. It launched in Dec. 2010 as Google Editions, then became Google Ebooks, then got engulfed in the massive Android supermarket known as Google Play. How would I describe the experience of uploading and selling ebooks there? It reminds me of a movie title: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

They actually sell ebooks. Over the past two years I’ve sold more with Google than at Barnes & Noble or Kobo. That was a pleasant surprise since Google doesn’t depend on book sales to stay afloat or make a dedicated device for reading as the others do. My prediction is for sales to continue to grow though I’m no Vegas-insider.

Purchases can be made in forty-four countries with ongoing expansion. That’s quite an audience. In thirty-six of those countries, authors (called partners) can upload ebooks. In twenty of the thirty-six, Google will pay partners with direct bank deposits (EFT) as is the case for North America and most of Europe. Otherwise payments are with wire transfers.

Search-ability is Google’s forte. They scan your entire document and factor that into the world’s largest search engine. I’ve tested this by copying random sentences from deep within my books and pasting them into a Google search. For example, try this sentence in a search: Mara reminded me of the pictures I had seen of Rose.

Google text search

Lo and behold, the Google book result appears at the very top of the list, and not one other retailer shows up further down. It also works with character names and subject matter, though for popular search terms you may have to scroll down a few pages. This is especially helpful for authors with rarer subjects or names within their books. Remember that Google searches can be tailored just for book results (though the example above is a general Web search).

EPUB files on Google Play support enhanced ebook features (EEBs) such as embedded audio and video. They also support fixed layouts and give advice on how to implement the HTML code for that.

Perhaps the best reason to publish there: less competition exists from other indie authors at Google Play than at Amazon and other retailers. Smashwords, a distributor that sends ebooks to major retailers and library channels, doesn’t ship to Google Play. Neither does Draft2Digital. The only way I’m aware of is to upload directly. This eliminates a lot of indie authors assumedly for the bad and ugly reasons listed below.

The Bad

Uploading there is challenging. It’s as if the book store engineers decided to reinvent the wheel without taking a peek at how Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords and other retailers handle the art of receiving cover images and interior files.

You’ll need to upload interior documents as EPUB and/or PDF files. Google recommends that you send both types since they offer two display modes: original pages and reflowable text. Providing the PDF will ensure that readers can view the book in its original layout, while the EPUB will allow a more customizable experience. Many authors are unfamiliar with EPUB, working in MS Word and uploading that or saving it as HTML Web Page Filtered. There are free and paid solutions for making EPUB conversions including Calibre, Sigil, 2epub and others. You can even download and save an EPUB file if you’ve uploaded MS Word directly at Kobo or Barnes & Noble, which they convert to EPUB for their devices.

Unfortunately there is no preview mode, which irks me. Amazon has an amazing previewer, and the others have made dramatic improvements in this arena. The only way to preview your book at Google Play is to wait until it has processed and then view the sample.

Price gouging at Google Play is about 23%, which means they’ll reduce whatever price you set it at. Remember to bump up your price by at least 23% or be subject to Amazon price matching to match their lower price.

There is little customer support although it has gotten better. An email to support leads to this automatic reply: Thanks for contacting us. We’ll follow up with you only if we need more information or have additional information to share. (Feels like they’re copping attitude.) In the past I’ve waited a week or more for a response. Recently I tested the service with an email and got a reply within a few hours when I included a screen-share of the problem, which is recommended. Tip: include screen-shares in correspondence to entertain bored Google Books employees.

The Ugly

Royalties are 52%. When comparing that to the industry standard, like 70% at Amazon, it’s a bummer. Of course you could always bump the price just a bit higher to split the difference. Not a great royalty, but still worth doing if more sales platforms are better.

It feels like a wild-goose chase searching for info to accomplish things. I’ve reread tutorial articles many times only to find myself back at the starting point, wishing Google allowed comments following the article that likely would help me solve issues. Instead they just offer a rating system if the article was helpful or not. To understand my frustration, play around at their Help Center for awhile: https://support.google.com/books/?.

Worse than that, it’s a serious chore to get the book’s description and author bio to have proper formatting, even using the simplest formatting. The description may look awful once posted as this one did:

formatting issues Google Play books

It appears the best way to make formatting behave it is to retype it on the editing page, which is annoying if you have multiple books and all that stuff is already written. For the 99% of us who want to copy and paste the info from elsewhere, it’s necessary to hit the remove formatting button in the description box and then manually re-enter the formatting such as for paragraph returns and bold type. The remove formatting button is highlighted in the yellow circle below:

Remove formatting button

I had to play around with multiple formatting changes for the description and author bio boxes, then wait about six hours to see how those changes appeared, then repeat until everything was acceptable. It took five days and over a dozen attempts, which is either embarrassing for me or a sign that Google needs to fix this.

Another ugly aspect, and this may be improbable, is the off-chance Google might dump the whole book program. There’s a trust issue with Google that doesn’t exist at other behemoths like Amazon. Google has scrapped plenty of programs as they did with Reader, Wave, Videos, Buzz and more. These dead programs are referred to as the Google Graveyard, and their numbers rise as Google experiments with software and the convenience of really deep pockets. My concern for selling ebooks is that they don’t make a dedicated e-reading device. In the past they had a partnership with the iRiver Story, but that device didn’t integrate into the formation of Google Play, and the iRiver has since been discontinued. Who buys Google books? My guess is people who read on cell phones and various tablets. Does Google really want to compete with Amazon, Apple and others for the long term? We’ll see. The fact that they are selling ebooks and making money on each sale suggests they won’t dump the program. But if they did, it wouldn’t be a shock.

The Verdict

What kind of author should upload to Google Play? Those willing to go the extra mile, knowing it’s a bit more technical, less intuitive, far more annoying, and the risk/rewards are still embedded in a gray area. Selling ebooks there may turn out to be a prosperous alternative or a total waste of time. (Sadly, I just described myself.) If you’re interested in getting started, visit this link: https://play.google.com/books/publish/signup.

And if you have any advice or comments, as always please share them in the comments.


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7 Item To-Do List for Amazon Author Central Profile

Amazon Author Central to do listI work with a lot of authors, both published veterans and newbies to the Indie scene. When gathering information about them, one of the first places I visit is their Amazon Author Central page, where writers can customize a personal profile and also get excellent data on book sales, author ranking and answers to support questions. Think of it as your Amazon social media page.

Surprisingly, many authors haven’t created one, and this is true for newbies and veterans alike. In those cases, clicking on their name at the book’s product page simply leads to a search engine result showing a list of books that may have been written by that author or someone with the same name. It’s a wasted opportunity when an interested reader can’t discover more about you. Every author page should be filled out entirely when possible. How do you that? Visit Amazon Author Central to get started.

Save 83% Market Books Like a Pro

1. List all of your books.

Click the Book tab and then Add More Books where you can search by title, author name or ISBN. Then check This is My Book. Add each one so they will be displayed under your profile page. In some cases the print or audio version may show up differently than the Kindle version depending on the publisher, so double-check that you have identified all of your books in every version.

2. Click the Profile tab and fill out a great biography.

Add interesting details about you or awards your books have gathered, but don’t ramble. My advice is to keep it short and sweet. If possible write the essentials within roughly 300 words or less so readers won’t have to click the Read More button once it’s posted. It seems obvious that people would click the Read More button but you can’t rely on the obvious, and if an important detail (like your website) falls below the default area, some people will never see it. While HTML code is not supported, you can still copy and paste a URL for your website, a smart thing to do.

3. Add Photos.

The main author picture should be a close-up of your face with red-eye, cropping, etc. fixed beforehand with a photo touch-up program like Picasa. You can add up to 8 photos, which gives ample opportunity to share shots of you alone, with the family or pets, on vacation, having fun and more. Each picture tells a story so why not get 8 awesome photos in there?

4. Add your Twitter feed.

Now your latest tweets will show prominently at the top. Might want to limit the chit-chat-with-friends variety of tweets if you do.

5. Add your Blog feed or RSS feed.

This is normally as simple as copying your blog’s URL and adding either /feed (for WordPress blogs) or /atom.xml (for Blogger) as the suffix. You can also click the feed icon at your blog and then copy and paste the URL from your browser. Once that’s done, your Amazon Author page will display the titles and first lines from the three most recent blog posts with working hyperlinks.

6. Add Videos.

You can upload 8 different videos, each less than 10 minutes and under 500MB of data. Preferably these should be about your books or you as an author, in an interview, etc.

7. Create Author pages for other Amazon nations.

Unfortunately this is not done automatically at present time, but you can manually do this for other Amazons, especially the one for the UK. I also do this for Germany, France and Japan because English is a very common second language. The good news is you don’t have to translate those sites because Amazon has the exact same format for each one. If you keep the US version open in a different window, it’s easy to follow the same routine for all of them even if you don’t speak German, French or Japanese. Keep an eye and ear open for future countries added to the list. For extra tutorials and links to the existing foreign Author Centrals, see this blog post and video explaining it step by step.

Plenty of support information can be found by clicking the  Author Central Help tab.

Do you have other tips or ideas? Please share them in the comments section.


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