Help, my FB ads have too much text!

It’s been a while since I had time to post, but a few people have needed this lately, and I decided it would be smartest to just upload it for easy future linking. (That is how I make all my important decisions about blogging: being lazy.)

A lot of people are trying to maneuver around facebook’s 20% text rule for when you can boost a post or use an image for advertising. It’s especially frustrating because the exact same amount of text on an image might be denied one week and approved the next if the text isn’t in the exact same place.

There’s a reason for that.  As of now (which could change tomorrow) facebook’s automated system is using a grid method to decide when an image has too much text. They put a grid of five rectangles by five rectangles over your image and look to see if the text shows up in more than five of them. (20%)

Computers are not always terribly reliable though.

2boxes

4boxes

Yeah, I know. Computers. SIGH.

Anyway, it’s pretty easy to get around this once you know it’s a thing. I have two templates I share–one is a PSD file with the grid on its own layer, one is a transparent PNG file you can download and put over your image.  If you can keep your text in five of those boxes, you SHOULD be okay. (Should in that computers are still silly and will sometimes think things like tattoos or squiggles are also text, because oh, COMPUTERS.)

 

Facebook Ad Template (PNG)

A transparent PNG with the grid that helps identify how much text is too much for a facebook ad.

Facebook Ad Template (PSD)

A photoshop template with the grid that helps identify how much text is too much for a facebook ad.

 

A5 Planner Sheet: Daily To Do list w/ word count & goals

So, this is just a quick post, mostly because I’m uploading something a few people on twitter were interested in downloading. This isn’t anything fancy, just a tweaked version of the daily sheets I use in my planner. They’re very, very slanted to exactly what I want, which is encouragement to drink 8 glasses of water, a big spacious To Do list, and places to focus on goals, priorities and my word count.

These are designed to be printed on 8.5″x11″ paper and cut in half. You can print them front & back and end up with 4 days per 1 piece of paper.

Daily A5 To Do List w/ Word Counts

Custom printables for A5 planners with a to do list, space to track words and goals, and even handy tracking of how much water you’re drinking. Print on 8.5×11″ paper and cut in half.

I’ve also included the download file for my writing project word count trackers, in case you missed those!  (The novel one tracks a 100k book. The other is cut up into 10k parts, in case you need smaller goals. I do love coloring that thing in every 1,000 words.)

100,000 Word Project Tracker

Custom printables for A5 planners with space to track 100,000 words. Print on 8.5×11″ paper and cut in half.

10,000 Word Project Tracker

Custom printables for A5 planners with space to track 10,000 words. Print on 8.5×11″ paper and cut in half.

Self-Publishing Income Tracking Spreadsheet

Don’t look now, it’s time for another round of… LOOK, LOOK!

Glittery pink text with SPARKLES that reads: A SPREADSHEET!

(What, I made that glittery pink sparkle image, and I’m going to get some use out of it. Never waste glitter text, guys. It’s like, the first rule of the internet.)

Last time I uploaded my Self-Pub MTD Income Estimate spreadsheet, which is how I keep a rough running estimate of my monthly sales.

This spreadsheet is a lot more straightforward, because all I track with it are deposits.  I update this at the end of the month (*coughcough* or the end of the year) with all of the deposits that hit my bank account. There’s no conversion here, just straight up dollars.  The big things I keep track of with this sheet are my monthly and quarterly totals, my totals by vendor and my breakdown of self-pub vs publisher money.

Year to Date Spreadsheet

This one has fake numbers in January. The breakdown of the fake numbers probably tells you a lot about my idea of what % of income comes from which vendors, even though I tried not to be too obvious.

There’s really not a lot to it, but I’ll break down the three parts just in case.

The top of the spreadsheet with running totals and YTD total.The top of the spreadsheet is all automatic. Everything in here should update as you put your numbers in the bottom two sections. It tracks your total monthly payment, and also breaks it down by traditionally/epublished vs self-published. On top of that, it keeps a running total of each quarter, and at the end of each line it breaks down what % of your income came from publishers and what % came from self-publishing vendors.

 The middle of the spreadsheet, where you can add each self-pub vendor payment as you recieve it.
The self-publishing section is also pretty straight-forward. The vendors are pretty easy to tweak and update as needed. That holds my current list, including revealing my current laziness in tracking down which country $1.47 payments from Amazon came from. (Bad, Bree, bad.)

Some vendors pay quarterly. I tend to black out the months I don’t anticipate payments so I won’t be dumb and wonder why they aren’t there, because almost everything I do with spreadsheets is pre-planning for the days where I’m really dumb and wonder very silly things.

As you add payments, the monthly totals will update at the top in the green boxes. The year-to-date total by vendor will update in the 2nd column in teal. The year-to-date grand total for self-publishing shows up in the YTD Selfpub box. At the end of each line is the % breakdown by vendor. Finally, quarterly self-pub totals show up above the months.

And finally…

Spreadsheet where you input money from your publisher.

The publisher section is basically exactly the same as the self-publisher, except you have to fill in your own publishers.  I’ll be honest, this section is pretty basic and doesn’t handle a ton of excitement or variation…but I only have a few epublishers, one who pays monthly and one quarterly, so I don’t have a lot of excitement here.  But if you’re just tracking deposits, this should do it.

And that is the spreadsheet in all its glory! There’s a download link below, and I have it on good authority that it works just fine on google docs. Feel free to take and adapt and have fun.  And if you have any questions, feel free to ask! (And just for fun, I threw the link to my Running Totals spreadsheet in the bottom here, too.)

Year to Date Totals

A file for tracking your Year-to-Date payments from vendors and publishers. Includes monthly and yearly totals and percentages, broken down by vendor, publisher and self-pub vs publisher, and quarterly income totals.

Running Totals Spreadsheet

An excel spreadsheet that tracks MTD sales for self-pubbers. Vendors included: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Draft2Digital, Apple, and Google. Also provides a way to estimate money from Amazon borrows.

A post everyone should read.

Sometimes I reread this post by Courtney Milan because I think it says so many smart things, they get lost under their own radiance. But in particular, this one is something I’m thinking a lot about right now:

Some people call it “self” publishing. Some people call it “independent” publishing. I don’t think either of those terms describe what is happening. The other day, I described self-publishers as more like bacteria: most will never register above a blip, but because we’re capable of swapping ideas with each other and evolving at a high rate, the ones that do well can do really well.

It’s why the point that Mike Shatzkin expresses in the commentson this post here—that “it is hugely counterintuitive to me that a single actor whose main capability MUST BE writing could be a more effective marketer than a publisher who would have good reason to develop capabilities at scale across a list”—is both completely right and totally wrong. He’s totally right in that one individual, standing on his or her own, is always going to lose versus publishers. I suspect that is true, on average, by a margin larger than the 4x royalty difference.

But he’s not taking into account the intelligence of the self-publishing collective. The fact that writers have been so poorly paid for years is actually a huge bonus. Most authors by necessity have more skills than just writing. Do the math: There are more self-publishers with marketing backgrounds than there are marketers working in New York publishing. There are more self-publishers with backgrounds in statistics and data collection than New York has on their payroll. There are more computer experts, more graphics designers, more photographers. There are just so darned many of us, and so darned few (relatively speaking) of New York.

As an added bonus, we don’t have to pass ideas by a committee before we try them, so collectively, we have more information on crazy-ass shit that some person tried just because, hell, why not see what happens?

None of that would matter one damned bit—one person who has data expertise still might not understand what makes a good cover–except we talk to each other all the time. Participating in that conversation to some degree, staying nimble, seeing results, listening, learning as a constant matter—is where 70% of the value-added of being a self-publisher lies. The royalty rate is good, but it’s not the winner. The best self-publishers are doing things much, much better than the best publishers do. That may be hard to imagine, but it’s because taken as a whole, we have more data (most publishers don’t get the regular fine-grained data that self-publishers do, and don’t pore over it as we do) and more expertise than publishers do.

You really should read the entire post. Even if you’ve read it before. Courtney Milan is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and I am deeply grateful that she is endlessly generous with all of her wisdom.

Project Word Count Trackers for A5 Planners

One of my goals this year was to get more organized. The stress of trying to carry this increasingly complex business in my head (oh god, why was I still doing that) got to me last year, and I decided it was time to work smarter or have a gibbering mental breakdown. (Or another one.)

My solution was to get an A5 planner. But instead of relying on the default filofax refills, I went out to find things that would fit the sort of organization I needed. Etsy is wonderfully full of such printable options, and there are tons of other places where you can get them for free, I discovered.  It’s going well so far…two weeks in and I’ve already got a better grasp on what I need to delegate and I’m getting more done, more efficiently.

But some of the stuff I wanted to keep track of, I couldn’t find on etsy or the internet. So I popped open photoshop and went to town.  And in case there’s anyone out there with an A5 planner who wants to keep track of word counts, I’m posting my project trackers here.  :)

(In case you are new to this–I was!–A5 planners easily fit things printed on standard 8.5×11″ paper. These printables are designed to be cut in half and then have holes punched in them. You can buy a fancy six-hole punch, but I didn’t have one when I printed out my first run. So I used a divider from my planner as a guide and punched those holes freehand one at a time. If you’re determined, you can get it done. :D)

100,000 Word Project

Screencap of the novel progress PDF

This one is good for up to 100,000 words. You can scribble in the totals as you go (I was inspired to use the thermometer image by my friend Vivian Arend, who does this on a white board for each project!) and keep track of the date and your word count/how many words you wrote on that day. Whichever you prefer. This sheet is designed to be printed on both sides, so when you cut them, the right side will be the “front” and the left side will be the back.

But 100,000 words is a lot, and sometimes I have a smaller project, or I just want to chop my goals into things that feel more satisfying. So I also made…

10,000 Word Project Part

Screencap of the Novel Progress PDF

This is also designed to be printed on both sides. Each side can be 10,000 words of your current project, and you can use as many of them as you want.  :)

Feel free to download these and adapt to your own needs!

100,000 Word Project Tracker

Custom printables for A5 planners with space to track 100,000 words. Print on 8.5×11″ paper and cut in half.

10,000 Word Project Tracker

Custom printables for A5 planners with space to track 10,000 words. Print on 8.5×11″ paper and cut in half.

What’s the plan, man?

On any given day, I see these three questions repeated in (at least) 15 places on the internet:

  • Should I use permafree?
  • Should I price at 99 cents?
  • Should I put my books in KU?

Plenty of people have answers, and offer them, and many of the answers are smart and some of them are nuanced and smart and some of the very smartest ones are brilliant but dangerous. Not because they’re not useful, but because people can leap on them and use them without understanding what parts are working and why, which will give them a false sense of confidence that is going to sting later on when the market shifts. (Believe me. I’ve felt the sting.)

I have one answer, and it’s a question:

Why do you want to?

That’s not meant to be a judgement. It’s also not meant to imply why on earth would you do that because I do all three, in certain circumstances, for different reasons, under multiple pennames, with varying results.

But you need to be able to answer. You need to know exactly why you want to, and what you hope to accomplish, and how you’re planning to make that happen. If you don’t, you might still get lucky. Plenty of people do. But waaaaaaaay more people don’t.

Here is a (very incomplete) list of questions I ask people who come to me:

Permafree

Sure, loss-leaders don’t have the OOMPH they carried even a few years ago. I remember having a free read back in the days before KDP, when there were almost no free books on Amazon. There was little competition. A free book was novel. It made my career for about 16 months. (Not even kidding. That was one beautiful promotion.) But even then, it was a concern–it happened the week after Amazon split the bestseller lists into Paid and Free. Before that, I would have been #1 in the Kindle store. Did we have the same visibility as #1 in the free store? Probably not.

Everything changes.

So freebies lack a little oomph today, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still work. But you need to know the answers to questions:

  1. How are you going to get visibility? (Promotions? Ads? Help from friends?)
  2. Are you putting your best foot forward? (What good will any of this do if they DNF on page 2 because it’s an unedited trunk book?)
  3. Are you doing this for exposure? What is your plan to keep these people. Have you got your backmatter optimized for newsletter conversions?
  4. Are you doing this for money? What is your plan to funnel people into your other works? (It’s 10000x easier if it’s book #1 in a series.)

99 cents

So, 99 cent reads are just math to me. Personally, they’re not my favorite math–I don’t sell well enough to make up for the royalty hit, most of the time, though the 99 cent price point can be super useful for price pulsing or for loss leaders.  Of course, KU has changed that dynamic a great deal, but not everyone wants to go exclusive on Amazon. So I’ll deal with the non-KU example first.

Questions I ask myself when I have a book at 99 cents:

  1. How many copies would I need to sell at $2.99 to match this income.  (You can safely assume 1:5 as a ratio…if you’re selling 500 copies a day at 99 cents, you’d need to sell 100 at $2.99. If you’re selling 50, you’d need to sell 10 at $2.99.  It’s actually close to 1:6, but delivery fees vary, etc.)
  2. Are you using this for a sale/loss leader/funnel? Is everything set up to send people where you want them to go next?
  3. Should you put this in KU?

Kindle Unlimited

KU is kind of evil. And brilliant. Right now, it’s a lightning rod for Think Pieces ™ on the downfall of publishing, writers, and everything else in the world.

The morality of KU is something you’ll have to grapple with on your own. The math is a bit simpler.

Rank: Amazon counts every borrow through KU toward a book’s rank, whether the book is ever opened or not. This results in a great deal of invisible movement on your rank, which has resulted in a lot of people thinking that KU books are given preferential treatment.

Which they’re not…technically. But they are getting the benefit of a lot of consequence-free one-clicking (because it doesn’t cost a KU subscriber anything to click, and they can always return the book) and that is an advantage in visibility.

Borrows: Borrows are a mystery. You could make $2 for them. (Probably not likely anymore.) You could make $1 for them. (Let’s hope that’s not the case this month.)  It’s a gamble, the biggest gamble yet for gamble-prone self-pubbers.

The math: right now, a borrow on a 99 cent book is much higher than the 35 cent royalty. If you’re someone who writes short, or prices at 99 cents for a variety of other reasons, KU could really work for you. You get the rank boost of borrows, plus the read-to-10% borrow rate.  If you’re in a genre that likes serials, you can write them now and make decent money. The reader gets a good deal. You get a good deal.

Amazon…doesn’t get a good deal. Which is why I wouldn’t be putting all my eggs in that basket any time soon. But no one said you have to pursue long-term tactics all the time. Jump on the waves and ride them, as long as you’re keeping your long-term strategy in mind.

The bottom line:

Do whatever works for you. What worked for me today, as Moira Rogers, might not work for me today as Kit Rocha. Or tomorrow as Moira Rogers. Don’t stress out trying to figure out which plan Works the Best. Because the answer is: none of them for everyone all the time.

Do what works for you. Today. And for the love of God, try to figure out why it’s working. And when it stops working (and it will stop working) try to figure out why that happened, too. And each time you have to adapt, you’ll do it with less hesitation and more confidence, because you’re not just seeking out someone who can tell you The Plan. You’re building your own, customized to your goals and needs, and believe me. That will work better than anything you take from someone else’s career.

 

 

Tracking Month-to-Date Self-Pub Sales

So, I haven’t posted since July, because the first rule of Self-Pub Club is do not make any plans you’re not okay cancelling in a feverish zombie deadline fervor.  But a conversation on twitter today prompted me to come on over so I could post…

Glittery pink text with SPARKLES that reads: A SPREADSHEET!

(I mentioned the zombie fever, right? Give me some sparkles, y’all.)

This is not the world’s fanciest spreadsheet, but I find it pretty useful as a quick way to keep an eye on how much money I’ve (probably, roughly) made this month.  When I’m feeling excitable, I update it a few times a day. When I’m tired…well, I just started December’s Running Total page 4 days ago. But you don’t need to update it constantly to keep it accurate, since it was designed to use the information vendors give us.

In no particular order… (and with totally bogus numbers)…

Amazon section of the spreadsheet.

You can grab the Amazon numbers from your Sales Dashboard (the one with the graph.)  Remember to set the totals to Month to Date first (and click Update, which I never do) because it defaults to showing the last 30 days.  Paste the totals in the 2nd column. The 3rd column are conversion rates (some more recent than others, all subject to change, all just estimates) that spit out US Dollars in the last column.

The Apple & Google parts of the spreadsheet. The B&N and Kobo parts of the spreadsheet.
Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo are simpler, since all will let you grab a MTD total.  Barnes & Noble has the “Month to Date” sales that exclude the current and previous day, which you can click on to get. I’m lazy, so I have a space for each of those numbers so I don’t have to add them together. If I wanted to add, I wouldn’t have a spreadsheet.

I also have a line for draft2digital, since I have some books through there, but prefer to keep track of those by the vendor they’re selling on.

As for google…I don’t know. Make something up. (I’m kidding. Maybe. You can pull a transaction report and add your total, but only if you’re a masochist completionist–or you’re making enough money on Google to get you excited. :D)

The borrows section of the spreadsheet.

I grab my borrows totals from the Month to Date sales reports. (NOT the one with the graphs.)  I just add up the borrows for each book manually, because I haven’t found a less annoying way to do this yet. And you have to do it for each domain (so Amazon US, UK, DE…)  The good (bad) news is that you may not have many sites moving borrows yet. Though I changed the numbers above, I didn’t change the countries I’m tracking for.

The estimates at the top are my current range for what those borrows might be worth. I keep a high/mid/low range, and this spreadsheet uses the low range in all totals. Because I’d rather be happy than cranky.

Breakdown of %s sold at each vendor.

Finally, the monthly breakdown is…a monthly breakdown. Because, you know. I like knowing where my money is coming from, and where it isn’t. And where I want more coming from.

So, that’s the form! Like I said, not the fanciest thing in the world, but if you need an easy way to keep track of stuff, it works okay, it’s easy to update, and it’s compatible with google docs, which is where I keep mine.  :)  Feel free to download it and adapt to your own needs!  Link below.

Running Totals Spreadsheet

An excel spreadsheet that tracks MTD sales for self-pubbers. Vendors included: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Draft2Digital, Apple, and Google. Also provides a way to estimate money from Amazon borrows.

 

 

 

I interrupt this blog to comment on promotion.

People ask me, “What should I do for promotion?!” more often than you’d believe. Not that it’s surprising–it’s a great question. I ask myself that basically every day.  What should I do for promotion?!

My basic rules of promotion:

  • Give people a reason to want to talk about my books…
  • …without annoying them…
  • …and without requiring (or encouraging) them to annoy the people around them.

It can be hard to come up with a great example, but the HBO show The Leftovers just implemented one that has 100% worked on me. After watching the pilot of the show, I tweeted that I had no idea what was going on, and that delighted me. Last week, the show DMd me saying they wanted to send me something. I was intrigued, so I provided an address.  I got this:

Creepy file is creepy…but so is the show. I expected something like this…
(Note: some of the info in the file is from READING my tweets. I pity whoever had to do that job. Also, the note there is my original tweet.)

A photo of a file included in the package. It has my twitter avatar, info from my bio and some from my twitter feed (including my job, that I co-write under two pennames & that I've been married 10 years.)

A lighter, a sign, and a pre-paid cellphone identified as my new burner phone. OH. MY.

A picture of a lighter, a sticker with a motto from the cult in the show, and a cheap pre-paid cell phone.

And the phone already had one text message waiting…

A photo of the phone & its first text message, reading: "Watchers: you walk with the dead! They're all in white!"

Since the first thing I did was whip out my phone to tweet pictures of the creepy care package, this basically accomplished exactly what was intended. And since I’ll be getting text messages on this phone, presumably related to new episodes, it’s the promo that keeps on giving.  Because you know I will be tweeting creepy text messages with delight.

Now obviously, we can’t all be sending people cell phones. But this is an example of a way to make people want to be engaged. At the end of the day, you can’t buy someone’s earnest interest. But you can cultivate it once it appears. You can give them ways to engage that increase it. Unfortunately, you have to be creative, usually. Nothing works better than something no one else has ever seen or done. (And once you do something, other people will copy it. Which means you’ll have to come up with the next thing no one has ever seen or done.)

Well played, HBO. Well played.

Since this is a thing I’m doing now…

If there is something about our process or our website or our formatting or basically anything related to being a self-published author team that you’d like me to talk about, let me know.  I can’t promise to be timely or wise, because books writing zomg. Also my biggest belief about self-publishing is that there are about a hundred ways to do anything, and the only right one is the one that results in a good product and works for you.

But I probably know more weird tricks than I realize I know, so if there’s a particular topic you’d like me to write about, ask here. I will try to answer. :)

(Right now, the only posts I’m working on are directly related to ebook formatting.)

Formatting Tricks (2/?): Linking With Redirects

If all goes well, this will be part one of however-many-it-takes posts on tricks for easy ebook formatting. These are not the be-all or end-all, but they’re the various methods I’ve developed to format books.  I’ll be doing explanations of each part as I have time, and once I’ve explained all the tricks, I’ll pull them together into a cohesive step-by-step guide.  These posts all assume a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS.

I know I said I was going to talk about Sigil next, but I’m taking a brief step sideways into something I take care of before I put my books together. This particular strategy has been a work in progress for several months, starting when I first heard Carolyn Jewel bring up the idea of using redirects to keep the links in the back of your ebooks from “going bad.”

Say for example the rights to some of your books are due to revert. If you link to the retailer listing of the publisher version and then republish it on your own later, every book you’ve sold so far will have a dead link in it.  Naturally, you can publish a new version with the updated links, but since 1984-gate, Amazon has been a lot less likely to push new updates to people’s accounts.  (And I have had similar trouble getting updated versions of books on Nook.)

Or maybe you know that the next three books in your series are going to be Awesome Book, Great Book and Amazing Book. You don’t have retailer links to these books yet, but you want to put them in the back of this book anyway, so people will know what’s coming. You can point those links to a temporary page, but you’ll still have to update those links at a later date.

And speaking of retailer links, there are some great arguments in favor of vendor-specific links. In the back of our Beyond books, I have customized links depending on the vendor. I do a different version for Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Google and a general version that links to our website.  And in the beginning, that was a fair bit of work.  I had tricks to make it easier, but they weren’t tricks I could easily explain to someone without a degree in computer science, and easier still wasn’t easy.

I solved all three of these problems with redirects.

BASIC IDEA BEHIND REDIRECTS

There are several ways to do redirects. If you already know what a redirect is and how to create them, you probably don’t need the rest of this post. You’re already thinking of possibilities. (Though skip down to my naming scheme trick to see how I create my versions for different vendors.) For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on one option: a redirection plugin in WordPress.

(Credit to Vivian Arend for finding Redirection and bringing it to my attention. That is the one I currently use. However, there are many, many redirect plugins and since things can change as plugins are abandoned, please do your own due diligence and make sure you find one that works for you.)

A redirect link is like a forwarding address. If you click on http://krocha.link/beyond-shame-amazon, you’ll end up on the Amazon page for Beyond Shame. That’s because krocha.link is a site I use just to manage my own redirects, kind of like my own personal bit.ly. (It cost me $15 to register the domain, wordpress & the redirection plugin were free.  However, if your website is on wordpress, you can most likely install the plugin to your own site without the additional hassle.)

The reason this is useful is because I can use http://krocha.link/beyond-shame-amazon as the link in the back of my books whenever I want to link to the Amazon page for Beyond Shame, but the “forwarding address” (the website this link points to) is controlled via the redirection plugin. That means I can change where it goes at any time without having to update the book.

A screenshot of the redirection user panel.

The source URL is yourdomain.com/source-url
The Target URL is where you want that link to point to. In this case, the amazon page.

I use this trick with my upcoming books as well. We know that Beyond Addiction is going to be next up, and since we’ve included the first chapter as a preview in Beyond Jealousy, I wanted to be able to link to it.

A screenshot of the redirect user panel.

For now, this link points to the book page on our website. When the book becomes available, I’ll update the redirect Target URL with the amazon link. I make one of these for each vendor. They all link to the website for now, but will be updated with vendor-specific URLs as they become available.

Vivian Arend takes it a step further. Links to her upcoming books redirect straight to her newsletter, where readers can sign up to be notified when the book becomes available.  Since you can change the target URL without touching the book itself, it’s easy to experiment on what you like best without constantly having to upload a new version.

REDIRECT NAMING SCHEME

We know from the previous lesson that I’m a huge fan of search & replace. When I sat down to come up with the naming scheme for my source URLs, I wanted two things:

  • I wanted it to be easy to remember.
    krocha.link/book-titlevendor is something I don’t have to look up over & over. beyond-shameamazon or beyond-painbn are easy to come up with on the fly. If I need to link to the apple version of Beyond Jealousy I know I can just use beyond-jealousyapple. Easy peasy.
  • I wanted it to be something I could search & replace when changing vendors.
    I make my base ebook file with all -amazon links.  When the file has been finalized & tested, all I have to do to make my new versions is Save As (very important–you want to make a new file, not save over the existing one), and then run a search & replace. I find all of the -amazon and replace them with -bn. Then I Save As, find all the -bn and replace them with -apple. This process takes me very little time.

A screenshot of the search & replace field in Sigil.

The first time you go through your book, it’s probably not a bad idea to do it one at a time to make sure there aren’t any stray places where you might have -apple or -general in your book’s text. It’s not likely, but stranger things have happened, and I always caution people to take care when deploying search & replace. (Learn from that naive time I changed a character’s name from Dan to Ben without remembering the book also had a Danielle. Or should I say Benielle.)

OTHER WAYS TO USE REDIRECTS

Once you start using them, they can be a little addictive. The Redirection plugin tracks the # of hits, so you can see how many people have clicked on any given link.  At base minimum, it’s a good way to tell if people are clicking on your links at all.  (I have tons of clicks from amazon books. Almost none from google.)

If you’re willing to take the time to be clever, it can also tell you where they’re clicking. Are people more likely to subscribe to your newsletter at the front or at the back? You can make multiple links to the same place. newsletter-front and newsletter-back can both go to your newsletter, but you’ll know if one gets significantly more clicks than the other.

And there are plenty of other questions to ask. Do readers respond better to a link to the next book directly after The End, or do they seem to like a nice orderly list? I want my ebooks to be exactly what my readers want. I’m constantly trying to think of ways to make them easier to navigate, and how to give readers the information they need without overloading them with stuff they don’t care about.  All of this data is valuable.

For me, redirects are the key to making my front & backmatter simple.  I have redirects for everything–our Facebook page, or twitter names (hey, I changed mine once… @moirarogersbree still gets follows from the backs of old books) even our websites. By keeping as much control as possible over these links, I’m making it easier on myself down the road.  Because the one thing I’ve learned–things are always changing.

No really, next time. Sigil. I swear.

Formatting Tricks (1/?): Search & Replace in Word

If all goes well, this will be part one of however-many-it-takes posts on tricks for easy ebook formatting. These are not the be-all or end-all, but they’re the various methods I’ve developed to format books.  I’ll be doing explanations of each part as I have time, and once I’ve explained all the tricks, I’ll pull them together into a cohesive step-by-step guide.  These posts all assume a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS.

*Note — as some have pointed out in comments, the Mac version of Word is often a different beast. *

How to Convert A Manuscript to HTML with Search & Replace

Software you need to do this:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Windows Notepad (or a non-Windows version of a basic text editor)

Note: this is not a lesson on creating an entire ebook. This is just how to turn your manuscript into HTML. The next lesson will be how to turn that HTML into an epub.

I’m not really exaggerating when I say I format an entire manuscript via Search & Replace. When we’ve finished edits on a book, I open the file, copy/paste, run a Word macro I’ve created & end up with the converted HTML of the book itself. It takes me about 30 seconds.  This does not involve any frontmatter or backmatter (which are very important and their own separate posts) but at the end of the day, you’re not really going anywhere until you have a book.

There are many good reasons to rely on cleanly converted HTML code instead of the code generated by a program like calibre or Word itself. The two biggest:

  • Possible Display Errors: the more complicated your code, the more likely it will break somewhere down the line. People read on a huge array of ereaders, phones, tablets, computers and other devices. Every format, platform, operating system and gadget reads and displays code in a slightly different way. The more work you make them do, the more likely they’re going to mess up.
  • Delivery Fees: complicated code is bulky code.  If you’re self-publishing on Amazon via KDP, the 70% royalty option is really 70% – delivery fees. You can find the list of delivery fees on Amazon, but as of the time of this posting they are:
    • Amazon.com: US $0.15/MB
    • India on Amazon.com: INR ₹7/M
    • Amazon CA: CAD $0.15/MB
    • Brazil: BRL R$0.30/MB
    • Amazon.co.uk: UK £0.10/MB
    • Amazon.de: €0,12/MB
    • Amazon.fr: €0,12/MB
    • Amazon.es: €0,12/MB
    • Amazon.it: €0,12/MB
    • Amazon.co.jp: JPY1/MB for files less than 10MB, no charge for files equal to or over 10MB
    • Amazon.com.mx: MXN $1/MB
    • Amazon.com.au: AUD $0.15/MB

It may seem like 15 cents isn’t a lot, but if you sell 10,000 books, that 15 cents is $1,500. Books with a lot of fancy images (like a different header image for every chapter) can quickly scale up to 30 or 50 cents per book.

 So, you’ve decided you want to turn your manuscript into HTML by yourself. There are several different considerations to tackle, and I’m going to handle them one by one.

CHAPTER HEADERS

I format books in Sigil. Sigil will automatically generate a table of contents and .NCX file. (The navigation file that tells ereaders, computers & gadgets where everything in your ebook is.)  To decide where your headers are, Sigil looks for header tags:

<h1>Chapter One</h1>

So how does Search & Replace help with this? When I’m going through my manuscript one last time to prep it for formatting, I make sure all of my headers look like this:

[Chapter One]

It’s an easy thing to do while you’re writing, or even after you’re finished.  Once they’re in place, though, you can use Search & Replace to put anything you want around your chapter headers.

A search & replace box showing how to replace [ with h1

As later lessons will show, I use this for more than just basic header tags. It allows me to tweak my header class, insert page breaks before my new chapters or images after.  The first step of my macro puts a sigil split marker before the header (telling sigil it can break this chapter into its own section) as well as putting the header tags around my title.

If you have subheaders (for example, a chapter header and a smaller one indicating POV) you can use different symbols. In some instances, I’ve used [ ] wherever I want to replace something with <h1> and { } wherever I want to replace it with <h2>.

Note: obviously, if you replace [ with <h1> or { with <h2>, you need to do the opposite as well. ] with </h1> and } with </h2>. 

SCENE BREAKS

We like to use images for scene breaks. It’s something I like because it’s pretty, it doesn’t take up a ton of space, and it doesn’t often backfire.  Some methods of adding extra blank space can be stripped out by less savvy reading apps and devices.  There are certainly many ways around this, but if you’re not super savvy at CSS and HTML, a scene break image isn’t a terrible way to go.

While writing our books, we indicate scene breaks with a simple:

#

When formatting, I search for # and replace it with the code for our dividing image. In Sigil, you can add an image to your epub file and get the relative path to it easily. If you’re simply creating an HTML file to test your formatting, make sure your image is in the same folder where you save your .html file and refer to it simply as “image.gif” (or .jpg or…)

Search & replace box showing the code for an image.

ITALICS

Now we’re getting into something fun.

The key to this trick is knowing that you can put ^& into a REPLACE box as a placeholder for anything was found during the search portion of Search & Replace. The second key is knowing that you can put your cursor into the FIND box and hit CTRL+I and it will search for italics.

A search & replace box showing how to replace a word in italics with the code for italics around the word.

So the steps to search & replace italics are:

  1. Open the Search & Replace box.
  2. Put the cursor in the Find What box and hit CTRL+I. This should make Font: Italic show up beneath the box.
  3. Put <em>^&</em> (or <i>^&</i> or your preferred method of emphasizing text) in the Replace With box.
  4. Replace!

IMPORTANT NOTE: this is the sort of situation where a computer not being smarter than a human can come back to bite you if you’re not careful.  We’ve all written something in italics, hit return, started typing the next paragraph and realized italics was still on. You can turn it off and keep going, but if you do that–and I can’t stress this enough–Word thinks the italics ends at the start of the next paragraph.

This results in situations like this:

She shook her head. <em>I guess I’ll just have to do this the hard way.

</em>The software silently agreed.

This situation is not terrible, unless you drop your code into something like sigil and let it “fix” your code on its own. It will probably look at that stray </em> tag all on its own and decide you didn’t mean for there to be italics there at all, or-worst case scenario–it could decide you wanted everything that follows to be in italics because it just ate the stray </em> and can’t remember that it was ever there.  Those italics could cover entire chapters until it finds another </em> and cuts it out.

(Computers are only as smart as we tell them to be.)

The other problem is multiple lines of italics, which end up looking like this:

<em>This isn’t the greatest example in the world.

This is just a tribute.</em>

The former problem can be detected by searching for ^p</em> and replacing it with </em>^p which takes away the paragraph break before the tag and puts it afterwards. (^p is the next lesson.)  The latter…well, you’ll just have to be smart.  (And, if you use sigil, manually fix the errors!)

I know that the WARNING, DANGER section of this part is longer than the trick, but by paying attention to the ways these tricks can fail, you’re a lot more likely to survive using them.

PARAGRAPH TAGS

This is, arguably, one of the most basic steps, but I put it after italics for a reason–if you have funny italics, they’re a lot easier to fix before you start messing with your paragraphs.

The two most important codes you need to know for this step are ^p and ^l.  Those are the codes for a paragraph and a line break, respectively.  Hopefully most of you know which one you use when you’re writing.  If you don’t, the quickest way to find out is to turn on the formatting marks in word.  That will make your document look like this:

A screenshot of a simple word doc with formatting marks turned on.Most manuscripts I’ve seen fall into one of four categories:

  • First line indented manually, with paragraph breaks.
  • First line indented automatically, with paragraph breaks.
  • No indents, two line breaks between paragraphs.
  • No indents, two paragraph breaks between paragraphs.

Undoubtedly, there are a million more variations. Whatever you have separating your paragraphs, the general idea with this trick is that you want to replace that with </p>^l^l<p>.  And no, I did not put those out of order. Consider the following:

This is paragraph one.^p

This is paragraph two. ^p

This is paragraph three.^p

Replacing ^p with </p>^l^l<p> gives us

This is paragraph one. </p>^l
^l
<p>This is paragraph two.</p>^l
^l
<p>This is paragraph three.</p>^l
^l
<p>

This effectively puts </p> at the end of every paragraph, inserts two line breaks, and puts <p> at the start of your next paragraph. This will work throughout your entire manuscript. BUT!  It will not put the first <p> before your first paragraph, and it will leave an extra one at the end. So you’ll have to fix the start & end…but everything in the middle should work just fine.

Screencap of a search replace box with the paragraphs replaced with line breaks.

Sometimes it takes a little finessing to figure out what the exact magic substitution is for YOUR manuscript, but you can change just about anything. Some important search/replace codes to know for this section:

  • Paragraph: ^p
  • Line Break: ^l
  • Tab: ^t
  • Manual Page Break: ^m

You can find a huge selection of codes here.

SPECIAL CHARACTERS

This is apparently a controversial topic. I googled to see if anyone had a definitive guide to best practices for ebook formatting and my browser blew up with drama.

Suffice to say–not all devices can necessarily recognize the fancy smart-quotes and beautiful em-dashes that Word kindly auto-formats for us. And the less standard your character, the more likely you are to have a problem. (Says the woman who somehow uses façade once per book.)

There are ways to get around this.  You can remove them completely and replace them with the low tech versions–straight quotes and double dashes–but that won’t help you with your tildes and your umlauts. The best way to make sure everything displays properly is to replace your special characters with the HTML entity.  Some very common ones:

  • Left/Right Double Quotes: &ldquo;  (ld = left double, quo = quote) &rdquo; (rd = right double, etc..)
  • Left/Right Single Quotes: &lsquo; (ls = left single) &rsquo; (…etc)
  • Em-dash & Ellipsis: &mdash; and &hellip;

When searching & replacing, it can be easiest to find the special character somewhere (like the link above) and copy it into the FIND box. Then type the HTML entity into the REPLACE WITH box.

A screencap showing how to replace special characters with HTML code.

Honestly, search/replacing every possible code every time would be prohibitive. And this step is where macros truly become vital. If you sit down once with a list of every special character you might possibly use, you can use Word’s very simple ability to record a macro. What does that mean, practically speaking?  Once you’ve got the macro recording, it will keep track of every single thing you run a Search/Replace for. (Even if that thing doesn’t exist in the manuscript.)  Then, the next time you sit down to replace special characters, you can run the macro and it will repeat everything you just did.

I have macros for all of these steps, and one macro I can run that runs all of the macros.  It took me a little time to finesse all of these steps to work exactly the way I wanted them, but in the end?  I can turn out clean HTML in a matter of seconds.

CLEANING UP

There are always some loose ends hanging around.  Maybe I have places where I had extra paragraph breaks, so I have <p></p> scattered throughout my manuscript.  Well, that’s easy to fix. I just want those to go away, so I can run a Search & Replace to find <p></p> and replace it with nothing. (Yes! That’s an option!)

Well, okay, but if I replace <p></p> with nothing, I might have a ton of line breaks all in a row. All that blank space won’t hurt my HTML, but it’s not very pretty.  If I want to decrease my extra line breaks, I can run a search for ^l^l^l and replace it with ^l^l.  If there are still extra spaces, I can do it again until I can’t find any groups of three line breaks.

(Do not replace ^l^l with ^l unless you want NO space between your paragraphs.)

Very last of all, I copy everything I’ve just generated and paste it into a very basic text editor. Notepad is a good one.  Really, you don’t want anything more complicated. Saving it in plain text makes sure we’ve ditched any odd Word formatting that might be clinging to it–and trust me. Nothing is more likely to go bad on you than Word formatting.

At this stage, I usually put <html> at the top and </html> at the end, save it as testbook.html and open it up in a browser to see how things are looking.  You’ll be able to tell straight off if your chapter headers are actual headers, if your italics look okay–and if not, where they broke–and if all of your special characters are as special as they should be.  (And if your scene divider image is in the right directory, you should see it, too!)

There are many things I do once the book is in sigil to make this book more pretty.  But this very first step is about making the code pretty, and if you’ve gotten this far and made it out alive, your code is probably looking pretty good.

THE BIGGEST SECRET IS

That you can automate just about anything if you think about a way to let the computer know where it is.  Word can search for more than italics. It can search for different font faces, different font sizes… if you have different character POVs and want them to display slightly differently, you could use different fonts in your manuscript and find a way to make that work.

The only limit to Search & Replace is how creative you are when it comes to bossing computers around.

QUESTIONS?

Feel free to ask them. I will do my best to answer, or point you to someone who can. :)

NEXT UP…

Putting this manuscript into SIGIL! (I love it.)

Smart People Say Smart Things

Why Would I Write Posts About Self-Publishing When Other People Are Being Smart All The Time: A Curated List of Brilliance.

So, there is so much information out there about self-publishing, and I’m often asked for advice and my thoughts on things. I wrote one post about the math of quiet success, but there are so many other people writing smart things, sometimes I wish I’d thought to make a list of them so I could just say, Here. Here is your Brilliant People Primer. They are Smarter Than I Am.

 

This is that list. It is very much a work in progress.



Traditional versus self publishing: official death match 2014

Author: Courtney Milan
Topics:
General Advice, Skills Required, Personal Experience
Target Audience:
Traditionally Published Authors

I love a lot of things about this post. This line in particular: I’ll talk about the skills that you need to have later, but the most important skill that every successful self-publisher needs is this: good judgment. That, I think, sums up so much of what is necessary to succeed in self-publishing. You can hire out almost anything else, but if you don’t know who to hire, and why, and what they should do for you…

While Courtney makes it clear that she’s talking to traditionally published authors because that’s the place of experience she came from, I think it’s worth reading no matter where your path has taken you. Because it’s smart, just like she is.

How To Make A Living As An Indie Author

Author: Robert J. Crane
Topics: General Advice, Marketing Strategies, Personal Experience
Target Audience: General

No, I’m not just including this because I want to be famous for my quote about pirate treasure. (Though I do.) This post is very long, very thorough, and very frank about how to take a smart, dedicated approach to the long game. Robert isn’t telling you how to use tricks to break into the top 100 on amazon every time. He’s telling you how to plan for the worst case scenario and build a backlist that might enable you to make a living without becoming The Next Big Thing.

In fact, he just today tweeted a bit of wisdom that I think sums up his post:

Backmatter: Are You Making the Most of Your Digital Shelf Space?

Author: Courtney Milan (Again, Already!)
Topic: Ebook Production, Marketing
Target Audience: General

This information is so important, I considered moving it to the top. From the post:

The moment after someone finishes your book is the point when they are most favorably inclined to you as an author. Okay, some people will have hated your book—and that’s okay—but this isn’t about them. This is about the people who read the last word of your book and sigh and hug their ereader close and think, “What a lovely book! I’m so glad I read this.”

It’s the perfect moment in a symbiotic author-reader relationship: She wants to read more of my books, and I want her to do the same thing.

Changing the backmatter in our books has increased our sales of related books, increased website traffic and exploded our newsletter, and all with so little effort. All it takes is really thinking about how to give the reader exactly what they want, as painlessly as possible.


So many more posts coming soon…