Publishing 101: 3 Things I’ve Learned About Book Production

book production cmprOn the heels of my post about selling and the little guy, here is some information about things I’ve learned about the book production process from publishing on my own.  I’ve worked with many independent authors and have tried to help them through various parts of the book production process, including getting an editor, a book designer, jacket designer, etc.  But there is nothing like experiencing a process first hand to find out how things REALLY work.

A few basic things I found about the book production process are:

  1. It doesn’t cost a fortune to hire a decent jacket designer.  You do need to make sure the person you work with can do the kind of jacket you need produced, but my designer has done fiction and non-fiction and I’m happy with his work.
  2. Copyeditors are not that expensive and a must for a professionally produced book.  Twenty-five dollars an hour, folks.  If you have the next version of War and Peace, I’m sure that will rack up the hours quickly.  For my book there are many sections, fact checking items, and other things that took time even though it’s only 175 pages.  Still, not that pricey and very important to do.
  3. It will take at least a month from the time you finish the book to the time you are able to submit your files to your printer/publisher.  This is even a pretty tight time frame and doesn’t allow for vacations, family emergencies, your ability to make the changes the editor sends your way, and anything else you can think of that will hold you up.  I was clear about the direction my book was taking, and in advance of the copyedit, two people I consider members of “the grammar police” read and critiqued it for me.  That saved me time with the professional editing process.

As I continue this journey, I will try to provide things I’ve learned that may be helpful.  If you want to send me questions directly, you can do so at claire@clairemckinneypr.com or on Twitter @McKinneyPR.  Thank you for reading!

P.S. The last Amazon listing I checked in reference to my book said “9 copies left, more on the way.”  I guess that’s a good thing.

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Publishing 101: When the “Little Guy” Struggles to Sell a Book

Ingram vs Amazon Self Publishing 101 Claire McKinneyIt’s hard for a person to figure out how to publish, market, and publicize her work on her own, and it is even more difficult to simply make the book available for sale.  Among all of the e-retailers out there, we know that Amazon ranks king in the world of online sales—which is where most of an indie publisher’s books will sell.  If you go through CreateSpace, an Amazon company, you will have a much easier time of getting your book on their site and available without too much fuss.  If you decide to start a new business and imprint, like I did, and choose to go through the Ingram platform IngramSpark instead, well, that’s where more problems can occur.

It can take a month for the information about your book on Ingram to be completely reflected on Amazon.  Ingram sends it in an instant, but Amazon goes through a process that takes time.  During this period your book might be listed as “out of stock”, “ships in 2-4 weeks”, “ships in 2-5 weeks”, or nothing much at all.  I’m okay with that, because it’s common knowledge if you read all the print, fine and otherwise, on Ingram and Amazon.  I also know from working with authors, that this is a standard. 

What I don’t understand is what’s happened to my book since its publication date, which was June 6, 2017.   Since then it’s been listed as “ships in 2-5 weeks”, “out-of-stock”, “ships in 1-2 weeks”, and lately with a random future availability date that Amazon pulled out of a hat.  My first line of defense was to call Ingram.

Here is an approximate run down of what happened with Ingram:

Me: “Hi, I’m calling because I don’t understand why my book, Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?, isn’t immediately for sale on Amazon, especially given it is a print-on-demand title.  Theoretically it should be available almost immediately with shipping being the only issue.”

Ingram: “Hmmm, well I don’t see anything wrong with your account or what we sent.  You know, Amazon sometimes will hold individual customer orders for POD and submit them all at once.  This is why the book may not listed as available.”

Me: “What?! You mean if someone orders my book, the order could be held with several other titles ordered by different people until Amazon feels like sending them over to Ingram?”

Ingram: “Yes, that’s possible and we have no idea of why Amazon does that.  In fact, we have no idea of how or why Amazon does what it does and we’ve given up trying to figure it out.”

Me: “Right, and they won’t tell you why because it’s an algorithm thing or something like that.”

Ingram: “Correct.  But, you do have your ‘BUY’ button, that’s a good sign.”

Me: “My ‘BUY’ button?  You mean they could take that off whenever they want?”

Ingram: “Yes.  And again, we don’t know why they do that, but we get a lot of calls from authors who have that problem.  There isn’t anything we can do except send the title information to Amazon again and hope that jars something for them.”

Me (thinking): This sounds like the kick the vending machine way of getting results, but what do I know?

Me: “Well, thank you for your help.  I understand you are doing what you can.”

Ingram: “Good luck.”

Good luck, indeed.  Since I published the book to help people who need a resource and can’t afford to hire a publicist, and because I have a day job, I can let some of this slide without worrying about missed sales opportunities.  But what about writers who are expecting to earn a living, or are currently earning a living from their books?

I’m hoping that the more titles you publish the more influence you have with Amazon and the more seamless the process gets.  For now, I can only say keep an eye on your BUY button and watch what happens with other titles you know.  Maybe there is an order to this that we aren’t aware of, kind of like the universe.  On second thought—Amazon-the universe—I hope not.

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Publicity 101: 4 Things to Consider for Your Author Photo

To have a decent author photo, you don’t need to look like a model or a movie star, but spending the time to get a decent picture will make a difference.  It is important to make the best possible first impression with the media, and your photo is one of the tools you have (in addition to an author bio and press release) to do that.

First, look at other authors’ photos on their books and websites.  See what “look” you like in an author photo.  Decide whether you want something inside against a plain or basic background or if you want to be outdoors, in natural light.  Do you have any current photos that could be good?  Who is going to take the picture?  Will you use a professional photographer or is your spouse handy with a camera or phone?

Here is a checklist that can help you prepare for your author photo:

Image/Wardrobe: You need to have a couple of different outfits on hand so you can compare after you have taken your photos.  Are you writing about secret agents and spies? A sharp suit is probably most appropriate for your author photo.  Are you a chef?  Aprons, hats, and other kitchen accessories would be useful for your wardrobe.  For women: do you wear makeup?  Either go to your local mall’s makeup counter to get a professional’s touch for the day of the photo shoot, or hire a makeup or salon technician for a couple of hours.  For men: you don’t need to worry as much about the makeup, but getting a fresh haircut or considering whether you want that Michael Moore’ish’ baseball hat as a prop is your homework for your shoot.

Scope of picture:  In the performing arts, agents and directors expect what they call “three-quarter shots,” which typically include your face, upper body, and maybe your legs.  You can decide what you want to do, and even if you do a full body picture, you can crop it to meet your needs.  Whatever you do, don’t let anyone twist you into a pretzel or convince you that you look better with your hand on your face.  Just look at the camera and try to be as relaxed as possible, unless there is a connection to your work that requires something unorthodox.  If you are writing a treatise on how to bungee jump and want to be seen hanging from a bridge, please by all means do it.

Location:  Whether you decide on indoors or outdoors, make sure the background of the shot is clean of debris or unnecessary items that will take the focus away from you.  That shiny, peacock print wallpaper might look great around the mantle, but will cause the viewer of the image to peer at your photo and desperately try to figure out what she is seeing.  Garbage cans, giant leaf bags or garden tools, a sink full of dishes, etc. are all “better” viewed off camera.

Photo specs: Your final photo needs to be at least 200 dpi and can be stored as a jpeg, tiff, or gif file on your computer.  A downloadable picture should live on your website under your “media kit” or “press” tab.  Your image should also be found on your book, bio, and any other marketing materials or social media accounts you use.

Do you have to spend a fortune on a professional photo shoot?  Not necessarily, but you should do the best you can to secure the finest image that you feel confident about using in your book and sending to media outlets.

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Publicity 101: What is your book about?

What is your book about CMPRIf someone asked you what is your book is about, how would you answer?  Can you respond in two or three sentences?  Is it an interesting description that would make you stand up and pay attention?  Clearly book topics and subjects will appeal to different types of people, and that is just fine.

When you are determining what your book is and how you will describe it, you must envision the audience you are trying to engage with.   If your book is a mystery, then say “It’s mystery/thriller/suspense”.  The way you shape your response to the question “What is your book about?” is the opportunity for you to hook a potential reader or media entity.  Then you can dig deeper.

To get to the heart of your “story’s story” and find the hidden chances for better publicity coverage, try answering the following questions:

  • What is your book about?
  • Where does it take place?
  • Where do you live?
  • Do you have any autobiographical contributions to the story, such as medical expertise?
  • Who would find this interesting?
  • Does your story address any “hot button” issues like civil rights, drug abuse, weight loss, relationships?

Knowing what you are delivering is a critical key in preparing a publicity campaign. With any kind of book written by an unknown, the publicity plan and promotional trajectory is about trying to get the most people to open the book and read it!  Bloggers, book reviewers, trade reviews, author events, conferences, parties, local tv, radio, and print are all pitched all of the time.  The idea is to create a media list of fans who will support the books and the author by reviewing the books favorably and encouraging their readerships to get the books for themselves.

“What is your book about?” is just one aspect to be explored in the name of publicity and promotion of your book. Check out our blog for future blog posts on other aspects you need to consider for a book pr campaign!

Questions? Tweet us @McKinneyPR!

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Why We Support Self-Published Authors

Self-Published AuthorsEvery so often, the argument comes up that self-published books shouldn’t be considered authentic, or that self-published authors aren’t serious about their craft.  We have worked with many self-published authors, and here are some reasons why we support them:

Many indie authors have their books put together professionally: A lot of self-published authors invest their time and money to hire a book designer, website designer, copy editor, proofreader, and others, to create a book that is perfect for them and of high quality. All of the authors that we have promoted have had their books professionally edited and designed.

Self-publishing is the route that worked best for them. There are many examples of authors who self-published before their books were published traditionally, like E.L. James and Lisa Geneva, who wrote in a 2008 blog post:

“Before I self-published my first novel, STILL ALICE, last summer, I tried going the traditional route. I spent a year querying literary agents. But no one wanted my book. I was sitting in a holding pattern with a completed novel and no one reading it, waiting to find out if STILL ALICE was ‘good enough,’ waiting to find out if I was a ‘real writer,’ unable to give myself permission to write the next book.”

After self-publishing, Still Alice went on to get published by Simon & Schuster and was turned into an Academy Award-nominated movie starring Julianne Moore. Who is to say that self-publishing a book won’t eventually lead to bigger things…like an Oscar winner?

They are serious about what they are doing. There are many people out there who are great writers who don’t have a publishing deal. Many of those people have very likely crafted their books for years, were involved in writing workshops or groups, or enrolled in MFA creative writing programs. Many of these people have been rejected, and self-publishing is a resource they have available to put their work out there. We have worked with many authors who spent years writing their novels, memoirs, or self-help books, and these books are self-published, well-written, well-edited, and well-designed.

In fact, some may have had a traditional publishing deal that fell through for a number of reasons. Several authors we have worked with were going the traditional publishing route until something happened: an imprint got shut down, an editor passed away, or the author disagreed with what a publisher wanted to do with a storyline.

Self-publishing was a thing before it was a thing. Authors like Benjamin Franklin, Jane Austen, and Walt Whitman had at some point self-published their novels, according to this Poets & Writers article. In the tradition of literature, self-publishing has been a route people have taken for hundreds of years – but with Amazon, print-on-demand, and other resources, it’s had a bigger boon than ever.

Whether you are a traditional or self-published author, writing is hard work. It’s also an art, and it’s up to the author to ultimately decide which way they’d like to display that art.

If you are a writer who has taken or is considering the self-publishing route, do not be discouraged by negative comments. Continue writing, honing your craft, editing your work, and proudly displaying your art—because you wrote a book, and that in itself is a feat!

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