An Author's Professional Cheat SheetMichael James Scharen
michaelsbookcorner.comJanuary 12, 2022
This article first appeared as a guest blog for Stellar Media Club — A place for writers, authors, creators. The author is a science-fiction writer and blogger on michaelsbookcorner.com.
New authors may not know where to find useful tools for the production or promotion of their books or even where to start. Creative effort is only the beginning. First, works must be put into a presentable format. Self-published authors may be inclined to the DIY approach but unfamiliar with what is available — much of it is free. Having a comprehensive cheat sheet is very helpful in saving countless hours of research. New or even seasoned authors may find it handy or instructive in moving forward with their projects — whether each task is done personally or by enlisting others.
Over the last fourteen months, I’ve explored quite a few such items to greater or lesser degrees. This article describes applications and the reasoning behind their implementation.
Creation of E-books
E-books are packaged in specific digital formats. The Barnes & Noble Nook, and most readers, will load files in the standard format which is .epub. This format is the basis for nearly all digital books. Briefly, an e-book is a special type of .zip file containing pages for all of the chapters, contents, etc. of the book in a format called XML — a stricter version of HTML. Nook, Kindle and other readers open them just as a browser opens files on a website. The book, in a sense, is a mini website. The .epub format is easily converted to the .mobi format through other free programs for upload and conversion into Kindle’s proprietary .kpf format. It should be noted that books in a Kindle reader may not be exported but only deleted. The files exist in your Kindle account when the book is purchased on Amazon. However, one may send a .mobi file to a Kindle by attaching it to an email which is assigned to every Kindle account. This is how books are delivered to each device. Their website offers both .epub and .mobi format which is advantageous for Kindle users in that they may load or unload the book into their Kindle readers as they wish. Sigil is the best program I have found for creating an .epub. It is free and works on several platforms. Others may tell you that programs such as Calibre will do this, but the output will not be professional. Calibre is a great free reader and will convert to and from .epub, .mobi, or .pdf, but the results are what they are. There are details for successful implementation of Sigil and programs for insuring compliance for accessibility. Those require more depth than what may be offered here.There are many places to download Sigil for any platform — even my 32 bit Ubuntu machine — here.
For recording passages, chapters, taking cuts of interviews, or creating entire books, Audacity is recommended as a free and widely supported application for nearly any PC or tablet. With a few rules of thumb for editing, a professional digital recording may be produced for marketing or as a sample for publishers. This is one of many download sites for Audacity. It takes many hours to record and edit a book of say 100,000 words, so be prepared.
It is advised that authors have a web presence including at least one professional landing page for their book or books. The landing page is where you want internet search engines directing visitors to. The landing page gives information on where to purchase, a bio, and contact information for the author and whatever else one wishes to include. There are many free hosting sites where one can assemble a good looking web page or a full-fledged website including a blog or other marketing information such as videos, interviews, etc. There are many to choose from such as wordpress.com, SquareSpace, Wix, or free hosting sites such as infinityfree.net where the code may be built from the ground up. In conjunction with the website, one should consider a cached delivery network, CDN, such as cloudflare.com for free caching, routing and SSL (secure socket layer) services. If your site is an e-commerce site, then SSL security is essential. Many hosting sites will offer a variety of services including purchase of domain name. It is recommended that you also get an email address using your website domain name. This is a requirement for MailerLite email marketing service. Mail servers may route a generic email address as spam so maintaining the integrity of your address is important. If possible, check into Google Analytics, Matomo, or other website traffic indicators to fine-tune your customer base.
Additional Consideration for Web Pages
Web page code for an author, blog, or landing page should contain what is called a structured data string or rich results data. This information — not displayed — is a widely used format offered by schema.org covering everything under the sun. Schema.org also has a validator for the code string to check for errors. The format is favored by search engines such as Google — who is actively trying to co-opt the whole idea — designed specifically to pick out relevant data rather than sifting through page text or widely abused and ignored meta keyword data. The data should contain, title, author, description, a url for a thumbnail image, ISBN, etc. This information will then be accentuated in the page containing the search results. It is also one accepted format for presenting product data to Pinterest.
Another consideration made by michaelsbookcorner.com has been a migration to web pages written in Google’s AMPHTML or AMP format. Though the format is cumbersome for interactive pages, it is ideal for static sites containing just a few pages with little interaction other than hyperlinks. It was designed for news blurbs to be very fast loading. Page loading time is touted as a make-or-break metric as many users will become impatient after only a few seconds. Mobile devices also load slower than a pc on a network. Further, having Google cache the pages in their AMP Cache system can make loading even faster. Caching in multiple locations means storing a copy of the file physically closer to the user — reducing load time. One advantage of AMP is that it is more straightforward to create mobile friendly — responsive — pages. A responsive page means one in which the contents resize and rearrange themselves according to the screen dimensions and aspect ratio but remain presentable. Mobile devices account for more than half of sales! As my coding capabilities have been stretched, I’ve taken advantage of many canned responsive features such as the elegant side menu and carousel (slideshow).
To capture e-mail addresses for a newsletter or special offers, MailerLite is an excellent opt-in only service. I found this to be the best choice over MailChimp, Constant Contact, or other more well known, more expensive brands. Notably, there is a free level for those just starting out with a limited number of mailings per month but not so low as to be impractical. Editing pop-up or static promotions along with mailers is done through their site with a large degree of design freedom.
It is not as difficult as it may seem to get an interview on a podcast. Podcasters are all looking for content and an author interview is very attractive for them. Trading content — which is you and your book — for the publicity they provide is a great deal. Never pay to be on a podcast! One site for finding podcasts is matchmaker.fm. There is a free level as well as premium level. This is a wonderful repository to sift through podcasts which will match your genre, interests, or personality. There is a messaging path to contact each program displaying a desire for guests. Podcasts may even contact you first as is a recent case for this author for a program in the UK. I have interviewed with hosts in New York City, Delaware, Great Britain, and Lagos, Nigeria. Matchmaker’s free level limits the number of contacts per month, but with some effort, one can use their catalog and contact the shows outside of their channel.
Many have never heard of a book trailer before, but it is a marketing tool which can be useful for Twitter or a goodreads.com page. Most trailers are less than one minute long and quite a few are closer to thirty seconds. Originally, I made trailers which were three or four minutes long before it was pointed out that limited attention spans abound. Twitter is a good place to upload a video, but they may not be longer than one minute. This author limits them to 59 seconds. Video editing is getting easier by the day. VSDC is an excellent free resource with a reasonable learning curve. Once one gets the hang of one editor, others are easier to pick up. Another nifty little application — also free — is called Kapwing.com (Ka — Pwing) one disadvantage of kapwing.com is that the design files live in the specific browser on the computer in which it resides. VSDC design files are portable and may be used anywhere the application is installed.
Scheduled Tweets and Pinterest Pins
Though there are several paid services which will schedule a twitter.com post, anyone may do it themselves. At the bottom of the post editor where media or emojis are selected, there is a calendar icon. Promotional Tweets may be entered normally before clicking the icon to schedule the Tweet for a later date. The rule of thumb is one may send out a Tweet up to 6 times over several days with the likelihood being only 14% for anyone seeing it twice. This reduces the feeling that one is spamming on Twitter as this is really not the case. I have not tried the paid services, but it is difficult to imagine one spending any less time there than doing it as described. Allegedly, there are certain days and times when it is more beneficial for your Tweets being noticed. How the time-zone issue enters in, no one has stated. Morning weekday hours between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. are advised, but I have no hard personal proof. Twitter also has diagnostics for your Tweets — how many times viewed, demographics, etc. for study. Yes, they are keeping track. Pinterest Pins may be scheduled through tailwindapp.com — also with a free level of limited posts. Pinterest has been touted as an important venue for shoppers. The time required for constantly posting new pins may be an issue for some, and I have not researched this outlet extensively. One may also post videos on pinterest.com. Pins may be laid out quickly via canva.com or in more detail through free graphics software such as Gimp2 (which I use). The key thing to remember about the Pinterest Pin is that the dimensions need to be 1000 pixels wide by 1500 pixels high. Keep this aspect ratio in mind. One may vary from this, but I believe the format is designed more for mobile devices. Canva specifically caters to Pinterest as one of their offerings. Canva is used on your browser but stores your past media resources on their website which makes it more portable across devices than Kapwing.com.
In this blog, only a taste of many important resources has been outlined. Each one has been explored in great depth by this author through many hours of searching and experimentation. As time is extremely valuable, and resources are often limited, this reference is meant to give authors a solid starting point. The references here may serve as guidance for one’s efforts or in procuring outside services to help with the labor. As one would retain an editor or publisher, these are some of the many other considerations in any successful book launch.
Addendum: Copyright Protection
Shortly after submitting this guest blog post, I came across another gem called copyrightsworld.com. This is a modern copyright protection application based upon block-chain technology. In short, what creators may do is upload their works to copyrightsworld.com. Their system periodically scans the web for those plagiarizing your works. All kinds of references are analyzed. In a utility called #Social Protect one can provide a reference to works via social media, for example, include a hashtag #cwprotect and that will tag the posts for later web scraping in copyright disputes. CopyrightsWorld also distributes markers daily via e-mail for users to cache as part of a distributed public record. The beautiful simplicity of distributed records promoted by the block-chain concept should provide one with ample fodder for the protection of an author’s works. This is crowd-sourced protection at it’s finest!
Even better news is the extremely low cost for this fabulous service. The first 5 works may be uploaded and protected free of charge. The next tier is $56.27/year for up to 1000 items, then $211.04 for up to 5000 works. When we consider what a lawyer would charge for even ten minutes of research defending a copyright claim, this is the bargain of bargains — with far more concrete results. I only stumbled upon this service in my countless hours of YouTube and internet research and have no connection with this company. I will say that if it works as advertised, it is truly a nugget any writer should take note of.