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As the Author World Turns on Amazon Book Review Policies

By Judith Briles

Amazon: Love it … or hate it … but, you gotta deal with it.

“Why are my reviews being removed?” is an ongoing question that authors ask. There isn’t a live program that I do that it doesn’t surface.

Scratching our heads, few of us can figure out what makes the Amazon robots push the yank button, while others stay.

Book reviews, and lots of them, can make or break the success of a book. When it comes to Amazon and its policies—what we do know, at least in March, is that:

  1. Authors need reviews on their books. Lots of them.
    Once, there are 25, the robots warm up. More than 50, expect to see cross promotion: book covers pop up on “like” books … “Customers who bought this item also bought …” meaning that your book cover gets displayed on other author pages.
    As your reviews build up (think more than 75), Amazon does email blast, suggesting your book cover with the live link to viewers of the site that have shown an “interest” in your category with their searches. How cool is that?
    So yes, reviews do count. Big time.
  2. To post a review, a reviewer does not have to buy the book through Amazon.

    One of the myths is that a review can’t be posted on Amazon unless it was purchased from it. Get over it.

    If the reviewer did purchase the book on Amazon, it will be identified as a “verified” purchaser. Meaning, that it will be placed higher on the visibility placement of reviews.

  3. All reviews by “book owners/buyers” MUST be a customer of Amazon. Meaning that you spend at least $50 a year buying “stuff” on the site. This went into effect in 2017. Per Amazon:

    To contribute to Customer features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers, Idea Lists) or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50 minimum.

    My two bits: I read reviews online for a variety of products that I’m considering—I read the pros and cons and have posted multiple comments on products that I’ve purchased, including some bad ones. For me, I value others’ experiences.

  4. There is a difference between an EDITORIAL REVIEW and a CUSTOMER REVIEW.

    Amazon states that an Editorial Review is:

    an editorial review is a more formal evaluation of a book usually written by an editor or expert within a genre but can also be written by family and friends.

    Editorial reviews can be added by the author via Author Central or the page. They won’t have the 1-5-star post.

    And, Amazon does permit payment for editorial reviews.

    Regular readers post a Customer Review and they ones that get the Amazon robot’s attention. A rating of 1 to 5 is added, with five being the highest.

  5. Getting Customer Reviews

    There is still a lingering belief that if someone has a “free” copy of your book, he will be excluded from posting a review. Nonsense. If you are upfront that you want an honest review—pro or con, it’s open.

    Get your book out there—it can be an advanced reader copy (ARC) or books you have in stock. You can send them an eBook if that’s your preference ( has an easy window to use) or just books you have in your personal inventory.

    If you give your book away for the purpose of getting a review, ask your prospect to disclose that it was free at the end of the review or the beginning. It can even be in the title line, such as:

    • I received an advanced copy for an objective review.
    • My review is based on a complimentary copy.
    • The publisher sent me a review copy … I’m glad it did.

    If your book was bought outside of Amazon:

    • I heard _____ speak at a conference and bought her book …
    • I was on vacation and discovered ________ in a delightful bookstore on the coast …
    • Visiting a friend, she said, “You will love this book.” She was right …

What you should know and what Amazon states on its site:

  • Reviewers can remove or edit their review after it is posted.
  • Amazon “says” that just because someone is a friend, or a social media connection, doesn’t necessarily result in a review being taken down. With that said, I suspect that if we lined up all the reviews that have been removed by Amazon, the mileage would be countless.
  • Any reviewer can link to another product if it is relevant and available on Amazon. That means your own book or something else you offer. Amazon does love more sales!
  • When you offer something for a review, you can’t demand a review (although I’m clueless how the robots know this). If you offer anything other than a free or discounted copy of the book, it will invalidate a review, and it will be removed.

Getting Customer Reviews

The belief is that no friends or family can post a review. Amazon says:

We don’t allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book.

Sharing the household is easily understood. You and I get what that means. The big divide is on what constitutes “close friends.”

My opinion is that all those people who follow you on social media are rarely “close friends.” Close friends are those you:

  • spend physical time with
  • go to events with
  • have over for dinner
  • have phone chats

… not someone that retweets or reposts something you have posted.

Sigh. It’s a dilemma for sure.

  • Start with encouraging all to copy and post to Goodreads—yes, Amazon owns it, but they are different platforms.
  • Second, challenge Amazon.

I love what Rox Burkey, co-author of the Enigma series did. Not only did she challenge Amazon for removing a review of a book she bought, she cited the First Amendment: how dare Amazon void her rights to express her opinion. The review was reposted.

So, what do you do?

  • Don’t have anyone post if they live in your house. No exceptions.
  • Check Amazon daily. It usually takes 12 to 24 hours to pull down a review. Check your Book Page daily and copy all of them to your computer. Thank them and say and mark that the review is “helpful”—if Amazon pulls it down—resend to the poster if you know and ask them to alter and repost.
  • Give this email to the creator of the review who can challenge Amazon directly:
  • If by chance you get a snarky review and you feel that it does violate the guidelines, mark “abuse” by the review. You can email Amazon as well at the email.

Amazon Resources

If you are stuck … or a tad overwhelmed, here are a few Amazon resources for help.

  1. Check out Amazon Community Guidelines. Amazon has multiple pages with this title. Start here.
  2. With the change to KDP, you will be looking for both print publishing and eBook publishing. Start with logging into KDP, and clicking on Help at the top of the page. Under “Promote Your Book,” click Customer Reviews.
    This is the space to watch for the ever-present changes. Lots of FAQs and answers are posted in this section as well.
  3. Most of us sell books on Amazon using one of their book-specific selling tools: KDP, Advantage, or a third-party such as IngramSpark.
    There’s also Amazon’s Seller Central’s Marketplace, which means you can sell books here plus other products. It has its own guidelines and policies.
    And if you have problems, use this email: or try calling Amazon Customer Care: 866-216-1072.

Remember, if you stay within Amazon’s guidelines, you should succeed. Yup, love it or hate … but do it.
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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3 Book Marketing Myths to Avoid

By Sandra Beckwith

When I was in college, one of the girls in my dorm terrified us with the “true” story of “The Hook,” a killer with a hook for a hand who attacked a couple in a parked car.

The storyteller insisted it was true because it happened to the cousin of a friend of a friend on Long Island. How could we argue with that? TRUTH!

You’ve probably heard the story, too, and by now we all know it’s a classic urban legend.

Urban legends aren’t limited to horror stories, though. In the book publishing industry, a better term for them is “myths,” and there are a lot of book marketing myths. They spread from author to author quickly thanks to online groups and social media. Authors believe and accept them automatically, probably because they see the myths repeated so often.

Accepting book marketing myths as fact can hurt your writing career, though, so let’s set the record straight on three of the most common.

Do any of these resonate with you?

Myth 1

You should pursue a traditional book publishing contract because the publisher will do all the marketing so you don’t have to.



Your publisher will probably send advance review copies, but quite often, that’s it. The support you get varies from publisher to publisher but unless you’re in Celeste Ng’s league, you’ll have to do the vast majority of the marketing yourself.

Book publishing is a business. Publishers throw their marketing money behind those titles they think will sell the most. It might not be yours or mine.

Need proof? Ask any author with a mainstream publishing contract. Those who bought into this myth usually admit that they were naïve about what the publisher would do to market their books.

There are many valid reasons to pursue a traditional contract, but “the publisher will do all the marketing” isn’t one of them. That’s an urban legend that just won’t go away.

Myth 2

You will succeed if you just copy what other authors are doing.

Unlike plush hotel robes, book marketing isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Your book marketing plan will be based on your book’s target audience — those people most likely to buy your book. The people who will love your book aren’t the same people who will love mine, so we shouldn’t copy each other.

That doesn’t mean that you have to start from scratch, though. What you want to do is find authors with the same target audience as yours who are also successful. Copying somebody with different readers is a waste of time. So is copying somebody who isn’t selling many books.

For example, if you’ve written a book on entrepreneurship, find another author who has also done that, and done it well. Study that author’s social media accounts; Google the book to see where it’s been reviewed or media outlets that have interviewed the author. That’s when “copying” that writer’s approach makes sense.

Myth 3

Once you’ve finished writing the book, you should wait until it’s published to start the marketing process.

Ideally, you’ll start actively marketing your book at least six months before your publication date. But if you’re like so many who waited until the Amazon link went live before even thinking about marketing, don’t give up.

Better late than never.

To enjoy the most success and exposure for the book you’ve put so much into, you want to start the marketing process early. That’s because you want an audience waiting for your book as soon as it’s available. Building that audience takes time and effort.

My article, “Book promotion timing: Implement these 9 strategies as soon as you’ve finished the first draft,” will give you ideas. Select one or two and learn how to do them well. Otherwise, you’re likely to get overwhelmed.

Your goal is to make sure you have the right network and tools in place to sell books as soon as yours is available. Some people have the network and connections they need even before they start writing. Others need to work on it.

Spend time learning

As with everything else related to the book publishing industry, knowledge is power. Take the time to:

  • Learn as much as you can about book marketing long before your book is published. Then, when you come across conflicting information, you’ll be in a better position to evaluate what makes the most sense.
  • Consider the source of the information rather than accepting what you’re seeing as fact. I’m in a Facebook publishing group that includes a vocal self-proclaimed expert who shares misinformation. And . . . people tend to believe the loudest voice, as if volume equals knowledge. Beware the loud “expert.”
  • Think before you blindly accept what you see about book marketing online. For example, if someone insists that the best way to get reader reviews on Amazon is to ask your family members to write one, go right to the source: check Amazon’s terms of service. (That tactic is prohibited.)

Book marketing isn’t hard, but when you buy into common myths, it becomes more difficult. Don’t allow youself to be misled by publishing’s version of “The Hook.”

Let’s bust a few more myths! What other book marketing myths are you seeing or wondering about?
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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Book Publishing: Are You Keeping Up? – Part 1

By Lee Foster

Book publishing best practices are evolving quickly around us. For each of us, the challenge is: How clearly are we seeing the big trends? And then: Are we making the practical adjustments to position ourselves successfully?

I’ve been thinking about these issues as I work on the 2019 update of my book on publishing, An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option.

The book chapters are a manageable 10 aspects of modern book publishing. Here is a main trend and some key practical adjustments to keep in mind for each chapter.

1. How Traditional Publishing Worked (and Sometimes Still Works)

The shocking news today is the continuing deterioration of many of the landmark traditional publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers.

One of those in decline here in California is Sunset Publishing, which was the gold standard for dependable book contracts. I did a work-for-hire how-to book for Sunset long ago, and all went well, so I am not affected now. But a colleague today is owed $5,000 and is unsure of his prospects. Sunset’s utter collapse is public knowledge and would shock the founders, Mel and Bill Lane.

The practical reaction is to review your relationships, if you have any, with traditional publishers and see how things are going. Keep your relationships positive and see what is advantageous to you. For example, I had a successful travel book Northern California History Weekends with publisher Globe Pequot.

We worked well together and the book sold for 15 years. When they said last year that they would soon print a new 1,000 copies, I asked if they would just return all publishing rights to me. They said, “OK.” Soon I will have updated all the chapters and come out with a new self-published edition, as a print book, ebook, and website book.

If you have done any books with traditional publishers, what rights back might you secure, if you ask?

2. Why Independent Publishing─Also Known as Self-Publishing─Arose

One aspect of good news in modern publishing is that self-publishing continues to evolve as a practical path to success.

As Amazon appears to sell maybe 60% of all print books and maybe 80% of all ebooks (please correct my data if you know better), the independent publisher gets an ever-more-level playing field in the search for an audience. Moreover, Ingram, which can service all bookstores with printed books, continues to evolve as a welcoming home for the self-publisher.

One practical reaction to consider is to look around in your region and try to find a self-publishing group that supports your dreams. Collectively, we can learn a lot from colleagues as we strive for better covers, more inviting interior layouts, and more adroit editing.

The national organization IBPA lists regional affiliates, maybe one in your area. In the San Francisco region, I benefit from the monthly meeting of BAIPA. Joel Friedlander has been a leader in this local org.

Many examples of inspiring self-pub success can be seen at our monthly meetings. For example, I’ve watched for a couple of years as Steven Kessler, a psychology self-help author, reports on his progress. There are a hundred aspects of his story, some of which apply to me and to you. Steven announced last month that he had sold 10,000 copies of his book. Good things can happen.

3. Why Independent Publishing May Be Your Most Viable Option Now and in the Future

The “control factor” in indie publishing becomes more appealing to me every year as I think back on my “traditional publishing” ventures and our changing times.

For example, the Globe Pequot people who did my Northern California History Weekends (mentioned above) wanted a print book only. They had no interest in an ebook. As the ebook era arose, I gently encouraged them to pursue this new form. They said no. There was nothing I could do. The entire content was locked up in a print book and could not be exploited in any other way.

But now, with the book content back under my control, I can create not only the print book, but also an ebook. I can, and am, developing the 52 chapters in the book as website articles, making this a “website book.”

Think about your book dreams. What is the max that you could achieve in terms of forms?

  • Print book?
  • Plus ebook?
  • Possibly also a “website book”?
  • What about an audiobook of your book?
  • What about licensing of your content?
  • What about translation of your book into Chinese, the most widely read and spoken language on our planet?

Control over your destiny is a positive, the first step to success.

4. Your Print-on-Demand Book

Advancing print-on-demand technology (POD) has changed everything, and has spurred on the self-publishing movement. Color interiors at an affordable price could be the next breakthrough.

Because of print on demand, I don’t need huge capital to develop my books, as long as I stay with black-and-white only. Because of capital requirements for offset printing, we formerly needed traditional publishers.

The economics of self-publishing are favorable.

With print-on-demand, I don’t have to ship. My partners, Amazon and Ingram, take care of that.

The practical task at hand is to keep track of the evolving details in the two major print-on-demand worlds:

Joel Friedlander has a new step-by-step product on the details of the new Kindle Direct scene.

One vulnerability for authors is that the print-on-demand supplier can raise its per-page cost, as Ingram did recently. You might need to change your book price to keep it reasonably profitable.

Keep track of where the players continue to expand their global POD manufacturing network. Amazon and Ingram can now POD print in England and Australia.

It’s thrilling to know that foreigners can get your book tomorrow in those distant locations. Someone can order your POD book in London and get it tomorrow. No expensive overseas shipping is needed.

Self-publishing authors benefit immensely as this revolution proceeds.

5. Your Ebook Distribution

It is always helpful to remind ourselves of roughly the distribution of sales for what we ordinarily call “books.”

It appears to be about:

  • 70% print
  • 17% ebooks
  • 6% audiobooks

Rather than debate what format your book should be, just give the consumer every format that is appropriate for your book.

Start with the print book and the ebook. Possibly you have experienced, as I have, satisfied ebook consumers with poor eyesight who say, “Thank goodness for ebooks. I can make the type size as big as I want.”

Managing the best plan for ebooks for yourself is an ongoing challenge. I generally recommend now that you go with Amazon Kindle directly for Amazon and then with Smashwords for everyone else.

Keep the layout simple and “flowing” so the consumer can increase the type size and change the font, as they might wish, even on their phone readers.

One big issue with Amazon is whether you will go with them exclusively or not. Exclusivity is required to allow you to benefit from their KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) income for subscription reads. I don’t like exclusivity for myself, but your best path may differ. I’ve seen many exclusivity requirements ultimately damage the content creator in the stock photo marketing world, for example.

In conclusion, please share with us your success or disappointment as you observe the book publishing scene evolve quickly.

What’s happening with you, for better and for worse, as you struggle to keep up?

Watch for Part 2 of this discussion in about five weeks.

Photo: BigStockPhoto. Amazon links contain affiliate code.

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Fun with Fonts — Getting Ebook Typefaces Right

By David Kudler

Garamond. Helvetica. Times. Comic Sans.

Everyone loves fonts, right?[i]

Well, not everyone — but we sure spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we find just the right ones for our print books. And we want our ebooks to look just as good, don’t we?

I certainly get asked about fonts in ebooks a lot.

Here’s the thing: Yes, we can add fonts to an ebook so that it looks beautiful: [ii]

(This is from the ebook for White Robes, the short story that I’ve used as an example in many of the posts I’ve done here. Feel free to download it and poke around!)

How to Embed Fonts

You can add fonts a number of ways:

  1. Using CSS to make particular fonts display
  2. Embedding the fonts in your ebook
  3. Turning text into images

Using CSS to make particular fonts display

Remember back when we were discussing all of the fun ways that you can tell an ereader how to display your ebook — the rules known as Cascading Stylesheets (or CSS)?

Well, maybe not, but trust me: using CSS you can make your text sit up and shake paws.

Say you want to add pretty fonts, like I did here:

All you need to do is add one property to your stylesheet, your header, or in a style attribute:

font-family:mgs4brush, sans-serif;

Boom. Done.

Except it doesn’t always work.

Why not? Well, for a number of reasons.

First of all, if the ereader doesn’t have the font installed, it doesn’t know how to display it. Trust me: none of them have mgs4brush installed. So your ereader will go with its default sans-serif font, whatever that may be.

Second, even if it is installed, if the user has changed the font settings, their preference takes precedence. Remember: miniscule purple Zapfino on an orange background. If that’s what the reader wants, that’s what the reader gets.

Well, there’s only so much we can do about that second problem — but what about the first, the fact that the fonts aren’t installed?

Turns out there’s a way around that.

Embedding fonts in your ebook

You can actually put the font files right into your ebook, so that the text should display the way you want it to even if it isn’t installed on the ereader. This is called embedding fonts.

Remember that each ebook is just a big ZIP archive, made up of HTML and support files. A website in a box.

Well, one of the kinds of support files that ebooks support is OTF (OpenType Font) fonts.[iii]

There are a few ways to embed your font(s) into your ebook:

  1. By hand
  2. Calibre
  3. InDesign

By hand

Adding fonts by hand is relatively straight forward, if you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, describing the process would take up an entire post. Fortunately, the lovely folks at Kobo have already written the post for me.[iv]

When I’m working in Sigil, my ebook editing software of choice, fonts have to be added this way. It involves actually adding the font file(s), as well as adding code to both your OPF file and CSS stylesheets. None of this is terribly difficult — but if looking under the hood of your ebook is scary, perhaps this isn’t the method for you.

If you’re interested in the underpinnings of ePub, are an inveterate do-it-yourselfer, or just don’t trust anything that isn’t spelled out, check the post out.


Of course, this being the twenty-first century, there’s an app for that. Several, in fact. I mean, if there’s a straight-forward, repetitive process involving digital files, someone will have written a script to simplify it. One of the most convenient is built in to recent versions of the ebook multi-tool app Calibre. I’ve recommended Calibre many times before, both as an ebook reading app, an ebook conversion app, and a pretty good WYSIWYG ebook editing app. [v]

To add a font to your ebook in Calibre, first open the book in Calibre’s book editor by right-clicking (or control-clicking) on the title, then selecting Edit Book. This opens the book editing utility (essentially, the part of Calibre that’s like Sigil).

Now, make sure you know where the font file you want to add is located. Mine in this example is called Risuko.otf. It’s a font I created for my books using Font Forge.

The next thing you’re going to have to do is edit one of your styles to call the font, if you haven’t already done so. Remember the book title page I showed above? Well, the style for that text includes a line that looks like this:

font-family:mgs4brush, sans-serif;

I’m going to edit it to call my custom font:

font-family:Risuko, mgs4brush, sans-serif;

Next, go to the Tool menu and select Manage Fonts.

See Risuko there on line 15? That’s the one we want to embed!

Click on the button that reads Embed all fonts.[vi]

If you’re sure you’re done editing the book, you can also click the button reading Subset all fonts — this will get rid of any glyphs (characters) that aren’t used in the ebook.[vii]

Calibre has added a new CSS stylesheet in your ebook called fonts.css. Its only purpose is to keep track of the new font(s) you’ve added to your ebook.

Now my title displays in my custom font, Risuko, while the subtitle and byline are in another font:

You can see that the title is bolder, less flowing than the rest.

Not exactly point-and-click easy, but easier than doing it by hand!


If you want fonts embedded in your ebook and you’re exporting it from Adobe InDesign, then presto! There’s an easy-ish way to do that. [viii]

When you’re exporting your book to ePub format, go to the HTML & CSS tab and make sure there’s a checkmark next to Include Embeddable Fonts.

That’s it. InDesign will make sure that your new ePub file includes all of the fonts that it needs to display just the way you want it to.


The Problem with Embedding Fonts

There are a couple of problems with embedding fonts — both practically and legally:

  1. Amazon
  2. Copyright
  3. Obfuscation


If you want to embed the fonts into an ebook that you’re going to upload to KDP, you can’t simply upload the ePub file — which has long been my practice and recommendation. If you try, KDP will strip out all embedded fonts — and may even delete references to them in the stylesheets. So we need to upload something other than an ePub file.

Rather, you have to convert the file into one of Amazon’s Frankenstein so-called “mobi” files — a package that combines an old PalmPilot format (MOBI7) and Amazon’s own version of ePub3 (KF8) — and then upload that.

To do this, you need to use either the kindlegen Java script or (my preference) Amazon’s Kindle Previewer app. To use Previewer, just drag and drop your ePub file[ix] onto the app’s window. The app will then convert the book; this can take a while so go grab a cup of coffee or tea or Red Bull or whatever. Once the conversion is complete, your book will show up in the Previewer window. Here’s the opening of my novel Risuko in Previewer:

Note that the series and book title are in my custom font, while the subtitle and byline are in the other brush font, mgs4brush.

Preview the file in all the different formats: [x]

  • Tablet (that is, as it will look on a Kindle Fire or iPad)
  • Phone (that is, how it will look in the iOS or Android Kindle app)
  • Kindle E-reader (that is, how it will look on black-and-white eInk Kindles like the Paperwhite)

You can’t edit the converted file, unfortunately. If you’re unhappy with how the converted ebook displays, go back and edit the ePub file, then reconvert.

Once you’re happy, export the file by selecting Export in the File menu. Make sure you keep track of where the file is.[xi] Now you can upload you’re brand new “mobi” file to KDP — and Amazon (probably) won’t strip out the fonts.


They still might, however. And other retailers and aggregators may bounce back your font-stuffed file. Even if they don’t, embedding may be problematic. Why?

Because every one of those fonts you just embedded in your ebook was created by someone. And any creative work is, as I discussed recently, protected by copyright law.[xii] And putting someone else’s copyrighted work inside of your own and then selling it without their permission is, in fact, a form of intellectual property theft.

You wouldn’t want anyone to do that to your work, would you?

Just because you have a font installed on your computer doesn’t mean that you have a license to use it to design your print books, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can bundle it into your ebook (where people can easily unzip the file and extract the font) and sell it. You have to know if you have the license to embed the font in your ebook.

How do you know?

First of all, read David Bergland’s excellent article, Where Can I Legally Use My Fonts?

Essentially, it depends on how you acquired the font.

If you downloaded the font from an online store (or as I’ve occasionally done, directly from the designer), there was a license agreement — you probably skipped over that bit. Go back and read the fine print. It should tell you whether electronic distribution or ebook distribution rights were included in the license.

If it came with your computer — or with a software package like Microsoft Office or Adobe InDesign — the license you acquired with that software it almost certainly didn’t include the right to embed it in an ePub or mobi file. Sorry. You can go back and look — some of Microsoft’s fonts, for example, and some of the ones included in Apple’s OS — are actually public domain, and so free to use. But you need to check.

Do a web search along the lines of Calibri font license. See what kind of information comes up. At the very least, you should find some legitimate stores that will help you find out who created and owns the font.

You can also try looking at the actual font file — in the Mac Finder, use Get Info (command-i). In Windows, right-click and select Properties, then look in the Details tab. Either way, you should see some information about the font’s creator, its copyright status, and possibly its license.

Once you find out who created the font and/or owns the copyright, do a search on the creator’s site to figure out what kind of licensing arrangement came with the font, and, if that doesn’t include the right to embed the font in your ebooks, what is available to you.

If you’re fortunate — or were very careful (as I was) — the fonts you want to use have all either included ebook rights, been released into the public domain by their creator[xiii], or are available through a GNU or Creative Commons license in exchange for attribution or the like.

Otherwise, take a deep breath: you’ll need to purchase a license. Which could run you anywhere from a few dollars to thousands.

Are you still sure you want to include that font?

Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to embed fonts into our ebooks that folks can’t get at?


There is: obfuscation.

Essentially, font obfuscation encrypts the font file(s) embedded in the ebook so that the ereader can use them, but dishonest types can’t unZIP your ebook and steal them.

There are two methods of obfuscation:

  • One created by the body that oversees development of the ePub file format, the IDPF
  • Another created by the largest licensor of typefaces, Adobe (makers of Photoshop, InDesign, etc.)

When you export an ebook from InDesign with fonts embedded, they’re automatically obfuscated using the Adobe method.

In other conversion and editing software, you can add obfuscation using the IDPF method.

The problem is what often occurs when you have two standards: neither of them quite works.

Oh, they work — but getting retailers to take files with obfuscated fonts aboard is almost impossible.

So unless you’re using fonts that you yourself created (like my Risuko font) or that you have a license for, your choice is bleak: be a thief, or…

In addition, no matter what you do, different ereaders will handle different embedded fonts differently. Some can’t display them at all (older models especially) while some display them incredibly inconsistently. And, in many cases, if the reader has set the preferences to read in a particular font (as opposed to what most ereaders refer to in their font menu as the original or publisher font), then it will display as they wish it to display, rather than displaying the font you spent all of that effort making sure was embedded. New Kindles are all set to display everything in their proprietary font Bookerly.

Often, it makes sense to take a deep breath, save some file size, and just allow the ereader to display the way the reader wants it to display.

Of course, there is still one other option….

Turning text into images

Yeah. This is actually the most consistently effective way to get the fancy title pages, chapter heads, and drop caps you’re looking for.

Turn the text — formatted just the way you want it — into JPEG images, and then import those into the book.

Remember, the legal problem isn’t using the font; it’s including the font file in your ebook.

So, instead of going to all of the trouble above to embed the font, design your ebook so that it looks exactly the way you want it — you can do this in the ePub file or in the file you exported from — and then… take a screen shot.

I’ve already shown you examples in the sections above — all of the visual samples from my books were simply screenshots of the ebook.

To this, first get the section of text looking just the way you want it.

If you’re on a Mac, press shift-command-4, then draw the rectangle over the section of text you want to use.

If you’re on a Windows PC, use the Snipping Tool or press Windows-PrntScrn.

Find the image and crop it. Rename it so that you can easily recognize it (remember: no spaces in ePub filenames — use hyphens or underlines).

Import them into your ebook, and then place them where you want them to go, using CSS to define the size at which the image should display, and add any fancy flourishes, (like floating a drop cap to the left, for example).

There you are!

Since nothing’s perfect, there are disadvantages to this approach to.

You’re adding file size — probably more than you would if you embedded the font(s). Amazon will ding you $0.15/MB of file size with each purchase, if you’re using their most popular royalty plan.

If you replace the chapter or section head text with an image, automatic nav-menu tools won’t know what to call the section. So make sure you have already created the navigation menu/table of contents before you replace the text with images.

Those images won’t reflow — so if someone’s reading on a phone or has blown the text up large because they’re visually impaired, the images will stay as they are.

Finally, old Kindles really don’t handle images terribly well — they all show up on their own line. No floating or flowing or insetting allowed. The drop cap will appear on a separate line from the rest of the text. There are ways to handle that, but they’re a pain; you may decide they’re not worth it. [xiv]

So basically, after all of that, what I can recommend is this:

  • If you’re sure you legally have the right to embed, consider it. (I don’t recommend you bother with obfuscation — like DRM, it tends to be more a hinderance than an effective way of stopping thieves.)
  • If that doesn’t work, consider using images of the text you’re most concerned with.
  • If neither of those sounds attractive or workable, relax and let the Bookerly be with you.

[i]Okay, because I know I’ll make Joel Friedlander unhappy if I don’t, I’m going to remind us all that those beautifully designed collections of letters, numbers, etc., are actually called typefaces; it is their variations (bold, italic, old-style numerals, etc.) that are called fonts. We can thank Steve Jobs for committing synecdoche and apply the name of the part to represent the whole. We forgive you, Steve.

[ii]And adding fonts isn’t just about esthetics. Perhaps you’re writing a book for dyslexics and want to add a font that they’ll find easier to read. Or perhaps you’re including words in non-latin-alphabet languages; many fonts, even Unicode-compliant ones, lack glyphs for every possible character in every written language.

[iii]Which is a pain. There are many kinds of font file formats — TTF (TrueType Fonts), PostScript fonts, etc. — that you can’t use in ePub ebooks. If you want to use one, you could either look to see if the source for your font offers it in OTF format, or use Font Forge (not a simple solution) or another conversion tool to change the font to OTF format.

[iv]Fonts embedded in this manner (which follows the ePub3 standard) should work in ebooks uploaded to other retailers as well — with a few limitations, noted below.

[v]As stated many times before, I usually use the one-trick pony Sigil. Because I’ve been using it for nearly a decade, and I like it. But Calibre has most of the same functions, and can serve as a sort of iTunes-for-ebooks library app besides.

[vi]Before Joel or any font designers out there kill me, yes, I know there’s a real problem with doing this. I’ll talk that through in a minute.

[vii]This will make you feel virtuous. And if you’re trying to shrink the last few KB out of your ebook, size, go for it. However, the only retailer that docks your royalty by file size is Amazon — and, as I explain below, they don’t allow you to display embedded fonts anyway. So If I were you, I wouldn’t bother. Still — your choice.

[viii]Which is remarkable, because as powerful as InDesign is, very little about it could be considered easy.

[ix]It will also convert a number of other file formats, including Word doc. RTF file or HTML file. But you can’t embed fonts in those!

[x]This preview isn’t 100% accurate — it will, for example, draw on the system fonts installed on you computer, so it will likely display text in fonts that aren’t embedded. Also, that Kindle E-Reader preview won’t accurately preview the MOBI7 version of the file that will display on old-style Kindles. Caveat excogitatoris. (Designer beware.)

[xi]I usually rename the file to include the version number, just so that I can keep track of what came from where.

[xii]In fact, the US doesn’t allow typeface designers to copyright typeface designs (though many other nations do). But digital fonts? Those are code. Those are protected.

[xiii]Not by some site that promises you every typeface known to man for free. Just because they’re offering it for free doesn’t mean they have the right to distribute it; that’s their fault, but ignorance is no defense.

[xiv]Okay, if you’re down here, I know you’re geeky enough to be curious. How you make it work is using special media queries for Kindles. Using these, you set the display property for the drop cap image to none if the reader is MOBI7, while you set the display of the first letter in the paragraph to none if it’s KF8. This is, essentially, the same way to make line indents work in poetry work properly for both old and new Kindles. Aren’t you glad you asked?
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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7 Myths of Using Press Releases to Promote Your Books

By Joan Stewart

When an author plans a book launch and hires me to write the press release, I often learn fairly quickly that she has no clue about the kinds of results to expect.

That’s because she asks questions like these:

  • “How many books do you think I’ll sell from the press release?”
  • “How many TV and radio shows will schedule me to appear as a guest?”
  • “How many newspapers and magazine do you think will print the release?”

Most authors believe the press release will result in phone calls from eager journalists and an onslaught of orders. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By itself, the press release lacks the power to skyrocket sales.

But combine it with other marketing tactics like a compelling email or phone pitch, and you can help journalists learn about your book and take the next step: schedule an interview with you or invite you to be a guest on their show or podcast.

The pitch can be a timely hook that ties into winter spring, summer or fall. You can tie your book to one of the four seasons of the year. Or choose a sex angle. For local media, choose the local angle.

Why You Need a Press Release

Why, then, should you even write a press release?

Because regardless of what angle you pitch, you can link to the same press release that summarizes your book.

It’s the one document that tells people almost everything they need to know about your book including:

  • What it’s about
  • Why you wrote it
  • The price
  • Where it’s sold, including links to online retailers
  • The publishing company
  • Quotes from you
  • How to order in bulk
  • How to contact you for interviews or speaking engagements
  • Your short bio
  • A synopsis of the book
  • An excerpt from a review
  • Statistics about a problem your nonfiction addresses

You can use the release in many ways: in your book’s media kit and at your website. You can also fold a printed copy and tuck it inside the front cover of a book you send to a reviewer.

The Seven Biggest Myths of Using Press Releases to Promote Your Books

Myth #1

The press release is dead.

Crappy, rambling press releases are dead. So are press releases that sound like free advertisements for your book.

Well-written releases that share information quickly with readers, and explain why they should read the book, are very much alive. They’re one of the most important elements in your publicity campaign, especially when used in tandem with a pitch.

Myth #2

We write press releases primarily for journalists.

That was true 30 years ago, before the Internet.

Today, however, we write press releases mostly for consumers. They can find our releases online, via search, and learn everything they need to know without relying on the media gatekeepers!

In other words, if the media won’t write an article as a result of the release, it can still reach people who buy your books.

Myth #3

The inverted pyramid style is best.

The inverted pyramid style includes the “who, what, where, why and how” details at the top of the release. That was how we wrote releases two decades ago when we were writing only for journalists. If they needed to trim the release, they’d cut from the bottom where the least important information was located.

Today, however, we’re writing mostly for consumers. It’s far more important to place keyword-rich phrases in the press release headline and throughout the body copy so the search engines can find the release and pull traffic to it.

You can start your press release by telling a story of why you wrote the book, or the story of the main character in your novel.

Myth #4

There are dozens of free press release distribution services available so you don’t have to spend money on the paid services.

Most of these free services don’t distribute anything. They park your press release on their website where—horrors!—you might later learn that it’s right next to a pay-per-click ad bought by one of your competitors.

The other problem with free sites is that if you discover a major error in your release, and it’s already on the free site, it’s usually impossible to contact the website owner and make a correction. The mistake lives on forever. reviewed more than 90 of the free options and found only five reputable choices. Read more about them here. They then reviewed those five on criteria such as the size of their distribution network, level of customization, and ease of use. I haven’t tested any of these but you might want to.

If you use one of the free services, that’s fine. But for a book launch, you should also use one of the paid services that actually distribute your release.

I recommend my clients distribute their releases through Dan Janal’s Guaranteed Press Releases service. Dan, a former journalist, makes sure the release has all the elements needed for excellent search engine optimization.

Dan distributes your release through PR Newswire. It’s sent to more than 30,000 reporters at more than 17,500 media organizations, and to a custom list of websites, based on your industry, niche, geographical location and book topic.

This bears repeating: Major stories about your book will usually be generated from a customized pitch with a specific hook or angle. The pitch can link to the release.

Myth #5

Journalists love press releases.

Most journalists despise them because most press releases are written poorly. And writers and editors don’t want the same news that everyone else gets. They want their own idea or angle which you describe in your pitch.

I recommend sending a pitch of no more than three or four short paragraphs via email, and including a link to the release that’s been published through one of the paid or free press release sites, or at your website. Don’t attach the release to the email because people are leery of opening attachments and getting a virus.

Myth #6

No publication will ever print my press release exactly how I’ve written it.

Smaller publications like weekly newspapers and “shoppers,” the free weeklies that show up in your mailbox, will often print your press releases exactly as you’ve written them. They don’t have reporters to rewrite your releases or call you if they think there’s a missing fact or two.

That’s why you want your releases to be as complete as possible and written in such a way that it sounds like a journalist wrote it. No gushing. No mentioning that the author is “thrilled to announce” her new book.

I’ve written press releases of up to two pages that promote events, and my local weekly newspaper has printed them almost word for word.

Myth #7

Google will penalize me for writing too many press releases.

Google doesn’t keep track of how many releases you’re writing, nor does it care.

Other than your book launch, there are dozens of opportunities to write releases. Those include when:

  • you win an award
  • speak at an event
  • schedule a book signing
  • make a charitable contribution
  • start a crowdfunding campaign
  • comment on a breaking news story that’s tied to the topic of your book

My Press Release Masterclass tutorial and 15 handy, done-for-you templates, will help you write perfect press releases every time. Learn more about them here. Or try writing releases on your own. But don’t forget to take the next step with that all-important pitch that includes an interesting hook or angle.

If you’re confused about when to use a press release and when to use a pitch, I’ve written two blog posts that can help:

The pros and cons of press releases and pitches

When to use a press release and when to deliver a pitch
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – February 2019

By Amy Collins

This month has been all about working with authors to help them focus on their markets and really find their readers. If you are having trouble finding your market or connecting with your readers, may I suggest you join us in this month’s DO THIS NOT THAT as we take a moment and truly outline:

  • who we are writing for
  • who we are writing to
  • how we are going to use that knowledge to promote and market our books in the future

I have spoken with dozens of authors in the last few weeks who cannot answer the question “who are you writing for?”

What They Did

They wrote a book without their reader firmly planted in mind. They had a vague idea of their future reader while they were writing, but nothing concrete.

Some authors write with a very specific reader in mind. However, when questioned, they will admit that their “target reader” looked a lot like them. I know a lot of 61-year-old romance authors who wrote with themselves in mind.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that if indeed that is your market… But how do you know for sure? And if you’re only writing for people just like you, what sort of markets in sales might you be missing?

What They Should Have Done

Learned the specifics of the avid readers that make up the majority of purchasers of books in their genre.

What age group is the number one age group for romance novels right now? Do you know? No? Okay…. Do you own a computer?

It is not hard to find out who you should be writing for and writing to. It took me less than 5 minutes to find these facts and another 10 minutes to email them to a few librarians and booksellers I know to verify the stats I was finding online.

(Hint: Don’t just trust everything you read online… Verify…)

I got all of those stats about romance writers simply by googling the question “what age group buys the most romance novels?”.

I was immediately taken to a number of sites and studies that highlight facts and figures given by the Romance Writers Association of America and several other well-regarded organizations. Google it folks, but then check out what you learn with others.

Who is the romance reader of today? According to the Romance Writers of America, 84% of romance readers are women and 16% are men.

70% of romance readers discover the genre sometime in their teens. But the average age range of an romance reader is between 30 and 50 years old. She is likely to be coupled or married and has an average income of $55,000 per year.

The most highly represented geographic area for romance book buyers is the south.

Huh? So, if you are a 61-year-old single woman who lives in New England and you are writing your romance novels for women just like you? There’s a chance you’re missing most of your market. 37-year-old women from Jacksonville Florida… That’s your target!

Okay, I am NOT saying to not keep yourself and your demographic in mind, I am saying that it is helpful to really KNOW the reader of your genre while you are writing and CERTAINLY while you are marketing your book.

What We Should Do Instead

Well, there’s nothing particularly artistic or creative about it, but I would argue that before we pick up pen or keyboard, all of us writers should have a firm vision in our mind of exactly who were writing for and write AT them.

Once the book is finished, market TO them.

If you know that your reader is an avid library patron and has an income that does not lend itself to purchasing a lot of books, then you know you’re going to want to market heavily to the e-book, library, and lower-cost parts of our industry.

You can focus all of your sales and marketing and distribution efforts to where your readers are. But if you’re selling to a low income avid reader and you offer them $35 hard covers? You’ve missed the boat in more ways than one.

So What Am I Going To Do Now?

As I write this blog, I am writing to a 61-year-old romance writer.

  • She rents her home, works full-time, has two adult kids that she helps out a lot.
  • She is not a grandmother yet…
  • She’s college-educated but doesn’t have a degree.
  • She is always a little short on disposable income (helping out her kids most likely) but has a great circle of friends.
  • She’s an avid romance reader.
  • She’s taken a few courses over the years, but she’s not a member of a writer circle or writers group.
  • She’s too shy or busy to join any local writers organizations.
  • She does most of her work in the bubble of her own home.
  • She where is wonderful flowing tops and her hair could use a rinse.

I’m going to call her “Angela.”

Don’t laugh…

By writing specifically to Angela and knowing exactly who she is, this blog is going to reach thousands of people with a very strong focus and will reach out to all the Angelas of the world who need this advice.

And if you are “Robert” or a “Ginger”, you hopefully enjoyed this to. I am not excluding anyone, I am simply keeping the focus where it belongs.

Understand that I am simply advocating building understanding of the person you’re writing to. But I am not suggesting that you alienate or ignore all the different people you’ll be riding FOR. So have a broad understanding of who you’re writing for. (Example: if 16% of romance readers are men, then I am writing for men as well…)

But if I did not have Angela in mind while writing this blog, my advice could wander off in any one of a number of directions. But with a reader firmly in my mind, I stay on task and on message.

Here Are The Steps

  1. Get the facts, figures, and stats on your genre.
  2. Build a very specific person in mind that you will write to.
  3. Write your book.
  4. As you’re writing your book, figure out where the person you’re writing to shops, what websites they visit, what kind of clothes they buy, keep digging.
  5. Go to where your readers are and offer your book.

The more specific you get and the more you know about this person, the easier it will be to find them when you start selling your book.
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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3 Author Success Essentials

By Sandra Beckwith

One of the most common posts in the self-publishing and book marketing group I co-moderate on Facebook is some variation of this:

“I just wrote my first book and I’m so excited! What do I need to do now to get it published? Can anyone tell me? I really want this to be a best-seller!”

Group members typically share advice about what they’ve learned, often the hard way.

They address formatting and ISBNs and uploading to Amazon. But members rarely venture beyond the mechanics of publishing to offer advice about what’s required to sell books to more than your cousins and the folks in your writers group.

New authors are often focused on the mechanics of publishing, plain and simple. It doesn’t occur to them that getting the book into the system is only one piece of successful book publishing. So, when the book doesn’t sell, they’re confused.

To be successful as an author, you need to know about more than how to upload to Amazon or what to price your e-book.

Here are three author essentials that will lead to the success most authors seek.

1. Write and publish an excellent book.

Your book should look and read like a traditionally published book.

To achieve that quality, you’ll have to spend money on:

  • An editor (and possibly more than one, depending on how much help is needed)
  • A proofreader who reads the book once all editing is finished
  • A cover designer

Be selective about who you hire so you get the quality and professionalism you need. Just last week, I saw typos in the Facebook profile Intro of an “editor.” That’s not a good sign.

Because beginning writers often struggle to recognize the difference between good and bad editing, I recommend starting the search for an editor and/or proofreader with organizations for serious professionals. Try the Editorial Freelancers Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Look for a cover designer with experience in your genre or category.

2. Know your audience.

Here’s the key question to ask: Who will love my book? (Clue: It’s not everybody.)

When you ask that question, be as specific as possible. You want as narrow an audience as possible.

Why a narrow audience? Doesn’t that limit the number of books you can sell?

It would seem like that, but in reality, the more focused you are with your marketing, the more likely you are to reach the right people. When you zero in on a narrow, targeted, audience you’ll waste less time and money. Only the right people will see your book marketing messages.

Let’s say you wrote The Complete Guide to Urban Container Gardening. Who is more likely to buy it?

  1. (a) Everybody
  2. (b) Gardeners
  3. (c) Gardeners in urban settings

The answer is (c), of course. “Everybody” is too broad. While “gardeners” comes closer, it still includes too much waste. Rural and suburban gardeners with acreage and yards won’t need urban tactics.

After you’ve defined that narrow audience, learn as much about them as possible. Take into account both demographics – age, gender, marital status, income range – and psychographics such as lifestyle and life stage. Are they active or reclusive? Young couples or empty nesters?

The more you know about them, the easier it will be for you to focus your marketing on where you’ll find them both online and offline.

3. Monitor your marketing.

Your goal with book marketing is always the same: Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

You won’t know what’s working and what isn’t if you aren’t monitoring what happens after you use a marketing tactic.

This applies to more than book sales, too. If your goal is to get more readers on your email list, you need to watch your list size every time you do something designed to help you get more subscribers.

Are you looking for more Twitter followers to boost your platform in anticipation of shopping around a book proposal? You need to know which tactics are getting you more connections and which aren’t.

If you’re traditionally published, watch your sales rank online as you try different marketing tactics. If you’re self-published, you can monitor book sales in your Amazon account every time you do something to promote the book.

Your promotion tactics might be sharing on social media an image quote pulled from your book or a tip sheet you’ve sent to the media and bloggers. Maybe it’s ads on Facebook or Amazon.

Monitoring is most effective when you try one tactic at a time. Otherwise, you won’t know which activity is responsible for the outcome, whether it’s a step forward or no change at all.

Hobbyist or professional?

How much attention you pay to these three essentials might depend on whether or not your goal is to sell books.

If you’re simply writing the book that’s always been in you without expectation that anyone will want to read it, you’re a hobbyist. You just want to say you finally wrote that book.

Professionals write for other reasons:

  • to earn money
  • support another aspect of their business
  • attract clients
  • even win awards

To achieve those results, they must be constantly focused on quality, audience, and marketing results.

With these three essentials firmly in place, you will be well-positioned to achieve success – however you define it.

What advice would you give a first-time author just starting out? What have you learned that could help others?
Photo: BigStockPhoto.

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Book Marketing Insanity

By Judith Briles

Authors often don’t want to hear what works to sell books.

John Kremer, marketing expert, often responds when an author asks, How long should I market my book? with How long do you want book sales?

If you want books sales, doing repeatedly what doesn’t work is book marketing insanity. Successful book sales need some type of book marketing campaign behind them. As in what is needed to create a successful book marketing campaign—a campaign that includes the creation, the execution of pushing the book out. It’s called a plan.

What holds authors back?

  1. Many don’t like marketing.
  2. Many would rather be writing … not marketing.
  3. Many didn’t realize that they must do marketing.
  4. Many tried marketing, but what was tried didn’t work; therefore, the belief that nothing will settles in.
  5. It takes time.
  6. It takes money.
  7. Or, if they had cost overruns in creating the book, they refuse to do anything to support/market their book once they have all those books sitting in the garage.

Could any of the above be you?

Stop the insanity …

Start with the What’s next? question. Of course, the answer to What’s next? has to be the marketing and selling of it.

  • What’s next is educating yourself—learning what other authors are doing that works …and doesn’t. Following the best-selling authors and top influencers in their blogs and social media and studying what they do and mimic where appropriate.
  • What’s next could be getting help. Virtual assistants have become the right hands, eyes and fingers of many authors. Get one.
  • What’s next is to stop rationalizing, making excuses and justifying why you can’t market it. My belief is, “Yes you can.”
  • What’s next is connecting with others—it’s a huge shout out time. Anywhere … everywhere.
  • What’s next is telling the world.
    • in person
    • with your connections
    • with groups that you belong to
    • with creating a press release and doing a push with it

    So, using the town hall of marketing: social media and the appropriate platforms.

    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • Pinterest
    • Instagram
    • LinkedIn


  • What’s next is connecting with groups that want to “hear” your message—speaking and book clubs—both areas can be done via in-person and online.
  • What’s next is for you, dear author, to commit—recommit—to your book and yourself. That is, if you want book sales.

But … you think … and say:

I’m tired… Welcome to the club. The creation of a book can lead to Book Fatigue Syndrome—you want a time out. Do it—take a week or two off … but then, it’s back to work.

I’ve already committed so much money, I can’t put another dime out… What were you thinking in the first place—that if you just held a copy of your finished book that the world would flock to the stores, the Internet, your website, your front door, you, to get a copy? That would be a rarity. You need help … starting right now. This is where “hanging out” with other authors helps—what worked for them (and didn’t)? Would it work with your book?

I just want to write… Get over that one, too. Yes, keep writing. You get better; and you need to have “new” books forward. In a recent podcast I did with agent Michael Larsen, he revealed that for fiction authors, it’s book #5 that opens the door.

I hired the wrong person to help me… It happens. The reality is: most have, including me. Lick your wounds—determine what went wrong in the process—then get back to work.

I don’t know how to do all this social media stuff… Welcome to the crowd … but there are those out there who do … and guess what—they are part of the book marketing campaign—your book marketing campaign and included in your book budget.

Book marketing takes work. Lots of it.

Yes, there is marketing overwhelm—so much to do in what seems so little time. Yet marketing is stretched over a period.

Can you get author and book marketing fatigue? Of course.

Wise authors work in projects, get help where they need it and get that it’s not an all or nothing basis. Effective marketing can be in nibbles. What needs to be consistent and a plan behind it.

Too, too many authors abandon their book early in the process. And what do they do? One of two things:

  1. Many start another book—maybe a variation of what they just did. And what will happen when they finish? Disappointment.
  2. Others walk away and become MIBAs … missing in book action, abandoning mega hours of blood, sweat and tears and what could be a successful book—desired and needed.

In effect, many authors become unfit author-parents. What were they thinking?

Part of authoring is connecting with potential and ongoing book buyers. It means:

  • marketing
  • marketing
  • and more marketing

No author gets to do the ostrich bit. That is, if they want author success.

Stop the insanity.


Photo: BigStockPhoto

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Could You Make (And Even Sell) Your Own Photos?

By Lee Foster

Almost every modern writer/author will have an ongoing relationship with photos. You likely are using photos for:

  • your blog
  • your articles
  • your social media
  • perhaps as illustrations in your books

Where will you get those photos? You have your sources. But could you also create some of those photos yourself? If you get good at this, could you even sell those photos to others?

Our Photo-Driven Culture

Aristotle defined our species as the rational animal. If any 21st century update on that would be universally allowed, it is perhaps that we are the photo-driven rational animal.

Photos influence a lot of what we do as media communicators and as consumers. Every communication benefits from a strong photo, whether a still photo or a moving photo, meaning a video.

Supplying photos for sale to others has been a profitable venture for me and for many other photographers.

For example, travel publisher Lonely Planet and their Lonely Planet Images stock photo agency paid me about $220,000 in the years 1998-2010 for the use of my photos in their books and in their external sales to other publishers, especially magazines.

They published my photos in more than 300 of their books. They sent me two copies of each book in which I had photos. I have long shelves of those books in my condo in Berkeley, CA.

The current situation in selling photos is more difficult, but profit is still possible.

Your Camera

The main revolution in the field of modern photography is the invention of the phone as a photo device, especially the iPhone. I happen to use an iPhone 7+ for much of my current photography. Samsung phones are equally good, but the iPhone is what I know.

Chances are you are using a fairly sophisticated phone already, so you probably have a pretty good camera in hand now.

The iPhone 7+ has enough pixels, those little increments of information, in its capture for many photo uses. Keep in mind that the capture device only needs enough pixels for the intended display use.

The iPhone 7+ captures at 72 dots or pixels per inch, with the total size on the long side of the image at 4,032 pixels. That’s enough for most screens. Some print uses will benefit from additional pixels.

I like the + in the iPhone 7+ because it indicates that this is an iPhone with two camera lenses. The phone has a wide-angle 28-millimeter lens and also what is called a “normal” lens of 56 millimeters. It is useful to have these two lenses. You can get closer to a subject and still use all the pixels.

Some of the iPhones after the iPhone 7+ also have the two lenses. I recommend a phone device with the two lenses.

The Camera Beyond Your Phone

If you get involved in photography, you might want to supplement your phone camera with what is called a DSLR camera, or digital single lens reflex camera. All of the great camera brands, such as Nikon, Canon, and Sony, have competing cameras that are good.

You don’t need the latest greatest DSLR camera. You just need the recent good. I shoot with a Nikon D7100 and an 18-140 millimeter telephoto zoom lens. The technology is about five years old.

When I am out in the field getting photos, I capture with both my iPhone and with my Nikon, simultaneously.

There are two things a DSLR camera can do better than a phone camera.

First, the DSLR with a telephoto lens can pull in distant images and use the “full frame” to capture the subject. For example, see the geese flying in a group as the illustration for this post. The image is at the top, as the Featured Image, and then is midway down in the post in full detail. Those geese are fairly far away. But I zoomed in with my Nikon and caught them crisply.

On the other hand, with this recent restaurant photo of a chef, I used my iPhone only for the capture. See this chef as the Featured Photo and fully presented below in the post in an article on restaurants here.

Second, the DSLR sensor, with more pixels, can make your photo more eligible for larger-size print sale opportunities, such as the cover of a magazine.

Processing Your Image

The photo right out of the phone or DSLR camera may need some “processing” to be useful. How will you do that?

You may want to change the dimensions. The terminology in photo speak is to “crop” it. You may want to intensify the colors. Above all, if you ever want to sell photos, you will want to put in the information, called “File Info” or “metadata” that will be attached to the photo. The File Info tells what the photo is about and that you are the creator and want your copyright honored. Potential licensors will see your contact information.

One of the great ironies of our modern photo era is that buyers find photos they want based on the words attached to the photo. A Search Engine, such as Google, needs to find words associated with your photo that parallel the Search words the buyer has selected. If there is a close match, Google may award to you the gift of the Search.

So, how should you “process” your photos? I recommend you invest $10/month in licensing from Adobe for their Photoshop/Lightroom software. This is the industry standard. The monthly license fee is a lifelong commitment. No other tool is as satisfactory, in my opinion.

Your Own Photo Selling Site

Potential buyers will see your photos on your blog/website/social media or in your books and may inquire about licensing them.

However, the much larger audiences are the photo buyers who do not know you, but will search for their photo needs, which you may be ready to supply. For that, you need a specific photo-selling site, such as my Foster Travel Publishing photo selling site.

I license my photos from this site, which has about 7,000 of my photos, to my main clients, which are major magazines, and to unknown clients who find me.

I also have my site set up to license photos for a small price, $20/photo, to individuals for their blogs/websites/books. I call this category a Personal Use License. A potential buyer finds a photo, moves it to the Cart, sees the option of the Personal Use License for $20, pays with a credit card, and immediately downloads the high-resolution file of the photo for their use.

My selling structure is provided by an entity known as PhotoShelter. About 80,000 photographers use PhotoShelter. For a Standard site, about $300/year, you get 100 gigabytes of storage space on their server, plus their selling software, and their “themes” with which to present your photos.

You totally control all aspects of the commerce, setting your prices. Their software also allows people to buy your photos as cards, as prints, or printed on T-shirts and coffee mugs, whatever you authorize. It’s all automated.

Most importantly, most credible photo editors buying photos will know about PhotoShelter already.

Your Possible Photo Agency Partner

Are there agencies today, such as my mentioned Lonely Planet Images agency, where you could possibly place your photos to get further sales? (Lonely Planet Images now no longer exists, having merged with the Getty agency.)

Yes, there is one good one, in my opinion. It is called Alamy, located in England but selling worldwide at fairly decent prices. I have about 3,000 images with them. Search “Lee Foster” (in quotes) so see some of them. I started putting in photos about 2006. So far, I have had 1,032 sales for $85,630 in revenue paid to me.

Alamy will accept photos from the newcomer and outsider. The requirement is that the photo be properly processed, with appropriate metadata. The possible agency opportunity is an argument for your investment in Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom photo processing software.

What Would Help You in Photography?

This post just begins to explore the subject of a writer/author possibly creating and selling photography. I will be doing a post for Joel Friedlander once every five weeks or so. I could do more posts on photography. Would that be useful to you? What would you like to learn? Let me know in the comments section below this post.
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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