Chip MacGregor

April 23, 2013

Before you post your book online…


A guest post from Holly Lorincz, assistant to Chip MacGregor

Recently, I was forced given the opportunity to learn to master the art of uploading ebooks onto Smashwords and Amazon for this persistent Scottish agent I know. After extracting multiple promises that haggis or blood pudding would never be served at staff parties, I agreed.

I can’t approach the simplest assignment without first reading at least seventeen reference books (the heftier the better), and yet, after all that research and putting my own book up for esale, I’ve really only learned one thing about self-publishing: marketing your ebook is a full time job. Selling it successfully? There’s magic involved and a lot of patient plodding, and messing around with algorithms. I know, I know, I shouldn’t use that word algorithm, since it just screams ‘first period math class.’ Sorry. Unless you’re going to hire a publicist, get used to it. Also, if I’m being totally honest, you may want to bypass the whole formatting and uploading issue, hire a professional, if you have a life away from your computer.

Still here? Okay then. The following is a list of random ebook publishing and marketing tips that I’ve picked up from books, other self-publishers, and my own stumble down the publishing path. Some of it will be common sense and common practice, so just view it as a reminder.

1. Remember those early beta-readers you sought out as you were finishing your book? Remember that one that drove you crazy, the one that only commented on dangling participles, improperly used pronouns and linguistic improbabilities?  If you haven’t burned that bridge, find that grammarian and ask him or her to read your book one last time, tasked with catching typos, specifically homonyms and homophones. (Because, you know, spell check silently chuckles when you use the phrase “his voice was a horse whisper.”)

2. Decide if you are going to use KDP Select (Kindle Direct Publishing Select requires you publish only with Amazon) or if you want to publish in other venues, such as KDP or Smashwords, which distributes to most other distributors like Barnes & Noble and Sony. There are benefits to each choice. However, even if you choose to distribute only on Amazon, I recommend you initially format your manuscript using the Smashwords Style Guide process, as it gives you a much cleaner ebook (you will not thank me while trudging through the laborious frustrating process, but you will when you’re done).

3. There are (at least) three books you should read before you begin formatting your text:  Smashwords Style Guide: How To Format Your Ebook by Mark Coker (available as a free document on Kindle); Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing (free document on Kindle); and Publishing E-Books for Dummies by Ali Luke. Thankfully, I bought this last book in print form, since I ended up formatting my manuscript while using my computer, my Kindle and the Dummies book at the same time. The first two documents offer specific, step by step instructions. Dummies is an overview of the multiple methods of self-publishing ebooks and contains problem solving strategies that are not in the first two documents. Dummies also has helpful sections on building your own author’s website and driving buyers to your ebook.   

4. Write your acknowledgements page, copyright page, book’s hook, short description, and author bio days before you put your book online. You need to give yourself time to go back and edit. And that hook has to be good. Look at samples from the top 100 Kindle sellers, what are they saying? Speaking of hooks and descriptions, try inserting a top Amazon or Google key word search term for your book’s genre within the first sentence or two . . . but do it smoothly. Good luck. If you do manage this trick, you will be driving readers who are looking for subjects like “vampires in love” or “dinosaur fossils” to your title. Hopefully that is what your book is about.

5. Your cover and title. You will hear this over and over again, because it’s true: nothing is more important than your cover and title. The imagery needs to somehow imply the genre, tone and subject matter of your manuscript. When I was getting ready to put my first book online, I searched through internet stock photos for two days before I finally realized I was going to have to do my own photo shoot. Luckily, I know photographers and graphic designers. Then I needed to consider the title, make sure it was prominent and properly represented the text. Readers get edgy when they think they’re buying a romance entitled something like Love’s First Kiss only to discover the two people snuggling sweetly on the cover turn out to be demons seeking to ravage a futuristic dystopian society. Again, go into Kindle’s top 100 best sellers and assess their covers and the titles. Look especially close at your genre. Great titles have meaning AND they incorporate top key word search terms. That’s a coup if you can pull that off. In his book, Making a Killing on Kindle, Michael Alvear uses a Charlaine Harris title as a good example of this: Living Dead in Dallas. You know the book falls into the zombie category, and it includes “living dead,” which is a top key word search in Google. For that matter, Alvear’s title is apropos to this discussion; are you unclear at all on what his book is about?

By the way, if you’ve already epublished, it’s not too late to reconsider your title or your cover. You can edit or resubmit, or you can hire a service to make the corrections for you.

6. Once your book is online, pay attention to not just your sales; also look at your Amazon ranking. The higher you go in the ranks, the more Amazon does to market your title, like adding your book into the “customers also bought” thread under other books in your category. According to Alvear, there are a number of ways to bump up your ranking just by paying attention to what he calls the ecosystem within Amazon. Namely, chase reviews from family, friends and book bloggers; get people to purchase top selling titles in your genre at the same time they purchase your book online (if this happens often enough, Amazon will start to link the two titles); review other books online and somehow, subtly, refer back to your own book while praising that author (if you can’t do this without coming across as smarmy, I don’t recommend it).

6. Make sure you take advantage of the author’s page on Amazon.  Amazon’s Author Central allows you to post a bio, pictures, links to your websites, blogs, videos, articles, podcasts . . . this is available when a reader is perusing your title information, trying to determine if they want to buy your book. Sell yourself and you might sell your book. Consider offering freebies for these browsers, like bookmarks or mugs or previous books you’ve written. Who doesn’t like free stuff?

I’ve just grazed the surface of what you can do to market your book. I haven’t even mentioned social media, like Facebook and Goodreads and Bookshelf and blog tours . . . 

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