The Author CEO asked author Giacomo (Jim) Giammatteo to stop by to offer authors his advice for navigating the indie publishing world. Jim is the successful author of several books, including my favorite, MURDER TAKES TIME, and his most recent, NECESSARY DECISIONS, which I am chomping at the bit to read!
This post is not about self-publishing; it’s about publishing. It’s all the same. We compete in the same market, for the same audience. We use the same distributors and retailers, and the same readers buy our books. So while my opinion of the seven things every author should do might apply equally to a self-published author or a traditionally published one, the process of how to achieve those steps is often dramatically different. Below is my list.
- Write a great book
- Find a great editor
- Create a great cover
- Make sure the layout and formatting are superb
- Write an irresistible description
- Price the book as if it’s worth something
- Let the world know you’re there
A lot of factors determine a book’s success, and the seven I’ve listed above don’t come close to covering all the bases, but these are the ones I feel are the most important. Let’s look at them one at a time.
Write a Great Book
This is, without question, the number one priority. I know that many a mediocre book has made it to the best-seller list, even dominated the list, but I’ve always believed that if you’re going to run the race, take your best horse. How do you do that?
- Make your characters real
- Make your plot sizzle
- Make your dialogue crisp
- Make your story enthralling
It’s my opinion that you should never sacrifice quality—for anything. Not to meet a deadline, not to save money, and certainly not because you’re too lazy to fix a mistake. Do whatever is necessary to produce a perfect book. It won’t be perfect. No matter how much effort you put into it, a typo might pop up here and there, but if you set out with a mission to produce a perfect book, you’ll come close.
Find a Great Editor (or two)
I included this as one of the top seven for a reason. I don’t know of any author capable of producing a top-notch book without some kind of editor. Let’s look at the editing process.
- Content editor
- Line editor
- Copy editor
A content editor is standard fare with traditional publishing houses, a service they provide to authors, for better or worse. Content editing is expensive, normally in the neighborhood of $1,200 – 2,500 for a full-length novel. I don’t view this as an absolute necessity, but most authors need something even if that’s a small army of beta readers.
A good line editor will point out problems with paragraph structure, sentence flow, dialogue issues, and clarification. Many line editors combine their services with copy editing, but technically they are different beasts.
If there is one service you cannot do without, it’s copy editing. A good copy editor will fix grammar problems, punctuation, consistency issues, etc. In general, they will ensure you follow the rules that don’t bend. I did a post on copy editors which you can see here And if you’re wondering how important this service is—I would sooner cut my arm off than put out a book without going through a copy editor. If you find a good one, hang onto her/him and don’t ever let go. (As mentioned above, copy editing and line editing are often offered as one service.)
This is another service that is critical. Proofreading deals with typos, grammar, spelling, and any other mistake not caught in the process to date. Even when you think you’ve got it nailed a good proofreader will often find a stray mistake. They’re worth what you pay them.
Create a Great Cover
Everyone has heard the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” And yet, that’s exactly what happens millions of times a day. Readers choose, and buy books based on their covers. Sometimes it’s not the cover alone that is the deciding factor, but the cover quite often is the impetus for taking the next step. Nothing screams amateur like a poorly designed cover. My advice is to do whatever you have to in order to get a cover that draws attention. It’s going to cost you money, but it will be money well spent.
Make Sure the Layout and Formatting Are Superb
Just as the cover makes the outside of your book shine, the way the book is presented on the inside also tells the reader something. When you present them with nice, easy-to-read fonts, uniform indents, drop caps, maybe even graphic images at the beginning of each chapter—those things tell a reader that you care about your book. And when that layout presents the same whether it’s read on a computer screen, or an iPad, or iPhone, or an Android tablet or phone, it makes the reading experience a good one. Your readers will thank you for it by recommending the book to friends, or leaving a review, or buying the next book you publish.
Write an Irresistible Description
I don’t think there is anything short of the cover that is as important to the actual sale of the book than the product description. The book cover makes the reader stop and take a look, but the description is what can hook the reader or turn them off. Take as much time as you need to and hone this to perfection. Run it by friends and fellow authors. And if you’re not happy with it, ask for help. Don’t publish the book until you have a description that sizzles.
Think about it, there is a reason why companies pay big bucks for people to write advertising copy for their products. They know it sells.
Price the Book Like It’s Worth Something
“Birds of a feather flock together.” It’s another saying that’s been around a long time, and it’s so ingrained in our minds that most people believe it without a second thought.
What does that have to do with books?
If you price your books at 99c, or God forbid, are continually giving them away, readers will associate you with the “99c or free crowd.” The problem with that is far too many of those books are not high-quality books. After a few bad reading experiences, those same readers associate 99c books and/or free books with poor quality. You don’t want that.
There is another reason for pricing your books higher also. Each retailer has a recommendation engine that matches readers with what their algorithms predict that reader will like, such as the “readers who bought this also bought.” When your books are priced at 99c, you’re not getting the advantage of the readers who are the big spenders, the ones who buy the books at 5.99 or 7.99 or 9.99 because the majority of those buyers are not slumming in the free piles. That’s a huge disadvantage.
Let the World Know You’re There
Visibility might be…let me re-phrase that…Visibility is the single biggest factor that determines whether your book will become the next bestseller, or sit on the virtual shelf. Your next question should be, How do I become visible?
I sure as hell wish I knew. I only know of two fail safe methods.
- Word of mouth
- Amazon/Apple/B&N, etc. recommending you
The big question is how do you get those. The first is easier to imagine. Write a book people can’t stop talking about. The second, short of big bribes, is a mystery. If you find out, tell me first. Please?
- Try to get honest reviews & don’t ever worry about reviews
- Think before you price your books
- Don’t go exclusive on Amazon
- Don’t check your sales, or reviews, or anything else, every day. Certainly don’t do it every hour. Check them once a week. Force yourself to abstain on the other days. I know it’s more difficult than a diet, but if you treat it like that, it works. Think of all the time you’d have to write if you stopped that nonsense.
- Get off of FB! (or simply stop touting your latest review)
- Stop tweeting! (at least about your book)
- You don’t need another picture on Pinterest.
I’m not saying to abandon social media altogether, but if you continually bombard followers with reviews or quotes from your book, you will quickly bore those followers. Nobody will listen, and before long they’ll tune you out. You’ll become like a late-night phone salesperson hawking vacation getaways.
So What Do You Do?
I’m not sure what to do. But I know what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to shout at everyone on Twitter to buy my book. I’m not going to put my book on sale every week or give it away. I’m not going to ask for shares on FB more than a few times a year, when I’m having a special promotion. And I’m not going to chase the hottest trend and switch to writing erotica or YA, or anything else.
I’ll stick to what I like writing, and what my readers enjoy. And if I don’t sell truckloads of books, then I’ll have to be happy knowing a few handfuls of people enjoy what I write. I can live with that.