Formatting your self-published novel – DIY or hire someone?

CIMG1036You have written your novel and now are ready to publish it as an e-book. But your file needs to be submitted in the proper format as required by the publisher. So do you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you?

Well, that really depends on how computer savvy you are. I have done the formatting for all my books with no problems. I know of other authors who would never want the headache of formatting their book and hire someone to do it.

Option 1 – Do it yourself

You can follow the step-by-step instructions offered by Smashwords to prepare your manuscript.

Amazon too offers a simplified formatting guide.

Advantage – It is free. If you are relatively proficient at MS Word, it is not difficult to follow the Smashwords guide. Amazon’s is a little more complex.

Disadvantage – if you aren’t proficient in MS Word, or you don’t own/use MS Word you could produce an improperly formatted book that will prevent or delay the publishing of your book. Also depending on your level of proficiency, it can take a while to follow all the formatting steps.

Option 2 – Hire someone

As I said, some authors would rather leave the formatting to the professionals. Just remember that when you hire someone to format your book that is all they are doing. They are not proofing the content.

Smashwords offers a list of formatters (as well as cover designers).

Advantages – Hiring someone who knows what they are doing can take less time and relieve you of having to worry about the formatting being done correctly.

Disadvantage – It cost money. The average rate can vary from $30 to $100 depending on the complexity or condition of your current file. It also can take longer depending on the turnaround time of the person doing the formatting.

In most cases, you will need to do several versions of your book. You will not want to use the same formatted version for all the publishers, especially as Smashwords requires a specific notice as part of the front matter that you will want to remove for submission to Amazon and other providers.

The most important thing is that you follow the guidelines provided by Amazon, Smashwords, or whatever other e-book publishers you are using so that your book not only meets their requirements but looks professional.

Amazon Author Central is an author must

As an author, there are numerous sites and resources out there but one that definitely should not be ignored is Amazon’s Author Central. (Amazon after all is the largest e-book retailer out there.)

Once you log in, you will see the Welcome screen that invites you to update your author page. This is more than just listing your author bio (which of course should be on the page). You can add photos, blog feeds, videos and even includes your latest Tweets or Facebook posts.

Author page amazon

***If you are an author, you NEED to have an Amazon Author page. Readers want to be able to find information about you, plus it easily links them to your other books. They need a way to connect with you and this is one of the easiest places to list all your links, news and events. (I am always amazed at how many authors, and not just newbie authors either, that don’t have an Amazon Author page. It is free, so there is NO excuse not to have one.)

Now back to my information on Amazon Author Central…Once you have logged in…

Click to view your list of books to ensure that Amazon is showing all the books you have written. If any books are missing, simply click the “Add more books” button, which will bring up a search screen for you to locate your other books.

books by SLN

Clicking on any book in your book list will bring up details about that book. Here you can edit the product description, add snippets from professional reviews, add notes from the author, inside flap or back cover information as well as your author bio. Whatever is entered in these sections will appear on this book’s Amazon page.

If you flip to the Book Extras tab (remember we are still looking at just one of your published books), you will see a list of extras you can add by visiting shelfari.com. Shelfari is a community of authors, Amazon customers and Selfari users. On the site, you can include series information, character descriptions, and memorable quotes. If information is added, readers can see a link for Book Extras on their Kindle or Kindle app. (Doesn’t work on Kindle for your PC though.)

OK, back to the home page of Author Central real quick. You can also find Author Central news here as well as links to Kindle Direct Publishing, CreateSpace, Audiobook Creation Exchange and other areas that might interest you.

At the top of the page, in the blue bar, you will see Sales Info. Clicking on this brings up a new screen where you can select to view information on all your books or just one select title. Clicking on “Rank over time” will let you see mini charts of your books’ sales history, their current rank, and how much they have moved today. This is updated hourly.

rank amazon

By clicking on any title, you can see that books detailed information. You can see the sales information for the past two weeks, one month, six months, one year, two year or all time. This information can help you evaluate how well any marketing endeavors have fared.

Search sale info

The Rank section shows your author rank on Amazon. You can do it for All books or break it down by the genre you are listed under. Again, you can select the period of time to view.

The last tab is Customer Reviews. Here you can see each review on Amazon about your books.

Author Central gives you a wealth of information and best of all it is free. There is no reason any author out there is not using this tool – if for nothing else then use it for your Amazon Author page. Just remember you need to keep it up to date.

Gifting a copy of your ebook

gift a copyWhether it is for a prize, or because you are sending it to someone for review, you may need to send your e-book to someone else. Now you may have a mobi file, a PDF of your book or even an ePub version but there are benefits to gifting your reviewer a copy, especially if it is on Amazon.

For those of you unsure how to gift a copy of your book, here is how to do it on both Amazon and Smashwords. For both methods, you will need the recipient’s e-mail address.

Amazon

To send a copy of your e-book on Amazon, go to your book’s page and click “Give as a Gift” button near the buy button. amazon giftEnter the email address of the person to whom you want to send the book, or you can enter your email address and then forward it to the recipient. (I use this method since my Amazon account is under my real name, and I want to send the book using my pen name.)

The recipient will receive an email that they have reviewed the book as a gift. When they accept it, the e-book will be delivered to their Kindle device or app.

If you are sending this to a reviewer, I have heard that recipients can decline the book and elect to receive a gift certificate instead so make sure you only gift books to people who have expressed a willingness to receive, read and review your book.

Of course by gifting a book, you have to pay full price for the book. But you do receive the royalty from the sale so basically your cost is your sales price less your royalty. If your e-book sells for $2.99 with a 70% royalty, your cost will be just over $.90 (Amazon’s 30% plus a small download charge, usually a few cents). That is a small price to pay, especially when you compare it to the cost of printing and mailing a paper book.

Now you may be wondering why you want to send your book this way instead of just sending them the mobi file. In the case of a reviewer, when they post their review on Amazon, it will note “Amazon Verified Purchase.” Showing this can add credibility to the reviewer.

Smashwords

Now with Smashwords you have two options for giving someone a copy of your book. You can gift them a copy similar to the method above or your can create a coupon making the book free. The good thing about Smashwords is that the reviewer can pick which e-book format they need.

To gift a copy, go to your book page and select “Give as a gift.” smashwords giftYou will enter the recipient’s name and email address, or you can enter your own information if want the notification sent to you. Once you have completed the gift purchase, your recipient will receive an email with instructions on how to redeem their gift. They will need to have a Smashword account to access the book. If they don’t have one, they will be promoted to set up a free account.

If you choose to create a coupon to do a giveaway or to offer review copies, you just have to ensure that the expiration date on your coupon is far enough away that the recipient has time to use it. In other words, don’t make it a few days after you give them the coupon. You will need the expiration date a few weeks away.

Using Amazon Permalinks and setting up your Facebook page username

Every Friday I host different authors. I always ask them to provide me with links to their website, blog, Facebook and of course, the buy links to their books. Often the links they send are really long. Here is a way to shorten your Amazon links and make your Facebook link cleaner.

Amazon

If you are sending the link to your author site or your book on Amazon, you should be sending the permalink (Amazon’s shortcut to your page). When you go to your book page on Amazon, DO NOT copy what you see as the web address in the field at the top of your browser. In my case, when I go to the page for Summoned, I see – http://www.amazon.com/Summoned-The-Elemental-ebook/dp/B005HB1IMG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365473550&sr=8-1&keywords=susan+leigh+noble

Instead of using this, click the share button on the right side of the page under Try it Free section. This will bring up a screen for you to email someone about this product. Listed here is the permalink. For Summoned, it is http://amzn.com/B005HB1IMG0. This takes Amazon’s own shortcut (Amzn.com) and adds your books AISN number. Now technically you could just type that yourself, but I like the cut and paste method, so I don’t accidentally transpose any numbers or letters.

permalink

You can do the same thing on your Amazon author page.

Now I don’t see any easy way to shorten your link on Barnes and Noble, the Kobo Store or iTunes. Smashwords already brings up a pretty short link.

If you really want to shorten these links, you could make a custom link on bitly.com. Once you enter the link into the “Paste a link here…” section, it will bring up a shortened link. You can click on it and change the random letters that come up to whatever you want as long as no one else is using that combination.

Facebook

If you have a Facebook page, make sure you have given it a username rather than the web address listed in the browser. This will shorten your link to http://www.facebook.com/SusanLeighNoble versus http://www.facebook.com/emmameadewrites?ref=hl (2nd one is not mine of course, but I had to look up a former featured author who hadn’t already fixed theirs.) This doesn’t necessarily shorten the link but does look more professional.

There are going to be many times as an author that you need to provide this information to different people so take the time to make your links look more professional.

My KDP Select experiment is over

The SearchOn Sunday, December 9th, The Search ended its run in KDP Select. Here is my take on the requirements and/or “benefits” of placing your book in Amazon’s program.

EXCLUSIVTY

Amazon requires that you do not offer your book in any digital format (you can still sell the physical copies) during your enrollment which lasts 90 days unless you re-enroll. (Note they automatically re-enroll you unless you deselect that option.)

My take….Most of my sales of my other books do come from Amazon so limiting my short story to the largest e-book retailer out there really didn’t bother me. But I am a firm believer that you shouldn’t put all your “eggs in one basket” and that part of selling a self-published work is to have a lot of exposure, which would dictate you have the books on Barnes and Noble, iTunes and the Kobo store.

FREE PROMOTIONS

While enrolled in KDP Select, you receive five days in which you can offer your novel at no cost as a marketing attempt to gain readers. (Is free worth it? Check out my post on that topic.)

My first free promotion, done 11 days after The Search was released, resulted in 119 downloads. I did this on a Thursday and Friday with very little promotion.

For my second free promotion which ran Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 (Thursday to Saturday), I did a lot more promoting. I started planning my promotion about three and a half weeks in advanced. I submitted my information to 14 different websites though I never did check to see which ones listed it on their sites. I also posted my free book on various Goodreads groups and the World Literary Café free boards.

I joined the tweet teams on World Literary Café and posted it on my blog, which meant my tribemates on Triberr all tweeted about it for me. And I was featured on two different blogs that were both run by some great people who promoted my free book on numerous Facebook pages as well as through their own Triberr/Twitter connections.

So needless to say, I had a LOT more promotion this time, and it paid off. On day one, I had 50 downloads – a slow day but I have heard that it takes awhile for the word of your free book to get out there. On day two, I had 691 downloads and then on the final day I only had 187. That is a total of 928 downloads. Now I know that for some they do that number in a day but for me, I am quite pleased with this promotion. Even if only 10% read my short story that is 92 new readers.

Now I had hoped to crack the top 100 free but the closest I came was #280. However, I did make it to the #2 on the Young Adult/Fantasy Free list. I never really meant for The Search or my trilogy to be marketed in the Young Adult category but have had several reviewers place it in that category, so I figured a little marketing to that group couldn’t hurt and it seems to have paid off. ranking blog

My take….Whether these free promotions are worth it is hard to say but I have had an increase in the sales of my other novels. In the first 2 days after my promotion ended, I sold 5 more copies of The Search plus 18 of my other novels. For me that is a personal best in such a short time.

I will say since Amazon allows this feature, they make it easy to offer a free promotion. All it takes is clicking “Manage promotions” on your KDP bookshelf and entering the dates you want the book free. If you aren’t a part of KDP Select, it is much harder to do this type of promotion (but not impossible).

LENDING LIBRARY

Amazon touts that you will receive a share of their allotted money when people borrow your book as part of their Lending Library for Amazon Prime members. This month they have added a $700,000 bonus to the standard $700,000 usually allotted for paying authors in KDP Select who have their books borrowed.

My take….Well, I only had two people borrow my book (and these came after this last free promotion). I really hadn’t expected to have anyone borrow my short story which is only priced at 99 cents. I know that if I had Amazon Prime I would be using my one-a-month borrow on full-length novels over short stories.

I decided not to re-enroll The Search in KDP select and as of December 10th, it is available on Smashwords and soon will be distributed to the other e-book retailers.

Do I regret trying KDP Select? No, not at all. Will I do it again? Well, that depends on what they are offering at the time but right now, I am leaning toward no, I won’t do it for my next novel.  Can it be worth it for some authors? Sure, it can. If it is your first novel, I don’t think it is much help since a “free” promotion is of little benefit (see the above referenced post on free books). But if you have written many books and want to feature either your latest work or perhaps an older one, I can see the benefits of it.

My experience with KDP Select (so far)

When I released The Search in September, I chose to enroll it in KDP Select. I had read many authors’ blogs and opinions on the subject about offering your work exclusively to one distributor. But most of my sales come from Amazon anyway so I am not sure in my case that it matters.

The Search is a short story using one of the main characters from my The Elemental trilogy. It is set before the trilogy happens, and I hope to use it as an introduction of my writing to readers. I liked the option of promoting it for free that KDP Select offers.

After carefully weighing the pros and cons, I decided to go ahead and give KDP Select a try. I used my first 2 (out of 5) free promotional days about 10 days after The Search was released.

Before using my promotional days, I researched many websites that said they would help promote or at least list your “free” book. But I found many of them had qualifications such as at least 10 reviews and a 4+ star rating. Well, for a new release that had only one review at the time that meant those avenues were closed for me.

I promoted my “free” book on some Goodread groups and on Facebook, but mainly I used Twitter as my marketing strategy.  I announced it was free on my blog so that my tribe from Triberr would be tweeting it out. I also joined Tweet Teams from World Literary Café on both the day before and each day of the promotion. That means an additional 27 people were tweeting my message. I must admit I received a fair amount of retweets. But of course, the problem is you don’t know who – if anyone – is reading those tweets. And if they are reading them, are the motivated to act right then and get a book for free?

I ended up with 119 books downloaded in two days. It wasn’t the hundreds I had hoped for or had read about from other authors who had done free promotions.

My book ranking went from 256,699 to 1683. No, I didn’t crack the top 100, but I didn’t expect to. I still don’t know whether to consider this a success or not.

I have learned a few things about offering your book for free. One, make sure you plan in advance. (I started planning a week before the promotion.) Two, make sure you have the necessary 10 reviews to use those other sites – the more exposure the better, right? Three, run your promotion as long as possible so that momentum can build each day. (I have heard this advice from other authors but did note that most of my free books were downloaded on the first day.)

So I have now used two of my five promotion days. I plan to use the other three in November and will see if I get a better result. If anyone has any marketing strategies for offering your book for free, I would sure love to hear them.