My Checklist Fiasco

I recently purchased a used car. The old vehicle my teenagers have been driving is on its last leg, so another one needed to be found.

It has been years since I purchased a vehicle from a private seller rather than a dealership, so I tried to do due diligence to make sure we had all the paperwork required by the state I live in. I looked on the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website and found a list of paperwork needed when purchasing a car from a private seller. I felt prepared. The purchase of the vehicle was painlessly completed including a trip to the bank to have the car title transfer notarized.

My next step, after purchasing the vehicle, was to make a trip to the Division of Motor Vehicles to have the title transferred and to register the vehicle. Just to make sure I had everything I needed for this trip, I checked the DMV website again. This time, I found a list of the paperwork needed to brought to the DMV to transfer the title of the vehicle.

Lo and behold, this list had two forms on it that the first list I used did not. It turns out I needed two more pieces of paper. One needed the signature of the seller, and the other one needed to be notarized. This meant that I had to get back in touch with the seller and make another trip to the bank. The whole process was quite frustrating.

The DMV is not the only place where people run into issues with finding out that they do not have all the information they need upfront. It often happens in the publishing world also.

Vehicle

Last year, I talked with an author who told me that, when he was publishing his book, he had to complete four revisions before the book was right. This was four revisions after he had already uploaded the book to IngramSpark for printing and distribution.

At the time, this gentleman was not a Member of Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA), so he did not have the Member benefit of free uploads and revisions with IngramSpark. He ended up paying over twice the amount an annual membership with CIPA costs just to print and distribute his book.

This author reported that he kept finding out about things he had missed putting in his book that are standard for books (as well as some mistakes). While you might be tempted to judge this gentleman for not doing his due diligence prior to uploading his book, I feel sympathy for him.

There are many elements that go into making sure a book is industry-standard. New authors and publishers can easily miss one or more of these elements because finding a complete list in one place is not easy—just like with my DMV experience.

Because we understand the process for new authors and publishers, Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA) has developed checklists to help. Two checklists the Association offers to ensure you have all the elements you need prior to uploading a book for print and distribution are:Checklist

  • Checklist for Creating a Professional-Looking Book
  • Metadata Checklist

Members of Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA) can access these checklists as part of their Membership. If you are considering publishing a new book this year, I encourage you to join Christian Indie Publishing Association so you can be better prepared.

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Are You Using Publishing Industry Standards?

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” ~Stephen Hawking

Standards. Every industry is governed by standards. These are a set of criteria within an industry that defines the standard functioning and carrying out of operations.

The publishing industry has standards. Anyone involved in publishing and selling books should be aware of these standards.

Sadly, many independent authors don’t take the time to educate themselves on publishing industry standards. This lack of knowledge often becomes apparent when these authors interact with others in the industry. Then, these authors’ ignorance reflects poorly on themselves and their books.

One place where I frequently see a lack of knowledge on industry standards with independently published authors is the ISBN. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. This is a unique number assigned to a book that identifies the book within the industry. All industry players use the ISBN number to identify a book, much like the government uses a social security number to identify an individual.

The ISBN is a 13-digit number, not a 10-digit number. Yes, Amazon lists both a 10-digit ISBN and a 13-digit ISBN. Yes, Amazon lists the 10-digit ISBN first. This does not mean that it is the industry standard. The industry standard is a 13-digit ISBN.

Go to a bookstore. Pick up any book in that bookstore and look at the barcode on the back. You will see a 13-digit ISBN, not a 10-digit ISBN.

The publishing industry switched from 10-digit ISBNs to 13-digit ISBNs back in January 2007. That almost 12 years ago folks. The only reason that Amazon provides both the 10-digit and 13-digit ISBNs is because they want to be repository for every book published. As a result, they house many books that were published prior to the change to the 13-digit ISBN. Therefore, these books host a 10-digit ISBN. So, Amazon provides both so that any book can be located in their system.

I am surprised by how many independent authors list the 10-digit ISBN when nominating their book for the Christian Indie Awards. The awards do not specify whether to give the 10-digit or the 13-digit number because the 13-digit is industry standard. Since only authors and publishers are allowed to nominate titles, every person nominating a book should know that the 13-digit ISBN is industry standard. Yet, they don’t.

If you are going to publish and market a book, do yourself a favor and take the time to become familiar with industry standards. Read some books or join a publishing association like Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA). Don’t let your lack of knowledge become a stumbling block that hinders your ability to secure publicity in any form.

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Are You Paying Attention to Details?

“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” ~Charles R. Swindoll

Attention to detail is important. Some people are better at details than others. Yet, Charles Swindoll nails it with this statement. If you want to have a great book, you must pay attention to the details.

I find that many independent authors don’t pay enough attention to details. Over the past few months, numerous books published by independent authors have poured into Christian Small Publishers Association’s (CSPA) office as nominations for the Christian Indie Awards were made.

What has caught my eye repeatedly, is the number of books whose back covers do not look industry standard. The front covers are generally well designed, but the design and informational elements on the back cover are lacking.

Now, I know that over half of all books are purchased online. I understand that when browsing online people do not pull a book off the shelf and look at the back cover—which, by the way, is one of the first few things a reader looks at when viewing a physical copy of a book. But, as an author, you will still have times where you are showcasing your book in person. Therefore, it is extremely important that attention to detail is given to both the front and back covers of your book.

A number of independently published books nominated for the Christian Indie Awards show up with just a few paragraphs of text on the back cover of the book along with an EAN barcode. Yes, this is acceptable, but it is a minimalist approach and does not mirror industry standard for books.

The failure of these authors to pay attention to details has resulted in their books lacking four important back cover design elements.

1. Sales Copy Designed to Attract the Eye

Simply having blocks of text on the back of a book is not good sales copy. People skim back covers instead of reading them. With no text or quotes that are designed to stand out or attract the eye, your book is less likely to sell itself.

2. Testimonial or Endorsement Quote

Books that lack testimonial or endorsements quotes on their back cover also fail to sell a reader on the book with one of the most powerful selling techniques—social proof. Social proof is simply the positive influence that is created when people find out that others are doing something or finding something worthwhile.

3. About the Author

While an “About the Author” is not necessary on the back cover of a book, it is another industry standard and helps sell a book.

4. BISAC Subject Headings

BISAC Subject Headings are put out by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). These headings are industry standard for informing industry professionals (booksellers, librarians, distributors, etc.) and readers what category your book falls into. In other words, no one needs to wonder whether your story is fiction or nonfiction. The subject headings tell them. Industry standard books tote a BISAC Subject Heading on their back covers.

If you want a great book, you must pay attention to details. You don’t want someone to walk away from your book because they couldn’t get what it is about at a glance.

If you are unsure about what details you need to pay attention to, Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) has help for you. Our Members have access to the on-demand seminar, Create a Professional-Looking Book, as well as a downloadable Checklist for Publishing a Professional-Looking Book that includes everything you should include on your book’s front and back cover. Remember, your attention to detail will make the difference between your book being good or great.

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Photo courtesy of marcomagrini.

Are You Making It Hard?

Recently, I went to Best Buy to help my teenage son buy a computer. He had worked hard and saved his money to buy a special gaming computer (he is a typical teen). We chose Best Buy because they had a sale on the computer and also offered a student discount. We went to our local Best Buy because I believe in supporting retail stores and because my son wanted his computer sooner rather than later.

As we were at the register ringing up the purchase, I inquired about the student discount. The sales clerk told me that I had to apply for the discount on their website. I asked him if we could do it in the store. He told me that I could use my cell phone to make a Best Buy account and apply for the student discount.

I asked the sales clerk what the point of coming into the store was if I had to “apply online” for this discount and the store did not offer a way for me to do this in-store (i.e. a kiosk with a computer for such purposes—or a store clerk willing to assist me in doing this). I pointed out that Best Buy was making it hard for me to make an in-store purchase, ensuring that I would, instead, make my next purchase online.

Retail stores in America are struggling. They are struggling because people are buying more online. But, they are also struggling because they are not providing good customer service. The Editor of Christian Retailing recently wrote that she stopped at a chain Christian bookstore to make a purchase. She asked the sales clerk where the biographies were located and was told “in the back of the store”. She contrasted this experience with shopping at Publix grocery store where the sales clerk will walk you to a specific aisle when asked about a product and point it out.

This whole experience made me think about building a platform and selling books. What are independent authors doing that might be “making it hard” for potential customers to give their email or buy a book? Here is my conclusion.

1. Buying Books

We make it hard for readers to buy our books when our books are only offered for sale in a few select places. Not everyone shops on Amazon. Some people actively avoid Amazon because of its practices. Others want to support Christians, and so prefer to buy books at Christian outlets. Still others want to support authors, thus preferring to purchase books directly from an author or publisher.

Are you books for sale in multiple channels? Can a reader easily find your book in his or her preferred shopping venue? If not, you are making it hard for people to buy your book.

2. Collecting Personal Data

Most authors are working on building a platform. This means that you are trying to collect email addresses so that you can communicate directly with readers and potential readers on a regular basis to build trust and increase loyalty. Collecting email addresses is great, but if you are asking too much information, you are making it hard and losing out.

Studies show that the more information you ask of people in exchange for a freebie, the greater the drop out rate. When building your email list, all you really need is a first name and an email. Don’t ask for more. Make it easy, not hard and you will grow your email list faster.

Are you making it hard? I hope not. Ease and convenience drive more sales.

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Photo courtesy of Vera Arsic.

Are You Ready to Give Up?

Sometimes I feel like quitting. I know I am not alone. We all have those days.

We all have days where we feel that what we have to say does not matter. Days where we are discouraged and wonder if our message is making any difference in the world. We all struggle at times feeling like all our hard work is for naught.

When this happens, I remind myself that God has called me to this task and I must continue until He tells me to stop. I remind myself that I that I will overcome and that better is coming as Revelation 3 says:

Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

So often, we don’t see the results of our hard labor. Yet you never know, tomorrow might just be the day that everything comes together or you hear from a reader just how important your message was in her life.

If you are having one of those days where you feel like quitting, then read this poem is for you.

Don’t Quit
By John Greenleaf Whittier

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit—
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns.

And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup;

And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So, stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

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