Amazon: Love it … or hate it … but, you gotta deal with it.
“Why are my reviews being removed?” is an ongoing question that authors ask. There isn’t a live program that I do that it doesn’t surface.
Scratching our heads, few of us can figure out what makes the Amazon robots push the yank button, while others stay.
Book reviews, and lots of them, can make or break the success of a book. When it comes to Amazon and its policies—what we do know, at least in March, is that:
Authors need reviews on their books. Lots of them.
Once, there are 25, the robots warm up. More than 50, expect to see cross promotion: book covers pop up on “like” books … “Customers who bought this item also bought …” meaning that your book cover gets displayed on other author pages.
As your reviews build up (think more than 75), Amazon does email blast, suggesting your book cover with the live link to viewers of the site that have shown an “interest” in your category with their searches. How cool is that?
So yes, reviews do count. Big time.
To post a review, a reviewer does not have to buy the book through Amazon.
One of the myths is that a review can’t be posted on Amazon unless it was purchased from it. Get over it.
If the reviewer did purchase the book on Amazon, it will be identified as a “verified” purchaser. Meaning, that it will be placed higher on the visibility placement of reviews.
All reviews by “book owners/buyers” MUST be a customer of Amazon. Meaning that you spend at least $50 a year buying “stuff” on the site. This went into effect in 2017. Per Amazon:
To contribute to Customer features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers, Idea Lists) or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50 minimum.
My two bits: I read reviews online for a variety of products that I’m considering—I read the pros and cons and have posted multiple comments on products that I’ve purchased, including some bad ones. For me, I value others’ experiences.
There is a difference between an EDITORIAL REVIEW and a CUSTOMER REVIEW.
Amazon states that an Editorial Review is:
an editorial review is a more formal evaluation of a book usually written by an editor or expert within a genre but can also be written by family and friends.
Editorial reviews can be added by the author via Author Central or the Amazon.com/Advantage page. They won’t have the 1-5-star post.
And, Amazon does permit payment for editorial reviews.
Regular readers post a Customer Review and they ones that get the Amazon robot’s attention. A rating of 1 to 5 is added, with five being the highest.
Getting Customer Reviews
There is still a lingering belief that if someone has a “free” copy of your book, he will be excluded from posting a review. Nonsense. If you are upfront that you want an honest review—pro or con, it’s open.
Get your book out there—it can be an advanced reader copy (ARC) or books you have in stock. You can send them an eBook if that’s your preference (Smashwords.com has an easy window to use) or just books you have in your personal inventory.
If you give your book away for the purpose of getting a review, ask your prospect to disclose that it was free at the end of the review or the beginning. It can even be in the title line, such as:
I received an advanced copy for an objective review.
My review is based on a complimentary copy.
The publisher sent me a review copy … I’m glad it did.
If your book was bought outside of Amazon:
I heard _____ speak at a conference and bought her book …
I was on vacation and discovered ________ in a delightful bookstore on the coast …
Visiting a friend, she said, “You will love this book.” She was right …
What you should know and what Amazon states on its site:
Reviewers can remove or edit their review after it is posted.
Amazon “says” that just because someone is a friend, or a social media connection, doesn’t necessarily result in a review being taken down. With that said, I suspect that if we lined up all the reviews that have been removed by Amazon, the mileage would be countless.
Any reviewer can link to another product if it is relevant and available on Amazon. That means your own book or something else you offer. Amazon does love more sales!
When you offer something for a review, you can’t demand a review (although I’m clueless how the robots know this). If you offer anything other than a free or discounted copy of the book, it will invalidate a review, and it will be removed.
Getting Customer Reviews
The belief is that no friends or family can post a review. Amazon says:
We don’t allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book.
Sharing the household is easily understood. You and I get what that means. The big divide is on what constitutes “close friends.”
My opinion is that all those people who follow you on social media are rarely “close friends.” Close friends are those you:
spend physical time with
go to events with
have over for dinner
have phone chats
… not someone that retweets or reposts something you have posted.
Sigh. It’s a dilemma for sure.
Start with encouraging all to copy and post to Goodreads—yes, Amazon owns it, but they are different platforms.
Second, challenge Amazon.
I love what Rox Burkey, co-author of the Enigma series did. Not only did she challenge Amazon for removing a review of a book she bought, she cited the First Amendment: how dare Amazon void her rights to express her opinion. The review was reposted.
So, what do you do?
Don’t have anyone post if they live in your house. No exceptions.
Check Amazon daily. It usually takes 12 to 24 hours to pull down a review. Check your Book Page daily and copy all of them to your computer. Thank them and say and mark that the review is “helpful”—if Amazon pulls it down—resend to the poster if you know and ask them to alter and repost.
If by chance you get a snarky review and you feel that it does violate the guidelines, mark “abuse” by the review. You can email Amazon as well at the email@example.com email.
If you are stuck … or a tad overwhelmed, here are a few Amazon resources for help.
Check out Amazon Community Guidelines. Amazon has multiple pages with this title. Start here.
With the change to KDP, you will be looking for both print publishing and eBook publishing. Start with logging into KDP, and clicking on Help at the top of the page. Under “Promote Your Book,” click Customer Reviews.
This is the space to watch for the ever-present changes. Lots of FAQs and answers are posted in this section as well.
Most of us sell books on Amazon using one of their book-specific selling tools: KDP, Advantage, or a third-party such as IngramSpark.
There’s also Amazon’s Seller Central’s Marketplace, which means you can sell books here plus other products. It has its own guidelines and policies.
Urban legends aren’t limited to horror stories, though. In the book publishing industry, a better term for them is “myths,” and there are a lot of book marketing myths. They spread from author to author quickly thanks to online groups and social media. Authors believe and accept them automatically, probably because they see the myths repeated so often.
Accepting book marketing myths as fact can hurt your writing career, though, so let’s set the record straight on three of the most common.
Do any of these resonate with you?
You should pursue a traditional book publishing contract because the publisher will do all the marketing so you don’t have to.
Your publisher will probably send advance review copies, but quite often, that’s it. The support you get varies from publisher to publisher but unless you’re in Celeste Ng’s league, you’ll have to do the vast majority of the marketing yourself.
Book publishing is a business. Publishers throw their marketing money behind those titles they think will sell the most. It might not be yours or mine.
Need proof? Ask any author with a mainstream publishing contract. Those who bought into this myth usually admit that they were naïve about what the publisher would do to market their books.
There are many valid reasons to pursue a traditional contract, but “the publisher will do all the marketing” isn’t one of them. That’s an urban legend that just won’t go away.
You will succeed if you just copy what other authors are doing.
Unlike plush hotel robes, book marketing isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Your book marketing plan will be based on your book’s target audience — those people most likely to buy your book. The people who will love your book aren’t the same people who will love mine, so we shouldn’t copy each other.
That doesn’t mean that you have to start from scratch, though. What you want to do is find authors with the same target audience as yours who are also successful. Copying somebody with different readers is a waste of time. So is copying somebody who isn’t selling many books.
For example, if you’ve written a book on entrepreneurship, find another author who has also done that, and done it well. Study that author’s social media accounts; Google the book to see where it’s been reviewed or media outlets that have interviewed the author. That’s when “copying” that writer’s approach makes sense.
Once you’ve finished writing the book, you should wait until it’s published to start the marketing process.
Ideally, you’ll start actively marketing your book at least six months before your publication date. But if you’re like so many who waited until the Amazon link went live before even thinking about marketing, don’t give up.
Better late than never.
To enjoy the most success and exposure for the book you’ve put so much into, you want to start the marketing process early. That’s because you want an audience waiting for your book as soon as it’s available. Building that audience takes time and effort.
Your goal is to make sure you have the right network and tools in place to sell books as soon as yours is available. Some people have the network and connections they need even before they start writing. Others need to work on it.
Spend time learning
As with everything else related to the book publishing industry, knowledge is power. Take the time to:
Learn as much as you can about book marketing long before your book is published. Then, when you come across conflicting information, you’ll be in a better position to evaluate what makes the most sense.
Consider the source of the information rather than accepting what you’re seeing as fact. I’m in a Facebook publishing group that includes a vocal self-proclaimed expert who shares misinformation. And . . . people tend to believe the loudest voice, as if volume equals knowledge. Beware the loud “expert.”
Think before you blindly accept what you see about book marketing online. For example, if someone insists that the best way to get reader reviews on Amazon is to ask your family members to write one, go right to the source: check Amazon’s terms of service. (That tactic is prohibited.)
Book marketing isn’t hard, but when you buy into common myths, it becomes more difficult. Don’t allow youself to be misled by publishing’s version of “The Hook.”
Let’s bust a few more myths! What other book marketing myths are you seeing or wondering about?
John Doppler on Self Publishing Advice From The Alliance Of Independent Authors How To Find the Perfect Title
“The harsh reality is that many of us rack our uncooperative brains for weeks in a fruitless search for a title. And when divine inspiration doesn’t appear and we’re nearing the point of desperation, we clutch at a semi-random title that feels only mediocre.”
Sandra Beckwith on Build Book Buzz Use quirky April holidays for book promotion
“Schedule some fun into your book promotion in April by taking advantage of some of the quirkier holidays and special occasions that month brings us.”
Reedsy on Writer’s Digest 5 Tips for Better Book Cover Typography
“A book’s cover is a key marketing tool, reflecting the contents of the book. As you might guess, the typeface of your book title and other cover text (the style and appearance on the page) are just as important.”
Book publishing best practices are evolving quickly around us. For each of us, the challenge is: How clearly are we seeing the big trends? And then: Are we making the practical adjustments to position ourselves successfully?
The book chapters are a manageable 10 aspects of modern book publishing. Here is a main trend and some key practical adjustments to keep in mind for each chapter.
1. How Traditional Publishing Worked (and Sometimes Still Works)
The shocking news today is the continuing deterioration of many of the landmark traditional publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers.
One of those in decline here in California is Sunset Publishing, which was the gold standard for dependable book contracts. I did a work-for-hire how-to book for Sunset long ago, and all went well, so I am not affected now. But a colleague today is owed $5,000 and is unsure of his prospects. Sunset’s utter collapse is public knowledge and would shock the founders, Mel and Bill Lane.
The practical reaction is to review your relationships, if you have any, with traditional publishers and see how things are going. Keep your relationships positive and see what is advantageous to you. For example, I had a successful travel book Northern California History Weekends with publisher Globe Pequot.
We worked well together and the book sold for 15 years. When they said last year that they would soon print a new 1,000 copies, I asked if they would just return all publishing rights to me. They said, “OK.” Soon I will have updated all the chapters and come out with a new self-published edition, as a print book, ebook, and website book.
If you have done any books with traditional publishers, what rights back might you secure, if you ask?
2. Why Independent Publishing─Also Known as Self-Publishing─Arose
One aspect of good news in modern publishing is that self-publishing continues to evolve as a practical path to success.
As Amazon appears to sell maybe 60% of all print books and maybe 80% of all ebooks (please correct my data if you know better), the independent publisher gets an ever-more-level playing field in the search for an audience. Moreover, Ingram, which can service all bookstores with printed books, continues to evolve as a welcoming home for the self-publisher.
One practical reaction to consider is to look around in your region and try to find a self-publishing group that supports your dreams. Collectively, we can learn a lot from colleagues as we strive for better covers, more inviting interior layouts, and more adroit editing.
The national organization IBPA lists regional affiliates, maybe one in your area. In the San Francisco region, I benefit from the monthly meeting of BAIPA. Joel Friedlander has been a leader in this local org.
Many examples of inspiring self-pub success can be seen at our monthly meetings. For example, I’ve watched for a couple of years as Steven Kessler, a psychology self-help author, reports on his progress. There are a hundred aspects of his story, some of which apply to me and to you. Steven announced last month that he had sold 10,000 copies of his book. Good things can happen.
3. Why Independent Publishing May Be Your Most Viable Option Now and in the Future
The “control factor” in indie publishing becomes more appealing to me every year as I think back on my “traditional publishing” ventures and our changing times.
For example, the Globe Pequot people who did my Northern California History Weekends (mentioned above) wanted a print book only. They had no interest in an ebook. As the ebook era arose, I gently encouraged them to pursue this new form. They said no. There was nothing I could do. The entire content was locked up in a print book and could not be exploited in any other way.
But now, with the book content back under my control, I can create not only the print book, but also an ebook. I can, and am, developing the 52 chapters in the book as website articles, making this a “website book.”
Think about your book dreams. What is the max that you could achieve in terms of forms?
Possibly also a “website book”?
What about an audiobook of your book?
What about licensing of your content?
What about translation of your book into Chinese, the most widely read and spoken language on our planet?
Control over your destiny is a positive, the first step to success.
4. Your Print-on-Demand Book
Advancing print-on-demand technology (POD) has changed everything, and has spurred on the self-publishing movement. Color interiors at an affordable price could be the next breakthrough.
Because of print on demand, I don’t need huge capital to develop my books, as long as I stay with black-and-white only. Because of capital requirements for offset printing, we formerly needed traditional publishers.
One vulnerability for authors is that the print-on-demand supplier can raise its per-page cost, as Ingram did recently. You might need to change your book price to keep it reasonably profitable.
Keep track of where the players continue to expand their global POD manufacturing network. Amazon and Ingram can now POD print in England and Australia.
It’s thrilling to know that foreigners can get your book tomorrow in those distant locations. Someone can order your POD book in London and get it tomorrow. No expensive overseas shipping is needed.
Self-publishing authors benefit immensely as this revolution proceeds.
5. Your Ebook Distribution
It is always helpful to remind ourselves of roughly the distribution of sales for what we ordinarily call “books.”
It appears to be about:
Rather than debate what format your book should be, just give the consumer every format that is appropriate for your book.
Start with the print book and the ebook. Possibly you have experienced, as I have, satisfied ebook consumers with poor eyesight who say, “Thank goodness for ebooks. I can make the type size as big as I want.”
Managing the best plan for ebooks for yourself is an ongoing challenge. I generally recommend now that you go with Amazon Kindle directly for Amazon and then with Smashwords for everyone else.
Keep the layout simple and “flowing” so the consumer can increase the type size and change the font, as they might wish, even on their phone readers.
One big issue with Amazon is whether you will go with them exclusively or not. Exclusivity is required to allow you to benefit from their KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) income for subscription reads. I don’t like exclusivity for myself, but your best path may differ. I’ve seen many exclusivity requirements ultimately damage the content creator in the stock photo marketing world, for example.
In conclusion, please share with us your success or disappointment as you observe the book publishing scene evolve quickly.
What’s happening with you, for better and for worse, as you struggle to keep up?
Watch for Part 2 of this discussion in about five weeks.
Let’s face it: writing is mostly a solitary business. The picture we have of the writer alone in her room, deep in the writing process, is pretty accurate. Writing takes dedicated hours over a long period of time.
This means that many people who write for a living work at home. I’ve been self-employed for quite a long time, and sometimes I had a space to work that I rented, but mostly I’ve been lucky enough to have room in my home to set up an office.
This scheme is not without risks, however.
Early in my working at home days, it seemed almost impossible to get anything done. Eventually I gave up and took an office in the city.
But when I began book publishing in earnest in the 1990s, I took an extra bedroom in your home and converted into an office.
Over the years since I’ve worked from home both as a contract worker doing book design and production, as well as an entrepreneur, starting businesses and gathering a team online.
In the course of the thirty-plus years I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned lots of lessons about navigating work at home successfully.
Here are my top tips for authors and publishers who work at home:
13 Tips for the Work-at-Home Author
Get dressed for work—It may seem like fun to spend the day in your pajamas, you’ll be much more productive by dressing for work to trigger yourself to take your home work seriously.
Establish a routine—Routine is part of life when you work in any context, and routines can be used as powerful reinforcements in building successful habits.
Treat your business like a business—Your mindset will communicate itself to others whether you intend it to or not. Act like you’re transacting serious business and people will take you at your word.
Choose a dedicated work space—An absolute necessity for home workers. Having a space that’s optimized for your type of work, where everything you need is readily accessible will help make you so much more productive. Put some time (and some resources) into making your home office an inviting and efficient place to work.
Declutter—Keeping order, not surprisingly, helps with focus and concentration
Create a pleasing ambiance—Having your own space gives you an opportunity to create an environment that you’ll be happy to work in.
Less noise, more light—If you can find a spot that has either quiet or great natural light, take it. If it has both, guard your space jealously.
Get a good chair—When you consider your desk chair is your most-used piece of equipment, you’ll realize why it’s a good idea to invest in one that gives you great support. During the dot-com bust, we picked up several pricey Aeron chairs, and they really make a difference especially on those late night launches.
Try to leave the house each day—Getting some air and a chance to walk around for a few minutes will keep your energy up for the long haul.
Restrict your social media use—If this is a problem for you, try logging out of all your accounts during your work day, and/or turning off notifications on all your devices. On iOS devices, the “Do Not Disturb” setting is quite handy.
Work at your most productive time of day—I’ve divided my day in half. Until noon, I work on creative projects and my own writing. After lunch, it’s promotions, product development, book design and all the rest of my work.
Have a plan—Using a “to-do” app or a rolling list on a memo pad will help keep you on track with your own priorities which are all too easy to forget during the day.
Stay connected—We’re lucky to have great collaboration tools like Zoom and Skype to maintain contact with colleagues, readers, marketing partners, and vendors.
Take clear breaks—My day seems to work best when I break for lunch around 1:00, and look for a pick-me-up around 4:00. These become predictable parts of my day, and these routines make the rest of my day very productive.
Make your phone into a voicemail system—Some time-management experts consider the telephone the number one distraction for people trying to do business. I give out a phone number that’s strictly a voicemail server, and restrict business to outgoing calls only. This allows me to schedule and predict calls, making the telephone much less disruptive.
Hire an assistant—I know you’re not going to do this, yet I also know from long experience there’s nothing you can do that will multiply your own efforts as much as working with a daily assistant.
Don’t let friends stop by—Establish business hours, and do your best to keep them. On the other hand, this is your business so if you feel like taking your honey out for a hike in the afternoon please do it!
These are just tips, of course. Since you’re the boss, you get to write your own rules for working at home. And since you’re the boss, you can declare a “day off” whenever you like.
I bet a lot of readers work at home. Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Let us know in the comments.
Hope you’re having a great weekend. Enjoy this week’s selection of articles and don’t forget to submit your articles to our March blog carnival, Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies by the deadline–Friday, March 15th.
Elizabeth S. Craig on Author Imprints Rights Reversion and What to Do After Reversion
“Asking for your rights and starting down the road of self-publishing a backlist can be overwhelming. But breaking down the project into smaller tasks makes the job manageable.”
Kristen Lamb on Kristen Lamb – Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi Editing for Authors: 7 Ways to Tighten the Story and Cut Costs
“Editing has always been a critical factor regarding any book’s success. This has NOT changed. If anything, proper editing is a complete game-changer now more than ever in the history of publishing.”
Russell Phillips on Self Publishing Advice From The Alliance Of Independent Authors How to Set Up Local Book Links for your Ebooks
“Helping readers find your ebooks in the online store of their choice will increase the chances of making a sale, so it makes sense to provide convenient local book links on your author website to all the stores where your books are available.”
Well, not everyone — but we sure spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we find just the right ones for our print books. And we want our ebooks to look just as good, don’t we?
I certainly get asked about fonts in ebooks a lot.
Here’s the thing: Yes, we can add fonts to an ebook so that it looks beautiful: [ii]
(This is from the ebook for White Robes, the short story that I’ve used as an example in many of the posts I’ve done here. Feel free to download it and poke around!)
How to Embed Fonts
You can add fonts a number of ways:
Using CSS to make particular fonts display
Embedding the fonts in your ebook
Turning text into images
Using CSS to make particular fonts display
Remember back when we were discussing all of the fun ways that you can tell an ereader how to display your ebook — the rules known as Cascading Stylesheets (or CSS)?
Well, maybe not, but trust me: using CSS you can make your text sit up and shake paws.
Say you want to add pretty fonts, like I did here:
All you need to do is add one property to your stylesheet, your header, or in a style attribute:
Except it doesn’t always work.
Why not? Well, for a number of reasons.
First of all, if the ereader doesn’t have the font installed, it doesn’t know how to display it. Trust me: none of them have mgs4brush installed. So your ereader will go with its default sans-serif font, whatever that may be.
Well, one of the kinds of support files that ebooks support is OTF (OpenType Font) fonts.[iii]
There are a few ways to embed your font(s) into your ebook:
Adding fonts by hand is relatively straight forward, if you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, describing the process would take up an entire post. Fortunately, the lovely folks at Kobo have already written the post for me.[iv]
When I’m working in Sigil, my ebook editing software of choice, fonts have to be added this way. It involves actually adding the font file(s), as well as adding code to both your OPF file and CSS stylesheets. None of this is terribly difficult — but if looking under the hood of your ebook is scary, perhaps this isn’t the method for you.
If you’re interested in the underpinnings of ePub, are an inveterate do-it-yourselfer, or just don’t trust anything that isn’t spelled out, check the post out.
Of course, this being the twenty-first century, there’s an app for that. Several, in fact. I mean, if there’s a straight-forward, repetitive process involving digital files, someone will have written a script to simplify it. One of the most convenient is built in to recent versions of the ebook multi-tool app Calibre. I’ve recommended Calibre many times before, both as an ebook reading app, an ebook conversion app, and a pretty good WYSIWYG ebook editing app. [v]
To add a font to your ebook in Calibre, first open the book in Calibre’s book editor by right-clicking (or control-clicking) on the title, then selecting Edit Book. This opens the book editing utility (essentially, the part of Calibre that’s like Sigil).
Now, make sure you know where the font file you want to add is located. Mine in this example is called Risuko.otf. It’s a font I created for my books using Font Forge.
The next thing you’re going to have to do is edit one of your styles to call the font, if you haven’t already done so. Remember the book title page I showed above? Well, the style for that text includes a line that looks like this:
I’m going to edit it to call my custom font:
font-family:Risuko, mgs4brush, sans-serif;
Next, go to the Tool menu and select Manage Fonts.
See Risuko there on line 15? That’s the one we want to embed!
Click on the button that reads Embed all fonts.[vi]
If you’re sure you’re done editing the book, you can also click the button reading Subset all fonts — this will get rid of any glyphs (characters) that aren’t used in the ebook.[vii]
Calibre has added a new CSS stylesheet in your ebook called fonts.css. Its only purpose is to keep track of the new font(s) you’ve added to your ebook.
Now my title displays in my custom font, Risuko, while the subtitle and byline are in another font:
You can see that the title is bolder, less flowing than the rest.
Not exactly point-and-click easy, but easier than doing it by hand!
If you want fonts embedded in your ebook and you’re exporting it from Adobe InDesign, then presto! There’s an easy-ish way to do that. [viii]
That’s it. InDesign will make sure that your new ePub file includes all of the fonts that it needs to display just the way you want it to.
The Problem with Embedding Fonts
There are a couple of problems with embedding fonts — both practically and legally:
If you want to embed the fonts into an ebook that you’re going to upload to KDP, you can’t simply upload the ePub file — which has long been my practice and recommendation. If you try, KDP will strip out all embedded fonts — and may even delete references to them in the stylesheets. So we need to upload something other than an ePub file.
Rather, you have to convert the file into one of Amazon’s Frankenstein so-called “mobi” files — a package that combines an old PalmPilot format (MOBI7) and Amazon’s own version of ePub3 (KF8) — and then upload that.
To do this, you need to use either the kindlegen Java script or (my preference) Amazon’s Kindle Previewer app. To use Previewer, just drag and drop your ePub file[ix] onto the app’s window. The app will then convert the book; this can take a while so go grab a cup of coffee or tea or Red Bull or whatever. Once the conversion is complete, your book will show up in the Previewer window. Here’s the opening of my novel Risuko in Previewer:
Note that the series and book title are in my custom font, while the subtitle and byline are in the other brush font, mgs4brush.
Preview the file in all the different formats: [x]
Tablet (that is, as it will look on a Kindle Fire or iPad)
Phone (that is, how it will look in the iOS or Android Kindle app)
Kindle E-reader (that is, how it will look on black-and-white eInk Kindles like the Paperwhite)
You can’t edit the converted file, unfortunately. If you’re unhappy with how the converted ebook displays, go back and edit the ePub file, then reconvert.
Once you’re happy, export the file by selecting Export in the File menu. Make sure you keep track of where the file is.[xi] Now you can upload you’re brand new “mobi” file to KDP — and Amazon (probably) won’t strip out the fonts.
They still might, however. And other retailers and aggregators may bounce back your font-stuffed file. Even if they don’t, embedding may be problematic. Why?
Because every one of those fonts you just embedded in your ebook was created by someone. And any creative work is, as I discussed recently, protected by copyright law.[xii] And putting someone else’s copyrighted work inside of your own and then selling it without their permission is, in fact, a form of intellectual property theft.
You wouldn’t want anyone to do that to your work, would you?
Just because you have a font installed on your computer doesn’t mean that you have a license to use it to design your print books, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can bundle it into your ebook (where people can easily unzip the file and extract the font) and sell it. You have to know if you have the license to embed the font in your ebook.
Essentially, it depends on how you acquired the font.
If you downloaded the font from an online store (or as I’ve occasionally done, directly from the designer), there was a license agreement — you probably skipped over that bit. Go back and read the fine print. It should tell you whether electronic distribution or ebook distribution rights were included in the license.
If it came with your computer — or with a software package like Microsoft Office or Adobe InDesign — the license you acquired with that software it almost certainly didn’t include the right to embed it in an ePub or mobi file. Sorry. You can go back and look — some of Microsoft’s fonts, for example, and some of the ones included in Apple’s OS — are actually public domain, and so free to use. But you need to check.
Do a web search along the lines of Calibri font license. See what kind of information comes up. At the very least, you should find some legitimate stores that will help you find out who created and owns the font.
You can also try looking at the actual font file — in the Mac Finder, use Get Info(command-i). In Windows, right-click and select Properties, then look in the Details tab. Either way, you should see some information about the font’s creator, its copyright status, and possibly its license.
Once you find out who created the font and/or owns the copyright, do a search on the creator’s site to figure out what kind of licensing arrangement came with the font, and, if that doesn’t include the right to embed the font in your ebooks, what is available to you.
If you’re fortunate — or were very careful (as I was) — the fonts you want to use have all either included ebook rights, been released into the public domain by their creator[xiii], or are available through a GNU or Creative Commons license in exchange for attribution or the like.
Otherwise, take a deep breath: you’ll need to purchase a license. Which could run you anywhere from a few dollars to thousands.
Are you still sure you want to include that font?
Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to embed fonts into our ebooks that folks can’t get at?
There is: obfuscation.
Essentially, font obfuscation encrypts the font file(s) embedded in the ebook so that the ereader can use them, but dishonest types can’t unZIP your ebook and steal them.
There are two methods of obfuscation:
One created by the body that oversees development of the ePub file format, the IDPF
Another created by the largest licensor of typefaces, Adobe (makers of Photoshop, InDesign, etc.)
When you export an ebook from InDesign with fonts embedded, they’re automatically obfuscated using the Adobe method.
In other conversion and editing software, you can add obfuscation using the IDPF method.
The problem is what often occurs when you have two standards: neither of them quite works.
Oh, they work — but getting retailers to take files with obfuscated fonts aboard is almost impossible.
So unless you’re using fonts that you yourself created (like my Risuko font) or that you have a license for, your choice is bleak: be a thief, or…
In addition, no matter what you do, different ereaders will handle different embedded fonts differently. Some can’t display them at all (older models especially) while some display them incredibly inconsistently. And, in many cases, if the reader has set the preferences to read in a particular font (as opposed to what most ereaders refer to in their font menu as the original or publisher font), then it will display as they wish it to display, rather than displaying the font you spent all of that effort making sure was embedded. New Kindles are all set to display everything in their proprietary font Bookerly.
Often, it makes sense to take a deep breath, save some file size, and just allow the ereader to display the way the reader wants it to display.
Of course, there is still one other option….
Turning text into images
Yeah. This is actually the most consistently effective way to get the fancy title pages, chapter heads, and drop caps you’re looking for.
Turn the text — formatted just the way you want it — into JPEG images, and then import those into the book.
Remember, the legal problem isn’t using the font; it’s including the font file in your ebook.
So, instead of going to all of the trouble above to embed the font, design your ebook so that it looks exactly the way you want it — you can do this in the ePub file or in the file you exported from — and then… take a screen shot.
I’ve already shown you examples in the sections above — all of the visual samples from my books were simply screenshots of the ebook.
To this, first get the section of text looking just the way you want it.
If you’re on a Mac, press shift-command-4, then draw the rectangle over the section of text you want to use.
If you’re on a Windows PC, use the Snipping Tool or press Windows-PrntScrn.
Find the image and crop it. Rename it so that you can easily recognize it (remember: no spaces in ePub filenames — use hyphens or underlines).
Import them into your ebook, and then place them where you want them to go, using CSS to define the size at which the image should display, and add any fancy flourishes, (like floating a drop cap to the left, for example).
There you are!
Since nothing’s perfect, there are disadvantages to this approach to.
You’re adding file size — probably more than you would if you embedded the font(s). Amazon will ding you $0.15/MB of file size with each purchase, if you’re using their most popular royalty plan.
If you replace the chapter or section head text with an image, automatic nav-menu tools won’t know what to call the section. So make sure you have already created the navigation menu/table of contents before you replace the text with images.
Those images won’t reflow — so if someone’s reading on a phone or has blown the text up large because they’re visually impaired, the images will stay as they are.
Finally, old Kindles really don’t handle images terribly well — they all show up on their own line. No floating or flowing or insetting allowed. The drop cap will appear on a separate line from the rest of the text. There are ways to handle that, but they’re a pain; you may decide they’re not worth it. [xiv]
So basically, after all of that, what I can recommend is this:
If you’re sure you legally have the right to embed, consider it. (I don’t recommend you bother with obfuscation — like DRM, it tends to be more a hinderance than an effective way of stopping thieves.)
If that doesn’t work, consider using images of the text you’re most concerned with.
If neither of those sounds attractive or workable, relax and let the Bookerly be with you.
[i]Okay, because I know I’ll make Joel Friedlander unhappy if I don’t, I’m going to remind us all that those beautifully designed collections of letters, numbers, etc., are actually called typefaces; it is their variations (bold, italic, old-style numerals, etc.) that are called fonts. We can thank Steve Jobs for committing synecdoche and apply the name of the part to represent the whole. We forgive you, Steve.
[ii]And adding fonts isn’t just about esthetics. Perhaps you’re writing a book for dyslexics and want to add a font that they’ll find easier to read. Or perhaps you’re including words in non-latin-alphabet languages; many fonts, even Unicode-compliant ones, lack glyphs for every possible character in every written language.
[iii]Which is a pain. There are many kinds of font file formats — TTF (TrueType Fonts), PostScript fonts, etc. — that you can’t use in ePub ebooks. If you want to use one, you could either look to see if the source for your font offers it in OTF format, or use Font Forge (not a simple solution) or another conversion tool to change the font to OTF format.
[iv]Fonts embedded in this manner (which follows the ePub3 standard) should work in ebooks uploaded to other retailers as well — with a few limitations, noted below.
[v]As stated many times before, I usually use the one-trick pony Sigil. Because I’ve been using it for nearly a decade, and I like it. But Calibre has most of the same functions, and can serve as a sort of iTunes-for-ebooks library app besides.
[vi]Before Joel or any font designers out there kill me, yes, I know there’s a real problem with doing this. I’ll talk that through in a minute.
[vii]This will make you feel virtuous. And if you’re trying to shrink the last few KB out of your ebook, size, go for it. However, the only retailer that docks your royalty by file size is Amazon — and, as I explain below, they don’t allow you to display embedded fonts anyway. So If I were you, I wouldn’t bother. Still — your choice.
[viii]Which is remarkable, because as powerful as InDesign is, very little about it could be considered easy.
[ix]It will also convert a number of other file formats, including Word doc. RTF file or HTML file. But you can’t embed fonts in those!
[x]This preview isn’t 100% accurate — it will, for example, draw on the system fonts installed on you computer, so it will likely display text in fonts that aren’t embedded. Also, that Kindle E-Reader preview won’t accurately preview the MOBI7 version of the file that will display on old-style Kindles. Caveat excogitatoris. (Designer beware.)
[xi]I usually rename the file to include the version number, just so that I can keep track of what came from where.
[xii]In fact, the US doesn’t allow typeface designers to copyright typeface designs (though many other nations do). But digital fonts? Those are code. Those are protected.
[xiii]Not by some site that promises you every typeface known to man for free. Just because they’re offering it for free doesn’t mean they have the right to distribute it; that’s their fault, but..
I had a chance to catch up with the blog’s founder, Joel Friedlander and took the opportunity to find out what he’s been up to, and what we have to look forward to in the coming months.
TBD: Great to see you, Joel, how has 2019 been for you so far?
Joel: Thanks for asking. We had a pretty tough 2018 during which both me and the key people in our businesses all faced very significant personal challenges, from critical health issues to relocation to explosive family issues. When your energy and attention is riveted by unavoidable problems, it can be difficult to do business as passionately as an entrepreneur is used to.
That’s why I’m really glad it’s 2019, and things have been looking up in the first quarter.
TBD: That’s pretty heavy, and I’m sorry to hear it. But does this have anything to do with book publishing?
Joel: You know, this also touches on branding concerns, and the persona we choose to present to the world, both online and in real life.
Marketers know that the persona that’s best at attracting people is one that’s both authoritative—able to call on years of understanding and insight into their field—and likable—with the ability to attract a wider variety of people than those that are repelled by the same persona.
So when your personal life takes a big left turn from your professional life, it can put a lot of strain on the persona you present to the world.
How do you write chirpy, optimistic emails if you’re worrying you might only have months to live? How do you get excited about putting up a new landing page when your family is in complete upheaval and your spouse is only able to move from one floor in the house to another by sliding on her butt?
Life is messy, but nobody wants to read or hear about that in the middle of a product description or an instructive webinar. Somehow we learn to stretch ourselves to meet these often conflicting demands.
TBD: Let’s talk about book publishing and online business, shall we?
TBD: What’s new on The Book Designer blog?
Joel: Our lineup of Contributing Writers continues to change, and author and former publicist Sandra Beckwith, a fount of book marketing knowledge and ideas, has recently joined us. I’m sure readers are going to learn a lot from Sandra over the coming months.
We also now have Lee Foster writing for us. Lee is a photographer, travel writer, and hybrid author who is also a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year, Silver Winner, awarded by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation.
We’ll soon have another addition to our outstanding group of Contributing Writers, and that’s one of the reasons The Book Designer continues year after year to be at the top of rankings and ratings of sites for indie authors.
It’s something I’m really proud of, and grateful to the experts who offer their original content here. You’ll see more of that in 2019.
TBD: You’ve been writing recently about a new book you have coming out, can you tell us any more about it?
TBD: Don’t you recommend setting your publication date well in advance? I’m sure I’ve read that on your site.
Joel: Why yes, yes you have. But you know, publishing like everything else, has to respond to the other pressures in our lives. Right now, to reduce the stress of a new book launch, I’ve decided on a softer launch.
I’ve also hired out more of the tasks I would usually take on myself. The existence of a ready marketplace of experienced publishing professionals is a great boon to independent publishers like me.
It’s important for my books to be every bit as good, from a publishing perspective, as I can make them. Because I’ve been doing this a long time, it’s more obvious than ever that the quality of the books we produce is of lasting importance in the history of that book.
As publishers, putting in the time and effort, and hiring people with expertise when necessary, will repay us in the long term.
TBD: What’s different about your new book?
Joel: It’s the first book I’ve written that’s not about book publishing since the 1980s. And it’s very personal. Although it’s a modest book, I’ve put more of myself in it in terms of telling personal stories and opening up a little about my own approach to life.
TBD: Anything else going on in your world?
Joel: I was pretty excited to recently add Gourmet, a template design for cookbook authors to our collection over at Book Design Templates. As an avid cook and baker, I hope it will give lots of other cooks an easy way to get their cookbooks into print.
Besides that, I’ll be doing a bunch of interviews for the launch of Meeting the Muse, and that will give me the opportunity to talk about creativity, one of my favorite subjects.
Book publishing is a funny business in a way. As authors and entrepreneurs, we get caught up in cover designs, advertising strategies, avatar design, email vendors, and all the other bits and pieces of doing business online.
But the books we create will last far longer than we will. Does that give you pause, or are you completely wrapped up in this week’s to-do list?
TBD: Well, you’ve give us a lot to think about. What’s the best way for folks to keep up with all your activities, Joel?
Joel: Best way is to get on my mailing list here. I look forward to hearing from you!
“That moment — not just of being published — but of being read is where the magic happens. When the intention of the author meets the worldview of the reader. When those two things meet, art happens.”—Dan Blank
My preference is to stay inside where it’s warm and read a book, but my dogs, like the one in the picture, love to go outside and frolic in the snow. Is it balmy where you are or cold and snowy? Either way, find a comfy spot and take a few minutes to read this week’s selected articles.
And, here are your monthly reminders:
If you’d like to participate in our Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies blog carnival for March, please submit your blog posts by March 15th. All the information you need to know can be found here. Our Carnival of the Indies post will run on the last Sunday of the month.
Want to submit your e-book cover to us for our March e-Book Cover Design Awards? Be sure to submit it by March 31st. March’s submissions will be presented in a post at the end of April. Submission information can be found here.
If you have any questions about the Carnival of the Indies or the e-Book Cover Design Awards, just click on the Contact page and fill in that form, or leave a comment below.
Frances Caballo on Social Media Just for Writers Are You Ready for Book Marketing? Take This Quiz
“Social media alone won’t cause your books to start flying off the proverbial bookshelf. … So, take this quiz and see if you’re ready to tackle book marketing on your own.”
Judith Briles on The Book Shepherd 10 Social Media Tips for 2019
“Social media is the town hall of marketing for most authors. It’s a landscape that has pros and cons and is in a constant mode of change.”
Stephanie Chandler on Nonfiction Authors Association Tips to Compiling an Anthology Book
“If you want to publish a compelling book in a short amount of time, compiling an anthology can be a fantastic solution.Tips to Compiling an Anthology Book As the primary author, you reap all of the rewards of writing a book without having to write the entire manuscript.”
Sandra Beckwith on Build Book Buzz How to announce your book with an e-mail blast
“I’ve received quite a few book announcement e-mails lately. I want to be excited for the authors, because this is a big deal. Sadly, though, most of the messages aren’t very compelling.”
When an author plans a book launch and hires me to write the press release, I often learn fairly quickly that she has no clue about the kinds of results to expect.
That’s because she asks questions like these:
“How many books do you think I’ll sell from the press release?”
“How many TV and radio shows will schedule me to appear as a guest?”
“How many newspapers and magazine do you think will print the release?”
Most authors believe the press release will result in phone calls from eager journalists and an onslaught of orders. Nothing could be further from the truth.
By itself, the press release lacks the power to skyrocket sales.
But combine it with other marketing tactics like a compelling email or phone pitch, and you can help journalists learn about your book and take the next step: schedule an interview with you or invite you to be a guest on their show or podcast.
Because regardless of what angle you pitch, you can link to the same press release that summarizes your book.
It’s the one document that tells people almost everything they need to know about your book including:
What it’s about
Why you wrote it
Where it’s sold, including links to online retailers
The publishing company
Quotes from you
How to order in bulk
How to contact you for interviews or speaking engagements
Your short bio
A synopsis of the book
An excerpt from a review
Statistics about a problem your nonfiction addresses
You can use the release in many ways: in your book’s media kit and at your website. You can also fold a printed copy and tuck it inside the front cover of a book you send to a reviewer.
The Seven Biggest Myths of Using Press Releases to Promote Your Books
The press release is dead.
Crappy, rambling press releases are dead. So are press releases that sound like free advertisements for your book.
Well-written releases that share information quickly with readers, and explain why they should read the book, are very much alive. They’re one of the most important elements in your publicity campaign, especially when used in tandem with a pitch.
We write press releases primarily for journalists.
That was true 30 years ago, before the Internet.
Today, however, we write press releases mostly for consumers. They can find our releases online, via search, and learn everything they need to know without relying on the media gatekeepers!
In other words, if the media won’t write an article as a result of the release, it can still reach people who buy your books.
The inverted pyramid style is best.
The inverted pyramid style includes the “who, what, where, why and how” details at the top of the release. That was how we wrote releases two decades ago when we were writing only for journalists. If they needed to trim the release, they’d cut from the bottom where the least important information was located.
Today, however, we’re writing mostly for consumers. It’s far more important to place keyword-rich phrases in the press release headline and throughout the body copy so the search engines can find the release and pull traffic to it.
You can start your press release by telling a story of why you wrote the book, or the story of the main character in your novel.
There are dozens of free press release distribution services available so you don’t have to spend money on the paid services.
Most of these free services don’t distribute anything. They park your press release on their website where—horrors!—you might later learn that it’s right next to a pay-per-click ad bought by one of your competitors.
The other problem with free sites is that if you discover a major error in your release, and it’s already on the free site, it’s usually impossible to contact the website owner and make a correction. The mistake lives on forever.
FitSmallBiz.com reviewed more than 90 of the free options and found only five reputable choices. Read more about them here. They then reviewed those five on criteria such as the size of their distribution network, level of customization, and ease of use. I haven’t tested any of these but you might want to.
If you use one of the free services, that’s fine. But for a book launch, you should also use one of the paid services that actually distribute your release.
I recommend my clients distribute their releases through Dan Janal’s Guaranteed Press Releases service. Dan, a former journalist, makes sure the release has all the elements needed for excellent search engine optimization.
Dan distributes your release through PR Newswire. It’s sent to more than 30,000 reporters at more than 17,500 media organizations, and to a custom list of websites, based on your industry, niche, geographical location and book topic.
This bears repeating: Major stories about your book will usually be generated from a customized pitch with a specific hook or angle. The pitch can link to the release.
Journalists love press releases.
Most journalists despise them because most press releases are written poorly. And writers and editors don’t want the same news that everyone else gets. They want their own idea or angle which you describe in your pitch.
I recommend sending a pitch of no more than three or four short paragraphs via email, and including a link to the release that’s been published through one of the paid or free press release sites, or at your website. Don’t attach the release to the email because people are leery of opening attachments and getting a virus.
No publication will ever print my press release exactly how I’ve written it.
Smaller publications like weekly newspapers and “shoppers,” the free weeklies that show up in your mailbox, will often print your press releases exactly as you’ve written them. They don’t have reporters to rewrite your releases or call you if they think there’s a missing fact or two.
That’s why you want your releases to be as complete as possible and written in such a way that it sounds like a journalist wrote it. No gushing. No mentioning that the author is “thrilled to announce” her new book.
I’ve written press releases of up to two pages that promote events, and my local weekly newspaper has printed them almost word for word.
Google will penalize me for writing too many press releases.
Google doesn’t keep track of how many releases you’re writing, nor does it care.
Other than your book launch, there are dozens of opportunities to write releases. Those include when:
you win an award
speak at an event
schedule a book signing
make a charitable contribution
start a crowdfunding campaign
comment on a breaking news story that’s tied to the topic of your book
My Press Release Masterclass tutorial and 15 handy, done-for-you templates, will help you write perfect press releases every time. Learn more about them here. Or try writing releases on your own. But don’t forget to take the next step with that all-important pitch that includes an interesting hook or angle.
If you’re confused about when to use a press release and when to use a pitch, I’ve written two blog posts that can help: