After You Finish Writing
Nothing feels better that having a completed novel on your desk waiting to be published. This a crucial point of time in your writing career --- you have already decided whether you want to be traditionally published or do you want to self-publish?
This is also the time when you will want to delve into writing synopses and query letters, wondering whether to submit your manuscript to a professional editor, doubting whether you should do another quick re-write of some part of your manuscript, looking for beta readers and so on. You will be pretty busy.
Whichever path you choose to take, one thing is pretty clear --- a lot of audience building and marketing groundwork needs to be done by you, the author. And this is also the time to kick up your marketing efforts another big notch.
3.1 Preparing to publish
a. Beta Readers & Reviewers
“Now let's say you've finished your first draft. Congratulations! Good job! Have a glass of champagne, send out for pizza, do whatever it is you do when you've got something to celebrate.
If you have someone who has been impatiently waiting to read your novel-a spouse, let's say, someone who has perhaps been working nine to five and helping to pay the bills while you chase your dream-then this is the time to give up the goods...if, that is, your first reader or readers will promise not to talk to you about the book until you are ready to talk to them about it.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Why acquire beta readers & reviewers?
‘Beta readers’ is just a fancy way to say test readers, really. Voracious readers who would love to give your book a read and provide a neutral third-party opinion about it, before it goes to your Agent, or Editor or even Publisher.
I’ve met many a writer, who for the sake of keeping their story or book a ‘secret’, have not attempted to receive any feedback from test readers. Their plans have been to send the manuscript directly to the agent or the editor and subsequently to the publisher. Or have published directly, without having a third set of eyes take a look.
That is a grave mistake for any writer, of fiction or nonfiction, looking to gain an audience.
Beta readers are a resource that every first-time author, or even a seasoned one, should use. And more often than not, their insights turn out to be more valuable than anything else.
What else can be more valuable than having a section of your target audience give you objective, first-hand feedback on your work, before it hits the market?
Much like a new green-fingered entrepreneur trying to build a brand-new startup, feedback from target audience can help you fine-tune your book, address gaping plot holes, if any, develop your characters in a way readers can relate, add more case studies (in case of nonfiction), more interviews, restructure your book, and increase the chances of your book becoming a commercial success.
Where and how to find them?
Working with beta readers however, is not a random endeavour. It requires a certain amount of planning on your part. Identifying a beta reader is essential. You need them to be people who like to read books in the same genre in which you have written. Bonus points, if they are readers who have been following you and your work on social media platforms, or those who have actively interacted with you on your work while it was in progress. Uninterested readers will not provide accurate feedback and will be a total waste of your time, I can assure you.
Try pooling your beta readers from those:
- who have subscribed to your newsletter,
- who have commented on your blog posts,
- who have interacted with your Instagram or Tumblr posts,
- who have re-tweeted your tweets on your excerpt or article or writing updates,
- in your Facebook or Goodreads writers’ groups, and those
- who are part of a beta reading community.
10 things to remember while working with beta readers:
- Announce. Post a call for beta readers on your website and all the writers’ groups that you are a part of. This could be a tweet or an Instagram card, or a short video request uploaded on your Youtube channel. Sourcing beta readers from the writing community is always a plus, because as writers themselves, your readers will already have a hunger for reading and critiquing new work.
- Get their details right. When you’re choosing a beta reader also note their age, nationality or cultural background. This will give you fair idea of which section of the population will enjoy your books more.
- Prepare for the worst. Not all beta readers will agree to critique your work. Some may agree and then not respond at all. Some will just sit on your manuscript and not respond to your emails until the last minute, when it’s already too late. Some will just disappear off the face of the planet. If you get all your beta readers to respond to all your questions within the assigned time frame, please comment below and teach me how to do that. It is essential, to have back-up readers on your list, whom you can contact and ask for help. Anything from 10–30 beta readers is good. Less than 10 is inadequate. More than 30 will become overwhelming for any new writer. Note that, for your first book, the process may seem really hard. It’ll get easier with your second book!
- Remember the Barter System? The relationship between you and your beta-readers works on a mutual barter system. This means, that for unbiased critique and reviewing, you will have to give something back in return. You can offer to be a beta-reader first and in exchange ask for your work to beta read in return, to those readers who are writing books of their own. You can offer free copies of the final book (hardback, paperback or e-book) as gifts, to your beta readers. You can also pay them a nominal fee. It is not regular practice, but it’s not unheard of and definitely a smart thing to do. People who get paid are more likely to show up at work. Send them thank you notes after they’re done. I would even suggest that you thank them, by name, in your ‘Acknowledgements’.
- Prep the documents. Agree on a file format (PDF, DOCX, EPUB, MOBI, Google Docs) before you start sending files back and forth. And make sure the medium is consistent throughout the process.
- Structure, structure, structure. It is essential to decide how structured you want their critique to be. I know writers who hand a list of questions to their beta readers, which is a great idea, because the writer gets to choose what part of their book they think needs critiquing and the beta readers will provide answers that will be to the point and relevant. Then there are writers who take it as it comes, without having a proper structure. Needless to say, beta reading without a structure can be overwhelming for a new writer, because information will flow in freely and you won’t know how to organize it or process it. So have a structure in place. The questions could get as broad and as specific as you want. But ensure that you’re betas are aware that you’ll be asking questions. I have included a few tables of questions that you can ask your betas, below this list.
- Timing is everything. Don’t forget to include a time-frame. A reasonable one. Don’t expect your readers to read a 100,000 word high fantasy novel in one day, just because you can. Agree on a mutually comfortable timeline, keeping in mind the time you want to give yourself to edit your drafts and do other activities (send your manuscript to an editor, say).
- Fiction and Nonfiction is not the same thing. Well, duh. But it applies when it comes to beta reading, as well. If you’re working on a non-fiction book, it may be wiser to go for fact-checkers rather than beta readers.
- Working with criticism. I don’t have to tell you this, but be open to criticism. Don’t get too defensive about your work. Ultimately, you can choose what critiques you want to ignore and what you want to listen to. Remember, if more than 50% of your readers criticize the same thing, you know you’ll have to change it.
- Beta readers are not editors. Beta readers are not replacements for professional editors. If you’re self-publishing, use beta readers to polish up your manuscript in terms of plot and character development. Then get a professional editor. As someone going for traditional publishing, use beta readers to polish up your manuscript before starting to query agents. As nonfiction writers, use your beta readers to understand if they’ve found your information/instructions to be valuable and easy-to-follow.
Great Beta Reader and Critique Groups for Writers:
- 10 Minute Novelists
- My Writers Circle
- Indie Author Group
- The Writer’s Workshop
- Beta Readers and Critiques
- Critique Circle
- Critters Workshop
List of possible questions to ask your beta readers:
Here’s a list of questions that will help you structure the responses from your beta readers. Bear in mind, that you should always give your beta readers the option to opt out from answering these questions. If they do, great. If they don’t, then let them review your work as organically as they want to.
On Plot Development & Pacing:
- Did you find it easy to follow the plot?
- Are there any points at which you find yourself skimming?
- Which parts were exciting but not long enough?
- Does the end of each chapter/scene makes you want to read more? If not all, then which chapters or scenes are failing to do so?
- Are there points where the plot slows down or escalates, out of scale?
- Which chapter/scene has been your favourite so far? Which has been the least favourite?
- Have you been able to spot any holes, loopholes or discrepancies with the plot?
- Which chapters or scenes managed to produce deep emotional reactions in you (anger, sadness, jealousy, frustration, happiness, confusion etc)?
- How satisfied are you with the ending?
On Character Development:
- Were aspects of the main characters relatable?
- Do any of the main characters behave inconsistently at any point? Where?
- Did you have trouble distinguishing between any of the characters?
- Are any of the secondary characters over or under developed?
- Which character was your favourite? Which was the least favourite?
- Which character(s) would you not have included in the book?
On Voice, Style & Writing:
- What three words would you use to describe the voice of the story?
- Was the language and writing style easy flowing or too complex or too flowery?
- How compelling are the first paragraph and the last paragraph of the book?
- Is the dialogue realistic and relevant to the scenes?
- Was it easy or difficult to follow the fight scenes?
- Which ones did you have to re-read?
- Did any of the romance scenes or dialogues makes you cringe?
- Is the writing too descriptive?
- With regards to world-building, was it easy to imagine the fictitious settings?
- Did the world pull you in and was the description vivid enough?
- What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the story?
- Any grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes you can spot?
b. On Editing
A question that has plagued every self-publishing indie author, ever, is:
Do you need a professional editor for your book or not?
The answer to this is fraught with more ambiguity than you think. Before arriving at a conclusion, let’s first take a look at what some of the industry’s most dependant members think about this subject.
Writer Anne R. Allen says:
“The number one mistake new writers make is trying to publish too early. With the self-publishing revolution, the problem has become much worse...No amount of editing can fix a book that is seriously flawed or amateurish. I see many self-published writers who blame bad reviews on a hired editor. But I wonder how many are expecting their editors to work miracles with a flawed manuscript.”
YA author Natalie Whipple on her experience with the craft, says:
“I wish I'd spent more time studying the craft. I used to think my natural talent would get me through the gate. I would write stories without much thought to if the plot worked or not, if the characters were real or not, if the world made sense or not. I feel like I squandered my talent for a long time because I relied solely on talent instead of pushing myself to get better.”
And here lies the conundrum I face, every time I talk to a first-time writer about working with an editor.
More often than not, the writer sincerely believes that his or her work does not need editing, except for grammar and spelling checks. And more often than not, they are wrong. Undoubtedly, there are talented writers who have a firm grasp of the craft and have churned out compelling stories. The need for an editor reduces considerably, in that case. But in spite of being reduced, the need is never actually eliminated. And then, there are those times when even editor cannot completely fix all the errors.
If you’re going for traditional publishing, and are looking to query agents as part of the process, then the confusion reduces considerably. Once a publishing house has offered you a contract, they will have their own editors to work with you on your book. You would still need to submit a polished draft, but imperfections are acceptable at this stage.
However, when you’re planning on self-publishing, a decent amount of honesty and awareness is required when you self-assess your work and decide whether you need an editor.
Publishing Consultant Jane Friedman, who’s been in the industry more than 20 years as a publishing consultant says:
“When writers ask me if they should hire a professional editor, it’s usually out of a vague fear their work isn’t good enough—and they think it can be “fixed.” There are many different types or levels of editing, and if you don’t know what they are—or what kind you need—then you’re not ready for a professional editor.
Can you benefit from a professional edit? Maybe. Your work already needs to be very good and deserving of the investment. Even the best editor in the world can’t turn a mediocre work into a gem. But they can make a good work great.”
This is prime advice. I couldn’t put it to you better than this.
If you’re self-publishing, then my answer will always be a resounding ‘yes’, provided that you know where or what kind of help you need. Uploading work, formatted or otherwise, straight from your desk to a publishing platform bypassing expert eyes altogether, is one of the biggest mistakes you can actually make. Your entire book may be fraught with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, gaping plot holes, broken sentences, or just plain bad language.
But at the end of the day, it is a choice that only you can make. I have come across writers who were reasonably good at the craft and have benefitted from beta readers only, before they moved ahead with self-publishing their work. And there have been those who have produced sub-standard work while refusing to seek professional help. Understandably, the latter have sold very few books.
How can a professional editor help you?
- Industry insights. A great editor is connected to the industry and will surely provide you with insights to the publishing process, talk about case studies, valuable genre-specific advice that beta readers and reviewers may not be able to provide. They are also most likely to have connections to agents, publishing houses, bookstores, PR professionals and help you out with referrals and introductions.
- Improving your work. Good editors will always be trying to improve your work, since their own name will be attached to it. Apart from grammar, spelling, their experienced advice on your work will always be aimed at identifying and strengthening your unique writing voice. To editors, the story and style are of paramount importance and they’ll only be too happy to check your work for holes in the plots, complexity of characters, delicate layering of storyline and compelling narration.
- Submission packaging. This is the most harrowing part of being a published writer, especially if you’re a first-time author. Putting together queries, synopses, excerpts, sample chapters, cover letters, marketing plans, book proposals, and formatted manuscripts is a tough task by itself. It becomes a nightmare, when every agent, publishing house, indie publisher or platform follows their own submission rules. It would be wise of any first-time author to hire an editor to help with this part of their writing process.
3 Things to remember before choosing an editor to work with:
- If an editor has too many detailed rules for you to follow, while they specify how you can improve your work, they’re probably not the right person for you to work with, unless you’ve specifically hired them for grammar and spelling. An editor should be more concerned with the story and style on the whole and on improving the book, rather than on the structure of one particular sentence.
- Credentials and referrals matter, in this case. Talk to writers the editor has worked with prior to hiring them. Also ask questions about their work processes, promptness and professionalism.
- This is also true in reverse. Great editors are selective about who they work with. Through the questions they will evaluate you and your priorities and that’ll help them decide whether you’re a good match.
More stellar advice on how to hire and work with editors:
- Hiring an Editor: When, Who and How to Avoid Scams
- 10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You - But Should
- Freelance Editorial Costs for Authors
- How Much Does Book Editing Cost and Are You Being Ripped Off?
Great Places to find great editors:
- Adian Editing
- NY Book Editors
- Independent Editors Group
- The Writers’ Workshop
c. Cover Design & Formatting
I’m very much tempted to start by mentioning that age old cliché “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but let me be brutally honest here: each and every one of us, all of us, still judge a book by its cover. We always will.
We may not make a purchase based on it, but a clever, impactful, visibly appealing cover will definitely be looked at more, and be picked off the shelf more number of times, than a sloppily designed book. A book cover is the first thing that a potential reader sees and it’s your only chance to ensure they pick it up out of a sea of other good books.
While doing research for this guide, I conducted a quick and informal poll on a Facebook writers’ group, wherein I asked about what factors impact how a person chooses what book to read.
Out of 330 group members only one-sixth of the lot (about 51) said that book covers won’t actually matter to them while making a purchase. When I interviewed all of the 51 members, they revealed that their purchases mostly depended on recommendations by friends or reviews that may have heard online, which is fair.
But consider the rest: 279 potential book-buyers that you might just miss out on, because they’ll be considering a good book cover design over a bad one.
Should writers be self-designing their own books?
Whenever the topic of book covers pops up, every writer who has decided to self-publish always asks if they can design their own covers. By all means, yes they can. And you can too. However, the question remains whether or not you should.
The shortest answer I can come up with is, no, I do not think you should.
There will be exceptions, of course. Writers who have experience with graphic design, book cover design and understand how a book cover impacts the sales of a book, can actually go ahead and design covers for their own books.
But, for obvious reasons, non-designers miss out on sales they could achieve, with badly designed book covers. Because, like it or not, books are still judged by their covers in the majority of cases. That is where professional designer come in. They already have knowledge of what font would suit the writing and what colours would complement the mood of the story, whether to go literal with the picturization or to be clever and subtle about it, what backgrounds to use, what message to send out with the cover, photo-manipulation and the technical aspects and so on.
The most difficult problem that writers face when wanting to design their own covers, when they don’t have experience with design, is distinguishing between a good cover and a bad cover. Design by itself is subjective, of course. But the expertise lies in knowing what is visibly stunning and what will sell vs. what a writer likes about their book.
Being part of writers’ groups online and offline, having edited a considerable amount of manuscripts, I constantly see writers come up with their own book cover designs where the fonts have over-the-top drop-shadows and outer glows, bad drawings, un-rendered images, a combination of three or four different types, and just plain cringe-worthy composition.
Just a couple of searched on the internet will reveal to you want is deemed as a badly designed cover. Websites and listicles display the most bizarre, the most hilarious and the worst selling covers on Amazon and Kindle that have appeared over time. A great thing to do would be to go through these lists and study the covers, just so you can avoid making the same mistakes, if at all you decide to design your own cover.
7 qualities of a good book cover:
If you do, however, decide to go ahead and design your own cover, ensure you know what a good book cover consists of.
- Start with the title. Big, easy to read and has to sit well with the background. This is the first thing a reader will see before they pick a book up off the shelf. If they’re shopping online, this is the first thing they’ll see your book on a screen.
- The author’s name is just as important. More important than the subtitle of your book, actually. For best results, choose the same font for both your title & author name.
- Which brings us to font selection. It is easy, and very common for first-time self-publishers to choose gimmicky fonts, which they think go with the title or theme of the book. This is easily the biggest mistake you can ever make. Gimmicky fonts make the title hard to read and unless used cleverly by an expert, should just be avoided. Stick to 1-2 types of fonts. More than 2 kinds of fonts on the cover is again a rookie mistake to make. Remember, that you want your cover to look polished, professional, well-designed and well-suited to your book. Using more than 3 different kinds of fonts, just says otherwise. While typesetting your fonts, keep the use of effects to a minimum. As tempting it may be to add an enormous glow around your font or to add multiple drop shadows and effects, restrain yourself.
- Image selection. Go for a powerful image --- either of a character, or a scene or a landmark (existing or imaginary) that is central to your book. And stick to that single image. Multiple images give off multiple vibes that will just confuse the reader. Avoid using cheap clip-art (the stuff that you can download for free, or comes pre-built with MS word, etc.) and instead invest in a great illustration or commission an illustration/artwork from an artist. Good quality stock photos or relevant photo-manipulated images are also appropriate to use. By all means avoid using your own artwork (unless you’re a professional illustrator) or your children’s artwork (unless it’s appropriate for a children’s book).
- Pay attention to colours. Avoid rainbow colours or gradients in garish combinations. Artful use of colour comes with practice and professional experience. Just because you put a fluorescent coloured font on top of a dark cover image, will not necessarily mean it’ll turn out to be a great cover. Just because your book is about little girls, does not necessarily mean you have to use pink for all images and fonts and backgrounds.
- All elements do not need to have a literal connection with your book. Another big mistake we see debut authors make with their cover design is thinking that every element on the cover should have a literal connection with the story. Go for 1 or 2 powerful connection and leave it at that. For eg, make the central image the focus, and leave it at that. Or stick to 1-2 colours and leave it at that.
- Thumbnail view is important. Review a thumbnail image of the cover. Most people will be surfing books on their Kindle or mobile device, hence, your book cover needs to look compelling even in thumbnail view and even in grayscale view. Otherwise, a potential reader will just skip your book and move on to a more interesting looking cover.
6 examples of great covers and what makes them great:
|A quick Google search will tell you the story of how the brilliant JAWS book cover illustration came about, and it’s a fascinating one. Roger Kastel’s oil on masonite painting of a girl skinny-dipping, who ends being snack food for one of Hollywood’s iconic villains, is worthy of being one of the best covers ever designed.|
|Chip Kidd’s most iconic cover that is identifiable even by children. It has been featured on multiple books, movie posters, merchandise, movie trailers, promotional materials that have shown up around the world. And for good reason.|
A simple silhouette of dinosaur bones makes for a simple but powerful, and completely accurate representation of subject matter makes this one of the best designs of a book cover.
|This iteration of Steig Larsson’s classic is really well done. Not only does it use bright colours, but also a symbolic background image that looks like a significant tattoo and great use of typography inter-weaved with the image.|
|When Red Queen’s book cover, designed by Sarah Kaufman, was released back in 2015, my jaw dropped. The design is automatically gripping as you ask yourself: why is the crown inverted? Why is there blood dripping from it? The image is not literally depicting a queen or showing a character/model on the cover. It is just a single strong image that evokes mystery, darkness, royalty, luxury, with a touch of legacy fiction and a touch of violence, all at once.|
|Matthew Yeoman’s nonfiction book’s illustrator, Pollen, went with minimalism. The cover is stellar example of using negative white space and materialistic typography, to illustrate a strong message. Take away that your book cover does not have to be cluttered with imagery, or even too colourful. One single image can be powerful.|
|Barring the fact that the book has a title ominous enough to make anyone pick it up, Erin Fitzsimmons and Simon Prades designed a cover that suits the story to the tee. The shadow formed by the two characters walking is that of the Grim Reaper and the lightened outline of a skull sits behind the background of the city.|
Great covers and resources to help you design your own:
- Peter Mendelsund’s List & Tips
- What Makes a Great Book Cover
- Beginner’s Guide to Book Cover Design
- The 60 Best Book Covers of 2016, As Chosen By Designers on LitHub
Online tools you can use to design your own cover:
Steps to working with book cover designers for the best results:
Step 1. Compile a great brief. It is important that the designer you’ve chosen to work with understands your work and the essence of your book really well, so that they can produce a great cover. Put together a kit for the designer that includes:
- a short synopsis or blurb,
- a couple of the most important scenes from your book (scenes not chapters, that highlight your protagonist’s struggle or a scene where something significant to the story happens),
- An Author’s Statement, where you put down your personal idea of what the book cover should include. This is where you can include preferred colours, reference images, book covers that you really like and so on. Don’t get too hung up on your vision though, the best cover might turn out to have different colours and different imagery to what you originally imagined.
Step 2. Do your research. Firstly, make a list of successful writers you admire or writers who write in your genre and have had great reviews and sales on their books. Study their covers and jot down your observations.
Is the cover image just the picture of their main character? Does the cover image show an important scene from the story? Do the colours reflect the theme and mood of the book? Is the cover more of a collage of significant objects and scenes from the book? Is the cover minimalist or abstract or literal? Are the fonts easily readable?
These questions will dictate your taste and help you outline a better brief to your designer. Before or after this exercise, there is something I always suggest new writers must do --- surf through the best book cover designs ever. Surfing through professionally designed covers will tell you what sells and what grabs the attention of readers.
Step 3. Give valuable reviews. When you go through the paces of design and redesign, you’ll be communicating back and forth with your cover designer and giving your comments on their work. Here, you’ll need to ensure that your comments are valuable and consistent.
Don’t get caught up with a particular colour or detail. I’ve had clients make me produce more than 25 colour options of a cover, just because they didn’t like a particular shade of orange. There was another who got hung up about a model’s fingers. And then there are those who are unsure about what they want and that leads to grief for both the designer and the writer --- endless changes and iterations, where the designer ends up distraught and the writer ends up more confused than what they were at the start. The best advice I can give you here is to be consistent and know what you want.
Step 4. Back off a bit. In the business of writing, it’s the writer that brings the story to the table. It sounds simple and obvious when I put it this way. But in reality, authors sometimes forget that, just like they are the ones responsible for writing, book cover designers are the ones responsible for making the book cover look good.
There have been cases where authors, with no drawing or graphic design skills whatsoever, have sketched out their vision of the cover and have expected the designers to produce exactly that. This is a red flag for designers. Experienced designer will immediately know that the author values his/her opinion of the cover more than they value sellable design.
In other cases, authors have come forward with really substandard images that they think will be perfect for their stories. More often than not, these authors are extremely resistant to alternate design suggestions which makes the work of a designer very difficult. There are ways to solve this. While it’s completely fine to download a reference image from the internet and show it to your designer as a representation of what you want, the best thing to do would be to stop drawing them yourself. Stop with the sketches already.
Instead, use a tool that you know best how to use --- your words. Describe a scene as vividly as possible, describe your cover, your favourite character, your main character, the theme of your story, the conclusion of your story and let the designer do their job. Remember that a good designer will always come up with a design that’s best for your book, your readers and for your sales. And it’s quite possible that you may not like that design!
Step 5. Ensure you get a full deliverable package. Once a design is finalised, ensure you get your money’s worth. Ask for:
- the final images in multiple formats, namely JPEG, PNG, PSD, PDF, TIFF,
- The raw images in their original formats,
- Model release and consent forms signed by the models and photographers,
- Copyright information and release contracts on all images,
- Ensure that you have the cover in all the sizes you require and that they are compatible with all the online self-publishing platforms and with whatever software the printers/printing presses use, as well.
Where to find good designers?
- Author Packages
- Ebook Launch
- Cover Design Studio
- Books Covered
- Selfpub Book Covers
- 99 Designs
- The Book Cover Designer
- People Per Hour
This is a question for those writers who are looking to go the traditional publishing way. Here, the prevalent industry standard is that writers don’t have a say on the design of the cover. Publishers who have bought the rights to your work, will get their own designers, have their own concepts and develop the book cover based on what they can sell. If you go with the Big 6, chances are that a proficient, award-winning designer like Chip Kidd or Peter Mendelsund or Chris Foss, may work on your cover and when that happens you really have it made!
However, there are exceptions and standards are changing. With the onset of a new generation of authors, agents are now negotiating better contracts with publishing houses that would let authors have a say --- to a certain extent --- on the cover design. Indie publishers maybe more flexible, in this case. But it is never a black-and-white process. It’s much more complicated than that.
If you do have graphic design experience, the best thing to do, is to find an agent who is capable of negotiating such a deal for you. If you don’t, then just leave it up to the professionals.
Book Cover Contests
Book cover contests are a great way to get your book in front of readers who haven’t found you through traditional channels yet. If you have a book cover that’s especially good, list them up on these contest sites (as long as they fulfil the qualifying parameters), get your followers to up-vote it (if a public vote is applicable) and it could be a great source of sales, whether or not you win.
Note that some of the awards are free to enter and some are not. So do consult your budget before deciding to participate. You will also need to format your entries as per the guidelines of each award. Consult your cover designer, if you have one, on help with this.
Book cover awards to participate in:
- Book Cover Designer Monthly E-Book Cover Design Awards
- Authors DB Annual Contest
- Book Viral Book Cover Contest
d. Set up a Website
A website is a sure mark of your online presence. It’s your identity and brand on the internet. And it is the first thing people will go to when they want information on you and your work. We’ve already discussed the importance of blogging and its role in building an audience for you and your work. Once you’re done with your final draft and are ready to start querying agents or are starting to format for your self-publishing needs, that is the time to get a website. If you have experience with designing websites, then this is one section you can skip.
Doing it yourself
I always get nervous when writers who have no experience with website design decide to self-design their own. I keep picturing the pre-Google era websites with sparkling marquees and flashing texts! However, self-designing a website has gotten infinitely easier and accessible today. With ready-made templates and WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) web editors, building a website is a breeze.
Multi-Page vs. Single Page
There’s a lot of debate over which is more preferable, a multi-page website or a single page website. A single page website does look clean, simple and brief, reduces clutter and acts like a digital business card. However, a multi-page website works better with Search Engines and acts more as a portfolio. Whichever option you choose, a website is something that publishers, clients, readers will always go through.
Ensure you have the following sections/pages in your website for full effect:
- A landing page with your latest work on it. It could be the cover of your book in a realistic render, covers of all your books/series. Below the cover image(s), make sure you have all the links from where your readers can buy the book(s). Accompany that with a small, succinct blurb of your book. Some landing pages also include the Author’s profile photo with a bio, but this is not a compulsory thing to put on your landing page, and could go in a separate ‘About’ page.
- An ‘About’ page with a great photo of you and a short bio. This is not the time to ramble on about your life history. Instead try and touch on the most important points --- a brief education background, a gist of your writing experience, a couple of sentences on your writing philosophy and maybe, maybe, a personal note about your life.
- A ‘Portfolio’ page is where all the details and links to your writing pieces go. If you’ve contributed to literary magazines, blogs, online magazines, chapbooks, anthologies and so on, this page is where you add the links to those works, if they’re online. If they are offline, add high-quality scans and screenshots, with publication names, dates and locations.
- A ‘Contact’ page is the one where you list all contact information from your email id (the professional one, please. I once came across an author who had listed email@example.com as their email id, and no, I didn’t get in touch with them), and links to your social media accounts. You can also add a contact form to the page, to prompt visitors to get in touch with you quicker. But even if you do, don’t forget to add your email id separately. The sole reason to add both is that contact forms sometimes, sends all queries to your spam folder, which means you may miss out on important communication. There have been so many times, I haven’t got in touch with influencers, bloggers and writers --- they only had a contact form and no email id and I didn’t want my query to end up in her spam folder.
- A footer is what a visitor sees once they’ve scrolled to the end of the page. Ideally a footer contains similar information as the header on the top of every page, namely links to the main pages, social media links, latest posts (if any). Additionally, it contains copyright information. The footer is not only convenient because when a visitor scrolls down, they might just be looking to click through to a different page, but it’s also good for Search Engine Optimisation.
- A newsletter sign-up form located in a prominent position with a clear Call-to-Action button, so visitors have an option to sign up for your email newsletter.
- Integrating your blog is a must. This is where choosing a platform that makes it easy to have a blog attached to a website helps. It also needs to be ensured that the link to the blog is located along with the links to the all the main pages.
- Testimonials and Book Reviews are important. If your readers have left testimonials about your writing and if you’ve received editorial reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, this section is where you display them. These do not have to be on a different page, they could be on the About page or the Portfolio page, but they need to be easily accessible and noticeable. Book Reviews are best under or around the book link/cover rather than on other pages.
- Schedule of Events & Appearances also needs to be put up in a place where interested readers will find them easily. Clearly mention the name of the event, date, venue address, contact details, and the name of the host, if any. Also if there’s any specific way to RSVP, don’t forget to mention that.
A few tips to remember:
Integrating social media with your blog and website. While you’re getting your site designed or choosing a template for it, ensure that you get one which allows you, and makes it easy for you, to integrate your social media channels in the top menu bar. Whether you’re on just two platforms or on all of them, this helps readers to follow your work on their preferred channel.
Always choose content over design. When it comes to design, you’ll want something responsive, i.e., a website that looks well laid out and formatted on all electronic devices from laptops, desktops to tablets and smartphones. But the only thing that is more important than design, is content. While getting your website designed, you want your content to shine. Ensure that readers don’t get confused by fancy navigational links, or animates backgrounds or too many bright colours on the same page. Instead, they should be able to find information on your writing, books, and you, easily. They should be able to find your contact information and newsletter, easily.
A word on analytics. Analytics are an empirical way to measure the amount of traffic your website and blog gets everyday. At a very basic level, any platform that you choose will have plugins, widgets or apps which will keep a track of how many visitors your site/page gets a day and which page is the most popular. However, if you want a slightly more detailed overview of your audience, then I would suggest signing up for a Google Analytics account. Once you do and then install the Tracking ID on each page that you want to track, Google with give you information on things like, visitors of which country come to your website most, what times and days is your website more popular, and so on. This is useful because every time you publish a new post or send out a Press Release or do guest blogging, you’ll be able to tell which strategies and what content are working better than the rest.
Tools and resources to help you design your own website:
- How to Make a Website with Wordpress
- 17 Best Wordpress Themes for Writers and Pro-Bloggers
- Step-by-step Guide to Build an Author Website
Website Platforms to use:
- Wordpress.org (self-hosted)
Getting your website professionally designed
This option is always better, especially if you don’t have any experience with websites and have little time to learn something afresh. For a couple of hundred quid, a professional will work with you to give you exactly what you want.
In an open interview with Copyblogger, author Torre DeRoche puts emphasis on the need to hire professionals:
“When I first began, I did all my own web development work. This was as enjoyable and productive as attempting my own toilet plumbing. I worked fourteen-hour days, tallying up over eighty hours to make my blog handsome and functional. When I redesigned my blog earlier this year, I decided to fork out cash for a professional web developer. If I hadn’t stubbornly decided to do everything on my own when I started out, I could’ve spared myself from a cluster of eye wrinkles and the neck posture of a vulture. Pay the experts, people. It’s worth every dollar.”
Points to keep in mind when choosing a professional website designer:
- Check out their portfolio. This could be a website, or a blog, a Dribbble or DeviantArt account and so on.
- Have they designed websites for authors before? If they have, check out those websites and determine whether you like those websites.
- You could also get in touch with the website owners and ask about the designer. Are they easy to work with? Do they maintain dates and budgets? How flexible are they with their work?
- Make your brief accurate. I’m a designer who has designed numerous author websites and I have come across clients who have told me, “Oh, I’ll know what I want, when I see it!”
I can tell you for a fact, they will never know what they want.
- Your brief doesn’t have to be perfect. But it has to be accurate. You are expected to do a bit of research of your own before you approach a designer. You should:
- know how many pages you want.
- have book cover images, author head-shot, and additional promotional graphics etc. ready (unless the website designer is taking care of these).
- know what you like. Do you like sites with dark-coloured themes or those with light, pastel shades? Do you want short pages, or long single pages in sections? Do you want the focus to be n you or on your books? Do you want to make book excerpts available on site or not?
- how much are you willing to manage the site after it is handed over to you.
- Discuss cost. When you finally do get in touch with the designer, make sure you work out how many installments are needed for full payment and how many revisions are mutually agreeable.
Author websites that will inspire you:
I love, absolutely love, Rainbow Rowell’s website. The background is a soft and soothing colour and she puts her books front and center with a slider. A slider with your books and featured works on your homepage has a tremendous potential of pulling your readers in.
Brad Thor also has an auto-slider background for his website which focuses on him, his books, promos and offers. It’s interesting to note the dark colours of his website, in tune with the theme and genre of his books. Brad’s newsletters are always full of updates on his work, events and whereabouts, so it’s quite natural to put the Sign up form on the first-fold of the homepage.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Amy’s website is adorable. It’s targeted as much towards children as it is towards adults. If you’re designing your own website, unless you have design experience, I wouldn’t suggest that you go for quirky animated elements, but based on your main genre, try and play around with bright colours.
Lauren Oliver puts her books front and centre. And not just the new ones, even the ones on discounted offer. Dark and neutral colours help highlight the cover art. I love that the elements, like the background and the header, are all very design-forward. Like Brad Thor, her newsletter also comes on top of the fold.
David Sedaris’s website goes one step ahead and puts the entire spotlight on his latest book. With three prominent Call-to-Action (CTA) buttons that specify what kind and where you can buy his book. Having a highlighted CTA button in a bright colour or in a minimalist style (as in the example), will prompt your readers to take action. It could be anything from a “Sign Up” button for your newsletter to a “Buy Now” button for your latest book to a “Contact” button.
Nicole’s website does the same thing with putting focus on her latest book in bright, opulent colours. The website uses a cool parallax scrolling effect to display the most important links in large noticeable fonts that prompts visitors to click on one of them, with buy links at the bottom.
Lindy West’s website is just as fabulous as she is. She puts her own portrait on the background, front and centre, and that is completely apt for her book. Apart from just description or Buy buttons, her website also focuses on testimonials and blurbs from other bestselling authors. Scroll past that and she has links to all her upcoming events and contact details. Don’t shy away from using big, bright fonts that are also professional looking.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Carlos’s website aesthetics are completely dependent on the genre of his work. From the colours to the font, to the dark, ancient-looking background, all points towards the theme of the book. In this case, the book blurb makes the front page.
See the slider thing again? It’s popular. And for good reason. It manages to show more important info in a single space than having to scroll down screen after screen or having to click on multiple links. Consider putting your Youtube channel or book trailer in focus on your homepage. Or maybe even your social links.
e. Build Your Media Kit
A Media Kit or a Press Kit is an extremely useful tool while promoting your novel. Bloggers, startups, freelancers have used them since long as it acts like a capsule of business information for potential employees and sponsors. For writers, a Media Kit becomes handy when contacting
- Event planners
- PR professionals
It gives them a quick snapshot of who you are, what you have accomplished so far, and of course, your professional statistics.
What Should a Media Kit contain?
- Author Bio, Contact Information & Details. Develop a great Author bio that is clear and to-the-point. Either start afresh or tweak the ones you already have on your blog, website and social media. Try and keep it uniform through all platforms and make it as interesting as possible. Include your name, place of birth or your current location, educational qualifications, fun facts about yourself or quirky hobbies, your contact information, name of your agent, cover artist, editor or any other affiliations/representations you may have. Try and include 4 versions of your bio in different sizes. That will save anyone time from wading through your entire bio and waste time customizing it for themselves.
- Two-line Bio or 280 characters, to help someone tweet it, if they want.
- Short Bio or 50-75 words, which is suitable for publications and author boxes on magazines.
- Full Bio or 400-500 words, which will include your most noteworthy accomplishments, career highlights, your philosophy about your work and a little personal life history.
- Press Release. A press release is all about your latest (and previous work, if relevant) work. Try and keep it brief and within a single page. Use of bullet points with headings is best.
- On one page, include, if applicable:
- Title, subtitle, series name and Publisher
- Author name & author’s pen name
- Author’s photograph
- Cover image & cover artist
- Book blurb
- Page count & word count
- ISBN (Digital & Print)
- Release date
- Buy-links to where the book is sold (Amazon, Kindle, Indibound etc.)
- Links to other media (book trailer, interviews, social media)
- On the second page, include:
- Praises for your book. These are the best testimonials and editorial reviews your book has received. You can use screenshots or even type them in, naming and linking the reviewers. Also include links to interviews and videos and mention any awards that you may have won. Newspaper clippings and photos taken at local events about your book are also good additions.
- You could possibly include upcoming events, however, keep them updated.
- Book Excerpts & Synopsis.
- A 200-word excerpt
- A 400-600 word excerpt
- A 1000 word excerpt
- A single page synopsis, preceded by a two-line summary.
- A personal note on the book. What made you write it? The need for it? The market for it? Who are the ideal readers who will enjoy this book? Does the story address an incident that is close to your heart or talk about a specific location that is significant to you? How do you differentiate the book from others in the same genre?
Things to keep in mind while compiling a Media Kit:
- It is also prudent to keep the first 2-3 chapters from your book formatted and ready, in case, someone asks for it along with the actual Media Kit.
- Check for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, before releasing anything. Keep PDF version in quick, shareable and accessible links. You can also print out hard copies and keep hand to hand out to book retailers or at meets/conferences and book readings events.
- If you’re emailing the Kit, ensure that you include high-resolution images (author’s image, book cover image) as separate attachments, apart from the ones already embedded in the document.
Examples of great Media Kits:
Simple and minimal, Phillips’ media kit contains of all her social links, a biography and ways to contact her for interviews and work. It also has a great photo of hers, which is always an important thing to include in your media kit.
Follows the same colour palette as the rest of her website and she also includes all her book covers lined up in a row that are clickable for more details.
The most notable thing about Lisa’s media kit is that she’s put up press releases of all her books. She also puts the contact details of her agent.
I love Hyatt’s kit because it starts with a Table of Contents, which can be very useful to quickly find info on him, instead of scrolling endlessly through assorted details.
If you don’t want to make your Media/Press Kit from scratch, I’ve got you covered. You can download the exact one I use for my work and give out to my clients as well. It’s a 6-page fully customizable template available for free at https://goo.gl/sW3C3h.
3.2 Spreading the Word
a. Announcements on Social Media Channels
Now that you’re manuscript is either being read by your beta readers, or is off for a professional edit, and you’re working hard on the cover, and you’ve managed to set up a great website, you should be gearing up to make some serious (and fun!) announcements on social media. Treat these announcements like golden nuggets of information and use them to keep your readers intrigued. This is the time your social media should be buzzing with news.
11 things that you can post on social media at this stage:
- First chapters. This is a strategy that is used by most authors of note. Let you first chapter go for free. Post it in your blog or on Medium and announce the link on your social media platforms. You could even shoot a video of yourself reading the first chapter and put it up on Youtube and embed it on your website homepage, like John Green does.
- Website launch. Announce the launch of your website. Take screenshots of the homepage, add text and post it on your accounts along with the link.
- Behind-the-scenes. How was your book cover design done? How many revisions and options? Post them on your blog and comment on what worked and what didn’t. If your book cover is not finalised yet, post the options and conduct a poll asking your readers for their preferences. You could also post photos that show you working on proofs, editing or printing out copies of your manuscripts, flyers, posters (if any) etc.
- Ask for help. At this stage you’ll need beta readers (if you don’t already have any yet), reviewers, bloggers and podcast hosts who may want to cover your launch and ARC readers (more on this in a bit).
- A book trailer. At this stage, a book trailer for your newest book is an essential release. Put the trailer up on Youtube, Vimeo, your website and any and every platform that supports video. Get your beta readers to review it.
- Announcements. Announce and post interviews you may have conducted or collaborations between you and any local bookstore or book club. Post link to your interviews and articles that may have appeared elsewhere. Announce the launch of your website. Announce events that you will be appearing in or readings that you will host.
b. Send out Your ARCs
ARCs or AREs are Advanced Readers’ Copies or Advanced Readers’ Editions of your book. Essentially, a pre-published version of your book that has been bound together in hard copy (or compiled, with the use of software) that has not been finally proofread yet. The use of ARCs are especially to distribute them to potential reviewers, who may include but are not limited to, book reviewers for newspapers and journals, book journalists, Amazon Top Reviewers, other published writers you may want a review or a blurb from, bloggers, the press and so on.
Why are ARCS important?
ARCs may not seem important at the onset, when you’ve already gone through beta readers and editors and have already asked so many of your friends to leave you reviews on Amazon, especially if you’re self-publishing. But they’re essential if you want to obtain reviews in advance of publication. They facilitate a ton of word-of-mouth promotion and are an effective way of getting blurbs and reviews you can put on your cover and website, even before your book is actually released.
Characteristics of an ARC:
- It’s definitely not a first draft or any draft that you may have handed out to beta readers.
- It is an edited version of your book that hasn’t undergone final edits and proofreading. I’ve read ARCs which have had typos, grammatical errors and even complete sections that were changed in the final book.
- An ARC comes with a formal disclaimer stating that it’s an ARC, and release dates, ISBN, prices, word count etc., are all subject to change. Publishers may decide to put in a mock book cover and other details as well.
- If you’re getting traditionally published with one of the better known publishers, your publishers will have their own connections to send the ARCs to, for reviews and blurbs. Some Indie publishers might do the same. But in most cases, and especially if you’re self-publishing you’ll have to make arrangements on your own.
5 things to keep in mind before sending out your ARCs:
- Do your homework. Research and make a list of potential reviewers, authors, press representatives, bloggers, podcast hosts who you’d like to send out the copies to.
- Start sending out either a printed galley of your full book ,or, PDF versions of only a few chapters (along with your bio), four to six months before the book is due to be released for purchase (not considering pre-orders).
- Don't be scared to approach the 'biggest names' in the industry. Most writers, especially first-time writers, always shy away thinking, “Oh, she’s too famous and busy and won’t have time to review my book.” You’re probably right. Famous and busy people don’t have time; they don’t know you and they are not familiar with your work. Create a short, crisp pitch and ask for both reviews and blurbs. Address the letters and emails to them directly instead of starting with the generic “Sir/Madam”.
- Hold off on your book cover design or typesetting the interiors of the book, till you have received a sufficient number of reviews and blurbs. Once you have, integrate these with your cover design, add them to front and back pages. However, your book will still need to look professional and formatted according to industry standards.
- ARCs are a marketing tool. So, use it that way. Only send it to carefully selected personalities, a review from whom will help your sales. If you’re thinking of sending an ARC to your BFF’s mother’s sister who loves reading romance novels, you’re doing it wrong. When sending our ARCs, make sure you make a whole deal out of it on social media. Imagine the exposure when an influencer or a tastemaker posts a photo of your ARC on Snapchat or Facebook or Instagram with tags like #galleybrag. (Galleys are, controversially, extremely popular as collectors’ items on eBay, as well).
c. Pitches & Blurbs
Now that you have taken feedback from your beta readers, edit notes from your editor and have finally polished up your manuscript into something that you’re happy with (or in case, you’re going the traditional way, something that you’re publisher is happy with), this is the time to reach out to potential reviewers.
Things to Do Before You Start Approaching for Reviews:
- Get your elevator pitch ready. Most elevator pitches are only 1-3 sentences, or 140 characters based on the original standards of Twitter. Your preference should always be to have a few options ready:
- a 140-character pitch
- a one sentence pitch
- a 50-word pitch, and
- a 100-word pitch
Write and sharpen up your synopsis. Writing a synopsis is maybe, even more difficult than writing the actual book! I’ve had writers, good, experienced writers, break down in tears trying to compress their 110K-word novels in a 1-page synopsis. Aim for one side of an A4 page (optimum is 3 short paragraphs) or a maximum of both sides. Touch on the most important and significant events or scenes and turning points in your protagonists’ journeys. Talk about the theme and the message you’re trying to convey, but don’t give away the ending. Remember that this synopsis is not to query an agent or publisher, so it doesn’t have to give everything away.
Great lessons on writing good synopses:
- What is a Synopsis? Writing Intriguing Book Summaries - https://www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-write-a-book-synopsis-tips/ >
- 5 Tips on Writing a Novel Synopsis - http://www.firstnovelsclub.com/2013/04/WriteANovelSynopsis.html
- Create a book blurb. If you have a traditional publishing deal, chances are that your publisher or editor will take more interest in the blurb that goes on the back cover of your book. In fact, in most cases, your publisher’s marketing team will be coming up with it, based on what they think is sellable. However, if you’re self-publishing, then the blurb is completely up to you. And with a little help from your editor, ensure the blurb is clear, intriguing and has tremendously capability to pull a reader in and make them buy the book. A few tips on writing book blurbs that sell:
- Do your research. Study the book blurbs on the back of bestsellers and the most popular books in your genre and note the features. Take note of the structure and the impact words used in the blurbs.
- Start with a hook. Every writing coach has repeated this, every editor has told you this, every advice on blurbs that you have come across says this. And for good reason. You need to get the reader to read the rest of the blurb and hopefully buy the book, and that’s only going to happen if the first few lines are intriguing enough. There are no exceptions to this rule.
- Main characters need to be on the blurb. It is easy to start with a philosophical statement about the theme of the story or a rhetorical question. But don’t. Focus on your Main Characters and the major event(s) that lead up to the climax.
- End on a cliff-hanger. Definitely don’t give the ending away. The aim of your blurb is to leave the reader wanting more.
- Use hyperboles. Not a time to be shy now. Words like “never before”, “forever”, “inconceivable” and so on, piques a reader’s imagination.
- Test out your blurb. Make a few versions of 100-120 word long blurbs and ask your beta readers for their opinions. Test out your blurbs in your newsletters and track the number of clicks each gets.
- Make it versatile. Try and stay away from clichéd blurb openings that sound like movie trailers. And your blurbs will not just go on the back of the book, they will also be used by bloggers, interviewers, press and digital media, so it needs to be suitable for all.
Rupi Kaur’s debut poetry book “Milk and Honey” had a blurb on the back cover...in the form of poetry! Tone matches art.
One of my favourite blurbs is the one that appears behind the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by mark Haddon. The first sentence is a very plain one and yet immediately piques interest:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other.
The entire blurb is straightforward and does exactly what it’s supposed to do, get the reader to pick it up and take it home.
d. Book Trailer
The world of digitally marketing books is cut-throat and just like marketing strategies adopted in other industries, video marketing seems to be working better than images or photography. Videos are an integral tool to capture and retain the attention of buyers, and that is the sole reason why book trailers have become so popular over the last few years. The really cool ones, like that of Red Queen and Divergent Series, could easily give movie trailers a run for their money.
There’s a ton of debate on how important is a book trailer and how much money should be spent on it. Traditional publishers do prefer spending a fair bit of money getting a video done professionally and edited well with custom shoots and music. If you’re going the traditional way, you can easily aim for a high-quality book trailer.
If you’re going the Indie way, you may be on a budget, but that’s no reason to not have fun with your book trailer and you can still get it professionally edited for a couple of hundred quid, that’ll make it more memorable.
Steps to Making a Book trailer:
Step 1. Plan it. Think carefully about what you want to show. A book trailer is not essentially a synopsis of your book. In fact, it should hardly say anything about the story. Remember that it’s a “trailer”. It is only supposed to titillate your readers, give them a feel of what your book is about, excite them into buying or pre-ordering your book.
For eg., you only have to give them a taste of the story --- think in the lines of a scene with a gun, a few furtive glances, a couple holding hands, a kiss, a summer’s day and dead body on the floor lying in a pool of blood, over-the-top music with the sound of a gunshot. Compiling these into a video would tell readers that your book is a thriller/crime drama/murder mystery, set in summer, with an element of romance or romantic betrayal in it. Jot down the essence, look and feel of what you want it to be. Focus on the feeling that the back blurb of your book evokes and take it from there.
Step 2. Collect Images, Video Clips and Music. Scour the stock photo sites, royalty-free sites and Creative Commons sites and choose images and videos and clips that would be suitable for your trailer. Don’t buy them immediately. Make sure you’ve chosen and bookmarked the most suitable ones, before you buy or download them. Rename and save these in the best sequence possible. This can, of course, be changed during editing.
Step 3. Making the actual video. Here lies the difficult part --- the actual editing of the video. This is quite like book cover design. Attempt it only if you have some experience with video making. If not, hire a professional to put it together. Otherwise, try and use a free video editing software, put the clips together, add the background music in sync and add the text. Ensure your book cover appears at the end, along with the title, sub-title, your name, release date and all the places and websites that your book will be available on.
Step 4. Promoting it. Put your video up on Youtube, Vimeo and on all your social media accounts and your website. Even better if you turn it into a promotional ad on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. But don’t just stop there. When you plan out your events, conferences and book readings, ask the organizers and hosts if you can play the book trailer in the background or as introduction. Include the link to your Youtube video in your profile and email signatures too.
3 types book trailers that you can choose from:
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
It’s two and a half minutes long, features actors and great voice overs. The scenes are also interspersed with blurbs from reviewers and praise. If you’re a self-publishing author you could think of investing money in hiring local actors/models and having them act out a few scenes. You can then self-edit the video by stitching the scenes together with effects, texts, rollovers and music.
- Text + Music
Small Lives, Big World by R.M. Green
This one is just shy of a minute. And it’s pretty simple. It only uses text (in a really funky font) along with image silhouettes and some great uplifting music. This type of video is quick, easy and economical to make. If you’re looking to make your book trailer all by yourself, this could be your inspiration. Or even the next type.
- Stock Videos + Voice Over
Dream Boy by Mary Crockett and Madelyn Rosenberg
This video, also under a minute, makes use of static illustrations, photographs, stock and royalty-free videos and combines it with text, dramatic voice over and ominous music to create the kind of effect it wants to achieve. These videos, with a tiny bit of technical knowledge, are also easy to make.
Sources for royalty-free stock photos, videos and music:
- Adobe Spark
- Stock Footage For Free
More resources on designing a good book trailer:
- How to Make a Book Trailer: 6 Tips
- Selecting the Best Video Style for Your Book Trailer
- 12 Easy Steps to the Making of a Book Trailer
- 15 Ways to Promote Your Book with a Book Trailer
- 10 Most Viewed Book Trailers of All Time
- The Best YA Book Trailers of All Time
- Fantastic Book Trailers and the Reasons They’re so Good
e. Promotions & Giveaways
The most traditional ways of selling something is via promotions and giveaways. These strategies can be adapted to any product, physical or virtual. And the reason they’re popular, is because they work.
Free vs. Paid Promotions
When you have a book that’s ready to be published or already published, you’ll now have a decision to make regarding promotions. It’s difficult to believe that anything can be advertised for free nowadays, but there are ways. There are ways and websites and platforms you can use to promote your book for free. And many of them are quite effective. This may also be one method of marketing that indie publishers will always prefer. On the other side of the coin, for a serious spike in book sales, investing a certain amount of money, even a small amount, can go a long way in boosting your income from your books.
Pros and cons of Free Promotions
Author and blogger Derek Haines advocates free book promotion due to its return on investment. He says:
“When compared to say an expensive promotion on Bookbub for free or paid eBooks or Facebook Ads, Google Ads, Goodreads Ads or any other form of paid promotion, giving away a few, or a hundred, or even a few thousand eBooks costs nothing. But the benefits are real. Firstly, on KDP, free eBooks help push your book and author ranking higher, which makes your eBook more discoverable to paying readers. Free eBooks are the best way to garner reviews. It’s easy to think that a free eBook is a lost sale, but this is not necessarily true. To find free Kindle eBooks, a reader does have to hunt just a little, and those who do hunt are very often book bloggers/reviewers, who are looking for free eBooks to write about.”
Also consider author Blake Atwood’s experiment with his book The Gospel According to Breaking Bad:
“After seriously considering the pros and cons of offering my Kindle eBook for free, my decision came down to three motivating factors, curiosity, experimentation, flattening sales. Yes, I’d lose sales, but I was curious as to just how much a free eBook day would help. As a self-publisher, experimentation in marketing is a must. But don’t experiment just to experiment. At least have a goal in mind for the experiment.”
He offered his book free on Amazon for one day and it was downloaded 1274 times. It also broke Top 300.
At first glance, 1274 downloads seem like he’d lost 1274 customers
But the most interesting happened the very next day. He sold 20 e-book copies, 14 print copies and got 2 new reviews on his book. This for no charge at all.
Paid promotions, on the other hand are a sure strategy that has one goal: sales. However, besides the obvious, that you’d have to shell out money, paid promotions always require more planning.
Pros and cons of Paid Promotions
Things to keep in mind before you start promoting your book:
- Plan. Promotion sites will need notice before your promotion period starts. So don’t wait until the start-day to sign up with these sites. Once you have shortlisted sites that you want to run promotions on, find out how much notice each will require and plan accordingly. A little planning here will go a long way. The best thing to do is to maintain an Excel sheet of all your promotional calendar and respective costs and ROIs (Return on Investments).
- Ensure your book has the right metadata. And is classified under the right categories, has been assigned well-researched tags. Don’t be afraid to go specific with tags. If your book is a book on animals for children, the individual tags “dog”, “cat” etc., will perform better than the tag “animal”.
- Be ready for low-quality traffic. When you’re doing free promotions, attracting low-quality audience is a given. Some may even leave negative reviews on various platforms. Do thorough research on the website and try and figure out what kind of audiences they cater to.
- Budget. Get your budget right and give yourself time to save up, if need be. Paid promotions can quickly get out of hand when you start seeing results. Soon you could be finding yourself spending more than you’re earning. It’s important to plan and budget and have your funds ready, no matter how much you’re spending. You could be doing a $10 promotion, or a $5000 promotion, know your capacity.
- Keep an eye on analytics. This is an empirical way to judge your market. Who is buying your book? You may not know their name but you can learn about which country they’re from or which social media they have been referred from. Once you know that, you can get more active on those social platforms.
- Cross promote. Try and choose as many platforms as possible. Also don’t forget to announce each listing on all your social media outlets.
Complete list of Free & Paid promotion sites
Whether you’re running a price promotion, giveaway or just listing your book for free, try listing on these sites. Some are completely free to list on, others charge anywhere from $10 to $200. Note that many of these sites, especially the paid ones, will require you to have minimum requirements, such as a certain number of reviews or 4-5 star ratings or a certain amount of sales. So ensure you meet these criteria before you apply to list.
- Inkitt - https://www.inkitt.com/getpublished
- Awesome Gang - http://awesomegang.com/
- Indie Author News - http://www.indieauthornews.com/
- Pretty Hot Books - http://pretty-hot.com/
- Free Discounted Books - http://freediscountedbooks.com/
- Digital Book Today - https://digitalbooktoday.com/
- E Reader Love - http://www.ereaderlove.com/
- Discount Book Man - http://discountbookman.com
- This Is Writing - https://thisiswriting.com/
- Bongo Bongo - http://bookbongo.com/
- E Reader Girl - http://ereadergirl.com/
- Content Mo - https://contentmo.com/
- One Hundred Free Books - https://ohfb.com/
- Armadillo Ebooks - http://www.armadilloebooks.com/
- EBooks Habit - http://ebookshabit.com/
- Indie Book of the Day - http://indiebookoftheday.com/
- Lovely Book Promotions - http://lovelybookpromotions.com/
- EBook Lister - http://ebooklister.net/
- Free Books - http://www.freebooks.com/
- New Free Kindle Books - http://newfreekindlebooks.com/
- The EReader Cafe - https://theereadercafe.com/
- Book Angel - http://bookangel.co.uk/
- Topless Cowboy - http://toplesscowboy.com/
- Frugal Freebies - http://www.frugal-freebies.com/
- It’s Write Now - https://itswritenow.com/
- KornerKonnection - http://www.kornerkonnection.com/
- Jungle Deals and Steals - http://jungledealsandsteals.com/
- E Book Skill - https://www.ebookskill.com/
- Free Stuff Unlimited - http://free-stuff-unlimited.com/
- Deal Seeking Mom - http://dealseekingmom.com/
- Penny Pinching Mom - https://www.pennypinchinmom.com/
- Free Book Club - https://www.freebookclub.org/
- Mobile Read Forum - https://www.mobileread.com/
- E Reader IQ - https://www.ereaderiq.com/
- Book On The Knob - http://blog.booksontheknob.org/
- I Crave Freebies - http://www.icravefreebies.com/
- Totally Free Books 4 U - http://www.free-kindle-books-4u.com/
- Zwoodle Books - http://zwoodlebooks.com
- Totally Free Stuff - http://www.totallyfreestuff.com/
- Book Daily - http://www.bookdaily.com/
- Bookpraiser - https://bookpraiser.com/
- Ask David - http://askdavid.com/
- Book Pinning - http://bookpinning.com/
- Free Kindle Deals - http://www.freekindledeal.com/
- Book Raid - https://bookraid.com/
- Book Hippo - https://bookhippo.uk/
- EBook Stage - https://www.ebookstage.com/
- Authors Den - http://www.authorsden.com/Default.asp
- Ebookasauraus - http://ebookasaurus.com
- Pixel of Ink - http://www.pixelofink.com/
- Book Circle - http://book-circle.com/
- People Reads - http://www.peoplereads.com/
- I Am A Reader - http://www.iamareader.com/
- Book Sliced - http://booksliced.com/
- Reading Deals - https://readingdeals.com/
- Just Kindle Books - http://www.justkindlebooks.com/
- BookBub - https://www.bookbub.com/
- Book Goodies - https://bookgoodies.com/
- Kindle Nation Daily - https://indie.kindlenationdaily.com/
- Digital Book Today - https://digitalbooktoday.com/
- Author Ad Network - http://authoradnetwork.com/
- Good Kindles - https://www.goodkindles.net/
- Many Books - http://manybooks.net/
- Kindle Mojo - http://www.kindlemojo.com/
- Free Books Hub - http://www.freebookshub.com/
- Free Booksy - https://www.freebooksy.com/
- Steamy Romance Books - http://steamyromancebooks.com/
- Book Reader Magazine - http://bookreadermagazine.com/
- Free Kindle Books and Tips - http://fkbt.com/
- Author Marketing Club - http://authormarketingclub.com/
- EBook Deal of the Day - https://ebookdealstoday.com/
- Snicks List - https://snickslist.com/
- Hot Zippy - http://hotzippy.net/
- Ignite Your Book - https://igniteyourbook.com/
- Book Eel - https://bookeel.com/
- Buck Books - http://buckbooks.net/
- Planet EBooks - https://www.planetebooks.net/
- Book Gorilla - http://www.bookgorilla.com/
- I Like EBooks - http://ilikeebooks.com/
- Bargain Booksy - https://www.bargainbooksy.com/
- Book Lemur - https://www.booklemur.com/
- Books Butterfly - https://www.booksbutterfly.com/
- Book Basset - https://www.bookbasset.com/
- Hidden Gems Romance - http://hiddengemsromance.com/
- Many Books - http://manybooks.net/
- Riffle Books - https://www.rifflebooks.com/
- Genre Pulse - http://www.genrepulse.com/
- EBook Hounds - https://www.ebookhounds.com/
- The Fussy Librarian - http://www.thefussylibrarian.com/
- Book Barbarian - http://bookbarbarian.com/
- WhizBuzz Books - https://whizbuzzbooks.com/
- Robin Reads - https://robinreads.com/
- Your Book Promoter - https://yourbookpromoter.com/
Another very effective way and more fun in fact, is to run giveaways on multiple platforms. Unlike promotions, giveaways can also give you a chance to engage directly with readers and followers, in many cases.
Why do a giveaway?
When you’re marketing your book, whether it’s your first or tenth, giveaways are marketing tools that will really help you get the attention that you need. Granted that when it’s your tenth book you may already have an audience for your work, so you may not need to work too hard for attention. But giveaways are powerful tools and when used right can work wonders for new authors.
As a new author you’re looking to have more people come to know about your work. What you’re aiming to do with a giveaway is actually giving away something useful for free, so that it garners interest about the product or the product that comes next. Giveaways should ideally give readers a taste of what your work is all about. Since everybody loves free stuff, giveaways could easily attract high and low quality audience for your book.
Publishing consultant Jane Friedman has a great take on giveaways. She says:
“If you’ve seen the famous Alec Baldwin speech in Glengarry Glen Ross—it’s a favourite of mine—it’s the same idea being expressed. A-I-D-A. First, get people’s attention—whether through an ad, a freebie, traditional media coverage, whatever. That creates interest. And if all goes well, you have desire and action;to make a purchase later.”
What can you give away to garner attention towards your first book? Here are 9:
- Free eBook copies of your book. Well, obviously you or your publisher will want to be making money off of your hardcovers, paperbacks as well as e-books. However, giving away a limited number of copies of your book for free could really get your sales going when you do actually start selling the book at its true price. Think in the lines of giving away free copies to the first twenty comment posters on your Facebook giveaway announcement post, or to 10 random followers on your Instagram account.
- Signed copies of your book. This is truly a great gift to giveaway. Hold a simple contest and make it easy to win. Ask your followers the name of your main character (you’ll have to have revealed it earlier, of course), or ask them to share their favourite books in the same genre as yours. Then choose a winner randomly and give away a signed copy (with a personal note, please) of your book.
- Nonfiction book, whitepaper or chapbook. This is one of those steps that need to be thought of while you’re writing, to be honest. White-papers or chapbooks are pretty great products to compile and give away for free a few months before your book is available for sale. You could make a book, based on all the blog posts you’ve ever written or if your book is in the fantasy genre, then write a short-story or two about the background of the world in which your story takes place. It obviously has to be something that’s not in the book. They pique interest and give your readers a taste of what’s to come.
- ARCs. Advance Reader Copies are great giveaways, especially when you’re book is not published yet. ARCs can be collectors’ items and can also help you collect reviews and blurbs on your author pages.
- Gift Cards. These are an obvious choice. An Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card is always a great gift for readers. That way they get to buy according to their preferences.
- Merchandise and artwork. Author Jenna Moreci does great giveaways, that include not just her newest books, but also merchandise and artwork that’s illustrated with her book cover elements and other custom graphics. If you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, choose a character and have their signature item/weapon or silhouette printed on a hoodie or a mouse-pad. If you’re writing contemporary or literary fiction, choose the lead character’s favourite saying and have it transferred on to a coffee mug. Brainstorm ideas and use services like www.cafepress.com or www.society6.com to get going on the products.
- Free audiobook. I go into details about creating an audiobook version of your book in section 3.3 (g). But if you are planning on creating an audiobook version of your book, then do consider giving them away for free as part of your giveaway.
- Prize packs. Prize-packs are fun. These are curated items clubbed together to make a giveaway prize. These giveaways are the most popular and most versatile across industries including literary, fashion, beauty, gaming etc. Think carefully about your audience and objects, apart from your book, that will really interest them. Is your audience primarily parents? A great book on parenting will be a good choice. Are your coffee-mug photos popular and receive a lot of likes? Then maybe a replica of your coffee mug will be a good fit. Think of including bookmarks, gift cards, merchandise with literary quotes on it, a favourite childhood book, self-help books, journals, accessories for phones and laptops, and even chocolate (!) are great items to include in the pack.
- One-on-one sessions with the author. This one needs a bit of planning ahead and super-fun when it actually comes to it. Chatting face-to-face with a fan can be a great experience and encouraging. Settle on a platform --- Skype, Zoom, Face Time, WhatsApp whatever is comfortable. And then agree on the time. The great thing about this prize item is that mostly true fans will take part, people who actually want to get to know you. The second great thing is, unlike physical prizes that will (due to shipping cost purposes) have to be contained within one or two countries, this one can actually stretch across all continents. Just an internet connection and a webcam are required. Do ensure that you have discussion points in mind before the one-on-one session starts. Try and guess what questions the winner might want to ask you and also have your own points ready. You can talk about inspiration for the book, if you have any upcoming works, the writing process, and publishing advice if they’re interested and so on.
5 tips on running a great giveaway:
- Focus. Having clear goals of what you want to achieve with a giveaway, will make the giveaway much more successful than when you only have a vague idea. Are you trying to lead more people to your blog or your website? Are you trying to lead them to your book’s buy page on Amazon? Are you trying to collect more email ids for your newsletter? Are you trying to gain more followers on social media? Have clear goals and you’ll be able to define the steps to take part in your giveaway easily and achieve the results you want.
- Make winning easy. Your followers will quickly lose interest if you ask a technical psychiatry question which they’ll have to answer in order to win the giveaway. So make it easy. Don’t make them jump through too many hoops. Too many hoops here would be if you want them to follow all your social media accounts and sign up for your newsletter and want them to comment about what they like about your Instagram feed and make them declare love for your writing chops. As tempting as it may be to chalk out complicated steps to the win, don’t.
- Define the rules clearly. The first giveaway I ran was when I reached 100 followers on Twitter. Which, in hindsight, was not the best time to host a giveaway, because let’s be real here --- 100 followers on Twitter is close to peanuts. But I was optimistic and designed a pretty gift bag that I filled with a book, a lovely bar of chocolate and a candle. Whoever “got in touch” with me and answered an easy literature question would win! The idea was to have as many re-tweets and replies on my tweet, as possible. I would then choose a random commenter. However, I mentioned the words “get in touch” and didn’t specify what that meant. While the people who responded were all correct with their answers, I didn’t get re-tweets or replies, I got Direct Messages. Be clear about how you want your followers to communicate with you, what age they need to be (if age is important), what location should they be from and so on.
- Know your audience. If your audience is a healthy mix of both male and female, then it would be ridiculous to give out journals emblazoned with the hashtag #girlboss across it, in gold lettering. A classic notebook with nothing written across it might be more appropriate. Not that there no men who don’t like #girlboss journals. I’m pretty sure there are. But keep in mind your audience’s more popular choices and preferences. If you write erotica and your audience is mostly romance and erotica readers, don’t include a science fiction novel in your giveaway.
- A/B test. A/B testing, simply explained, is when you have the same products, but multiple ways of marketing it to different people. It mostly applies to ads. For eg, when Coca Cola decides to run an ad in USA, they may decide to run a different one in France and another different version in India. In the case of giveaways and promotions, try and vary the images and copy for different platforms. The image that might work on Instagram may not work on Facebook and so on. So try out a couple of variations on the ad and see what works best.
Giveaway platforms to utilise for full effect
We know the obvious ones that will help you run direct giveaways --- Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Tumblr. Here are the author platforms you should be running giveaways on, as well.
Amazon KDP Select
If you’re self-publishing an e-book version of your book (which you obviously should), signing up for KDP Select might be a sales-boosting thing to do. Kindle Direct Publishing does require you to be exclusive to their platform. However, you can give away your book for free for 5 days out of every 90 days that you’re signed up with them. This automatically increases your exposure to readers.
This one, at one time, used to be the Holy Grail for all giveaways, mostly because the platform is essentially reader-heavy. And it used to be free. However, from January 2018, Goodreads has started charging authors and publishers to host giveaways. For self-publishing authors, this will be another additional cost for sure. Nevertheless, Goodreads giveaways are extremely effective. They are great ways of creating a buzz around your book and because Goodreads integrates with Facebook, the automatic posts to social media generate tons of traffic.
Kobo, Smashwords, iBook
The three platforms mentioned above will also let you make your book available for free to readers. Strategize the dates and be experimental with the timing to figure out what works. You could also experiment with locations and countries, where you could run a promotion only in one or two countries and not all at all times. Exclusivity will play a big role in gaining attention.