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.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Indie Author Newbies Final: Promoting Your Book and Getting Discovered

Super short-ish post ahead! Why so short if this is one of the most important stages you ask? The answer is simple. I've only just arrived here myself after months of shopping around, testing the waters and procrastinating at all of the previous steps (newbie author insecurity can be such a handicap!).

Well, at least you're finally here. You're ready for oodles of information on promoting and getting discovered... but you aren't sure where to go first. In spite of all the great info to be had at these awesome resources (Novel Publicity, World Literary Cafe and the Indie Book Collective), I'm going basic. I'm just going to suggest that you start at the place you buy books (or are most influenced to buy books). If you're a new writer you are probably also a reader (or you should be). So where do you get the books you like to read? Where do you hear about them first? If it's on a famous best seller list (example NYT best sellers), you'll probably have to scale your sights down - at least for now.

Do you get book reading suggestions from your friends? From Goodreads or a similar book club group?
Then you should make yourself known at those places. Ask a friend to read your book, suggest it to other friends and list it at their book club. Make sure you're on Goodreads as an author and link your blog. Make lots of new friends.

Think about the bookstores you buy at - and how do you choose your books? If it's Amazon - you're in luck. Amazon is easy. You make your author page. When you buy books there - what sells them to you? Reviews? Price? Free? So make sure you get your book reviews posted there. Do you only buy cheap books?  Stick your book somewhere in that price range. Free books? If you're on the Kindle Select - you can make your book free for a while.

If you don't buy from Amazon - say it's Smashwords or Barnes and Noble - or other online e-book retailers - it's still the same thing. Get reviews of your books posted there.

Do you get books from the library? Offer them a copy of yours. If you've got your own ISBN and you formatted your own .epub or .mobi file -  it's far more likely your book will get accepted and then loaned out if you give it to the library for free. If you only went through something like Smashwords, B&N or Amazon - see if you can gift them a copy. There are rules to be followed for book donations and e-book lending is relatively new for libraries (not all are equipped for e-book lending but some are).  Libraries aren't all the same - you'll have to check out your own local library to see how it's done. Just make sure your e-book is filled is filled with links to your other books, your website, and all your other social platform author pages.

I've added very little information here. Like I said - it's just the basics. There's a lot more out there - and again - I strongly suggest the author support groups I've listed all along in these posts. They have tonnes of tips. The only thing I'm a little reluctant to push are all the social platform promotions suggested - the tweeting, the Facebook, the blogs. Do you really pick up the books you want to read there? Other than Karma building - I have to say honestly that those are not the places I look for books. Although the blog hops/tours and e-book love fests out there are great for promotion and getting discovered - but who wants to only give away books for free?

I'd really like to know what everyone out there thinks... so feel free to leave a comment. What do you think? Where do you buy your books?
(Oops this wasn't all that short-ish a post after all - sorry!)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Indie Author Newbies Part 3: Reviews and What to Do With Your Novel

This is a really short post and it's mostly just links. This is because there are plenty of people out there already telling you how to get reviews. It's still a challenge and there are a couple of ways to go.

Say you did everything wrong from the start (just like I did). You wrote a book, did your edits and formatting on your own, asked people you knew for feedback but... Now you're stuck. You don't have a group of authors to help you with critiquing. You don't have enough objective eyes for your work and you're a bit too scared to approach a book blogger when you really don't feel that confident. Here are some options:

1) Join an author group now. The ones I've mentioned in earlier posts. See
WorldLiterary Cafe (Used to be WoMen's Literary Cafe)
Novel Publicity

If you're confident you're ready to get reviews - you can get started here -
Goodreads (join group discussion, many groups have a thread on reading and reviewing)
IBC Reviewers and Reviews only

2) Pay for a cheap review. Not really recommended, but still an option.

If you've already self published and really not confident, you can:
a) backtrack and unpublish your book, then republish when ready - after you've found the cheap reviewers and they've given you the dish (NOT recommended - it's a big pain).
b) leave your book published where it is (chances are no one will read it) and update it with a new edition when you've made all your necessary changes (after you've found your reviewers).
I suggest option b). That way you're giving a reviewer something that looks finished. Formatting problems can get discovered at this stage as well.

3) Go ahead and write the next book and build your review/critique group as you do it. Get your two books reviewed at the same time.
There are several author communities that allow you to build an author group. They're online writing sites where you post your writings and comment on other author writings. You will pick up a few readers here too. It's an interesting way to build a following and can help you when it comes to getting reviews later. You do have to reciprocate (it's Karma). Also - some of the sites will affect your publishing options when the time comes. So read the fine print. Here are some examples:
I'm adding Goodreads as well - loads of readers, places for writers to post their work (excerpts etc.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Indie Author Newbies Part 2: Editing

Everyone needs an editor. Everyone. Even if you've penned perfection, somebody somewhere will point out a flaw. It might seem perfection to the author - but the author isn't the only one buying their own books (hopefully!). So where can an indie find an editor? What if the indie is flat broke and can't afford one?

Here are some places to start:
the Indie Book Collective - (IBC). Find them on Goodreads and Twitter. They have lists.
Also - they've put out this book for $0.99 - seriously good information on editing. Get it here:

In my own searching I have come across several editing services. I can't tell you the best, but these ones look promising and their pricing very reasonable.They stood out in my mind:

Getting a professional editor is a great option, you think, but you're an indie. You want to hire a professional editor but... you don’t have a lot of cash. Your friends and family are great support but not really very helpful. They aren't editors and they probably love you. But you really need that second set of eyes (or ten). What can you do?

Option 1- Get a real editor for one chapter. Pay for the first chapter of the book. Review the changes. See what mistakes you make and use them as a framework to edit the rest on your own.It sounds like a terribble, terrible option. But it's okay if your book isn't one of those epics.
Alternately you could find the worst/most problematic pages in your story and pay to edit those.

It still leaves you with a lot of work. You may or may not be up to it, so there is another way to go cheap. Find a cheap editor. There are cheap editors out there - but I haven't tried any of these so I really don't know. Just remember - you probably will get exactly what you pay for.

You can find some cheap editors on Fiverr or Twentyfiverr. Here are examples:

It may still be too much for you. You may have a 100,000-200,000 word novel. You can't afford both creative and copy editing. How can you save money? Maybe you can do it yourself with software? Good software can get pricey but you can use it again for your next books. And it still won't take the place of a real live thinking editor that follows your story.

Option 2: Get software and DIY. Here are some links (cheap software). (looks complicated, couldn’t find price = never a good thing)

 ************ for a list and comparison of software**************

Say it's still too much. You can't afford it. Well, there is something left. But I think it might be the most difficult to way to go.
Option 3: Look for other indie authors to swap with. It’s a tough job. You can join collectives - like the ones listed above - or stalk the Smashwords pages for new authors in your genre and research them. Maybe they will trade with you? Maybe you could swap reviews as well? I think it's more of a long shot, but if you're really stuck it might be the way for you.

As always - let me know what you think in the comment section below. How did you get your first indie novel edited?

Next Post - Getting Reviews, and What the Heck to Do With Your Novel. 
It will be short. Mostly links to the author groups already listed above. They are the go to resources.