Nov 28

Why is it so hard to write about yourself?


It’s an amazing thing, the way our brains work. Many of us are communicating all the time, writing reports and e-mails and presentations with no problem. But almost everyone has experienced this difficulty: as soon as you sit down and try to write something promotional – about yourself, your company, your products – you’re stumped.

The good news is that almost everyone experiences this. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced writer with many years and many hundreds of thousands of words behind you, or whether you’re relatively new to the game. Writing about yourself is hard.

I know that I myself, with two published books and literally millions of words in technical, business, marketing, and creative writing behind me, immediately clench up when I have to describe myself and my services.

If I’m talking to a potential client, I can weave some sincere and compelling words about what they’re selling and how it will help their clients. But about myself and my company? The words don’t flow. They’re cramped and stilted. My sentences get too long and complex.

Hard to write = hard to read

I learned back when I was a writing tutor at university that if I was reading an essay that was hard to read – slow, unengaging, uninteresting, convoluted – the student found the essay very difficult to write. And there’s no doubt that we find it difficult to write about ourselves and our company or product.

The result is that the copy we produce in-house – whether it’s a sales pitch or presentation, marketing copy, or even a simple e-mail to a prospective client – is not doing the sales job it needs to.

Perspective is the problem

Why is it so hard to write about the things we know best?

The key problem is our perspective. Naturally, we’re thinking from the position of someone who knows, of someone who has already bought into what we’re selling. And perspective is key in any kind of writing, but maybe more so in marketing writing than in most. Because we’re not trying just to inform our potential clients; we’re trying to engage them, bring them closer, get them to understand how our product or service is exactly what they need.

What to do?

In short, marketing writing needs to be entirely from the point of view of the client. And that’s a very difficult point of view to adopt when we’re bursting with ideas about the value we bring to the table.

But difficult though it is, it’s a skill we have to learn in order to write well about what we’re selling. Or we have to work with outside marketing professionals and consultants who can provide that outside perspective for us.

And if the idea of shifting your perspective is too vague or difficult to do right now, don’t worry. My next post will provide some simple tricks to shift your mindset and write about yourself more easily. Watch for it!

photo credit: A break from work via photopin (license)

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Aug 20

E-book Redistributors: Disadvantages

E-book redistributors (start here if you’re not familiar with the term) make a compelling case for independent authors: they are an easy and cheap way to get your e-books up on multiple platforms, which can mean higher sales and visibility. There are plenty of other advantages, too. But it’s not all good news.

The main problem with any one-size-fits-all solution is that the size may not fit everyone exactly right, or in exactly the same way. This is definitely the case when you publish an e-book once to get it on a multitude of different sites.

All of the e-book sales platforms require mostly the same basic information about the book, which is why these redistributors work at all. But they also might use this information differently. For example, Amazon allows only seven keywords, and in some cases they have specific uses (for example, the keywords might determine which sub-categories a book goes into).

And some authors have found ways to supercharge their Amazon keywords too – ways that might cause issues on other sites. You want to maximize your sales on all the different sites where your books are sold. For the ease of publishing on multiple sites at once, you could be trading away significant royalty dollars in return.

Another problem is the follow-on sales from e-books. One tried and true means of boosting sales is to include links to other books in the same series or by the same author at the end of every book. If a reader just finished your book and is desperate to read another one, putting a link right there in the e-book might lead to a second sale.

But using a redistributor means that you can’t add those links in. You’ll only be able to put the links in for one site at a time, and some sites, if not all of them, will simply delete links to their competitors’ sites. (Why would Kobo want you to go to Amazon to buy the next in the series?)

Another tradeoff is control. You can’t tweak your book to look its very best on every device; all your content has to be at the lowest common denominator among the different sales platforms. And to make sure that your images and content look right, you’ll have to publish the book, and then test it out on each platform or device separately.

It’s always the same story: the trade-off between convenience and perfection. If you’re just starting out with e-books, and you aren’t doing anything complicated with them, you might be fine with the redistributor approach. But you also need to think about what the convenience is costing you, not just in their commission, but in potential sales as well.

In the last post in this series, we’ll look at some of the redistributors who are out there – and recommend our favourite!

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Aug 13

E-book Redistributors: Advantages

Last time I talked about what e-book redistributors are: services that allow you to submit your e-book once, and then automatically publish it to a number of the biggest sales platforms. For an e-book author or publisher, this confers a number of huge advantages.

EbookThe biggest plus is that it increases your reach. One of the keys to higher e-book sales is making them available in as many places as possible, therefore putting them in front of as many customers as possible.

To do this one by one, and figure out the intricacies of each separate platform, would be extremely time-consuming. But by using a redistributor you can have your book published in six different places, almost instantaneously.

It also allows you to manage your published e-books better. What happens when you’ve got an e-book live and on sale in six different places, and you find a typo in the first sentence? If you published it on each platform individually, you would have to create a new version of the e-book and then upload it separately six times. You might even have to work with multiple versions in different formats. That’s a lot of work.

If you are using a redistributor, you change it in one place, and it gets published to all the different places automatically. No need to go to multiple places – and you won’t forget to update one of the sites either.

Sales tracking and payments are much easier too. You can see how books are doing on all the different platforms at once, and at the end of the month you have one set of royalties, not six or seven.

So there are plenty of advantages to using an e-book redistributor, and they are typically well worth the money you’ll pay in commission. The ease of publishing alone makes them worth considering as a writer.

Are they perfect? No, of course not: there are a few disadvantages as well. But we’ll deal with those in the next post.

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Aug 07

E-book redistributors: What you need to know

AmazonKindleUser2If you’re considering publishing your work as an e-book, you’ve probably encountered the bewildering number of platforms out there. Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Barnes and Noble — all of these sales platforms are worth considering to sell your book.

Just putting the books on one platform is daunting enough; dealing with the many intricate details of this vast array of platforms and getting your book on all of them seems like an impossible task. How do authors do it without taking on e-book publishing as a full-time job?

The answer is e-book redistribution services. These are web-based companies that don’t necessarily worry about selling your books directly to consumers; they’re more interested in publishing books on your behalf on other e-book platforms, and taking a commission on each sale you make.

How do they work?

Publishing a book through a redistributor is not much different from publishing on any e-book platform. You enter the details about your book (like the author, title, blurb, and keywords); you upload a manuscript and cover; and you send it for publication.

The difference is that you do this once, and the redistributor does the work of repeating those actions for every different platform they support. They’ll reuse the book details and put them in the right place; they’ll convert the manuscript (usually from Word or HTML) to whatever format each platform requires; and they’ll jump through all the hoops needed to publish the book. You publish once, they publish a half-dozen times. Pretty efficient!

What does it cost?

Typically, the fees are far from exorbitant. There are no upfront fees, so if your book doesn’t sell (or if the platform rejects it for some reason), you don’t lose anything. And on each sale, the redistributor tends to take about 5% of the royalties. For Amazon, where you’re getting just over $2 for a $2.99 e-book sale, that comes out to only a dime. That’s not such a bad deal.

It takes a little longer for your sales to show up – the platform reports them to the redistributor reports them to you, which delays the process sometimes. And the redistributor typically collects the royalties together for all of the platforms and provides them a month or so after they receive them, which means you get a nice lump sum from all your sales at once, but it might come a little later than if those sales were made directly on the platform.

Are they worth considering?

Given the small slice that the redistributors take in commissions, their efficiency and effectiveness are amazing, and any e-book author should consider using the services. However, there are drawbacks as well. In the next posts we’ll look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of using e-book distributors, as well as review the services that are currently on the market.

Next post: Advantages of e-book redistributors

Posted in E-books | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments
Mar 10

E-books shouldn’t be automated

One of Calamus Consulting’s core skills is designing and producing e-books. We have over 50 e-books currently available on Amazon, Kobo, iBookstore, and other markets.

When we produce e-books, we don’t convert Word documents, and we don’t use conversion tools (such as Scrivener and Calibre). We go straight to the code, and ensure that everything – page breaks, links, styles, and other layout intricacies – are coded correctly. And we do a quality check on the final product before it’s released for publishing.

But many authors are blissfully unaware of the limitations of converters. Guido Henkel, author of Zen of eBook Formatting, summarizes the problem:

When I visit message boards for authors on the Internet, I frequently come across the same question over and over again, followed by what is effectively the same advice over and again. Sadly, in my opinion, the recommendations are all too often ill-advised and tend to create more problems in the tail-end than they solve.

What I am referring to is the question that aspiring independent authors routinely ask once they get to the stage where they want to self-publish their books, “How do I create an eBook?” Aside from the noise that such a question inevitably generates, the tenor of responses usually goes something like “You can export an ePub file from your word processor” or “Take your word processor file and upload it to insert-your-favorite-conversion-service-here for conversion.”

To me, these responses are usually not real advice, but rather, flawed opinions. Someone suggests the procedure because it worked for them, wholly unaware that the process is richly flawed, and of the fact that their own eBooks resulting from said procedure are oftentimes riddled with problems. Not to mention that the way to get there frequently resembled a gauntlet of cumbersome obstacles and tests of patience.

Thanks to Keith for posting this.

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