Bad cover? Forget reading the book

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Tables of books in stores are the ultimate proof that covers matter. If customers like what they see, they might even bother to read the description.

I like to showcase my favorite covers every Friday, but there’s more to it than good art. Some people believe that good designs conceal good books — or at least ones that are worth your time.

“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” Naomi Blackburn, one of the top Goodreads reviewers, told The Huffington Post. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”

Simply put, good covers sell books.

“In addition to promising what a book will deliver, the [cover] image also promises — or fails to promise — that the author is a professional, and that the book will honor the reader’s time,” said Smashwords founder Mark Coker.

Investing in an amazing cover can fool readers into thinking you acquired a publisher rather than self-published, which can negate the “it’s indie and crap” logic. A quality design can even interest retail merchandising managers, which can equal more sales. It also makes a book easier to market.

“The art shouldn’t fight the typography,” said Kris Miller, the designer for the Saima Agency. “A romance novel shouldn’t look like a thriller or visa versa.”

And strong, simple images “pop” best.

I gotta say — a beautiful, striking, or fun cover can make me interested in a book when I had no reason to be. So if you want people to take you seriously as a budding author, make sure you have the best picture to sell your many thousand words.

Did you ever find a beloved book by judging its cover first? Do you agree that a good cover usually means a good read?

Book trailers: closer to movies than the printed word

Seed by Ania AhlbornBook trailers are everywhere these days. I tend to think they’re a highly commercial attempt at gaining readers, with low-budget production value and a cheap ploy that says, “Hey, look at me! I’m a new book! I’m cool! I’m trendy!”

Like ’em or not, book trailers are a great tactic for marketing books on the web. Seed, a horror novel by Ania Ahlborn ($2.99 right now on Amazon), and its trailer by Vikas Wadhwa won Amazon Studios’ book trailer contest, which means it’s now optioned for a big screen adaptation. Considering that Seed started as a self-published book and grew in popularity due to word of mouth, that’s a strong indication of the comparable power of other independent efforts, like book trailers. They’re worth it — if done well.

But what takes place in these short YouTube videos is closer to movies than print fiction, so it’s no coincidence that Amazon Studios thought a good book trailer might make a good film, too. The preliminary visualization work is already done for them; it’s easy to imagine Seeds as a movie now. But using actors and dramatic scenes to advertise your book only goes so far in conveying its themes, tone, and messages. In other words, it’s all plot and no proof of the quality of writing.

Not that Seeds, with its 4-star average based on 309 reviews, isn’t a good book.

Do you think, with all the hype and flashiness of media and technology today, that we’re losing too much of what makes the printed word special? Or are these merely tools that serve a larger purpose: to get more people reading and loving books?

$1000 writing competition at PUBSLUSH Press

PUBSLUSH Press is calling all manuscripts for a writing competition that will award $1000, “the chance to be published” (in other words, it’s not a sure thing), and a featured spotlight on their website. The submission period is open from now until March 31, so finish those manuscripts and good luck! The winner will be contacted by email in April.

Manuscripts will be judged on “style, content, and commercial viability” and include but are not limited to the following genres: “Biography, Chick Lit, Children’s, Comedy, Fantasy, History, Horror, Mystery and Crime, Poetry (compilations only), Politics, Religion, Romance, Sci-Fi, Self-help, Teen, and Thriller.”

This is a great opportunity for aspiring novelists and poets to market their book, even if actual publication doesn’t happen. Remember, word of mouth goes a lot way, and so does an extra thousand bucks in your pocket. If PUBSLUSH doesn’t pick up your book, someone else might take notice.

PUBSLUSH sounds like a good publisher to be involved with, too: According to their About blurb, they let readers decide what books get published and donate a book to a child for every book sold. That’s something worth more than seeing your book in print.

My novel’s stuck in Revision Hell, so I doubt it would be ready by the competition deadline. I’ll give it my best shot, though! I’m trying out Scrivener (on Windows since 2011 and Mac since 2007) thanks to blogger Aly Hughes, who convinced me to finally give the trial a download, and revision is already more appealing. Juggling Word documents was becoming a job in itself, and I was torn between typing in my preferred composition style (my desired font, etc.) and a traditional manuscript presentation (I’d just have to do the work later). Scrivener leaves the compiling and formatting as a final step, so you can type the way you want without worrying about the dirty details. Plus, the program gives users a generous amount of options for putting together and organizing ideas via outline or visual flowchart (aka the Corkboard, which is one of my favorite features). It’s great for getting a better handle on your structure and concept and exposing weaknesses in your plot.

The written tutorial was lengthy but very useful and informative, so if you give the trial a chance (no personal info needed), definitely take the time to familiarize yourself with all the available features.

My only problem initially was the Scrivener wants you to type your manuscript without indenting paragraphs and without skipping a line between them; otherwise it messes up the standard manuscript look, and this is the only thing that can’t be easily changed in the compiling process. I’m fine with not indenting, but not having spaces between paragraphs was throwing me off—all the text looks packed together. My solution? Go to Format –> Text –> Spacing, and set the spacing “Before” and “After” to at least 5 pts each. This doesn’t actually double space, but it does make your paragraphs a little roomier.

Are you a Scrivener wizard? Feel free to share your expert tips with me.

Delight and surprise: a review of Likeable Social Media

The loudest, biggest spenders don’t win anymore. The smartest, most flexible listeners do.

Social media is a big deal these days. Whether you’re looking to sell or you have something to say, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are the new sounding board—and the new way to connect. If you’re a blogger who’s managed to reach any audience, big or small, then chances are you’ve learned firsthand the power of harnessing social media. Dave Kerpen knows it. He wrote Likeable Social Media (on Amazon and B&N) to spread the word in print and online.

I’ll say this upfront: If you’re a blogger, freelancer, or any young or progressive person who’s fluent on the web, then Likeable Social Media won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. The book is aimed at business professionals and marketers who were taught that pushing a brand and products on consumers through television, radio, and print ads was the way to be seen: You just had to be smart at selling it. Likeable Social Media explains that a new wave of advertising has begun, and it’s lighter on the legwork of actually pitching products. It’s about building a fan base and rewarding a loyal audience—it’s about them, not you. Sorry.

Because of that, Likeable Social Media doesn’t preach to the average reader, but with a little creative thinking I found some ways to apply its tenets to everyday writing and communication on the web—methods that are good for bloggers, in other words. So instead of doing a standard review, here are some tips on how to “be generally amazing” online:

  1. Respond to every comment, good or bad. Thank people for positive feedback (or feedback at all), encourage them to return, and address negative comments as quickly as possible—that’s the really important part. Be diplomatic about it. If someone’s unhappy and it’s your fault, don’t delete the comment or ignore it, hoping it will go away. Let the commenter and everyone else know that you’re listening, and consider extending an olive branch apology—a simple “I’m sorry” will go a long way.
  2. Make the conversation about them, not you! Engage with your readers as often and as deeply as you can.
  3. Be real and authentic. Show some personality and let people see the person behind the computer. Be human. Revealing yourself as a likeable individual will endear you to your audience. Be open, honest, and approachable.
  4. Ask questions that touch on any of your readers’ possible interests. Don’t limit yourself to what you personally are “selling.” Let the conversation flow where it wants to.
  5. Use storytelling as a means to connect with your readers. Let people get to know you better! Sharing on a personal level doesn’t have to mean drudging up your personal life, but it does mean breaking down the barrier between writer and reader and letting them in. How are others supposed to support you and advocate your work if they don’t know anything about you?
  6. Do giveaways, contests, promotions—anything that will reward dedicated readers and encourage new ones to join in. Create “wow” moments to surprise and delight without asking anything in return.
  7. Provide value. Share info and tips about your area of expertise freely, even when it doesn’t directly benefit you. Don’t horde good information. It comes out eventually, and if someone beats you to it, the people listening will be grateful to him/her, not you.
  8. Don’t sit in a bubble, either. Branch out—link to others and don’t always claim information as your own when you found it through someone else. Share and give credit where it’s due.
  9. Remember these four essentials: listening, transparency, responsiveness, and engagement. Open your ears to the conversation around you, show people the real you, be attentive to what people say (and let them know you appreciate them saying it), and encourage them to speak up!

How do you connect? I reach out on Facebook, through Twitter, Tumblr, and more.

Blogger Kristen Lamb wrote a great post about improving your “likeability quotient” as a blogger. Her book, We Are Not Alone, is all about using social media the right way.

Ermiliablog praises The Thank You Economy (a book I’ve added to my wishlist recently) and Tweet Right, if you’re looking for more recommendations on social media at its best.

More on Dave Kerpen and Likeable Media:

Facebook.com/DKerpen
Twitter.com/DaveKerpen
Facebook.com/LikeableMedia
Twitter.com/LikeableMedia

The hardest part of the writing process

If you’ve peeked at my “About” page, then you know I’m polishing up my first novel. Currently I’m shoulder-deep in revision, which is ten times harder than actually writing the book was—and that’s quite the accomplishment for anyone, especially aspiring authors, who often stop before they finish.

I’m proud to say I finished, and no matter how hard the work the remains is, it won’t stop me from getting the book done.

I’m interested in knowing what other people think is the most difficult part of the writing process—be it book, poem, or short story. Here’s an outline of the major steps.

Writing — To attempt any writing task, you must sit down, leak those creative juices for however many hours it takes, and stay your hand every time it tries to edit or nit-pick. You also have to finish it, and that’s often where beginner writers get stuck. I found that following a disciplined schedule (x number of words per night, or every other night, or per week) greatly facilitates completing the work by your personal or official deadline. For example, if you’re shooting for a 60,000 word book, you can calculate how many words you should write and how often in order to finish by a certain date.

Reading and trying light writing exercises can help struggling writers power through those dreaded blank screens. Blogs—or any kind of vehicle for practicing writing every day—make it easy to stay in shape and fend off writer’s block, which is really just a poor excuse!

Revising — It makes logical sense, to me anyway, to start with heavy revision and then top it off with a final dusting of editing and proofreading. Revision involves fleshing out characters, tightening dialogue, livening descriptions, and correcting any errors in the narrative. This part takes longer to complete just because it doesn’t necessarily mesh with a set schedule or routine. At a certain point a writer must say, “Enough!” and move on from a given section or chapter, but revising devours the writer’s time and energy because so much of it is spent going over the same sentences, paragraphs, and whole chapters numerous times. Revision requires a slow progression, rather than one that involves moving from the first chapter to the last and then repeating the process several times, a troublesome strategy that allows for more continuity mistakes and increases the likelihood of missing out on those “ding!” moments—mental clicks that lend the added depth and richness your story needs.

I usually refresh by reading previously revised chapters, making small edits along the way without lingering for too long, before starting the next chapter and working on it five or six times until satisfied. Your first draft is where the magic happens; revision turns that magic into a presentable magic show.

Editing/ProofreadingA more manageable task than revision, editing and proofreading iron out any remaining kinks in the writing, attending specifically to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Hiring an editor to assist with this part is instrumental to successful publication. Even if you’re competent in this department like me, it’s probably a good idea to consult outside help.

Sharing — Depending on how high-profile your piece of writing is, you might choose to share you writing before pursuing publication. This is a definite step for me as an aspiring first-time author: I want to ensure my novel is as impressive and reader-friendly as it can be before shooing it off to agents and potential publishers.

Honest feedback from trusted sources is key. I’ve already talked to a few people about sending them advanced manuscripts in exchange for thorough criticism. If you do the same, do your volunteers a courtesy and pay for printing and shipping costs—and give them a mention in your book’s dedications, too.

Publishing — This is one of the biggest hurdles in the process for any writer. All that hard work and time is put to the test. Either it pays off now, or you’re stuck with an unsellable manuscript. If unsuccessful, self-publishing and/or entering the e-book market is another option, but prepare to make a substantial financial investment and, if you push past that, expect lower sales than normal. I’m aiming to publish traditionally because, while my chances of acquiring a book deal are naturally slim, the return can be far greater in the long run.

Marketing — The responsibility of marketing a book rests largely in the author’s hands, and it’s good to have an established platform (online blogs, presentations, community involvement, etc.) to help spread the news of your book’s launch. Failing to secure adequate sales can hurt your chances of publication in the future. Read up on marketing tactics and form a plan early.

Did I miss any steps? What part of the writing process do you struggle with? Please share any anecdotes or advice in the comments below.