Ebook Authors Need Tech Love to Succeed

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

“Knowing what you know now…”

I work with new writers online and at events. They ask a myriad of smart questions including this one: how would you publish differently if you did it all over again? As the saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. I’d do dozens of things differently than the blind assault to digital publishing I debuted with.

But that’s true for most authors. This industry has evolved so much in just a few short years; even the “experts” have had to learn the ropes on the fly. You’ve probably heard most of the common answers that follow I wish I had:

  • been more involved with social media
  • blogged sooner
  • invested in a great cover
  • done more market research
  • worked with a professional editor or two
  • learned more about SEO (search engine optimization)

Here’s another answer you may not have heard as much, but this would have helped me immensely and is still true for many writers today:

  • embrace the functions and technologies writers can use in their books

There’s a common dilemma in this digital author business: most writers are of advanced age, and the technology they need to succeed is easier learned by the younger crowd. This is a generalization of course, but I see a lot of frustration behind threads of gray hair when discussing issues related to blogging, social media, converting documents and more. The tech learning curve is something we all experience since nobody knew anything about this stuff several years ago. That’s when Amazon introduced the first Kindle (circa 2007) and the ebook revolution really took off.

Let’s back up further for a moment–what is writing? It’s story-telling and sharing information. It probably began with oral tradition, moved into hieroglyphics, saw the rise of alphabets, then the printing press and finally the computer age. Publishing has evolved at a snail’s pace compared to what’s happening today. Most industry insiders were astonished how fast ebooks became mainstream while also changing the paradigm of authorship and how retailers sell books. It’s reasonable to assume the near future of ebooks may be far more elaborative than they are today: hence the need to embrace the recent tech and also contemplate the unknown.

Those are the two sides to this coin: making the most of what’s currently available and keeping an eye open for the next wave. Let’s talk first about what’s available now. Your ebook should or can have:

  • Active links for navigation in the Table of Contents and/or an NCX file. It’s wise to also have links to locations within the book like a References page.
  • Links to your primary social media pages, website and blog so readers can connect with you. If you have a Facebook “Like’ page for the book, a link needs to be in there.
  • Pages for About the Author and your Other Books with direct links to them.
  • Links for leaving reviews (e.g. the Amazon review page for your Kindle version).
  • A sample chapter of another book, especially if part of a series, with a link to buy at the end of the sample.

Notice how most of this current stuff involves simple hyperlinks. That’s not going away, but much more is entering the picture. Let’s talk about that now with a disclaimer: while it would be impractical and perhaps foolish for most authors to attempt to put all of these elements into their ebooks, these are possibilities worth considering. Some authors and books are suited for these things better than others.

Enhanced Ebooks

What is an enhanced ebook or EEB? Amazon has some newer titles called Kindle Edition with Audio/Video. Apple iTunes and Barnes & Noble both list it as the Enhanced Edition, and they’re a few dollars more than the regular ebook. Most notably they have a range of audio and video additions embedded into them, but much more can be done including photo albums, pop-up graphics, maps, animations, even instant messaging with other readers. EEBs don’t work on older devices, like basic Kindles, but the newer tablets and smart phones are fine. At present time making EEBs gets into apps verses ebooks, which is more difficult for the average indie author to do without outsourcing. This might change in the near future as solutions should appear for anyone who wants to make EEBs, so it’s wise to start thinking about additions that might benefit your books. (Google Ebooks has a brief HTML tutorial for authors familiar with making their own EPUBS – https://support.google.com/books/partner/answer/3316879?hl=en&ref_topic=3238502, but most authors will need to hire out for this.)

Pricing comes into the picture. The more data that goes into a digital file, the more the retailer needs to charge for storage and distribution costs. In some cases, it may still make economic sense to link a reader to an external website for watching a long video as opposed to embedding a short one.

This concept also gets into “enhancements” verses “distractions,” what readers really enjoy verses what marketers think they might want. In either case, authors should get feedback on what readers appreciate rather than adding a multitude of audio and video effects just because it’s possible.

Interactivity

Interactivity is a part of enhancements and takes it a bit further. Instead of just seeing and hearing more than text and pictures, interactivity engages the reader to participate with the story or information. It can also be with other readers and the author too. Common examples include children’s and educational books, where readers are asked questions and answers are shown. But there’s a huge realm for creativity here. For example, mystery authors could incorporate surveys along the way getting a feel for who the readers think the murderer is. Teen Romance authors could include a social media page discussing which characters should fall in love and why. Non-fiction authors who teach could add a forum for readers to ask questions and get answers in real time from forum members or even the author. Alternative endings are also an option, which could be done in any ebook today, even a basic Kindle. The author can give the reader a choice of plot direction for a happy, romantic or surprise twist ending. The possibilities are endless.

Book Clubs

Most authors would love to break into book clubs. I’ve visited six in person to discuss my novels but still haven’t yet done one online. Since there are online book clubs all over the world, it’s possible to join in on their discussion. My recommendation would be in a Google Plus hangout, and this could be done with Skype as well.

Multiple Authors

Writing collaborations are about to take a huge leap thanks to programs like Google Docs, where multiple people can contribute, comment, edit and more in live time from anywhere online.

Events Calendar

An events calendar can be uploaded to your ebooks, even without enhancements. Since it only takes a few minutes to upload a new version, once a month you could update an ebook with a chapter called Monthly Events that lists where you’ll be. If your book is successful, you could also host a weekly “book club” get-together with a link to your Google Plus page.

These are just a few ideas for what can be done today and what might be just around the corner, more about getting you to think of options than to go into details for implementing every single one. Perhaps you have even better suggestions. Please share them in a comment.


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Smashwords Defines Indie Author Manifesto

I love Indie Authors indie booksMark Coker of Smashwords has released an Indie Author Manifesto, right in line with my beliefs and those of most writers I work with. See the highlights below or read the entire blog post here.

We indie authors believe all writers are created equal, that all writers are endowed with natural creative potential, and that writers have an unalienable right to exercise, explore and realize their potential through the freedom of publication.

I hold these truths to be self-evident:

  1. I am an indie author
  2. I have experienced the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from self-publishing
  3. I have a right to publish
  4. My creative control is important to me.  I decide when, where and how my writing graduates to become a published book. 
  5. Indie does not mean “alone.”  I choose my partners.
  6. I shall not bow beholden or subservient to any publisher. In my business relationships, I seek partnership, fairness, equity and mutually aligned interests.
  7. We indie author comprise diverse writers unified by a common purpose to advance, empower and celebrate writers everywhere. 
  8. I am a professional.  I take pride in my work, and I strive to improve my craft to better serve my readers, myself, my fellow indie authors and the culture of books
  9. My writing is valuable and important.  This value and importance cannot be measured by commercial sales alone.
  10. I celebrate the success of my fellow indie authors, for their success is mine, and mine theirs. Together we are pioneering a better future for books marked by greater quality, creativity, diversity, choice, availability, affordability and accessibility.

What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comments section.


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Write More Books or Create More Content?

This article by Jason Matthews first appeared on The Book Designer.

I remember feeling liberated after publishing my first novel on Amazon and Smashwords. Almost miraculously, within the first hours of release a few sales happened. This came after years of investing time, effort and money to get the novel written, so those initial sales exhilarated me enough to share the news with anyone who would listen.

During a phone call that evening, my dad said, “Now you can sit back and watch the orders roll in.”

He’s right, I thought. Those books are going to sell themselves.

I’ve been wrong countless times, but that moment was a milestone in the bad assumption department as I later realized a continual marketing effort would be required to sell my book, even in discouraging amounts. It’s not enough to write a great book, unless yours is so hypnotically contagious that everyone insists it’s a must-read. You will also need to market well or suffer the author’s greatest fear: obscurity.

Eventually advice from writing sages enlightened me of the secret to selling books, and I was not thrilled to hear it: write more books!

Um, okay, easier said than done, especially when the first one took several years. Anyone who’s written a full-length book knows how taxing it is. Those three little words, write a book, roll off the tongue with ease but performing the task can be a Herculean effort. An author may feel spent after producing one, two or even three books, and then she is told to produce another. Is there ever an end to it?

ebook growth chartUnfortunately the rule of thumb says no; an author must continue to write new content. This has always been the case, but the advent of digital publishing has taken it to a higher level. Every year the total number of authors and books grows exponentially while the number of readers remains primarily the same. To stand out from the crowd, an author needs a larger platform and more books. Reminiscent of the cliché, best of times and worst of times, Dickens’ opening paragraph for A Tale of Two Cities perfectly illustrates the indie author dilemma.

But wait, there is some good news or at least advice that’s more pleasant, and a clue exists above. Instead of only focusing on writing more books, think about creating new content. While I agree that having multiple books is paramount, creating new content is a close second and has hidden benefits. Let’s discuss some less intimidating projects to accomplish that goal.

Here are some non-full-length-book examples of writing new content:

  • short stories
  • blog posts
  • guest blog posts
  • articles and essays
  • novelettes and novellas

And hey, if you have more books aching to be expressed, by all means go ahead and write them. But you may want to mix it up, do other projects simultaneously that are faster and also help you market existing titles while the next book comes together. Think of it like an athlete cross-training to get stronger overall, even though he excels in one sport.

Most authors have short stories that were written years ago. If you have a few and they’re just sitting around doing nothing, those shorts are wasted opportunities for content and marketing. Why not get them on Smashwords and then Amazon for free? Ebook readers download freebies far more often than they pay for books, and when readers discover a good author they often pay for the next book on the menu. I don’t have many short stories on Amazon, but the free ones I have there get downloaded in bunches, and sometimes those readers buy my other books. At present time, Amazon won’t let you set a price for free (the minimum is 99 cents), but they have a price-match guarantee. Since Smashwords does let you price a book for free and distributes to Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc, then Amazon will price-match your book to free as well. (You may have to ask a few people to click the Tell Us About a Lower Price feature at Amazon to get the switch made, and still it might take a few days or longer but usually works.) All you need is to format those shorts stories and get a simple cover made. The results may be a pleasant surprise.

Blogging is a fantastic way to create new content. Blogs provide a venue to write about anything, and you can update them whenever you have time. I’ve written more words in blog posts than in all my books combined—they’ve been the driving force for strangers around the world to find my articles and then books. Blogging also gives literary freedom. Many of my successful posts have been on topics that aren’t my specialty, like things I find interesting about the National Football League. However, for topics that are a specialty, like self-publishing on a budget, a blog is ideal for regular articles. Perhaps the subject matter of your books could be the foundation of your blog. The other nice thing about blog posts is that people will find you via search engines for a range of new keywords.

If maintaining a blog feels like too much commitment, write “guest posts” for other people who have blogs on similar subject matter. Or you can submit articles and essays to online publications like Ezine Articles or Technorati.

What are novelettes and novellas? They’re longer than short stories and smaller than novels. Novelettes are usually 8K to 20K words, and novellas go from there to around 50K words. It’s all subjective, but many readers prefer shorter works these days as reading time is scarce. Amazon has created Kindle Singles where authors can submit these shorter works for review and price books between 99 cents and $4.99.

It amazes me how often authors forget to do this—for all of the content you create, remember to include:

  • links to your website and/or social media
  • links to your paid books

Whether you’re writing more books or creating new content, procrastination will still creep in. It’s an odd thing: have you ever noticed how hard it is to start writing, but once you’ve begun it feels wonderful? The timer sounds reminding you to get going, but you may find yourself cleaning doorknobs, rearranging a closet, doing anything other than sitting at your desk. At moments like these remind yourself, I always feel better as soon as I begin writing—it’s the starting part that is so hard.

I make an effort to write new content one hour a day—that’s it. Not a lofty goal compared to most authors, but this is actually a mind-trick to get the juices flowing. One hour is mentally easy to commit to, and once the hour has passed I usually keep going. And even if only one hour of writing happens, it’s amazing what comes together by the end of a month. If you have another day job and a tight schedule, make a goal to write for 20 minutes. That amount can lead to surprising results in just a few months. A mountain can be climbed one step at a time, even with baby steps, and books can be written a few paragraphs at a time.

Tips to help with creating new content:

  • Write content that supplements your books especially in a blog.
  • When writing on other subjects, use keywords wisely.
  • When releasing new content, let readers know via your social media channels and email subscribers.
  • Encourage conversations. Pose questions, even if it’s aimed at broadening the topic in a humble way. What have I missed? Please share your input.
  • List all of your books in the beginning and at the end of your books.
  • The digital versions should have working links, especially the Amazon Kindle version. For other retailers, you can link to your website, blog or social media page. Make it easy for readers to find your books with one click if possible.
  • Include the first chapter of the next book in a series at the end of your book, and also include a link to purchase.

What are your ideas on this? Share them in the comment section.


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Writer’s Digest Webinar for Ebook Authors, Critique Included Plus Q n A

Maximize Sales and Advance Your Writing Career With Ebooks

Register today to attend this live webinar!

Live Writer’s Digest Webinar Date: Thursday, April 10, 2014

Start Time: 1:00 p.m. EDT

Length: 90 minutes

Price: $89.99

Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for one year. You do not have to attend the live event to get a recording of the presentation. In all WD webinars, no question goes unanswered. Attendees have the ability to chat with the instructor during the live event and ask questions. You will receive a copy of the webinar presentation in an e-mail that goes out one week after the live event. The answers to questions not covered in the live presentation will be included in this e-mail as well.

ABOUT THE CRITIQUE

All registrants are invited to submit a choice of 1 of the 3 options below for evaluation and critique. All submissions will be evaluated and are guaranteed a written critique by Jason Matthews.

Option #1: An actual ebook’s formatting and design. Submissions in MSWord.

Option #2: Amazon or other retailer’s book link to ensure they’re discoverable in regards to keywords for titles, description and categories.

Option #3: A link to the blog/website that serves as your main marketing tool for a critique of what is presently useful and what’s missing or recommended.

Please Note: Even if you can’t attend the live webinar, registering for this live version will enable you to receive the On Demand webinar and a personal critique of your material. Purchasing the On Demand version after the live event will not include a critique.

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Ebooks are revolutionizing the world of authors, readers and retailers. The advent of digital publishing enables any writer to reach her/his audience all over the world instantly and free of cost to the author. Royalties are far better than those of traditional publishing, with most retailers paying authors 70% of each ebook sale. Because of this, ebooks are exploding with opportunity. It’s never been a better time to be an author and sell ebooks, but it’s also necessary to do it wisely. The successful author must do more than just write a great book; they also need to understand aspects of book production and make themselves visible to a global population of readers.

This new live webinar teaches how to be successful with ebooks. Topics include the ingredients to a great ebook, formatting, cover design, uploading to retailers, using websites and social media. Discussion covers the art of doing-it-yourself when possible and also hiring out affordably for items like editing and cover design.

The instructor is Jason Matthews, a writer, how-to expert, avid blogger and self-publishing coach. He works with indie authors around the globe and speaks at writing conferences on these topics.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • How to stand out as an author in the global business of ebooks
  • Formatting essentials your book must have
  • How to make eye-catching covers that hook readers
  • Which retailers matter most and specifics when uploading there
  • How to use keywords so more readers find your book
  • Social media tips to limit time and maximize results
  • The key ingredients for a successful blog or website

INSTRUCTOR

Jason Matthews is a novelist, blogger and self-publishing coach. He works with writers around the world through every phase of book creation and marketing. His specialties include building author platform, selling at major retailers, social media, blogging and SEO. He’s the founder of a Facebook group with over 2,000 writers and hosts a weekly Indie Authors series on Google Plus discussing current topics and interviewing top indies. His novels and how-to guides include:

The Little Universe

Jim’s Life

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free

Get On Google Front Page

How to Make Your Own Free Website: And Your Free Blog Too

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

  • Writers with books nearly finished
  • Writers who aren’t familiar with publishing options
  • Authors who want to sell more books
  • Writers who need to save money on hiring out
  • Authors who want to understand keywords better
  • Writers looking for resources for cover design
  • Writers who feel intimidated by the technology
  • Authors wanting new ideas for marketing

HOW DOES THE CRITIQUE WORK?

All registrants are invited to submit a choice of 1 of the 3 options below for evaluation and critique. All submissions will be evaluated and are guaranteed a written critique by Jason Matthews. Instructions on how to submit your work are sent after you officially register.

Option #1: An actual ebook’s formatting and design. Submissions in MSWord.

Option #2: Amazon or other retailer’s book link to ensure they’re discoverable in regards to keywords for titles, description and categories.

Option #3: A link to the blog/website that serves as your main marketing tool for a critique of what is presently useful and what’s missing or recommended.

HOW DOES THE WEBINAR WORK?

The webinar is broadcasted via the internet with live audio delivered through your computer speakers or over your telephone. The live webinar’s visual presentation is displayed directly from the Presenter’s computer to your computer screen. The Q&A is managed through a chat-style submission system with questions being read and answered by the Presenter for the entire class to hear. In the event some questions are not answered during the live session, an e-mail with questions and answers will be sent to all webinar attendees. By attending the live webinar and/or asking questions, your full name may be stated during the live event and captured in the recording.

REGISTER HERE


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When We Die with Dr. Lani Leary Ph.D. Indie Authors #71

Dr. Lani Leary Ph.D. is an author, speaker, psychotherapist and hospice counselor. She has assisted over 500 people and their families during final days.

Amazon pages:
http://www.amazon.com/One-Has-Die-Alone-Meaningful-ebook/dp/B005GG0MGU/
http://www.amazon.com/Jason-Matthews/e/B004A8W4BG/
http://www.amazon.com/Marla-Miller/e/B000APJYSE/

Websites:
http://drlanileary.com/
http://www.thelittleuniverse.com
http://marlamiller.com/

G+ Pages:
Dr. Lani Leary – https://plus.google.com/103693740233696643278/posts
Jason Matthews — https://plus.google.com/+JasonMatthews/posts
Marla Miller — https://plus.google.com/104880672110890238358/posts

Home page of How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks.
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