How To

How Do You Judge a Book? By Its Cover, of Course

Screen Shot 2013-05-08 at 11.55.38 AMToday’s article was contributed by Ron Miller – author, cover designer, and Lulu community contributor.

Making sure your book has a good cover is like making sure you are neatly dressed and well groomed when going on a job interview.

Although everyone says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this really doesn’t apply to books themselves. In fact, the cover is one of the most important parts of a book. It’s the first thing anyone will ever see and for that reason it needs to make a good impression. If a cover is unreadable, looks amateurish or misrepresents a book, the potential reader may give it a pass and move on to the next book in a catalog or bookshelf.

There are no hard and fast rules in book cover design. Just take a look at some of the superb covers displayed here . They are all creative, effective and no two look alike. Yet, they all follow the same basic guidelines. Even if you are not an artist or designer, you can still make a cover that – while perhaps not as artistic or inventive as some of these covers – can still be attractive and effective. Here are some basic rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  • The most important thing on a book cover is the book’s title.
  • Keep things simple typographically. You may own a thousand fonts, but there is no need to feel compelled to use them all. Especially avoid really fancy, decorative fonts or using a lot of Photoshop effects on the title. If no one can read the title of your book, you may as well not have it on the cover at all.
  • Likewise, keep your artwork simple. Try to limit yourself to just one image that best represents the book’s genre or what it is about. Avoid the temptation to create a “kitchen sink” cover, where you try to cram in everything you think is important.
  • Another reason for simplicity is that a cover needs to work at all sizes—and even in B&W. Most people will first see your cover as a thumbnail image on a webpage. Therefore, it needs to be as readable at postage stamp size as it is on the actual printed book.

Having read these suggestions, go back to the Indie Cover page and see how many of those covers reflect these ideas.

About the Author:

In addition to the books he has published with Lulu, Ron Miller is the author/illustrator of more than fifty commercially published books. These have received numerous commendations and awards, including a Hugo, the IAF Manuscript Award, the Booklist Editor’s Award and the American Institute of Physics Award of Excellence. Several of his books have been Book-of-the-Month Club feature selections. In addition to the artwork he does for his own books, Miller provides illustrations for magazines such as Scientific American, Astronomy and Discover. Specializing in science fiction and fantasy, he has also created several hundred book covers for publishers such as Tor, Baen, Berkley/Ace, Warner, Easton Press, Subterranean Press and many others.

Black Cat Studios

Let’s Go Viral: Five Tactics for Boosting Your Clicks, Likes, and Shares

Author PlatformA few years ago, every indie-writer’s conference I attended focused on developing an author platform. This was a fancy, buzz wordy way of saying that independent authors who want to sell books also must create and maintain an internet presence consisting of a website, a blog, and social media pages. Today the buzzwords have changed and conference sessions are still being conducted about why an internet presence is necessary, but many of them fail to provide specific tactics for marketing your book once your platform is in place.

For the sake of this article, we will assume your platform is up and running. Now let’s make more effective use of these tools to get your marketing efforts noticed and your book sold.

#1: A Picture Is Worth 1000 Likes1000 Likes

Images are the most effective way to capture a person’s attention as they scroll through their social media feed. A fun way to get people talking about your work is to take and share screen shots or photos of your writing and publishing milestones to share on Facebook. For example, you can post a screenshot of your book’s product page when it is available for purchase on a new retail site, a screenshot of your book’s sales rank as it moves up the charts, or photos of you receiving and editing your proof copies. Sharing these milestones allows your fans to share in your excitement.

Don’t forget to include a link back to your website, blog, or book page to capitalize on the interest you generate. And, don’t assume your fans are all following you on Facebook. Be sure to post this content on other image-centric social sites such as Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest.

#2 Scatter Tastier Breadcrumbs

Tasty BreadThe entire reason for developing an internet presence is to capture a potential reader’s attention while maintaining the interest of your existing fans. All the little pieces of information shared in social media are like virtual breadcrumbs you scatter into the world to lure readers towards your content. So, its really important you  choose “bread” your readers will love.

For example, you could spend hours writing a blog post contemplating the causes of writer’s block and how it has affected your output. Or, you can take a few minutes to post a picture of your character’s favorite car, perfume, whiskey, etc. with a link back to a blog post about that character’s back story and why their predilection for this object is important to the story.

Using this strategy, you can also share images and insights relating to settings, locales, and general research: “While researching <fill in the blank>, I learned this interesting fact about…..” Remember the 80/20 rule of social media marketing: 80% of your posts should include useful information while 20% should be dedicated to marketing your product.

#3 Make It Easy to Spread the Word

Share buttonsAdding social share buttons to your website and blog pages may seem like an obvious step, but it is often over looked. These buttons are powerful marketing tools that essentially turn your fans into marketers every time they share your work with their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn network of friends.

And even better, it’s quite easy to add these buttons to your web pages. Here are links for adding the Facebook Like button, the Tweet button, and the LinkedIn Share button.

#4 Add Facebook Comments to Your Webpage

CommentsFacebook allows you to add a commenting system to any web page. This can be particularly effective in maintaining fans because it allows you to communicate directly with your readers from within your own website. It also allows you to nurture and develop your super-fans – those readers who will buy everything you write, share all your social content, and tell all their friends about your books. These people are your most effective marketers and they will be thrilled to receive answers directly from you instead of your Facebook Marketing Page profile.

To learn more about adding Facebook Comments to your webpages, see: Facebook Comments Plugin

#5 Your Fans Love Free Stuff – And So Do Their Friends.

You probably have fans who follow everything you do – if not, see above. Why not reward them by allowing them to download a PDF version of the first chapter of your upcoming book? They will be delighted to get it first and will be eager to share the experience with their friends.Retweet Button

You can make it easy for them to share their happiness by including a Retweet button in the free PDF content. You can pre-populate the text of the Tweet and include a link for others to download the free chapter. “I’m reading @AuthorName’s new book: <Book Title>. Get the 1st chapter free here: tiny.url.link.”

For more information, see: Adding Retweet buttons to PDFs.

These are just a few social media tactics you an easily implement with minimal effort. If you have others you would like to share, leave a comment below. And don’t forget to Like and Share this content with your friends. (See what I did there?)

Advice from the Literary Stars: Overcoming Writer’s Block

writers block WomanWe’ve all been there. Sitting at our desk struggling to move our story forward. Sometimes it’s a word that’s just out of reach, a scene you can’t adequately describe, or a transition that is a bit awkward. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t move forward. You are blocked. Fortunately, writer’s block is almost always temporary and all writers experience it at one time or another. So don’t despair. You are in good company.

If that is not enough encouragement to help you through your crisis, perhaps the following words of advice from these literary stars will help.

“Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on.” — Orson Scott Card Ender’s Game

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

“I encouragwriters block vintagee my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing — just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundred words every day. Then, on bad days and weeks, let things go at that.”— Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’” — Maya Angelou

“Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.” — John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden

Writers Block Hemingway“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it, you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” — Ernest Hemingway

“If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.” — Norman Mailer in The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing

 

writers-block woman 2“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” — Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

“Put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.” — Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, American Gods

“I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” — Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

 

Easy Ways to Sell Books at Events

Easy ways for you to sell your self-published book at events.Most independent authors are used to selling their books online. Sites like Lulu.com, Amazon, and other retailers are typically the place where you’ll get most of your sales. If you put in a little hustle, you can also get your books on the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores.

But what if you want to sell your books yourself? It takes some work, but that’s something you’re used to if you’re publishing on your own, right? Especially if you’re writing and publishing as a business rather than a hobby, selling your own books can open up a lot of networking and sales avenues; just listing on Amazon and leaving it be simply don’t offer the same opportunities.

If you find yourself at a lot of conferences, seminars, book signings, or other events, you might be leaving a lot of books on the table – literally – by not being proactive with your selling strategy. Here are a few ways you can be hands-on with your sales.

Sell Online
“But I already sell online! Isn’t that what Lulu and Amazon are for?”

You’re right, but the ease of selling through an online retailer comes with the inherent drawbacks of being locked into their platforms and rules. Maybe you want to sell your book somewhere you can have complete control – running your own discounts, bundling books, adding non-book products, and more.

Luckily, selling online has never been easier to do. Squarespace, Shopify, Big Cartel, and Gumroad are just a few of the platforms that let you set up your very own ecommerce site in minutes. Add images, product descriptions, and prices, and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged storefront that anyone in the world can find at their fingertips.

The best part is, it still works great for people at events. Maybe they don’t want to carry around a book for the rest of a conference or have to find a way to pack it into their bag for their flight home. Or maybe they want to take advantage of those special deals that you’re able to do when you’re selling on your own, like a bundle that includes one of your previous book.

Plus, there’s a lot to be said about having a professional-looking site with its own store. People know to take you and your business seriously because they can see that you’re taking yourself seriously.

Sell In-person
Conferences and other events are great places to sell your books. After all, you’ve already engaged your audience with a talk that showcased your expertise, and there’s nothing better than a book to let them go more in-depth and keep you at the top of their minds.

But even if you have a stack of books and a line of willing buyers, how do you move those books? Do you cross your fingers that everyone will have cash on them? Do you direct them to the Internet and hope they don’t forget before they have a chance to check out your site?

The answer is easy, because today’s tech allows anyone with a credit card to become your customer. Products like Square, Shopify, and PayPal Here let you plug a credit card reader right into your phone or tablet and accept plastic like a pro. You can also use Stripe or PayPal for electronic payments.

Selling in-person has a ton of benefits. You’re meeting your audience face-to-face, which goes a long way in building relationships and networks. You’re also giving them instant access to your book; instead of waiting around for it to be shipped, they can start flipping through it right away and strike up conversations with other readers.

And hey, maybe you’ll even get asked to sign a few copies. There’s no easier way to get started down the path of a celebrity!

What To Watch Out For
Selling books through a third party is easy. Take Lulu, for instance: you set up your book and we take care of the listing, the checkout process, the payment transaction, and making sure your book gets to your customer. If you’re selling on your own, these are all things you’ll need to take into account yourself.

Which platform are you going to use? Are there fees involved with accepting payments? How are you going to ship your packages out? How many copies of your book are you going to keep in stock? Will you accept returns?

That’s the tradeoff between selling on your own and letting someone else do it for you. When you have control of everything, you have to control everything. That isn’t to say one is better than the other; you just need to know what you’re getting yourself into and how much time you’re willing and able to put into your business. Just remember to keep your options open, and strike when the opportunity presents itself!

Have you had success striking out on your own and selling your books? Let us know your best tips and tools in the comments!

How to Find a Writing Group

Join a writer's group to share your workWe writers can work anywhere with a horizontal surface on which to rest our laptops or pads of paper. But, the process of turning what we imagine into text is a singularly solitary effort. We know what we want and mean to write. We clearly see it in our mind’s eye. Yet our mind is a tricky place. It tends to fill in the blanks we left on the page resulting in under developed characters and unresolved plot lines.

Joining a writing group is one way to fill in those blanks.  Not only can a group make your writing more of a collegial experience, but a group of like-minded writers can also help you meet your writing goals, work out the kinks in your plot lines, and point out any inconsistencies in your work.

So where do you find these mythical people? Here are a few places to look:

1. Local writing centers and communities

The first place to start is the internet. A quick search using your city name and “Writing Group” will get you started. If you get too many results, include the genre in which you write to narrow down the list. Once you find a promising group, send a message to the group leader or attend a public meeting / class to determine if the group is a good fit for you.

2. Conferences and Retreats

While you are at it, search for any local writing conferences or retreats to attend. Sharing your contact information with other writers at these local gatherings is the best way to make contact with authors who can recommend or introduce you to an existing group.

3. Bulletin boards

Despite living in the digital age, that old school means of finding like-minded people can still be effective. If you are interested in starting a writing group post a notice at your local public library, coffee house, or arts center. You can even post a notice on your city’s Craigslist > Community > Groups section.

4. Writing associations

Professional associations such as Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America have chapters throughout the country. Check their sites for directories to find members in your local area.

Lulu Joining a writing group

5. People you already know

We all have one good book inside of us – or so we would like to think. So, why not build a writing group from your friends and acquaintances. Most of us don’t live among authors and poets, but that’s not the point. The key is establishing a routine for a regular exchange of work. A word of caution may be needed here. Remember, criticism – even constructive criticism hurts. So choose carefully from those friends who will welcome your suggestions – and vice verse.

6. Online critique groups

Multiple online services are available and are often set up as an exchange: you must critique others’ work to have your own critiqued. Though they are often free, you may need to pay for full access or pay for an unlimited number of critiques. Some groups to to check out: Critique Circle, Review Fuse, Scribophile and Ladies Who Critique. One thing to keep in mind is that the readers in each group may or may not be your target audience and may not be a fan of the genre in which you work.

Meetups are a great place to share your writing

7. Meetup.com

This online service connects local people with similar interests ranging from Spanish literature to Scrabble. If there isn’t a writing group in your city, for a small fee you can start your own – or hold virtual meetings and exchange work via email.

8. Social media

Social media is now the most common way to connect with like-minded individuals and to find potential writing group members. Try these to get started: LinkedIn Groups for Writers, Facebook Groups for Writers, Goodreads Writing Groups and Twitter Lists for Writers.

Another options to just put out a call on your own social networks that you’re starting a writing group. You might be surprised who responds!

As you can see, finding a writing group takes time but it is well worth it to have the support, feedback and encouragement a group provides. Are you part of a writing group, or do you have tips of your own on finding people to share your work with? Let us know in the comments!

7 Simple Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make

Don't make these grammar mistakes

There’s no easier way to lose readers – and sales – than by publishing a book full of simple mistakes. After all, if you don’t care enough to catch basic errors, why should readers care about your book? Spellcheck can go a long way, but it won’t always save you from grammar mistakes that might go overlooked.

A good editor is never a bad thing if you’re serious about building your audience. But whether you’re hiring an editor or striking out on your own, you can make life easier by making sure these simple mistakes don’t pop up in your book.

Your vs You're

Your vs You’re

Your is possessive – as in, “That’s your dog.” You’re is a contraction of “you are.”

Its vs It’s

Along the same lines, its is possessive, and it’s is a contraction of “it is” (or “it has”).

Who’s vs Whose

Whose is possessive. Who’s is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.” Are you sensing a trend?

There vs their vs they're

Their vs They’re vs There

Ready to throw in a third option? Their is possessive, and they’re is a contraction of “they are.” There will cover pretty much everything else, from “There goes the bus” to “Put that box over there” to “There aren’t any cookies here.” (Note: pirates may be inclined to throw in “thar.”)

Lose vs loose

Lose vs Loose

This is best with a few examples. You can lose your dog if he gets loose from his leash. Your clothes will be loose if you lose a lot of weight. If you have loose change in your pocket, you might lose it. If all else fails, read your sentence aloud; if the word sounds like it ends with a ‘z’ then it’s lose; if it sounds like an ‘s’ then it’s loose.

Compliment vs Complement

The only difference is an ‘i’ and an ‘e’. So what’s the real difference? Compliment – with an ‘i’ – means you’re saying something nice to someone. Or, as an easy way to remember, “I am saying something nice to someone.” If you complement something, you’re adding to or improving it.

Farther vs Further

Farther refers to a physical distance – long distances are always far. “His house is farther away than mine.” Further is more figurative and means an extent of time or degree, as in “Tom wanted to talk further about the plan.” Farther and further are more readily accepted as being interchangeable than other examples in this list.

Do you have your own grammar pet peeves, or any tricks you use to keep words straight? Share them in the comments below!

3 Reasons Why You Should be Writing in the Cloud

Tips for writing in the cloud

Imagine: you’re an author hard at work to independently publish your book (stop me if you’ve heard this one before). You finally have time to write but…you’re at your work laptop instead of your personal one. Or you only have your phone or tablet on you. Or you’re waiting on someone’s feedback about a crucial detail that you need to continue. The list goes on.

In short, it can be a hassle to keep track of your in-progress work when you want to sneak in some writing time or show your book to someone. That’s where “the cloud” comes in.

You might have heard of the cloud and thought of it as an overused business term. To some extent, you’re right. But it can also be a valuable tool for any writer. The cloud lets you access and edit your work from anywhere, and there are programs out there specifically for writing.

What program should I use?

First things first: if you’re going to write in the cloud, you’ll need to decide where you’ll be doing it. A lot of this will come down to personal preference; what meets your needs, what you’re comfortable using, and even what platform is the most aesthetically pleasing all play a big role.

Google Drive is a good place to start. Most people have a Google account that they use for Gmail and other services, and using Drive is free to use. The convenience makes at least giving it a shot a low-effort task, and it’s straightforward enough to be very easy to use.

There’s also Evernote, a popular choice in its own right – so popular, in fact, that it surpassed 100 million users last year. You can pay a little extra for bells and whistles, but the basic program is free and more than enough for most writers.

Again, there are a lot of choices out there, but both Google Drive and Evernote have features that every writer can use (and will be discussed below), and they’re available on computers and mobile devices so they’ll never be out of reach. Play around until you find something you’re comfortable with!

Regardless what where you write, here are three ways the cloud will help make your writing efforts that much smoother.

Take your work anywhere

Do you save files to USB thumbdrives? It’s hard to believe we ever did such things, isn’t it? If you’re writing in the cloud, though, this all goes the way of carrying around CDs or floppy disks or – gasp! – even folders and binders full of printouts. Today, you can start writing, have it saved automatically, and pick it up whenever and wherever you want.

“But that’s not a problem,” you say. “I write on my laptop, and that’s portable. I can already take that anywhere!”

Sure you can – assuming you have that laptop. What if inspiration strikes while you’re in bed with your tablet, or while you’re waiting at the airport and only have your phone to tap away on?

That’s the beauty of the cloud: wherever you are, that’s where your work is, too.

Collaboration

Writing is often thought of as a solitary endeavor, but we know better, don’t we?

Maybe you have a small group of people with whom you’re collaborating on your textbook. Or you have experts and thought leaders double-checking your work. You might have people proofreading for you, whether it’s a professional editor or friends and family you’ve enlisted to give your book a once-over.

Regardless of your circumstances, you’ll never run short of reasons to share your writing with a lot of people before you even get the first hard copy published, and working in the cloud makes that process that much easier.

In the cloud, you can give anyone you’d like access to your work. Services like Google Drive and Evernote come with chat functions, allowing you to discuss changes and brainstorm on the fly. You’ll never be out of touch with those you’re working with, removing a huge barrier to the old way of writing.

Research

Research is a key part of any book. Whether you’re writing a textbook full of facts and figures or you want to make sure you’ve got your indigenous plant life straight for your post-apocalypse novel, you never want to be called out for misinformation.

It’s important to get things right, and the Internet has revolutionized they way we find information. Since you’re working in the cloud, integrating your research into your writing is seamless. Take Google Drive: you’re already using Google for most of your information-gathering, right? Well, click on a word or a phrase in your document and get Google search results instantly, including the option to cite results in the format of your choice. Footnotes have never been easier!

Or maybe you’re using Evernote. Did you know that it comes with a web clipper tool, letting you save articles and websites right in Evernote for easy access and reference? Or how about that you can link related notes to keep track of everything? Or, for you non-fiction authors, store things like business cards and recipes? All the information you could want is at your fingertips, and you never have to leave your writing.

A new way to work

You might have noticed that these tactics go together hand-in-hand: collaboration is a lot easier because you can take your work anywhere, and research is simple when you can have other people make notes and suggestions in an instant. They fit together like pieces of a writing puzzle. And that’s why using cloud-based tools to write makes so much sense.

There’s something to be said for old habits, like sitting down at a notebook or a typewriter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embrace new and innovative ways to do things. After all, you’ve seen the benefits of self-publishing over going through the old, outdated publishing process. If you’re in the market for convenience, speed, and ease of use, there might be something in the cloud for you.