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Some new authors think they can't afford to hire an editor. They think they can publish their book just like it is, and maybe work on editing in the next edition. The truth is, you can't afford not to! Your first books are the first time millions of readers will get to know you. Do you want your first impression to be of an author who doesn't know basic grammar rules, or one who doesn't care enough to fix typos? No matter how careful or diligent you are, a second or third pair of eyes is always better when it comes to polishing your book. That doesn't mean you have to drop a fortune on editing services. Here are five things you can do to cut down on your professional editing costs.
Microsoft Word has its own editing tools, but it's as bare-bones as it can be. Begin by investing in at least two more detailed editing apps to give your manuscript some polish. Some of the most popular are:
Once you've gone through your manuscript a few times, the words will all begin to run together. Some of the more common typos happen because you know what you meant to write, so your eyes see that as the way you've actually written it. Run your chapters through a text to speech converter to allow your laptop to read your words out loud. You'll hear mistakes your eyes never landed on, and they'll stick out for easy identification. Free text to speech programs like Natural Reader or the Word Talk Microsoft Word extension work just as well as the paid programs for your editing purposes.
Word fatigue can cause you to skim over paragraphs you've read multiple times before, never allowing you to see errors that might otherwise stick out. One way to switch up your words is to read your manuscript backward. It sounds odd, but if you read the last paragraph by itself, then the next to the last one, and so on, it breaks up the mental continuity and allows your brain to see the text as a new experience. You'll be able to pick out errors you skimmed over multiple times previously.
Once you've gone over your manuscript multiple times and have made it as clean as possible, it's time to send it out to other people. Gather a group of like-minded people who want to work as beta readers for your book. Use other authors or readers who are very familiar with your book genre. Emphasize that the goal of this exercise is for them to find as many errors as possible, not to spare your feelings. Include instructions on finding plot holes, dangling mysteries, misspelled words, or any other error that might show up in your story.
If you're just starting out and you're truly broke, there might be absolutely no cash in your account you can use to pay an editor. On the other hand, you might have some useful skills you can use to trade for editing services. Are you a whiz at SEO? Can you build websites or create interesting blog posts? It never hurts to ask someone if they'd be willing to make a deal for their services, as long as you explain your circumstances. Who knows? You may find a kindly editor who's willing to edit your first book for free, in exchange for paid editing services for the next two books in your series. Check your social media groups to see who would be willing to make a deal.
Joining a local writing group is one sure-fire way to up your author game, but what if you don't have one in your community? This is a unique opportunity to create a writing group that's perfect for your needs. The members of a writing group can be cheerleaders, critique partners, motivational speakers and sources of great book marketing information. They'll help to improve your book and advance your author game like no other organization you can join. Start your own writer's group in your community to help yourself and other local authors get to the next level in their writing careers.
What's Your Focus?
Your writer's group will only be a success if everyone has the same basic goals. Will this be for fiction authors only, or will you allow non-fiction writers to join? What about book genre? Are there enough mystery or romance writers in your area to make up a group, or will you welcome science fiction authors, too? Think about what type of writers you'll welcome, in terms of experience. Some groups include only published authors with a certain number of books in their back catalog, while others work with writers just starting out on the first draft of their first novel.
Pick the Size of Your Group
You need your group to have enough members to keep the conversation lively and interesting, but not so many that some people never get to have feedback on their work. Most groups find that between five and eight members is a good place to start.
Interview Members to Create a Good Mix
While it would be boring to have an entire group made up of people just like yourself, there are certain types of group members you might not want to deal with. Think about creating a sample critique experience for prospective members to go through, to see how they react to a real-life club experience. Check for people who are afraid to speak their mind for fear of hurting people's feelings, as well as those who don't speak respectfully to others in the group. Creating your group will be a gradual process; it's the rare club that finds all its members in the first week.
Create a Sample Schedule
How many words do you want each writer to submit for critique each week? Will you concentrate on one entire work each week, or share the attention between a sample chapter from each club member? Typically, groups allow members to submit between one and five thousand words, or one chapter, with a deadline of about five days before the meeting time. This allows members enough time to read the sample chapters and develop suggestions for improvement before they go to the meeting.
Advertising for Members
Once you have all the details for your group worked out, advertise all over town for new members. Create and put up flyers in the local libraries, in coffee shops and bookstores, in local newspapers, and in any other community gathering spots you have in your neighborhood. Set up a date for initial conversations at the same day and time you plan to have your meetings. This will make sure everyone who joins already has that day and time free on their weekly schedule.
Finding a Meeting Place
Writing critique groups can meet in any number of places in the community, both public and private. Check your local library to see if they have a meeting room available for community groups. Many groups meet at bookstore cafes or local coffee shops. If you live in a city with large hotels, pick a hotel and use the coffee shop in their lobby as a central meeting place for everyone. If you feel comfortable having strangers in your home (although they probably won't be strangers for long), hold the meeting in your home if it's large enough. Some groups rotate holding their meetings at different places each month, while others pick a designated space as their meeting area. Wherever you look, just make sure there are comfortable chairs, available tables, a place to find refreshments of some sort, if only water, and a tolerance for a certain amount of noise. You'll be talking at the very least and, if all goes well, you might end up laughing or excitedly discussing plot points for hours on end.
Elmore Leonard, the prolific detective fictionseries author, was never shy about telling other authors what he thought of the writing profession. Here are some of his to-the-point tips for writing great novels.
A prologue in a novel is backstory; you can drop that anywhere you want. Prologues in the beginning of the book can be annoying to readers.
Opening Your Book
Never open a book by talking about the weather. If you use it to create atmosphere, and not to show a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long about it. The reader is apt to skip ahead, just looking for the people in your story.
Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. Lines of dialogue belong to the character that said them. Verbs are the writer sticking their nose in. "Said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled," "gasped," or "lied".
Never use an adverb to modify the word "said". To use an adverb this way is a mortal sin. The writer is using a word that distracts and can pull the reader out of the story.
Keep the exclamation points under control. Never use more than two or three for every 100,000 words of prose you write.
Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule needs no explanation. Leonard claims that authors who use the word "suddenly" invariably are those who don't have enough control in the use of exclamation points.
Use patois or regional dialect very sparingly. Once you start to spell words phonetically and filling the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. It gets out of control and difficult to read very quickly.
Avoid long, detailed descriptions of characters. Sometimes a single action, like taking off a hat, is the only description a character needs. Leave the rest to the reader's imagination.
Leonard says that, unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenery with language, don't go overboard describing the environment around your characters. Avoid long descriptions that bring the flow of action to a standstill.
Don't Bore Them
Try to leave out the parts of your book that readers will tend to skip. What sections do you you pass up when reading a book? Usually, it's thick chunks of prose in endless, blocky paragraphs.
Finally, Leonard sums up all his advice into one, most important statement: If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
Amazon's CreateSpace publishing arm no longer offers author services such as book design, professional editing, and book marketing. For those authors who relied on Amazon for all aspects of their book publishing career, this means having to scramble to find service providers for these crucial tasks. According to a spokesperson from Amazon,
“After a thorough review of our service offerings, we’ve made the decision to discontinue CreateSpace’s paid professional editing, design and marketing services. We will work closely with impacted employees through this transition to help them find new roles within the company or assist them with pursuing opportunities outside the company.”
This change didn't surprise too many people in the indie publishing world, as Amazon continues to grow larger and move away from personalized services of any kind. That's never been a large part of their business model, and will likely continue to shrink as the company grows.
Amazon's business plan may be all about the numbers, but here at FastPencil/Infinity we've always dedicated ourselves to helping individual authors get the most out of their self publishing experiences. We've always provided free tools to help authors write and proof their manuscripts as well as create their covers and format their books. For those who don't necessarily want to do it all on their own, we offer a wide variety of professional designers, editors, and advisors to help them produce the exact book they've always dreamed of creating.
In order to compete in the crowded field of indie publishing today, authors have to produce a professional product that stands out from the pack. The best way to do this is to gather a professional team to guide a manuscript from first draft to polished product. At FastPencil, we offer these services to make your book the best it can be:
Professional editing. The best investment you can make in your writing career is a great editor. Readers are savvy today, and they know when a book's been professionally edited and polished. Writers aiming to reach the bestseller lists, and even those who are publishing the book they've been thinking about for years, all deserve the finished impression a great editor will give to a book. We offer line editing as well as grammar checking that includes a deep understanding of your stylistic word usage, complex line editing, or simple copyediting.
Cover creation. Readers today certainly do judge a book by its cover. In fact, survey after survey agree that the book cover is the number one detail to grab the attention of most readers. Without a genre-appropriate cover with fonts that fit the niche, your book is likely to sink through the ranks in a speedy descent. We offer professionally designed covers, for both ebook and paper versions of your book. No matter the genre or topic of your book, the members of our cover design team will create a cover you'll be excited about and proud to publish.
Marketing The days where you could simply publish a book and be sure that it would sell are long gone. If today's author wants to sell any books, he has to be a marketer as much as he is a writer. Book marketing is a complex topic, with literally hundreds of different venues, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. What works for a science fiction novel will waste money and time for a romance book, and those new to book marketing have no way to know which is which. We offer a variety of marketing services, from basic book marketing collateral to PR campaigns fit for national book conventions.
Our company's goal has always been to help the individual author to produce the best book he can, and to help make sure it meets its true potential in the marketplace. If you're an author in need of personalized help in creating and publishing your work, FastPencil has all the professional help you need, all in one convenient place.
Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!
* This offer is for FastPencil and Infinity authors and prospective authors only.
Marketing your book, which every author has to do, is a matter of constantly changing things to improve sales. The only way you can know what to change is to research and discover data that shows what's working and what isn't. One of the most significant data points is your book's sales. The current sales rank, along with the way customers are finding your book, can influence future sales in a surprising number of ways. To find information about this that you can really use, you'll need to research three different performance signals, three ways to measure the sales of your book.
The sales of your book might seem straightforward, but Amazon makes even this simple concept a bit tricky. Everything on the Amazon site is ranked according to its popularity. When searching for anything on their site, you'll be shown the most popular items first, on the theory that if it's most popular, it's the one that more people want. It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy, because if an item is shown to more people, it will naturally sell to more people. In short, the book that sells the best is advertised to the most future readers looking for a book in the same genre.
Having a reader find your book and check out your cover and book description is the first goal in writing your book's listing. Once you get them on the page, your book will help to sell itself, but your listing does the majority of the work. The percentage of people who look at your book and actually buy it is known as the conversion rate. If you've got a lot of lookers and not a lot of buyers, your conversion rate is low. This is useful because it helps to narrow down where the appeal is breaking down, which helps you to pinpoint what needs fixing to increase your sales.
Click Through Rate
This is the most basic of data points, the number of people you've enticed to take a look at your book. How many searchers are actually clicking on your listing to check out your book description? If you can't get customers in the door, you'll never make a sale. Your click through rate is almost always a result of great keywords in your listing, which causes the Amazon algorithm to rank your book higher in the search.
Why These Three Performance Signals?
In order to increase book sales, you constantly need to change your listings every time they begin to fail. Watching these three performance signals will tell you where you need to make a change. If your click through rate is down, look to your keywords. To improve your conversion rate, your description and book cover need to be spot-on. And if your sales are down compared to other books in your niche, study what they're doing to keep their books best sellers and on the top 100 list, to find techniques you can use as your own.
The first step in getting book sales on Amazon is to make it easier for readers to find them. This concept has birthed an entirely new name: discoverability. Amazon has given authors tools and techniques that make this more simple, for those who know their secrets. The key is all in the way Amazon's search engine works. Tap into this algorithm and you'll be able to tweak your book listings to make your books come up in more book searches, giving a larger number of readers the chance to like and buy your books.
Amazon's Search Algorithm
Discoverability is just what it sounds like: the ability to be discovered more easily, specifically in Amazon's search engine, for our purposes. Once you know how that search engine works, you'll be able to adjust your book's listing to encourage the search to show your book more often.
When a potential reader does a search for a book, Amazon chooses a list of books to show them, based on a few rules. This set of rules, or algorithm, will determine which books show up and how high in the listing they'll be ranked. The closer a book's listing matches what the algorithm is looking for, the higher it will show in the search results. Please note: it's the listing that determines how well your book ranks and how often readers will see it after searching, not the book itself. You could have the exact book someone is looking for, but if you don't list it correctly, no one will ever find it (at least by the usual search methods).
Amazon's search algorithm is based on two basic principles: the closer the metadata is to the search query, the higher the listing, and the better sales a book has, the higher the listing. It's a two-pronged approach, and you can take advantage of both sides of the equation to increase your book sales.
Using Keywords to Increase Sales
Both parts of the algorithm or formula require research. In the first half, you need to discover what keywords readers use in searching for books just like yours. No, there are no books exactly like yours, but it fits into a type, a genre. It's military sci-fi, paranormal romance, non-fiction photography, something. When readers search for a book, they put a phrase into the search engine box. This phrase, called a keyword phrase, is what Amazon will look for in your listing when trying to match books to their search. The more keywords you have in your listing, both in the keyword boxes and in your book's description, the higher it will rank in the search results.
All those search results have to be ranked in some sort of order, and Amazon uses a method that makes sense from a business point of view. All other things being equal, they'll rank better-selling books higher than poorer-selling books. There's not a lot you can do about this; there will always be books that sell better than yours (if only temporarily). But you can track the rankings of your strongest competitors and compare the keywords in their listings to see if you can discover stronger ones you can use in your own.
Tracking and using keywords isn't a static practice; you'll need to constantly research and tweak your listings to improve your book's search results. If your book is in the top 100 for your genre, leave it alone. But if you want to rise in the rankings, do some research and change your keywords to more closely match the best selling books or what the top 100 is doing. Be on the look-out for our keyword optimization service that will help make all of this a breeze.
When asked about the key details that help to sell more books, book marketing experts will always mention the book cover and the description. While they're crucial in converting a curious book seeker into a buyer, they don't touch on how readers find your books in the first place. Before a customer can make a decision about your books she has to find them in the huge virtual bookstore that makes up Amazon. In almost every instance, she'll do that using Amazon's search engine, and that's where keywords come in.
How Amazon Search Works
When someone searches for a book on Amazon, the results they see are based on two things: books' sales history, and how well the metadata on those books matches the words used in the search. In order to improve your book's visibility, you can find the keywords used in the listings of similar, more popular books and use it in your listing. When readers do a search for the bestselling books in your genre, your books will show up on the same page. And as we all know, the more eyes that fall on your book, the more books you'll sell.
Amazon Keyword Search
Amazon has turned the search engine and its results into a finely tuned science. They know how their shoppers behave and they've used this knowledge in their sales algorithm. About 70 percent of all searches on Amazon are long-tail keywords, and these keyword strings are the primary driver for your book showing up in the search results page. Using these keywords in your listing will give your book higher visibility, wherever you put them. You'll use them in the designated spaces in your book's listing, but also as part of your book's description and possibly even your book's title or other metadata. Every time you include a keyword string in your listing, you're giving that book a better chance at appearing in multiple search results.
How to Use Keywords
It's important that you include keywords in the right way so that Amazon approves of the content of your book listing. When you include a keyword string, write it like a reader would when searching for your book. Use "military science-fiction" instead of "science fiction military." When using the keyword boxes on your book listing, narrow your list down to seven phrases. Some of the keyword phrases that help, but aren't as well-known, are settings, such as "Civil War Virginia," characters such as "Iraq War veteran," or character roles like "female detective." Avoid using tie-ins with other authors, like saying your books are "for fans of Hugh Howey," using phrases like "best-selling," "free," or time sensitive phrases like "now on sale."
All of Amazon is driven by keywords, and a complete study of how they're used and the power of proper placement can increase your book sales by a significant percentage. Using a product like our soon to be launched keyword optimization solution can catapult sales across your entire catalog, raising your author ranking by hundreds or thousands of points.
Camp NaNoWriMo is a modified, more casual version of November's worldwide writing challenge. Unlike the original version, writers doing Camp Nano don't necessarily have an intensely stressful month. The rules are slightly changed and authors can create writing groups to help each other along, but the goal remains the same: write an extraordinary amount of words in just one month. The difference here is in the relax and modified rules for the spring challenge.
The rules are straightforward for the original National November Writing Month: write 50,000 words during the month of November. That works out to 1,667 words per day if you don't take any days off, which can be difficult in the run up to the Christmas holidays. Camp NaNo is a much more casual affair which allows writers to set their own goals for the month. Pick a word count goal, promise to work an hour a day, write a page a day, or vow to complete any other measurable goal during the month. As long as the number is between 30 and one million, it can be tallied on the Camp Nano page for you.
It's in the name: National Novel Writing Month. Everyone's officially supposed to work on a novel in November (although there are rebels who stray outside the norm). At Camp NaNo, you can decide what kind of project you want to work on. Create a series of short stories, do a piece of non-fiction, write a script or pages of poetry, or even spend the month doing edits of your novel's first draft. As long as it has to do with writing, it's all fair game.
The NaNoWriMo organization has supplied forum space for writers to post in, but it's tough for many people to do much more than get answers to impersonal questions. Camp NaNoWriMo adds a personal touch by breaking authors up into groups of 20, dividing them into "cabins." Each cabin is like a small writing group, allowing member to get to know and encourage each other. If you've already got a group of friends you want to socialize with you can create your own cabin. Otherwise, the NaNo site will sort you into one of the random cabins. You can choose to go into a cabin based on your work genre, your age, or your number goal.
Just like in the November challenge, winning Camp NaNo is a point of personal pride. If you reach the goal you've set for yourself, you've won for the year. You'll get virtual stickers on your NaNo page, and some retail sites offer discounts for author products for winners, but the main prize is the sense of pride you get from completing a massive writing challenge.
When Sarah Maizes started out in the business, she was a literary agent for a number of award-winning children's book authors. Her clientele included such stars as Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants, DogMan), prolific middle-grade author Paul Zindel, and even the beloved Judy Blume. After years in the business, Maizes knows what sells and what doesn't in the world of juvenile books. Illustrated books need more than a fantastic character and an interesting story. Here are some of her best tips for writing a children's book that's more likely to reach the bestseller charts.
Choose Your Ideal Reader
Even the most relatable children's books around don't appeal to every child. What works for middle school children will never fly with first and second graders. Pick your age group and aim everything in your books toward those kids. Most publishers are looking for books for young fans age 2-6, middle grade kids of around 8-11, and kids 12 and older. If your book is truly special the appeal will spill over onto other age groups, but focus your aim toward one group of kids.
Pick a Theme They Can Relate To
Does your book's theme have wide appeal to your target market? Is it about something that's important in their world? If your readers recognize something about your story as being familiar, and they can see themselves in it, they'll want to read your book over and over again.
Don't Be Preachy
There's nothing wrong with showing the greater good in your book, but don't hit kids over the head with moral tales. According to Maizes, "Kids can smell morals. And they smell like Brussels sprouts."
Write a Real Story
A true story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, whether it's aimed toward adults or second graders. A picture book doesn't need as much complex plotting as a multi-generational novel, but you still need to tell an engaging tale. Use what you've learned about plotting novels to create a simplified but satisfying version for your juvenile books.
Make It Different
Jumping on a literary bandwagon might initially attract readers who want more of the same kind of books they like, but the way to create a career in kids' books is to write a unique series or set of books with your own individual viewpoint. Think Goosebumps, think Diary of a Wimpy Kid, think Harry Potter. They were all original twists, and they're all classics now with dozens of imitators. Forge your own path instead of following the writing crowd.
Any indie author who writes to market knows about DataGuy, the anonymous number cruncher who, along with Hugh Howey, broke down the mystery at Amazon to show exactly which niche is selling each month. Their Author Earnings Report is a standard in the business, showing which niches are on the rise and which ones have peaked and are on their way down. If you write to market, this information could mean thousands of sales each month.
Author groups can now subscribe to Data Guy's Bookstat service and take advantage of his laser focus on sales to figure out where to put their books for the highest sales results. Instead of seeing a monthly compilation that's aimed at all of Amazon, Bookstat now turns its laser focus on one particular niche. Your niche. And you'll get the results in just one day, not after a couple of months.
What's the Rush?
The independent publishing world moves faster every day. At this point, if you're not moving forward you're virtually falling behind. Writing to market is proven to be the quickest way to earn top royalties across the board, but there's always been the problem of figuring out which part of the market to concentrate on. By concentrating on past sales and trends, you'll be looking at what happened in history, not what's happening now. By the time you put that information into action, your chosen niche could be on a steep downward curve, with buyers moving on toward another, similar niche. Find out the freshest data in your genre to give yourself the biggest head start on the curve.
What Does Bookstat Include?
You'll get current, real-time information on independent sales, as close as yesterday's sales. Bookstat compiles data on ebooks, audiobooks, and print books sold online. Even more importantly, it also gives you date on how what books are up for pre-order in your genre, plus how many pre-orders have sold up until today. Before the books have even been released. Trying to decide on a release date for your newest book? Here's a way to figure out days to avoid, when popular books in your niche are about to be released.
Where is the Data From?
Unlike the old Author Earnings Report, Bookstat gathers data from all over the internet. You'll get sales data from Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Audible, CreateSpace, and many others.
Bookstat is just rolling out, and right now they're aiming at mid-range private publishing imprints. Author groups and small publishers are able to email for further details. Experts are watching this company closely, looking to see them put out a smaller version for individual authors in the near future.
Keep the Faith and May The Force be with You!
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