Friday, October 30, 2015
Since its release in August 2015, the new royalty payout system for indie authors who have registered with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has left some authors disgruntled and others perplexed. At the end of this month, indie authors began receiving royalty payments based on the number of pages its readers have read over the course of a month. Among the many pluses that arise from the new system is the ability to gauge how much readers like your books. This can help independent authors devise marketing strategies that make the most use of their efforts.
In an effort to cut down on the book review mill that has been pouring over the Internet, and to reward authors whose titles people actually read, Amazon has stepped up efforts to assure that books published on its platform are more professional and that they consist of good content. One of the most obvious ways that people have come to learn about the professionalism and the quality of content has been the book review; readers who download a title are encouraged to tell others what they think about the titles they read. And, while this has been quite helpful to readers who are looking for specific information, and who enjoy diving into “good reads” in general, it is not a fail-safe system.
Indie publishers, many of whom are hoping to make a name for themselves, rely heavily on the input of others, most especially readers. Unfortunately, some people, keenly aware of the role reviews play in the making or breaking of a new author, have resulted to less-than-savory tactics to beef up their online presence. This may include anything from review swaps (where authors review one another’s books) to paid reviews (such as those offered by Kirkus and other organizations) and even asking friends, family, and close social ties to chime in.
The new Kindle system tries to offset this somewhat. In addition to making changes to its review policies, the new royalty payout actually rewards indie authors for the specific number of pages its readers read. The system is not set up to account for sales through its regular platform, but for those readers who are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, it creates a tracking system. On the one hand it helps Amazon market similar titles to these individuals; on the other hand it really gives the indie author the opportunity to see how well a specific title is received.
For the authors of nonfiction titles, this can be an added bonus. For example, I have four how-to titles on self-publishing on Kindle right now. Most of them are very short, except for the Author Toolkit, which essentially combines all of the other titles into one comprehensive anthology, with the addition of some tips on marketing, establishing an online presence, and advice on setting yourself up as an expert in your field. When I go to check my KDP account, I can see that people are actually reading those books; I can determine that they are taking the advice I am giving and, perhaps, saving themselves valuable time and money in the process. While I could certainly rely on the reviews people have posted, as I’ve said before, this is not the most reliable determiner of the success of the titles.
What’s more, I can see which of my titles people are actually reading. This helps me immensely when trying to come up with other topics to write about, and it also helps me make the most use of my marketing dollars. If I know, for example, that people are reading the how-tos on book design and not the ones on designing Kindle ebooks, I can try to figure out why that is the case. Perhaps the ebook how-to is not comprehensive enough, or perhaps there are other titles out there that are much better, easier to use, or cheaper. Nonetheless, it means I have much more information about my titles than I had access to just a few months ago.
For example, I received a comment from one of the readers of my basic book design how-to. I can also see, via KDP that the book hasn't been selling well. The reviewer mentioned that the book was not simple enough for someone with no experience with Adobe InDesign. Now I can re-evaluate this title: I can create a new beginner's guide for people with no understanding of how InDesign works, or I can add supplementary information to the existing title—an index, for example.
If you discover that people are not reading your books—i.e., low page number counts per day, low royalty payments through KU—it might mean having to re-examine your publishing strategies. If you have multiple titles on Amazon, find out which ones are doing well. If someone posted a bad review on your Amazon page for title that isn’t selling well, look closely at what the reviewer is saying. Do your homework and find out if there is something you can do to make the title better. If you have rather negative reviews about typos, grammar issues, and formatting on your Amazon page, it might be time to make some readjustments. If you discover that people are not reading many pages of your book, it may be a sign that people are losing interest after the first few pages. Seeking the advice of a book development specialist might also be an avenue you can choose. Explore any and all opportunities to improve your writing, your brand, and your online presence.
With the changes to KU royalty payments and, specifically, the Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) features, authors have more tools available to them than ever before. By taking advantage of the information contained therein, authors can save themselves time, money, and resources and get back to the things they enjoy the most, such as writing.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
After the completion of her second book, Catherine Carrigan, the author of the bestselling book, What Is Healing? Awaken Your Intuitive Power for Health and Happiness, invited me to her book release party in May 2013. We had been working together on getting her manuscript ready for publishing for a few months before, and it was finally time to share it with the world. I graciously accepted her invitation—an honor I have not experienced many times in my life. It was truly an emotional experience for me to hear her read lines from the book; the experience overcame me, and I was moved to tears. It occurred to me that I had played some significant part in shaping the course of this amazing book.
It is not always so apparent what authors can expect when working with an editor. That confusion can lead many to either forgo the process, or fight tooth and nail to preserve what they estimate to be their “baby.” When an author can start seeing an editor as a type of midwife, who helps with the delivery of the “newborn,” it can lead to a more rewarding book production experience.
Catherine has just released her fourth book, Banish the Blues Now, so I thought it would be a great time for her to describe her experience working with editors. The author-editor relationship can at times be antagonistic, where two devoted individuals (one to his /her craft and one to the mechanics of language) are jockeying for position in the rat-race that is publishing. Authors are wedded to their art, devising ways to express joy and sorrow, anger and tranquility; editors are bound to the rules of English grammar, spelling, and word usage, trying desperately to conform an author’s work to a golden standard. Catherine knows that process very well, and therefore has great insights for new authors who will be self-publishing or seeking a literary agent.
When an author can start seeing an editor as a type of midwife, who helps with the delivery of the “newborn,” it can lead to a more rewarding book production experience.
I have always felt that one of the reasons I am successful in so many aspects of my life is that I have sought out the very best coaches, editors, and advisers. I have made every effort to follow their advice.
What Is Healing? Awaken Your Intuitive Power for Health and Happiness was the first work I had written in eighteen years, after my initial opus, Healing Depression: A Holistic Guide, became the best-selling book of the original publisher.
I had experienced an eighteen-year unrelenting bout of writer’s block, so when I finally wrote the first draft of What Is Healing? I was eager to get it out into the world.
Thomas read the manuscript and advised me—much to my disappointment—that he thought the book needed extra work. I did not cry; I pouted only momentarily and then I considered the truth.
Being a medical intuitive healer, I asked for guidance. I received the insight that working with Thomas could help me make my book 30 percent better. I therefore hired Thomas for extra editing.
The work we did together must have been important; What Is Healing? now has twenty-nine five-star reviews on Amazon.
Many writers do not understand the editing process, so let me simplify it here.
The work we did together must have been important; What Is Healing? now has twenty-nine five-star reviews on Amazon.
Many writers do not understand the editing process, so let me simplify it here.
· There are style editors. A style editor reads the content, tells you what’s working and what isn’t working. They don’t correct your spelling or grammar errors. It’s a process merely meant to see if your manuscript is ready for publishing.
· There are also copy editors. Most writers think that all a good editor does is correct grammar and punctuation. This is the job of a copy editor.
· I had already gone through one round with a style editor. Thomas was copy editing my book, but he had the guts to tell me what he really thought—that my manuscript needed more development. This is what developmental editors do.
· Finally, there are proofreaders, who look at the manuscript once it’s been prepared for layout. This is usually the last step before publishing.
So here’s the way it worked:
Thomas read my book and then pointed out to me the places where he thought the manuscript needed further development. I then wrote additional sections, subsequently adding another 20,000 words to the entire manuscript, and making the reading smoother for the reader. As a result of this back-and-forth dialogue, the book became much stronger.
When Thomas and I were finally satisfied with the manuscript, he then proceeded with the copy editing process.
As an author, you read your own writing so many times, frankly, that you cannot possibly see all your own errors! This is a humbling aspect of being an author. You become blind to your own stupidity. Copy editing continues until the book is ready for layout and formatting.
Both I, as the author, and Thomas, as the editor, read the book again (I can’t honestly tell you how many times I have read my own books). At this point, as an author, it’s helpful to read your book backward so that you can more easily see at least some of the mistakes.
Finally, the book is formatted and a physical proof is ordered. Now you can hold a printed version in your hands, at long last! However, at this point, you see even more egregious errors, leaving you wondering how you ever graduated high school or college. You mark up your book proof, order the corrections and, finally, when you can’t take it any longer, you throw caution to the wind, hit “Publish,” and hope for the best!
As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
Catherine Carrigan is a medical intuitive healer. Her first book, Healing Depression: A Holistic Guide was the best-selling book of the original publisher and went on to be published in Chinese. Her second and third books, What Is Healing? Awaken Your Intuitive Power for Health and Happiness and Unlimited Energy Now, went to Number 1 on Amazon. She just published her fourth book, Banish the Blues Now. For more information, please visit www.catherinecarrigan.com.
Thomas Hill is a book production specialist who has assisted over fifty authors with development, editing, ghostwriting, and publishing manuscripts. He is founder of Book Production Freelancers, a LinkedIn members-only group of over 4,000 book production professionals, and he is a member of the Editorial Freelancers’ Association. He is the author of four how-to books on book design, including How to Design a Book Using Adobe InDesign, as well as a novel series. For more information about Thomas, visit thomasmhill.branded.me.
Friday, July 24, 2015
“This book was really good. But there were so many errors in it that I couldn’t give it five stars.”
This statement could be a formalization of an author’s worst nightmare. Imagine someone posting that review on your Amazon author page? It could mean your reputation as an author is already tarnished.
The recent buzz over the release of Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set a Watchman, was dampened considerably when news reports surfaced about missing pages in some printed editions. Many readers felt cheated, and others questioned why there seemed to be such a rush in getting it out. One thing is for sure: no one proofread the final galleys properly before the book’s release.
This can be a great frustration to readers. Imagine being excited about the release of a new book, such as was the case in the Harper Lee book scenario, only to discover that the book was not properly prepared for release. Readers can obviously get a bit miffed, particularly if they paid good money with the expectation of getting a high-quality product in exchange for their money. When readers purchase books at a store, whether online or at a brick-and-mortar store, they are paying for something they believe is worth their time and attention. The same is true for readers of self-published books. That’s why authors work with publishing companies in the first place. There is an unspoken expectation on the part of authors that the publishing house will do everything possible to make sure the content is up to standard, just as there is an unspoken expectation that readers will reap the benefits of all the labor that went into preparing the manuscript for publishing.
What do I mean by “up to standard”? Let’s go back to the scenario of an author seeking a publisher. The author will eventually work with an editor to get the content into good shape. He or she will read over the manuscript and correct anything that doesn’t look like a standard book, and then likely send it back to the author. The editor reads the manuscript again to make adjustments to any new content the author and/or editor may have added. Finally, after the manuscript has been typeset, a proofreader will go through the layout, just to make sure additional errors, such as formatting mistakes or pagination issues, have been taken care of before the book is published.
“There is an unspoken expectation that readers will reap the benefits of all the labor that went into preparing the manuscript for publishing.”
This is a critical step that many self-publishing authors don’t realize. It’s great to work with a really proficient editor when you are going through the publishing process; many authors are already hiring editors to work with them on flushing out the finer details of their manuscripts. In some cases, authors work with substantive editors, who can help them hone other details of the manuscript, such as character development or storyline issues. But, if authors are not also using proofreaders, before their books are published, they might be running the risk of sending out a product that is less than satisfactory. Unhappy customers mean sluggish sales… and could mean a tarnished reputation.
In order to maintain the highest standards of publishing, a manuscript is reviewed several times throughout the book production process. Self-publishing authors should not cut corners if they intend to produce high-quality books. This means simply that authors must be willing to work with both editors and proofreaders before launching a book project.
For some authors, an editor can double as a proofreader. If you are seeking one on your own, however, here are some things to consider:
- Proofreaders are accustomed to reading galleys (proofs) in print or via an electronic PDF. They will make adjustments to the book either by marking up the hard copy or by using electronic editing tools (for example, Adobe Acrobat Pro allows you to make comments within the document). Make sure your book designer can create a PDF proof of your book.
- Look for proofreaders with book experience. There are many types of proofreaders, and each one conforms to a style of proofreading. Book proofreaders try to follow the Chicago Manual of Style closely while marking up copy. There are always a great supply of top-notch editors and proofreaders through the Editorial Freelancers' Association.
- Familiarize yourself with standard proofreaders’ marks. There is a section in the Chicago Manual of Style that lists all of the marks. Book proofreaders may use these marks to make omissions, errors, additions, and to comment on layout and other issues. Knowing how to recognize them can help you both to understand what they mean and to be able to mark up the hard copy on your own.
- Pricing. Book proofreaders typically charge somewhere between $2.00 and $4.00 per typeset page. While many editors charge a per-word rate, proofreaders base their rates on pages. The number of words per page will vary depending on the size of the book (the trim size), the size of the font, the line spacing, and any other content that may take up pages (graphs, charts, images, etc.).
By following these simple steps, you can save yourself the embarrassment of removing a title from Amazon or some other POD and then making the adjustments. By that time, you may have people commenting on your book, and you’ll have to work extra hard to win over readers who may have seen those less-than-stellar reviews posted online.
Now through September 7, 2015: professional book proofreading and Kindle- and Smashwords-compliant ebook layout for $299 (a $600 value).
Friday, July 3, 2015
Imy Santiago, an independent author, posted on her blog recently about trying to post a review to Amazon. Without mentioning the name of the author or the title, the blogger discussed, with great dissatisfaction, how her review was not posted. Amazon eventually sent her a message stating that her review could not be posted because it did not conform to the review standards. After several attempts to rectify the situation, Amazon determined that Imy knew the author and, in an effort to filter out inauthentic book reviews, they would not post Imy’s review. Imy remains puzzled as to how she and the author knew one another. Her final thought is that Amazon’s “Big Brother” tactics have become too overreaching and all-powerful. She is encouraging her readers to fight back.
Amazon has come under scrutiny in the past about the way in which it receives and posts reviews of products, most especially books. Since just about anyone can upload a title to the platform and sell it, the site has become inundated with review seekers who are willing to do just about anything to get them. The common logic in the self-publishing world is that book reviews on sites like Amazon help customers make informed decisions. Instead of relying on a name or a brand to generate sales, these authors resort to soliciting reviews from any number of outlets. Amazon fired back and began screening reviews and reviewers to determine authenticity.
Other new changes to Amazon’s system, particularly where Kindle ebooks are concerned, can help perpetuate the notion that Amazon really is acting like Big Brother. In a recent blog article, I talked about how publishers who are enrolled in the Kindle Direct Publishing program (KDP) are now receiving royalties based on the number of pages readers digest. Instead of paying authors and publishers per download, there is now in existence a tiered royalty pay scale; when readers finish reading a Kindle ebook, the author or publisher gets the full royalty. When readers read less than 10 percent of the book, there is no royalty.
Amazon’s ability to track Kindle reader activity is worrisome to many, most especially the authors who publish and enroll in KDP. And, as Imy points out, Amazon’s cryptic practices for monitoring customer activity and, some would argue, using it to their advantage, means that the self-publishing world has become the new battleground in cutting-edge-technology snooping. If other independent authors, for example, cannot post reviews to other indie authors’ pages because they are discovered to be in the same Facebook fan page group, this could mean the end of author solicitation for reviews of their own titles.
Amazon's approach could very well be the most ethical way of dealing with the review conundrum. But what this means for authors and independent publishers is they will have to try harder to secure authentic reviews from genuine readers. By “genuine” I mean simply people who find independent titles organically, whether through advertisements, endorsements from others, or even native Google searches.
For all we know, the traditional publishing industry doesn’t have much problem with review posting. I don’t imagine that there are big publisher operatives out there trolling the internet, trying to convince people to both purchase and review a traditionally published title. The traditional publishing industry has a great deal of money and resources to get the word out for its titles, some might argue, and it’s that arsenal of resources that attracts readers who will love their books—and, more importantly, review them.
Self-publishing authors can learn to think more like traditional publishers even if they don’t have a gargantuan piggy bank from which to operate. Instead of seeking out reviews for self-published titles through means that Amazon might deem unfit, savvy authors are using other avenues to attract the right types of readers.
- Does your publishing company have a home on the internet? If you are an independent publisher with one or two titles available for sale online, you may have a small web page devoted to them. Without some hub for your titles, people will not know where to find out more about you and your work. Granted, there are author pages on Amazon and other sites, but the types of readers who will remain loyal to you will look for opportunities to connect with you outside of retail or commercial websites.
- How easily can people connect with you? Sure, you may have a Facebook page or a page on Goodreads, but how easily can people connect with you? People like books, but people love authors even more, especially good ones.
- How easily can people find you? The vastness of the cyber world means that independent authors have to try really hard to connect with readers. People are doing searches every day in topics very similar to your genre of writing, and they are constantly seeking new avenues of entertainment and education. But, if people can find you in the ways they are normally accustomed to finding out information, how will they even know that you or your titles exist?
- How often are you connecting with readers? Authors who have a well-established presence on the internet follow the same basic principles. They develop a hub where people can connect them, they make it easy for people to find them, and—here’s the kicker—they actually engage in dialogue with their readers! If someone comments on your book by sending you an e-mail or posting a note on your blog, this is a perfect opportunity to engage with them. Thank the reader for reaching out, and then invite him or her to share his or her experiences with the book to others. Invite him or her to review your title and post to his or her social media outlets.
Without a fresh approach to independent authorship, self-publishing will continue to languish in a relatively substandard nether-region between traditionally published books and unedited, careless social media posts. Independent authors would be wise to recognize that the cutting corners approach to gaining recognition and sales is going to die out. Instead, books that continue to receive authentic, unsolicited reviews will increase in stature. Self-publishing authors who want to develop a career out of writing and publishing will have to start acting like the pros, who are dominating the publishing market.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Our readers know better than we do why something is of value.
Making the best use of information can mean the difference between a marketing campaign that gets no traction and one that brings in more readers.