Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Do you know about the FREE Children’s Story Magic writing course?

New session begins February 1st!

Here's what you'll get, in 30 days:

  • Character - creating heroes and villains that we'll love
  • Wonderful words - choosing and using the best nouns, verbs, adjective and more
  • Dialogue - tools to put words in your characters' mouths
  • Plot - crafting a story that keeps us on our toes

Each day's email is a tasty, bite-sized 100 words long.  That’s super-short, because I know you’re super-busy. 

Every day, you’ll be challenged, through examples and exercises, to think about successful kids’ books… and about your own.  Let’s get YOUR book off your hard drive and into kids’ hands sooner than you could ever have dreamed.

Fed up with Kindle Kids’ Book Creator? Try this free, easy 5-step alternative.

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Scared to try doing Kindle books because you’re no techie?  Or have you decided that the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator isn’t the software for you (Here are 5 reasons why it isn’t.) but don’t know what to use instead? 

Relax.

Seriously, there is an alternative.  And it’s easy, free, and doesn’t need much more than a working knowledge of Microsoft Word.  It may even be easier than the KDP Kids’ Book Creator software itself.  (Besides being waaaay more flexible.)

These days, for many of my ebooks, I’m using two simple tools:  Microsoft Word and a free ebook conversion program called Calibre

I’ve been using Calibre for years and never realized it could not only open and save ebooks but also help create them.

NOTE:  I’m talking about picture books here.  For longer-format and nonfiction ebooks, you should probably do them entirely in Scrivener ($40, Literature & Latte).  (Here’s a post about how I use Scrivener.)

I’m going to walk you through my process, in 5 steps I think you can handle and maybe actually enjoy, with a little practice.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Building an author mailing list: PART 2, Calls to action.

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You know you want one.  You know you NEED one.  But how do you GET one in the first place?

(If you’re not convinced yet, go back and read Part 1 of this 3-part series to find out why you need an author mailing list.  And then stay tuned next week for Part 3, which will prove that it’s super-easy to get started.)

The best way to build your mailing list is… to let readers know it exists.

Sounds simple, right?

But are you doing it?  The way to do it right is with a call to action at the back of your book.  Calls to action are known as CTA in the marketing business, so that’s what I’m going to call them here.

Notice I said marketing business.  Lots of writers feel kind of slimy when they think about marketing.  If you do, that’s something you’ll have to get over.

A back-of-book CTA should be super-simple.  This is a two-step format that every reader will recognize:

Friday, January 16, 2015

The disappointment: 5 reasons I’m not using Kindle Kids’ Book Creator software anymore

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Remember how excited I was when Amazon/Kindle released their Kids’ Book Creator software

And hey, no wonder!  The thing is relatively fast and easy to use, and can turn any book in PDF form into a Kindle ebook with a snap of your fingers.  So many of us lack the technical skills to transform our books that this software totally seemed like magic at first.

Unfortunately, the magic died pretty quickly.  You can get a sense of that even from the comments on my original post. 

I did use the Kids Book Creator to convert a few of my print books to ebook form.  But I’m doing things differently now (more on that later), and will be changing over the ones I did using the Kindle Kids Book Creator as I have a chance.

Here are, not one, but FIVE great big ugly reasons why I won’t be using Kindle Kids’ Book Creator anymore. And maybe you shouldn't, either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pricing your self-published kids’ books: are you doing it wrong? (5 essential guidelines)

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Did you ever have a garage sale or yard sale?

I have, and one of the toughest parts was figuring out how to price the stuff I was selling.  You want it to go, but you want to make something.  Your stuff is valuable – at least to you – plus, you want to get paid for your time and trouble in setting everything up.

It’s sort of like that when you’re selling your own books.

How much will YOUR book cost?  Have you decided yet?

It’s a ton of pressure.  How do you know you’re not doing it wrong?  If you price your book too high, it won’t sell. 

Cheap isn’t always the answer, either.  Price your book too low, and people may decide it’s worthless and give it a pass.  It’s your book – it’s your baby.  Pricing our books fairly is a challenge all of us face, not just once, but every single day we hang out our shingle as indie, self-published writers.

Keep yourself on the right track with these 5 handy guidelines.  Use them to help pick your price point and you may find your way to financial success as a children’s-book writer after all.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Building an author mailing list: PART 1, Do you need one?

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Do you need an author mailing list?  Yes, you do.

Seriously.  You need a mailing list, period.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series that will convince you that you do.  And prove that it’s super-easy to get started.

If things were different, if Amazon and other sites told you who was buying your stuff, or gave you access to their information, then I might not think you need a mailing list at all.  Then again, do you want those sites to control your relationship with readers?

Didn’t think so.

Amazon is not your friend.  Amazon wants to suck your buyers in, then grab their info so they can sell them other writers’ books. 

Pretty nasty, huh?  So that means you’ve got to look out for yourself.  (Not to mention that you may want to sell through other sites, besides Amazon.)

Still, you might not understand exactly why you need a mailing list.  Maybe one of these sounds like you…

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The dark evil flipside of freebies: BAD reviews.

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There are lots of reasons you might want to offer your books for free.  But there are some reasons you DON’T want to as well.

Such as… BAD REVIEWS.

Here’s the thing about human nature:  most of us have this built-in complaint reflex.  As long as things are going okay… then okay!  We coast along, enjoying our lives.

But when something comes along that we don’t love – that’s when it kicks in.

What that means, practically speaking, is that you could buy and read 100 books and not write a single review.  But then, along comes one that rubs you the wrong way and – “Oh, boy, get out of my way… I need to review this thing NOW before anyone else buys this book!”

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Best of the Indie Children’s Book Covers – new contest for 2015!

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When it comes to marketing your self-published book, your cover is everything.  It’s a flyer, a billboard, a trailer, all rolled into one… and it has to be just as compelling in its teeny tiny thumbnail version.

I was so excited about my Top 19 indie kids’ book covers that I decided to do it even bigger and better for 2015.  Watch this space for details in the months to come.  Literally, this space.  Bookmark it and come back, as I will be updating this post once I know more.

To make this more about “great design” and less about “my opinion,” I’m bringing 3 other people on board to help judge the entries.  I’ll also figure out a couple of great prizes (beyond exposure), for books we all absolutely love – probably the Top 5 entries. 

(The awards will present the Top 20 entries, with judges’ comments and links.)

Here are the basic contest entry rules if you’d like to get started. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why give your books away for free?

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How do you feel about freebies?

When I posted  about how I use KDP Freebies, I got some very intense reactions.  Some people were angry that readers have come to expect freebies, others mystified – wondering why writers would bother to offer them.  One response was sort of a cross between the two:  angry AND mystified.

Nothing's free in this world, so why should our product be free?

That’s what this person asked, and in a way, I totally agree with what I think she’s trying to say.  We work hard to write our stuff.  And we want to make money writing.  So how does it help us to give it away for free?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Best & worst of the Indie Children’s Covers 2014: 19 hits, 10 misses.

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UPDATE:  Want to enter the 2015 contest?  Open NOW to any children’s books self-published between Dec 1, 2014 and Nov 30, 2015.

Covers are hard.  If you’re like most people, I hope you don’t even try to do them yourself.  But even if you hire a pro, it’s easy to wander off the path of good judgment into the jungle of horrific, embarrassing covers.

That’s why we need objective feedback. 

Which is where Joel Friedlander, the Book Designer, comes in.  Every month, he hosts a cover contest.  It’s free to enter, and if you have a cover you love, you really should.  It won’t boost book sales directly, but it’s worth it, I promise.

Remember:  every single buyer is judging your book by its cover.  You can’t escape from that simple fact.

Every month, Joel shows off every cover he gets.  Sometimes he adds praise – but sometimes, his comments can sting.  One author proudly submitted his cover with the words “Fully designed by the author himself.”  To which Joel replied, “That’s apparent.”  About another cover, he wrote, “Impossible to tell what was intended here, but clearly this is a disaster.”  (My personal favourite:  “Pretty much announces: “I’m self-published!” And not in a good way.”)

I have to laugh – even when his criticisms are aimed at me, which they have been a couple of times.  Don’t submit anything unless you’re prepared for him to tear it apart.

Most of the covers he gets are for adult books.  Why not more kidlit?  Maybe because most of us aren’t putting enough money/effort into our covers, and aren’t proud enough of the results. 

That’s REALLY got to change.  I hope this list inspires you to create excellent covers that will hog all the top spots for 2015.

Here (in no particular order) is my personal Top Nineteen of all the kids’ covers that he’s featured in 2014.  NOTE:  I haven’t read the books.  I’m literally just judging them by their covers.

Down below, you’ll find 10 “misses” and “near-misses” that failed on one count or another to make it to that empty #20 spot in my “top” list.  Plus two grownup books with really, REALLY bad covers that make me wonder why anyone would submit them to a contest.  And one I loved that inspired me to buy the book.

#1

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The Boy Who Loved Fire by Julie Musil.  There were many great YA covers this year; I think authors in this category are a lot more serious about their covers than if they’re just writing “kiddie books.”  (Again, that’s really got to change.)  Joel didn’t say anything when it was listed in January, but in March when he listed it again, he said, “Although a bit overwrought, it is nicely creepy.”

#2

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The Little Girl and the Hill by Brett Henley.  In January, Joel didn’t like the smallness of the text and I agree – you can’t read the author’s name, even with this fairly large thumbnail.  He said the art was lovely but that the cover overall is “a dark and easily skipped muddle.”  Still, something about this concept really appeals to me.  Like finding a good black t-shirt for a baby, it’s rare to see an all-black cover on a kids’ book.  (Caveat:  the interior looks similarly all-black, and I’m not 100% sure how good that would look on an ereader.)  I do wish they’d re-do the fonts, however.

#3

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Drat, foiled again (or the spineless truth about CreateSpace).

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I told you a couple of weeks ago all triumphantly how I created a kissable cover and got around Amazon / Createspace’s arbitrary minimum-page requirements for having a proper spine on your book.  I succeeded that time with my 100-page chapter book No Santa!  image

But guess what???  When I tried the same magic again yesterday with an 88-page nonfiction book, Createspace stopped me in my tracks with their silly arbitrariness.

I worked long and hard to create a BEAUTIFUL (if I say so myself) cover, and submitted it along with my interior.  Here’s what the full design looks like:

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(Spineless Wonders is the first in what I plan as a series of Jewish, Bible-based science books that’s already available for Kindle here.)

Believe me, everything fit perfectly within the little template they give you. 

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But when I submitted all the files, Createspace’s gnomes went to work destroying all that is good.  They must have detected that I was trying to get away with something.  When my files were approved for proofing, I went in to take a peek… only to discover this message:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holidays overwhelming you? Here are 3 easy ways to jingle readers’ bells.

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How can you even think about writing with a holiday coming up?

Writing may be the last thing on your mind at this time of year.  So let’s get right to the point with three quick MUSTS you’ve just got to have in your children’s holiday book.  Don’t worry, they’re simple, too.

It doesn’t matter what holiday, either.  Easter, Chanukah, Shavuot, Eid, they’re all totally different… but the best books have so much in common that you’re going to succeed no matter what you’re writing about.

1) STORY. 

Do you love a great story?  So do kids.  Unless you’re writing nonfiction (and maybe even then), you’ll want to make sure your book has a good, solid story.  That almost always means tension.  Your character shouldn’t just wake up, prepare for the holiday, celebrate the holiday, and go to bed happy.  That’s not a story; it’s a diary entry, and not a very interesting one.

Save your story by giving your character a real problem.