Helping authors publish

Author: Robin Phillips (Page 2 of 13)

Reading PDFs on ereaders

A while ago, a friend was thinking about buying an ereader for her husband, who reads a lot of PDFs. She thought it would be great for him to be able to read them on an eink device. She asked for advice, and this post is based on what I told her.

Screenshot of a PDF displayed on a Kindle Paperwhite
Reading a PDF on a Kindle Paperwhite. The page size is A4, but the Kindle has a 6″ screen, so the text is very small and difficult to read.

There are many articles online claiming that Kindles and other ereaders support PDF, or how easy it is to convert PDF to your ereader’s preferred format. They’re right, but with some significant caveats. Reading a PDF on an ereader is a far cry from reading an ePub or mobi format ebook on the same device. The PDF won’t resize and reflow to work nicely on the screen. This leads to a lot of zooming and scrolling. I found it such an unpleasant experience that I bought a 10″ tablet to read PDFs on. I still prefer my Kindle and my Kobo for reading ebooks, but won’t use them for PDFs.

Screenshot of a PDF on a Kindle, zoomed in so that the text is large enough to read.
The same PDF on the same Kindle, zoomed in to make the text large enough to read. The user has to scroll horizontally to read each line.

So, why not convert the PDF to ePub or mobi, and read that on the ereader? Converting PDFs is simple enough using Calibre, but the results are very uncertain. The Calibre manual states that “PDF documents are one of the worst formats to convert from.” If it’s a single-column PDF it might work reasonably well. It won’t be as pretty as the original, paragraph breaks might be in odd places, etc. If the PDF has headers and footers, they will be included in the converted file as if they were a standard part of the text, which can be jarring.

Screenshot of a PDF converted to mobi and displayed on a Kindle Paperwhite.
The same PDF converted to a mobi file to read on a Kindle.

Two-column PDFs won’t convert well at all. The converter doesn’t recognise the columns, and so you get the first line of the first column, then the first line of the second column, second line of the first column, second line of the second column, etc. The result is unreadable. Text boxes and the like can also really mess with it.

If you’re going to read a lot of PDFs, I would strongly recommend something with a 10″ or larger screen. 10″ tablets are common and some are reasonably inexpensive, but many people don’t like reading on a back-lit screen, hence the popularity of eink devices for reading ebooks. Kobo recently announced the Kobo Elipsa, which has a 10.3″ eink screen. This should be excellent for reading PDFs and ebooks, but it’s significantly more expensive than either a standard ereader with a 6″ screen or a 10″ tablet.

Why hire a cover designer?

This is a guest post written by Henry Hyde, who designs many of our clients’ covers.

Why use a professional cover designer – it’s expensive, right?

Wrong.

It’s an investment that can make the difference between the book you worked so hard to write either being a best-seller, or sinking without a trace.

Just go take a look at a popular online bookshop which is where, let’s face it, the vast majority of both physical books and ebooks are sold nowadays.

Search for something in any major category. Romance novels, perhaps, or fantasy, or self-help, or cookery, or… You get the idea.

You’ll learn a couple of things from this exercise.

Firstly, that your book jacket needs to grab the viewer’s attention when it’s the size of a postage stamp. Intricate, fiddly designs with hard-to-read titles and subtitles just don’t work.

Secondly, how long did it take you to either click on one of those little covers to find out more, or decide that none of them took your fancy? Ten seconds? Five? One? Less than that?

Actually, the answer is likely to be around 0.5 to 2 seconds. Book jacket design is a brutal business, and if the potential reader doesn’t like the cover in the first instant they see it, it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest literary genius on the planet, your book will never get a second chance.

Thirdly, did you notice something about all those best-sellers that came up on the first couple of pages of results?

That’s right: they all looked somehow familiar, in fact similar in style to one another. That is not a mistake – it’s deliberate. People choose books that they think will be similar to the ones they have already read and liked and the front cover design is the biggest clue they’ll get to reassure them that they will like this book because it resembles that book by their favourite author.

Most new authors are convinced that their cover design needs to be utterly unique.

Wrong.

It needs to look like the best-sellers in their category. Not an outright, copyright-infringing facsimile, of course, but close enough in style to resonate with the viewer.

And finally, when you look at all those book jackets on Amazon, say, it’s easy to tell which ones are professionally designed, as opposed to having been put together by an amateur. The quality of the overall image or illustration, and particularly the choice and placement of typefaces (unless deliberate irony is intended, which can easily backfire) are tell-tale signs. For example, you may have a few dozen or, let’s be generous, a couple of hundred fonts on your PC.

I have more than 100,000, collected over 30 years of designing, and I have accounts with font foundries to access even more if I need them. In fact, understanding the subtleties of typography, and the meanings that different fonts convey to the viewer’s subconscious, is a major skill that every pro designer calls upon on a daily basis.

Now, a real-life example of an idea that a client sent to me, and the cover they actually ended up with following consultation with me.

Which of these do you think will stand a chance on Amazon?

The idea supplied by the client was all about him – it even featured his own hands and the corporate colour of the company he worked for. Sure, he and a tiny number of his colleagues might have understood the visual pun – but his potential audience in the wider world? I think not! What I was able to create for him was a striking cover that sits well in the self-help genre and that instantly conveys the type of content the reader should expect, dealing with the complexity of the human mind.

Fortunately, the client readily agreed!

To sum up, your cover designer is your friend and ally, helping your book to stand a chance of getting noticed amongst a blizzard of competing books. They use their professional experience to make you look like a professional too. Ego should play no part in creating an effective cover design: it’s all about what’s best for the book, and giving it the best possible chance as it begins its journey from your hands out into the wider world.

Henry Hyde has been a professional graphic designer since 1991. He specialises in book and magazine design, corporate identity and branding. He also has a keen interest in typography and photography. Having self-published his own books for more than a decade, he is able to offer sound advice on self-publishing and online marketing.

Why pay for formatting?

When done well, a reader doesn’t notice a book’s interior formatting. The purpose of the formatting, after all, is not to draw attention to itself, but rather to allow the reader to concentrate on the words in the book and the author’s message. When the interior is not done well, on the other hand, the reader is drawn out of the story. The reader notices the imperfections, and these will lead to a poor impression of the book as a whole.

There are many elements to a book’s interior. Authors are readers first, but as stated earlier, good formatting is invisible and doesn’t get noticed. Consequently, we don’t notice all the little things that make a professional interior. That makes it difficult to create an interior that will live up to a reader’s expectations.

Ebooks add an extra layer of complexity. The interior of a print book is fixed, but with an ebook, the reader can change almost anything. An ebook can be read on a tiny phone screen, a large monitor, or anything in-between. The interior formatting has to be able to adjust elegantly to all these possibilities. The elements of the book (cover, start position, epigraph, dedication, etc) must all be specially coded so that the reader device or software to identify them. It should also contain a metadata table of contents that can be displayed by a menu item or similar, in addition to the standard table of contents at the start of the book.

An ebook file should conform to the ePub standards. If it doesn’t, many vendors will refuse to accept it. A professional formatter understands all these requirements. They will be able to create a file that looks good on any screen, and passes the validation checks performed by vendors so that it will be accepted for sale.

Large print books have their own set of rules and expectations, to make them easier to read for people with limited vision. Some of these contradict the standard rules, so it’s not enough to simply increase the font size.

It’s possible to learn to do this yourself, using online resources to learn how to format a print book interior and an ebook. But these require an investment of time and possibly money, which is unlikely to be worthwhile for most authors. There are also converters online, some of which are free, but the results are unlikely to compare well to the work of a professional.

If you want a professionally designed interior that will allow your readers to enjoy your story, contact us.

Business update: Shilka Ltd

Back in 2011, Robin published their first book. They set up Shilka Publishing as a sole trader to handle payments, tax, etc. When they set up Author Help in 2018, they were still a sole trader.

In 2020 Robin’s wife Jen joined Author Help, and we decided to incorporate the business and create a limited company. We’ve now done this, and the new business is Shilka Ltd. Author Help is a trading name of Shilka Ltd.

You may notice a footnote about it on all the paperwork and repeat customers should watch out for new bank details as we move everything over. None of this changes the services we provide, the prices we charge or the customer focus we pride ourselves on.

Weekly News: 8th March 2021

Every week, we post a curated list of links that authors should find useful or interesting. Here are this week’s links:

If you want to publish your book, email us to find out how we can help.

Account sharing with Draft2Digital

If you have a virtual assistant (VA) or someone else helping you with your books, they will need to access your account to upload new files, change prices, etc. One way to do that is to give them your password, but that’s far from ideal. Draft2Digital‘s account sharing feature allows you to give them limited access to your account.

Our clients use this feature to allow us to upload new books for them or to make other changes. It’s easier and more secure than sharing passwords, and the client can revoke our access easily at any time.

How to set up account sharing

Account sharing is switched off by default. To enable it, log in to your Draft2Digital account, then go to Account -> Advanced User Options. Tick the Enable Account Sharing tick box under Site Settings, then click the Save button at the bottom of the page.

Screenshot showing how to enable account sharing on Draft2Digital
Enabling account sharing

Once it is enabled, you will find an Account Sharing option is available on your Account page. To share your account, go to Account -> Account Sharing. The person you wish to share your account with will need a Draft2Digital account.

On the account sharing page, enter the email address of the person you wish to share your account with. A message will show whether the email belongs to a Draft2Digital user. If it doesn’t, check with the other person that you are using the correct email.

Once you have the correct email entered, choose which permissions to grant. If you share access to your reports, they will be able to see how many books you have sold, where they have sold, etc. If you share book management, they will be able to change your existing books’ files, metadata, pricing, etc, and add new books. Currently, it is not possible to grant access to payment information, but that may become available in the future.

Screenshot showing a person being added to account sharing on Draft2Digital
Granting permissions

Only grant the permissions that the other person will need. For example, if they are updating your covers, they’ll need the book management permission, but there’s no need to give them access to your reports. You can change this at a later date if need be.

Finally, tick the box to acknowledge that you accept the responsibility for sharing your account, and click the Share My Account button. Draft2Digital will email them to let them know that you have given them access to your account.

When they log on to Draft2Digital, they will have a drop-down at the top right of the page that allows them to switch between their own books and yours.

Screenshot showing a user managing a different user's books on Draft2Digital
Managing another user’s books

Changing and removing access

Once your account has been shared, the people that have access will be listed on the Account Sharing page. This also shows what permissions you have granted. Simply click the relevant icon to grant or revoke a permission.

Screenshot showing how to change permissions in Draft2Digital account sharing
Changing permissions

If the person you granted access to does not need it any more, click the Revoke Permissions icon to remove their access to your account entirely.

Weekly News: 1st March 2021

Every week, we post a curated list of links that authors should find useful or interesting. Here are this week’s links:

  • Editors can help clients in multiple ways, not all of which are obvious.
  • Draft2Digital’s Universal Book Links are a very useful tool. One link for all stores, and they’re geo-targeted, so your readers will go to their local store.
  • The subscription model is coming to book publishing, but few are willing to talk about it.
  • It’s rare for an author to be sued for libel, but it can be devastating when it happens. Make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
  • How launching a second book is different from launching your first.
  • The viewpoint character isn’t always the protagonist.
  • Dana Stabenow has advice for crime novelists, but warns that it shouldn’t be followed slavishly.

If you want to publish your book, email us to find out how we can help.

Why hire an editor?

This is a guest post written by Paul Martin, an editor that we’ve worked with several times.

“I searched for copy-editors online and found Paul… It turned out that it was a very good choice.

Paul edited the text thoroughly and made suggestions that were very pertinent and helpful. On top of that, he offered further suggestions how to improve the manuscript. I valued his comments and revised the text. The manuscript became considerably better.

After a while he contacted me and put me in touch with a very good publisher. I sent a few chapters, they accepted the manuscript, I signed the contract and the process of having my memoir in print has now started. Paul did for me much more than just copy-editing work.”

Every project is different, every writer has their own style and reasons for publishing, and there are as many ways of editing a text as there are writing one. The terms we use for the different services can also vary and can be confusing to the uninitiated. The story above is a rare but satisfying one, the perfect conclusion to an editor-author relationship that shows the impact a good editor can have. Not only do we know the industry and the market, and our trade, we also have our own contacts and networks that can benefit our clients. Especially if you have decided to self-publish, there is much to be gained from employing a professional editor.

A professionally published book goes through round upon round of editorial processes: from the drafting, beta reading, revision and submission of the author themselves through agency edits, copy-edits and proofreads. Everything designed to make your work the best it can be. However, if you are self-publishing, this work will not necessarily happen unless you arrange it yourself. If you want your product to be the very best it can be, not just free of typographical errors but coherent, engaging and enticing for readers and industry alike, then you should consider hiring an editor. For those looking to go through the traditional publishing route, it is still a valuable option – as a well-edited script can help encourage agency or publisher take-up.

Agents often have a variety of alarm-words and stylistic preferences that a good editor will know to look out for. Have you used ‘said’ when not necessary or instead of more illustrative alternatives, for example ‘whispered’, ‘sneered’? Do you overuse ‘filler’ words such as ‘had’, ‘that’? Do you show the reader through your words, or simply tell them? Have you ensured that the subject you are discussing is clear rather than overusing pronouns such as ‘she’ and ‘he’? These kinds of fixes, as well as a check for actual errors, can make a huge difference to the reception of your work. No matter how good the writer, there is always room for improvement – and there is always something you will miss. As the author, you are most intimately familiar with your work – and it is difficult to detach yourself enough to be thorough. What makes sense to you, knowing what you know, may be less clear to a new reader – a fresh pair of eyes is therefore vital.

So, what services can an editor offer? The development or story edit focuses on the structure and plot of your story, do your characters have a consistent voice, does the story read well and make sense, is it engaging or confusing? The copy-edit focuses much more on the nitty-gritty of the language choices, punctuation, spelling and grammar. A consistency check can be carried out at either stage, ensuring what was a sword in one chapter has not become a dagger or a club in another. As you receive feedback, revise and tinker, it is easy for such slips to creep into your work – and a good editor will be keeping notes to ensure consistency. If appropriate, a fact check can also be incorporated to make sure any factual material is correct – for it is very easy to type 1066 instead of 1966 and not to spot the error.

If you build up a good working relationship with an editor, you will be able to bounce ideas off of them, to develop a more fluid and varied writing style and to build your script into something even greater than it already is. They will provide you with style notes to help with future revisions and improve your future writing, to help you answer exactly what your style preferences are (do you prefer the Oxford comma?). Consistency and accuracy are key to a pleasant reading experience, errors are the jolt from being absorbed in a work.

It can take quite a long time to thoroughly read something as lengthy as a novel, especially when constructing style or consistency notes and adding commentary and critique. A good editor is not cheap, therefore – a novel of around 80,000 words can take up to a week’s work to get through, depending on the level of intervention required. However, it WILL be an investment worth making if you want to produce the best version of your work that you can. The editor will make tracked changes and comments for you to review and consider, but the final say will of course be yours.

If you are considering hiring an editor, then the best place to start is the CIEP directory: the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading is the publishing industry’s go-to standard, a non-profit body and community dedicated to promoting editorial excellence. The directory lists over 700 CIEP members, their details, services and expertise – as well as recommended rates and other useful information.

Paul Martin, an editor that we have worked with several times.

Paul Martin is an Advanced Professional member of the CIEP, a freelance editor, author and consultant. He learned his trade in education publishing, before going freelance in 2017, and has since diversified into academic and trade publishing, and supporting independent authors of fiction and non-fiction. He has supported a number of Author Help clients, as well as other independent authors, and his partner is due to have her first novel published in April.

Weekly News: 8th February 2021

Every week, we post a curated list of links that authors should find useful or interesting. Here are this week’s links:

If you want to publish your book, email us to find out how we can help.

DriveThruFiction: how to sell there, and why you should

DriveThruFiction is a small site, and most indie authors don’t bother with it. But it has some very useful features, and if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, you have the opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond. For Robin, DriveThruFiction and their sister sites are bigger than Kobo, Apple, Nook, or Google Play.

DriveThruFiction is just one of several sites under the OneBookShelf banner. Robin has been publishing and selling on OneBookShelf since 2011, primarily on Wargame Vault. When uploading, it’s just a few tick boxes to publish to any others that are relevant, so most of Robin’s books are also on DriveThruRPG and DriveThruFiction.

DriveThruFiction grew out of DriveThruRPG, which started before ebooks and ereaders were popular, and they originally focused on PDFs. Nowadays, they support mobi and ePub as well as PDF and a variety of other formats, including MP3, so you can even sell audio books there.

To get started, set up a publisher account. Once set up, you can add your books. Drive ThruFiction offer print on demand (hardback and paperback) as well as electronic formats. The print on demand option uses Lightning Source, Ingram Spark’s sister company, to handle the actual printing, but unlike Ingram Spark, there’s no setup fee.

Print & ebook bundling

If a book is available in print and ebook, you can set an add-on cost which is the amount charged for the ebook when bought with the print book. This can be zero, so that a customer that buys the print book gets the ebook for free. Or it can be a discounted price for the ebook.

Affiliates

DriveThruFiction offers an affiliate scheme, with links that are simple to set up. If someone buys within fifteen days of following your affiliate link you get up to 5% of the purchase price. Our Local Links WordPress plugin can automatically add your affiliate code to DriveThruFiction links on your website.

Royalty split

You can split the royalties of individual titles, so that a fixed percentage goes to someone else. This was originally intended to allow automatic compensation of illustrators, but Robin has used it to split the royalties on a co-authored book.

Pay what you want

DriveThruFiction offers a “pay what you want” pricing option. This allows customers to get the title for free (or at cost for print on demand titles), or to pay whatever they wish. This can be a useful alternative to permafree.

Tracking where sales come from

DriveThruFiction uses “source codes” to track where sales come from. By adding a parameter to the end of a link, eg “?src=website” you can monitor how many sales came from that link. Our Local Links WordPress plugin can automatically add a source code to DriveThruFiction links on your website.

Marketing tools

Let’s be honest, many authors dislike the idea of marketing, but without marketing, books don’t sell. Fortunately, DriveThruFiction have a range of tools that will help. Most of them require expenditure of “Publisher Promotion Points” (PPP). It is possible to buy PPP, but they’re deliberately expensive to discourage buying. Every publisher is given ten PPP every month, plus an extra one for every $10 of sales they made the previous month.

The cost of promotions are variable, depending on how many publishers are already using the option. The more publishers that are using a given feature, the higher the cost in PPP to use it. If you can’t afford a particular promotion, it’s worth checking again the next day as the cost might have gone down.

Bundling

There is built-in support for bundling several titles. Just create a bundle and add titles. Set a bundle price for each title, and the bundle price will be the total of them. Alternatively, you can set a price for the bundle, and each book’s bundle price will be set accordingly.

It’s equally simple to set up a multi-author bundle. Just set a password for the bundle, then give that password to the other authors. They will then be able to add their books to the bundle. When the bundle sells, each book’s author gets their royalty based on the book’s bundle price.

Email your readers

You can’t get the email addresses of your readers, but you can email them via the website. These emails may not contain links to outside sites, but they can contain links to your other books on DriveThruFiction. Readers can opt out of receiving these emails, and you can see a report showing how many emails will be sent before sending it.

Discount links

DriveThruFiction has a simple interface to create discount links. The discount can be any amount, including 100%. You can limit the discounts to a certain number of downloads, or give them an expiration date.

Site-wide promotions

DriveThruFiction runs site-wide promotions periodically. You may opt in to all of these sales, or only those that offer a discount of 40% or less. In addition, you can optionally specify that only titles over a certain age are included, so that new releases aren’t discounted this way.

Advertising

DriveThruFiction offers two types of advertising. Banner ads are the type of short, wide advert that were a common sight on websites some years ago. Featured messages are a small thumbnail of the book’s cover, with text to the left.

Both types can be displayed on the home page or the book’s category page. Not surprisingly, the PPP cost of home page placement is usually much higher.

Deal of the day

Every day, one title is the deal of the day, and you can submit your titles for inclusion. Titles are chosen at random, but those that aren’t chosen are kept in the list, so you’ll get chosen sooner or later.

Robin has found this to be the most effective use of their PPP, especially when combined with discount links and emailing readers. When they get a Deal of the Day, they use the “Email your readers” functionality to email everyone that has bought their other books but not this one. They include a link to the book’s page and tell them the discounted price.

A week or two after the deal, Robin emails everyone that has bought the deal book, with links to related books, sometimes including a discount link.

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