The Road to Digital Publication – Part 8
Fist off, I want to thank Sarah for stepping in last weekend to give us that wonderful post on covers. For those of us who have been brought up shopping for books in bookstores, or even at the local grocery store or Walmart, covers have often played a role in getting us to pick up a book to read the blurb or skim the first few pages. Covers are still an important part of marketing your e-book, although perhaps in different ways. That said, if you have a generic cover that doesn’t catch the reader’s eye when they go to the product page or see it in the “If you liked this, you’ll like that” recommendation list, folks won’t click through to buy your e-book. The same can be said if your cover screams “Amateur!”. So, if you haven’t read Sarah’s post, please do so.
Today will be the next to the last post in this series. Next week, I’ll do a quick wrap up and try to answer any questions you might have. So, if there are any topics I haven’t covered, leave a comment and I will do my best to cover it next week.
Now, on with the post. . . .
I’m not going to do a lot on titles, mainly because I think Sarah is going to do a blog post about them, but do have a couple of thoughts. First, your title needs to clue your reader into the genre of your e-book. Let me begin by saying I am the absolute worst at coming up with titles for my own books. Nocturnal Origins titled itself. I didn’t try to change it because it did what I wanted it to. It cued the reader into the fact that this was a book with supernatural overtones. Now, I’ll admit it might, on its own, make the reader think vampire but not necessarily. Added with the cover art, it was pretty obvious (at least to me) that this was an urban fantasy (or contemporary fantasy) with shapeshifters.
One thing I do when settling on a title, either for myself or for Naked Reader Press, is check to see what else has that title. Just because there’s another book or a song or movie with the same title doesn’t mean I automatically toss out a title. But, I do look to see how many items have the title and if any are the same genre and have bad reviews. Yep, I worry about the stink of something rubbing off on my work. Also, if there are too many things with the same title, I worry about my e-book being lost in the search engine if the person making the query doesn’t add qualifiers to it.
Another thing to keep in mind, with an e-book, you are working with limited real estate, so to speak, when it comes to displaying your title. So shorter is better. You can have a sub-title, ie: Book One in the XYZ Series, or a further descriptor of the book. But it will become muddled on the e-book thumbnail, which is the first thing your potential reader sees. So, keep that always in the back of your mind and go back to read Sarah’s post on covers.
The next thing to consider is pricing. Yes, yes, I know. There is no consensus on this. There are those who say you should never sell anything longer than a short story for less than $2.99 and a novel should never be sold for less than $4.99. On the other hand, you have buyers who won’t spend more than $0.99 for anything, no matter what the length, from a self-published author.
Now, before you start thinking you can get past that prejudice by forming a DBA and having your own “publishing company”, let me add a word of warning. If you are doing this, and I do advocate it, you have to choose a name that sounds legitimate. Don’t use your own name. Don’t add .com at the end of the “house” name. If you write vampire stories, don’t name it Blood and Fang Press (Yes, I have seen something similar). Don’t call it My E-book Press (and, again, I have seen something similar). Remember, folks buying e-books are usually pretty internet savvy and they will and do google a publisher to see if it is legitimate or not. Not must screams amateur more loudly than naming your “publishing company” along those lines, especially if someone googles it and finds there is no website for the “company”.
Along this line as well — yes, Sarah, I’m talking to you here — if you put your work up on Smashwords and you have a DBA you are using, be sure to have a page for your press. Just as you have an author page there, you need a “house” profile page. This is especially important if, like Sarah, you have multiple pen names. That way, if someone searches for one of your pen names, they will see a live link for the Press as well and can click on it to see all the titles you have published, no matter how many pen names you’ve used. This works as well for Amazon and, I assume, for B&N, although its search engine leaves a lot to be desired.
Back to pricing. My recommendation for those who have not yet garnered a following, is simple. Short stories are $0.99. Novellas are $1.99 or $2.99. For all of these, be sure to note in the product description that they are short stories or novellas. It is amazing the number of folks who will give negative reviews because they liked the plot but it was too short. They wanted more. You will really get this if you are seen to be overpricing for your work. First novels should be no more than $4.99 and my gut feeling is they should be no more than $2.99. Note, I said first novels. And, before I hear the cries that first novels published through NRP are priced higher, they are. But we aren’t having to fight the uprising in some quarters against self-published authors. Yes, I know this does fly in the face of advice given by others, and I’m not saying it’s wrong. What I am saying is that right now, with the abundance of books and short stories being offered for free through the KDP Select Program on Amazon, you are having to fight to get your just released e-book into the hands of readers being offered hundreds of freebies every day.
Does that mean I think you should immediately offer your new title in the the KDP Select Program. Not only no, but hell no. The program, which is offered to anyone who is publishing their work through Amazon KDP has some downsides. The first is that you can’t offer your titles anywhere else during a 90 day period. My recommendation is to put your work out in as many markets as possible to start. See where the bulk of your sales happen over a period of months. While the vast majority of my sales come from Amazon, it isn’t always the case. So don’t go into the program without doing your homework first.
Also, based on personal experience and on talking with other writers and readers, there’s a trend I’m seeing. Because of the number of titles being offered each day, a lot of people are simply skipping over those titles that 1) are easily identifiable as self-published by new authors, and/or 2) have no reviews, and/or 3) the product description is poorly written or formatted. So, make sure you have legitimate purchaser reviews up, favorable ones, before putting your e-book into the program. By legitimate, I mean from people who have actually read the book and who don’t have the same last name as you. Sock puppets are usually discovered pretty quickly and have been known to be reported to Amazon.
As for product descriptions, well, those are difficult and I’m not sure there is a good rule of thumb. When it is a short story, say that. Give the reader warning. If it is a short story that also appears in a collection or anthology, note that. If you are putting out a collection, list the short stories with a brief description of each title. Note I say brief. Give enough of a synopsis, whether for a novel or for a short story, to give the reader a flavor for what the e-book is about, but don’t give too much detail because there will be those who will expect the book to be exactly like you’ve described. AND they will give you a negative review if they feel your description mislead them.
For example, the description for Ellie Ferguson’s Wedding Bell Blues mentions how the main character has to deal with, among other things, the best man for her sister’s wedding who is very handsy. There is a review that knocks us because that reader expected the best man to play a major part in the story and he doesn’t. We threw that bit into the description, not because we meant he was a major player but because it helped set the scene for the distractions the main character was having to deal with. In other words, he was a gnat she’d usually swat but couldn’t just then because of her sister’s upcoming nuptuals.
So, shorter can be better, as long as you give a fair feel for the novel or short story. Also, you don’t want to give too much away. Think of it as what you’d see in the TV Guide if it was a TV show. Or as if you are giving a 30 second pitch for it.
One more thing to remember, not everyone will be reading the blurb on their computers. Many will read it on their smart phones, tablets and e-readers. So keep in mind they may not continue paging forward if the description is too long.
Finally, keep on top of any changes in the “contracts” you agree to wherever you sell your e-books. Don’t do as someone I read the other day who openly admitted she’d violated the terms of her contract with Amazon by offering her titles free on other sites but not there. Why had she done this? Because she couldn’t figure out how to offer them for free before the KDP Select Program began. She obviously couldn’t be bothered to call or e-mail Amazon. Nor could she be bothered to simply google the question or ask on fb or her blog. She simply violated the terms of her contract. Now, it’s true Amazon doesn’t usually take action against an author who does this. However, if an author makes a habit of it — and if they are very public in telling people what they are doing — Amazon can and will send an email telling you to either abide by your contract with them or remove your title from their catalog. Instead of violating the terms of her agreement, all she had to do was lower the price elsewhere, then report the lower price to Amazon (there’s a handy button on every product page where you can report a lower price). It will usually lower the price and then put it back to normal when you ask them to (yes, there are times when this doesn’t happen, but not often.)
Just as you are responsible for knowing the terms of any contract you sign, and knowing if that contract has been amended, you have the same responsibility with regard to the contracts with Smashwords, B&N, Apple and Amazon.
As I said, I’d like to wrap up this series next weekend. So if you have anything you want me to discuss, leave a comment to that effect. Later, after the series is older, I’ll pull it together, edit it into an easily navigable format and make it available either here or on my blog. I’ll let you know when it happens.