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Publishing Publishing best practices

The Most Important Thing to Do When Publishing

For anyone who wants to benefit from publishing, and especially for businesses, it is critically important to follow publishing best practices to ensure quality and control costs. Get an editor who understands proofreading and a designer who is experienced with books and knows how to prepare reliable press-ready files. The same is true with printers. Only use a printer who understands books.

This advice is true even if you plan to sell your books directly through your own business or website. Even if you don’t need a win over distributors, book reviewers, or store owners, printing a book with embarrassing mistakes or paying for files that don’t work correctly is just bad business practice.

If you do want a book distributor, and book reviewers and store owners do matter to you, then it becomes even more critical to make sure your book is trade quality, meets retail requirements, and meets industry expectations. Find someone experienced who knows the process and can guide you through each step.

The old low-quality vanity publishing business model has given way to a new low-quality model that cuts costs and quality to sell authors printing services—usually print on demand (POD). To avoid the pit falls of these companies, find a book service that doesn’t profit from printing. You should be able to send your book files to any printer of your choice.

When you look at the costs outlined in my post The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know!, you’ll notice that cutting out quality production and quality controls—such as professional editing, design, and typesetting—doesn’t save much money, certainly not enough for the increased difficulty of selling a less attractive and less professional product.

For businesses, a DIY book is an especially high risk that can involve embarrassments and brand damage. I know a guy who self-published without using a professional editor or book designer. The largest American membership-only warehouse club was ready to carry his photo book until the buyer saw that the foreword in the book was spelled “Forward.” Seeing that one error, they suspected the DIY quality and dropped the offer. All it took was one word to undo the deal—an error spell checker software would not catch. Quality matters! He came back with a second book project done professionally, and they carried it, agreeing to start by taking 1700 copies. Persistence and a new commitment to quality paid off.

Remember, you may only have to sell around 280 copies to cover your costs for B&W books and around 550 for color books. His book was a hardback picture book, so he needed to sell slightly more. Of course, if you are not confident that you can sell more than 300–600 copies, using print-on-demand and/or publish ebook editions may be safer strategies for you. To learn more watch for my forthcoming post, Picking the Right Publishing Strategy.

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Back Cover Texts Publishing

Tips for Writing the Best Back Cover Copy

Authors put a lot of creative energy into writing stories and instructions, so writing a few paragraphs of texts for a back cover might seem easy. But is it? Normally, the back cover copy is written by marketing specialists—sometimes a person who only does that one task. If you’re an author who is now publishing independently, you must hire someone with the right skills or do it yourself. Before you attempt to do it yourself, here are some marketing basics to consider.

The foremost purpose of the back cover texts is to influence the purchase decision.

To achieve this goal we want to focus on

(1) The texts: persuading people to buy the book;
(2) keyword strength: using the right keywords;
(3) shelving category: making it easy for readers to find the book;
(4) retail requirements: making the checkout process as easy as possible;
(5) and design: having an attractive easy-to-read design that is coordinated with the front cover.

The back cover of your book is too important and valuable to waste or treat lightly. Writing a great story has little value if no one reads or buys the book. So let’s take a closer look at these five aspects of the back cover.

  1. The back cover texts

The back cover texts can be divided into three main parts: 1) Endorsements, 2) description or benefits, and 3) author bio.

Endorsements: The presence of endorsements lets potential buyers know that people like the book. Endorsements are actually more important than a book description because endorsements already contain some descriptive content or mention of the book’s benefits. This is why it is sufficient to put endorsements on the back cover of a hardback and the author bio and book description on the inside flaps of the jacket. This, of course, requires evaluating the strength of the endorsements against the strength of a book’s description or benefit list. See my post on How To Get Quality Book Endorsements

Book Description: Short book descriptions are easier to read. It can help if what you write in the book description connects with the message of the front cover title and/or subtitle, which is often what caused the person to become interested in the book.

For fiction, a book description should include content that speaks to the expected audience and category strengths, such as historical, social, or cultural interests. If the book, for example, offers a strong message about personal freedom, make sure this is not lost in the back cover description. The description should ideally say something that draws the reader into the story concept, but ends with a reason for the reader to want more. This is called a “cliffhanger.”

For “how-to,” self-help, and instructional books the focus needs to be on writing a good value proposition and pointing out how the book is unique. That is, why is the content in this book valuable and how is this particular book unique from other books on the topic? For some books, a description can include a list (3–5 short bullet points) that outline the book’s benefits to the reader. It is also good to utilize descriptive words, such as “practical,” “cost-saving,” “life-saving,” etc. Ideally, each point in a bullet list should be limited to one line.

Beyond describing the actual advice or instruction in the book, don’t forget that the book itself has values worth stressing in a competitive category, such as whether the book is full color, has instructional illustrations and maps, useful tips, charts, diagrams, resource guides, a foreword by someone important, etc.

Whatever you say in a book description, put the focus on the value the book has to the reader.

Author Bio: When you write your author biography keep in mind the same rule—the author bio text is there to influence the purchase decision. It not there to inform the reader about the author’s personal life. Making it short will make it more readable. Three to five sentences is usually all it takes. The focus should be on credentials and/or experiences that indicate that you have qualifications for writing the book. If the book is not about dogs, there is no need to mention your dog. Relevant awards, memberships or previous books are valuable to mentioned.

If you include an author photo be sure that it makes you look credible. If the photo can include a setting that fits the book’s theme, that can be helpful. If you are, for example, a mountain climber, an author photo with appropriate mountain gear in a mountain setting is convincing. If you are a financial adviser, be sure to look successful. Photos can be powerful tools of persuasion, which is why some authors place photos of themselves on the front cover. For public speakers, an author photo on the cover is a way of advertising the author and building the speaker’s brand.

  1. Keyword strength

When you write your back cover text, use high-value keyword phrases. Knowing the best keywords depends on your market research. Your book’s chances of success are increased if you develop a marketing strategy early. Ideally, this strategy should occur before developmental editing and design so that every aspect of the book, not just the back cover, support the strategy.

One aspect of developing a strategy involves keyword research. Having strong keywords on the book’s cover text will help the book turn up in more online searches. The more popular the keyword combinations, the more often the book will show up.

If, for example, you are a life coach for women and do workshops, the phrases “workshops for women” and “life coach for women” only get 260 searches each (monthly average), but “women’s empowerment” gets 135,000 searches. While this works in the women’s category, the male equivalent is different. For example, let’s say you are a life coach who helps men with health issues, careers, and relationships. The phrase “men’s life coach” turns up 50 searches (monthly average), “men’s empowerment” only turns up 90, and “life coach for men” turns up 140. However, “men’s health” gets 246,000. The point is that you don’t have to guess. Do the research and use real data to pick the word phrases that help your message reach your audience.

  1. Include a shelving heading

You can help bookstores shelve your book where it should be found by including an appropriate BISAC category. The BISAC Subject Heading list “is an industry-approved list of subject descriptors.” These descriptors are often placed on the upper left of the back cover, such as “SELF-HELP / Personal Growth / Success.”

  1. Retail requirements

A book cover needs to meet basic retail requirements so that it can be easily tracked and purchased. This includes an ISBN, which allows book retailers to track book sales and inventory. The ISBN also allow people to look up information about available editions (print and ebook). The barcode allows the ISBN to be easily read with a scanner at checkout and for inventory and tracking purposes. It is recommended that the barcode also contains the price. To learn more about ISBNs, see my blog post about ISBNs (https://designforbooks.com/category/isbns/)

You may also want to include other currencies listed next to the barcode (such as the UK, CAN, EU, depending on the language and intended audience). And finally, the back cover should have the publisher identity and location (preferably the publisher web location) so more can be learned about the book and to help convey that the book has been produced professionally.

  1. Design considerations

Avoid having a large block of text in small type on the back cover. If the text appears too small, you probably gave the designer too many words. Consider shortening it. Make the three separate sections (endorsements, description, and author bio) easy to recognize and easy to read. Consider emphasizing words that communicate value, such as “practical,” “easy,” and “comprehensive.” If it is a self-help book, consider arranging the stated benefits in a bullet list.

Be sure that the designer coordinates the back cover—colors, images, font choices—with the front cover. Also, be sure the design does not hinder the functionality of the barcode.

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Book Endorsements Publishing

How To Get Quality Book Endorsements (Part 2)

Always manage the message

When you ask people to endorse your book, they will likely invest time into reading the book and writing a response. Once they have done that, they will not want to write another endorsement if you think their comments are superficial, tangential to the point of your book, or are somehow useless. To avoid or reduce the chances of getting low-value endorsements, you need to manage the process.

The endorsement process begins with you, the publisher or author. It begins by first determining your mission statement as an author, the value proposition and unique selling point of your book, and finally the hoped-for reader experience. Put simply, ask yourself: What do you aim to achieve as an author? What is the value of your book to readers? What makes your book unique or better than other books on the subject? And finally, will readers find your book easy to use and desirable as a book (this is partly a content development and book design issue).

DO NOT ask the endorsers to figure out what value your book has or how it is unique. Point out these facts and ask them to comment on them. Make the process easy for them.

The answers to these questions can form the basis of your endorsement strategy. If the endorsements speak to these qualities, then you will have high-quality endorsements. Ask the people you select to give endorsements that mention these qualities. If they are agreeing to endorse your book, they already understand that the purpose is to help you promote the book. Most readers will not object to receiving guidance. It actually makes the process easier for them.

Start with a general checklist. The checklist is only for your own privately use when you are making endorsement requests. The checklist can include the following:

  1. The book’s main value proposition: How the book is useful, beneficial, or desirable to readers.
  2. The book’s unique selling point: How the book is different from other books—such as, more up to date, only illustrated book on the subject, more comprehensive, more concise, whatever.
  3. The book product qualities: Developmental and design qualities can include organization, readability, helpful illustrations and maps, useful tables and resource lists, etc. Also, print features and qualities if applicable, such as recycled paper, foldout maps, beautiful photographs, etc.
  4. The Book’s value to readers: Value for money is different than expense compared to other books. Your book may have a higher price than other competing books due to a shorter print run or better print quality. Even when this doesn’t happen, it is good to understand any qualities that make your book better value for the reader. Compete on value first.
  5. Literary quality: Ability to transport the reader, or be easily read and answer questions, change and inspire lives, etc. Comments about the literary quality will depend on the genre of the book and intended readership.

When you request an endorsement consider the endorser’s qualifications and then ask that person to speak about those aspects of the book that they are most qualified to consider. If several endorsers have praised how well you have written about the subjects, ask other endorsers to speak about other aspects of the book such as a particular sub-theme, the book’s personal impact on them, or utility for certain types of readers. If the book is creative, an illustrated guide or coffee-table book, ask them to speak about the design and print quality. By managing the process you will be able to collect a range of endorsements that will convince readers of your book’s value.

To learn more about endorsement strategies, read my post How to use endorsements.

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Book Endorsements Publishing

How to Get Quality Book Endorsements (Part 1)

The purpose and importance of book endorsements

When you start the process of looking for people to endorse your book, you first need to understand the difference between an endorsement and a book review. A book endorsement is a statement from someone other than the author that recommends the book to readers. Ideally, it is a statement of praise that affirms, supports, and backs your book, even if it doesn’t agree with your message or claims. The purpose of an endorsement is to persuade readers to buy and/or read the book. Endorsements, also called “testimonials,” are the most valuable feature of the back cover copy of your book, because the mere presence of endorsements is instantly perceived as evidence of reader satisfaction, even if the endorsements are never read.

Book endorsements are often confused with book reviews. A book review is different from an endorsement in that a review is an analysis of a book that usually purports to be objective and can include comments about a book’s content, style, or merits that are both positive and negative.

Make your intentions clear

When you set out to get endorsements, let it be known you are not looking for “reviews.” You want positive statements. You also want the selected readers to know you are looking for an endorsement so they understand how their words will be used. If you ask for a review, the reader may assume that his or her words will be used only privately for the purpose of improving the book. When you ask for an endorsement, you should be clear that the reader’s words will be used in the published book and/or in promotions for the book.

If you ask for an endorsement and a person reviews your book instead, you may be able to excerpt just the positive portion for use as a book endorsement.

Getting endorsements is a process that yields the best results if it is managed carefully. Even if you ask someone to “review” your book, make it clear that you are looking for an endorsement, not a review and not a critique. Even if you welcome critical comments and would like to get advice for improving your book, make it clear that your aim is to get a positive endorsement that can be used when promoting the book.

Endorsements are mutually beneficial

People often want to give endorsements. If the endorsers are leaders, experts, or authors they benefit by having their names appear in public, even if only as a credit next to an endorsement for someone else’s work. Whenever their names appear, it is a form of publicity for them and a recognition that they are respected and that their opinions matter. Usually, their credentials and accomplishments, are listed next to their names under the endorsements.

Be sure to ask the endorser to specify how they want to be credited.

To learn about how to manage the endorsement message, read my post How to Get Quality Book Endorsements (Part 2).

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Book Endorsements Publishing

How to use endorsements

An endorsement has value even if the endorser has no credentials or fame. Any reader who provides an endorsement has at least one presumed qualification: He or she has read the book and liked it. That has value for buyers. Nevertheless, the goal is to get high-value endorsements and this means some endorsements are temporary placeholders for future endorsements that have more persuasive power.

There will always be a hierarchy of value for endorsements, just as there is a hierarchy for positioning endorsements. To better understand these value ranges, it is helpful to divided endorsements and endorsers into value categories so you can identify priorities and placement strategies.

Three types of endorsements

Book endorsements: These are endorsements about the book’s merits. In most cases, these endorsements require that readers have time to read the book or somehow evaluate the manuscript or publication.

Author endorsements: These are endorsements about the author and refer to the author’s credentials, expertise, accomplishments, speaking or teaching abilities, the effect on the lives of other people, etc. This type of endorsement doesn’t require that people know about the book or have time to read it.

Subject endorsements: These are what I call “Power quotes.” They are technically not endorsements at all, but rather quoted statements from authoritative or recognized sources that are related to the book’s subject matter. Quotes that engage readers are particularly effective if they are predictive statements or statement that underscore the subject matter’s urgency. In some cases, the quote is merely from an authoritative voice, such as a John Muir quote on the back of a book about the Wilderness Adventure. Always be sure that the statement is in the public domain or fits within editorial or “fair use” criteria.

In most cases, book endorsements are more valuable than the others. However, it may be easier or quicker to get author endorsements or to research and find power quotes. Sometimes a combination of two or more types is effective. Your strategy will often be determined by circumstantial considerations, such as whether the endorsers deliver usable endorsements or whether you have sufficient time to get endorsements before publication, etc.

Three types of endorsers

Just as these are different types of endorsements, there are different types of endorsers.

“Opinion-shaper” endorsers: Anyone who is famous (authors, bloggers, vloggers), well known, and trusted, such as celebrities, industry or thought leaders, athletes, etc.

Qualified endorsers: Any readers with relevant credentials, such as clients, experts, scholars, business professionals, other authors, etc.

Reader endorsers: Any readers, including friends and acquaintances. Consider the value the person offers with regard to relatableness with your target audience.

Endorsers with obvious qualifications are more valuable than unknown persons without qualifications. Opinion-shapers, however, tend to be more valuable than even qualified experts. Never use an opinion-shaper, however, that is incompatible with your publisher brand or readership. Because endorsements will have different levels of persuasiveness, you will want to give position preference to the best ones.

Endorsement placement strategy

As you acquire endorsements you can begin to identify where to place them. You may likely want to use endorsements on a variety of resources before the book is published, such as web pages, social media, banner ads, etc. The many places endorsements can be used is one reason why it is good to continually collect as many favorable statements as you can.

Generally speaking, 1–5 endorsements work well on the back cover. Three short endorsements is a good number. Excerpt the strongest statements for the back cover and use complete versions of the same endorsements, along with additional ones, on pages the front-matter pages of the book (before the title page). These front-matter endorsements are optional but highly recommended. Front-matter endorsements can fill as many pages as you want, one or even twenty pages.

If you have the good fortune of getting an opinion-shaper to endorse your book, consider putting that endorsement on the front cover of the book.

For paperbacks, the front cover is the premium position (only for use with opinion-shaper and expert endorsements), followed by the back cover and then inside front-matter pages. For hardcover jackets, place the endorsements on the back cover where they are most visible and not the inside flaps.

To learn more about how to manage an endorsement schedule, read my post Book Endorsement Planning: Creating a Schedule Strategy

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Book Endorsements Publishing

Book Endorsement Planning: Creating a Schedule Strategy

Getting quality endorsements quickly is not always possible. The desired readers may be unavailable and the publication schedule may not allow enough time. Nevertheless, endorsements are so valuable and important for selling books that it is a good plan to continue to collect them whenever possible.

Even when you have three or four high-quality endorsements for a book cover, there is value in adding pages of endorsements to the front-matter pages and even replacing endorsements with better endorsements when the book is reprinted.

Never stop getting endorsements. Create an endorsement schedule strategy. The time to get endorsements divides into three stages:

Manuscript stage

Pre-publication design stage

Post-publication stage

Manuscript stage: If you want to get endorsements in the manuscript stage, always consider how the selected readers will react to a manuscript compared to an actual book with a professional design, even if it is a PDF rather than printed copy.

If you have published before and readers can see your name on a quality book, you can start looking for endorsers during the manuscript stage (pre-book design stage). If, however, you are a first-time author, readers may be reluctant to put their names with endorsements on your book if they don’t know how professional the book will be when it is published. For that reason it is beneficial to show them the book after it has been designed, but before it is printed. This is especially true for self-help and how-to books because, if the book is designed and produced well, readers will have less trouble reading and understanding the content.

If the book is highly technical, similar to an academic book, or purely literary, readers will likely be more focused on your evidence or writing ability than on the concerns about professional publishing and design quality. Nevertheless, if a reader sees the book when it has already been professional designed, the endorsement will likely be stronger.

Pre-publication design stage: The most common way to show a book before publication is to create an ePDF for review purposes. This is a PDF of the complete book or a portion that has been enhanced for review purposes. The front cover is inserted at the beginning of the file. At the top, a notice is enclosed with the words “For Review Purposes—Not for Sale or Distribution.” Each page in the book is watermarked in the margin with the same notice. The PDF has “no edit” security added so that the notice cannot be removed. Additional security can also be applied, such as no printing or password to open. Usually, it is better not to require a password to open because this is not a good reader experience and may result in fewer endorsements.

A second way to show a book before publication is to use print-on-demand (POD). This can be done for both review and endorsement purposes. Print only the number of copies needed. Once you have received review suggestions and endorsements, you can both make adjustments to the book as well as add the endorsements to an updated cover file and the front-matter pages. This is a low-risk and low-cost method for testing a book before switching to offset printing (offset usually requires ordering 1500 or more books to make it worthwhile). It is also a low-cost method even if you continue with POD.

(WARNING: Read the POD terms carefully. Never use a POD supplier that automatically connects the POD service to an online retailer page and doesn’t allow you to change suppliers for that retailer. If you are working with a publishing consultant, they should be aware of this hazard.)

Post-publication stage: Whether you use POD or offset printing, you may want to eventually update the cover and front matter pages with newer endorsements. Adding endorsements in the post-publication stage usually happens when a book is selling well and there is a need to reprint more copies. The endorsements are added to the new printing. Bear in mind that a new print run is not a new edition. A new edition is an edition that has significant changes or additions, such a foreword by an important person. Additional or different endorsements do not constitute a new edition.