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The Discovery Dilemma

As authors outside of the ‘mainstream’, we all face the difficulty of getting knowledge of the very existence of our work out to the people we are doing it for – readers.

Fellow author Stevie Turner has captured the dilemma precisely in her blog:

via Engaging With Readers

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Media Training for Authors – Advertising – Covers, Titles and Key Words by Sally Cronin

I’ve heard fellow authors complain about what they see as a lack of support from other writers. Not a charge you can level against Sally Cronin. Here she explains the importance of getting each element of your sales pitch spot on.

Source: Media Training for Authors – Advertising – Covers, Titles and Key Words by Sally Cronin

Christmas is Cancelled

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Following on from Sha’Tara’s essay about the way this month’s celebrations have strayed from the teachings of the man whose birth they are supposed to commemorate, I had intended posting a satirical piece along the same lines that I wrote a couple of Christmases ago. In fact, I see that I did post it last December. So all I need to do today is provide a link to that piece: https://franklparker.com/2015/12/18/youre-fired-a-christmas-fable/

You’re Fired: A Christmas Fable

A young man goes to his uncle’s office. They are both partners in the family business. The young man wears his hair and beard long. He has piercing blue eyes. Above them is an irregular line of marks, puckered like scar tissue, lighter than the generally swarthy appearance of his skin. The older man also has long hair and beard but, where the younger man’s are dark, his are pure white. His cheeks, visible above the white hair of the beard, are rosy and his eyes are crinkled in the appearance of a permanent smile. He is working at a computer screen, going through long lists of requisitions, placing orders.

“The Old Man wants to see us.”

“Did he say why?”

“No, but I don’t think it’s to talk about the Christmas bonus. He was going through the record books and I got the distinct impression he was not too impressed.”

The uncle sighs, “He knows how much I hate being interrupted when I am in the middle of the Christmas rush. It doesn’t get any easier you know. The number of children and the volume of stuff they demand makes it harder every year. If it wasn’t for Amazon I don’t know how we’d manage.”

The man the young one had referred to as “The Old Man” is strikingly similar in appearance to the uncle. He is pacing up and down behind a large desk.

“Nicholas; thank you for coming. I know how busy you are at this time of year.” Before the uncle can respond the Old Man holds up his hand. “Just hear me out. I’ve made a decision. It’s going to make your life a lot easier from now on.” He stops his pacing and grasps the back of the ornate chair behind the desk. “We may as well sit down,” he says as he pulls it out.

Seeing the young man hesitate he says: “You too my boy. Whether you like it or not, you are in this as well. Your message doesn’t seem to be getting through any more and we need to work out what we are going to do about that. But first there’s this Christmas business. It was supposed to be a celebration of your birth. But thanks to your bumbling, Nicholas, it has gone horribly wrong. What happened? How did a tradition that was meant to be about ensuring the poor got their share of the harvest end up as a colossal orgy of self indulgence? If I didn’t know better, Nicholas, I would accuse you of working for the other lot.”

Nicholas splutters and the Old Man raises his hand again. “I’m not saying you are in the pay of the rival firm, although I do have serious doubts about that crowd Amazon you’ve given the sub-contract to. But whatever is going on, be it naivete on your part or something else, you are obviously not on top of the job anymore and you have to admit he is winning.”

“I know, I know.” Nicholas is evidently chastened by the Old Man’s criticism. “I was just saying to the boy here how the demands of this latest crop of children have become harder and harder to satisfy.”

“Exactly. And it has to stop.”

There is a stunned silence in the room. Eventually Nicholas speaks in a quiet voice that is full of sadness. “You know, I can remember,” he pauses, turning to the young man as he adds: “and this is something you will appreciate from your days as a carpenter. I remember how fathers would make things for their children. Doll’s houses, rocking horses, simple models of grown up things like wheel-barrows, locomotives or motor cars. The cleverer ones would fashion toy animals. Mothers knitted and sewed making dolls for the girls and fair-isle pullovers for their husbands and sons. And they made cakes, pies and puddings involving the whole family in the mixing. The whole season was a great occasion. In those days I got so much pleasure from our work. Collecting all those lovingly crafted objects brought joy and wonder to my heart and, I am certain, to the children for whom they were intended.”

The Old Man looks at his son who has been fidgeting uncomfortably as Nicholas was speaking, finally pressing his hands between his knees to keep them still, ringlets of the long hair hanging in front of his face. “See what I mean? Your message. Just not getting through, is it?”

The young man raises his head, flicks his hair back, brushes a tear from his cheek. “Evidently not. But what can we do?”

The Old Man grasps the edge of the desk with both hands and leans forward. “There is only one solution as I see it. Nicholas, you are looking very tired these days, jaded. I think you should take some time off. I am cancelling Christmas.”

Nicholas and his nephew emit horrified gasps and the Old Man lets go of the desk and leans back in his chair. “Think about it,” he continues. “It will give you a break, a few years sabbatical if you like, a chance to take a well earned rest. The boy and I will spend the next while sorting things out, getting the business back on track. Then, in a century or so, we can think about bringing you back on board, helping people celebrate Christmas as it was meant to be.” He leans forward extending his right arm its forefinger pointing directly at the young man’s uncle. “Meanwhile Nicholas,” he says, “You’re fired!”

Don’t be Scared of Print

If you are someone who feels daunted by what you see as the difficulty of uploading a book to Amazon’s CreateSpace for print publication, don’t be. I’ve just done it for the second time and it was a lot easier than the first. Here’s why.

The first time was back in the summer of 2014 and I am certain that some of the features that made it easier this time around were not present then. Like the step where, having uploaded your interior text you wait for 24 hours to receive an e-mail with a link to the converted text as it will appear in print. You can page through to see if it is formatted exactly the way you want it. This file is ‘read only’ but you can save it to your hard drive as an editable file and make the changes you want. Then, when you go back into the CreateSpace process you can upload this file as your new interior. You can repeat this step as many times as you need. I did it twice.

Virtual proof

Last time around, when the process was completed I had to purchase a printed proof copy, which took about a month to arrive, before approving the file for publication. Now an on-line proofing step has been provided. You simply download a virtual copy of your book, complete with cover, that you can page through for a final check of formatting. It is a good idea, at this stage, to do a final read through, checking for typos missed during earlier editing sessions – believe me, there will be some! CreateSpace offers you the option of downloading a pdf version of your interior file to make this easier.

If, at this stage, you find things you need to change you can go back to that file you saved in the earlier step, make the changes and return to the step where you upload the revised file. All this means that there are plenty of opportunities for getting your book exactly the way you want it, without having to wait for a printed proof.

Cover design

It’s not just the process for uploading and correcting the interior file that has got better. Cover design, too, is a lot less bothersome than I remember from the first time I did it. Of course, you can use a professional design service, and Amazon have an extensive list of associates whose services you can purchase. However, if you choose to use a template from the CreateSpace library, the variety of designs available is much more extensive than I remember from 2014. For those templates that include space for an image, you still have the option of uploading your own, or you can choose from a large selection of images also available in the CreateSpace library.

Once you have chosen a template, the process takes you step by step through the insertion of title, sub-title, author and two sets of back cover text (this is where you insert your carefully crafted blurb to make your book irresistible to readers!). Each step can be omitted should you so choose. For example, a novel does not generally have a sub-title. Many front covers do, however, have a key phrase or two to tell readers what to expect. It might be something like “from the award winning author of (your last book)”, or a succinct expression of the challenge facing your protagonists. Don’t waste the opportunity to use the sub-title panel for that important purpose.

The value of editing

It is well worth spending time getting all of this right. But it is also vital that your text is fully edited and corrected before you commit it to print or digital publication.

Note: I provide above a link to the editing service I used for Transgression. I found it’s proprietor, Eamon O’Cleireigh, to be a valuable partner in the process of improving my book. There are, of course, many other providers of such services and you would be well advised to shop around in order to find someone who suits your particular needs.

Publishing Dilemma: Trad or Indie?

As I continue to perfect the manuscript of Transgression, with the superb support of my editor, Eamon O’Cleirigh, I am in a quandary about how to get it published. Should I continue to use the independent route or seek a traditional publisher?

My first three novels were published at Smashwords and Amazon Kindle. For the third I also used Amazon’s CreateSpace option to offer a print-on-demand paper-back version. The problem is that very few people know my books are there. I try to promote them via Facebook and, over recent weeks, Twitter. But I have only a handful of followers so I can’t overdo it for fear of losing them.

Indie Book Promoters

It’s a problem that all indie authors face. There are dozens of websites that will, for a fee, post about your book to their claimed list of thousands of followers. Except that I suspect most of those followers are other writers trying to sell their books. The same goes for sites that offer reviews, either paid for or in exchange for you reviewing the books of other users of the service. And then there are organisations that provide a full promotion service, including targeted press releases. I can’t help wondering just how effective these are when the ‘product’ is a book by an unknown author.

Traditional agents and publishers have two massive advantages: contacts and reputation. Some of those contacts may well be people or organisations that get to see my tweets and the tweets of the indie book promotion folks. The point is that all of them are much more likely to be influenced by a tweet from Penguin or one of the Hachette imprints than they will be by one from me or an indie book promoter.

Reviews

That’s true, also, for reviews. The traditional publishers can send a book to the literature editors of national and international media organisations and be certain the book will be read and a review published where it will be seen by hundreds of thousands of potential readers. Why would anyone not want that level of endorsement?

And that’s without the added impact of seeing piles of hard-back books in bookstore displays.

Age matters

I can’t speak for the hundreds of thousands of authors using the independent publishing route. For me, the most significant factor is age. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that agents and traditional publishers are unfairly ageist. But I can see how their criteria for taking on a new writer must include the prospect of longevity in the relationship. They are looking, not just at the potential income from the one book they are assessing, but the promise of decades of steady earnings as the author matures and develops, producing a succession of works that, whilst they may not all become best-sellers, will be well received generating significant sales volume over time. At 73, going on 74, that’s something I can’t offer.

My age influences my decision in another way. The process involved in the traditional publishing route takes a long time. You spend months seeking an agent; if you’re lucky enough to find one he or she spends many more weeks or months finding a publisher. That publisher has a schedule, a pipeline of launches extending forwards over many more months. So the timescale from submission to publication is unlikely to be much less than two years and could be considerably more. I can’t wait that long. I want my book available to readers as soon as I am satisfied it is as good as it can be.

The answer, it seems to me, is to hedge my bets. We have all heard the stories of independently published books that have been picked up by a traditional publisher: the Grey phenomenon is not unique, although it is the most notoriously successful. So there cannot be any harm in going ahead and publishing at Smashwords, Kindle and CreateSpace whilst also pitching it to agents.

Meanwhile, I need an eye-catching cover design that captures the book’s theme. And if anyone reading this wants to share their experience of independent or traditional publishing they are welcome to do so by commenting below.