Assume Success!

MANY OF MY CLIENTS are, with their books, seeking to stake a claim on a niche or step up to being an authority in their field. Many already are. Either way, branding is what now sets us apart, and perhaps that’s been true ever since there was no longer a “town doctor.” As we become more and more in number, we need to find ways to differentiate ourselves and ideally, stand out (for good reasons) and be the first to come to mind.

I work with a lot of marketers and authors who are either “branding” for the first time seriously, or redefining or improving their brands. I still think there’s nothing like a book project to get you to lay it all out there and get new clarity on your brand, because a brand is a promise (as my author-friend Cynthia Freeman says in The Power of Done), and a brand is what you have envisioned for you and your clients. Once established, a brand communicates a whole package (again, hopefully of good stuff) in an instant. Think of logos. Well, whether it’s Apple or KISS, the brand communicates and probably makes you even feel a certain way.

What I wanted to mention here is that a brand can often be assumed. We all work on becoming things, and perhaps too rarely simply assume things for ourselves. I think of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In some movie or documentary I remember him instructing a smaller body builder, “Just go out there and take that space, or the bigger guys will push you out,” (or something like that) as he demonstrated a pose, one arm pointing an upward, open hand to the sky, the other flexed by his side. David Miscavige, the notorious and ruthless leader of Scientology, is said to have had the epiphany, “Power is not granted, it’s taken!” And authors can do this by mimicking what I see publisher and savvy Indies doing all the time—assuming power.

How does an author do this? Go to the bestseller shelves at the grocery store and you’ll see paperback s with the AUTHOR NAME at the top of the book cover. This is done to make the name visible even if there are books on the shelf below, and because the author name is even more important than the title, which means the author has a following. Look at Mark Dawson’s book covers (featured image/screenshot from Amazon). Dawson is easily one of the brightest and most savvy indie authors (and by choice, you need to check out his stuff) and has sold millions of copies of his books. His covers are a case study. They are consistent and bold for branding, and perfectly and wonderfully designed for his genre, professionalism, and marketing.

What positions and attributes do you want to be known for? Take them, then make sure you deliver or have them.

Writing and Surfing

AS A 12-YEAR-OLD growing up in Pompano Beach, I was given a surf board. I’d tuck it under my arm and ride my BMX across the causeway to Atlantic Beach and try to surf. I never quite did it right—-I am not a natural surfer. Not at all. But I loved it–loved trying anyway.

Well, at 48 we’ve just moved to Cape Canaveral (2 miles north of Ron Jon, 1 mile north of Cocoa Beach Pier) and I’ve picked up a beginner’s board, and I’m back into it. For real this time. I know that because I realized today, on my fourth day of trying, I have found a real love of the water. I think real writers love to write, I think that’s all it is. And not all authors are true writers, but that should be obvious and it’s not a bad thing at all. I’m not a CPA but I file tax returns, for example.

On day four, I was about ready to start standing, getting up on the board. I realized along the way that surfing is an aerobic exercise, at least getting beyond the breakers in rough water. And I realized, maybe the reason I sucked so bad as a kid was I thought about it too much. Maybe it’s like golf. Nothing will screw you up like lots of advice. (If you’re part evil, try pointing lots of things out about your golf buddy’s swing before you play!) I mentioned we’ve just moved and I’m very conscious that lifting a heavy box is easy if you just do it, and you don’t think about it too much.

Relevance? Lots of advice can be crippling. It’s best taken bit-by-bit and in a good sequence, and with an eye on having wins along the way. And if you find a love for your project or what you’re doing, you get to a point where it gets easy in many ways. A grey-bearded man in a wetsuit named Paul (I suspect he’s famous around here) Dawn and I met under the pier one day told me, “Once you stand up it’s easy. And then you just fall down the waves.”

Nice advice for writers. So many worry about grammar and how they read and so on, and they get kind of crippled before they even start.

I mention some of these things in my book, Creating Books, but here are a few keys:

  1. There will be an effort in the beginning, getting things going. But like surfing, if you don’t get past the breakers, you miss a lot of the beauty and the best waves. And once you “stand up” or find your groove, it gets easier.
  2. Embrace the concept of editing, it frees you up to write. On the ocean, go ahead and fall a lot. After watching the pro surfers this weekend I realized they too mis-judge waves, fall down, and so on.
  3. On day four of my surfing, I’m starting to think I’m ready for a lesson. Its been a blast diving in, but I think I’m ready for some advice not just off the beach, but in the surf, with a pro by my side. I’d like to get good sooner than later. Hire or learn from a pro.
  4. But most of all, find the joy in it. Otherwise you will stop before you might have otherwise.

Add to that, perhaps, to start using the lingo as much as you can with your spouse. They might roll their eyes but I think they dig it, deep down.

Maybe not?

CreateSpace Closing?

Image (C) Wikimedia Commons

Yes, apparently! But no big deal.

I noticed when uploading to Kindle (KDP) some months ago that Amazon was kind of pushing also uploading your print book on the KDP platform as well. They made it convenient and easy, but I didn’t like that you had less control and fewer options. So when they announced CS was shuttering up, I was not surprised, and you should not be worried. I think they’re simply getting it all under one roof, and I’m sure they have internal reasons. You can see Amazon’s current, full explanation here.

In case you’re not familiar, Amazon’s ebook platform has been “Kindle” or “KDP” (Kindle Direct Publishing) and they bought a private company early on called CreateSpace to jump into on-demand print publishing with. I’ve always liked CreateSpace. The quality has been great, and the prices/costs to authors about the best (depending on book format). But it has always been very limited in distribution (effectively Amazon only, but we know how big Amazon is) and lacked options available with Ingram. The idea was to be very user-friendly, and create consistent high-quality for self-published authors, and, likely, to encourage you to be sort of exclusive on Amazon (hence the user-friendliness).

Amazon seems to understand there will be a process involved in moving files over and I’m sure Amazon does not want to lose book listings. Perhaps this is even a step in the direction of Amazon doing more with print books. After all, I believe they’ve opened brick-and-mortar bookstores just as others shutter up. Add to that it seems ebooks have settled into about 25% of the book market, after their initial explosion. As mentioned, I’ve always like CS for certain uses, and I’m a big fan of Ingram. I often advise clients to publish with both (CS and Ingram) but it depends on your goals, hopes, and current strategy.

Amazon has a lot of books to move! So, they’re doing this in phases. If you do nothing, they will move your books for you “in a few weeks,” but I don’t recommend waiting. Amazon has provided a page where you can move your titles sooner but if they have not made the transfer available to you yet, you will not be able to complete it. I just tried, and they have apparently not enabled this for me yet (despite my allowing pop-ups). When ready, it will be three pretty simple steps when available to you: (1) verify your CS account, (2) link it to your KDP account, and (3) move you books. But again, it found my accounts but wouldn’t move my books, not yet.

I’ve just tried to move books for my accounts and for several clients and none of the accounts are “ready.” Nonetheless, here’s how I suggest you try this if you do, if you already have both a CreateSpace and a Kindle (KDP) account:

1. Open a tab and go to https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/ and log in. Leave that window open.
2. Open a second tab and go to https://www.createspace.com and log in. Leave that window open.
3. Go to https://kdp.amazon.com/createspace-transfer.

“Step 1” seems to simply take you to a login page for CS. You should see some of your Kindle titles already in “Step 2.” “Step 3” may or may not be live yet. If so, click, and if not, try again later. Amazon is allowing people to make the transfers in chunks, apparently, but I do recommend doing this before they do it for you.

Ultimately,I’m hoping for the same of better features with print books on KDP!

Trim Sizes

Full cover design in 6″ x 9″ trim size (C) Rodney Miles

“TRIM SIZE” REFERS to the sizes of books. In fact there are charts that tell which sizes are “industry standard” and available in different formats. The availability from self-publishing platforms can affect your decision on where to upload, distribute, and publish your book. For example, CreateSpace does a great job for self-publishers but by design is meant to be more on the user-friendly side, so the amount of technical know-how you need is less but so are the publishing options on things like trim sizes, formats, and distribution, as compared to Ingram’s self-publishing platform, Lightning Spark, where you have many more professional options but a little more know-how is required. Each platform has a PDF that explains file preparation and lists trim sizes.

For example, speaker/author/trainer Erin Mahoney and I did a beautiful little book recently called Positive Vibes. We wanted a small format in cloth hardcover with a dust jacket. Ingram had it, but the smallest available was 5″ x 7″. That trim size was available in softcover with CreateSpace and we wanted to upload to both, so that’s what we went with. The Big Five publishers have access to more by way of printing, and produced Oprah’s little book in a size unavailable to self publishers. But that’s fine, Positive Vibes turned out beautifully!

I always check and try to decide on trim sizes before we get too far into a project. It helps, especially for cover design, and I’m anal-retentive, a bit. In fact I mock up the book file in the chosen trim size from the beginning (I loathe 8.5″ x 11″!). There are design benefits, and it’s more fun for me, which is important!

Certain trim sizes will be expected as genre-specific. Non-fiction books are very often 6″ wide by 9″ high. Textbooks are often letter-sized (8.5″ x 11″). Books of poetry, fables, and small business books are often 5″ x 7″, and if a business or philosophic title, exoected to be pithy at that size. Thicknesses are also expected as per genre.

The best exercise I know of is simply going into a book store once in a while and picking books off the shelves. You’ll want to be familiar with reader expectations, to meet them in ways, and exceed them in others.

Write Right Through!

Image (C) Pixabay

ONE OF THE MOST common questions, complaints, and concerns I hear is that a writer edits while they write, or stops and edits a chapter before moving on, and so on. They get stuck. Stephen King and so many others recommend you do not do this–-do not start editing until you have your first draft. Then edit all you like. In fact use placeholders, such as (in fiction) “crime scene.” Then you can go back and talk to cops about crime scenes and so on.

Not only does editing as you write slow you down or stop you, it can mess with your style and voice. Did you know you write “like you’re reading?” It’s true. Best if you read a particular author(s) exclusively if he/she/they pertain to what you’re working on. It will come through. Ever find yourself starting to use a slight southern drawl when in South Carolina, or a definite dialect when in New York? We are influenced by what we read and observe. Another reason to get quickly through your first draft.

For non-fiction, I’ve found it best to overshoot your word-count target. If a book is largely based on interviews and we’re writing a 50,000-word book, best to have something line 70,000 in transcribed words (not including all the questions and so forth).

Editing is about taking away and making clean and concise more than about adding where needed, and then about organizing and perfecting.

Anyway, a simple tip, but an important one, and a hard one for perfectionists to follow!

Recommended reading: On Writing by Stephen King

To Launch “Hard” or “Soft”?

Image (C) Wikimedia Commons

THE LEAD TIME for launching your book will vary depending on your purposes and resources. If you are building a career as an author, it might also depend on whether this is your first book launch or not. The formula for viability as an author is simply books x readers = sales. That explains in part why publishers will tell you the best marketing for your book is always your next book.

But let’s back up a bit. If you are a first-time author and have no readers, how do you get them? One way is to publish a book with the target of lots of reviews rather than sales, initially, and then use that first book to build a readership with. Then with book two you’ll have more options and can start focusing more on sales. Book sales and being an author as a career is a long-term plan, despite the occasional lightning strikes. For a professionally published and marketed book launch I’ve seen publicists want anywhere from three months to a year to prepare. As you learn about what’s involved you’ll see why.

The other end of the spectrum is the “soft launch,” where a title becomes available quietly in the night, without fanfare, and this suits plenty of authors, too. Remember, launches and marketing take either sweat equity or actual cash, so a soft launch might be the best way to start if you have little of either, or if the book is for establishment purposes like credibility and positioning. They still work wonders!

And when you learn a launch is primarily about reviews, the whole pre-launch sequence starts to make lots of sense. Otherwise, your fresh, new, well-written tome might simply drift unnoticed, a message in a bottle, a drop in an ocean. There are now over one million books published each year, so crafting a smart launch and long-term plan for your books is a great idea.