Formatting An Ebook: A Step-by-Step Guide

After clocking up ten years’ experience making my own ebooks, I do a few things differently – but these are predominantly stylistic preferences, or my preferred best practices in terms of ebook layout, or the odd policy change from Amazon here and there.

A caveat: you will need a fair bit of patience to get through the DIY formatting process. At least the first time. It becomes much less of a head melter after you first format an ebook successfully, but you will be tearing your hair out that first time. Be warned! That said, I actually love formatting my own ebooks; I find it weirdly soothing.

I can fix errors at the drop of a hat, fiddle with my end matter to my heart’s content, and I could even hang out my shingle as an ebook formatter now, if I needed a side-hustle. It’s a useful skill, if you are willing to work through the many frustrations that will accompany your first efforts.

It might take you a whole day to do this the first time. It could even take longer! But after doing this a few times, you’ll be able to whizz through the process in an hour or less. And it doesn’t take much “practice” to reach that point. That first time is a bear though! You have been warned. Read More…

Facebook Engagement Bait and Shadow Bans

Websites try to keep your attention as long as possible, but the stakes are higher on Facebook where a drop in engagement can cost millions of dollars. Or FACEBOOK as it now insists on calling itself, like a shouty man outside a pub.

Content which keeps people on Facebook – like video or pictures – gets much more organic reach than content which sends people away, such as a link to your books on Amazon. Not only that, Facebook will also give preference to content which is genuinely engaging.

Please note the emphasis.

Facebook doesn’t have an army of humans sifting through the billions of pieces of content on Facebook and giving a gold star to the best of it – AI does the heavy lifting here. The way the system measures engagement is necessarily crude: what is getting Likes, comments, and shares?

In simple terms, people want engaging content and Facebook wants to show them content with high engagement, so if you can post content which triggers good engagement levels, then that content will get much more visibility.

And visibility can be worth a lot of money, of course. Read More…

Apple Books For Authors – Now With PC Access

Apple Books For Authors has launched and the all-new site now provides help to authors for every stage in their publishing journey. And here’s the biggest news of all: PC users can now publish direct with Apple Books. That’s right!

Before now, anyone using a PC device could not publish direct with Apple Books (unless they went to the trouble of using a Mac emulator) and had to use a distributor to reach all of Apple’s customers. Now that has changed, and the new Apple Books publishing portal is accessible by web browser, and on a PC too.

That’s going to be the headline news for many people, so I just wanted to get that out of the way up top. But before we dig into that a little more, let’s take a look at some of the other aspects of Apple Books For Authors – which only threw open its doors to the public this very morning.

Hot off the presses, people. Read More…

13 Ways To Increase Your Email Open Rate

Having a big email list is great, but utterly pointless if your open rate is in the toilet. Quantity might get the headlines but it’s quality which pays the bills.

You need engaged subscribers, ones that care about getting your emails, people who open your messages and act on the contents. If you are putting effort into growing your subscriber count but not proactively taking steps to assist open rates, then all you’re really doing is bailing out your boat with a leaky bucket.

People often say things like “it’s natural for open rates to fall over time” – and that’s true… if you do nothing about it. Also, there are plenty of practices you might inadvertently engage in which might accelerate the natural wastage you tend to get over time. But there’s also plenty you can do to address falling open rates and even reverse them. Read More…

Going Viral: A User’s Guide

What truly makes something go viral? It’s hard to say.

Sure, afterwards, we can all point to something — with the crystal clear vision bestowed by hindsight — and list off elements which contributed to the explosion: it had a cute dog bouncing on a trampoline or just the right amount of indignation, it was funny and there was a well chosen emoji, it was topical or it tapped into some lingering but unspoken resentment about a hot button issue… that list could go on forever.

Trying to assemble a Franken-thing that ticks all those boxes will quickly show you that this retrospective diagnosis is missing something — the X-factor that makes one thing go viral and another thing, which was very like it (or even “superior” in many ways), do the exact opposite. Read More…

7 Expert Tricks To Improve Your Author Newsletter

Authors these days are getting great at offering enticements to sign up – commonly known as magnets or bribes or sign-up bonuses – and also at deploying automated sequences to further warm-up new subscribers. But sometimes we can be a little… overeager.

Your first priority should be to keep the promise that you made to the reader, which means ensuring the subscription happens smoothly and they get their free ebook.

If you overload the first emails the subscriber receives, you might get dropped into Promotions or *gasp* Spam. If you’re lucky the subscriber will email you complaining they didn’t get their gift. If you’re lucky. Most probably won’t even bother complaining which means you’ve just lost a sign-up. Read More…

Content Marketing For Authors • Your Guide

A classic authorial flub is beating your readers over the head with all that painstaking research you conducted while suffering from Level IX Procrastination. After going to the trouble of boning up on the mating habits of fruit flies – so your supposedly smart entomologist heroine doesn’t say something truly dumb – there’s a real danger of info dumping or otherwise sucking the drama out of any scene.

Like with so many other literary devices, these bloody things are like saffron: a pinch can transform a dish, but two pinches can ruin it. Meanwhile we authors are backing up the saffron truck and dumping it onto the reader’s driveway…

But what if I told you there’s another use for all these writerly offcuts? Let’s talk about content marketing. Read More…

What The Piña Colada Song Teaches Us About Marketing

You may love it, you may hate it, but you’ve definitely heard it: The Piña Colada Song is one of the most recognizable and enduring hits of the last fifty years – the only song ever to hit No. 1 in America in two different decades.

But it almost sank without trace.

The artist behind it is Rupert Holmes, who is primarily known to many for penning this one tune, but he has led an interesting and varied life. While he currently lives in New York, Holmes was born in Cheshire in 1947 as David Goldstein – a US Army brat, with an American father and an English mother, the wonderfully named Gwendolen.

His was a very musical upbringing, and when the family were uprooted and moved to Nanuet, New York in the 1950s, he ended up attending the prestigious Manhattan School of Music and majored in the clarinet, although he didn’t follow his brother into the world of opera and “serious” music.

Instead, he became a session musician and did side-gigs like writing jingles for shampoo commercials. Holmes was delighted to be working in the music business at any level, but it also enabled him to support himself while working on his own music. In the early 1970s, he had a couple of minor hits under his own name, while also wrote songs for big stars like Dolly Parton, the Drifters, Gene Pitney, and the Partridge Family. Read More…

12 Free Graphic Design Tools For Authors

One big change in my business over the last few years has been recognizing the importance of branding… and doing something about it too, I guess. Because I was always somewhat aware of the role branding plays in marketing but really fell down in the execution.

Which is a nice way of saying my branding was awful.

That’s no slight on the designers who turned out excellent work for me. My book covers were great, for example, I just didn’t have a coherent vision across my titles which was then parlayed across websites and Twitter headers and email graphics for brand cohesion – or really why that would be so important.

These days my site looks more professional, and the branding lines up with that of my books, social channels, and newsletter. And I’m quite proud of it as I handle all of it myself. Well, almost – I still outsource book covers. But I do the rest, and the funniest part about that is that I’m not remotely artistic in that sense; I couldn’t match colors if you paid me and can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. Read More…

The Combined Book Exhibit Scam

The Combined Book Exhibit has been taking its traveling bookshelf, packed with hopeful authors’ books, to trade events and book fairs around the world for 85 years. But while it may have started as a vehicle for genuine publishers and authors to showcase their wares at far-flung events, today it is notorious for enabling a very particular kind of author scam.

If an author approaches the Combined Book Exhibit directly via its website, they can display their ebook or print book at prestigious events like the London Book Fair or BookExpo America for $325. This is a considerable fee when you consider what the author gets in return, especially if you have seen these tired, unloved bookcases at industry events. The idea that an agent or editor or movie producer would peruse these shelves, let alone actually acquire something from them, is risible.

Package deals are also flogged to authors. For example, to have your print and ebook edition displayed in the New Title Showcase at the London Book Fair and BookExpo America next year costs the considerable sum of $900. And then something called the 2020 International Package will take your hopefully sturdy paperback to the London Book Fair, BookExpo America, Beijing Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair, Sharjah Book Fair, and the Guadalajara Book Fair, at a cost of $1400 or $1650 if you want to include the ebook also. Read More…

The Black Hat Riddle

There are serious problems in publishing right now with black hat authors. Nobody is talking about it either, because the cost of speaking out is simply too great. Scammers are increasingly litigious. Dirty tricks abound. White hat writers are suffering in other ways too as readers come to mistrust any name unknown to them, and the only entity with enough power to enforce any kind of justice doesn’t like going on patrol. But maybe there is something else we can do.

My first introduction to the concept of black hats and white hats was not via cowboy movies – I am not American and my own cultural milieu was less focused on that… frontier – but from Philosophy classes as a college student. Particularly what is known as the Hat Riddle (or the Prisoner Hat Riddle).

There are many variations, but in the version I heard, four cowboys – two wearing black hats and two wearing white hats – are captured by banditos who decide to have a little fun with them. They bury the cowboys up to their necks in sand so they can’t move or even turn their heads. The banditos swap their hats around so each cowboy doesn’t know which color hat they are wearing. And then they are asked to guess… and if they get it wrong, they die. Read More…

Innovation and The Audiobook Market

When I was at NINC last year in Florida last year, I was telling my mailing list that all the exciting developments in audio are coming from outside Amazon right now, from people like Findaway, Kobo, Chirp/BookBub, and various companies serving the library market.

This is a most welcome development because it also feels like many of the moves (Amazon-owned) Audible has been making lately have been quite negative: the royalty cut, the new subscription service and its low pay rates, and Amazon’s controversial and brazen move to start captioning audiobooks without compensating publishers and authors – which resulted in an immediate lawsuit from the Big 5.

Those large publishers have themselves been making no friends with libraries recently, offering ever-worsening terms for audiobooks, to match those for ebooks. Which is an opportunity for indies, of course, especially those using companies like Findaway to better serve that market. Read More…

Email Marketing: Your Secret Weapon

There is no question that email marketing is the most powerful tool at your disposal; not taking advantage of all the unique benefits of email marketing is really missing a trick. Here’s why.

I’m sure all of you know the power of having thousands of committed readers signed up to your mailing list, allowing you to send each new release into the charts. Even if you’re not there yet personally, this should be something you are aiming for. Every single author should have a mailing list and be seeking to actively grow it.

But before we fly through the basics and delve into more advanced topics, let’s be clear about something: email marketing is not about spam. It’s not about fake intimacy. It’s not about posing BS questions to create false engagement. And it’s not about bait-and-switches, contrived urgency, click-baiting subject lines, or other emotional tricks; that’s what cheesy internet marketers do. Read More…

Coming Soon: Big Facebook Ads Changes

There is a huge change coming to Facebook Ads which could have a profound effect on the performance of all new and existing campaigns from next month onwards. You need to start getting your head around this now as the change is quite unpopular and the solutions for managing it are all a bit… fiddly.

In short, the new feature that Facebook is rolling out is called Campaign Budget Optimization. You might have seen it in your account already – it’s a feature which allows you to nominate a budget for your entire campaign and then hand the reins over to Facebook’s friendly neighborhood AI and allow it to determine how it should be spent.

Campaign Budget Optimization has been available as an optional feature for several months now so lots of people have been experimenting with it and sharing data – which we’ll get to. The big change is this: from next month, it will start being compulsory. Read More…

BookBub Ads – What the FAQ?

BookBub is a wonderfully passionate community of over ten million book buyers – and its ad platform is the only one at this scale which is exclusively made up of readers. BookBub Ads is unique in lots of other ways too and I’ve received hundreds of questions from authors over the last few months who are confused about one aspect or another. Today, we’ll look at the most frequent issues… and give you solutions to all those problems.

I’ve been using BookBub Ads for two or three years, I’ve been covering the platform in some depth for my mailing list for well over a year at this point, my dedicated book came out a few months ago, and the course… I can’t quite remember when that launched. Around the same time?

I’ve also run some giant campaigns for authors in a range of genres, as well as my own ads, and compared data and strategies with hundreds of other authors writing every kind of book imaginable. These are the issues and questions which come up most frequently. Read More…