11 November 2012 by Published in: Jet, Writing 39 comments

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 [email protected] – 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…



  1. Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 12:23 am

    Big congrats, Russell, on the huge sales numbers! Well deserved.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 12:24 am

      Thanks, Stan. Although I always have this nagging feeling that has me looking over my shoulder. Still, worth a cocktail or two to celebrate, I think!

      • Stan R. Mitchell  –  Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 12:30 am

        I’m not even close, but like everyone else, I’m gunning for ya! : )

  2. Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 8:50 am

    I could not agree more with this blog. I’ve been using Stef’s formatting service. It is excellent. Stef is the best!

  3. Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 8:50 am

    great article Russell, and congrats on the figures! I agree all too many kindle titles have slightly odd formatting that can get quite off-putting at times – unjustified text is often the most common culprit. I found a pretty good guide here for anyone who has the time, inclination or patience to do it for themselves: http://guidohenkel.com/2010/12/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting/

    but agreed – for the sake of $75 it might be worth just getting someone else to do it and concentrate on writing instead. I do like to understand the basics though, and this is a pretty good guide on how it all works.


  4. Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Hi. There is something wrong with the formatting of your website on the iPad Russell. It is showing as light brown and dark brown horizontal stripes. It changed a week ago or so, prior to that it was ok. Makes it difficult to read.

    I enjoy your books. Very good stories with a nice style of writing.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 8:36 pm

      I’ll talk to my tech guy. A buddy who helps me with that. I know even less about websites than I do about formatting ebooks.

  5. Mark
    Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Kind of off topic here but…how do you get that blue “fog” to wisp around her on your covers? Gimp? Photoshop? Ancient Chinese Secret?

    Inquiring minds and all of that. Personally I have always believed that covers should be kept simple (like yours), and solid colors like a black background (or white) do wonders for prospective eyeball continuity. The blue mist makes it POP, and even if I wasn’t a regular reader of this blog, I’d have taken a second look while browsing.

    And I surely can’t be the only one who thought “Joan Jett” when you first revealed vol. 1 🙂

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 9:21 pm

      I have powerful proprietary technology that I use for that effect.

      Meaning beats me. I had my cover designer do it. He’s a frigging magician. Truly.

      And, of course…I love Rock & Roll…

  6. yoon
    Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 9:15 pm

    The website looks fine to me on iPad…

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 1:03 am

      Ooooh. We have dissension. I love that. Oil wrestling to figure out who’s right!

      • yoon  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 9:34 pm

        You know, you make me want to say your site looks like crap just to make you change the theme. Not a big fan of anything with nonwhite background myself.

        • Russell Blake  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 9:47 pm

          Don’t be that way. People love my site. I get all sorts of fan mail and untoward propositions because of it. Really. I’m serious. Mostly. It could happen.

          • yoon  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 9:58 pm

            I know I’m particular about it. My eyes don’t like reading something anything other than white background. It’s one of the reasons I’ve mostly read kindle books on kindle apps on my lappy or iPad or phone instead of Kindle itself until Kindle Paperwhite. I heart Kindle Paperwhite.

          • Russell Blake  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 10:26 pm

            I just got a paperwhite, and it does rock. But alas, to do my proofing, I still have to use the old one because the keyboard is sort of essential. The touch screen keyboard doesn’t do it for me. Meh.

          • yoon  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 10:47 pm

            Did you get a case for paperwhite? I’m looking to get one, and I want to know if amazon’s “official” case is worth the money.

          • Russell Blake  –  Wed 14th Nov 2012 at 12:02 am

            I’m waiting for it to arrive. The case. Not so easy getting stuff here in Mexico. Other than tequila, beer and tacos. Not that I’m complaining.

    • ijay  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 6:19 pm

      What version of iOS are you using? I’m on 6.0.1. I don’t know if it changed when I updated but it looks weird now.

      • yoon  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 9:33 pm

        6.0.1 as well. I see those stripes while the site is loading from time to time, but they go away when it’s completely loaded.

  7. Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Dude, congrats on those numbers; well deserved, you’ve worked hard to get them.

    Have a bottle of red, and take a day off.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 13th Nov 2012 at 10:25 pm

      Well, perhaps the bottle of red. With my current commitment to my editor and publishing schedule, I won’t be resting till mid-December. Something about a holiday around then. But after that, I’m taking at least…a few weeks off!!!

      Thanks, my friend. It ain’t over till it’s over. Or that damned fat lady starts bellowing again…

  8. Thu 15th Nov 2012 at 10:32 pm

    @yoon – I heart the kindle paperwhite too and I got the case and it’s great. Not much bigger then the paperwhite, and cover protects screen and turns kindle on and off when you open and close it.

    @Russell I’m giving your cover designer a try :0 Thanks!

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 16th Nov 2012 at 12:23 am

      I think you’ll be pleased. I always am. And the best thing is he’ll do as many revs as it takes to get it right. He did RS Guthrie’s Blood Land and his forthcoming Money Land, too. He’s ecstatic.

  9. Mark
    Fri 16th Nov 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Just a question about this part:

    “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”

    Did I read that correctly? That 99% of publishers don’t make any money? Are you talking self-pubbers here or including traditional ones as well? Why do you believe this?

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 16th Nov 2012 at 9:35 pm

      Ahem. “Authors” who think they can skip…any money publishing.”

      So not 99% of publishers.

      Publishers generally make plenty of money, although not lately, as they fail to respond in a timely manner to technological changes.

      Most traditionally-published authors fail to ever make back their advances, which average a paltry $5K or so nowadays. Most self-published authors fail to make any money, as well. Not surprisingly. There are around, what, 2 million books on Amazon now? Maybe more? And I recently heard at least a million authors. If ten thousand of them ever make any money (to make money, you have to deduct the cost of production and editing – never mind all the time you invest) doing this, I’d be very, very surprised. Read the forums. Most participants are selling 1 book here, 2 there. It’s just the nature of the beast. More so now that there is no real filter between the slush pile and the reader.

  10. Fri 16th Nov 2012 at 10:23 pm

    I think Russell is being generous with his 1%. I’d reckon that the figure would be closer to 1 in 1,000 authors actually makes enough money to live on. This would apply to all authors irrespective of how they are published.
    In terms of making a “living wage” I’m not talking about the likes of Hocking, Konrath, et al, I am talking about the Blakes, Nicholson’s and a few other people I know who sell enough books to make a living. Traditionally published authors that I “speak” with regularly talk of a good advance being in the region of 40K for a three book series – where they are locked in to producing those three books over three years i.e. a book a year. The majority of those advances (mainly due to publisher’s marketing efforts or lack of them), will not earn out there advance. ALL of the trad pubbed authors I know, have a “day job” to enable them to pursue their true vocation – writing.
    I would say I am a good example; I have two books finished and selling reasonably well – they earn about USD1,000, after taxes which the US government takes (via Amazon) at source. The investment in those books has now repaid itself and they are in the back; however to get to a living wage – I either need one of the books to “go viral” – or write another ten books. It takes me a year to write a book (with my other commitments this is what is possible for me); which means that, providing all things remain equal for a decade or so, I should reach a living wage sometime in 2022. Just my .02….

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 17th Nov 2012 at 2:06 am

      Live on? I said make any money at all, after costs, excluding their time. If you want to factor in their time at minimum wage in the U.S.? Maybe one in 10,000.

      Sad? If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

      That you’re seeing a grand a month from two books puts you in rarefied air indeed, my friend. Fortunately, you’re only in it for the glamor and the chicks.

      We both ran the same equation. That’s why I’ve bout out 17 books in not quite as many months. The math doesn’t really change.

      I still owe you a visit. Perhaps next year. This year was spent behind the keyboard. Blech.

  11. Sat 17th Nov 2012 at 2:24 am

    Fair ’nuff. Yes, looking forward to your visit – add Laos to the plan – I’ve booked the clowns and the pole dancers – waiting on a clearer date before starting to bribe officialdom.

    The big move for me was upping prices as per your excellent suggestion – sales went up – go figure (although it makes sense once you move out of commodity mentality). That, and of course Select – which, although as we know is dwindling in its effectiveness, is still the best way of getting a little surge.

    And of course it varies – this month currently at 350, but have just dumped some bucks into local Bangkok web sites and expect to see a return on that investment – low cost to buy banners on well trafficked web sites for a month.

    I have a long term view on all of this; based around the idea that I love writing stories so I’m going to do it anyway.

    I totally agree on what you say regarding investment in your product – no surprises there. Also as I mentioned to you previously, I just went into print, and that has opened doors into bookstores here in Bangkok – which should be interesting. Of course, getting ready for print I dropped another $500-00 or so on Bangkok Burn – print formatting, back cover etc – it’ll pay off long term.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 17th Nov 2012 at 10:39 am

      Simon, I’m doing the same thing right now. Try doing it on 17 novels if you want sticker shock. But it has to be done. Just another step, and I’ll ultimately see a ROI, even if I’m in diapers by then (come to think of it, that might be within the next 48 hours, at the rate I’m going. Maybe I should be already. Maybe I’ll pay extra to someone to help me with em. Never mind.).

  12. Robert Jones
    Sat 17th Nov 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Once again, coming from an art background, I’m reminded what a smart teacher told me early on…presentation is 9/10ths of the law. Why people feel the packaging of a book should be any different than any of the other art forms is beyond me. One can also sum up the importance of formatting by mentioning the fact that in the trad. publishing world, putting your manuscript in an incorrect format (including such things as bold faced type, incorrect margins, and spacing ) can get your manuscript rejected before it is even read.

    Correct formatting of almost any form of the arts is considered to be pretty much like an entry level exam. The facts might seem picky to some, who may believe they have a great story to tell…and maybe they do. But do you really want to look like the person who hasn’t even looked up the entry level basics?

    If you have hopes of getting picked up by a trad. publisher, this is mandatory stuff. And the information is in almost every book on writing ever written. Which is exactly why it gets people rejected…because it looks like a would-be writer hasn’t even cracked his first book on craft. And this happens more than you would think throughout the entire entertainment industry. Correct formatting is a crucial part of learning the lingo that gets you through the front door.

    As for people who just want a good read, A.K.A. you audience, they too are used to things looking and feeling a certain way. Imagine picking a book off the shelf at a local book store and seeing pages filled with blocks of type. No white space on the pages, no indents. Just words. It would look like a tedious read, right? And all the other little seemingly insignificant differences that you believe no one will notice, or care about, become potential stopping places in your story where the narrative flow may be interrupted while the reader is wondering why you didn’t do things in the manner they’ve become accustomed to.

    And, as a writer, you don’t want anything to come between the reader and the experience of your story. Boredom equals death. So why shot yourself in the foot when it comes to basic stuff like this? If you can’t even run, you’ll never fly.

    ‘Nuff said 🙂

  13. Mon 19th Nov 2012 at 11:08 am

    I couldn’t agree more with Russell on the formatting. I used to do this myself and it looked like shit. No exaggeration. I still managed to sell pretty well, but I think this should be the starting point for any entry onto the indie scene. There are simply too many books out there to not have a standout. I use the same formatter as Russell. He’s incredibly intuitive and a downright perfectionist. Well worth the money, plus, he’s a pleasure to work with.

    I liked the Lenovo commercial. The only thing missing was about fifty gallons of blood. JET is a powerful series.

  14. Tue 20th Nov 2012 at 1:34 am

    I like your writing. I haven’t read your books yet; I’m basing my opinion on this post. You’ve got spark.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 20th Nov 2012 at 10:38 am

      Read just the first 10 pages of my new one, JET, if you wanna see some spark!

  15. Thu 22nd Nov 2012 at 1:27 am

    Happy Thanksgiving, Russell. You are the equivalent of what happens when rabbits get together–massive production! You spit ’em out, but they are all great reads. Signed, a fan.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 22nd Nov 2012 at 1:32 am

      And to you as well. Yes, I’ve cranked out my share over the last 18 months – 18 novels. I still can’t believe it looking back, but I feel every one of them at this point, with virtually no rest for many moons. Think I’ll take a bit of time off soon and recharge the batteries. Got to think up some new plots.

      I have much to be thankful for, that’s for sure. Life could be worse.

  16. Yonatan
    Thu 21st Feb 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Hi Russell,

    Can you share what your total costs are per novel? And who is your designer? Those covers are smoking!

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 21st Feb 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Sure. I spend about $125-$150 for a cover. $75 or so for formatting. $600 for editing. $150 for proofreading. I typically make back my investment on a book within 45-60 days, and then it’s all profit from there – and as Konrath likes to say, ebooks are forever.

      • Yonatan  –  Sun 24th Feb 2013 at 2:37 pm

        Thanks for your reply.

        A thousand dollars is not that much, considering the work a writer puts into a book.


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