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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Branding for Self-Published Writers

Coronallium Conundrum by David RobinsonI saw an interesting post by UK author David Robinson (who also wrote this guest post for my blog about Calibre recently) regarding the value of branding for self-publishing authors.

It was a guest post on Lorraine Mace's blog The Writer's ABC Checklist. In it, David talks about how many of the most successful authors produce series of books based around the same characters, and how this fact is even more relevant to authors who self-publish. As he puts it...

When it comes to pulp fiction, Holmes, Poirot, Bond, even Harry Potter have been around a lot longer than the Amazon Kindle. But from an indie point of view, it's even more important. Put out a series of whodunits with the same loveable characters, and the readers will be queuing all the way to the virtual checkout.

In his post - which you can read in full here - David talks about how he is attempting to apply this principle by creating not one but several series of books, each aimed at a different target readership.

They include his STAC Investigates books (a series of "cozy" murder mysteries) and Space Truckers - a favourite of mine - a series of science-fiction comedy novellas. The image at the top of this post is from Coronallium Conundrum, the first in this series.

So is his strategy working? David says:

It's early days yet. I'm not breathing down Amanda Hocking's neck...but the signs are promising. Without any serious marketing effort, my titles are selling. STAC Investigates has its own Twitter account (@stacinvestigate), my website is currently under reconstruction to concentrate on STAC and my other brand, Space Truckers, my Facebook author's page focuses on them, my blog concentrates on the characters and background, and I have another blog which gives away FREE reads from the STAC Casebook. Pricing doesn't appear to have as large an impact as many indies would have us believe, but I'm still playing with it as part of my research.

Creating a brand is like creating a new detergent. When you go to the shop, you don't ask for a packet of Unilever soap powder, but a packet of Persil. You don't ask for a bar of chocolate, but a Cadbury's Dairy Milk. When the buyers come to the Amazon Kindle Store, they won't be looking for the latest novel by David Robinson; they'll come for the latest STAC Investigates title...

I'm intrigued by David's strategy, and impressed by the hard work he is putting in to implement it. I'm sure he won't mind me mentioning that he is 61, and that he also told me recently (which I can quite believe) that he is working harder now than in any job he has ever had in the past.

I agree with David that as a self-publishing author it's especially important to build your personal brand, as nobody else is going to do it for you. Creating series is an excellent way of doing this, as people who read and enjoy one book in a series are then very likely to seek out the next. Of course, this is exactly how self-publishing sensation Amanda Hocking achieved her massive success, as described in this guest post on my blog a few months ago.

By contrast, if your books are unrelated to one another, you have only your author name to represent your personal brand. This works for Stephen King and Dean Koontz - but as an indie author competing with many thousands of others, there is much to be said for creating characters and series people will want to follow as well. Once you are a household name, of course, you can strike out in any other directions you wish!

Finally, although David is primarily a fiction writer, exactly the same principle applies with non-fiction books. If you've published one book on a particular subject, from a branding angle you will be much better off producing further books on related subjects, rather than subjects that are totally different. Not only will this help build a group of devoted readers who are keen to read more from you on the topic in question, it's also much easier to cross-promote one related title from another.

If you have any comments on building your brand as a writer, whether self-published or with a legacy publisher, please do post them below.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Calibre: A Great Resource for E-Book Writers & Publishers

Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post from prolific e-book author and self-publisher David Robinson.

David is a big fan of the free (open source) e-book conversion program Calibre. In this post, he explains how he uses Calibre to help prepare his e-books for publication on Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Store.

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Have you ever thought how nice it would be to see your e-book as an e-book before you upload to Smashwords or Kindle? Then take a look at Calibre.

If you check the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) guidelines, they say you should prepare and upload your book as a .prc file, and these can be prepared using a free program called Mobipocket Creator. This is a great little utility for producing files that the Kindle uses, but it's limited in its application. It builds only MOBI files.

Calibre, on the other hand, has no such limitations. Calibre will produce e-books in all the major formats, including MOBI, EPUB and PDF.

It's free to download, and it doesn't take long to learn how to use it. The display is large and clear and self-explanatory, and there's extensive online help to get you going, but there are certain nuances you need to be aware of.

Like all such software, Calibre works best with HTML files. Prepare your document as normal in Word, or whatever package you use, edit and proof it, and when it's ready save it as a filtered Web page. Microsoft Word will complain that doing so means some of their features will be stripped out. Ignore it. The precise reason for saving as a filtered web page is to take out those features.

When opening Calibre you'll find the "add books" link in the top-left-hand corner. Add your filtered HTML file and then click on Convert Books.

The first option is to convert from ZIP (the upload) to EPUB, and Calibre recommend this as a starting point. It's here that you'll stumble across the first of those nuances.

When I added a cover image, I found that it was flattened and spread across the view. It looked grotesque. By rooting through the online help pages, I learned of an option to suppress SVG images. It's under EPUB options. Tick the box marked "no SVG images" and the cover comes out perfect. Click "Convert" and Calibre does the rest.

With the EPUB book created, you can now convert again, but this time, convert the EPUB version to MOBI. Here again, I stumbled across a problem. Every book I converted produced an empty Table of Contents right at the back of the book. I produce fiction. I don't need a Table of Contents. Checking "MOBI output options", I found the tick box, "Do not add table of contents to book," ticked it, and I was in business.

For every book I write (and I write a lot of books) I produce my own e-copies in EPUB and MOBI formats. This allows me, first, to check the e-book output and make sure it's as good as it can be. It also permits me to send out pre-publication copies to readers and get their feedback before I finally commit them to Smashwords and the Kindle. This system also permits me to give away copies to friends and family, put them up as add-on prizes in competitions, and I can personalise those copies by adding a greeting in the front matter.

If I really wanted to go the whole hog, I could set up my own e-store and sell direct, cutting out Smashwords and the Kindle Store, but for a guy like me, a dedicated writer, that's too big a prospect.

I still upload .doc files to Smashwords. Their meatgrinder does an excellent conversion job. I upload the MOBI file to the Kindle, and again their converters do the necessary work. But I have the added advantage that I've already seen every e-version of the books before I send them out into the world.

You can download Calibre free from

Byline: David Robinson is a freelance writer and novelist, and self-publishes a range of fiction and non-fiction on Smashwords and the Kindle. You can find him at

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Many thanks to David for an interesting article. I would only add that Calibre has many others uses as well, especially if you own an e-reader yourself.

For example, you could use it to convert from another e-book format to one suitable for reading on your own device. You can also use Calibre to automatically fetch news from websites or RSS feeds, format the news into an e-book, and upload it to your reader. Over 300 news sites are currently supported, including The Guardian and the New York Times.

If you have any comments or questions for David about his article, or more generally about e-book preparation and conversion, please do post them below.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Your Kindle Kash Questions

Kindle Kash by Nick Daws, published by The WCCL NetworkMy new course Kindle Kash - a comprehensive guide to creating, publishing and promoting your own Kindle e-book - has been out for a few weeks now. It's generating some great reviews, but a few questions as well.

So, to try to stem the deluge to my inbox, here are my answers to some frequently asked questions (or kwestions) about Kindle Kash.

1. Why isn't Kindle Kash available in a version for the Amazon Kindle?

Various reasons. First off, Kindle Kash includes lots of tables, diagrams and illustrations. This simply doesn't work well on e-readers such as the Kindle (which are mainly designed for displaying text).

In addition, the guide is sold with six bonus reports, and there isn't really a convenient way to do this via the Kindle Store.

And finally, by selling Kindle Kash from a dedicated website, my publishers have complete control over pricing, updates, publicity, and so on. The Kindle Store is great in many respects, but you do have to cede a certain degree of control over your title to Amazon. This doesn't matter so much to a solo author, but when, like WCCL, you are a multi-national publishing corporation, you prefer to keep a bit more control over these matters!

2. Do I need to own a Kindle to write Kindle e-books?

Not at all. It's useful, certainly - and great if you enjoy reading - but not essential if you want to write for this market. I personally know one best-selling Kindle author who doesn't possess a Kindle herself, and I'm sure there are many others.

3. Does Kindle Kash cover how to use PLR content to create books for the Amazon Kindle?

No. I do not advocate this strategy, although I know that some other guides do. Aside from the ethical issues involved in producing spammy, low-quality e-books, Amazon are cracking down hard on duplicate content now. I do not therefore believe that creating Kindle e-books using PLR content is a realistic money-making strategy any more (if it ever was).

4. Why are you offering different bonuses on your homepage rather than the sales page? Do I have to pick one or the other?

I am offering three additional, exclusive bonuses to anyone buying Kindle Kash via my homepage at However, if you buy this way, you will still get all the bonuses being offered on the WCCL sales page as well. You don't have to choose, therefore!

I am doing this to encourage people to visit my homepage, and also - to be quite honest - because I receive a higher fee from my publisher when someone buys after clicking through the link on my homepage.

5. Is Kindle Kash suitable for fiction as well as non-fiction writers?

Kindle Kash is suitable for ANYONE who wants to create and publish a Kindle e-book, fiction or non-fiction.

To be clear about this, Kindle Kash won't tell you how to write a novel - for advice on this, I recommend WCCL's Novel in a Month guide, or perhaps my own Write Any Book in Under 28 Days. Kindle Kash does, however, advise on various aspects of writing fiction for the Kindle platform.

Kindle Kash definitely does include advice on researching in-demand niche topics for non-fiction e-books. If you don't aspire to publish fiction on the Kindle - or you're looking for the best-possible financial return for your efforts - this is the approach I highly recommend.

6. Does Kindle Kash cover promoting a Kindle book?

Yes, very much so. Promoting your Kindle e-book is crucial, and it is discussed in depth in Chapters 8 and 9.

7. Is there an affiliate program for Kindle Kash?

Certainly. If you have a blog or website, you can promote Kindle Kash to your visitors and earn up to 60% of the value of any sales generated. Even if you don't have a blog or website, you can still promote Kindle Kash via email, newsletters, pay-per-click advertising, and so on.

To become an affiliate for Kindle Kash, you have to sign up with my publishers, The WCCL Network. You can then promote Kindle Kash, and any of their other products as well if you so wish. Please see this blog post for more information about the WCCL affiliate program, and click through the links in the post to go to the sign-up page.

8. Why isn't there a Facebook Page for Kindle Kash?

There is now - I've just launched one! Please click here to visit the Page and click on "Like" - you will then be eligible for free giveaways and other benefits.

I intend to use the Kindle Kash Fan Page to publish updates to the course and other snippets of useful/interesting info. I hope it will also become the focus of a community of aspiring Kindle authors, where we can exchange ideas and information. But anyone is welcome to read and "Like" the Page, regardless of whether they have bought Kindle Kash or not.

I hope that will have answered all the most pressing queries, but if there is anything else you would like to know, please leave a comment below!

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Free Online Consistency Checker

Consistency is an important aspect of writing professionally. In particular, if your document contains inconsistencies in spelling and usage, it will create a poor impression among readers who notice them.

For example, if you use the UK spelling 'fibre' in one place and the US spelling 'fiber' in another, anyone noticing this will assume you have a slapdash approach to spelling which may extend to other aspects of the article as well (e.g. the research).

Grammar and spelling checkers won't always find inconsistencies, but a new online consistency checker will. It comes from Intelligent Editing, the London-based company behind the popular PerfectIt software. You can find it at

The online checker is free to use and among other things tests for:

  • words that are hyphenated in one place, but not in others
  • numbers that are spelled out in some locations but appear in numerals elsewhere
  • words that are spelled in two different ways (e.g. 'colour' and 'color')

The checker runs a subset of the tests run by PerfectIt. However, the publishers say that, even if you've purchased PerfectIt, you may want to use the online checker sometimes, as it's accessible from any computer and can handle a range of different filetypes (PerfectIt, by contrast, only works with Word).

To run the checker, visit the web page and select the file you want to check using the form below. As you will see, you can check PDFs, plain text files and Word files (.doc and .docx), with a maximum size of 10 MB. Once you've done this, click on Next.

After a moment a new page will open allowing you to download a PDF report on your document. Here is an extract from a report on a sample document I uploaded. As you'll see, it came up with some quite useful recommendations. I must decide once and for all how I want to spell subcontracting!

Clicking on the image above should open a larger version in your browser window if required.

As mentioned above, the online checker uses a subset of the tests run by the full version of the PerfectIt software. This is actually a Word add-in, and I reviewed it a while ago in this blog post. For the record, I find PerfectIt a very useful tool, and I still routinely use it myself on writing projects before submitting them to clients.

Do check out the free Intelligent Editing Online Consistency Checker and see what you think of it yourself. Please feel free to post any comments below.

Disclosure Notice: Links to PerfectIt are affiliate links - if you visit the site and end up making a purchase, I will receive a small commission. Links to the Online Consistency Checker are not affiliate links, as this is a free service.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

The New Rose Short Story Prize

A quick mention today for this new short-story competition, which has just been launched by successful romantic fiction writer (and my near-neighbour) Miranda Dickinson.

Members of my forum may know Miranda better by her forum ID of Wurdsmyth.

The New Rose Short Story Prize 2011 is open to all unpublished writers. To enter, you have to write a short story of any genre, maximum 2,500 words. The closing date for entries is midnight (UK time) on Wednesday 31 August.

The top prize is a place on one of RNA-nominated author Ruth Saberton's writing holidays, plus signed goodies from Miranda and a starring role on her blog.

Two runners-up will win a short-story critique from competition judge Jamie Guiney, as well as signed goodies and their stories published on Miranda's blog.

The contest is free to enter and open to anyone. The first prize does not include travel, however, so if you live outside the UK, it would be up to you to arrange flights and onward transport to the lovely village of Polperro in Cornwall. As the photo below shows, it would be well worth it, though :-)

Stories must not have been published in a book or magazine or as part of an e-book people have had to pay for, but Miranda says there is no objection to stories that have been posted on discussion forums (such as myWritersCircle).

For more details, and how to enter, visit the New Rose Short Story Prize announcement page on Miranda's blog. You can also post any questions you may have about the contest there.

Good luck if you decide to enter this contest. And just a quick reminder that I am also running a short story contest at the moment, for a science-fiction story of up to 1000 words, with a copy of my new writers guide Kindle Kash as the prize. Here's a link to my blog post about this.

Happy short story writing!

Photo credit: Polperro Harbour by Martin Pettitt on Flickr.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Review Writing Tips: My Guest Posts at The Savvy Book Marketer

This week I'm guest posting not once but twice at The Savvy Book Marketer, the blog of book-marketing and social-media guru Dana Lynn Smith.

The topic of both my articles is book-review writing. In the first article I set out eight reasons authors should write book reviews. Here's just one of them...

* Reviewing books is great for developing relationships with the authors of the books you review. And, of course, if you review their book, they are more likely to want to review yours.
In the second article I set out seven ways to write great book reviews. Again, I've included a sample tip below ...
* With non-fiction books, think about who will be reading the book and why. This is especially important when reviewing how-to type books. Put yourself in the position of someone who wants to know whatever is set out in the book's title and description. In your review, discuss the extent to which you think the book lives up to its promises.
I hope you will enjoy reading both of these posts. In case you're wondering, I originally wrote this as a single article, but because there were really two distinct subjects covered, Dana felt it would be better to split it into two separate posts. She was quite right, of course!

You might also be interested to check out the (excellent) new writers' guide from Dana, How to Get Your Book Reviewed [affiliate link]. I'll be reviewing this on my blog soon.

As ever, if you have any comments on my guest posts on Dana's blog, please feel free to leave them below.

Photo Credit: Studying by Candle-Light by Maarten Takens on Flickr

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