Being an independent author means that you have just entered the world of small business. As a small business owner, you have to think about things most authors don't like to think about such as marketing, formatting and design.
Writers like to write. We don't want to fiddle with that other stuff. But to succeed in the publishing world today means that you must first write the book and then consider it a product you are presenting to the public. And like any production, manufacturing, packaging and advertising need to work together to achieve success in sales.
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It may take some trial and error—after all, you're new at this—but that's okay. The beauty of being your own boss is that you control what you put out there. And the beauty of self-publishing is that you can tweak your product as necessary until you get it right.
Of course, you really want to get it right the first time, which is what this piece is about. I've outlined some common mistakes below that indie authors make (some of which I am also guilty) so that you can avoid them.
The first book I self-published went through an agent, an editor and a publisher. I myself proof-read it for the umpteenth time before I uploaded it. It should have been completely polished, right? Wrong.
A reader pointed out a few typos to me and I was grateful. She graciously told me precisely where they were in the text and I got busy correcting those. I unpublished, sent it to a friend of mine for another proof and then re-uploaded the clean version.
If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that you can never have too many eyes go over a text. And spell-check doesn't catch everything. For my second book, I had five beta readers, plus an editor (Leslie Gay) and a proofreader. Some were friends, some were already readers of mine, some I found on message boards. Not only do beta readers point out errors your tired eyes will gloss over, but they are important for weighing clarity, consistency, pacing, timing and credibility. Don't trust it's perfect because your mom said so. Send that baby out to as many people as you can bother.
I can honestly say that designing books for e-publication is about as fun as counting blades of grass. It's tedious, time-consuming work that makes my eyes bleed. But it's necessary. Trust me when I say that if your books aren't designed properly with paragraph breaks, indentations and the like, readers will stop reading. Since I first published, it's gotten easier to format your books and Smashwords, Amazon and B&N have improved their programs to better suit Word files. There are also applications that do a terrific job like Calibre, but you still may want to go the old fashioned route of stripping out all those formatting quirks that Word imbeds in your file. I use Guido Henkel's guidelines.
After you're certain it looks perfect, check it once more on an e-reader or an e-reader app.
I am not an artist. My favorite piece of 'art' in my house is a picture of dogs playing poker. However, I am an avid reader and I know that eye-catching covers sell books.
My first attempt at a cover was pretty awful. It was too dark and the characters too fuzzy to make out in a thumbnail. It also didn't really define the theme, which is a comedic, paranormal mystery. My cover now (left) is a lot easier to read and better reflects the tone of the story.
After playing around with cover art, I came to love this part of the process. It's still creative, like writing, but it's also fun to match images to your story. What I did was look at a lot of covers both on my own bookshelves and online within the genre I was writing. What do the fonts look like? The colors? The setting? Should I use a tagline? Then I hunted for quirky images to match the quirky characters in my books via a stock photo site. You can certainly hire your own designer, which a lot of indie writers do, but do your homework. Search message boards for a designer that can match your particular style. For instance, some draw great fantasy covers like Phatpuppy Art.
On Amazon, this falls under 'description'. On a physical book, it's called jacket copy. This is the teaser where you boil 300 pages down to two paragraphs. It's not easy, but if you've ever written a query letter, chances are you've already written the copy for your book. It takes loads of practice and lots of studying other book copy, but it's not impossible. Your teaser should be captivating, without giving too much of the book away. It should entice the reader to click and buy the minute they've read it. It's what you'll use to request bloggers to read it, on your website, in advertising and more.
In other words, it's important. You'll want to hound your friends and other writers once again to get this right.
One Final Note
Should you choose to outsource things like proofreaders, editors, cover artists, developmental editors or web designers, always, always check their portfolios, references and professional presence to make sure you're hiring the right person for the job.
Follow these simple steps and when you click "publish" the first time, readers won't be disappointed.
Barbra Annino is a native of Chicago, a book junkie and a Springsteen addict. She’s worked as a bartender and humor columnist, and currently lives in picturesque Galena, Illinois, where she ran a bed-and-breakfast for five years. She now writes fiction full-time—when she’s not walking her three Great Danes. Visit her at http://www.barbraannino.com/