Readers judge books by their covers, and then, ultimately, the writing…but not just the writing. A book is an entire set of attributes – a bundle, if you will, of qualities and characteristics, one of which is the story and writing, another of which is the cover, and another of which is…the formatting.
Formatting, you say incredulously? How hard can that be? A monkey could do it!
Not really. When a reader gets a book, if it’s horribly formatted, or even just marginally formatted, the reader will deduct points, consciously or not, for what appears to be a shoddy product. Irregular spacing, non-justified text, oversized indents, changing or inconsistent font sizes, no TOC or NCX (navigation control without returning to the ToC). My motto is, give the readers what they want. Not a bad one for you to adopt, if you’re an author trying to make it.
I could go on and on, but the truth is that I don’t want to. I’m not an expert at formatting. I hire a guy to do that for me. He’s a specialist, and knows how to provide readers with a smooth experience, in a traditional publishing house style, no matter what device they read on. I spend my time writing. That’s what I do best. I pay him a few bucks, and he fixes my manuscript so that it’s ready for prime time.
NEW INTERVIEW: A must read new interview with Ryan Schneider on JET, writing, craft. 10 Questions.
NEWS: A brilliant new book review for JET by Kate’s Reads and The Kindle Book Review! Nice!
That’s an intelligent division of labor. I delegate the things I don’t have time or interest in becoming adept at, so that I can devote my time to the things I’ll get the highest return from. Seems simple to me. Money value of my time/time value of my money.
And yet, I see countless indie authors skipping this critical step, and half-assing their novel into the world. Which lends an air of mediocrity to an otherwise presumably decent book.
It’s mind-blowing to me how many will take something they worked on for many months, and then skip the step that makes it look professional. And to save, what, $75 or so? (I know, I know, you can get “formatting” done for half that and up, but it looks it. Many “formatted” books look like garbage – what most authors don’t realize is that the cheapo formatters are generally giving them nothing more than heading tags and a quick conversion of whatever they receive – in other words the fastest and easiest job possible, regardless of how the finished product comes out.) Does that make a lot of sense? Better to find someone who cares about the end result and spends time formatting your MS before converting it to mobi – the only way to upload your book to Amazon if you want the preview to look as good as the book itself. Yes, I’m aware you can just upload a word doc or an htm, but it’s a poor idea. Very poor.
I routinely read author forum comments and receive e-mails from other authors to the effect of, “I can’t afford proper editing or professional covers or good formatting,” usually in the same breath as bemoaning that they aren’t selling squat. Hmmm. I wonder if there’s a correlation between paying for a top notch product and packaging, and readers feeling they’re receiving good value, and thus being happier? Crazy idea, I know. It’s a shame, because I’ve found there are no shortcuts. None. The reason the big publishers spend money on those things is because it creates a superior product, and they recognize they’re in a highly-competitive game, so every edge they can get, matters.
The mistake I see many newbies making is to believe that the editing, packaging and formatting doesn’t matter. It’s akin to a software engineer, who can’t understand why his home-grown software isn’t selling, when the slickly-produced, finely-tuned offerings of the big companies are. Guess what? It’s more than just the content. It’s the whole shooting match that adds up to the reader’s experience. Authors who think they can skip any of these items are going to be part of the 99% that don’t make any money publishing. That simple. There may be exceptions, but my hunch is, not many, and not for very long.
Now for some gratuitous pimping. My formatter/converter is firstname.lastname@example.org – he’s done all my books, and I’m nothing but happy. If you are smart, you’ll use him or someone like him.
My advice for my fellow authors is to pay attention to this seemingly small stuff. It’s all cumulative, and it all matters. And I want you to make it. The more indies who are doing well and putting quality product out there, the more viable the indie business will grow. The more dross and poorly-edited, poorly formatted screeds clutter the market, the worse for us all.
End of sermon.
And finally, a bit of shameless self-promotion. How could it be a Blake blog without a little of that? First, I’m on track to hit my goal of 100K books sold in 2012. And probably 350K more given away from free promotions. That’s an amazing number to me, and if you had asked at the start of the year what sales would be, I would have been surprised and delighted at a quarter of that.
The JET series is surpassing my wildest aspirations (OK, a bit of an exaggeration, because I can sure as hell dream pretty big) and the trilogy has now sold well over 10K copies in the first six weeks, and is chugging along nicely. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about,check out book 1, JET. Just read the first 10 pages, and you’ll understand.
To everyone who bought a JET book, or all three currently out, thanks for your support. I’m hard at work on JET IV, and it should release in December, just in time for the elves to get it to your kindle or nook or whatever you read on these days. Oh, and that reminds me, I finally got off my dead A and published all my books hard copy, so if you want to pay way too much and kill a bunch of trees, you know how to do it. Perhaps buy the entire Russell Blake library for that loved one, or the hot guy or gal you hope to have your way with at the Xmas party, or whatnot. Just an idea.
Oh, and finally, if you want an idea of what the JET book trailer should be like, without me having to spend a million bucks making it, check out this clip and ignore the computer in the mix. If this doesn’t give you an idea of what reading JET is like, nothing will. And it does make you wonder – are Lenovo execs fans of JET? Stranger things have happened…