Social Capital

A lot of attention gets paid to social media without really understanding a fundamental concept - social capital.

In addition to all its other characteristics and traits, social media transactions depend on - for lack of a better term - a currency. You earn it as you give and pay it when you ask.

This makes a certain amount of sense if you think of the pesky neighbor who always wants to borrow your lawnmower but never returns it with gas in the tank. It doesn't help matters if he returns it with a bottle of beer when you don't drink beer.

That underscores a different - and more common - problem with social capital. So many people work to "create compelling content" without realizing that their "compelling" is my "no thanks." What should have resulted in a deposit to their social capital account winds up being a big fat withdrawal.

Most of the time - and I think, most people - fall into the "revenue neutral" portion of the continuum. Sometimes what they post is interesting enough but not engaging. They're the crazy uncle who tells a story about his trip to the grocery store when some kid was whining for candy and his mother wouldn't let him have any. They're the people who scour the web looking for "compelling content" to "share."

If you want to build up your social capital, don't do that. Reach out to somebody and talk with them. Authors, artists, creatives of all stripes can make a huge impression by reaching across the web to talk with fans. Congratulate them on a new job. Sympathize over their recent loss (even if it's only hair). Treat them like people - not contacts you count like coups. Every time you do that, you get a few bits of social capital. Every time some lurker sees that, you get social capital. Every time somebody notices that you're not asking for something but offering something without expectation of payment, you're earning social capital.

Sure it's only a few tiny slices. You need to do it a lot to get a pile big enough to make a difference, to accrue enough in your account to be able to spend it effectively.

When you spend, you don't spend little slivers. You spend big chunks.

Every time you ask somebody to look at your book, or read a new 5-star review, or even just link to your website, you're spending capital. A lot of people are running a deficit budget and wondering why things aren't moving.

Even things that you'd think would pay off big - like recommending a book that's not yours - can backfire on you if the person getting the recommendation doesn't like the book you recommended. If they remember who promoted it to them, they'll blame the you - not the author. The obvious advice is "don't recommend a book you don't like" but too many people recommend books because the author asked them to - or because the author is a friend. If you love it, say why. If you only liked it, say why. If you didn't even like it - or its in a genre you don't read - don't do anybody any favors because you're spending social capital that's difficult to recoup.

Before you make that next social media post, remember: You earn in pennies but you spend in Benjamins.

Image credit:
Steve Snodgrass: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass
Creative Commons: SA-BY

We Disrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

One of the things I keep hearing is that Amazon is disrupting the publishing business. That disruption is what allows independent authors like me to make a living in a field where - in the past - only a handful of superstars could quit their day jobs.

I've been looking at this for a couple of years now and I think we're focused on the wrong end of the paradigm.

Disruption is a technical term and happens when an innovation changes the marketplace for a new and under served populations of customers.

Who are the customers in publishing?

Certainly not the authors. Publishing has long see the authors and editors and artists less as customers than as piece work laborers, a necessary overhead cost in producing the books that they sell to the real end customers - readers.

I would argue that the disruption that Amazon has caused is in reading and they did it by changing the distribution model that a few (and shrinking) number of companies have controlled for decades. Ebooks in general and Amazon in particular gave people with limited means and limited mobility access to the community of letters in numbers that were unthinkable before. Those readers, and our ability to reach them, is what makes it possible for me to make a living writing novels.

So when the Wise and Powerful Wizard of 'Zon changes the rules, like trying out new subscription models or altering what authors get paid, remember one critically important distinction.

We're not the customers that their disruption serves. We're only the beneficiaries of that disruption.

Cash the checks and keep writing.

Image Credit:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[This post originally shared with the Writers Discussion Group on Google+ - Aug, 2015. Nothing has changed since then.]

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

The new year is a time to look ahead but also a time to reflect. The timing of this column is significant to me because ten years ago yesterday – January 12, 2007 – I sat down to write what would become my first science fiction novel. I finished the first draft in ten days, the second draft in four, and had a completed third draft by the end of the month. I started recording it – a few chapters at a time – in the front seat of my car because it was the quietest place I could find. I released the first episode at Podiobooks.com on February 17th. I made every mistake. I did everything wrong.

I wrote four novels that first year and podcast them all. I had no idea what I was doing and never imagined that I’d be here – ten years later – a full time novelist.

This column isn’t to tell you how great I am. It’s to help lend some perspective on how much the industry has changed since I began. Many think the golden age is over. The people who were in it when it began will always be the winners and there’s no room for the new folks coming along behind. The pool is flooded and it’s impossible to rise to the top.

Yeah. Not so much.

In 2007, the Kindle wasn’t on the market. Self-publishing consisted of Lulu and BookSurge for print-on-demand titles. The price points killed sales. Booksurge – which would become CreateSpace – took a drubbing in 2008 when Amazon tried to get all the POD authors to use only their interface to sell books on Amazon. It’s not that bad now, but the wise POD authors always list through CreateSpace for Amazon these days in order to keep their titles from going out-of-stock, but I digress.

In January, 2010, I signed with a small press to produce my books in text formats. They convinced me that we could do better together than I could on my own. The salient point is that I built my audience for three full years and across six titles before I tried to sell what we’d consider a book. I did it by giving my stories away as free podcasts.

I made a lot of strategic decisions in those years about what to write, where to release it, how to promote it, and what tools and techniques to use to build that audience. It took months to get the first hundred, a year to get the first thousand. By the time I signed with the publisher in 2010, I had a million downloads across all the episodes in all the books and that took three years.

We released Quarter Share just before the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention in the spring of 2010. By then the Kindle was making noise in the marketplace so we released both ebook and paper. That ebook thing was a gamble. In those days selling a few hundred ebooks a year was a Big Deal. We had a release party at BaltiCon and a table where I hand sold a few copies in paper, mostly to the fans who already knew the story from listening. Quarter Share sold a few hundred on release and settled down to about ten a month.

Things stayed quiet until the Kindle Autumn of 2010. That’s the point where the Kindle’s market penetration tipped into the mainstream market for heavy readers. It would be another three months before Kindles became more common with casual readers. In October I became the first author at my publishing house to sell a thousand units in a single month with a single title. Others had sold a thousand across multiple titles, but that was the beginning for me.

By 2012 I dissolved the contract with my publisher by exercising my exit clause, got my rights back and spent a year re-issuing the four titles they’d released under my own imprint. By then I had eight books. Now I’m working on lucky number thirteen and the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

But here’s the thing.

The fundamental market has changed, but for the better. Millions of people read ebooks now. Dedicated devices are less common. Tablets and smartphones have taken over. Amazon and Kobo have a presence everywhere around the globe making digital products available to almost half a billion English speakers. The early stigma of self-publishing as vanity press has not disappeared but has become significantly diluted as dedicated self-publishers approach the work professionally in order to produce works that rival – even exceed – the quality of those published by the Bigs.

The reality of publishing today encompasses a variety of paths. Small, productive self-publishers can – and often do – earn more than authors published by the likes of Random House and Macmillan. They get fat and happy on sales numbers that are too small to support any of the bigger houses and some of the small. With reduced fixed cost overheads and very small variable costs people like me can do what most authors were never able to achieve ten years ago. We can quit our day jobs.

It’s not fast. I spent three years just building audience for my stories and five years before becoming a full time author in the summer of 2012.

It’s not easy. I’ve written over two million words across my novels. I’ve tried and failed a couple of times along the way. I’ve had to learn some hard lessons.

It’s not guaranteed. Fiction is still art and art is fickle.

But it is possible if you’re willing to do the work – the real work, not the work you want to do. If you’re willing to stick it out for years, not weeks or months, in order to build the structures, establish your audience, and work it like the business that it is. The life of an author isn't a sprint or a marathon. It's not a race of any kind. There's only one finish line and it's the one we all face. If there's one thing I've learned over the last decade it's that writing is a way of life.

So Happy New Year, RMFW. We're already almost two weeks in. Go write something great.

Living The Dream

Beach DreamingThis month I want to talk a bit about living the dream. As a full time science fiction author, I’m in the sometimes unenviable position of working for myself. Like most things indie, it comes with good points and not so good points. It means the boss always knows when I’m goofing off and my employee is a bit lazy. It means I need to take responsibility for deadlines—or not. It means I need to decide—well—everything, really.

But here’s the thing.

My job as a writer isn’t really different from someone pursuing a traditional path. I have a little more flexibility in what I write. I don’t need to write a specific kind of story because of contract, or the kind of story my agent needs in order to interest an acquisitions editor. I can write the stories I want to read but can’t find, secure in the knowledge that my publisher—me—will accept it.

The flip-side is that I never know if the book is any good.

Of course, that’s the same problem Orbit has. Tor and Baen and the rest, too. Nobody knows whether the next book will sink or sail. Every publisher tries to publish the best books possible, but no publisher can predict—successfully—which book will be a hit.

As a publisher, I need to have a few different skills from other writers. I need to know how to put a book together, how to get my books into distribution channels, and how to get readers to find—and buy—them. I need to have a little more knowledge about the various markets, how they work, and what changes I should expect. I need to accept that not everything will work and to trust that enough things will. Generally, my publishing process is the same as any other press.

None of the skills are difficult to acquire when compared to the craft of writing. None of the knowledge is more complex than what I need to master in order to tell a story that people might want to read. None of the work is more complicated than tracking submissions, rejections, synopses, agents, publishers, and sales over the months and years that writers on the traditional path have to do.

As an indie, I control the vertical. I control the horizontal but still don’t know if we’re going to the Twilight Zone or the poor house. I have to trust that we’ll wind up someplace interesting with a landing I can walk away from, because I’m living the dream.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s What’s Up Front That Counts

Print from History of Chester County, 1881
Print from History of Chester County, 1881

Back in the Dark Times, there used to be a commercial with the tag-line "It's what's up front that counts." Their value-added proposition was that - ahem - first impressions matter. This month I thought it might be useful to look at book layout because when it comes to books, what's up front does count.

Front-matter are those silly pages that show up at the beginning of the book. Most people skip past them but they serve a purpose. Joel Friedlander from The Book Designer lists some common front matter as half-title, frontispiece, full-title, copyright, dedication, table of contents in that order.

Traditionally published authors don't deal with this but for those of us with a more DIY bent, this stuff matters because it's how to present your work professionally.

The half-title page tells the reader the title of your book. That's it. In my own work, I bend this rule because I like establishing the graphical themes as early as possible, frequently carrying an element from the cover. I do it on purpose, knowing that it's "not done."

The frontispiece isn't used that much any more. It's a graphic on the back side (verso) of the half-title. In paper, when the reader flips the half-title, the frontispiece shows on the left and the full-title shows on the right.

The full-title page carries the title, author, series name, publisher and anything the publisher wants to say about the book. Sometimes the log-line shows up here as well as the publication date and place.

Copyright statements show on the verso. So copyright date, entity holding the copyright, publisher info, ISBN, Library of Congress control numbers, contact information, and - in fiction - frequently a statement along the lines of "I made this up. That's not you I'm talking about." (I'm paraphrasing.)

The dedication will show on the next page by itself. If you're going to honor somebody, make it count. In paper, that'll be on the right side, opposite the copyright.

Following that, you'll find tables of content, forewords, introductions, prologues, and a host of other pages which might apply to a book. Friedlander suggests a second half-title to wrap up the front-matter if the section is particularly long.

Which brings me to the secret. These pieces are all part of your stylistic toolbox and are not cast in stone -- or even paper.

My own front-matter (in both ebook and paper) consists of half-title, copyright, other books, dedication, title page. Sometimes there's a table-of-contents but in fiction, I find they're not particularly useful in paper and unnecessary in ebook. I've taken my layout based on old mass market paperbacks and my own reading preferences. Nothing says you have to do it the way everybody else does.

But...

If you're laying out your own books, putting your story in a professional looking box can give readers a sense that you know what you're doing. Most of them won't know what's supposed to be there, but some piece of their brain will tell them if something's off. They may not be able to say "Hey! This copyright page is in the wrong place" - in reality there's no real right place - but they might notice if it's missing. They may not know what a half-title or a title page is, but it'll be a familiar landmark as they get into your story. It tells them a story is coming. It tells them to settle in. They turn to chapter one and the story begins.

Because what's up front does count.

For further reading:
Joel Friedlander - The Book Designer

Image credit:
Explore PA History

Allied Powers

"By

When it comes to sales and promotion, DIY is not necessarily the best solution. It's much easier to promote somebody else's book than it is your own. It's also less likely to get you tossed in the spam hamper with Nigerian Princes and <Body Part> Enlargement Salesmen. For this, you need allies. Allies you can use to help promote your work to their audiences.

The best part of this? They don't even have to be aware of it. You can use the power of Amazon's ecosystem to promote your books on allied authors' descriptions. The catch? You have to promote theirs. The reality? It's going to happen anyway, you may as well take advantage of it.

The secret sauce is in the Also-Boughts. That magical ribbon of titles that shows up after you've sold a few books that says "Customers who bought this also bought:"

If you haven't got them, it's a function of sales over time. It's actually possible to go without sales long enough that they age out and go away. It's a good marketing ploy to try to keep that from happening by selling a few books now and again. The best way to do that is to publish another book, ideally in a series, but that's a different topic.

The beauty of the Also-Bought is that while your book points to somebody else's book, their book generally points back to yours. If you have a few pages of Also-Boughts, that's a fair number of people helping to support your title. You can help the process along by talking up their books. If there's somebody you'd love to have in your Also-Bought ribbon, you might get that person's latest book and read it. Assuming you like it and think your readers will too, then tell them about it. Write about it on your blog. Tweet about it on twitter. Add it to your Book of Face. Try to get more of your fans to buy it.

Once it gets ahead of a critical mass (the secret sauce of which is apparently guarded more diligently than the Colonel's Secret Recipe of Herbs and Spices), those books will start showing up on your ribbon and your books will start showing up on theirs.

You can also find allies on your Author Central page where Amazon helpfully tells people that readers who bought your books also bought books by a list of other authors. That's a great place to actually prospect for allies. You might write to one or two and tell them how much you admire their stories. Perhaps you can offer a pull-quote (sometimes call a "blurb") for their product description or cover copy. After a while, you might even ask them if they'd consider offering a blurb for your upcoming release. Some will say "no." Others will say "not this time." Some will say "sure."

The point is that other authors are not your competition when it comes to readers. They're your allies. Close bonds with allies can yield amazing results.

Offer to meet them in Yalta and see what they say.

 

Photo Credit: By U. S. Signal Corps - Library of Congress , Franklin D. Roosevelt Library & Museum http://docs.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/images/photodb/09-1905a.gif, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=211252

Current Climate in Publishing: The Sky Didn’t Fall, So Now What?

After the recent Colorado Gold Conference, I found myself wondering about indie/self-publishing and traditional happy-b-day-picpublishing. When I joined my first Gold Conference back in 2008, I/S publishing was the DEVIL. No, really, like the actual end of the world four to five horsemen. (I first typed horsemint, which is, according to word, any various coarse mints. Thought you might enjoy my overeagerness about just how bad it once was to I/S publish, that or my fat fingered typing ability).

This past conference, the vibe was MUCH different, and in fact, most of the I/S pub workshops were filled (I should know, our Rejection Panel went up against Nathan Lowell’s Amazon workshop Saturday morning. Thank you to the five people who joined us). Also, for the first time, iPAL the independently published version of PAL, was awarded a Writer of the Year (Lisa Manifold, who deserved it greatly for a) successfully writing and marketing great books, but more so b) being a leader in our community).

So my question to you, dear readers, and for once, comment dang it!, how do you feel about publishing these days? When you think of your current WIP, is it slated for traditional route or a more indie one? Have you come to the dark or maybe light side (depending on who you ask) of publishing?

Right now I publish with both. I see good things and bad for each. Nothing is ever going to be simple or perfect in publishing. Yet this is the first time I see I/S publishing tipping in favor to traditional. Or maybe just with my tribe. So let’s hear it. Good and bad. Beautiful and ugly. What say you about today’s publishing format climate?

Up Like A Rocket

SpaceX_Rocket2Last month I gave my quick list tips for getting started in marketing, but this month let's get into the weeds on the launch itself.

Many people still go for the biggest bang on the first day. They'll take out ads, email their lists, post on their blogs -- sometimes weeks in advance -- in an attempt to gin up some interest in a book that may not be available yet. Launch day comes, everybody buys the book, sales rank climbs straight up like a rocket. Our erstwhile author sits there, refreshing the sales screen every few minutes, unable to look away.

Great launch.

Then there's the next day. And the next. And the next. There's a very, very long line of "the next" in this book's future but there's a nasty surprise in store for those who aren't aware of how this book actually gets into orbit.

Up like a rocket?
Down like a rock.

The problem is the way sales ranks get calculated. It's a black box as far as precise details go, but there are some models we can use that approximate the algorithm's behavior.

Your book's sales rank marks your place on the bestseller list in Amazon.

Example: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,810 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

That means there are 16,809 books selling better than you in the last hour and a few million selling worse.

So how does Amazon calculate that? It's not based on the number of books you sold in the last hour. It's a weighted average based on a rolling window that counts current sales more than past sales.

Here's what a hard launch looks like after 20 days.
graph-hard-launch

That first day is great with 500 sales. It might get you up above #300 in terms of sales rank. The red line marks the weighted average ("Sales points") per day as that big chunk rolls off. By the end of the first week, you're at the bottom of the Great Amazonian Sea unless you can maintain a level of sales. For the first time author, getting a big first day is much easier than getting a good first two weeks.

Here's what a soft launch looks like after 20 days.

graph-soft-launchNote the difference in scale. Everything here happens under the 100 level on the hard launch graph, but the important thing is that your consistent sales yield a persistent position on the best seller lists. It's worth noting how the graph falls off when sales start tapering down after 14 days. If you can maintain that modest level of sale, your sales rank will stay more or less level.

Both graphs represent about 625 sales.  As an author, you'll make the same amount with either launch. As a publisher, your sales rank performance will be better with the soft launch because those sales ranks feed into other metrics like the Popularity list, giving your book better visibility there even when the bestseller lists start to fade.

Here's what an actual soft launch looks like after eleven months.

Actual_Sales_Rank_Graph
Note that this title stayed above #1,000 for a month and above #10,000 for four months. My launch consisted of one email to my list, one post on my blog, one tweet, and a note to my Facebook fan group - each separated by a day to try to spread the notice out. I don't have a hard launched book to show you. I've been doing soft launches since I started publishing my own books in 2012.

The soft launch gives you a chance to ask your network to share the news while the book is still visible. It's a window where some small amounts of promotion can actually make a difference, even on a first book. The advantages for the second and third and fourth books just multiply if - and this is a big if - you can keep your messaging low key so everybody doesn't buy on the first day.

If you can keep your book from going up like a rocket, you might be able to keep it from coming down like a rock.

Disclaimer: The launch pattern graphs do NOT represent the actual bestseller algorithm on Amazon. Only Amazon knows the exact mathematics involved. Things like "how much weight to apply to aging sales" and "how long is the window" are only approximated here based on observed performances. While the actual levels of those curves might vary, the general shapes have proven to be reliable. The third graph is from my Author Central reporting for the last book I released. 

Making A Mark In Marketing

Farmers_MarketMarketing isn't complicated or difficult. It needn't be expensive in either time or money.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a list of my ten rules of the road for fiction authors who are just getting started with sales and promotion. Some of you may have seen it before. It's aimed at self-published authors or traditionally published who want to become hybrids. When considering how best to frame this month's post, this list continues to be my best answer.

Rule 1: Be interesting.

The fastest way to be interesting is to be interested. If you're not engaging with people, they have no reason to care what you say. When you become part of their experience, they become part of yours. This is a good thing. Make friends, not sales.

Rule 2: Don't be dumb

This shouldn't need to be a rule but way too many authors are trying for attention with the same verve as the half-naked drunk dancing on a coffee table with a lampshade on his head. Don't. That is not the attention you really need. It's the kind of attention that gets you uninvited to the good parties.

Rule 3: Publish it

You don't get fans for the things you're going to write. You only get fans of stuff you've finished and they can get. Farting around with agents, trying to time a release for the next advantageous month with the appropriate full moon, anything that stands between you and "publish it" is a problem. *

Rule 4: Niche, Niche, Baby

You are not trying to sell a million books. In the beginning your goal is to sell one book. A book that your mother doesn't buy. A book that a fan purchases and lurves with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns.

That's your goal. That one sale.

You're working in niche markets. You will get fat and sassy with a thousand people who lurve your work as much as that first one because that means there are 10x that many who will probably buy your work as well. It means there are probably 10x more who will buy one of your works if it strikes their fancy that day.

Do the math, but it starts with one. Just one.

5. Face to the audience.

Stop messing around writing blog posts about how to make good characters or twenty-five ways to aggravate the establishment. Face your audience and write to them. Yes, I know you have none yet. Write to the ones who'll find you next year and want to see how this all started.

Fans care about who you are (not what you do). They care about where the next book is (and where they can find the older ones). They care about where they can meet you, hear about you, learn more about your work.

Fans do not care about writer's block, how you learned to write up to 500 words a day, or where you find the minutes you need to write them.

Answer the question: "What can I do for them?"

Anything else is pointless.

6. Network at your back.

Your fellow authors and word herding colleagues are not your competition. They are your reinforcement. Make friends. They can help you by doing things for you that you cannot do for yourself -- like telling their audiences about you if they like what you do and they think their audiences will, too.

A good network can give you beta reads, cover blurbs, and help you prime the sales pump so you never have to be that guy who says, "Buy my book!"

7. Back list - You Need One.

Make that happen. Tomorrow is good. Today would be better.

Social media is the fulcrum against which you will press the lever of back list. If the lever is too short, you will have a heck of a time gaining purchase.

Don't make the common mistake of writing a few short pieces to attract people to your one novel. While that's marginally effective, you're dealing with two different markets. People who read long, don't necessarily read short and vice versa.

You are looking for the one person who lurves your book. Not somebody who likes it, kinda. Write for that one person. Bite the bullet and write the next book. The majority of successful indie authors have five or more novels in circulation before they begin to gain traction.

8. Advertising, reviews, SEO

Unless you've got a back list to support spending money on advertising, skip it.

Advertising is unlikely to pay off and will probably not find that one person you're looking for. It's not a tool for early-stage publishing unless you've got deep pockets and a risk-taking mentality.

Reviews do not drive sales. Sales drive reviews. Reviews are a gauge of marketing reach, not quality. Spending time pursuing book bloggers - particularly in the beginning - seldom pays royalties.

SEO ... see 9.

9. Discovery Happens At The Bookstore

For non-fiction authors, having a strong presence and a reputation for knowing what you're doing can help you sell books. For non-fiction people, SEO can help people who are looking for your level of expertise to find you.

There is no search in the world that will help somebody looking for a good SF book to find you.

Except the search on the Amazon/B&N/Kobo website. Your website SEO doesn't matter there.

You don't go to the grocery store to buy 2x4s and you don't go to the hardware store to buy mangos. Readers don't look for fiction on Google.

Your blog is for collecting people who already know your name. The only searches that matter are 1) your name, 2) your titles, and 3) your characters.

In the bookstore, the trinity is Cover, Blurb, and Holy Sample. You cannot afford to mess-up any one of those or your books will sink into the purgatory that are sales ranks below #500,000.

Notice where reviews and ads fall on that list.

Yes, you need good meta-data. You need to find the right keywords for Amazon. No, you don't need to optimize your website to maximize time on page. You don't want people spending time reading your blog. You want them reading your books which they will find at the bookstore (or on a handy catalog page on your website).

10. Email List

Yes, it's old school. Yes, it's frequently abused. Yes, you need one. Mail Chimp. If you haven't already, start now.

Don't send them junk. Your freebie stories are not incentives. The one piece of information they've signed up for is "The new book is available. Here's the link."

See the previous point about not being dumb.

None of these will guarantee success. I know great authors with over a dozen titles out there who can't seem to get traction.

Over the last nine years, I've observed that the authors who have the most success are the ones who have followed these guidelines.

No question that luck is involved, but luck favors the prepared.

I'll take questions...

Image Credit:
Crocker Galleria Farmer's Market
Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC-BY-2.0) License

Publish Or Perish

Gutenberg_PressOnce you have a final manuscript, ebook* layout and design is easy. Keep it simple. Use default fonts. The readers will use the fonts they want anyway. Don’t get tricky with putting the text on the page because readers will change the size, the flow, the color, everything. Those hours you spend putting together the perfect layout to add that certain something to the story? Wasted as soon as the first reader inverts the text or changes the font size so they can read it on their phone.

Here’s the secret of good typography. Nobody notices it.

If it’s good – really good – it’s like the texture of the paper. It does its job by getting out of the way. Simple is better until you can learn enough to be subtle and elegant. Those purists who love books because of the scent of the ink and the texture of the paper? The feel of the book? No. I like books, too. While there’s something sensual about the feel of the book, that’s not why I buy books. I don’t keep a library of books because I like to periodically sniff them or take them down and fondle their leaves. I buy books for the stories. If the story is good, I don’t care what the ink smells like. If the story is bad, I don’t care how lovely the paper feels. A book is a box. A simple, utilitarian box – executed well – will do the job of holding your stories.

Formatting is easy with free tools like Sigil. Simply save your word processing document as an HTML file and open that file in Sigil. Save the epub. You’ll want to do some things like add cover art (a smallish version to keep the file size low), put in some front and back matter, and perhaps a table of contents. The file will be bloated and ugly on the inside because word processors add kruft but readers won’t know. If you’re fluent in HTML, you can clean it up easily with a few judicious find/replace commands.

There are a couple of gotchas to look for.

One is scene breaks. Many authors use a couple of carriage returns in their manuscripts to break scenes. Those get ignored in HTML rendering so you need to do something else. A couple of dashes, centered, serves admirably and doesn’t require any special graphics or formatting skills.

The other is the page break before a chapter heading. While it seems a bit silly to force a page break on an ebook, it really does make a difference in the reader’s experience. It’s not difficult. In Sigil, go to the top of the chapter heading, press control-enter. Sigil will break the HTML file at that point. Repeat for each chapter. Now each chapter has its own file within the EPUB framework and Sigil kept track of it all for you.

Yes, there are codes that you can embed in the files to tell ebook readers to break, but they are not universal—even within a single architecture. Putting each chapter in its own file is. It won’t matter what version of ebook device the reader uses, your chapter headings will always start on a new page.

One last step before uploading to KDP. Convert the file to .mobi using the Amazon Offline Previewer.

The previewer is a free tool that you download from Amazon. Run your epub into it and the Previewer will convert it to the current valid .mobi format unless there are errors. It’s much easier to find and fix the errors before you upload. Upload that .mobi output file to KDP and you’re on your way to publishing your first book.

The hard part's over and you've spent $50. Now all you need to do is sell it.

Next time: Making A Mark In Marketing

* The ebook market is where the money is. While you may want to publish a book in paper, let's leave that for the time being. I'll come back and address printed books in a later post. Hint: Saving your word processing document as PDF and uploading to CreateSpace is not going to give you the results you want.

Software Mentioned:
Sigil can be found at https://github.com/Sigil-Ebook/Sigil/releases
The Kindle Offline Previewer can be found at http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000765261