Book Marketing: On Changing Book Covers

One of the main reasons for self-publishing is creative freedom and control.

remake desecrationMany of us regularly update book blurb/descriptions, as well as changing categories and keywords. I’ve also blogged before about making sure non-fiction book titles are based on keyword research.

Today I’m talking about changing book covers because within a few hours, you can completely change the look and emotional impact of your book. When authors like Polly Courtney have resigned over the cover branding for their books, this seems like the ultimate indie freedom.

Desecration Michael ConnellyI published Desecration, a crime thriller, in Nov 2013, and after it debuted on the bestseller list alongside Michael Connelly, it pretty much sank down the charts. I haven’t done any further promotion, and it hasn’t sold as well as my other books.

It gets brilliant reviews, so once people read it, they love it. But not enough people were trying it … sure, I haven’t done any specific promotion, but based on my other book sales, it should be doing better.

The ‘aha’ moment

Russell Blake, the author who has sold over 400,000 thrillers and now writes with Clive Cussler, wrote a post in Feb 2014 about tweaking his covers. Russell changes covers in order to “find one that resonates with my readership – as expressed in increased sales.”

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Selling Books At Kobo And Publishing News With Mark Lefebvre

We’re lucky to have more than one option to distribute and sell our books globally as self-published authors, and today I’m focusing on Kobo.

In the intro, I talk about the launch party for Deadly Dozen (valid until March 8), 12 mystery/thrillers for just 99c (or equivalent). Plus, the royalty change at ACX and updates on my own writing.

mark lefebvreMark Lefebvre is Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo. He also writes horror and dark humor under Mark Leslie.

  • How Kobo differentiates itself by being a collaborative partner with leading booksellers around the world. Kobo Writing Life was the first to offer payment in the author’s currency, which Amazon KDP then picked up. It’s great to have a comparison service, a challenger to keep everyone honest!
  • We also discuss the scheduling of promotions which you can do on Kobo, and can help you get visibility, as well as making sure the promotions start on time. It’s not dependent on being exclusive, and you can be free on Kobo at any time. [I use free on Kobo to get Amazon to price-match for permafree]. The Kobo Writing Life team mine the scheduled promos for gems and great deals for customers.

What do the Kobo merchandising team look for?

  • Obviously you need the best book you can write, plus a book cover that is aimed at your target audience. It’s
    kobo mark lefebvre jf penn

    J.F.Penn with Mark Lefebvre at the Kobo booth, London Book Fair 2013

    also important to think of the perspective of the booksellers’ curation process. Kobo is a bookseller and will make more money on higher priced products, or on pleasing customers with deep discounts. Mark also mentions the networking potential of being a ‘real person,’ so definitely say hi to the Kobo Writing Life team at conferences.

  • Kobo Next is a list of new authors and new books for people to discover. The authors and books that make it there are handpicked, and are proposed to merchandising teams.

Kobo News: Sony, new CEO & global expansion

  • We talk about the potential for global growth in 2014-2015, as well as translation deals, for example, what Kobo are doing with Bella Andre/Lucy Kevin. Plus, pricing by different territories, critical to seeing update in other economies.

On balancing two author brands

kobo writing lifeIf you’re not on Kobo yet, check out KoboWritingLife.com , which also has a blog and podcast for authors. [I'm on the next episode!]

You can find Mark on twitter @MarkLeslie and his fiction blog here.

Self-Publishing And Marketing Books For Children With Karen Inglis

Self-publishing picture books for children is doubly difficult than adult books in terms of production, because of the cost of print books, which are necessary for that market, and also because targeted marketing is much harder.

books Karen InglisIn today’s interview, Karen Inglis shares her fantastically detailed and honest information about writing, self-publishing and marketing books for children.

In the introduction, I mention my own goals for 2014, as well as commenting on Joe Konrath’s resolutions for writers. I also discuss Russell Blake’s success and what I constantly have to come back to in my own writing schedule. I talk about translation plans for my books, and also why you should consider exploiting the rights for your own work.

The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Karen InglisKaren Inglis is the author of books for children including ‘The Secret Lake’ and ‘Eeek, the runaway alien,’ as well as Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep, which is also now an iPad app.

You can watch the interview here on YouTube or listen/download the audio above. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

  • How Karen got started with writing for children after being a copywriter for the financial services industry for many years. The stories ‘found’ her, beginning with a beautiful fox she saw in the winter mist one morning, which became Ferdinand Fox.
  • Why self-publishing picture books for children is so hard. There’s the aspects of illustration and the cost of printing, but also, the stats show that the sales of picture books compared with general children’s fiction are much lower, and especially so for unknown authors. 500 copies is a very good number to sell for picture books, so don’t expect to sell a lot.
  • The problems with print on demand for children’s picture books. You can’t get the ‘silk page’ finish with print-on-demand, and the books don’t look like the others in bookstores, plus the income per book is much less. It’s much more of a labor of love.
  • You can make more income selling direct into schools if you do short print runs, but that means you have secretlaketo order more units and pay upfront costs. Karen explains how she has books for different age groups so when she goes into schools, she can present to the whole school and sell them all. Hence the time spent on the personal appearances and upfront printing can be worth it, if you have multiple books.

Tips for children’s picture books

  • How to find and work with an illustrator. Karen recommends ChildrensIllustrators.com and LinkedIn Groups for children’s writers and illustrators. Karen found her own illustrator on Elance.com, he’s actually in Eastern Europe and they do all their communication virtually. There are different styles of working e.g. controlling every aspect vs letting the illustrator do their own creative thing. There are also different business models e.g. JV split or payment up front. Remember to discuss the copyright and who owns the images when they are done.
  • On book design, Karen does a lot herself for the older children’s books using Createspace templates. She also uses Lighthouse24 for book layouts to make sure it will all work without problems.eeek
  • For distribution, Karen uses Createspace for Amazon.com, and Lightning Source for everything else so she can order short runs, make it easy for UK bookstores to order her books and provide books for party bags. I mention my trick which is ordering my own print books from Amazon.co.uk as a member of Amazon Prime which gives me free shipping, and I get ranking and money back in royalties, so the pricing works out at a similar rate.

Marketing books for children

  • On marketing, Karen talks about copywriting, optimizing keywords on her blog, about her author website. She uses specific #tags on twitter to find people searching for children’s books. She has targeted specific book bloggers but this is a long-term and long-tail strategy, as you can’t control the timing of their reviews.
  • The importance of networking with local bookstores, including large chain Waterstones (which doesn’t usually let indies do signings). Karen talks about using a wholesalers to be the middleman with Lightning Source and how she gets round the issue of ‘out of stock.’ [Karen is one determined lady, and I am so impressed with her tenacity to persuade industry folks to give her books a chance!]
  • Karen does a lot of physical appearances at schools. She phones them up to get the right contact, and then emails directly with links to the website and the books and an attachment with lots of information. For children to buy books on the visit, Karen provides a slip that the school can send home for the money and even arranges pre-signing to speed things up. Sounds like a great idea!

 ferdinand fox appTurning Ferdinand Fox into a book app

  • Karen also mentions Authorly which will help authors to make apps with drag and drop software, and then publish them to the various platforms.

You can find Karen on twitter @kareninglis and at her websites:

SelfPublishingAdventures.com – packed full of great info on self publishing for children and a fantastic article on tax for non-US authors which I recommend to everyone!

Her author site KarenInglisAuthor.com which has all the info and buy links for Ferdinand Fox, EEEK and The Secret Lake.

Do you have any questions for Karen on writing, publishing or marketing books for children? Or any tips of your own? Please leave them below in the comments.

Audio Books: Professional Studio Tips for Recording And Production

I’m passionate about exploring every avenue for revenue streams from a book, and audio is a growing market.

This year, I collaborated with Veronica Giguere (narrator) and Gryphonwood Press (publisher) to produce Pentecost, Prophecy and Exodus in audio format and sell them on Audible and iTunes through ACX. In 2014, I am definitely looking to expand into further audio products.

You too can create a great audio book recording …

But you need to know how to choose or prepare your home studio, and how to plan and staff your production. In this article, audio engineer Andy Marlow from EBindery discusses the initial choices of recording environment, some different recording techniques, the choice of narrator (self-read or voiceover artist) and the options for distribution.

Noisy Breaths and Lip Smacks

First, let’s talk about noise.

It’s the single biggest differentiator between a pro and amateur production. The aims of an audio book recording are to produce a clear and engaging recording that best shows off your book and has a consistent quality and volume levels. If you want your listener to ‘lose themselves’ in the story, then the recording itself should not distract the listener with major volume changes, room noise, noisy breaths, lip ‘smacks’ and page turns. Your audio project should both prepare for and edit out these distractions.

Recording Environment

An important factor when recording is how much unwanted noise gets onto the final recording. You want as little as you can possibly get. The recording environment plays a large part in this.

Furniture and Flooring: It is surprising how much room furnishings will influence both the sound of the recording and how noisy the recording is. A wooden floored room with bare walls will sound very different (brighter and with more room sound) than a room with carpets, wall hangings and lots of furniture, which will sound deader and duller and have a less obvious influence on the direct signal getting to the microphone.

Electronic Noise: A cheap microphone plugged into a laptop in a kitchen will probably give you a noisy recording, not only from the noise that the cheap microphone makes itself, but also the noise of the computer fan. Don’t forget that fluorescent lights can add their own noise (they hum!)

Noisy Neighbours: Live in the country? You may be deaf to birdsong, but it will show up on your recording. It may fit some scenes–but be incongruous in others. And if you live in the city, it can be hard to avoid street noise–or even your neighbour’s TV.

Creating a Pro Studio At Home

The main advantage of using a professional studio with proper recording rooms over a home studio is there will be very little unwanted noise in the recording, making a more intelligible, pleasant and engaging listening experience, reducing ‘drop-off’ of your listeners.

Studio recording booths are sound-sealed to significantly reduce or stop outside sounds getting recorded at the same time as the audio that you want, and that’s what differentiates them from your home environment.

Having said that, there are many things that you can do to try to improve a home recording.

Choose the Right Room: Recording in a carpeted room, with curtains pulled shut (to reduce the amount of hard reflective wall surfaces) will deaden the room sound, leaving more of the direct signal from the microphone getting to the recording.

Pick a Microphone To Suit: There are many ways to record and each will achieve different levels of quality–from a simple cheap microphone plugged directly into a computer to a proper studio with a choice of microphones and amplifiers.

Different microphones have a different sounds to them, some can be bright sounding, some duller, others warm sounding. One microphone’s characteristics may suit one person’s voice but not another’s. These differences can help give your book the tonal character that suits the book’s style. Microphones can cost anywhere between £30 into the tens of thousands of pounds. If you can afford to, do your research, and then buy the best microphone you can. Investigate resale value on eBay–this may be the route to a quality mic.

Staff Your Project to Ensure Quality

There are obvious financial advantages to recording and editing your audio book yourself, but these may be short lived and there are a lot of downsides as well.

The main disadvantage is that it is very hard to read a book and objectively analyse:

  • The recording levels and quality (e.g. ‘plosives’, clean recording levels–no distortion)
  • The pacing, voice tone and volume, and
  • Consistency with the text, and continuity. Your audio needs proofing as much, if not more, than your text manuscript.

When someone else is engineering and proofing the recording, it frees the narrator to concentrate on the task at hand – which is to make the listener engage with the book and want to listen on. If you are narrating your own book in your home studio, at least try to recruit an objective friend to act as your proofer.

Give Yourself Time

An advantage of recording and editing with a pro studio is that an engineer will be much faster and more experienced at getting the correct sound, dealing with the actual recording process itself, editing the recording into chapters and converting the final files into the right formats to be released. If you’re tackling this yourself, give plenty of time for learning and experimentation.

Think Before Narrating Yourself

Narrating your own book will be cheaper than paying an experienced voiceover artist, but it could be a false economy. The amount of time a professional will take to record a book will most likely be a lot quicker than a novice.  Why?

A professional voice is a more known factor. An experienced voiceover artist will know what they can do with their voice, how it sounds, pacing (the speed that they talk at) and microphone technique (how to change head position to alter the volume and tone of the recording.)

Microphone Technique

Effective microphone techniques can be some of the hardest yet most effective skills for an audio book narrator to master. If you’re narrating your own book, what are the most important things to know?

Microphone Distance: Moving the head slightly away from the microphone for louder parts will even the level of the recording, and getting close to the microphone will give a more intimate and bassy sound (known as the proximity effect).

Head Angle: Changing the angle of the head in relation to the microphone will reduce p-pops or plosives. Saying words with ‘P’s and, to lesser extent, ‘B’s in, can send a lot of air at the microphone, creating a low frequency thump in the recording. This is known as a plosive.

To try this out yourself, put your hand in front of your mouth and say ‘pool’. You will feel the air hitting your hand. On the other hand, on saying the word ‘teeth’ you won’t feel the same air hit.

If a plosive is not dealt with either during recording or editing, and the recording is played back on a large or bassy system, the low end thump can be very noticeable. It also affects how loud the programme material can be as it uses up valuable ‘headroom’. Using a pop-shield can also help remedy this particular problem.

After Recording, What Next?

audio companiesIf you’re a UK writer, you may be aware that ( as of Dec 2013) ACX, the audiobook portal for entry to Audible and Amazon listings, is not yet available to you. Specifically, you need to be a US resident, as well as having the tax identification (TIN) that you may be familiar with if you’ve published on Kindle or CreateSpace. Audiobook distribution is pretty much tied up with Amazon and Audible, and there is currently no method to publish an audiobook to iTunes as an indie. However, there are ways to progress:

First, and recommended, is preparing your content for when ACX opens to a global customer base.

If/when ACX opens, you could consider opening an account either as an Audio Publisher or Author Narrator, and going to them with a finished audio product. This is particularly pertinent if you don’t want to, or can’t find a suitable partner for, a split royalty agreement. With a split royalty agreement, producers are looking for a proven book with evidence of strong marketing, so can be hard to find, unless you have a strong sales record. And if you have a strong sales record, you may prefer to fund production up front and retain all audio royalties.

Watch out for pricing.

ACX won’t publish audiobooks that are available as podcasts, or free for download elsewhere. When it comes to price setting it’s also out of your control: ACX will set the retail price, loosely based on the length of the audio.

ACX may also be closed to you if you’re not writing fiction.

ACX aren’t interested in publishing content unsuited to audio–and by that they mean pretty much anything other than novels. So where does that leave an indie author of ‘other’ content, wanting to explore audio publishing? All is not lost. You can publish your work through CD Baby, for example, to be listed as Spoken Word. For an indie author with a good marketing campaign and network this may be a good option. Another option is recording and producing your work and selling it through your own website, either as a digital download, or a physical disk.

What do you think about audiobooks? Do you want to explore that as an independent author? Or do you have experiences you can share? Please do add a comment below.

Andy Audio Engineer

Andy Marlow is an audio engineer with over 20 years commercial experience recording, teaching and producing for business, musicians and voice over artists, in a wide range of styles. Along the way he’s worked with Marc Almond, performed at Glastonbury, and engineered for commercial clients including Nike and Reebok.

Andy has a friendly studio in Brixton equipped to a very high standard. Combine narrating your own book with a trip to London, or let Andy source a voice artist and fully produce your audio book.

Email Andy to chat about your project – andy@ebindery.co.uk or visit www.ebindery.co.uk to see our range of indie author services, which include typesetting for print. We’re a small agency specialising in one-to-one attention in all aspects of indie pub.

Photo Credit: Very Quiet via Compfight cc

If you want more on audiobooks, check out these interviews:

What Gets Measured Gets Managed. Testing The Key Elements Of Your Book Before Launch

One of the best things about being an indie author is creative control.

round the bendYou get to decide what to write, your cover, your book design, your pricing, your promotional strategy. But it’s also one of the most difficult things, especially when first starting out, as often, what we like may not resonate with the audience.

NY Times bestselling author, Tim Ferriss, famously tests everything about his books, starting with the title ‘Four Hour Work Week’ and look where that took him! A few years back, I did a survey on this blog for the cover of my first book, Pentecost. The cover I liked didn’t win and I went with the crowd-pleaser. In today’s post, Alistair McGuinness, author of Round The Bend, goes through his experience of using surveys to improve his book.

thecreativenomadWhat gets measured, gets managed.

As a Business Improvement Coach, I often cite this quote when faced with a problem that my client feels is difficult to quantify.

I have learned that when confronted with something intangible, the secret is to turn emotion into logic, and by generating a metric you gain clarity.

Writers are often described as emotional people, which is wonderful for creativity, but how much logic are you putting into the key elements that will attract people to your book?

Big5Like many indie writers I have considered the key elements seriously, so that my adventure travel book, Round the Bend, has every chance of success. After months of effort I feel confident that these are appealing, but what would potential customers think? It was time to find out, by completing a survey in my hometown.

The ranking was written in a fun, easy to read manner that would allow participants to make a quick but tangible assessment. I’ve included the survey questions at the end of the post if you’re interested in the detail.

Audit sheet for big 5To help with data collection I created a sheet to capture the information. I then printed out The Big 5 elements and worked out a way for them to be easily viewed. My book cover was glued to a large piece of cardboard, with a random page stuck to the other side.

My random page was one of the hand drawn travel maps that are scattered throughout the story. I then did the same thing with the blurb and the 1st paragraphs.

Now it was time for the survey.

Busselton foreshoreAfter moving from the UK, I now live in Australia and headed to my local beach in search of a diverse mix of locals and overseas visitors and although it was winter, the weather was kind with many people relaxing by the water. The more chilled they were, the greater the likelihood they would be willing to answer a few questions.

My wife and her friend carried out the survey and as soon as our children realised that free chocolate went to every participant, they came along too. You can watch the short video below or here on YouTube to see the survey in action.

I stood in the background, taking photos of them in action and watched sail boats glide across the bay, as complete strangers voted on my work.

ResultsongrassTwo hours later, it was all over. The winter sun was low on the horizon and the visitors were heading back to their hotels and motels, in preparation for dinner.

I scattered a few of the results on the grass and took a picture to capture the moment.

We then searched for a coffee shop and reviewed the results.

The most popular element was my blurb, with a score of 4.4, which you can read here to see if you agree.

Score of 4 = Well written and informative

My original book cover was the least popular, gaining an average score of 3 and I checked the ranking system to confirm what this meant:

Score of 3 = Looks like a run of the mill front cover. Not unsightly, but lacks bite

Overall, I wasn’t too disappointed as there was not a large difference in votes, but the front cover was a possible element to reconsider. During coffee I gained a valuable piece of information about my 1st paragraph. Although most reviewers liked it, there was some mis-perception on my choice of words during a particular scene.

This was important news and that evening I viewed the 1st page with fresh eyes. During a thirty minute blitz I transformed the first few paragraphs and instantly knew that it was right.

I was just in time, as the publishers requested the final manuscript for proofreading days later.

So although I felt that my top 5 elements were professional, I needed tangible proof.

The survey results and the feedback gave me enough evidence to change some critical parts.

If you feel that your book is ready to launch, remember that you only get one go at making a first impression. Taking out a survey can be a fun way to gain valuable information on your Top 5 elements and also a subtle introduction to get the public thinking about your book.

Have you tried an audience survey for your book? Do you have any tips or questions? Please leave them in the comments below the survey points. 

Alistair McGuinnessAlistair McGuinness is the author of ‘Round The Bend: From Luton to Peru to Ningaloo, a Search for Life After Redundancy,’ an adventure travel book. Inspired by Mr Benn and Michael Palin, he left the UK to go traveling and now lives in Western Australia.

Here’s the detailed options in the survey:

Book Cover

1               Poor design. Looks like something created by a 1st grade art student

2               Picture or font are lacking substance

3               Looks like a run of the mill front cover. Not unsightly, but lacks bite

4               Crisp picture, good style and looks better than many others on the shelf

5               Eye catching, stylish and has me reaching for the book

 Book title

1               Too long, too obscure or too weird

2               OK, but hasn’t that been used before heaps of times?

3               Matches the cover, but not compelling

4               Nice and punchy or quirky enough to remember

5               Why didn’t I think of that one?

Back page blurb

1               An irrelevant ramble that did nothing for me

2               Too short, too long or too boring

3               Just about kept me interested

4               Well written and informative

5               Sucked me in and I want more

1st Paragraph

1               I switched off after the first line

2               Read the paragraph but felt nothing

3               I can see there may be something, but my interest is waning

4               Enjoyed the paragraphs and hungry for more

5               You nailed it. Hooked

Random page

1               Found a grammatical error

2               Why didn’t I give up after the first paragraph?

3               Could be worth purchasing. Might try another page.

4               Well-paced and I’m eager for more

5               Cracking stuff. Who is this writer?