Category: Industry knowledge (Page 1 of 2)

Best Practices for Indie Publishing Part 2: Distribution

Distribution cover image

In the first part of this two-part series, we took a look at some of the ‘basic mechanics’ of indie publishing, in terms of best practices. In this post, we’ll look at the end game for publishers—the best practices for getting your book in front of readers.

Distribution

Once you have your manuscript edited, laid out nicely, and accompanied by an amazing cover with a brilliant book description, it’s time to face the world.

Distribution can be tricky for indie authors, if only because there are so many options available. And there are questions:

  • Should I go wide (target distribution to multiple retailers) or stay exclusive (stick with a single retailer)?
  • Should I use an aggregate distributor to reach multiple eBook retailers, or should I go direct to each vendor?

Your answers to those questions can determine everything from the type of audience you can reach to how much time you’ll spend on checking and tracking sales and royalties each month, instead of focusing on writing more books.

Deciding on a path comes down to something deceptively simple: Consider the type of writing career you’re after, and choose the strategy that has the best chance of getting you there.

It’s ‘deceptively simple,’ because the fact is you can do one or the other or, in some cases, all the above.

The key word is ‘strategy.’

Let’s look at all three approaches.

Staying Exclusive

In the indie publishing world, ‘exclusivity’ refers to choosing a single distributor, such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and committing to publishing only with that vendor. There are certain advantages to this, at least for KDP. Amazon has a program called KDP Select that allows authors to place their book in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program—a subscription-based service that lets readers pay a low monthly fee and check out several eBooks at once, at no additional charge. Think of it like Netflix for eBooks.

finish what you writeAuthors who participate in KDP Select are committed to a minimum of 90 days exclusivity with Amazon—meaning they cannot publish or sell the book elsewhere, even on their own websites, during that time.

Amazon pays participating authors based on page reads. The rate for each page can fluctuate, usually somewhere between .0045 and .005 cents.

Read that closely … that’s in the thousandth of a cent range.

It doesn’t seem like much, but as more readers discover your “free” book and give it a try, you can benefit from a cumulative effect. Many authors make a very good living from page reads, and don’t mind that their books are only being discovered and read by customers who own Kindles or read from Kindle apps.

The downside to this system doesn’t seem all that alarming at first, but it’s something to consider: Amazon essentially controls the fate of your author career.

Amazon, like any business, is focused on its customers and its bottom line, and they do not necessarily concern themselves with the wants, desires, or needs of their suppliers (in this case, authors like you). So at any time they can change the page read rate (it happens at least once a quarter), they can change their terms of service (it happens frequently), and they can even end or significantly alter programs that were beneficial to authors (yep, this has happened, too).

Exclusivity remains a good way for authors with only one or two books to get a good head start, and build some momentum. New authors can earn money from page reads where they might never see actual book sales. Readers discover these new authors, seek out their next book, and sometimes spread the word about them. It can be a very good way to make money and build a readership from scratch.

Going Wide

Wide distribution means making your book available on multiple distribution channels. Rather than limiting your book to one vendor, such as Amazon, you make it available to others such as Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and more.

Offering your book in these additional storefronts has the advantage of making you available to readers of all stripes. You can reach pockets of readers worldwide that Amazon may not service with their catalog, and your readership will also be actual customers—people who purchase books rather than accessing them for “free” through a subscription. There’s a subtle shift in customer psychology here that can be very important, in terms of how your writing career develops.

Training customers to ‘buy’ instead of ‘rent’ your books can benefit you in terms of long-term growth. It has been shown that customers participating in programs such as Kindle Unlimited, or who download books for free from various services online (legal and illegal alike), often tend to ‘collect’ books rather than read them. So while they may eagerly download your book when they find it, they may keep it sitting unread and unloved on their device.

Customers, on the other hand, have a greater tendency to read what they’ve purchased, because of the investment they’ve made. They want to get their money’s worth. And once they’ve read a book, and if they enjoyed it, they are more likely to recommend it to a friend.

Going wide offers you the advantage of building a platform (your audience, plus your reach) on a broader scale. You’re not limited to just one subset of readers, but can be available to anyone, worldwide, who might discover you. That changes the way you do marketing, the way you communicate with your readers, even the type of books you might write, in the end—with reader feedback influencing the direction of your work.

A disadvantage of wide distribution is that it’s a long game. Money is often slow to materialize, as are faithful readers. The best marketing tool in your arsenal is to write the next book, and the next after that, and it can often feel like you’re pouring effort into a bottomless well. The message then is to take heart, keep at it, and eventually you’ll see the needle start to move.

Cold comfort, and it makes the speed of exclusivity that much more appealing.

Think of it like the Dark Side and the Light Side of the Force. One is quicker, faster, results come more easily. The other is slower, like cooking a roast—you may be hungry the whole time, but the payoff is worth the wait. We won’t touch on which of these may or may not be “evil.” That’s up to you to decide. But let’s just say Vader probably published with KDP Select. (Could. Not. Resist.)

Doing Both

Of course, there’s nothing that says you can’t have your cake and eat it too. And with ice cream, even.

This is a hybridized approach, but it comes with the benefits of both choices and very few of the downsides. But if you are a new author, in particular, you may consider going exclusive for a minimum of 90 days, and then go wide when it’s strategically advantageous to do so.

Here’s the general plan:

  • Publish your first book and go exclusive to KDP Select.
  • Promote your book to everyone, not just Amazon readers (we call this “marketing wide”). You’ll get a few complaints from readers on other platforms, saying they can’t get your book and don’t want/like/need Amazon. Politely apologize to them with the message that “it’s coming for other platforms soon. Would you get on my mailing list so you’ll know as soon as it’s available?” Having people complaining that they can’t get your book is a good thing! And building a mailing list (with services such as MailChimp) will be a huge benefit to you later.
  • During the 90 days of exclusivity, write at least one more book. Publish this book to KDP Select as well.
  • During that 90 days, write another book, and publish it to KDP Select.
  • Once you have at least three books out (in less than a year!), unenroll the first book from KDP Select and make it available for 30-day pre-order on other platforms. You can do this using an aggregator service such as Draft2Digital, or in some cases you can do it with the vendor directly.
  • Repeat that step with each of the three books, setting up a 30-day pre-order as each book finishes its 90-day commitment with KDP.
  • Remember all those people who asked about your book on other platforms? If you got them on a mailing list, now’s the time to start emailing them to let them know about your pre-orders.
  • Continue to enroll books in KDP Select and benefit from page reads, then move them out into pre-orders, until eventually you are making enough income from direct book sales that you don’t have to bother with exclusivity anymore.
  • Always work to grow and maintain your mailing list, because these are your loyal readers and customers.

It’s a basic strategy, but it has worked for hundreds of authors.

It’s also flexible. If you find that you’re not getting enough momentum with your promotions to justify moving your book out of exclusivity, then focus on that part of your business for a time and leave the book where it is. Keep building a mailing list, keep promoting your book far and wide, and keep generating as much buzz and excitement for it as you can. Eventually you can start moving your books to other platforms without worrying about losing a revenue stream.

Best practice: Think strategically about which distribution methods work best for your goals as an author.

It’s a bit different than the best practices we outlined in the previous post, but it’s worth putting in your time and energy to create a plan and work that plan.

Aggregate vs. Direct

You have a few choices when it comes to going wide. An aggregate service, such as Draft2Digital, allows you to upload your manuscript once, enter all its metadata (information such as the book description, the title, the author name, the categories and genres it fits into, etc.), and then publish your book to all the major eBook retailers online. You also gain the benefit of having all of your sales and royalties presented in one dashboard. You can set prices, take books out of distribution (for whatever reason), and update any covers or information all from one place.

The downside of an aggregate is that you usually pay a percentage of your royalties in exchange for the distribution. This is typically low—for Draft2Digital it’s 10%. And most authors consider it a fair trade for the convenience of having to deal with only one interface.

Distribution cover imageGoing direct, on the other hand, means that you take your manuscript to individual distributors. You have the advantage of keeping more of your royalty (typically you make 35% to 70%, depending on the vendor). But the tradeoff is that you have multiple sales dashboards, multiple sets of formatting rules, and multiple customer support teams to deal with if things go wrong.

Again, you could also hybridize these two strategies, using an aggregate to cover several distributors while going direct to a select few. There are a lot of reasons why you might choose to do this, and a complete list is beyond the scope of this post. But as one example, you might find yourself distributing directly to Kobo, if you live in Canada, but using Draft2Digital to reach other markets worldwide that might be unavailable to you otherwise.

Best practice: Really … use an aggregate. The upsides far outweigh the downsides, and it saves you a ton of time and hassle. More time for writing.

Either way, it’s Indie

At this point you have a series of strategies that can help you take your book out to the masses. The best practices listed here should be taken as suggestions, not law. You should always dig around a bit to find the strategy that works best for you.

The important part is that being an indie author gives you a level of control over your work and your career that you could never find elsewhere. Go out there, be bold, and know that even if you make a mistake it’s easily corrected. You can always back up and take the alternate path. That’s the power of indie. It’s your power now.

 

Kevin Tumlinson is an award-winning and bestselling author, and Director of Marketing for Draft2Digital. You can find more about Kevin and his work at kevintumlinson.com.

 

Best Practices for Indie Publishing Part 1

publishing your manuscript

It’s hard enough to keep yourself on track to write and complete a book (though it’s a lot easier thanks to TheRightMargin). Once you have the manuscript finished, the question becomes “What do I do with it?” or “Is publishing my work the next step?”. In this two part guest-post, we’ll answer that and give you some best practice methods for launching your indie author career on the right foot.

Where do you start?

There are a lot of directions you can roam once your manuscript is complete, and one of the most popular is indie publishing. Going indie offers some advantages over traditional publishing in terms of keeping the rights to your work, and even making higher royalties per sale. But along with those perks comes the overhead of publishing—all the steps that would typically be handled by a publisher are now your responsibility.

That may sound a bit scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s look at a few best practices for indie publishing and see exactly what you may be in for.

Editing

You’ve put in the time and discipline to write your book, and in doing that you’ve topped most would-be writers. That’s worth celebrating! Now it’s time to cruise through that work and find any typos, grammar goofs, and omitted or misused words.

books and a doorIt’s fine to spend some time going through your manuscript yourself. Rereading and editing your book can not only help you eliminate some errors, it can also help you spot such foibles as characters who have gone MIA, unattributed dialogue, and confusing exposition. Reading through and editing your work is a good practice to get into.

However, your eyes should not be the last to pass over your work before it goes on to prime time.

Our first best practice: Hire an editor.

There are many types of editors in the publishing world, and each has a different range of responsibilities. Developmental editors, for example, can help you work out any kinks in your story, advising you on character and plot development, setting, even style.

When most authors refer to editors, however, they are almost always referring to a copy editor.

A copy editor’s primary job is to read and edit your manuscript for typos, spelling errors, grammar goofs, etc. This may sound familiar, as it’s exactly what we discussed you doing as the writer, a few paragraphs back. Where things become a bit different is in the psychology of writing versus editing.

As the writer, you’re awfully close to your work. You know your topic or your story, and you know exactly what you’re trying to say. Therein lies the problem. Because we writers know what we meant by what wrote, we often mentally fill in gaps and gloss over misplaced or misused words, typos, and spelling and grammar errors. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something to be aware of.

As a rule, writers make poor editors of their own work (they may be excellent at editing the work of others, however). So, it’s best to do your read and edit pass first, to catch any of the obvious goofs, and then find an editor to give it the final polish.

If you can’t afford to hire an editor, then you should look to friends and family, or maybe fellow members of a writing group, and ask if they can help with an edit. You may offer a trade of service, such as swapping edits with another author. There are many ways to do this, but the goal is to have someone else help you with the final polish of your book.

Layout

Layout is a tricky beast, because at first blush it seems easy. After all, most word processing programs are essentially layout tools themselves. You can bold, italicize, underline, and even strike through text with the click of a button (or with quick use of keyboard shortcuts). You can change the alignment—left, right, or center. You can increase space between lines and in line breaks, or decrease space between characters. Most word processing software gives you everything you need to create a masterful layout.

While you have the tools, however, it’s usually a good idea to let someone who has more experience take a crack at your book’s layout. Doing so will help you avoid tedious headaches when it comes to finding and fixing such living nightmares as widows and orphans (the layout kind … we’re not advocating A Modest Proposal here) or strange hyphenates and weird line breaks.

Our next best practice: Hire someone or use automated software to do your layout for both eBooks and print publishing.

Unlike editing, it’s usually best to let the professionals take on layout from the start. While you can certainly learn the ropes and figure out how to make a book’s layout nice and palatable for the reader, doing so takes time away from other, more important activities of your writing career (such as actually writing).

If you are bent on a DIY approach, there is software such as Vellum (Mac only) that can automate a beautiful eBook layout. The makers of Vellum are even branching into print layout, with a beta program that’s currently in progress (as of this writing). This software charges either a flat price per book (each time you use it) or you can buy the software outright for a few hundred dollars, and get unlimited uses.

Another alternative, of course, is the free conversion tool at Draft2Digital.com. Once you upload your manuscript (as a Word document) it will be converted to the common eBook formats (EPUB, MOBI, and PDF), and you can even get a print-ready PDF for use with print on demand services, such as CreateSpace. There’s no charge for the conversions, and they’ve been tested on every eBook reader on the market to make sure they always work.

old books

Cover Design

Perhaps the most important feature of your book—maybe even more important than the contents of the book itself—is its cover. A good cover can make even a terrible book into a bestseller. A bad cover will almost always guarantee the book’s commercial failure, regardless of how well it’s written.

Good covers are more than pretty or eye-catching pictures. There is, in fact, a psychology to book cover design. There are multiple factors to consider, from shelf appeal to genre-specific imagery to market impact.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for determining whether you should design your own cover: No.

Exceptions, of course, apply. If you happen to have a design background, have won awards for your work, have been paid to do it, and/or have studied design psychology, you’re a good candidate for doing it yourself. Having any one or all those pluses will make it easier for you to do this right.

If, however, the most graphics work you’ve done has been the design of a Facebook meme using Canva, please back away slowly. Leave the cover where it is. Pick up the phone and call a professional.

Best practice: Find a professional to design your cover

There are services such as 99Designs that can help you find designers by conducting competitions. Get hundreds of designers pitching concepts, choose the one you want, agree to a price, and go.

You can also find freelance designers on websites such as Upwork.com, which connects clients with contractors of all types. Or, often better, peruse designs on DeviantArt, where you can find amazing and incredible designers and approach them about commissioned work, or about licensing the rights to use an existing design. These designers are often willing to build out your cover for a reasonable fee.

One recommendation: You can find designers on Fiverr.com, and usually pay a lot less for a cover—but it’s probably best to avoid it.

While you may find a real gem of a designer, possibly a diamond in the rough who is willing to work for peanuts to establish themselves, there’s a better chance you’ll end up with a mediocre cover that’s being sold to dozens of other writers as well. Fiverr has a lot of useful offers that could be handy for will-be authors, such as people willing to make video trailers, do logo designs, or even do a bit of web design, and much more. But using someone from this service for cover design has just had a bad track record to date. Best to avoid it.

Book Description

You sometimes hear this called a “book blurb,” though that term more accurately applies to a snippet of a review about your book. You may also hear this referred to as a product description, a back-cover description, or even a book synopsis (though this is problematic, and we’ll take a look at why in just a second). Whatever you choose to call it, though, a book description is a marketing tool that can help sell your book to the right reader.

Book descriptions appear in two primary places: On the back of the print version of your book and on the sales page for your book online. These words are the first a reader typically encounters, when it comes to your work, and that makes them very important.

Some things to remember about writing book descriptions when publishing your work:

  • These are not meant to be a synopsis of your story. The job of a book description is to tell the reader what sort of experience they will have with your book. Your goal is not so much to give the reader a short form version of your book, but to entice them with the adventure they’ll take part in.
  • You need to set up the book by describing the setting, the protagonist, the antagonist, the object of their desire, and what’s at stake if the bad guy wins. These are the primary elements for a fiction book description, and they should be used as part of selling the experience of the book. Don’t go into a lot of back story about your characters or setting, hint at troubled pasts or idyllic lives on the verge of disruption.
  • In non-fiction, the job of the book description is to tell the reader what they’ll learn by reading this book, and how their lives will improve. It’s generally acceptable to include a sort of bullet list synopsis here, but keep it to no more than five bullets. Tell the reader the important things they’ll discover, and then tell them how those things will impact their lives.

Those are the basics, and they’re important.

The thing to keep in mind about writing book descriptions is it’s a specialized type of writing—a branch of marketing known as “copywriting.” Unlike writing fiction or even non-fiction books, writing copy (a fancy industry term for writing that helps to market and sell a product or service) takes a special knack.

Best practice: Hire a copywriter.

A copywriter is a professional writer who focuses on sales and marketing copy. They are trained to write persuasive text—the kind of writing that is highly targeted for the market you’re trying to reach, and which encourages that market to pick up, purchase, and read your book.

You can find skilled copywriters on Upwork.com, and also Fiverr.com. The latter, of course, is still as much of a gamble as it was for hiring cover designers. However, where Fiverr tends to get a bad rep for cover designers, it is often a place to find talented writers who are just trying to make an extra buck. Use common sense, and get multiple opinions from outside sources, and you should be fine.

The best advice, however, is to hire a writer at the top rate you can afford. Look specifically for writers who have book descriptions in their portfolios, and who have worked with clients you can actually contact for referrals. Just like any freelance business, copywriting has a spectrum of low-level performers to elite wordsmiths. The further you move to the right on that spectrum, the more you’ll have to spend. Find where you’re comfortable, and pay as much as you can possibly afford to get the best writer you’re capable of getting. It’s worth the cost.

Just like design, there’s a psychology to writing a good book description. You want someone who knows how to do the work effectively. It’s completely understandable if your budget won’t allow for an elite writer, so fall back on the best you can hire at your level, and enlist the help of friends, family, and fellow authors to improve on what your writer for hire produces.

 

That wraps up this first part of our two-part series. In the next post we’ll take a look at one of the most important parts of the indie publishing process: Distribution.

 

Kevin Tumlnson is an award-winning and bestselling author, and Director of Marketing for Draft2Digital. You can find more about Kevin and his work at kevintumlinson.com.

Our Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference Schedule

Woo-hoo! Starting tomorrow, we’ll be in sunny L.A. at the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference. We’re excited to attend, and proud to be a sponsor – and few of you out there have asked what sessions we’ll be attending during the three day all-things-novel extravaganza.

Below is a handy dandy guide of the sessions where we’ll be, each covering unique facets of the novel-writer’s journey. Have any session summaries you’d like us to share – let us know @TheRightMargin 

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6 Tips for Writing a Query Letter to Literary Agents and Publishers

writing a query letter

We’ve all seen the general tips, advice and templates for writing a query letter or cover letter to an agent or publisher. But have you actually talked with one about what they specifically look for?

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4 Tips on Finishing What You Write

finish what you write

Do you really really really really *deep breath* really really really really want to finish a book? A dissertation? A proposal? A blog post?

Then our simple advice to you (that will make it MUCH more likely that you finish your behemoth of a writing project) is…write with the end in mind.

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