Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Self-Publishing Workshop ~ Get in quick!

Self-Publishing Workshop

Where: Liberty Church, 96 Lansford Cres, Avondale, Auckland, NZ
When: Saturday 31 August 2013, 10.00am - 3.00pm.
Cost: $50.00 DISCOUNTED to $15 per person for first workshop!
Who: with Joy and Bevan Findlay, self-publishing team of Findlay Books
What: 10 Topics that every new Self-Publisher needs to learn:
How: email your interest to findlaybooks@gmail.com

Lesson 1) Before the nitty-gritty of Self-Publishing

Lesson 2) Legal and Financial Issues Part One - Copyright

Lesson 3) Using professional Editors and Proofreaders

Lesson 4) Formatting your book for publishing

Lesson 5) Working with Images, including Cover Design

Lesson 6) How to Publish a Book Online – A Step-By-Step Guide.

Lesson 7) Legal and Financial Issues Part Two – Royalties

Lesson 8) Legal and Financial Issues Part Three – Tax

Lesson 9) Marketing and Promotions

Lesson 10) Vanity Publishing & Publishing-on-Demand

Bookings are essential as there are only limited spaces. Get in touch with us by emailing us at findlaybooks@gmail.com. As part of this workshop, you will receive our ebook 'Confessions of a Kiwi Self-Publisher' for FREE!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Interview with Self-Publisher Mary Lee

Hey Mary, thank you for being on our blog about self-publishing. As a children's ebook author on Amazon, can you please tell us about how you got started?I was looking for a creative way to make a few extra bucks. I wanted to buy my kid a backyard play-set but I had an expensive new baby on the way. I already work full time as a Graphic Designer and I was in my third trimester so I didn't want to do anything more exhausting. I read an article about kids books becoming more common on ereaders and I thought it looked like a fun hobby. 
What was the process like for you to self-publish?Surprisingly not that hard. Since there are no gatekeepers, most of the barriers are self inflicted. I had to block the evil little doubts in my head that say I can't write and illustrate a whole book. It actually helped to visit book stores and find some truly horrible books that were put out there by big publishers. It's "well, at least it's not that bad" motivation. Also watching Steven Colbert's interview with Maurice Sendak about Colbert's kids book "I Am A Pole (And So Can You) was pretty funny. 
How did you learn to format your books and get them published?I've been a Graphic Designer for about 10 years so the formatting part was easy. I had a few bumps with converting to the eBook though. The Kindle wasn't made for kids books, customized type or large images. While Amazon has made a lot of progress in these areas, it took a lot of tweaking to get the images not tiny and the type to stay on the page. A lot of Googling was involved and even then, I had to play around. 
What site/blog/ebook had the best advice for you starting out?Authors Marketing Club http://authormarketingclub.com/ and the KPD forums https://kdp.amazon.com/community/index.jspa has good info. I really started out reading everything I could find on the internet regarding self-publishing. I learned it's best to not read articles or posts over 6-months old though as self-publishing is quickly evolving.

When you write, what is your process?I think about what I want to read my kid. I like to address a need like getting them to sleep or helping them understand why parents make them do certain things. Then I need to make it a bit different than the thousands of books out there. There are tons of books with characters from Movies that kids enjoy. I want to give someone a reason to buy a book from an unknown author and new characters. 
Do you have a professional editor and proofreader? How did you find them?My husband edits and I use proof-reading.com http://www.proof-reading.com/ I found proof-reading.com from a Google search. 
How has social media helped with your business?It's hard to tell. It definitely helps when I'm doing a promotion. I think the word "free" has a way of expanding across the internet. 
Do you get many people responding to your facebook posts, tweets, pins and blog posts?Not much. The vast majority of my family and friends don't know I self-publish so I'm building my social media from the bottom up. I've only recently been trying to work on making some fun social content. I got about 14 Google plus hits on a recent post so it's looking up. 
You have a few great posts on your blog. The one I really enjoyed, as did many of my followers, was the one about 'Top 9 Bad Reasons to Give Someone a 1 Star Review.' Can you please tell us how you deal with bad reviews?I handcuff myself to a wall so I can't respond to the haters. Just kidding. I do think that responding to 1 stars is just shooting yourself in the foot. It's better to be more passive-aggressive and get all your friends to hit the "not helpful" button and try to get more reviews so that 1 star is buried. 
If you had one piece of advice that you wish someone had given you when you first started self-publishing, what would it be?Don't stress over it. This is something you chose to do or not do so keep it fun.

Mary Lee is a self-publisher, graphic designer and a mom. She lives in the States with her two children, two dogs and 'a mini-cactus named spike'. I would encourage everyone who is reading this to please go and give Mary Lee some social networking love! You can find her here:

Thanks again, Mary for your time. Its been wonderful to see your new ebooks pop up on Amazon and to promote them on our Ebook Mama's site. Your books are fantastic and I can see you work with excellence!

~ Joy Findlay

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Interview with Author and Self-Publisher Donna Blaber.

I'd like to introduce you to another kiwi author and self-publisher - Donna Blaber. Donna has been writing and publishing travel books, particularly NZ travel books. Over the past decade she has been writing for publishers based in NZ, Australia and the UK. Thank you Donna for letting us interview you today.

Can you please tell us a little about your travel writing and what it was like to work with publishers?

I believe I began travel writing as an eight-year-old when I produced
Our Caravan Logbook which came complete with sketched maps, long-winded sentences about our activities, topped off with stickers from packets of Mum’s PG Tips (a tea brand of all things!). I freelanced for years as a 20-something on my OE (backpacking around the world), then finally formally trained as a journalist. My first real job in publishing was working as the road trip editor for a popular New Zealand car magazine. Later on, I became the chief editor of a New Zealand motorhome mag. When you build a vast body of work on a particular subject, books are the natural next step. I was asked to write my first book in 2004, and since then I’ve gone on to write more than 30 titles. A few are self-published so I am now a ‘hybrid author’, a writer published through both traditional and modern means. At this point I plan to continue doing both, mostly as I’ve always enjoyed an excellent working relationship with my various publishers. A couple I’ve been working with for a number of years, and now that I’ve published and marketed a few of my own titles, I have a greater appreciation of the work they do.

We have a number of newbies who would love to get into travel writing. Do you have any tips of the trade for them please? 
Travel writing is an extremely competitive field so my advice to a newbie is to start small and remain focussed. I began travel writing by freelancing, writing travel pieces and submitting them to a variety of publications to build up a body of work. Some rejection is guaranteed, so just try to stay focussed and keep writing. It’s also important to finely hone your skills through travel writing workshops and/or Uni papers. I chose to study journalism extramurally through Massey (while working full-time). It was hard yakker at times, it was worth it in the end.

You set up a small production house called Lighthouse Media Group. Did you do this so you could publish your own range of children's books? 
We set up Lighthouse Media Group to handle the business end of book publishing. Initially it was to publish the Kiwi Critters series, a collection of children’s titles over which we wanted total control. This was mostly due to the fact that we had a very specific plan for the books. Since then, we’ve also published the Visions of New Zealand, a series of ebooks about New Zealand. An example of this is Visions of the North Island, which contains 30 road trips highlighting the North Island's places, people, lifestyle and food. It’s an ideal background read for internationals before they leave home. Lighthouse Media Group has a number of further titles in both series in production, as well as a new children’s chapter book.

What was it like self-publishing your own books?

Self publishing is hard work and involves long hours so you need to be prepared to work extremely hard. In saying that, if writing is your chosen path in life, it’s an enjoyable process. As an ex-mag editor I relish having total control over the production process – so for me it was a natural life progression. I’ve found the skill sets from editor to self-publisher are easily transferable and complementary. Overall I would say that the experiences gained as a magazine editor have served me extremely well. However, as a previously multi-published author, I have found some of the attitudes I’ve come across towards those who choose to self-publish quite amusing!

How have you found marketing and promoting your own books? How have you gone about doing this?

Publishing houses have excellent distribution networks and the good ones are also highly skilled at marketing/public relations. While these skills can be learned over time, most self-publishers will find it is extremely helpful to either have some background experience or upskill in these areas if they’re planning to do it themselves. I have some experience – again fairly transferable – which has been really useful. In saying that, I still have more to learn. What’s more, marketing and promotion takes a lot of work. At times it is exhausting and you need to be prepared to give it everything you’ve got and to take a long term view. It’s important to become visible (Facebook, Twitter, etc), to attend events, and take advantage of every opportunity to push your brand (author name, series name, book title, etc). A website is imperative, and it’s even better if you can set up a shopping cart so visitors can buy direct. Beyond your own website and Amazon, there’s a multitude of sites to sell online. Remember that everything you do to market your book/s adds up over time. This interview, kindly hosted Joy Findlay, is a good example of what I mean. I hope that after reading this article, you will want to take the next step and connect with me on Facebook! I hope to see you there!

For more information about what Donna and Lighthouse Media Group have to offer, please visit her pages here:
Author Page: www.donnablaber.com
Publishing Page: www.Lmg.co.nz
Thank you for your time, Donna. Your experiences and advice is invaluable. 
~ Joy Findlay

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marketing and Promotions – and you thought you had finished your book aye?!!

So you have finished your book, it's been edited, illustrated, covered, and you've just published it online – yay, time to party and watch all the cash roll in?  Yeah-nah...  You have only just begun as an indie-author.  What happens next will make or break your career as an author

Thanks to online retailers and the invention of the ebook, times have changed.  It used to be that traditionally published authors could sit back and let their publishers do all of the marketing and promotions, distribution and author visits.  They would do all they could to get your book out there in the 'verse to make them and you HEAPS of money.  It doesn't work like that any more – not that it was really all that to begin with.  With little money left over for marketing and promotions, a book will be at the top of the newly released lists for a year before the author has to work their butt off to continue sales.  More and more traditionally published authors are having to market their own titles now.

And how do they do that?  They build their author platform.

Excerpt from an earlier post: Building Petal the Owl's Marketing Platform
It is essential for every author – self-published/traditionally published/not-published-yet – to build their platform.  What is a platform and what does that mean for self-publishers?  According to Chris Robley of BookBaby.com, he writes in his blog: 'The “author platform” is a fancy buzzword folks in the book business use to talk about an author's fan engagement, their social media and web presence, the size and dedication of their readership, and their connectedness to other authors, bloggers, critics, agents, publicists, publishers, etc.' ~ http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/01/building-your-author-platform-in-10-hours-a-week/

I've learned the hard way how difficult it is to market your publications.  Ebooks are a relatively new market and kids' ebooks even more so.  But in the 18 months that I've been selling them online, the number of kids ebooks being sold on Amazon has more than doubled.  Being featured in the top 100 was a normal occurrence to me late last year, but now it's harder and harder to get books in those lists and even harder to keep them there without a million people giving great reviews.

Without you author platform how are you going to find readers?  How are you going to find support?  How are you going to sell your ebooks?  How are you going to learn what works and what doesn't?  How are you going to learn and better your trade skills?  How are you going to keep yourself from going nuts, spending hours/days/weeks/months talking to your imaginary friends like they exist in real life?

At the beginning it was scary to think about how I was going to market my products.  I set up a website, which is my biggest source of sales even though it just sits there doing nothing!  I set up a Twitter account – even though I'd vowed I'd never go there!  I set up a Facebook page, and a Google+ account.  I then liked a million other Facebook pages, followed a million other Twitter accounts, and checked out a million other authors' pages.  I started a blog – well, a news link really – for my website and guest-spoke on a million other blogs, and I think that it has worked for me, just not in the way that I first expected.

I don't sell many more books with this marketing platform.  It really doesn't help much at all, but what it has helped with is networking and connecting with other writers and self-publishers.  It's given me a greater understanding of the self-publishing world out there, and it's helped me learn my trade in a greater way than I ever thought possible.  I have to admit though – it is a bit of a time-waster.  I think I spend more time on Facebook than actually writing each week ~ just, please, don't tell the hubby that! [Ed: then she gets me to edit this post...!]

Things that can help you promote your books and you as an author include:
Author Bio: a couple of paragraphs about you as an author.  Make it genre-appropriate and interesting, keep it brief, and don't misspell anything – bad look!

Author Pic: get a nice, professional photo of yourself showing off your best assets/side... did I say assets??? :o)

Things that you can use to promote you and your books:

Facebook is a great way to build a following of locals.  I have set up an author business page.  I don't have many people from overseas on my Facebook page, and most of my overseas followers are friends of friends.  I have found Facebook to be a great place to build rapport with readers and build a community of supporters.  I have often asked for reviewers from my page and have found a few really honest individuals who are keen to give an honest review for a pre-release copy of my ebooks.

I have enjoyed connecting with other small business owners on facebook as well, because lets face it – you publishing books online is a small business.  You have to keep accounts, pay tax and promote and sell your product.  Learning small business management is really important!

I still don't know how to use twitter to all its potential.  I have learned that if people 'follow' you on twitter they expect to be 'followed' back.  I have linked my Facebook page and twitter accounts so that everything I post on Facebook gets tweeted to the 'verse.

Google Plus
Google Plus isn't very popular in New Zealand.  We mostly keep to Facebook and Twitter.  But there are advantages to having a Google Plus account – overseas connections.  A huge techie and geek community use Google Plus like it's going out of fashion.  If you can break into that market you will do well.  [Ed: with Gmail now starting to automatically give people a Google Plus account, the popularity of this may start to change.]

I've found a few writer's groups who are really supportive on Google Plus.  I am slowly building my 'circles' here and it is going well.

I haven't used a blog for long, this blog 'Confessions of a Kiwi Self-publisher' is my first real blog.  I had my husband show me how to get it all set up and have found it to be extremely user-friendly.

You will find that most authors have blogs.  They will write about their daily lives as writers and will use their blogs to give snippets of their work for their fans to keep them engaged while their next book is being produced.

Many authors will find like-minded authors who write in similar genre and they will all 'Blog Hop' – write guest posts for other's blogs.  This is a fantastic way to extend your readership and fan-base.  I really encourage you to blog hop and have many guest bloggers on your own blog.

Unless you have a huge amount of books to sell – like me – or a huge following – not like me – then a website is an expense you can do without.  It costs to have your own domain name, to host your site and to have someone update it day-in and day-out.  I have a techie for a hubby and am blessed with FREE WEB MAINTAINANCE but without him it would all add up.  [Ed: another option is to look at something with a simple content management system (CMS): but much of this could be done as a blog.]

If you do consider getting your own website then make sure you purchase your domain names now before they get taken.

Author Central
Author Central is an author page linked to Amazon.  If you set up your own author central page you can list all of your titles in one place on Amazon.  Amazon lets you select the books that are yours and it is a great place to update guff about your books – like if you accidentally miss-spell something in your book's description.

If you have written under a pen name, you can also set up an author central account under your pen name and link it to your KDP account.

Author Central allows you to link your twitter and your blog (RSS feed) to your author page and there is place for your author bio and pic.  You can link to your website and other social networking sites as well.

When I am looking for more books by an author on Amazon I always check out their Author Central Page.  REALLY IMPORTANT TO GET ONE IF YOU SELL ON AMAZON!!!

Goodreads is a social networking site for bookworms and authors.  It is great for listing your books and getting another set of reviews from readers.  This is a great place to get noticed, but I'm not totally convinced you will get many sales via this site.

Just like on Facebook, you can set up chat times with readers, set up giveaways and connect with other authors.  There are book cover competitions, Top Ratings lists, etc that you can engage in.

Goodreads is now owned by Amazon, but Amazon doesn't have as much governance over what is posted there, unlike the review system on its own site.  This means that readers can say what ever they want and they can 'shelve' your book where ever they like.  I have seen some sad behaviour on Goodreads by authors and readers alike and it makes me wish I had never set up a Goodreads account now.

If you want to find more online places to add your author profile to, check out Author Discovery.  They have a great list of places you can add your author profile to to boost your discoverability: http://authordiscovery.com/2013/06/21/12-author-profile-sites-to-boost-your-discoverability/

Author Marketing Club 
Author Marketing Club is another great resource for promoting your self-published books: http://authormarketingclub.com/

There are loads of other book sites you can list your books with, especially if you have a free promotion or a book launch.  Review sites are aplenty, but most you have to pay for now.  These two links show lists to dozens of other sites you should try to get your books onto.  Have a read, check them all out and find out which ones might fit you best.

Basically, you have to promote your own books, everywhere you can.  It is a whole lot of work to get your books out there in the 'verse, but if you stick at it, you will see results.  Becoming a self-publisher really is a full-time profession.  Writing and publishing was just the birth your book – don't let marketing and promotions become the death.

Last piece of advice for this subject – make it fun, enjoy your marketing and promotions, celebrate every achievement with the 'verse, and above all, don't ever give up!

~ Joy Findlay

Friday, July 26, 2013

Interview with Self-Publisher Sarah Pon

Today we are interviewing Sarah Pon of Pondera Books. Sarah is a trained secondary school music and English teacher and a children's book author. Sarah, can you please tell us about your books?
Firstly, I want to thank you, Joy, for this opportunity. In 2009 I was inspired partly by my mother, who was writing at the time, and partly by my travels, to write a fictional, children’s novella. I wanted to write a story that brought different cultural legends to life, where a nine-tailed fox named, Kwozy and a new acquaintance, Millo, would adventure together and meet interesting characters who would share their own tale or two. So, about a year and a half later, I’d finished the book, ‘Fox Tales, Journey to the Pinnacles of Death.’ It took another year to edit and find out how to get it published. That was the first of my five ebooks to be published.

The other four books are short, rhyming stories;
PreciousPrincess’ is about a little girl who doesn’t want to go to bed but realises in the end that she’d love to dream the night away. Images were done by Vicky Boreham, an old school friend.

Kingof the Throne’ is all about a little boy who refuses to take the throne. This is a good story to help encourage potty training. Also illustrated by Vicky Boreham.

Harveythe Hedgie-pogg’ was a little bit different because my friend, Paul Elder, had already created the images and just needed a story for them. So I happily obliged, but I have to say, that it was more challenging writing for pictures, when previously the pictures were the last to be created.  This is a story about how Harvey became the hero of the woodland.

My latest ebook is ‘Stinky Dinky,’ which is about a boy who loves to fart. I’m sure most boys would find this one amusing. The images were also done by Paul Elder, who’s a wonderful cartoonist.

I also have a new ebook coming soon, ‘The Princess and the Pea.’ So watch this space. The images are beautifully done by my new friend, Tracey Hudson Countz aka Moon Diva Art.

Would you please describe the self-publishing process you took to get your books published?
After I had written Fox Tales, I didn’t really know what to do next. The Hamilton libraries at the time had special children’s events where NZ authors would read their books to an audience of children. So I went along, with my son, he was the cover for my secret agenda. After their piece, I would approach them and ask how they did it all. I was able to gain a lot of insight from that and have continued to keep in touch with them. One of the authors, Tamara James, and myself then decided to create a writers group. This was a wonderful networking and encouraging accountable resource.

From there I learnt about a seminar run by Josh Easby (author and publisher) on how to get published.He gave a lot of informative facts and encouraged us to go with ebooks, self-publishing and print on demand because the way into traditional publishing is so slim and takes too long. So with that, I decided to go electronic but I still didn’t have the technological skills to format my own book. But it just so happened that I ran into a local mum, Joy Findlay, who was just starting out on her own ebook adventure. Her husband, Bevan, was formatting her books and so I was blessed enough to be able to get mine formatted via Bevan.

Joy also really kick started my new venture by helping set up a kindle (kdp) account and assisting with US and NZ tax forms. Most of my help came from people I connected with. If you don’t know anyone personally, I’d suggest creating or joining a facebook writers/artist group, because that’s your foot in the door. Some people even email publishers and published authors with questions. I was also told by NZ author, Sharon Holt, that Learning Media and Scholastics (educational articles for NZ schools) is a good way to start getting published.

What was the most challenging step in the journey for you and why?
Once I’d written my book and had it formatted and up for sale on amazon, I found it hard to market it without over killing my friends, family and facebook likers with self-promotion. Plus, the fact that I really don’t have enough time to do a lot of marketing myself, takes a toll on sales. That’s the good thing about getting published the traditional way, the book stores promote and market your work. However, having ebooks for sale on amazon, can sit and stay there for however long you like without you having to do anything… but with all the ebooks out there now, it’s just a matter of whether your book gets lost in amongst the rest.

You have found a few illustrators in Hamilton, NZ. How did you find them and how has it been working with them?
My family and I illustrated for ‘Fox Tales’ but, as I mentioned earlier, Vicky Boreham illustrated ‘Precious Princess’ and ‘King of the Throne,’ but I had known her from high school. I found Paul Elder through Josh Easby and found my latest illustrator, Tracey Houdson Countz, through facebook networking. All of them have been great to work with. Vicky isn’t an illustrator by trade, so I was lucky to have her draw for me. If you would like to contact Paul, his website is http://www.hairytrolldesignz.com/ and Tracey’s is http://www.moondivaart.com/ Tracey is however from the USA.

You published your ebooks on Amazon's Kindle Store. How did you find the KDP publishing process?
KDP is well set out and once you’re used to it, is easy to manage. I like the free promotions you can do and the percentage of royalties you can gain. It takes up to 12 hours for KDP to publish your ebook, but I think that is reasonable. I do wish though, that they would wire royalties owed into NZ bank accounts because at the moment I have to receive a cheque, which takes weeks to arrive and weeks to clear in NZ banks.

Amazon deducts withholding tax from your royalty cheques each month. Getting a US International Tax Number (ITIN) is a major undertaking, how did you manage this?
Well, you have to earn $100USD in royalties in order to receive a cheque, which I haven’t done yet. So, as an author, unless you can market your book so that it gets enough attention, it’s not exactly a well-paid job. At the moment, I love being a published author, but it’s more like a hobby until I can get the time to market and promote. If you’re clever enough to write a one of a kind book that gets the world’s attention, then you may be the next great and wealthy author and all the best of luck to you. But don’t get down at heart if things take a while to take off.

Where else have you published your books and why?
I’ve used Blurb.com for a couple of travel books I created. They do print on demand and although it’s not cheap to print small amounts, it’s such a nice feeling, holding your own book. The good thing about ebooks is that you can take them down and edit them whenever you like, but if there’s a typo and it’s printed, there’s no taking it back. So you need to be thorough in your editing! My ‘Princess and the Pebble’ book is soon to be published on create space in ebook and print on demand form. I’m not sure what create space is like as of yet but I’d suggest looking around. There’s another site called Lulu.com that does the same thing. Kindle is great for ebooks because it sells them on amazon – a very popular site – but if you want to physically hold your book, then blurb and create-space are widely used, which suggests that it’s good.

What is the most exciting part of your self-publishing journey so far?
You are your own boss, you hold the rights of your book and can do what you want with it when you like. Promote it or leave it to luck, it’s all up to you. I personally just like telling people I’m a published author and enjoy knowing other people are reading my stories as well as reading my own books to my son and other family members.

Thank you Sarah for sharing your self-publishing journey with us here. For more information about Sarah and her fantastic Children's books please visit: www.ponderas.co.nz
You can also find Sarah on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/PonderasEbooks

All the best for your publishing Sarah, thank you.

~ Joy Findlay

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Working with Images Including Cover Design

In a follow-on from our post on Formatting your book for publishing, we will be taking a look at working with illustrations and images, including a bit about cover design.
It has to be said again, if your illustrations are poor, your sales will be poor.  Trust me, with over 60 ebooks on sale now, it is not hard to tell which of my books, just by looking at them, aren't selling very well.  Interestingly, my ebooks with cute, girly images are the ones that sell better than the others.  Does this mean that I should stop writing for young boys and just focus on publishing ebooks for only girls?  No, because some of the best-sellers on Amazon are aimed at little boys.
Just a point before proceeding: make sure you understand the difference between file size (how much space an image takes up on disk) and image resolution (count of the pixels in width and height). If you don't have these clear, then go and read up on them a bit first, as much of the below won't make sense otherwise.
Image quality is a balance between three things:
  • smaller file size;
  • better quality;
  • larger resolution.
Basically, the more you want one of these (e.g. a smaller file), the more you have to sacrifice one (or both) of the other two (e.g. lower quality and/or resolution).  Ebooks are subject to limits that can make getting images large enough and nice enough very difficult.
Excerpt: Formatting your book for publishing by Bevan Findlay
Images can be the bane of ebook creation.  Because of the way ebooks allow text to "re-flow", rather than remaining fixed to pages (there are no pages in an ebook), you never quite know where an image is going to appear.  Fixed-format ebooks (kids' stories, comics, graphic novels) will only really be achievable by making a whole page into a single image, text and all – attempting to overlay text on an image is beyond the capabilities of most current ebook formats.

In terms of image placement, assume that your only options are left, right or centre, and to either have the text flow around the (rectangular edge of the) image or drop below it.  In theory, more complicated layouts are possible, but if you achieve this reliably on all devices, you're doing better than me!

Getting used to how HTML scales images will be very helpful, as will knowing the likely resolutions of the devices viewing your stories: too small, and your images won't fill the page, or will look blocky.  However, most ebook stores have maximum file sizes for images, which limits how big (and nice) you can make them – for example, Amazon's KDP images can only be 127 kiB – or, in technical photography terms, stuff all!  This is why you will often see children's ebooks with an image followed by plain text beneath it (image aspect ratios are important here if you want both to show on the same page).  Joy Findlay's Pixie Courage is an example of having to make this compromise: look closely at the images and you can see "noise" around some of the edges, and that's after we excluded the text from the image.

Getting this resolution-quality-filesize balance right can be tricky, and you will want someone who knows how to use decent image editing software (GIMP is a free option if you can't afford Photoshop).  Trial-and-error is your friend, but if you assume a screen resolution ("page size" for full-page images) of around 1280 × 800 pixels, you should be able to get a reasonable balance between looking good and fitting in the filesize limit.  Savvy readers will notice that this isn't going to take advantage of something like an iPad 3's retina display or other high-end devices (even some phones now), but you simply cannot get a 127 kiB image that scale without horrible amounts of compression artefacts – until Amazon changes that limit, we'll just have to deal with it.

If you create a fixed-format ebook and include the text in the image itself, then you should include "alt" text to the image; this is what shows if an image doesn't load, but in this case is more about making the book's content searchable.  Adding alt text can be done in both HTML and Word.
Key things to remember are: Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform has specific size requirements for uploading images – you can upload larger images, but their Kindle formatting process will scale the image down, and their system won't care how much detail is in the image or if it looks pixelated or 'noisy', so it is best to control the size of the image and its quality before you publish the ebook.
Tips for publishing image-heavy ebooks, like children's picture books:
  • Don't have too much gradient space on the images, as the image is such a small file the gradients get really REALLY blocky and pixelated.
  • To avoid JPEG artefacts keep the images 'busy'; the busier the image – i.e. not too much flat colour – the better the JPEG 'noise' is hidden.  (Note: the opposite is true if you need to have any reasonable-size areas of flat colour in the image; making something busier only hides the effect, though it's actually 'using up' complexity that could be used elsewhere).
  • Consider having your words for your story under the image – done in HTML – to keep your image size smaller but the file size best quality (rather than including the words as part of the image).
  • For picture books, we create everything in A5 at best quality, export to PNG at best quality, then resize image file and save as JPEG, adjusting the compression quality to get it under 127 KiB.
  • Red colours tend to 'bleed' a bit, especially in the smaller file sizes required for ebook publishing.  By 'bleed' we mean that the colour doesn't stay within the edge of the object or shape and has JPEG artefacts which become noisier than other colours.
  • If you are painting or illustrating by hand, 'touch up' the image in Photoshop or GIMP or another photo manipulating programme before you publish.  Your ebook is competing with thousands of other children's picture ebooks and you need to create the best-looking book you can.
Cover page design
There are millions of books on sale worldwide.  If you are selling online, your book needs to be noticed, and the first point of contact that many have with your book is its cover.
If your book's cover looks like it was created by an amateur, not only will your book not sell, but your credibility as an author is at stake as well.  Who wants to buy books from author's who don't take their book – cover included – seriously?
Remember that your cover needs to look fantastic as a thumbnail sized image.  This is what most people will see.  If you have too much going on in the image it will be hard to read, and if your title is too small it won't be read either.
Tips for creating fantastic cover pages:
  • Get a professional to design your cover for you!!!
For those doing it alone, here are some more tips for creating great cover pages:
  • Keep the title bold, clear and readable – remember your book's cover will be mostly seen in thumbnail size.  If you can't read the words at this size then how will others?
  • Place your title on contrasting background.  Grey on black – or in this example, white on pink – is very hard to read.
  • Use images you have permission to use – don't use images that you don't have copyright for.
  • Sometimes stock images are over-used   I have downloaded two different books in one week with the same girl image on the cover page.  I have also seen the same image of a young guy in a grey hoodie on three – THREE – different covers.
  • Consider how your fonts match or don't match the book style.  e.g. an action-adventure story wouldn't have a cursive font.
  • Thick fonts look better in the thumbnail images.
  • Capitalised letters in your title are easier to see than lower case.
  • Don't over-think it – sometimes a simple, well thought-out design is enough.  Sometimes too much detail and words is over-the-top and looks messy.
  • Look at what kind of covers are selling well in the genre you want to sell in.  But be careful of not becoming lost in the forest of similar books.   These images below are all actual book covers on tulips.  Click on them to find them on Amazon.com/
There is a great article in the Huffington Post Books talking all about how we do judge a book by its cover.  Read here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/30/book-cover-design-indies_n_3354504.html
If you have a picture book that you want to publish, find a local illustrator and get started.
There are many cover designers in NZ who can help you also, check out my links page on this blog.
Happy designing!
~ Joy Findlay