Welcome to AskALLi, the Self-Publishing Advice Podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week it’s our monthly Member Q&A where ALLi Members’ have their most pressing self-publishing questions analyzed and answered. Join your regular hosts for the Member Q&A: Michael La Ronn and Orna Ross, where they discuss how to brand a self-help series, among other topics.
Questions this month include:
- What are the best and ethical methods to do a giveaway without using Goodreads or Amazon giveaways?
- If I've self-published my business advice book but want to submit it to a publisher, do I still need to write a book proposal?
- What is the best way to brand a nonfiction self-help series?
Orna Ross, on Selling a Self-Published Book to a Publisher
You must be in a position where the book is actually going to excite and delight them. So that means because it's already self-published, you have to show that and prove to them that it is actually already successfully selling and there is a sort of threshold around which and rights buyers tend to become interested and it's quite high.
Michael La Ronn, on Designing a Self-Help Series
If you look at the ALLi guide books, they all have very similar branding. I do it with my nonfiction. It was a great conversation I had with my designer that I wanted my books to have a certain look and feel. And I honestly think it's easier to do this in nonfiction than it is in fiction because with fiction, there are so many other things that you have to consider. With nonfiction, you really just need to consider, ‘Does the image grab the attention and does it convey the spirit and the tone of what it is in the book?’
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About the Hosts
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcript to the AskALLi Members' Q&A
Orna: Hello everyone and welcome again to our ALLi Member Q and A. I'm here with the wonderful Michael La Ronn. Hi Michael.
Michael: Hi Orna!
Orna: How are you? I know your picture fell down.
Michael: Yeah, I'm fantastic. So I got my new studio all set up and new background for me, the only thing missing is this picture frame. It was up behind me and it fell.
Orna: It fell down.
Michael: So it turns out hanging things on concrete block walls isn't the easiest.
Orna: No hanging pictures generally is a bit of a nightmare. Actually. Next time you'll have your lovely picture behind you and yeah, must be lovely to have your purpose built place now all set up again.
Michael: Yeah, it feels really good and yeah, it's nice to kind of be back into the swing of things. So, and back for another Q and A podcast. Good stuff.
Orna: Another Q and A and we have fantastic questions this month. So let's get on right into it as quickly as we can. And what's our first question this month?
Michael: Alright, our first question comes from Natalie and she asks, “What are some suggested ethical ways that an author could organize some sort of prize draw for readers to win copies, so ebooks, paperbacks, hardcovers, without using Goodreads or Amazon's giveaways? So what are the best methods to do this without using goodreads or Amazon? It sounds like maybe there's some limitations there on her part and she just wanted to know if there are good services that you could use.
Orna: Yeah, there are. There sure are. And so for today's show, I put some links in the comments on the Facebook page and if anybody has any suggestions, please can you do likewise? And we'll kind of pool our knowledge on these various things and what we use at ALLi, we have two services that we use quite a bit. One is BookFunnel, which we used to do all of our members get free books as part of their membership and BookFunnel handles that for us and we find their services absolutely fantastic. One of the great things about them is that if the person doesn't get your giveaway, they will handle all the background admin to that, you know, make sure that it's compatible with the device and all that kind of stuff that can waste a lot of your time. So I highly recommend Book Funnel.
Orna: The other service that we use a lot, I haven't put it into the comments list yet, but I will now shortly, I know you have a few as well, Michael, is Gleam, and they are specifically set up for competitions of various kinds and again, really good for digital products, digital product giveaways. We use them for our conference. So Self-Publishing Advice Conference, when speakers have giveaways to give to the attendees and it's Gleam that we use and it's, all of these services have free and paid options. So if you're just doing one occasionally with, say Gleam, which might be expensive over the year, but if you were just doing a one off, you could just get it for the month or two, the paid version for a month or two around your giveaway time if you wanted or you might find that the free service is good for you. Do you do giveaways, Michael?
Michael: Yeah, I do. I've done some in the past and I echo everything you said on BookFunnel, that makes life a thousand percent easier. And they also have a QR codes I believe that you can use in your print books that will help deliver ebooks if you wanted to do that as well. The one I've used a lot with some success is Rafflecopter. So they have a free version and they make it really easy and you have to take care of the fulfillment, but they take care of the administration and the randomization and all that piece.
And then another one, if you're looking for more of a paid option that's kind of premium, KingSumo does a really good job. That's an app you see a lot of people using. They've got a lot of advanced features and a lot of integrations with your website so that you can usually embed the giveaways right on your website. But again, that comes at a pretty penny.
Orna: So, yeah, so you got to pay. So you've got to decide what, you know, what is your aim here? I'm interested in your use of the word ethical. All of these services are just tools. The ethics kind of begins and ends with making sure that you deliver what you promise on. Also, what is your motivation for the giveaway? So you mentioned Amazon and Goodreads and I'm not sure where that comes in terms of that question, but certainly it's important with giveaways.
Sometimes we see authors who kind of promise great things and then don't deliver. So it's really important that you are set up to deliver whatever it is you're going to do. Or if you're talking about giving away copies of your book in return for reviews, then there are a whole tranche of ethical guidelines around that and both at ALLi on our code of standards but also in the various services, most notably Amazon, it has the most rules and regs around reviews and giving a copy of your book, good old fashioned email.
If you're giving just a one off copy directly to a blogger, say, you can always just email them the book because it is a digital file. So again, the ethics though of ensure that you stay within, you know, that it's not offered. The book is not offered in exchange for the review, in exchange for is a tricky phrase that Amazon doesn't like. And the idea is to freely distribute the book and not to, clearly not in for a good review but, yeah, just making yourself very clear about the ethical guidelines around it so that while you might not want to use Amazon or goodreads, it's worth reading their ethical guidelines because they are quite strict and therefore, if you stay on the right side of those, you're going to be on the right side of reviews and giveaways generally.
Do You Need a Book Proposal?
Michael: Absolutely. Alright, so our next question is from Terri and okay, so the book in question is an autobiographical business advice book. The question is, they've self published the book, it's a nonfiction book, but if they want to submit it to a publisher, do you still need a book proposal?
Orna: Really interesting question. And the short answer is yes, you do. Book publishers, you know, the commissioning editor, who's the person you're going to be sending your book to within a publishing house and or literary agent, extremely busy, huge amount of material going past them. They want to read the proposal that tells them why this book is a good idea, why it's going to make them money, basically, how is it a proven concept that is going to produce, you know, sales to readers on there for money for them. So the book in and of itself, while the idea might kind of spark that kind of thinking shortcut it, make it as easy as possible. Always spoon feed people like that when you're trying to sell or license the rights in your book, that's the short answer is yes. The longer answer is you must be in a position where your book, particularly if it is already self published, you must be in a position where the book is actually going to excite and delight them.
So that means because it's already self published, you have to show that and prove to them that it is actually already successfully selling and there is a sort of threshold around which and rights buyers tend to become interested and it's quite high. It's around, for the average nonfiction book, it would be 25,000 would be minimal before they will start, any book before they will start to be interested in picking it up because it has already sold. As far as they're concerned, it's already been published. So it has to, you have to prove that it is actually already a seller once it is self-published,
Michael: Now we're going to clarify, you said 25,000 is that copies sold or revenue?
Orna: That is copies sold as a kind of an indication. I mean for fiction it's closer to 50. It depends very much on the genre, it also depends on the topic of the book. You know, how topical is it, how Zeitgeisty is it, as a nonfiction book or you know, the more sales you have the more they are going to be interested. If you're coming to them and saying here is my already self published book. I've sold a bit, I'd like you to now publish it and they're instantly going to say “But why should I? It's already published. If you can't publish it to your satisfaction, you know, distribute it widely enough as the author publisher, why do you think a trade publisher is going to be interested in it?”
So what we are seeing widely in the indie community is once a book starts to be successful in terms of impact or income, usually income because that's the easiest thing for people to track, that's when trade publishing starts to become interested.
And that's when, very often indies are just a step or two ahead of that. So while it might be their dream early on that a trade publisher would come and be interested, by the time a trade publisher actually is interested, they're already doing so well themselves, they start to think, “Well, what are you bringing to the table? You know, why should I now give you my rights? I've done all the hard work of building the readership. I've got it to here, it's selling well. I really need a good offer before I'm going to be prepared to sell it.” So in short, if you're just thinking “This is a nice I'd like to have and I'm going to start sending my book out to rights buyers,” I would say don't do that unless you have a proven concept.
Michael: Exactly. And if you have a proven concept and if you have that impact, you know that when I was talking about you actually have a unique opportunity because your book is already published so you can already point to the things that are making an impact in your community, such as testimonials or other ways that you can quantify your success. So, you know, don't underestimate the fact that if this is, you feel this is the path for you, that you have a unique opportunity to get that in front of publishers and actually pitch your idea in a way that others are not. Because when they read most of their book proposals, the book doesn't exist yet.
Orna: That's exactly right. And so you have the advantage there and you know, do think about what you're going to sell as well. Remember that your book contained within your book are many different rights. So there the ebook English rights, which can be, you know, your world rights. Then there are the print rights which tend to be territorially bound. There are the audiobook rights and then there are all the subsidiary rights of translation. And so on. If you're doing a good job on the ebook yourself in English, you might want to keep the ebook rights and only trade in the print rights. For example, we have a number of members who have successfully managed to do those kinds of deals.
So don't think of your book as just, you know, “This is my book, published me please.” Recognize the intellectual property that's embedded in the book and if, you know, if you want to get a publisher, as Michael says your proposal will be an awful lot stronger than a book that is just a concept in an author's mind and therefore the amount of money that you're being offered should also be higher.
Orna: And the terms you're offered should also be higher. So a useful guide to actually approaching rights buyers is our book, How Authors Sell Publishing Rights. And that will give you a good idea of how they think about it because that's something you need to be aware of when you're going into a negotiation with them.
Branding a Self-Help Series
Michael: Absolutely. Alright, so now we have a great, another great question. So the question here is, this is from Audrey and she has two nonfiction self help books out and she wants to publish more, but she's thinking about ways to tie them all together and be thoughtful about branding them. So the question is, what is the best way to brand a nonfiction self-help series?
Orna: Okay. Well there are lots of ways, but I think branding begins with the concept and the cover and the author. So you need to decide which of these you're kind of majoring on. Generally speaking with nonfiction of the type, I think it's in the self help arena. I remember because the question was longer, so books of that kind, excuse me, the cover's really important. So the cover from book to book is something that will help tie the series together. The theme then across the different books in the series are also important and nonfiction is a bit different from fiction in that it can kind of grow and grow. So, sorry, excuse me, frog in the throat. Do you want to pick up there for a second, Michael?
Michael: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The cover is extremely important. And one of the things that I would start with, if you're going to start with the cover is have the conversation up front with your cover designer and tell them exactly what you need and what your goals are. Because what they can do is they can support you and they can create a template or a design that you both agree on. And so then when they do that first book, the second book is just really easy because then it's just drag and drop. Right? I mean they can get different images, different color schemes.
You know, there are plenty of examples of a nonfiction writers who did a really good job at this. Joanna Penn is one of them. If you look at the ALLi guide books, they all have very similar branding. I do it with my nonfiction. It was a great conversation I had with my designer that I wanted my books to have a certain look and feel. And I honestly think it's easier to do this in nonfiction than it is in fiction because with fiction, there are so many other things that you have to consider. With nonfiction, you really just need to consider, ‘Does the image grab the attention and does it convey the spirit and the tone of what it is in the book?’
Orna: Exactly right. So cover is key and then it should be very clear from looking at any book within the series what the overall series is about and how this particular book fits into that pattern. What I was going to say either before the frog came, was that nonfiction often can grow and grow. So you think you're going to do four books or five books say, and then you think of another aspect of the theme and you can add it in. Whereas with a fiction series, you generally need to kind of know what the last book can be working up to that final, you know, ultra climactic climax kind of thing. With nonfiction, it can grow and grow. So it's good I think to leave yourself that bit of space at the beginning to think in that way. But, in short, it's very doable.
Orna: In fact, it's something I would go so far as to say you should do if you are going to have series. Joseph Alexander who is one of our authorpreneur members. He's a guitar teacher and he did it by accident. He just got, you know, had a cover design and then just replicated just in different colors across his books and as he has said afterwards found out that was good practice. So, I don't think there's anybody who would recommend you to do it otherwise.
And then the sort of third part of the triangle is you as the author. So connecting you, your bio, your website and all of that to this nonfiction theme that is clearly very important for you. And it may be the only thing you do, or it may be sort of your nonfiction wing to your fiction writing and or your poetry writing. Either way, it should be clear on your website and it should be clear in the book, you know, the little summary of the book is about, what the author does, how this theme connects to who you are as a person. That's very important with nonfiction, we need to know not just that this is an interesting topic, but also, why are you the person to tell us about it, why should I listen to you and not listened to one of the other people over here who's talking about the same thing?
Michael: Yep. And another point too, and this is a little, it's a little thing, but I found that it makes a big difference is the formatting and the feel of your content, right? So you, if you're writing about the same topics, which it sounds like Audrey, you are, you want that experience to be very similar from book To book, right? So in terms of the value they're going to get from it, the depth that you're going to go into your topics, the types of stories that you're going to tell in the narrative I think are very important and are one of the reasons that I love to read so many repeat books by other nonfiction writers is because I know that when I pick up a book from one of my favorite writers, they're going to bring the value and I'm going to walk away feeling a certain way after I finished the book. And I think that's another important thing that you should think about. How to make your books cohesive not only visually from a formatting perspective, but also from your content.
Orna: That's a super important point. I think particularly the one around depth. Because you do see nonfiction series where they say the first two books are really good and they go into the topic in quite some detail. And then when it gets to book three, four, and five, it's getting patchier and patchier and patchier as you go along. And you definitely don't want that.
Michael: No, you do not. So, alright, so my window froze up here.
Linking to Amazon Central
Michael: So let me see if I can access these on my phone here real quick. Okay. It came back. Alright. Okay, great. Slow Internet today. Okay, so the next question is from Sarah and she says that “I've just spotted that there is a section for Amazon Central for publishing your blog. Is linking my blog to my Amazon Central profile worth it?
Orna: It's certainly not going to do any harm. And If you are a, you know, say, a nonfiction writer like the previous questioner on you are blogging regularly about your nonfiction topic then it makes a lot of sense to have it turning up on your books page. Similarly, if you're a fiction writer and you are blogging about, you know, behind the scenes of your books, readers are going to love to find that on your author page.
So there's a reason that Amazon gives over real estate to anything and so if they think it's a good idea, it's probably a good idea. So it's not difficult to do. We have the instructions there in the comments just below the screen here so you can just go in. It's a matter of three or four minutes and it just means that every time you blog it will automatically appear on your Amazon page. You do need an Author Central account to set that up. But you should have that going anyway for all the other benefits that it gives you too.
Michael: Yeah, it's one of those things that you set it and you forget it and you forget that your blog even syndicates to Amazon, but you never know. I mean, your page does get eyeballs. How many eyeballs it gets, nobody knows. Right? But I don't think it'll hurt you at all. I mean, especially if you're publishing content regularly to your blog. The only way I might hesitate is if you're not publishing content regularly because it does have a date app on it. And so you always want content that's going to appear on pages like that to be fresh. Nothing worse than coming across an author blog or something that, you know, they haven't updated in five years. So I would caveat that with making sure that you have regular content that's going to be syndicated there so that it leaves up a positive impression on people when they meet you for the first time.
Michael: Okay. So our next question is from Jennifer and she wants to know, I'll summarize here. So she's building a website but struggling with WordPress and just doesn't seem to be getting any results. Are there any non WordPress alternatives to creating a good looking author website?
Orna: I am. I'm going to stick my neck out here a bit and I think you and I might differ on this so that would be good if we do, but for me, WordPress, the advantages of a WordPress site, so sort of, outweigh any disadvantages that I would say get to grips with WordPress. It's worth it. Bow there are alternatives. Yes, certainly. And I know that in the question, the concern was around design and you are something to the effect of you felt that the site's still didn't look good and that's a matter, you know, that could hit you with any website. There certainly are with any, you know, website tool. Certainly there are tools that make designing, making it look good easier. But they often fall down when it comes to search and Seo, all these kinds of things. So I would think really the answer to your question, rather than ditching WordPress, would be to bring in some design help. What do you think, Michael?
Michael: Yeah, yeah. WordPress's is the sheriff in town. You know, there are other services like Wix and Weebly and Squarespace. And I know that from a design perspective, they certainly make things a little easier, but you're giving up the universality of WordPress. You're giving up the integration support and the ability to kind of customize things a little bit more when you go to those alternatives. And I think if you're struggling with a design, you can bring in design help.
But you know, they're relatively affordable WordPress templates, WordPress design templates that you can get a for relatively cheap that will give you a good design so that takes that burden off of you. And the only thing that you have to worry about is creating the content. So the one that I use and I think is really great is Elegant Themes. You know, they've got a package where you can buy their whole catalog for a certain amount and you have access to hundreds of different wordpress designs. And there are other, lots of great WordPress themes, Theme Forest and other places where you can, you can get a low cost design that will take a lot of the heavy lifting off of your shoulders.
Orna: Yeah. Or even free. And there is a theme called Author, which actually is specifically WordPress theme design specifically for writers. It is, it's not free, but it's not expensive. And that's a place you could start. The design on that is very simple and it's all about the books. So that's the one thing you do need to think about design wise as well. If you're not happy with your design, you know, your book covers should be holding up your website as an author website and you should love the design of your book covers and they should solve a lot of your design issues for you unless you're talking about stuff around font and layout of the pages and so on and that really is very easy to change with, as Michael said.
So if you just Google, you know, WordPress themes and begin to give yourself, you know, an afternoon to have a good search around and see which one maybe appeals to you when choosing a WordPress theme, it's really important that you pick one that has support and that has it just so lots of tech folk come up with various WordPress themes. You need to be sure they have been around for a while. So the names of Michael's mentioned, these are all reputable and have been around and have customer supports for when things begin to go wrong. So it's important that you don't pick something that's just been designed by somebody yesterday who's going to be gone in a few weeks time. But there are really, you're spoiled for choice. This isn't an area where there isn't too much choice. It's the opposite. There is lots and lots of choice. So you need to be guided by what you want as well design wise.
Michael: Yep. Absolutely. And that's a great point and also make sure you get something that's mobile responsive so that it'll look good on your mobile device as well. That's less of an issue now than it was a couple of years ago. But still something you want to think about.
Publishing on KDP
Michael: Alright, so our last question today is from Madeline and Madeline has published a novel on Amazon, but she did it six years ago and didn't remember how she did it. So she asks it, does ALLi have a step by step guide to publishing a book on KDP or on any of the book retailers for that matter?
Orna: The short answer to that is no, we don't have a step by step guide because all of the retailers have their own step by step guides on their platforms and it changes so it will have changed. Even if you did remember, Madeline, what you did six years ago, it wouldn't be exactly the same now. You know, KDP Print is there, the layout of the dashboard is different. Everything pretty much, you know, lots and lots of things in there are quite different and that continues. All of these services are constantly improving and updating.
So what we do is we link to their pages and I've put the link for KDP because that was the one you specifically asked for into the comments here on the Facebook page, but our book Choosing A Self Publishing Service, which is written by the head of our watchdog desk, John Doppler, that goes into what you need to look out for in all the services that you might be thinking about using and all the links you need to the services are embedded in that book.
There's advice in the Member Zone as well which will take you to the pages that you want on and in the Self-Publishing Advice Center. So there's no shortage of resources as well outside of ALLi that will talk to you about how to publish a book on KDP but actually KDP's own page is the best page to follow and they have now got KDP University and Jumpstart pages and all sorts of really good content. So much better than six years ago, which when you probably were kind of making it up as you as you go along, it's all there now and very well laid out. So I don't think you'll find any problems at all.
Michael: Absolutely. Alright, well, that concludes our questions for this month. A lot of great questions. Again, we've been getting some great questions the last couple months.
Orna: Yes, we really have and do keep them coming folks. So just to remind you that this is the Member Only Q and A, Alliance of Independent Authors. If at any time any questioner would like to come and put your question, you know, be here while we discuss your question. That's fantastic. We love that, but you do need to be a member to submit your question for answering and we're delighted to answer each one and especially if it's something that, you know, lots of our other members are going to be thinking about and have on their minds.
But if we don't answer to your personally, we will answer it privately. So your question will always be answered, our Ask ALLi campaign commits to answering any self publishing question anybody might have. So you can do that publicly here or you can do it privately through [email protected] or you can put on one of our closed member forums also. So yeah, keep those questions coming. They help everybody as well as you.
Orna: So yeah, that's it for what month are we in? June. We are actually having a broadcasting break in July. I forgot to tell Michael this before we came on. We are having a break in July and we'll be back again with normal Q and A in August. We're doing some upgrades to the podcasts. We're going twice weekly. Howard Lovy is going to be doing a regular weekly slot on Saturdays on the podcast, interviewing our most inspirational members and talking to them about how they have succeeded in doing what they do and what they do. And we'll be putting this one out midweek going forward and we'll still record it on Facebook live on Saturday, but we'll be putting out to the podcast on the Wednesday following instead of the Saturday. So yeah, just some changes and upgrades and things happening. So we're just taking a little break while we get ourselves organized. So we will see you again in August and until then, happy writing and happy publishing. Thanks, Michael.
Michael: Thanks, Orna.
Orna: Bye now.
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