Monday, April 14, 2014

3D Book Covers for Indie Authors?

  As I surf around the web, I notice plenty of new and daring ideas out there that authors are employing to sell their Ebooks. Some ideas are astoundingly simple. Others can be a little out there - like creating social media profiles for fictional characters so they can interact with fans. But I'm a little curious about how the authors can track some of these ideas directly to sales in any quantitative sense. It seems to me that no matter what fabulous contrivance authors come up with, Ebook success usually just comes down to the basics. The well written book with a spectacular cover, an economical price and numerous favorable reviews (hundreds or more) often translate into Ebook success. Of course regular marketing is necessary but the rest - all that weird and creative exposure -  is kind of just icing.

Still, it's all those Ebook success stories that make me wonder about how indie authors could tackle the paperback and hardcover market as well. Pricing isn't quite as flexible as it is with Ebooks. Also, just getting hard copies into stores is an enormous challenge and requires legwork. So what can the indie do? Maybe a fantastic  and unique cover will be one of the strongest tools the indie has working in their favor. It makes me curious. What new and possibly risky things can the indie author really do to a cover in order to push their paperbacks and hardcovers into the limelight? Have you seen how incredible the book covers are in bookstores these days?

I was thinking about the book cover angle when I came across this site It's an article about a comic book that utilized 3D printing to produce a cover. I immediately thought... Aha! 3D printing. As indie authors, we're already DIYers. Makers. Crafters Creators. Just like with the print on demand revolution for books, general manufacturing as an industry is about to be turned inside out with the new availability of 3D printing. Sites like Shapeways, Thinglab and i.materialize print and ship your 3D design to you. In a variety of materials no less. Even many libraries have 3D printers available to the public. Now it's extremely unlikely that an indie could easily 3D print out a cover like the one on the comic book linked above (although it is a rather spectacular cover). But here's an example of a cover that fits over the paper book  Worth trying? Definitely. Or how about just designing a 3D plastic 'box' for your indie series boxed set? Have a look around the internet and see what can be accomplished. Maybe you only ever make one or two of the covers for special giveaway contests?

If you are an indie author and you give one of these crazy ideas a try, please let me know. I'd love to post an image of your 3D book cover here. And if you have any other crazy ideas that have helped you as an indie author and would like to share them here, please comment below. Gimmicky or innovative, it's your choice. I'd love to hear from you.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Use the wrong program. It's the right idea.

Almost every kind of software we need, no matter how pricey, seems to have some form of free alternative out there in internet land. And even if it doesn't, there always seems to be some other program that can be adapted to getting the job done. At least it seems that way to me.

Recently, I read a blog post about how to use PowerPoint to make an eBook cover. That may not sound terribly exciting in itself. Okay, I'll admit it's not. It's really just the idea of presentation software that's been commandeered for a different purpose that grabbed me. I can't help myself, I guess. I love finding 'free' stuff that can be used for just about any purpose your imagination can come up with. And even if your version of PowerPoint wasn't free, there are at least tens of presentation software products out there that are either completely free, free to try or free to use with certain limitations.

So by now you've probably guessed that in this post I'm going to focus on using (or misusing) free presentation ware and other unsuitable programs to create whatever it is you need to push your book into the limelight. Whether it's for making eBook covers or some other book promo material, there are all kinds of free software options out there to help you along. Here are some software options I've found on the web that are easy to use, free (in some capacity) and can be adapted to make the kind of book promos you want like an animated sample chapter, a mini book trailer, animated character images or whatever you think up:

It's free for non commercial use - so no book covers, but check out
the free trials for Animation-ish and Toon Boom Studio on the page.
Best use is for any 'video' type promos.

Same thing - free download, and you can freely distribute it but it has
 a watermark. You can pay to use it commercially ( watermark free).
Best use is for any 'video' type promos. 

Also free with a watermark. Paid accounts have more content and
no watermark. Just for fun I tried my hand at this one for a book
Best use is for any 'video' type promos or maybe an animated
author profile? 

Sparkol VideoScribe (
Unique video creation presentation ware that 'draws' out your ideas.
Seriously, it's an interesting one worth checking out. Probably best 
for descriptive novels, fantasies, graphic novels... you be the judge.

Presentation ware that works like a slide show. Interesting and it
will engage the reader by forcing them to move it along. Adaptable
if you have the imagination to work around templates.

How about a little 3D modelling to make your awesome 2D images when
 your inner artist is fast asleep? Easy, free and these two work in your Firefox
or Chrome browser (so there are no downloads). You might have to do 
a hack with your browser to get the WebGL to work though. (see this
It worked for me but I'm not suggesting you try it without reading all the
details. You can easily make cute 2D images for book covers from these 
for free. However, your newly created images become Creative Commons.

Smartdraw , Edraw
Charts, floorplans and maps. Free to try software. Could be useful depending
on the type of book you're going to promote. Non fiction? Adventure? Mystery?

In my last post here I tried out something similar to that book cover creation I mentioned above (way above). I used a new(ish) presentation maker, PowToon, to create a book review. It was fun, quick to do and the end result was something I hadn't seen before. Of course, that doesn't make it an original thing. It just makes it something that I couldn't find - i.e. a similar animated style book review - with a reasonable amount of searching on the web. But I will say that it felt like I'd created something unique. Plus, the video got a whole sixteen views, probably way more views than my book review blog gets! (But just watch, next week there will probably be all kinds of animated book reviews all over Youtube to prove me wrong about thinking my animated book review was ever original).

The point I want to make here is that if it's free, give it a try. And don't be afraid to be the first one on the block to do something new with all the wrong tools.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fun New Tool for Authors and Bloggers

For authors, bloggers and book reviewers: a new awesome tool. It's free, but you can also upgrade to pay plans. What is it?

It's Powtoon, a professional, animated presentation software. It's in the cloud, so you don't have to download or buy any messy animation programs that may or may not work on your computer or device. Watch the example below. It's an experimental book review geared towards young adult readers. They're a huge and book hungry audience, so this was a good first experiment. And in a world where graphic novels have taken off, this could be an advantageous way to get your reader's attention.

Yes this is only a book review, but think of the applications. A book trailer? A sample chapter? An ad for you blog or website? Check out Powtoon, or the video above and let me know what you think. In the meantime, I'll be playing with more free software and trying to find the next best gimicky tool for indie authors.

(Here's another one I'm working on... only this time I'm trying out emaze. I can't find the sound for it. )

Monday, July 2, 2012

Gimmicky Books and Indie Success

Book gimmicks have been around a long time. Possibly as long as books have. Snarl if you want, but really, what is a book gimmick? You could argue that just about anything making a book more than text alone is a gimmick. After all, what are comic books and graphic novels? Maps and illustrations? Pop up covers? The inclusion of puzzles the reader has to solve before moving on in the story? These are just a few examples of gimmicks that have helped sell books for many years.

More recently, we've seen books that spill over onto the web with additional content that accompanies the story. We've got digitally interactive books, enhanced e-books and my personal favorite, customized novels (I only add this last one because that's what I do - and yes, it's a gimmick).

You might wonder what any of these gimmicks have to do with indie writers. It's a fair question. After all, gimmicky books are risky. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. So what good is gimmicky to an indie? It's not like all indies have sacs of money lying around to invest in making their books gimmicky. They wouldn't need those gimmicks helping to sell their books if they had those sacs of money in the first place.

My answer is that with more and more of us indies out there, we need something to give us an edge. How many times have you heard "If you want to be successful as an indie, write a really good book?" Sure. Great advice. But that won't give you an edge over anything traditionally published. Even a lot of great honest reviews might not help - because as an indie you can really only do so much without money. And it doesn't matter how good your book is if nobody likes it. Books are subjective. Always have been.

Now if you, as an indie, were looking for some kind of gimmick to help sell your book, what would it be? It has to be cheap or free to make. That's a given.

About a month ago, I came across an article about video books that were a kind of a failed experiment put out there by one of the major publishing companies (I think it was Harper Collins). From what I understand, it failed big time. This might have been because of the changes in technology for enhanced e-books or because of the prohibitive cost of the video books (kind like the prohibitive cost of most traditionally published e-books). It got me thinking. Instead of trying to make enhanced e-books, why couldn't indies try the video book format? It would be far easier for an indie to make one - there's enough free software out there to help you do it and it would require far less technical knowledge. Of course the average novel would have to be broken up to make it readable/watchable. Maybe each video could be only a chapter in length?

I can't say that a video book would be all that quick or easy to make, but it could be done for free. And there are so many devices that can play the videos. It just might be the gimmick to give indies an edge.

Video books by Harper Collins

See the article above about Harper Collins' video books. It's interesting but what I'm really thinking of for a video book is a little different. I imagine a video book to look a little like the old Windows MovieMaker productions. You know - The story text appearing over a background video (or image). Page turning. An audio track that could read the words, have background music, sound effects etc. - but is mutable and can be paused because it's a video. It could be a digest version of your book or the whole thing broken up into many videos.

What do you think? A go or a no? As an indie, I'm up for the challenge if you are. I'd love to read your comments on this.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wow - Practical Enhanced Ebooks Are Still A Challenge

Well, I'm finally back. And without any new information to boot. As far as Ive looked, there still isn't any easy way, or practical way to make enhanced e-books yet. So I'm dropping it for now - at least until there's an e-reader app for a PC that can display the audio video/enhanced e-books.

If you're an Indie Author, it seems that  the fastest and easiest ways to come up with enhanced e-books are still Apple iBooks or Vook books. Then you're stuck having to test them out on your device - something with an iOS (iPads etc.), Android or Nook. Kindles and PCs just aren't ready.

Both appear to be fairly straightforward to make your audio/video enhanced e-books - just so long as you have the device to test them on. We'll just have to wait a little longer to make sample epub3s that everyone can see. iBooks Author is free for making your enhanced book but Vook starts at 9.99 a month to use (although you get to keep 100% of the royalties from the enhanced e-books you sell).

So here are the links:

Now that I've decided to shelf the topic for now, we can move on to other gimmicky things that could help us sell our books.. Have a great week everyone!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Getting Started Making Enhanced Ebooks (1) Basic Tools

Without giving too much of a recap - the epub3 is one of the options a newbie can use to make an enhanced e-book. And a very labour intensive option it is. In fact, it is probably way too much for a single author to publish on their own - even if they are an IT specialist. It's a lot of work. However, shorter children's books or novellas might be do-able. And if it's kept fairly simple - with sound effects, some video and voice added - it might still be possible to make a novel.

This is the most basic place to start. Getting audio tracks for your e-book made.  You can begin here if you want to make something better than just sticking with the read aloud feature available on your new high tech e-reader, phone or tablet. Even if you don't have the expensive fancy software to pull it all together - at least you can get started.

Try following the instructions for making a podcast/podiobook.  It is an older way to go about it - but it's very well spelled out for complete beginners. Beware: it's a huge amount of work. There is a lot of information in the link below. Run through it all first and wait for the panic to subside. It walks you through making an audio track in 12 detailed and time consuming steps, but you're probably only going to use the first six for making a track (i.e. many, many tracks) for your book. You'll probably need some variation of the remaining steps later if you want to have a sample to share (for marketing and promotion).

Programs you'll need for creating an audio track:
Audacity (freeware)
Levelator (sound level editor also free)

Sound effects (cheap) and creative commons music:

For audio: mp3, mp4, and  AAC LC files are listed in the specification for epub3. (See the full file spec. here - images, text, application types -

NOTE: There is an upcoming NISO webinar on the epub3 specifications and metadata. It is pricey and technical but if you're up for it - register by March 14. Link here:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Series of Posts Ahead - Making Enhanced E-Books

Now that I've finished with the Newbie Author post series, I'll be taking a short break. This just to organize my thoughts for my next set of posts that will look into the epub3 and enhanced ebooks formatting in more detail. I touched the surface of this formatting option a month ago (my Newbie Author Getting Started post 2) but I think it's time to take another look. So what I'm planning is a little experimentation, a little bit of creating an epub3 and other enhanced ebook formats (if it's even possible via open source software).

Where to begin? I'll start with taking a look at programs for the do it yourselfer with no experience. Yes that's me too. So really, this upcoming series of posts might be a little slow to get going - there's a lot to tackle. But I'm planning to start with the basics - making the audio, video, animation tracks that we just might want in our enhanced books. Where and how to do it for free. The tougher stuff -like pulling it all together and mastering HTML5 (really? mastering? hah- joking) will follow. So if anyone out there has an interest in making their own enhanced book - I hope you are interested in followig along here, and maybe sharing your own comments or experiments.

Starting next week, I'll try to ensure I update every week. Until then - good luck everyone and you might be interested in a very informative post on making enhanced ebooks as KF8 (Kindle format) and epub3 (website in a box) files.  It's WGB (World's Greatest Book) -a blog by an author, designer and educator.