• 100 Influential Idahoans 2015
You can find it all here in the Pacific Northwest - much of the nation's most beautiful places, some appallingly trashed-out areas; politics running from just about as far left to just about as far right as anywhere in the country; economies of all sorts from the highly prosperous to the dying. It's all here.
 

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Just got the box of Camping Idaho (2nd edition) author-copy books from Rowman Littlefield, via UPS. Always a nice feeling when the books show up.

The first edition came out about a dozen years ago. I did most of the work on this new edition last year. Good to have it updated.

This is one of four titles I’ve done for Rowman Littlefield (aka Globe Pequot). All but the most recent (the Idaho jerks book) have now gone to second edition.

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You’ve probably heard how most Indie authors now use something called “print on demand” that can make the printing process fast and inexpensive.

But how exactly does that work?   Let’s walk through it step by step.

Print on Demand Services

Many businesses—even some older, traditional printers—now offer digital (electronic) book printing, called  “print on demand” which allows as little as a single book to be printed to order.  Two companies dominate the field, partly because of their corporate connections.  CreateSpace is a subsidiary of Amazon.com, and working with Amazon through CreateSpace is not only seamless but has financial advantages.  IngramSpark is part of the Ingram Content Group, which among other things is the leading wholesaler for bookstores in the United States (more about IngramSpark here).  Both are customer-friendly and have good support services.  The distinctive advantages of CS and IS complement each other enough that I have sometimes used both to print a particular book title.

What follows is how an indie author can print a normal paperback book with a black and white interior.  As with most things, the details can become more complicated if you want extra features.  Here, I’ll mostly follow the basic CreateSpace process, but IngramSpark’s is similar.

The first thing you do at CreateSpace (or IngramSpark) is set up an account—you’ll see a tab suggesting this on the main page.  This setup is much like signing up with other web sites, from Facebook to PayPal, but you’ll need your credit card and shipping address information ready when you go there.  Later you’ll be ordering books and CS will need those instructions.

Before you do anything else at CreateSpace, get an ISBN number, probably from Bowker (though there are other options), and place it in your book on the verso page (after the title page) and on the back cover.

Then, when you think your book is ready to print—after it’s been edited and designed and other preliminary work is done—export your Word or other files into PDF files.  You’ll need one file for the book cover and a separate one for the interior.  These are what you’ll send to CreateSpace.

Data and Decisions

When you set up a CreateSpace account, you were given a “member dashboard,” which includes a list of “my projects”, which will be empty at first.  Next to it you’ll see a button saying “add new title,” and you begin the print-on-demand process by clicking it.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for BookWorks.com

From this point, working through several pages of forms, you’ll mainly be asked to supply information or make decisions.  Allow an hour, maybe a little more, to do this.

You’ll type in the name of the project—the title of the book—and whether this “project” is a paperback book, an audio CD, a DVD or a video download.  (CreateSpace produces all of these.)  You can take the book setup speedily through either an “expert” or “guided” process.  The guided approach takes a little longer, but you’ll be less likely to make mistakes.

You provide the book title and subtitle (if there is one), a book description, the names of the author(s) or editor(s) (whether just one or more than one), and the publication language and date.  You’ll be asked the “trim size” of the book—that is, it’s height and width, such as 6 x 9, or 8.5 by 11 inches.  If your book is part of a series, even a planned series, you can note that too.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for BookWorks.com

You’ll be asked for an ISBN number, which you should already have.  (Its validity will be checked.)  You’ll also have to set your book’s list price.

You will choose whether your interior book pages can “bleed”—that is, whether pictures or other items on a page can run all the way off the page, or whether everything must be contained within a margin.  (Most of the time, unless you have some expertise or special reasons, you’ll probably want a margin.)  You also can choose between a glossy or matte cover finish.

Then you’ll be asked to upload your cover and interior PDF files.  A button you click lets you find those files on your computer, and select them.  When they’re fully received by CreateSpace, they’ll get an immediate automated review for any basic errors that either would interfere with publication, or could cause printing issues.  Some of these errors must be corrected before the book can be printed.  Others are relatively minor and need not hold up the book.  I have from time to time, for example, run pictures of quality low enough that CS flagged them for warning, but they still printed well enough.

After the automated review of the cover and interior, actual humans also review the interior file of the book for any problem areas.  This can take a day or even longer, though usually I have gotten responses back more quickly.

If you’re told corrections are needed, you’ll need to go back to your cover or interior file and make the needed changes, then send a new (corrected) file to replace the old one, and go through the review process again.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for BookWorks.com

Once CreateSpace has printable files from you, you’ll hit a page called “channels,” where you decide how your book will be distributed.  CreateSpace offers options including the Amazon store (automatically set up there through a one- button click), direct sales through CreateSpace (where you buy your own copies of the book at lower cost) and bookstore and library distribution.  IngramSpark has its own set of distribution options.

After that your book is live—available, at least within a few hours, to the world.

Does some of that walk-through the process raise brand new questions for you?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  Let me know what they are, and they might become the subject of another post here soon.

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Some book marketing tools reside in the shadows, little-observed and not heavily used by Indie authors who could easily take advantage of them.

Kindle Instant Previews belongs in that category.

Do You Know About Kindle Instant Previews?

Originally launched as Kindle for the Web (in beta) in September 2010, has since evolved and became available as a mobile app called “Kindle Instant Previews” in 2015, that allows readers to read and share (and hopefully, purchase) eBook samples on their own devices.  Although it appears on a vast number of pages on the Amazon.com site, only in recent weeks have I spotted any widespread discussion of the mobile tool in a number of writing and publishing web sites, along with considerable author surprise that it exists.

What is this tool?

It’s a lot like one you’ve almost certainly seen and used on most Amazon.com book pages.  Toward the upper left of the book’s page you’ll see the familiar “Look Inside” feature.  When you click there, you get a new preview window that offers a look at the first several pages pages inside the book, giving you a sense of what the book contains and how it is written.  Numerous studies have shown that books including the “Look Inside” feature, which is a free promotional tool for many of the books sold on Amazon, (authors have the choice of enabling it or not) sell better than those without it.

But that’s old news; you probably know “Look Inside” has been around on Amazon for many years.

What you may not know is that you can post a similar “Look Inside” for your book on your own website, or other relevant websites.

How to Post a Preview

Amazon does not discourage this.  It calls these features “Kindle Instant Previews,” and makes them easy to install. Here’s how they work:

On your book’s Amazon page (make sure that a Kindle version is offered), look on the right-hand side for the “share” social media icons: email, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  Next to those you should see a mysterious and unexplained bracketed link, “<Embed>”.   If you click on this, you’ll go to a page that lets you “share or embed a free Kindle book preview.”  (Be aware: It is highly browser-sensitive, and you may get an error message if you try opening it while using an older version of Explorer, Firefox, Chrome or another browser.  If you have trouble, try using a different browser, or refresh your browser and clear the cache and cookies.)kindle instant previews tool

When you do open that “embed” page, you can get a URL link to the preview, or generate an embeddable code, like the “Buy Now” website codes PayPal uses.  With that URL or code in hand, go back to the web page where you’d like to place them, and paste either the URL or the embed code there.

That will let you offer prospective readers an Amazon-like preview on your own site.

On its descriptive web page, Amazon noted: “Kindle Instant Previews can be embedded on the web or shared as a link via email, text and other favorite apps. Anyone can start reading the preview for free by clicking on the link.”

It cited benefits including, “Free content to keep traffic on your site; Free access to a sample of the book; Adjustable font sizes for the readers’ comfort; Direct link to book purchase from Amazon.”

If you’ve signed up with the Amazon Associates program, you may be able to make some additional money through it when people click on your preview.

I’ve tried it, and you can see the result yourself for the embedded code on one of my web pages.  After experimenting a bit, I concluded that the URL might be the more useful option for other books, but your preferences could differ.

I’ve looked but haven’t yet found a similar preview service from other online retailers.  Don’t be surprised, however, if one or more of them eventually turns up.

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It’s no mistake that one of the top forums (on Yahoo) for mystery writers is called Murder Must Advertise.  Book advertising belongs in a fiction writer’s marketing toolbox.

You’ll see ads for fiction in the review pages of the New York Times and some national magazines, but purchasing those ads is a high-priced and broad-based way to promote a book.  Indie authors need something lower priced and more tightly focused.

Fiction Book Advertising on the Webadvertising

Advertising that works effectively for indie fiction writers, without breaking the bank, mostly falls into two categories: book promotional web sites and social media.

Among the book promotion sites (with their associated services), probably none comes more strongly touted among both indie and traditional authors than BookBub.   Each day it sends out targeted emails to thousands of readers (I’m one of them), listing book bargains with prices up to $2.99.  Many authors have reported big spikes in sales after their book appears in BookBub.

Authors can easily and without cost, submit their books for consideration there, but acceptance is a steep climb.  BookBub’s standards are stringent, and even many well-established traditional authors have seen repeated rejections from BookBub.  If your book is approved, be prepared to pay substantial fees, which vary by genre and by book price.  The most costly currently is “crime fiction,” with 3.3 million subscribers; a book in that category priced at “free” will cost $470 for placement, and a $2.99 book, $2,350.  (BookBub said that the average number of non-free books sold in that “crime fiction” category as a result of the listing is 3,930.)   The lowest ad rate is $40 for a “humor” book priced for free.bookbub

Many young adult and adult fiction authors reported good results with the popular Midlist, which operated in some ways like BookBub.  In October, the big publisher HarperCollins bought it, and Midlist, at least under its old name, apparently has vanished from the web.

The firm that sold it, Libboo, is still active, however, and now offers an innovative tool for free eBook giveaways called Instafreebie.  It integrates directly with the author’s email list . Basic service is free with more options available in plans for $40 or $50 per month.

Another popular book promotion service is Ereader News Today, which like BookBub charges varied rates (according to genre and book price) for a spot in its newsletter.  There’s also a more expensive, and higher visibility, book-of-the-month program.  That monthly program is popular enough that all spots available for the first quarter of 2016 have already sold out.

The Ereader Cafe, which also leans heavily toward fiction and has some similarities to the News Today, has a $35 program for book-of-the-day.

If the cost of book advertising on these sites seem roughly in your ballpark but not quite the right fit, there are plenty more to check out, including several that have yielded good responses from authors.  The Fussy Librarian (which matches people and books something like a dating service) lists eBooks only, and charges relatively low listing prices (but again, these vary by genre).  Robin Reads, which offers a $30 package, has loaded its site with statistical information about exactly what kinds of readers frequent it and what those readers look for.

These book promotion sites allow fiction writers to hone in on readers looking for books in their specific genres, which is helpful.  Social media, used carefully, can offer even more precise targeting.

Fiction Book Advertising on Social Media

“The best advertising is word-of-mouth, reader-to-reader, friend-to-friend,”  BookWorks contributor Carla King pointed out, and that is where social media shines.

Not only Facebook, but most other social media, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat, offer targeted advertising options.  They usually scale widely, and can be inexpensive at the low-entry level.

aer.ioA $99 investment in the socially-connected and mobile friendly Aer.io Flyer service to deliver samples and run giveaways can really give your book a boost,” King said.  “The service is so good, it was recently purchased by Ingram as I mentioned in my year-end piece for MediaShift.”

I also like Facebook ads. They’re very inexpensive and you can target particular audiences. An IBPA (Independent Book Publishing Association) membership gives you access to their marketing programs, which will advertise your book in periodic theme- or target market-based IBPA Cooperative Catalogs for bookstore buyers, librarians, and book reviewers and IBPA Trade Show Exhibits for domestic and international trade show participation.” (Note that BookWorks offers a discount on IBPA membership to our premium subscribers).

When other forms of book promotion aren’t quite enough to generate strong sales for your book, carefully chosen advertising in book promotion sites and social media can help.

Next: Book advertising for nonfiction indie authors/self-publishers.

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If you think of Amazon’s book categories – all books on Amazon.com are placed into subject categories – as either crowded or lightly populated, where would you prefer your book to be?  The answer may not be as obvious as you think.  You’ll find more customers in the fast lane, which is where the highest-ranked (for popularity) books can be found, but your book may be lost in the crowd there.  The reverse is also true: there are fewer readers in the less-populated categories, but your book is more likely to stand out there.  If you’re not an established author, standing out is probably essential to selling your book.

stand+out+from+the+crowd+illuminatedMany readers scan the categories as they search for books to buy, and Amazon helps them by listing the 100 top selling (or, at least, ranking) books in each category.  The books toward the top of those lists get the most attention.  That also means getting your book toward the top of one of those lists is a brilliant marketing move.

If you can get your book to number one on a list, you can use that as a promotional talking point, describing your book as “number one on Amazon” (explaining somewhere that this was a category record).  You may gain sales simply by hitting the upper reaches of a category.

The most and least popular categories should come as little surprise if you’ve examined the books on offer at a bookstore or even a supermarket.

The top popular category, persistently (the rankings change a little over time), is Romance ->Contemporary.  Most of the rest of the top ten are romance categories too, and moving down the list you find mystery, fantasy, young adult, science fiction and, after a while, general literary fiction.  This is partly because there are fewer fiction categories than nonfiction, but it also reflects fiction’s popularity.

The least popular categories tend to be technical and scientific, and nonfiction.  When TCK Publishing.com earlier this year put together a list of the most competitive and least-competitive categories, it said this was the least competitive of all: “Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy.”

You can find opportunity here if you discover which categories relevant to your book are more or less popular, and then get your book placed in those which give it the most visibility.

How can you easily tell which categories are more popular?  Look at the entry for the book which is number 1 in the category and scroll down to find its “Amazon Best Sellers Rank,” which is its ranking among all Amazon books.  If you compare that ranking for the books most popular in various categories, you can easily see how competitive the category is – and how easy or difficult it may be to rise toward the top in that category.

Amazon automatically assigns categories to books, but you may be able to change those selections.  If you want to change your category – which is often possible – you may be able to improve your rank, even if you’re not selling more books.  And simply changing your ranking (through getting into a less-competitive category) may make your book more visible, which in turn could lead to selling more books.  Moving your book to a category that doesn’t match it would be a bad move, whatever the statistics.  But more than one category may reasonably match your book.

What if you’re writing fiction, where so many of the categories are crowded?  Look into the subcategories, and consider aiming for a place two or three levels down from the top.books cropIf the available categories don’t include the one you want, pick Non-Classifiable and look at the bottom of the page for the Contact Us link.  There, you can advise Amazon which category you think is best for the book.  Amazon will not add a category to accommodate you, but generally it will shift books between existing categories upon receiving a (reasonable) request.

Anthony Wessel, who published a 30-page book about his father, shared online a part-amusing, part-inspiring story about the power of categories.

“Recently I took this book (not really a book – sold one copy – to myself) and went through the process of putting it into categories. I contacted Amazon and told them how I wanted my book categorized. They responded twice within 6 hours each time. ‘One Minute Washington D.C. Travel Stories’ is now an Amazon Bestseller – in a very small category. I used 2 of my KDP select free days. Promoted it on our The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List. Gave away 251 copies. Initial rank was 756,256. After my free days it reached an overall rank of 244,849.”

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Crossing the Snake, the collection of Randy Stapilus columns about Idaho over the last decade, is now published, and we’re highlighting it with a tour around northern Idaho this coming week.

A tour around southern Idaho will follow a few weeks after that.

We’ll be stopping by Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, St. Maries, Moscow, and Lewiston, from Monday through Wednesday.

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We’ve made a few low-key mentions about it, but now we’re running it out formally – our new eBook, The Stuck Pendulum, about Idaho’s political history over the last quarter-century.

And it’s free, as you can see from this visual. Best place to immediately grab a copy for your e-reader – pretty much any e-reader – is at Smashwords.com. It’ll be up on Amazon.com too, soon, but Smashwords allows access to all readers. And the book is, for now at least, free.

A quick notes about what it is and isn’t. Although it works as a standalone book, it’s aimed mainly at readers of Paradox Politics by Randy Stapilus, a book about Idaho politics published in 1988 and covering several decades of history leading up to that point. Things have changed a lot since, and copies of Paradox continue to sell, so this book was intended to bring the story up to present. It isn’t hugely detailed or a source for a whole lot of new information for people who have been tracking the state closely in the last couple of decades; for those who have, much of what’s here will be familiar. For those who haven’t, but are interested in the subject, we think it may be helpful.

And it is, after all, free. At least for a while.

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The Stuck Pendulum page

The book Paradox Politics was written in 1987 and 1988, and published in that latter year – which, as this is written, was 27 years ago. Considering that it was intended as a current, up to the minute, review of Idaho politics and how it had gotten that way, that makes it heavily out of date now.

It’s been out a long time, but it’s not entirely forgotten. While most of its sales came in the 80s, it has sold copies ever since; Amazon has moved copies this year. That’s nice to see. What’s less easy to contemplate is that some of those people may think that Idaho politics in this new century is anything like what it was in the last one, and that would be a problem, because it isn’t. I think, generally, it holds up as a good review of the subject as of the time it was written. And I think it may have helped prompt a spate of Idaho political memoirs and biographies that cropped up in the years following.

But since then, much has changed.

Hence, The Stuck Pendulum. It’s a standalone book that also functions as an afterword – even a coda – for that earlier one, intended to bring up to date people who may have relied on Paradox for a look at Idaho politics. It doesn’t unearth a lot of secrets and not much in it will come a a big surprise to people who have followed Idaho politics in the last quarter-century or so. But for those new to the subject, or who may have wondered what has happened since 1988, I think it can be useful.

I have gotten requests from time to time for a sequel for Paradox, and it’s not just the passage of time that has increasingly made the point compelling. As the title suggests, Idaho politics, which once wandered across the political spectrum, driven by an electorate often willing to take a flyer on something different and didn’t trust anyone too damn much, has changed, locked in place, adjusting if at all only to whatever seems to be the hardest right alternative at hand.

How it got there, and especially after how it changed so drastically right after the best Idaho Democratic election year in a generation (1990), is much of the subject of The Stuck Pendulum. But there are overviews of more, of the Larry Craig incident, the fierce battles in the first congressional district and the recent splinters in the Republican Party.

For the moment, it’s priced for free, so get your copy if this sounds like your area of interest. We’ll attach a price (not a hefty one, though) a little later.

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