Posts Tagged technology

Social media helps self-publishers seize the day – post at Alliance of Independent Authors

alliI’m at the Alliance of Independent Authors blog today, with the story of a mini campaign I whipped up on Twitter and Facebook this week.

I’ll leave the story to that post, but briefly, I saw an interview on the Writers & Artists Yearbook website, responded to it, and seem to have woken them up to the fact that indie authors are rather more advanced than they hitherto thought.

Even better (and this isn’t in the post) Bloomsbury then asked me to call them. They’d had a rummage through my blogs and wanted me to write for their website and newsletter. (Wow. Big smiles at NYN HQ.)

So W&A – the bible for creatives in the UK – is expanding its coverage of self-publishing as a serious and respectable option. But I detected they’re a tad nervous about it. The editor I spoke to asked if I ‘minded’ writing about self-publishing. That suggests he’s encountering more negative attitudes than positive. No matter. They’re responding to what’s happening in the creative world.

waI also have to relish a sense of a circle closing. Years ago, when I was a beginner querying agents and publishers, W&A was my route map for what seemed an audacious and mostly impossible dream. When I wrote the querying section of Nail Your Novel, I recommended using them. Now, thanks to a tweet that alerted me to their post, and a tweet I sent to them, I’ve flipped to the other side and they’re introducing me to their audience. In our online, endlessly connected world, new opportunities might be only a tweet away.

In other news, tomorrow I’m skyping into the Grub Street arts centre in Boston as a guest expert in a seminar on creative book marketing so you’ll get a proper post from me about our discussions. And next Saturday, I’m on a panel at Stoke Newington Literary Festival in north London, talking about multimedia self-publishing. Both those opportunities sprang from relationships made completely on social media. In fact, everything has. Before that, I was an invisible editor and a concealed ghost.

So tell me – what opportunities have come to you from social media? And what tips would you give to help people make the best of it? (Oh, and here’s the Independent Authors Alliance post, in case you’re curious about the W&A Incident… )

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Before you spend money on publishing services, read this

old ropeAs indies get ever more professional, an entire service industry is springing up to offer us services for every occasion. At this year’s London Book Fair, the Authors’ Lounge was heaving with suppliers, and no shortage of willing customers. While it’s great to have access to these, authors are ripe for rip-off.

This week David Gaughran highlighted unscrupulous companies that charge exorbitant prices, or hoodwink authors into paying for services that could be obtained for very little or no cost.

So this post is a self-publishing 101; a catch-up for those who are wondering what they need to spend money on. In some cases, knowledge is the answer; all books, authors and genres are different, and one supplier does not fit all.

It’s virtually impossible to publish a book without any expenditure, but we can make sure we use our budgets wisely – and stop writers filling the pockets of unscrupulous suppliers who are getting rich on our dreams.

Publisher accounts

Some authors don’t know they can create their own user accounts on Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo and CreateSpace. Or how simple it is – basically, no more difficult than entering your details in a mail-order website.

Some companies offer to upload your books through their account, but this is unnecessary. Even if you don’t make the files yourself, you can still upload them. If your service company went out of business, what would happen to your book listings? Moreover, if a third party controls your access to these publishing platforms, it’s harder to adjust your book’s appearance and description – which as you’ll see is essential to successful self-publishing.

Ebook formatting

This week, as you may have gathered, I published the follow-up to Nail Your Novel. I was rusty with the e-platforms, but it didn’t take long to get reacquainted.

Basic ebook formatting is dead simple if you can use Word on an everyday average level. You don’t need to be a wizard, but you do have to be meticulous. The best instructions are at the Smashwords Style Guide, a free book with diagrams and reassuringly clear instructions. There are a couple of other useful links in this post I wrote 2 years ago when I first ventured onto Kindle. I reread them when I uploaded my new book last week and it all went smoothly.

Indeed, if you have Scrivener, it will format ebooks for you.

Print book interiors

Print books are more tricky than ebooks, and amateur ones can look dreadful. But there are various tools to help beginners do a good job for very little money.

cathI recommend you read Catherine Ryan Howard’s book Self-Printed, which I used the first time I ventured onto CreateSpace and I still keep to hand to remind myself how to set up a book. She also has a ton of other useful guidance on book formatting.

How do you make the interior? CreateSpace provides Word templates, if you need help (although I make my books in a design program and upload a PDF).  CS templates are pretty plain, and Word isn’t ideal for interior formatting, but it’s fine for novels, which require hardly any design. In any case, a neat finish isn’t created by fancy typesetting, it’s from consistency and readability – and you can find a post I wrote on that here.

If you want a slicker look for little money, try Joel Friedlander’s book design templates for use in Word.   Joel has created interiors that you graft your text into – which is exactly what happens when books are designed in mainstream publishers (although they don’t use Word).

Which print-on-demand company should you use? There are two main options: Lightning Source and CreateSpace. LS isn’t suitable for beginners. It costs to start a book project and proofs are expensive. CS, though, is free to set up and holds your hand. Here’s a post I wrote comparing the two for novice publishers.

Covers

A great cover is money well spent. But you need to take creative control because you could end up with something unsuitable, horrible, or even illegal if the designer downloaded images from Google instead of sourcing them legitimately. This happens.

When you hire a cover designer, you need to know how to choose them and how to know when the job has been done properly. Identify your genre, familiarise yourself with its most successful covers, then you’ll know how to judge which designer is right for your book. Here’s a post I wrote recently on getting a cover designed.

Marketing

At LBF I talked to a publicity company to find out how they’d publicise a literary novel. They hadn’t tackled literary fiction before, and seemed unwilling to admit it until I pressed them hard. If I’d been a newbie, they’d have been selling me expensive packages that were unsuitable for my book. (I wasn’t looking to buy anyway; I was asking out of curiosity.)

With marketing, learn as much as you can before you hire publicists or buy advertising. I’ve learned a lot from Joanna Penn’s blog, and this is where I’d send you too.

Not all marketing has to cost money. Book descriptions, price point, tagging, titling and categorisation will all affect whether your book can be found by its ideal readers and you can experiment and tweak ad infinitum. (Remember I said you don’t want to have to ask a third party whenever you adjust your book’s back end? This is a good reason why.)  You might find you know more about marketing than you realise, as I did when I was asked to write this guest post.

Two more books I’m going to recommend:allibook

psst… Editorial services

First, of course, you need a book that’s fit to be published. In a publisher, there would be a team of people handling different editing stages:

  • developmental (the big picture: book structure, characters, narrative voice, plot etc)
  • copyediting (niggly details like plot consistency, names, timelines)
  • proofing (looking for typos and other mistakes)

It’s worth hiring expertise to help you with these and it’s unlikely that you can do it cheap. But you can choose wisely: here’s my post on issues to be aware of.

Thanks for the pic Horia Varlan

What other warnings and tips would you add to my self-publishing 101?

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Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters to Lifenyn2covcomp

Alive and sparking now on all ebook formats

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A Very British Blog Tour – post at Authors Electric

aebritThe files that make up this blog post are a twinkle in a data farm somewhere in the US. My books are too, blades of virtual grass in the electronic territories of KDP, Smashwords, Kobo and On-Demand Publishing. (If that’s already fried your brain, Daniel Marvello will no doubt save us with a comment that makes sense of it all, and straighten out my assumptions.)

We publish everywhere our language can be read. I’m sure most of the commenters here aren’t from the UK. So I’m quite amused to be invited to A Very British Blog Tour, which aims to celebrate authors from our small isles and pin down whether our national characteristics influence our work. I never even thought about what those were; I simply wrote. Anyway, do drop in for a cup of Earl Grey.(You don’t have to drink it.)

And out of curiosity, tell me: where are you reading this blog?

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How do we discover what to read? Post at Authors Electric

problogAESorry, you got two trailer posts from me today. It’s my turn at Authors Electric, where I’m wondering how relevant SEO is for fiction writers and readers.

It all started when I saw a link to a post on Problogger which advised bloggers to stop running guest posts with a lot of links because of new Google algorithms. Undercover Soundtrack host, please note. This led to a fun, fulminating conversation with Facebook friends Cyd Madsen, Vivienne Tuffnell and Beth Rudetsky about tails wagging dogs. But getting our work discovered is a real issue for writers, and at Authors Electric I’m wondering how that’s done. Come over and join the debate.

(Thanks for the pic Daveynin)

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Predictions for writers in 2013 – and guest post at On Fiction Writing

ofw2Everyone’s writing prediction posts right now. I wouldn’t have dared, except the website On Fiction Writing asked what I thought might happen in the industry in the next five years.

Obviously writers can’t be oblivious to what’s going on in publishing, but if you look at what’s changed in the past two years, do we have a hope of predicting anything with accuracy? Anyway, who would trust the predictions of anyone who makes things up for a living? Worlds, economies, social movements roll out of our imagination to suit whatever story we want to tell. (And I see they put my interview next to a novel called The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Adorable cover anyway.)

The only certainties I can predict – for myself and for other writers in 2013 – are these.

  • I will need to weigh up several new social media environment and decide if they’re worth the effort. I will need to remind myself that once upon a time I was scornful of Twitter, Facebook and even – gasp – blogging.
  • I’ll need to embrace at least one new platform for publishing, on a device that I don’t see the need for. I will have to remind myself that putting Nail Your Novel on Kindle turned out to be a brilliant move.
  • I’ll never decide what’s worthwhile unless I have help – which I will probably find by firing off a tweet or a Facebook post to all you guys.
  • I’ll get stuck on the novel I’m writing, and when I think all is irretrievably lost the answer will fall effortlessly onto the page. (I talk about writer’s block in my interview, in case you’re wrestling too.)
  • I’ll discover several writers whose work contains such insight, I will not know how I did without them (I talk about favourite writers too)

Predictions aside, I’m also talking about self-publishing, publishers developing new roles as partners for indies, finding readers – and ghostwriting. Do join me there and if you’re in a predictive frame of mind, leave a comment here with conjectures, projections and outright fabrications and fantasies for writers in 2013.

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Blogging for authors – should you be self-hosted? Part 2: two bloggers who favour self-hosting

Yesterday I discussed why an author might not want to self-host their blog and how to make the best of platform-hosted blogging. But many authors strongly advocate self-hosting – so today I’m going to ask two of them why.

First up is author-entrepreneur Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna has built a formidable following among writers who want to take charge of their publishing careers and make the best of what the internet can offer. She also develops multimedia courses and she’s hit the bestseller lists with her two thrillers.

Joanna, why did you chose self-hosting?
I have control over everything – including affiliate sales and plugins that you can’t use on free blogs. Google takes you more seriously so you get better SEO results and rank better on Google.

You use a paid-for theme, don’t you? Why?
I use Thesis, which has SEO design in the back end and is very easy to customise so it looks professional. I model success and all the top blogs are self-hosted and use premium or custom design themes. Why look like a second-rate blog?

Is self-hosting and/or using a paid-for theme more hassle? Do you need to be more tech literate?
I have Joel the Blog Tech guy as help but once the site is set up, the back end is the same as WordPress. So no, you don’t have to be tech literate.

How much does this all cost you?
My hosting is less than USD $10 per month, my premium theme was USD $70.

How much do novel-writers need to worry about search engine optimisation (SEO) and what key things should they do?
You need basic SEO – good site design, so that spiders can crawl you. Free themes have a particular SEO rating and my first blog was really crappy for this until I learned about it. Then you should use an SEO plugin. I use All-in-One SEO. Also you should use consistent keywords for your niche and have a lot of relevant content.

My second self-hosted blogger is Jane Friedman, web editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review. Jane is a former publisher at Writer’s Digest and a prolific and respected speaker on writing, publishing, and the future of media. Her expertise has been featured by sources such as NPR’s Morning Edition, Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS, The Huffington Post, and Mr. Media. She has consulted with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and creative professionals, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Work Fund, and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

Jane, prevailing wisdom seems to be that self-hosted is always better. Why is this?
Because not self-hosting means:

  • You’ll have a weaker functioning site overall (customisation is usually quite limited)
  • You rarely have access to advanced analytics unless you’re allowed to install Google Analytics (which can be important, see below)
  • You’re not fully in control of what happens to your site. Over time, services ARE discontinued, bought, changed, etc.

Are these considerations relevant to novelists?
If you’re planning to be a novelist for life, yes. You should be concerned about the long-term potential, growth, and stability of your site.

Whether self-hosted or not, why might authors use a paid-for or upgraded theme – apart from being able to look distinctive? How much does it generally cost?
The cost is very little (generally less than USD $100), given that a premium theme offers robust or improved functionality, as well as better looks (and often better readability). Also, premium themes generally have better SEO tools.

How much do novelists need to worry about SEO? Do readers really find them through Google searches?
If readers buy your book, or hear about your book through any medium, they might be likely to google your name – in which case, your site should be easily found. Often, you don’t have to ‘worry’ about SEO for this to happen as long as your site meets basic standards (usually the case with any premium-theme sites) and you don’t have an exceptionally common name.

I like to say that if no one can find you through Google, it’s like you don’t exist.

Is Google all there is to SEO? What key things should writers do to increase visibility?
Not exactly, but Google is 70% of the search market. The best thing to do is to use a premium theme that focuses on SEO, which will help ensure your site is looking its best when search engine crawlers visit.

This is my SEO strategy – how does it look to you? I write attention-grabbing headlines with key words, and use plenty of tags, including my name, my book titles and keywords for my subject area (in this case ‘writing a novel’).
This looks fine! There are other steps, such as making sure your site’s meta title, meta description, and meta tags are appropriate for the type of reader you’re trying to attract. These things are also adjustable on a post-by-post basis if you’re blogging. When you get a premium theme focused on SEO, generally these fields are available for you to adjust as needed. It helps you customise what exactly appears when your single posts (or when your site) comes up in Google search (site title, site description, brief description of post, etc).

How can writers check how well their measures are working?
You can tell whether your efforts are working if you improve your search ranking for your name or book titles (how high in the listings you appear), and/or if you see your organic search results increase—something you can watch, over time, in Google Analytics.

……

Thanks Joanna and Jane – and thanks also to Catherine Ryan Howard for helping me argue for platform-hosted blogs yesterday.

Anything to add? Cautionary tales, theories…. has your mind been changed by anything you’ve read here? I’m sticking with WordPress hosting for now, but Jane’s suggestions have sent me back to my site descriptions to make them work harder at grabbing readers. If you’re going to do anything new, tell me in the comments!

If you’re new to blogging and want some basics, you might find this post of mine helpful – How I get time to blog as well as write  and Your new writing blog: avoid these faux-pas.

If you are thinking of upgrading to a bespoke theme, you might like this by Dan Blank – How I redesigned my website.

Joanna has scores of helpful posts about blogging – starting here. (And we’ve joined forces to create a multimedia course How To Write A Novel. More than 4 hours of video and audio with 86-page transcription and slides)


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Blogging – should authors go self-hosted or not? Part 1: two bloggers who don’t

You must self-host. You mustn’t use an off-the-peg theme. You mustn’t, on pain of ethernal damnation, have links in blue Times Roman.

There’s a lot of strident advice about blogging. Even that remark about blue Times Roman came from serious advice on a high-profile site trying to tell quivering newbies what they should do. Perhaps blue links matter in some quarters, but what matters to an author who wants to connect with readers? Should you be spending money on hosting, and on customised, SEO-friendly blog themes?

Today and tomorrow I’m going to examine both sides of the electric fence. Four bloggers, evenly split between self-hosted and not. On the ‘not’ side are me and Catherine Ryan Howard. On the self-hosting side are writer and author entrepreneur Joanna Penn and digital publishing guru Jane Friedman.

In a way I speak from both sides. I started with a self-hosted blog, when a friend insisted I camp out in a corner of his webspace (because he felt it was infra dig to be anything but self-hosted). And it didn’t go well. More about that in a moment.

You’ve lost me already. What does all this mean?

Quick tutorial – your blog is kept on a server so anyone in the world can read it and lots of people can access it at the same time. With self-hosting, you pay for disk space (also known as a domain) and you can put whatever you like on it – blog software of your choice, websites, pay buttons, video, anything. With platform-hosted, like WordPress.com and Blogger, your files are kept by WordPress and Blogger, you can’t customise the design or have pay buttons or video – although paid upgrades will allow some features. It’s like the difference between renting a house – with landlord’s furniture and rules – and owning the whole space outright.

Just to confuse you, there’s a version of WordPress for use on self-hosted blogs – WordPress.org.

With freedom comes responsibility

The biggest difference between the two is, obviously, freedom. This can go rather wrong. When I was self-hosted, I imported a cool plugin that broke my entire blog. I would never have got up again if not for (another) expert friend who was prepared to poke around the upper, scary database levels and unravel the damage. (Note to self: self-hosting is not for the insanely curious.)

The other problem is security. Most blogging systems are open source – which means the code is available for anyone to read, and hackers can find the loopholes easily. WordPress.com and Blogger don’t let you change anything that threatens security, but on self-hosted blogs there are no padlocks. My self-hosted blog got hacked – which might or might not have been because I was sharing with a friend of less secure habits. But after the stress of that I decided I was out of my depth and didn’t have time to sort out software and security headaches. I rebooted on WordPress.com, which has been able to do everything I need.

Get  customising

Obviously you don’t want your blog to look like everyone else’s, but there are only a limited number of visual templates (themes). However, there’s a lot you can do to customise. My blogs all use the same template, Fusion, which I’ve tweaked with my own headers and logos. You can buy upgrades to let you customise even more, but everything I’ve done is free.

Fusion tweaked for my main author site

…and for my novel’s blog

But themes aren’t just about the blog’s appearance. Themes also allow you to draw in new readers through the hocus-pocus of SEO – search engine optimisation.

SEO

Here, the paid-for themes have an advantage as they are designed to worm their way more effectively into search pathways. Tomorrow I’ll discuss this in more detail with Jane and Joanna, but there are ways you can optimise your free non-self-hosted blog:

  • use attention-grabbing headlines with key words
  • optimise post URLs – Google looks at post URLs, so I make sure mine show the headline, not the post date or number. Your blog will probably have an option for changing this
  • use plenty of tags – you’ll see my posts all have shoals of tags, including my name, my book titles, and general tags like ‘write a novel’. Those tags are not for you, reading this page – you already know every post is related to writing novels. Those tags are for Google. Make sure each post contains the keywords for the specific post and the keywords for your blog in general.

Buy a URL

I also bought my own general blog URL and pointed it to the free one. The rationale is that when someone hears about you they search for you.com or yourbook.com. (It’s usually .com they plump for first, even if you’re as English as Earl Grey tea). So the actual web address of this blog is nailyournovel.wordpress.com but for a few dollars I bought nailyournovel.com and through a very easy process, pointed it at this blog. I did it for My Memories of a Future Life too.

Over to Catherine

Anyway, I promised you a second opinion on platform-hosted blogs, so here’s Catherine Ryan Howard, of the indefatigable and unfatiguable Catherine, Caffeinated…

How did you start?

‘I started off with Blogger.com, but I always felt there was something about Blogger templates that said ‘amateur’. This was back in late 2009 so chances are they’ve improved since then but when I went to WordPress, it felt like a whole new level of professionalism and the choice of themes was just fantastic. I think it’s a credit to WordPress that I’ve had enquiries about who designed my blog – people think it’s been done professionally but it’s a free WordPress theme (Bueno) I love how easy WordPress.com blogs are to use, how easy it is to integrate them with the rest of your online activities (Twitter, Facebook, etc) And my all-time fave WP feature is their custom menu, which enables you to link to external sites (or wherever you like) from the menu at the top. For example, on top of my blog I have a ‘newsletter’ tab, and when you click it on it, you’re brought to the MailChimp sign up form.’

Is there anything you pay for?

‘The only thing I pay for is the domain upgrade, i.e. www.catherineryanhoward.com instead of www.catherineryanhoward.wordpress.com.’

What limitations are there on a WordPress-hosted blog?

‘Paypal buttons is the big thing – you can’t sell anything on your WP blog although you can have a donate button.’ (editor’s ahem!… it’s possible to fudge it – see the How To Write A Novel course in my sidebar…)

‘Also a lot of external widgets don’t work. BUT I think this is a tiny price to pay for such a great, easy service that lets me have a professional home online for very little cost.’

What about SEO?

‘I don’t worry about SEO at all. Not one tiny bit. Maybe I should, but I’m quite happy with the way things are for me and my blog at the moment. The only thing I want – and I have it – is for my blog to be the first result when people google my name. I think if your blog is the core of your business, you should worry about things like that. But for a writer, their books are the core – or should be, anyway.’

Roz again… I couldn’t agree more. So here are my tips for making the most of a non-self-hosted blog, if we can use such a horrible term…

  1.  Tag your posts with an eye on SEO
  2. Get your own URL
  3. Check your URLs show your post headline, not just a date or a post number
  4. Find a theme that you can shape to look distinctive (so people really feel it’s your online home)
  5. Remember your online presence isn’t just a blog – you reach much further if you use social media as well.

If you blog, what platform do you use and why? Do you have any thoughts on self-hosted versus platform hosted? Share in the comments…. and come back tomorrow when Jane Friedman and Joanna Penn give their reasons for self-hosting.

The first edition of my newsletter is out now, including useful links and snippets about the next Nail Your Novel book!  You can read it here and you can add your name to the mailing list here.

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