Copyright © 2016 by CJ McDaniel
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Cover and interior design: Adazing Design
Printed in the United States of America
This book would not exist without the help of the many authors, publishers, editors, designers, purchasing agents and other book specialists that have helped me collect the knowledge I have today about books. We have celebrated many victories and hung our heads in shame for many mistakes. But in those victories, and even more so in those embarrassing blunders, the foundations of an understanding was laid for what makes an independent published book succeed. Thank you for the interesting journey and thanks for allowing me to share our journey with other authors.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword by Springs Toledo
Getting Ready (Introduction)
Books & Boxing (My Story)
In Your Corner (Your Team)
Your Ring Nickname (Book Title)
Heavy Hitting (Cover Design)
The Basics (Editing)
Getting In Shape (Book Layout)
Unanimous Decision (Reviews)
The Main Event (Foreword Writers)
Moving Forward (Marketing)
The Final Bell (Conclusion)
The Author Tool Kit
By Springs Toledo
I never saw it coming, but I should have. I’d seen it a thousand times before — a double left hook, the first to the ribcage to bring the elbow down and the second to the newly-exposed chin. I winced in arenas, smoky gyms, golden gloves competitions, and the street whenever I saw some poor slob getting set up for it. Hell, I’d done it many times myself which is why the first thing I felt as I went crashing to the canvas was not pain or fear or embarrassment, but regret. Regret because I shoulda known better; regret because I shoulda seen it coming. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, didn’t.
It’s a good story now. Everyone chuckles when I tell them the last thing I remember was hearing Burgess Meredith telling me to “get up” while I was lying there blinking at the ceiling and that I somehow finished the fight but woke up on the train.
Don’t let it happen to you. You, as a writer, are as alone in your craft as a fighter is in his and there is no one else to blame for your mistakes. Once your book is published, it is under garish lights and so are you, in your shorts. Those lights are merciless.
CJ McDaniel is the corner man I needed that night all those years ago. He comes with advanced technical know-how, experience working with craftsmen at every level, and is a fount of advice both sage and pragmatic. The Author’s Guide to Beating the Best Seller Every Single Time is what every author in the self-publishing field needs to tell a good story — without becoming the punchline.
SPRINGS TOLEDO is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, International Boxing Hall of Fame Committee, and a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Someone buying their first pair of boxing gloves, and the very next day stepping in the ring for the heavyweight championship with the entire world watching. This seems ridiculous; it would be no contest, and after their embarrassing defeat and eventual return from the hospital they would never work up the nerve to box again.
This is a book about boxing. Actually, this is a story about authors—their nicks, bruises and their surprising similarity to athletes competing in one of the most rigorous and dangerous sports in existence today. If you think this is a stretch, I hope that the pages of this book will help you understand why I compare the two, and how seeing your book in this light can change the way you think about self-publishing.
Now, imagine deciding that you want to write a book yourself. Once it’s done, you just throw everything together, slap it up on Amazon and then wait for the hoards of raving fans to knock your door down. The turnout and subsequent embarrassment is sure to prevent even the most adamant optimist from writing a second book.
I can’t promise to make you a best seller, but I can train you to step into the ring and go toe to toe with the publishing champions. Blow for blow, you can be everything they are and better. That way when a potential reader sees your book, they will evaluate it on its strengths instead of a laundry list of small but impactful errors.
I have seen the steps in this book work more times than I can count, and if you stick with the regimen I outline then I can guarantee you will have a book you can truly be proud of.
If you don’t enjoy boxing but are an author, I would encourage you to still give this book a try. It’s short and the concepts are simple, and I am simply using the example of boxing to better illustrate the importance of the process. The goal of this book is to give your masterpiece its absolute best chance of knocking out the competition!
The price of being outmatched
In boxing, opponents are selected and matched by their records and qualities as fighters. Uneven matches can lead to disappointment for the fans, so for championship bouts the challenger works his hardest to match the level of the current champion.
The president of a large publishing company explained to me how this works in the publishing world. He told me that they don’t consider self-published authors for publication because only 1 out of 1,000 have what it takes to succeed against the current books on the market.
From my experience of looking through the finished books of self-published authors this is sadly the truth, but not for the reason you would think. It’s not because an author can’t rise to the standard, it’s not even that they are subpar writers, it is simply because they didn’t put in the work that a giant publisher would before the book goes public.
This is the epidemic in independent publishing that is leaving authors confused and disillusioned. I have met many authors who think that their books aren’t creating the buzz they expected because self-publishing doesn’t work, when in reality their book didn’t create a buzz because it wasn’t ready for publication. Sometimes a book isn’t ready because the author wasn’t aware that they were missing out on steps, but other times it is something much bigger.
This is where I want to address a major myth. When talking about self-publishing we often hear about the freedom of being able to do everything ourselves and save tons of money. And those greedy publishers? All they are good for is taking a percentage of our valuable book profits. While it is great to have freedom to make your own publishing decisions, it is crucial to understand that everything that publishers do is for a reason.
Not putting the hours into polishing your book to perfection is the thing that makes your competition and all professionally published books better. They don’t skip small things, and if you want to have a successful launch your book has to show up in shape and ready to fight for sales.
An author should not expect impressive sales from a book that does not compete on every level with the #1 book in the same genre. This means that your cover, title, editing, book layout and other aspects need to be flawless and untouchable.
The entire basis for this book is simple; you might even say it is common sense, but follow these principles and you can truly go toe to toe with the giants of your genre.
I had two
Sets of best friends growing up, one was a collection of dusty books acquired from my grandparents’ small bookstore, and the second was a collection of worn-out VHS tapes featuring Rocky Balboa.
I wore them both to the bones and I truly think that the hobbies of boxing and books molded my insights on life and business. To this day I feel boxing is a great analogy for the author experience, thus the theme of this book.
I grew up reverently admiring books. My grandparents owned a bookstore that became my safe haven most weekends. There was something special about flipping through the pages, smelling the scent of old books and reading all of the ones with the best book covers. I loved books with interesting and eye-catching headlines and amazing covers.
These covers drew me in and compelled me to open them. I was powerless to their allure. For some reason I was never interested in writing as much as I was interested in other people’s stories. For this reason I decided that I would be the one compelling others to want to read books, so I went to school for marketing and design.
I was always obsessed with the power that a book has to evoke emotion, make one think and even change lives. I wanted to be a part of that world and hopefully make an impact in it.
I worked my way through college as a plate maker at a local printing press. For some reason working late into the night setting text and waking up every morning with ink stained hands completely cemented my love for publishing. I love this art form for its ability to take a thought that exists only inside someone’s mind, and polish it until it lives as a beautifully crafted book—ready to be read by thousands.
As in most industries, breaking your way into the publishing world takes a little more than just ink stained hands and passion. I remember going to conferences and asking people at book tables if I could design covers for their authors; eyes were rolled and I was dismissed. I was rejected for entry level positions and internships, but I didn’t give up.
I finally got my foot in the door with a small publisher doing cover design, and for the next 10 years I increasingly moved up the ranks of distinguished authors and publishers. I had finally achieved my dream by helping others achieve theirs. I was a great book cover designer. I had the skills, I had the talent and I had the ambition.
Authors and the industry had taken notice and I ended up being surrounded by some of the most famous and well-known authors in the world, and they all wanted to work with me!
But after spending years working behind closed doors with marketing directors, VP’s of Fortune 500 companies, and some of the most renowned authors in the world, I had started to view the entire process through new eyes. I had seen every secret, every marketing strategy that the big publishers could produce and I started to see patterns and understand the things that truly made a difference in marketing a book.
I realized that maybe there was more in my future than just designing beautiful and award-winning book covers. The years of working with the largest publishers and authors in the world had started to sink in. I understood both the market and the method of taking unknown authors from obscurity to new heights.
While I still trumpeted the power of the book cover, I started working as an author consultant. I was working with both publishers and independent authors, crafting strategies that became instrumental in turning many unknown writers into household names. The only problem I found was that I could only take on a few clients at a time.
So after having spent years working with New York Times best sellers, world famous authors, Hollywood script writers, presidential speech writers and, yes, even boxers, I drastically cut my schedule. I decided that I wanted to help as many authors as I could, not just one rich client at a time.
I now spend my time focusing on you, the author. I do this through my website adazing.com, and books, software, courses and my free Tools and Tips email newsletter that goes to over 70,000 authors a week.
So that is a little about who I am, my experience and why you should trust what I have to say about preparing your book for greatness.
I am looking forward to jumping in and training you and your book. By following my advice, you will have the ability to stand in the ring opposite world-renowned opponents and have complete confidence that you will not be leaving potential readers and dollars in the ring.
So here I am, in your corner. I believe in you, and I’ll be encouraging you and splashing water in your face after each round. But is that really enough?
The answer is no. Large publishing houses have a team of people in the corner for every book, preparing it and pouring their talents into the proper execution and production of each detail, and you need the same. I am not saying that you have to spend the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for each book, but I am telling you that you need a team. Maybe it is your mom, neighbor, college professor or some freelancers you found online. In future chapters I will give you ideas for the types of people you should enlist for your team for each aspect of your book, but in this chapter I want to point out why working with a solid and detailed team is so important for the success of your book.
“Cooking with Pooh.”
Imagine how many people were part of the decision to approve this book title before it went into production! I shudder at the thought. (Although it does make me laugh. If you want to laugh yourself, feel free to read the reviews on the Amazon page.)
If a children’s book could pass through a publishing house with a title like this, what little details might we be missing on our own? Self-publishing does have its disadvantages, and one of them is that you won’t have a professional team devoted to combing through every detail of your book before you introduce it to the world.
As a self-published author, you’ll be busy, so once you’ve double-checked everything yourself, it’s important that you get an unbiased and fresh perspective on your book to be sure that you’re not sabotaging your own sales. It’s like making sure you’re not heading off to give a big presentation at work after a long, sleepless night, only to find that your shirt is inside out. Or worse, that you’re not wearing a shirt!
When I see self-published books on the market I frequently cringe at the cover, editing, layout or some other big piece of the puzzle. I think to myself, I really wish I knew this author, they just need a second, third or fourth pair of eyes.
So make sure you assemble a trustworthy team to stand in your corner to look over your book and shoulder before you start selling. And make sure at least one of them knows you should never cook with Pooh.
In this corner…
Boxers are among the most colorful athletes in the world and, accordingly, they also have the most fascinating nicknames. Here are just some of my favorite boxing nicknames:
Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs
Paul “The Punisher” Williams
James “Lights Out” Toney
Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns
Arturo “Thunder” Gatti
John “The Beast” Mugabi
Ike “Bazooka” Quartey
James “Bonecrusher” Smith
Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins
Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran
These descriptive additions to their names make them more interesting when announced and are very useful for grabbing an audience’s attention when promoting a fight. Take for example the first one in the list above, Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs; the very thought of a man who hits that hard makes me want to purchase a ticket! It is rumored that one of the contributing factors to Chuck Wepner getting a title fight with Muhammad Ali was that of Chuck’s nickname as the “Bayonne Bleeder.”
If a nickname could help land a boxer a fight of that magnitude, just imagine how a great book title could affect the sales of your masterpiece!
You just crafted four-hundred pages of award-worthy life-changing literature, but now you’re stuck. Stuck on that seemingly small afterthought that we call a title. It’s just one title, twelve words max, so how hard could it be? But it’s not that simple, is it?
The importance is undeniable, but how do you go about picking that one title that is going grab a reader’s attention in the middle of a distracted world?
Here are some guidelines to picking a great title:
1. Start by brainstorming ideas and try to come up with a minimum of 5 titles that you really like. There is software in your best seller toolkit located at the end of this book that will help with this step so don’t forget to check that out.
2. Now that you have some options, you want to start narrowing them down. Eliminate any of the titles that do not meet these requirements:
3. Is it easy to remember? Keeping it short (under 30 characters) helps with this, but alliteration can also be a useful tool for a catchy title.
4. Is it interesting?
5. Does it sound like you? If you are already an established author, does it gel with your brand and past books?
6. If it’s a non-fiction title, does it make a promise or answer a question? Readers are reading for a purpose, so does it offer value to the reader?
After you have considerably narrowed down your list, you should hopefully have 2 or more strong title possibilities. At this point, the honest truth is that you are too close to the project to be the best judge of the title name, and even your followers are too close to provide an unbiased opinion.
The best way to get accurate and honest opinions is to ask strangers. Websites like pickfu.com and usabilityhub.com let you ask questions like this and get user input. Once you get one title that outperforms all the others, then you have found your winner and new title!
In the movie Rocky Balboa, Rocky had aged considerably and was ready for one last fight. One of the coaches goes through the list of all the things Rocky could no longer do due to age and other ailments: footwork was out, speed was out and everything was out. The coach’s advice was to rely on the one thing that, if done right, could still allow Rocky to compete against his much younger opponent.
This one thing was to hit harder. He described it as “good ole fashioned blunt force trauma.” If there is one thing that can grab a potential reader’s attention and not let them go, one thing that can slay all other competition, it is an amazing cover. If there was one tool that was the knockout blow for converting a looker to a reader, it would have to be the cover.
If your cover doesn’t immediately grab someone’s attention, you’ll have little to no luck getting people interested in purchasing. Books with well-designed covers sell more copies than those without – it’s a simple fact.
Your cover is an important marketing tool. Don’t put off designing it until the last minute – give yourself plenty of time to tweak it. The design should draw people in, providing just enough intrigue that readers just have to buy it!
If you are going to hire someone to design your cover, good for you; I am positive it will be worth it! With that being said, it will still be strategic to read through this chapter so you can understand why your designer makes the choices that they do and help you to offer some informed suggestions.
At first glance, your front cover should clearly communicate what the book is about, while grabbing the reader’s attention and convincing them to inspect the back cover. On average, a person spends 5-8 seconds on a cover that they find interesting, in contrast to spending only 1-3 seconds on covers they find unattractive. The aim is for your front cover to elicit such a powerful response that a potential buyer has the gut reaction to flip it over and read your back cover.
Use your book cover to connect with your book’s genre – a perfect book cover “talks” to its readers through the right choice of typography, color, and appropriate imagery. You must be mindful of your target audience – they are used to a certain style and feel for a cover in your genre, and if you stray from what they like then they will pick up another book that fits their mental image of a perfect cover for their genre. With that being said, if your book looks like every other book on the shelf, then there is no reason for them to even flip over to read your book summary.
So how do you go about creating a superbly designed cover that fits in its category and still stands out among the competition?
The first place to start is to take notes on what you want your cover to look like; designers typically call this a “design brief.” To start your own design brief, sum up your book in 1-3 sentences, and make sure to include the prominent ideas of your book. Follow this up with 20 or 30 words you associate with your book. Let it be the first ones that come to you, don’t over think it. Create another section with the feelings or emotions that you would like your book to elicit when readers view the cover. You will also want to decide your value proposition, or what is special about your book that readers will find appealing. Next, come up with some color preferences. For this you might want to take the time to go through the website ColorLovers.com and see if any color schemes stick out and would work well with your book
On this same sheet, list links to covers you have found online that you like, and write a short description about what you like about each one. Amazon can help with this, simply browse through the most popular books and write down the ones that provide inspiration or elements of style that you think could go great with your book.
Your book cover will need to concentrate on one idea or scene presented in your book. Think of your cover as a brief window into your book where you just happen to see one of the most interesting or intriguing moments or elements. Now describe the images, elements or scenes that you think best represent your entire book and put them on your design brief. You will only end with one of these; don’t try incorporating images of each and every character, setting and theme on the front cover.
The notes you just took on your ideas and preferences for your cover are going to come in handy whether you design the cover yourself or if you hire a designer.
If you wanted to use the same designers as the large publishers, you can easily spend upwards of $3,000. But there are many cost effective options as well, from top-notch professional artists at $500, down to cheaper freelance artists.
If you want to save money and have complete control over your cover, then the tips below should better help you navigate the DIY process.
Most professional designers use Photoshop or similar programs to manipulate images. These products can be really expensive and have a rather high learning curve if you’ve never used them before. “Gimp” is another option; it’s similar to Photoshop and you can download and use it for free. There are plenty of tutorials and articles on the web to help you get up and running with these applications.
When it comes to design, I’m going to focus on design principles and not application-specific techniques. This will empower you to make a great cover whether you are using Photoshop, Gimp or any other software.
When choosing your font, keep your book genre in mind. For example, supernatural horror books tend to have fonts that look more distressed, and commercial fiction aimed at women typically features handwritten fonts. It might seem restrictive to confine yourself to similar fonts, but it makes sense if you think about it. Imagine writing a romance book and using “Impact,” the large blocky bold typeface. Even the name of the font contrasts the image of a romance book! So when picking fonts make sure they fit the character of your genre.
You want your title to be as large as possible without covering up crucial images on the cover. Making your title more prominent will grab people’s attention and will also allow your title to be read in thumbnail format on websites like Amazon.
Similar to making your title large is making sure that your title has adequate contrast to the background. If you place plain text over a busy background it will be difficult to read and screams “amateur.“ There are several techniques to fix this: one is putting a solid box on top of the photo in an area where you can place your title. Another way of making you title stand out is by placing it in negative space. For example, an area where there is no image or an area where the image isn’t cluttered, like a sky. You can also place a drop shadow or colored outline around your text to slightly separate it from your background.
Going back to the adjectives and image descriptions from your design brief, you will want to find an image that represents your book. Finding the perfect image can greatly increase the appeal of your cover. For authors who are not professional photographers, I would stay away from using a photo that you have taken yourself; it is best to use a photo from a professional.
There are many options for great photos. You can sort through thousands of great photos online through websites like www.istockphoto.com, canstockphoto.com or 123rf.com. These photos will run you less than $50. There are also some free photos online, but you have to be careful about taking images offline unless they say you are expressly permitted to use the photos.
The image resolution that print covers require is higher than the standard screen resolution of your computer. Don’t try to increase the size of a small photo… stretching a photo will simply make it look blurry or pixelated when printed. Images you purchase to use for your cover need to be the “large” or “extra large” versions.
Now that your front cover has convinced readers that this is indeed a book worth looking into, you have to keep their focus. People go from the front cover to the back cover with the desire to be convinced that their gut reaction was correct, and that the content of the book will be as good as the design of the cover. Luckily, a potential buyer will look at your back cover a little longer (about 10-15 seconds). If you can convince a reader with your back cover, then it’s just a quick flip through the pages and a walk to the cashier away from making the sale!
The blurb on the back cover should consist of a few short paragraphs, which in turn serve to make the book sound even more interesting. The aim of your blurb is to persuade the reader into reading the book, and in order to do that, you should state the main reason for conflict in the story without giving away spoilers. In a way, a blurb is somewhat similar to a film trailer, where you are concentrating on showing the key points without giving away smaller details or the ending.
Other than your summary, there are several things that are typically added to a back cover. Some of them are an author bio and picture, ISBN barcode, and book price. Some other things you might want to include on the back cover are book testimonials or endorsements, a website address and publisher logo. Another optional but effective tool you can add on the back cover is an attention-grabbing header sentence placed at the top, in a font much larger than the body text of the summary.
If you have your covers ready to go, one excellent way to make sure you’re on the right track design-wise is to print a copy of your cover on plain glossy paper and take it to a book store. Go to the shelf containing the books of the same genre and see if your cover fits in. Does it fit in while still having an original flair to it? Be honest with yourself, does your cover look as good as the ones actually on the shelf? If it doesn’t, then go back home and tweak your cover. Don’t send a cover to press unless family members, friends and strangers can all honestly tell you that your cover is as good as the others in your genre.
Think about how powerful that strategy is: imagine being a boxer and being able to watch the tape of your boxing match the day before it actually happens! This is what comparing your cover before your book is printed allows you to do; you can judge how your cover is going to perform, and if it doesn’t perform the way you like in the opinions of friends and family, then you can go back to the drawing board without the risk of making a cover that your readers won’t love.
When it comes to boxing, you need more than punching power. Without excellent foundations of things like footwork, handwork and stamina, even the hardest punchers can find themselves outmatched.
The same is true of an author. Book covers and other elements are important, but if you don’t consistently deliver a quality written product then you’ll be classified as a one-hit wonder and won’t be able to sell future books that you write.
Having your book skillfully edited is crucial for both sales and reader retention. When large publishers are asked why they don’t sign contracts with self-published authors, they most often point out things that could be fixed with a good editor.
Since your goal is to compete with the books published by large publishers, you need to make sure that your writing, including both grammar and story development, are as good as anything else on a store or website shelf.
Most writers tend to write several drafts before considering their book done. After you are “done,” you should give your finished manuscript a rest for a week and then reread it; this will hopefully give you a chance to see it objectively and recognize any major issues that you missed in earlier readings.
After looking through your book several times, you will begin to anticipate what you meant to say instead of what you actually wrote; this bias makes it very difficult to properly edit your own work.
Here are two good methods for helping to see your book with fresh eyes:
The first is to print a hard copy of your entire manuscript. This allows you to hand-edit the text word by word, jotting down notes to yourself during the process. Then return to your computer file version and correct it as necessary.
The second is to try reading the text aloud. This can reveal all the imperfections: weird phrasing, repetitions, inconsistencies and awkward sentences. You will most likely catch things you missed previously.
Once you feel your book is as far as you can take it yourself, it is time to call in outside help.
First, have a friend or family member go through your book. Most of us know an English major or two! I like to have at least three people who are good with grammar to go through the entire book. Even though they might not be authors themselves, go ahead and ask this group if there was anything in the book that felt “off” to them; their suggestions could help you fix things before you get it to your editor.
Now I know that budget can be an issue for self-published authors, but having a professional editor go through your book is really something you should consider.
A close friend of mine was a purchasing agent for one of the largest book distributors in North America for years. He once told me a story about an invitation-only event he attended, where the Who’s Who of Authors and Publishers had gathered together. He found himself sitting at a table with seven of the most successful authors alive, and was astonished by the camaraderie and friendship they shared. But the most interesting thing he learned about the connection between them all was that they all used the same editor. These authors, at least in a private group, credited their editor with playing a substantial role in each of their success stories.
Have you ever heard of the editor Chuck Adams? If you haven’t heard of him, you’ve probably at least read or heard of one of the 100+ New York Times best-selling books that he’s edited. And Chuck is just one of many master editors working their magic behind the scenes of those amazing best-sellers.
The way stories are told can always be improved with the help of a fresh perspective, and massive sales and positive book reviews are directly related to the quality of editing done before publication.
Books that are self-published are often looked down upon because of the poor editing. This is typically for those who decide to skip using an editor. Hiring a professional editor greatly prevents having unnecessary errors in your work.
While editors do cut down on typos, that is not their greatest benefit. Content editors look at the big picture of your book. Main structural issues like holes in the plot, errant timelines, lack of character consistency, excessive exposition, slowing pace… Let me tell you, it is worth the price to hire a content editor to take a look at your book and point out the major problems.
When it comes time to choose an editor for your book, plan to test out a number of them before you pick one. It is ideal to hire someone who has experience with working with your genre of book.
When testing out editors, you can often find ones who will provide a sample by editing your first chapter for free. This will give you an idea of whether they are a good fit for your book or not.
The price range for a good content editor is usually between 2 – 6 cents per word. You can find many editors online, but in the bonus author toolkit at the end of this book you will find an elite list of editors that have actually edited work for New York Times best-selling authors. Whether you use one on my list or find one elsewhere, make sure you look at past samples of their work to decide if they are a good fit for your book.
Also, don’t feel disappointed if the editor returns the manuscript to you covered in red ink – pointing out the flaws and correcting them is what you are paying them for, so don’t just go to them looking for praise. And remember, you can choose whether to ignore an editor’s advice. You would be hard-pressed to find an author who agrees with every single change their editor suggests! But it is important that you evaluate a suggestion carefully before ignoring it. Editors are masters at reading through a book without bias, and as authors that is something that is harder for us to do.
I wish you luck on the editing process. Going the extra mile in polishing your written work will increase the chances of favorable reviews and excited fans.
Muhammad Ali used to comically stick his belly out before weigh-ins so people would think he had gotten fat and was out of shape for the fight. It is common sense that the better shape a boxer is in, the better their performance will be. Looking through the lens of book creation, the same principle applies to your interior book design.
An unkempt appearance for your book leads to the same perception: that it is unprepared to entertain or educate, depending on its goal. The most crucial place for organization within your book project is of course your interior layout. Whether on bookstore shelves or on Amazon’s “look inside” feature, potential buyers can flip through book pages, so having a poorly designed interior is almost guaranteed to signal a caution flag and cause you to lose book sales.
The readability of your book is greatly influenced by how it is formatted. Keep in mind that there are conventions that are hundreds of years old in book design, and, more importantly, readers have expectations when plopping down to crack open a good read. Many of the principles that professional designers follow when laying out books are not only rooted in aesthetics but in science and psychology, to increase readability.
You have two options here. You can either pay a professional to create your book layout for you, or you can do it yourself.
If you have the funds and no time or desire to do it yourself, hiring a professional will assure a great looking book interior. This guarantees that you won’t have to worry about layout issues like line widows or orphans, gutters, margins and all the other elements that interior layout designers have spent their careers learning to tweak and perfect. You can expect your interior layout artist to charge between $1.50 to $3.00 a page (or more) for layout.
If you decide to go the DIY route, know that you can’t simply slap your text on the page and call it a day. I can’t express the importance of a well-designed readable layout; it not only sells more books but will help you retain more readers for your next book. No one wants to continue in a series that is difficult to read.
I understand that doing the layout yourself can be intimidating. But I’m going to go through some of the things you need to know if you do decide to layout your book yourself.
When getting ready to format your book interior, the first thing you need to think about is the software you will be using. You really only have two choices that all professional printers have access to. Those choices are Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign.
Adobe InDesign is the industry standard layout tool. And although it doesn’t come cheaply and there is a learning curve, it is the best way to get professional results.
Microsoft Word has been criticized by designers for not being a professional print application, but it is easy to use and will save you money on software expenses. While it might not have all the design functionality of InDesign, it can produce beautiful book layouts if you know how. On top of this, Microsoft Word can easily be converted into eBook formats, so it allows you to kill two birds with one stone when publishing for Kindle, Nook or iBook.
No matter which software you use, the principles I am about to go over will help you create a book interior that people enjoy reading.
Once you have decided which software to use, the second decision to make is the fonts you will be using for your book. Serif fonts, like Times New Roman, are generally used for the body text of lengthy works, such as a novel, because they are easier to read than sans-serif fonts. This is because the “serifs” help in guiding the eye from one letter to the next.
Of the serif fonts available, using Times New Roman in your body copy can identify you as an amateur, so you will want to choose your body font wisely. For example, Minion is a good choice, but at more than $275 for a complete set, it may just be out of reach for some authors. On the other hand, some programs include it, especially if you’ve bought an Adobe product, so do check to see if you already have it installed.
Next is ITC Baskerville, which comes at a more affordable price point of $99 for the complete set. But if you’d rather go for something more affordable – or better yet free – you probably already have some fonts you can use, like Bodoni, Book Antiqua or Garamond.
To keep your book’s body text readable, aim for a font size of 10-11 points. Premium fonts, like the already mentioned Minion, may take up less space than those you have pre-installed on your system, since they were designed with printing purposes in mind.
Another note on readability is that using the ‘Bold’ option is not advised for the body text and should be used for headings and sub headings only. Having a lot of bolded text tends to decrease reading speed. If you need to emphasize something, use italics instead of bold.
Pay close attention to your leading, which is the space in between lines of text. Nothing slows down reading speed more than every line being glued to the previous one. A simple increase of space between the lines, making it 2-4 points larger than your type size will do the trick. If you’re working in Microsoft Word, you can select your text, and right-click Paragraph to change ‘Line Spacing’.
Since both print on demand and traditional publishers charge by the number of pages, your first instinct may be to reduce you body font size in order to decrease the number of pages and increase profit. But, remember to consider your readers. People don’t want to pay for a book that they have to squint to read, and if they do buy a book with overly small font sizes, they most likely won’t be purchasing any future books that you have to sell.
Another paging factor that affects the cost per book is that the number of total pages should be divisible by 2 for print on demand books, and for offset printing the number of your pages needs to be divisible by 16. If your book is not properly divisible, then blank pages will be added to the back of your book. In the case of traditional printing, you could have as many as 15 blank pages at the back of your book, which looks funny and is a waste of money. And while we are on the subject of pages, you want to make sure that when numbering pages the odd numbers are always on the right hand side.
Outside margins should not be too close to the edge. Many publishers have exact dimensions, but in absence of publisher requirements I like to make sure that there is enough margin on the outside for me to put my thumbs without covering up much text. Likewise, inside margins should be wide enough that the text does not disappear into the gutter when the book isn’t spread fully open.
Many authors are tempted to put a line of space in between paragraphs of text, and while this is normal on websites, this is not standard book layout etiquette. Paragraphs should be differentiated by an indentation at the beginning of each new paragraph. Also, most books typically make use of ‘Justified’ text-alignment, since that is what most readers are used to seeing.
The very nature of multiple lines of text for a book’s interior makes the whole thing look generally boring. Other than images and tables, there are really only a few places where you can breathe a little life and artistic flair into the inside of a book.
One of them is a chapter heading; the start of each new chapter usually has a chapter title or at least the number of the chapter. Chapter titles can use a different font than the body font, and you can even use a more specialized artistic font — as long as it doesn’t clash with your style of book.
A great way to add life to a regular interior page is to use “pullout quotes.” Pullout quotes are typically used in non-fiction books, and they are just as they sound: an important quote found on a page that is made large and surrounded by a little margin to make it stand out but still readable. Pullout quotes do not replace the quote as it sits in its normal paragraph.
While I have been specifically focusing on the formatting of printed books, if you do all of the things we cover in this chapter, the chances are that your eBook conversion will go pretty smoothly. Just be sure to use quality conversion software or a converting service.
If you pay attention to all the details I have covered here, you can be confident in the book you are sending to the printer.
Following these steps will guarantee that your book will show up in shape and that potential readers will be impressed by your layout and that those who do purchase your book will easily ready and understand it, leading to repeat sales as your next book comes out.
Impress The Judges
In boxing, when a fight goes its full length, the judges award the win to the boxer with the most impressive performance. If a fighter doesn’t perform well, they lose.
The same is the case for your book. Your book has to perform well, and if judges don’t score your performance highly by way of reviews, then you will lose the sale from potential readers every time.
The tough part about reader reviews is that having zero reviews is just as bad in the eyes of potential readers as negative reviews. It only makes sense that a reader doesn’t want to pay good money for an unproven book. They would rather spend money on a book with many reviews that is guaranteed to be a good read.
Getting reviews is one of those things that most self-published authors don’t work on, but it plays a major role in your success. If you want to sell books you need to work on this aspect of your campaign!
On Amazon, a book with just one 5-star review will sell, on average, 3-4 times better than a book with no stars. But don’t stop there! Instead, you should really “shoot for the stars” and aim for at least 6 or more 5-star reviews to increase the sales and trending figures on your book.
In order to meet Amazon’s reviewing criteria:
It is important to not try to game Amazon’s system by posting fake reviews. This is against their terms of service, and in order to protect its consumers and provide an honest buying experience, Amazon is actively improving their platform to thwart review fraud at all times. So, to stay in good standing with Amazon, you need to make sure all your reviews are from real people who really read your book. For an extra step of verification and to improve your ranking on Amazon’s website, you should strive to get reviews from people who have actually bought your book so that their review has the ‘verified purchase’ tag. Proof of purchase in a review, rather than just comments from known acquaintances or relatives, makes your book rank better and come across as more legitimate.
Amazon has a special formula that decides what shows up when certain words are searched, so follow some of the below advice to help your book rank and sell better on Amazon.
First, you need to have a variety of positive, but critical reviews. A page full of brief 5-star reviews makes it appear fraudulent and staged.
The reviewers should be from different cities, to broaden the scope and not appear as if you are only appealing to local readers.
They must be honest – they should not rave about the author or authors, but simply the content. Good critical reviews are important, and longer, more detailed ones always rise to the top of your book page, because people find them useful.
Also, reviews must be well written. It is essential to have reviews classified as “helpful” – a review that states, “This book is awesome!” or ‘This book is so cool!’ without any supporting evidence or testimony actually just kind of… sinks.
One other factor that Amazon uses to rank reviews is whether a top-ranked Amazon reviewer wrote a review. Among other things, this helps rank your book above other books with less prestigious reviewers.
Once you get a handful of impressive reviews you can move on to the next thing on your check list. But once you have all the more urgent things done, you can devote more time to obtaining quality reviews by seeking out reviewers. You can do this by tapping into the readers who have bought and reviewed products or books that compete with yours.
To find those potential reviewers, simply go to the existing page for your own product on Amazon and look for “Customer Also Bought Items By” and the section “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed.” These sections list the competing products that customers view and buy. By getting to know those facts, you’re one step closer to targeting the ideal reviewers – the people reviewing your competitors’ offerings.
Your next step should then be to visit the Amazon page for the first competitor that you identified in the previous step. Make sure to click on the link to the customer reviews to see every review the competing product has received. To make this process easy to track, click on the option that lets you sort the reviews by “Newest First.”
When you find a well-written review, get the details on the reviewer. Note that this step may require some investigation. There are situations where reviewers share their contact information, while in others they will share their name and business, and in some cases they simply reveal nothing.
Once you identify potential reviewers, reach out to them, explaining that you discovered their review on Amazon. Let them know you have a book or product that you think might be interesting or useful to them, and say how you’d like to send it to them. Always remember that you have to ask nicely for a review, not demand it. That’s why you should always include a further explanation of how you are seeking an honest review of the item you’d be sending, but that they don’t have any obligation whatsoever. I was recently able to generate 53 honest reviews for a client’s books in just a few hours of work by using this method alone.
If you’re really confident in your book, and you want to go for the reviews that will make you look great and help you sell more books, then you should begin to contact high-ranked Amazon reviewers in order to get good reviews. Check Amazon’s top ranked reviewers and their profiles (here: http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers) and determine if they would even want to review your book by seeing the types of books they generally work on. You should contact as many as you can, because at that level only a few will respond. But reviews from top-ranked reviewers can increase your Amazon ranking and book sales, so it is definitely worth the try!
It might be smart to stay away from the top 40, and not waste time there, as they are really hard to connect with. To all the others you managed to keep intrigued – shoot them a friendly reminder if it comes to waiting for 5-7 days for the review.
If you are sending a request to people not familiar with posting reviews, you can send them sample reviews that you have written to make it as easy as possible for them to write their own.
Make sure you are patient when requesting reviews and give your reviewers plenty of time; it will be worth it when they post their positive review for the whole world to see!
While positive reviews help sell books, you have to remember that requesting reviews is a double-edged sword. You are dealing with readers and book lovers, many of whom will not sugarcoat how they feel, so before engaging in any of the methods I mentioned above, make sure your book is ready. Also, make sure the people you are approaching show some signs that they have liked similar books in the past. Otherwise you could end up with a negative review that you have no way of removing just because they don’t like your genre.
There is a reason that so many self-published authors don’t ask their fans or book reviewers to review their books. It’s because it is a lot of work! But if you want to go toe-to-toe with the major books in your genre, you need solid reviews. Otherwise, all the other work you have done preparing your book will be in vain when no one purchases your book for the simple fact that it was untested.
Boxing events consist of a main event and the undercard, which is the lesser matches that come before it. There is a reason that promotional materials always advertise the main event on posters, ads and everything else that a potential ticket purchaser might see. You don’t get massive ticket sales by advertising no-name boxers on your marketing material.
If there is one thing that I have seen over and over that attracts this kind of attention to your book, it would be a well-known foreword writer.
I was recently speaking at a writer’s conference for independent publishing and, during an intermission, I was asked for some advice from the keynote speaker (an author) on how to market his newest project.
While we were talking, three fans came up to this author to tell him how he had personally inspired them.
Later that evening, the same three people separately approached me to ask for help with their own projects.
None of the three had been in any of my earlier sessions, and it was obvious from their comments that by seeing one of their hero authors get advice from me, I somehow became an authority in their eyes.
A book’s foreword acts in a very similar way. To have a trustworthy and publicly recognized person write your foreword is one of the greatest ways to add instant perceived value to your book.
Many assume that the author and the person who wrote the foreword are great friends. We relate the writing of a foreword as a favor and a chance to promote a friend’s work.
While a foreword can most certainly be penned by one of your trusted friends, I also want to encourage you that your foreword can be written by a celebrity or someone with greater prestige than simply a friend that grew up with you (or maybe you did grow up next to Oprah?) Using your neighbor from down the street as your foreword writer would be like Madison Square Garden advertising the warm-up fight featuring John Doe instead of the main event with George Foreman.
Getting a foreword written by a well-known person in your niche establishes credibility and is, in my opinion, the greatest form of social proof that you have at your disposal as an author.
Here are a few things you may not know about forewords:
1) A foreword writer’s name is often used on the front of the book, and many authors choose to make the name of a celebrity foreword writer appear as large as their own name to maximize the effect of the celebrity’s brand on their book.
In the above image, notice how Stan Lee’s name is more prominent than the author’s, despite the foreword only being 200 words long.
This was a wise choice, because at that point in this particular author’s career, Stan Lee’s name definitely carried more weight than his own.
And I’ll bet that most interviews and press releases done on this book referenced the foreword being written by Stan Lee, because it’s great for publicity.
2) As mentioned above, forewords don’t have to be long. For example, a foreword written by Donald Trump for a self-published author in 2011 shown below only consisted of seventy-two words, for a total of two sentences!
3) A written foreword is a big thing to ask of a celebrity. Consider starting out by asking for an endorsement. If you get one that is complimentary and more than a few sentences long, you can then ask to use it as a foreword.
4) Since you are going to start by asking for an endorsement, and because you don’t know who might respond to your request, make a plan to ask every celebrity that might be relevant to your topic and who will add perceived value to your book.This way, if you’re given several endorsements in the process, you’ll have one to use as a foreword, and several others to use on your back cover for promotion.
5) Celebrities are busy people. To make things easier when asking for a foreword, you should give them some options. You can simply write something like, “I know you are busy, so if you need something to start with, here is an example that you can draw inspiration from or edit as you see fit. I respect your busy schedule and do not want to be an inconvenience.”
I used this method for a client, and the response from the celebrity was: “Sounds perfect, that is exactly how I felt when I read it. Feel free to use it as is and put my name on it.”
This was a pleasantly unexpected response and made things easier for the author, the celebrity and myself.
Getting in Touch with Celebrities
Now, you are probably wondering about how you contact celebrities and get celebrities to respond in the first place!
I’ve received responses back from celebrities using Facebook, Twitter, email and almost any other method you can imagine. If you are looking for a service that keeps updated information on celebrities, you can actually find several online that keep large databases of celebrity contact information.
Throughout this book I’ve talked about standing toe-to-toe with opponents bigger than you, and the things that must be done to compete with a book that has a huge team and a significantly larger production budget. If you follow all of my advice, you will be ready to step into the ring knowing that you deserve the sale every bit as much as the #1 ranked book in your genre.
My goal for this book was to get you ready to promote and market your book, because I have seen many authors throw away dollar after dollar by promoting an under-produced book. But with that said, I do want to address the unpardonable marketing sin I have seen authors on a budget commit over and over again, and that is giving up before it is time. An author striving for success has to be persistant!
There are a lot of strategies out there that will help you effectively market a book, and it frustrates me to no end when an author spends two minutes on a strategy and then spends the rest of their career trumpeting its weaknesses and ineffectiveness. I have seen people do this with advertising, social media and almost every other marketing strategy.
There are times to give up on a strategy, but that is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about giving up prematurely. If you are using Kindle Select Free Days to promote your book and you are submitting to “free book a day” sites, don’t just submit to 5 sites, focus on the list and submit to every single site you can find. Yes, it will take you some time, but there is no reason to skip out on important steps like this.
The same thing goes for requesting reviews from bloggers and Amazon reviewers. If you are going to compete and knock the champion off their pedestal, you are going to have to be relentless, persistent and unwavering. Don’t stop and don’t let up until you meet your goal!
Ding, Ding, Ding
You have already put your heart and soul into writing your book, and you just want to be done and publish it to the world. But the truth is to do justice to all your hard work you really need to make sure that your book is as good as it’s traditionally published counterparts.
So remember, even when you aren’t feeling motivation or inspiration, you can do it. When it seems like the finish line is drifting further away, you can do it. When your heart bottoms out every time a friend asks how your book is going, you can do it!
How do I know this? Easy! You’re already further along than 99.75% of all the other people in the world, just by finishing the first few chapters!
I know you can do it because I have personally seen authors time and time again break through the self-published stigma and go on to sell thousands of copies of their book, and I know you can do the same. Just keep trying, innovating and most importantly, never, never, never give up!
Keep writing, marketing and growing!
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Imagine someone buying their first pair of boxing gloves, and the very next day stepping in the ring for the heavyweight championship with the entire world watching. This seems ridiculous; it would be no contest, and after their embarrassing defeat and eventual return from the hospital they would never work up the nerve to box again. Now, imagine deciding that you want to write a book yourself. Once it’s done, you throw everything together, slap it on book sites and then wait for the hoards of raving fans to knock your door down. The turnout and subsequent embarrassment is sure to prevent even the most adamant optimist from writing a second book. This is a book about boxing. Actually, this is a story about authors—their nicks, bruises and their surprising similarity to athletes competing in one of the most rigorous and dangerous sports in existence today. This easy to read book highlights the key components to creating a book that competes with the most popular books in your genre.