Making It Easy For Readers: Links In Ebooks

Does it bother you when authors ask for a review? It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. As long as the request is pleasant and upbeat, (no whining!) it serves as a nice reminder. I recently did a job for a writer who included a review request in the back matter (pleasant and upbeat), and then kicked it up a notch by making it very easy for readers.

SRzombiesHe did it in a way that made me slap my forehead and wonder why I hadn’t thought of it first! He published his book on Amazon, then as soon as he had live links, I updated the file with the links and he updated the book at Amazon. He included not just the link to the listing at Amazon, but to Amazon.uk and Amazon.ca, too.

So now, when a reader is basking in reader ‘afterglow’ the link is right there. If the reader happens to be in Canada or the United Kingdom, they have a direct link, too.

But, Jaye, you say, Amazon already offers links to write a review when the book is finished. Plus, Amazon sends emails to remind you to review.

This is true. IF the reader has a Kindle. What if they are using an app or reading it on their phone or computer or magic toaster? I don’t know if all the reminders and such show up then. And the reminder emails from Amazon are a bit random and come whenever. So.

Here’s my philosophy on review and sell links in ebooks: They don’t hurt.

Anything that makes it easier for readers to find your books is a good thing. (As a reader, if I really enjoy a book, I have a tendency to immediately hop over to Amazon and One-Click my way through the author’s other offerings. Can’t let that TBR pile get too low, you know?)

So, on Amazon, which makes updating a listing so very easy and painless, if you include a direct request for readers to review your book, make it easy for them to do so by providing live links.

Writers, Promotion and Blogs

I don’t normally discuss promotion and marketing. Partly because I’m not terribly interested, but mostly because I think intense focus on marketing and promotion can be dangerous for some writers, stripping away their self-confidence and interfering with their ability to write.

All things in moderation, right folks?

That said, I’m going to talk about promotion anyway, because I’ve been involved in a most interesting project these past few weeks. Writer Katherine O’Neal is self-publishing her back list. Up until now she hasn’t had much of an internet presence. I’m helping her establish one. We all know, to push ebooks, some promotion is necessary. How much? And exactly what? Well, those truly are the questions, aren’t they? Katherine and I have been having lots of discussions on the subject, and I think some points we’ve brought up are worthy of discussion with you.

But first, a bit of promotion. For those who don’t know, the lovely Plunder Bunny is my partner in book production. I handle the digital side, she does the print layout. She’s also an artist with digital graphics. Check this out…

background2So if any of you need a little magic with a lot of color, you can contact PB.

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

Blogs. What I’ve mostly been doing is helping Katherine set up a blog (and no, do not contact me for help in setting up a blog–this is a one-shot thing and I’m only doing it because Katherine and I are having a blast, like a couple of kids in a sandbox dazzling each other with our creations. It’s still under construction, but you can take a peek if you want.). Why a blog?

That is the most important question of all. I think far too many writers have unrealistic expectations about what a blog or website can do for them. They think, I’ll put up a blog and people will come and I’m all set promotion wise. I also see a lot–a lot!–of writer blogs that all do the same thing. Writers blog about their writing, but make zero effort to offer value to readers, so it’s just blah blah my writing blah blah more about my writing and ME ME ME, and that’s boring as hell. The only difference between them and a bore who corners a victim at a party is that in the case of the blogs, escape is just a mouse click away.

Nobody visits a blog, or subscribes, because they have to. They do so because a) It’s entertaining; b) It’s informative; or c) It’s educational. Sometimes it’s all three. Truly successful blogs have a theme, a focus, and a reason for existence beyond the fact that the writer wants to sell books. There’s a lot–a lot!–of competition for eyeballs, too. Millions of blogs. Ask yourself, how many do you subscribe to? How many do you regularly visit? How many satisfy some personal need of yours? I bet the number is fairly low.

I think writers need to dig a little deeper than merely deciding if they want to be entertaining, informative and/or educational. Some soul-searching and self-honesty are essential.

  • Blogs take time and energy. How much time and energy are you willing to take away from your writing?
  • Blogs require maintenance. Writing one post and then sitting back to await a flood of visitors will not work. Establish a schedule up front. Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Readers get used to a pattern. Your blog could be one of their habits if you post on a regular schedule.
  • How much interaction do you want? How much can you stand? It’s work keeping up with the comments. You have to know your own comfort levels. A blog is a public thing, which makes you a public figure. Fans are a delight, but they can also be demanding, or even dangerous.
  • How public do you want to be? I think some writer-bloggers get themselves into trouble when they get too personal and reveal too much of themselves. Words have consequences, and it’s easy to forget that the internet makes words last forever. Set your boundaries and establish lines you will not cross. There are those who thrive on controversy, those who are comfortable walking around in their underwear in public, so to speak. If you’re not one of them, be careful.
  • Finally, the most important question of all: Do you want to blog? A blog is only one avenue of book promotion. Don’t feel compelled just because everybody else is. I’m a big proponent of “Try it, you might like it,” but if you do try and find you hate it, for Pete’s sake, stop. It’s not worth the anxiety and resentment you’ll end up feeling.

What about the rest of you? Do ever do any soul searching about your blogging? Any important questions you asked yourself?

 

Making Your Own ARC (advance reading copy)

Confession time: I suck at self-promotion.

Even sticking those book covers on my own blog makes me feel weird. Buy my book? (my neuroses are screaming!)

I’m not anti-self-promotion. In fact, in the last six months or so I’d say that just about every one of the books I’ve purchased has been a result of the self-promotional efforts of others. And if I read a book I really like, I will tweet it, talk about it, shove it into peoples’ hands. But talk about my own writing? Ah geez, let’s not go there…

Here is what I am good at. Somebody sez, “Hey, Jaye, do you think you can…?” If the idea intrigues me, I will figure out how to do it. (Then I won’t shut up about it. Heh.)

I just finished building an ARC for Lawrence Block’s soon-to-be released Hit Me, a Keller novel. I’d never made an ARC before, but I’m quite familiar with them. Back in the Dark Ages (the 1990s) I called them “green books.” Publishers would wrap galley proofs in plain covers (often institutional green and stamped NOT FOR RESALE) and send them out to reviewers and anyone else who might help promote the book. I have no idea how many publishers provide actual bound, printed ARCs these days. It’s very expensive. Even if an indie publisher is using print-on-demand, the cost of mailing out printed copies could eat up all the profits. The thing is, ARCs work. The big publishers knew it back in the old days and indie publishers know it now. So I’m not telling anybody anything new when I claim ARCs are a valuable tool.

What may be new is that some of you might not realize that you can make your own professional-looking, easily accessible ARCs. It doesn’t have to cost you anything except time and paying attention to details.

Professional looking is important. Very important. The reviewers on your list get a lot of submissions and have to pick and choose which books to read and review. That decision might come down to picking a book based on presentation. Yours might be the next Great American Novel, but if it looks amateurish or painful-on-the-eyes to read it might be passed over.

Also important is accessibility. The biggest trouble with any kind of electronic submission is you’re never quite sure what kind of device your writing will be read on. A Kindle, Nook, iPad, smart phone, tablet, computer–what? I suppose you could send an email to your list and ask people what their preferred reading format/platform is and then customize your submissions. Or send a .doc or .docx file and hope for the best.

Or make it very easy on yourself and your intended readers by creating a pdf file. For those who don’t know, the acronym stands for “Portable Document Format.” The keyword here is “Portable.” Even if you’ve never made a pdf file, I know you’ve read them. You’ve probably read them on not just your computer, but on your ereader, smart phone, iPad, tablet or magic toaster oven. What you may not know is that many word processing/desktop publishing programs can generate a pdf file. If your particular word processor doesn’t have that capability, you can use Adobe Acrobat Reader (free download) to generate a pdf. The true beauty of the pdf is that every reviewer on your emailing list will be able to access and read your file.

Here’s how the ARC looks when I ran it through MobiPocket and downloaded it onto my Kindle:

Looks nice, eh?

I used Scrivener to build and generate the pdf file for this ARC. Scrivener is NOT a desktop publishing program, so it’s not the first choice if one were laying out a for-print book. It does, however, make excellent pdf files and is user-friendly.

Some tips for making your ARC:

  • Clean Source File. I keep hammering home the necessity of creating clean source files. If you have a clean source file, all you need to do is copy it and paste it into the program of choice and you are ready to format.
  • Turn on the “show hidden characters” feature. You want to track what you are doing so as to maintain consistency throughout. (In many programs the “Show” feature is usually in the main menu bar and is indicated by an icon with a pilcrow–paragraph mark. If you are using Scrivener, go to FORMAT >OPTIONS >SHOW INVISIBLES)
  • Wide margins, large font. Your goal is not to be all fancy-pants, it’s to make your ARC attractive and easy to read. Since paper-printing costs aren’t part of the equation, take advantage of it. Don’t annoy reviewers with a teeny-tiny font and pinstripe margins.
  • Use “printer’s” punctuation. Make sure you use proper em and en dashes, joined ellipses, right and left single and double quote marks (as opposed to straight quotes), and special characters with grave and acute marks or umlauts as necessary. This detail alone will elevate your ARC above the crowd.

That’s pretty much it. Pay attention to details and put in the time, and you’ve just made one of the best promotional tools any writer can ask for.