Author SEO: Easy First Steps for Improving Your Book’s Chances for Discovery

This is another installment of my I Want to Self-Publish: Now What? Series.

According to the United National Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2.2 million titles are published each year—and that figure is based on data pulled from 2013, so it’s likely even higher by now.  This means if you do decide to self-publish, it isn’t enough to write a great book, you will need to put in some effort to ensure it is discoverable and enticing.

Ultimately, this means creating a marketing plan (and then executing said plan) and establishing an author platform, but that’s a whole other series. However, there are also a few things you can do during the setup process as good first steps.

Don’t Neglect Your Book Description

Your book’s description is also often referred to as a blurb. This is the text that goes on the back cover of a print book and next to an image of your book’s front cover on the retail site. The retail sites let you use things like bold or italic text to catch the eye, but be careful to use this formatting sparingly. If you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing. In addition, as a best practice, keep it between 100 and 250 words.

Fiction Descriptions

In fiction your blur should contain a short introduction of your main character and status quo, inciting action that launches the plot, the stakes—or reasons readers should care about your character and his or her journey, as well as a hook that incentivizes the reader to buy your book. If you are writing genre fiction, you want to be sure to sprinkle in words or phrases that make the genre clear to the casual browser.

Non-Fiction Descriptions

In non-fiction, you should use the description to establish what your text is about, how a reader will benefit from reading it, and why you are a credible expert on the topic. In this case, it is also a good idea to use words or phrasing that gives the reader an indication of the overall tone of the work. For example, if you write your non-fiction with a humorous slant, it is a good idea to include a joke or pun. If your non-fiction is data-driven, consider including a statistic that supports why your text exists.

Research Potential Categories

Next, research your book’s potential categories. Think of these as the sections of a bookstore. Does your book belong in the science fiction section or the self-care? If you aren’t sure what category your book belongs in, go to the retail site and see what the top sellers are in each of the categories your book could belong in. Ask yourself things like:

  • Does my book’s cover look similar to the top sellers?
  • Does my description match the tone / style of these top sellers?

If the answer to these questions is no, consider another category or consider re-writing your book’s description so it is more in line with what readers in that category expect to see. Ideally, you want your cover to look similar to other books in the category as well, but as that can be costly step—I consider it more of a last resort.

Most retail sites limit you to one or two categories, which you establish during the book’s setup. However, your book may be listed in additional sub-categories if you use certain keywords or if you contact the retailer directly. Kindlepreneur.com provides a great summary of what these specialized keywords are.

Use Long-Tail Keywords

You will be asked to add your book’s keywords during the setup process. The word, keyword, is misleading because it makes it sound as if you can only pick a single word. In truth, you can use a whole phrase as a keyword. This is known as a long-tail keyword. Keywords are also the terms and phrases people type into a site’s search bar.

A way to come up with keywords is to pretend you are a book shopper who doesn’t know your book exists. Ask yourself, what questions do your book answer? Should your book be the number one result on the page when a person types in the phrase ‘writing craft books’ or ‘stories of personal resilience?’ The phrases I have bolded are examples of long-tailed keywords.

Some keywords have more competition than others. This means that there are more authors attempting to get their book discovered using the same word or phrase. Longer keywords tend to have less competition than short words or phrases, which is another reason to use them. However, you don’t want your keyword to be so specific to your book that only one or two people are searching for it.

You can test keywords by entering them into a retail site’s search bar and paying attention to how many results the search returns. That said, I highly recommend a tool called PublisherRocket, which can help you analyze how competitive a keyword is while also providing you an estimate as to how many people are searching on a word or phrase.

Purchase an ISBN

If you are only publishing an ebook, then this last step isn’t as important. However, if you want brick and mortar stores (or libraries) to discover and order your book, you want your name (or publishing company) to be listed as the publisher of record—not KDP, which they view as a competitor. To do this, you will need to purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).

Why ISBNs Matter

ISBNs are the ID number that booksellers use to track sales of your book. The other reason purchasing an ISBN is a good idea is it allows you to set up your book with multiple printers and still be able to centralize reporting of your sales. If you do not own your own ISBNs then you will have to regularly review multiple sales reports and track your performance on a spreadsheet.

While you can use a single ISBN with multiple printers, be aware you have to have a separate ISBN for every print book format. That means that if you want to have a paperback and a hardback version of your book, you will have to purchase and use 2 ISBN numbers.

Where to Purchase ISBNs

You can purchase an ISBN from Amazon or IngramSpark, but this will cost you more than if you’d bought them directly from the source. In the US, the source for ISBNs is Bowker (www.myidentifiers.com). Canadians get these numbers for free. Lucky them.

You can buy a single ISBN or bulk ID numbers.  I take years to publish books because I keep getting distracted by other shiny objects, and yet I have yet to regret buying 10 ISBNs at the same time.

If you are starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the setup process, don’t be. As a self-publisher you can change your book’s description, cover, categories, and keywords at any time. You can even add or revise the subtitle. So, don’t lose sleep if you don’t get it right, right away.


However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

The Key Terms You Need to Know to Set up Your Print Book

This is the fourth post in my ongoing I Want to Self-Publish series and picks up on where I left off on print books and book printers.

The Key Terms You Need to Know to Set up Your Print Book - www.alliepottswrites.comIn most cases, ebook distributors allow you to upload a word doc file, which they will then convert into a file format that will work on a variety of reading devices. Sadly, book distributors are not nearly as accommodating when it comes to setting up your print book. As a result, you will be asked to supply two separate print-ready files.

Print-ready Files

In order to publish your book, almost every distribution platform requires you to supply one file for the interior of your book and one for your cover. They also prefer these files to be flattened and in PDF format. In addition, all images need to be at least 300dpi among a number of other rules, which is a whole other article. It’s fun. IngramSpark, however, has recently introduced a new tool that lets you build your book from within its website, saving you from this hassle.

Generating these files requires formatting. Luckily, there are a few ways to get this done. For example, several people in the writing community swear by a product called Vellum, which will magically transform your manuscript into a print-ready file complete with page numbers, margins, and headers while also balancing your text across the page so that there are no annoying hanging sentences or short pages. There are also a number of less-costly competitors, which have their pros and cons.

You can also create these print-ready files yourself as many of the major self-publishing book platforms (Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark, for example) offer downloadable templates. These templates can help ensure your words don’t get squeezed in the middle of an open book or otherwise run off the page. That said, while these templates can be used to format your book with a word processor like Word, I really don’t recommend using them with one.

However, before you can use a template or export a print-ready file from specialized writing software, you will need to determine what your book’s trim size will be.

Trim Size

Trim size is the printer’s way of saying, how big do you want the book to be in terms of length and width. Services like Vellum or Reedsy make it easy to create your book’s interior print-ready files, but only feature the ability to export or download your files for a limited number of trim sizes designed for trade-sized paperbacks. This does not mean that your book can’t be printed using a custom trim-size. It just will take a little more work on your end.

Books by Allie Potts - www.alliepottswrites.com
variety is good for the soul

For example, you may be tempted to pick a smaller book size like those that you find on the shelves of an airport gift shop (known as a mass-market paperback). You can absolutely do this—you may just have to do your own book formatting using a program like Adobe InDesign, Affinity Publisher, or hire a typeset designer.

I should note that as the publisher you are paying by the printed page so while a short, thick book is great for the ego, it’s not nearly as great for your profitability. That said, if a mass-market size is what your audience expects, then by all means, give it to them.

Also, keep in mind that Amazon’s expanded distribution program only supports a few trim sizes: 5″ x 8″, 5.25″ x 8″, 5.5″ x 8.5″, and 6″ x 9″. This means that if you do select a trim size that isn’t one of these 4 pre-approved sizes, you will need to set your book up with an alternative distributor to get your book into libraries or other non-amazon affiliates.

Paper Color

Thankfully, once you have your print-ready files, the hard part of the set-up process is pretty much over. The next thing you will need to specify is your paper color. In most cases, you will be given two choices: crème or white, however, some printers who also specialize in photobooks and yearbooks may also ask you to specify paperweight as well as color.

Generally speaking, crème is for fiction, white is for non-fiction.

Bleed vs No Bleed

This, like the term ‘widows and orphans,’ is another one of those phrases printers use that makes you wonder about the mental health of the pioneers in the industry. Bleed areas are important for books where an image is expected to line up exactly with the edge of the page. Bleeds are expected to be trimmed off, while allowing for some movement of the page during the assembly process.

No bleed, on the other hand, means your print-ready file does not include this specialized area, but often still includes a thin white margin around each edge. Home office printers typically print without a bleed.

Cover Finish

Lies & Legacy
A matte finish on my dystopian Science Fiction worked for me

Every book needs a cover (you will absolutely be judged by it). So the next thing you have to decide, when setting up your print book, is whether you want your cover to be glossy, which can make colors pop, or if you prefer the smooth, yet edgy appearance of a matte finish. You can make this decision entirely on personal preference, as there is no real rule of guidance here. However, it’s also not a bad idea to visit your favorite bookstore and see what cover finish is featured on the best sellers in your category.

And if you come home with a brand new stack of books to add to your to-read-pile, well, I suppose that’s the cost of market research.

Barcodes

Of course, you can’t sell your book in brick and mortar stores without a barcode. We’ll I suppose you could… it just wouldn’t be strictly legal. Your print-ready book cover may already have a barcode built into the design, depending on how you produced it, but both IngramSpark and Kindle Direct Publishing will place a barcode on your cover for you if requested, for no cost.

I point this out because I’ve seen some services offer to sell you a barcode. You absolutely should not spend money. If you’d prefer to add the barcode to your cover file yourself, a quick Google Search will point you in the direction of a number of free barcode generator service. However, before you can complete this step, you’ll need an ISBN, which is a topic for another day.


However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

I Want To Self-Publish – Now What?

I recognize that not all of my readers are also writers, nor are all my reader-writers considering the self-publishing path. However, for those that are, I thought I’d peel back the curtain, so to speak, and provide another glimpse at the wild and wonderful world that is taking control of your literary destiny. The next few articles are for you.

self-published: now what

So you’ve made the decision to self-publish. Congratulations! You, like me, are now in control of your book’s publication. Unfortunately, that was only the first of a number of decisions you still need to make before you will get to see your book on the shelf. So perhaps I should be offering my condolences instead.

You may have decided self-publishing is for you before you’ve finished writing your manuscript. If so, nice work! This means you are already thinking about how you want to go to market, which will only help you build your author platform well before your launch date.

That said, if you don’t have your manuscript ready it’s probably better if you simply bookmark these instructions for future reference as there is little that you can do with them until you have a completed (and preferably edited) manuscript. Bonus points if it is formatted too, but I digress.

Now, if you have your completed manuscript, fantastic! That’s an enormous accomplishment and I hope you took at least an evening to celebrate.

So now what?

From here, it is time to familiarize yourself with publishing terminology while answering a number of questions. This will, in turn, help you determine what your next steps are. Luckily there are no wrong answers—just some answers are more work or more costly than others.

Some of the most basic questions you need to answer for yourself are these:

What do I want to publish?

A book, sure. But let’s get more specific. Exactly what kind of book do you want to publish and what format do you want that book to take? There are three different formats you can choose for your book: Ebook, paperback, and hardback, although paperback and hardback are fairly similar. Each have their own audiences, benefits, and drawbacks.

How do I want to distribute my book?

Amazon, or simply the ‘Zon as it is called in some circles, pretty much owns the book market at this point. Therefore, your best chance of earning a living wage off your writing, and your writing alone, is to publish on their platform. However, you don’t have to have an exclusive relationship with them if you don’t want to. Some authors take advantage of their Kindle Select program for ebooks, which offers things like countdown deals and enrollment in Kindle Unlimited (their subscription reading program), while also publishing the print version of their books on other platforms. Others publish ebooks and print books alike on multiple publishing platforms.

Who do I want to list as the Publisher of Record?

If you are only publishing an ebook, then this question isn’t as important. However, if you want your own name or brand name to be listed as the publisher of record for a printed book, then you will need to purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for each version of your book before you publish. In other words, if you want to have a paperback and a hardback version of your book, you will need to have two ISBNs.

How do I want readers to find me?

ISBNs help booksellers keep track of which book sale belongs to which author, but if you want readers to find you, you will need to hone up on your SEO knowledge. SEO stands for search engine optimization and it is just as important for improving your search rank on retail sites as it is on Google or Bing.

How much do I want to charge for my book?

Some authors set their first book in a series at an extremely low price point, knowing it might cost more to advertise the book than they expect to make off the sale because they expect readers to buy the follow-up books in the series at full price. Others decided to charge full price for all of their books as they believe it shows the reader that the book is high-quality. The choice, like everything in self-publishing, is up to you.

If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry, I will be expanding on some of these topics so that by the end of this series, you’ll feel a little less apprehensive about the publishing process. It’s only as scary as you let it be – just don’t expect it to be easy. Otherwise, everyone would do it.


Other posts in this series include:

However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

5 Reasons Your Book Takes Forever (and a Day) to Launch

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — writing the book is the easy part. For the past several weeks I have been practically chained to my desk getting Lies & Legacy ready for its big debut. Why does it take so long to publish a book after announcing the manuscript is done? I’m glad you asked.

If you are going to market via the traditional, or in some cases, the small press route, this is because the publishing house only wants to release a certain number of books at any given time so as not to compete against themselves. It’s an understandable concern, but frustrating from both the reader’s and the author’s perspective who are eager to get their hands on the book.

If you are publishing independently, it’s because of the following reasons:

1. Title Setup Forms

To independently sell a book, in a bookshop or online, it needs to first be setup in a retailer’s database. This means there are forms. So many forms. You have to register your book’s ISBN, which is an identification number used in the US and other markets by booksellers to ensure that books with the same title or author name don’t get mixed up on orders.

Then there are retail setup forms that need to be to filled out. If you are feeling masochistic ambitious, you can set up your book on each of the retail platforms individually. WideWizard is a browser extension that can help speed up this process. However, a distributor like Draft2Digital (affiliate link) will do this for you (but some take a portion of your sales, so there’s that).

2. Author Proofs

If you’re only interested in publishing an ebook, you can skip this step. However, if you are like me and want an actual physical book to gaze at lovingly, place on display like a trophy for all the world to see, or simply read, there’s the proof stage.

Technically, you can approve a book on Amazon or IngramSpark without ever actually laying your hands on a physical page, but I don’t particularly recommend it. I’ve learned the hard way that gremlins delight in sneaking in last-minute typos — the type you can’t catch in electronic format, no matter how many times you run your manuscript through editing software.

Unfortunately, this means you have to wait for your book to be printed, bound, packaged, and shipped to your door before you can move on to the next step. That said, there is something magical about receiving that first proof copy — even if it is has a big banner on the cover making it clear the book is ‘not for resale’ or if it does contain more than a few errors.

3. Revisions

As I mentioned, there are gremlins in publishing. I’ve received proofs with my name cut off on the spine, page numbers missing, length too tall, and random blank pages inserted in the middle seemingly with no sense of rhyme or reason. Seriously, NEVER publish a book without requesting a physical proof.

This means your files will require a round of revision. You’ll have to update your files and make sure that this time you REALLY take the time to visually inspect each and every single page (all 300+ of them, in my case). I don’t care how sick you are of reading your own story. DO IT.

4. Buzz Building

Superfans are awesome. Superfans count down the minute to your launch. They add your launch date to their calendars in permanent ink and put in a request to take the day after your launch off of work if only so they can stay up all night reading. Unfortunately, most people aren’t superfans — no matter how much they say they love your work.

excerpt of Lies and LegacyYou have to build excitement while reminding people you have a book coming out. There are a number of ways to do this: post repeatedly on Facebook (but not too much or you can get yourself reported as spam. You can hop around other people’s blogs or post sneak previews on your own. (Psst – You can see an excerpt of Lies & Legacy on mine).

You can pay to get featured in a newsletter or negotiate a swap. You can also signup with a service like BookSweeps.com to be a part of a giveaway. Just note, you often have to schedule these at least six weeks in advance.

5. Reviews

While there’s no one way to launch a book, you’ll have the most success if you have reviews to go with it, as apparently few people (outside of the superfans) enjoy being the first to give your book a try. But it’s getting harder and harder every day to ensure your book has reviews when it is time to go live.

Amazon will flag reviews it deems as coming from a potentially biased connection. Sure, occasionally a real-life friend or acquaintance’s review will still get past Amazon’s quality checks, but I know of reviews being reduced to digital ether simply because the review came from an author’s Facebook page follower.

I’ve reached out to known book bloggers in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, offering an advance copy in the hopes they might provide an honest review. However, they are under no obligation to do so and there is always the risk Amazon won’t accept the review, which is why they also are free to post it when and wherever they want. It’s totally up to them.

This is why I have also started using BookSprout.co to handle my advance review requests. It takes me out of the equation. (It also has a sales report and keyword research tool if you are interested).

All I had to do was give them my ebook files and links where I’d like to see reviews posted. They take care of all the rest.

I worried about pirates the first time I used them, but the site seems to police itself. I also worried about the quality of the reviews, but all I’ve thus far received have been thoughtful and well-written.

By the way, if you want to give them a try as a reader, I should mention there are a handful of advanced review copies of Lies & Legacy still available.

T-minus next to only a few more days to go.

Lies & Legacy: Project Gene Assist Book 3 launches March 26, 2020

5 Free Alternatives to Vellum – The Ebook Conversion Edition

Vellum Alternatives for Ebook Conversion - www.alliepottswrites.com

While downloading ebooks to your reader is simple, getting them up on the cloud in the first place requires some work. I write my books using Word, however, just because you can import your manuscript’s formatted-for-print-ready Word document into Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

For example, you may want to include a table of contents in your ebook for easy navigation, but don’t want one in the print version, or you may want to include links in your ebook pointing readers directly to your other books, making purchasing faster. There are also other distributors besides Amazon that require a specific format for ebooks called epub. This leads me to the next step in the book publishing process – ebook conversion.

Vellum

Vellum offers formatting for print as well as ebook conversion. However, lacking a Mac or a bottomless checkbook, I’ve only been able to appreciate its service as a reader. I can tell it must be awesome to use though based on the number of books I’ve read featuring one of its telltale templates. Don’t get me wrong – it creates highly readable ebooks. I’ve just seen enough of the same decorative flourishes to recognize a Vellum ebook as soon as a chapter opens.

  • Pro: Super easy to use
  • Con: Costly at $199.99, it’s not available for non-Mac users (unless you go through a third-party service like MacinCloud), and your book looks like dozens of others making it more difficult for your author brand to stand out from the crowd.

Smashwords

Smashwords is an ebook conversion service and distribution channel. It is also one of the most difficult ebook conversion tools I’ve ever used. This is because Smashwords distributes your book to channels like Apple books, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble for you, and those channels may have slightly different requirements for an ebook’s file’s layout. Therefore, Smashwords is VERY particular about how your manuscript is formatted prior to releasing it to partner sites and works best with Word files. Fail their checks during the process they call “the Meatgrinder” and your book goes nowhere.

  • Pro: Converts to all major ebook formats including mobi, epub, and pdf for free
  • Con: I am serious when I say this service is NOT recommended for people who don’t know how to use Word styles or are unwilling to read through an entire book of “style guides” prior to attempting to convert their file. There is a reason you can find people to hire on Fiverr to get your file ready for you. Also, once your book passes inspection, it is put up for sale without going through a secondary preview approval step. This means there is a risk your book could be published with typos or with a missing chapter as long as stylistically it fit within the Smashwords Style Guides.

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital (affiliate link) is like Smashwords in that it is a distributor that also offers ebook conversion. However, it is much, much simpler to use. Upload your word doc, select a template, and then add in things like your social media links, mailing list link, or author page, and Draft2Digital spits out a book file you can either take and distribute through other channels yourself or distribute through them for a portion of future book sales.

  • Pro: It is fast, simple, and lets you download mobi, epub, and sample length versions of your ebook for free – even if you don’t distribute with them.
  • Con: Draft2Digital does not allow you to edit your file once it has been uploaded. Therefore, if you see a typo or a weird chapter heading, you have to go back to your original document, correct the error on the word doc and upload again.

Kindle Create

Kindle Create is still in its infancy, in software terms, and therefore is somewhat limited in what it can do compared to some of the other ebook conversion programs out there. For example, there are only a handful of templates to choose from and it only exports a special non-mobi kindle-ready format. It also requires you to download the software rather than work online. However, it’s another free option that produces nice, clean ebook files, and unlike Draft2Digital, gives you the ability to tweak chapter headings or resize images without leaving the user interface.

  • Pro: It’s even easier to use than Draft2Digital, includes a kindle previewer tool that lets you see how your book will look on multiple device sizes, and free!
  • Con: It doesn’t export to epub or mobi file, which limits your ability to use it to create advance copies of your ebook that can be sent via email or service like ProlificWorks, Bookfunnel, or via email to early reviewers.

Reedsy

When you format a book with Reedsy (affiliate link) you have the option to either have them email you a print-ready file or send you an epub or mobi file you can then take to the ebook distributor of your choice. Like Kindle Create, you can edit your ebook’s appearance in the user interface, which is great, but its editing capability is limited compared to Kindle Create. For example, while you can correct a typo in your text without re-uploading, you can’t resize an image. I also had a very difficult time getting the program to properly format my character point of view sub-headings without messing up drop caps.

  • Pro: The ability to edit your book without leaving the user interface is a big plus over Draft2Digital the fact you can download in both epub and mobi is a great benefit compared to Kindle Create
  • Con: Reedsy does not allow you to select chapter-specific settings. For example, if you say you want to feature drop caps at the beginning of each chapter, the program inserts drop caps in every chapter—even in the glossary at the end, which can be distracting to the reader. Downloads aren’t as instantaneous as the other options either. You have to wait for an email and can only request a download every ten minutes. There are also only three templates to choose from.

Calibre and Sigil

While you can technically use either of these programs by themselves, they really work best together. Calibre has the ability to take a Word Doc (saved as HTML) and turn it into epub or mobi file using the headers, fonts, or other decorative touches you specify. This makes layouts more flexible, and gives your books a more custom look than what you can do with the other programs.

Sigil is more of clean-up tool than a conversion program. You can import an epub file you created with Calibre or with any of the programs above (except Kindle Create as it doesn’t offer epub), then tweak it until it looks the way you want, giving you the ability to customize the files generated by other programs. It makes fixing those pesky typos that somehow managed to sneak past your edit process super fast once you get the hang of it, but until then…

To be clear, neither of these programs are for the technologically challenged, and both require some comfort with programming. Personally, I love Sigil now, but it was a hard-won love.

  • Pro: This combination gives you the greatest range of customization for your ebook’s appearance and both programs are free to us
  • Con: Both programs have a rather steep learning curve and may cause a person to shake their fist in the air, sob into the phone while wondering what they ever did to deserve such agony, or be driven to drink.

I am sure there are other programs out there, but these are the ones I’ve used the most. Now, one step done, one million other little things left to go.


Rocky Row Novels - www.alliepottswrites.com
An Uncertain Confidence: Now available