Helping authors publish

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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.

New Year, New Service: Beautiful Interiors

We are very happy to announce that we now offer two levels of formatting for both print and ebooks.

A book interior, showing a chapter start.
Chapter start using our standard formatting

Our standard formatting looks good, is properly laid out, and follows standard industry conventions. We offer several different styles so that you can choose the one that is right for your book.

A book interior, showing a standard page spread
Scene break using our standard formatting

But up until now, our interiors were somewhat limited. They’re stylish, classic, and are easy to read, but some of our clients wanted more than that. We’re pleased to announce that we have now partnered with a company that specialises in interior formatting to provide a premium interior formatting service. We still offer the standard interiors, but if you choose to use the new premium option, you will get a completely bespoke interior, beautifully laid out, and you have complete control.

Several book interiors
Examples of our new premium formatting

So, if you want your book to look amazing inside and out, contact us for a quote.

Why do you need an author website?

Every author should have a website. Some think that a Facebook page or an Amazon page is a viable alternative. Both are certainly useful and worth having, but they should complement an author website, not replace it.

The reason can be expressed in a single word: Control. You have no control over your Facebook page or Amazon page. Facebook and Amazon control how they look and can advertise competing books on your page. They can even remove your access or take the page down at any time, with no right to appeal.

A website, by contrast, is owned and controlled by you. If you decide that you don’t like the hosting company, you can move it elsewhere. No-one else can advertise their books on your site. You can choose the domain that you want to use. You can choose how it looks. If you use WordPress (which we use and recommend) you can easily change how it looks whenever you wish. Most WordPress themes are responsive, which means that they adapt well to different screen sizes. A lot of web browsing is done on mobile devices these days, so this is an important consideration.

Domain name

Get a domain that is tied to your name if you can. Your name with a .com at the end is ideal if you can get it. If you can’t get your name, try adding something like “author” or “books” to the end. For authors based in the UK, a .co.uk or .uk is a good alternative. Robin’s pen name is Russell Phillips, and his website is at RussellPhillips.uk.

A web address like that is professional and gives a good first impression. You can set up an email address for the domain. This keeps your book-related emails separate and gives a better impression than a GMail or Yahoo address. If you prefer, have emails forwarded to your webmail. Always set your mailing list’s “From” address to be your domain address, not GMail, Yahoo, or whatever. Doing this will help your emails to avoid the spam folder.

Flexibility and selling direct

Having your own website gives you a great deal of flexibility. It should always have all the details of your books, with buy links. Beyond that though, you can include whatever features you wish. Some people blog, some have a podcast. We strongly recommend including a mailing list sign-up form, and some people use pop-ups too.

Websites can also host content that will be of interest to your readers. Including information for book clubs might help it get chosen by a club. If you are willing to do author talks, make sure that is clear on your site, along with information about how to book you.

You can sell books and/or ebooks directly, giving you another revenue stream. Many readers prefer to buy all their books from a single store such as Amazon or Kobo, but some will value the opportunity to buy direct from the author. You can set everything up yourself using a WordPress plugin like WooCommerce, or use a company like Payhip which simplifies matters. Either way, the money from any sales will be paid to you immediately, not sixty or ninety days later as is typical with other vendors. You can create discount vouchers to help promote direct sales, or sell a new release from your website before releasing it on the other vendors.

Make and Sell a Flip Book

I own a copy of a rather unusual book, Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Just the Words. It includes volumes one and two in a single flip book. Volume one starts at the front, but to read volume two, you flip the book over and start from the back. The two meet in the middle.

I started wondering recently if I could create a flip book and get it printed and on sale. This article will explain how I made such a book and put it on sale via Ingram Spark. KDP Print doesn’t support this type of book.

For my book, I used the Project Gutenberg text of Little Wars and Floor Games, both by H.G. Wells. I chose these because they are in the public domain, they fit together, and they’re books that I’m happy to have on my shelves but didn’t already own.

Create the Interior PDFs

First, I created the interior files. I used Vellum to create two interior PDFs, one per book. In my book, Little Wars starts at the front, and Floor Games starts at the back. I had to rotate the Floor Games PDF, so it was upside down, and the pages had to be reversed.

To do that, I used a program named pdftk. I used the command-line version, although I believe a version with a graphical interface is also available. The command I used was:

pdftk Floor-Games-Print.pdf cat end-1south output Floor-Games-Rotated-Reversed.pdf

Then I used pdftk again to combine the Little Wars PDF and the rotated and reversed Floor Games PDF into a single file. I also added a PDF of two blank pages between the two:

pdftk Little-Wars-Print.pdf two-blank-pages.pdf Floor-Games-Rotated-Reversed.pdf cat output back-to-back.pdf

The resulting PDF looked normal for the first half, but the second half was upside down and the page numbers went down instead of up.

The interior of Floor Games, after it had been rotated and reversed
The interior of Floor Games, after it had been rotated and reversed

Cover

Since this was an experiment, I created a simple cover on Canva. Again, the back cover had to be upside down. Because the book is very short, it didn’t have a distinct spine for me to worry about. I allowed Ingram Spark to add the barcode, and they added it to the default location. Normally, this would be on the bottom right of the design, but when the book is turned over to read the second book, the barcode appears in the top left, and upside down. A professional cover designer could have moved the barcode to a better location, although the barcode would still be upside down in relation to the back cover design.

On Sale

I uploaded the cover and interior files in the normal way. Ingram Spark approved it for printing, but KDP Print would not. I have approved it for distribution, so if you would like to see the finished product, you can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or others (ISBN 978-1-912680-29-0). I have set the price deliberately low, since it’s on sale mostly so that people can see the results for themselves.

Conclusion

This was an unusual project that I undertook mostly as an experiment, but I’m pleased with the results. If you have a project that would suit the flip book treatment, we’d be happy to help. Email us for more information and to get started.

Animated gif showing the Little Wars and Floor Games flip book
The finished book

Why not make publishing your New Year Resolution?

It’s that time of year when many of us are figuring out our New Year’s Resolution. How best can we improve ourselves, get healthier, or earn more? For many amateur writers it can be an opportunity to dust off that old manuscript. This could be the year that you get published.

There are more routes to getting your book published than ever before. In some ways, that’s fantastic because there will be an option to suit everyone. In other ways, it can make for a bewildering labyrinth of unknown avenues. So how do you go about figuring out which path is right for you? Well, perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is what is your purpose in publishing?

What is your purpose in publishing?

If it’s about money, then I’m sorry to say there isn’t a single route guaranteed to lead to prosperity. For every big name millionaire author, there are thousands of talented writers who just didn’t make it. But there are also quite a few making a reasonable living. Regardless of their publishing route, these authors consistently put in hours of work marketing their books and making sales.

If you want to see your book on the shelves of your local bookshop, then again I have bad news. Traditionally published books usually only live there for a few weeks before they disappear into obscurity. Self-published books often don’t get there at all. However, with so much business moving online, a lot of bookshops now have websites. They list many more books than they can possibly fit on their physical shelves. Print-on-demand services like Ingram Spark are available to both traditional publishers and self-published authors. The benefit is that instead of keeping copies in stock, shops can just order in when a customer asks.

Sometimes people just want to see their name on the front of a book to share with friends and family. There is certainly something quite special about holding a properly printed and bound edition in your hands. Beware what are known as vanity presses. Some companies prey on the author’s dream of being picked up by a traditional publisher. They charge through the nose for poor service and take a slice of any royalties. Self publishing means you definitely get to see your book in print, and it can be done very cheaply.

If you have a clear vision of the finished book you want to produce, self publishing is the only viable route. It means that all rights are yours entirely and you get the final say on everything. Traditional publishers often make decisions according to their perceptions of what the book needs. This may not match an author’s vision. Some authors find letting someone else think about it comforting, but others find it creatively smothering. And of course, self publishing means you also keep hold of all future royalties, as well as your rights.

If you want to get into the ever-growing ebook market, platforms like Amazon KDP and Draft2Digital make it possible. Anyone can upload their work and start to sell. You do need it in a good format to upload, but there are software tools and experts for hire to help you with that.

Next steps

If you decide to go for a traditional publishing contract, the first hurdle is getting noticed. Often it depends on the whims of the publishers. Many great authors are passed over multiple times before being offered a contract. Next, you need to negotiate a contract, which can be fraught with problematic clauses. You can get an agent to help with this for a cut of the royalties. Be aware that ultimately they need the publisher more than they need you, which may affect the service they provide. Once you’re signed up, the publisher takes over the process.

If you decide to self publish, you can learn how to do formatting, cover design, etc. But you don’t have to. There are lots of companies, like ours, who can do the leg work of self publishing for you. Often the charges are much lower than a vanity press and you keep all your royalties. Many are small companies run by people passionate about what they do. It’s worth taking a look at the Self Publishing Advice Centre’s list of services and ratings. The information will help you decide who you want to work with (we’re rated Excellent!).

Whichever route you take, make it yours.

Author Help Christmas Party – We party so you don’t have to!

It’s fair to say that this year has been unlike any other any of us have experienced before. One of the many impacts is that nobody can have an office Christmas party like we’re used to. Well, unless your office consists of two people who happen to be married to each other.

We decided to do you all proud with some of the best-loved (and most hated) aspects of a work do, complete with blurred photos taken from shonky angles!

Jen wears a white T-shirt with black writing: OH NO IT ISN'T!
Robin wears a black T-shirt with white writing: OH YES IT IS!
Obligatory photo of the team all gathered together, showing off our Christmas tops
Several clearly homemade biscuits decorated as melting snowmen, and a bag of clementines.
Someone brought tasty goodies for the buffet! Someone else brought fruit…
Robin receives a bottle of bubbly. Jen received a book about tanks, written by Robin.
Invariably, some folks do better out of the Secret Santa than others.
Jen and Robin are pretending to sword fight with Pringles tubes.
There’s always someone who starts a food fight
Jen and Robin share a kiss.
I hope we don’t regret that in the morning…
Robin has their hair loose and wears tinsel and baubles as accessories while singing enthusiastically.
Some people really like to let their hair down.
For others it’s just all too much.
Two empty, tea-stained mugs.
Just look at those empties! I can’t believe we drank so much!

We hope you had fun looking through these – we certainly had fun taking them.

All the best from Author Help and best wishes for 2021!

I finished NaNoWriMo. Now what?

Firstly, congratulations! You have done amazingly well to reach your writing goal.

You now have a large number of words of varying quality. They may or may not tell a complete, consistent story. But that’s just fine. NaNoWriMo is about getting the words on the page, and you’ve done that. The next step is editing.

Why do I need to edit?

Editing is a vital step in creating a fully fledged book. As you read through your words, you will find some sections that are, frankly, poor. But you’ll also find areas of pure brilliance and lots of work that just needs a bit of polish for it to shine. That’s the whole purpose of editing: to find the gems, fix the weaker parts, and end up with something you’re really proud of. And you deserve to be proud of it, given the time and love you’ve already given it.

I don’t know where to start!

It may be that you need to take some time away from your November writing and come back to it fresh in the new year. Alternatively, you may be feeling inspired and want to crack on straight away – do whichever works for you.

In the same way that the structure of NaNoWriMo helped you do the writing, structure can help you edit. Editing can be a long, laborious task. The key to accomplishing it is to break it down and have small, clear goals. In November, you may have written 1,667 words every day, or you may have focused your writing on three days a week. The same principle that worked for your writing will work again for your editing. You could set yourself the task of editing 1,667 of your words each day, especially if you find short deadlines push you into action. Or you may want to set a less pressured pace of 5,000 words a week, or two hours every Sunday.

The point is to have a pattern and pace that works for you. It needs to keep you moving towards that glorious finished manuscript.

Then what?

Once you’re done editing you will have something you’re proud of and you may want to share it. But it’s up to you how you choose to do that. If you want to just email the document to a few close friends, that’s absolutely fine; it’s your work and your choice. You may decide to submit it to traditional publishers, in which case good luck. If you want to investigate self publishing, we can help.

Any other tips?

Remember to celebrate the small wins. Edited a whole chapter? Well done! Turned an OK paragraph into something lovely? Brilliant! Every time you edit even a few sentences, the whole work is improved.

Proving copyright ownership with WIPO Proof

NOTE: The WIPO Proof service will shut down at the end of January 2022. Existing WIPO Proof tokens will continue to function as proof of ownership.

Most authors know that they own the copyright in their work as soon as they write it. There’s no need to register, but it can be useful to have proof. One option is to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office – this is an option even for non-US authors.

Earlier this year, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations (UN), created WIPO Proof as a way to register ownership of a digital file such as an ebook file or PDF.

A WIPO Proof token costs less than registering with the US Copyright Office. A WIPO Proof token currently costs twenty Swiss Francs (about $22), whereas registering with the US Copyright Office costs $45 or $65.

What a WIPO Proof token is and is not

A WIPO Proof token provides proof that you had a digital file when you created the token. It does not prove that you created the file or own the copyright. You could think of it as being akin to the old idea of posting a copy of the manuscript to yourself, but with the added legitimacy of being issued by a UN agency. In practical terms, if you need to provide evidence of ownership, being able to prove that you had a copy of the disputed file at some previous date is useful.

Indie authors are most likely to need something like this to prove their copyright to a vendor or distributor such as Amazon or Draft2Digital. I emailed the following companies to ask if they would accept a WIPO Proof token as evidence in a copyright dispute.

Barnes & Noble didn’t respond to my question.

Apple, Google, and KDP said that they couldn’t answer the question. They all said that their legal team would decide on a case by case basis.

Draft2Digital said that their vendors generally require authors to communicate directly with the person claiming copyright infringement, so they wouldn’t get involved.

Ingram Spark, Kobo, OneBookShelf/DriveThruFiction, PublishDrive, StreetLib, and BundleRabbit said that they would take a WIPO Proof token into consideration as evidence, if not outright proof of copyright.

Smashwords were the only company that definitively said that they would not take a WIPO Proof token into consideration.

Generating a WIPO Proof token

To generate a WIPO Proof token, you will need a WIPO account. Go to https://ipportal.wipo.int/ and click “Create WIPO Account”. They will send you an email with a link to confirm your account.

Log in to your WIPO account at https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/. Click Get started.

Screenshot: Selecting a file to create a WIPO Proof token

Select your file and the ownership option that applies. That will probably be “Yes, I am the natural person who owns the file.”

Select the category. For books, use “Creative work (audio, visual, or literary work).”

The next screen shows a summary and the fee. I paid in British pounds rather than Swiss Francs to avoid currency conversion fees.

Once the payment is confirmed, you will go to a “Payment Details” screen showing the payment status as “Paid”. Click Continue.

Screenshot: WIPO Proof token created

It will then take you to a congratulations screen. Clicking the download button will download a zip file containing a PDF receipt and a token file. You can also download the token from your WIPO Proof dashboard.

I strongly suggest keeping the contents of this zip file, along with the file you uploaded, in a separate folder on your computer. If you ever need to verify your proof token, you will need the file you uploaded and the token file.

Final notes

WIPO Proof tokens are tied to specific files because of the way they work. So if you get a token for the PDF print interior, it won’t be valid for the ePub. If you change the file, even slightly, the WIPO Proof token will no longer be valid. Therefore, keep the token and the uploaded file together in a separate folder on your computer.

I suggest using a PDF to generate the token, as they are still more widely supported than ePubs. Any claim will most likely revolve around the content of the book, rather than the specific formatting. The companies that said they would take a WIPO Proof token into consideration all said that they would accept a token generated for a PDF, even if an ePub had been uploaded to their systems.

Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. I am not a lawyer.

Minimum list price for Kindle books

I recently organised a multi-author sale. Several authors (including myself) agreed to reduce the price of one or more of their ebooks to $0.99/£0.99 for a week. I created a page on my website listing the books with links to where they could be bought. Everyone agreed to promote the sale to their newsletter or pay towards a Facebook advertising campaign. So far so good.

I got an unpleasant surprise on the eve of the sale, when I went to reduce the price of one of my books to the required $0.99/£0.99. Amazon wouldn’t let me reduce the price to less than $1.99/£1.25. These minimum prices have been in place since at least 2017, but they don’t get talked about very much, so they’re easy to miss.

The book that I was trying to reduce the price on contains a lot of images, and the file size is about 7MB, much larger than the typical ebook. Kindle books of between 3MB and 10MB have a minimum price of $1.99, even on the 35% royalty option. Kindle books larger than 10MB have a minimum price of $2.99 on the 35% royalty option.

Most ebooks won’t be affected by this, but books with large numbers of images and ebook box sets might be. If you’re planning to run a sale, check the minimum price for your book before you publicise the sale price. In my case, I was able to work around the issue. Since I have multiple books published, I was able to simply put a different book in the sale, one with a file size small enough to allow me to reduce the price as required. This neatly illustrates one of the advantages of having multiple books published — greater flexibility.

The full details of the price limits for different sizes are on the list price requirements page at KDP Help.

How to create and use Reading Lists

Draft2Digital’s Reading Lists allow you to create curated collections of books. You can showcase your own books, or create a list of recommended books in a genre or around a subject. Reading Lists use Universal Book Links (UBLs), so refer to my UBL article if you don’t know how to create them.

Create a Reading List

Log in to your Books2Read account. Hover over the “Link Tools” link at the top-right of the screen, then click “Reading Lists”. To create a new list, click on the “Make a New Reading List” button.

Reading List details page
Entering details

Enter details on the left of the screen. To the right is a preview. Under the “Details” header, you will need to add a name. You can optionally add a tagline. Then open the “Choose Header Image” section. You can choose an image from the drop-down list, or upload your own. Optionally, choose a colour overlay to add, click the bar to choose the colour’s opacity.

Add search terms and BISAC classifications in their sections. These will help the list’s discoverability.

The advanced options allow you to force clicks to a single store, bypassing the book’s UBL page. This is useful when compiling a list of books enrolled in KDP Select, since the books will only be available on Amazon.

You can set a custom link, one that is easier to remember or read out on a podcast.

Add Carousels and Books

When the list details are all filled in, click the “Add Books” button. Carousels are used to organise books in lists. If you have multiple series for instance, you could have a carousel for each series.

Entering the carousel name and description
Entering the carousel name and description

The new page has fields for the carousel name and description. Both can be left empty if preferred.

Adding books to a reading list carousel
Adding books to a carousel

After entering these, click the green box labelled “Click to add books.” This will bring up a search box, which will search your UBLs. You can add multiple books at a time. Select the books you want to add, then click “Add selected books”.

To remove books, click the dustbin icon, select the books to remove, and click “Remove selected books”. To add more books, click the plus icon. Re-order the book covers by dragging and dropping.

To add a new carousel, click “Add carousel” at the bottom of the page. Add books to the new carousel in the same way as the first one. Click “Manage carousels” at the bottom of the page to remove or re-order the carousels.

Using the Reading List

Reading list link
Reading list link

When you’re happy with the layout, click the “Save and continue” button at the top. The last page shows the reading list’s link, and a “Copy link” button, which will copy the link to your clipboard. It also has buttons to share the link to Facebook or Twitter.

If you have multiple series, a reading list is a useful way of showcasing all of them on a single page, with a carousel for each series.

Another option is to list related books or a list of recommended books. I have a Cold War reading list, which includes several of my own books and books by other authors. Because universal book links support affiliate links, you can earn affiliate commission even when a reader buys another author’s book.

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