Training #298 – Ask Us Anything

On this week's live training, we covered questions and hot seats from Cheri Merz, Bethany Niccum, Jachin Boaz II, Nancy Fox, Leysa Henderson, Peter Johnston, Patricia O'Brien (children's book hot seat), Phillips Williams, and Brenda Mayo.

We answered questions about journal lengths (page counts), printing costs, what pages count as content when printing, whether to include content on both sides of a page when printing, Amazon accounts for FBA and KDP, printing gift copies and advance copies, sharing in the Apex group for feedback, typesetting formats for book layouts and following standards, showing off a design-specs doc for an illustrator to know what to put in each illustration, discerning how to tell what age range to gear a book towards, generating a subtitle for children's books to target the parents of the right target audience, republishing an out of print book, requesting that reviews be moved from an older version of a book to a second edition, claiming an author page, choosing a male or female pen name, separating pen names by genre, creating pen name variations of your own legal name, creating separate author central accounts for pen names or bundling multiple names in one account, formatting your book in Word before pushing the document through the Book Formatting Rocket, how fast to go through the training and best practices for working through each module, Children's Book Formula v2.0, how to access Children's Book Formula v1.0 in the Bonuses tab, getting a book published before Christmas and whether it is too late for this year (being 2 weeks before Christmas Day), whether anybody is actually making $2-$3000 per month publishing books, creating a back catalog for regular monthly income, whether you can edit a book after it has been published, how to determine what the best every day tasks are at different stages of your publishing process, specifically setting aside some time to work on your publishing business.

Next week will be at the normal time (Wednesday, December 18 at 1pm Eastern), and Christmas week we'll do the training on Monday, December 23rd (and NOT on Christmas Day!)

There were also a number of questions we didn't get a chance to answer live so I've provided some quick responses below the resources.

I'm writing my first book…an ABC book for 3-5 years. I'm combining animals and alliteration. Any tips on what I should definitely include or avoid?

Arletha Edwards

For 3 to 5 year olds, decide whether you want to aim the book at the child as educational entertainment or aim the book at the adult. If you want the child to be able to learn their animals and their sounds, try to stick to short phrases that aren't too difficult to say so that they have a chance to learn them. If you just want the kids to get a good laugh, you can create tongue twisters instead that the parents can struggle through in order to bring on the giggles!

Both are great ideas to incorporate into a book, but if you accidentally combine them then the kids won't enjoy them as much and won't retain the information you are trying to convey nearly as well, which means that they are less likely to read your book over and over again, which means they are less likely to purchase another book in the future that you wrote.

I literally just finished adding the illustrations to my first children's book and I am waiting for the cover from the illustrator. I am going to follow your instructions as to how to send it to Amazon and how to publicize it, but while you are live, do you have any good advice as to how to push the book once I send it into Amazon?

Douglas Braverman

Great question, and we could easily spend an entire hour-long training on that very topic!

For the 30-second response, though, the first thing that I would concentrate on for a new title would be to get your book into as many hands as possible in an effort to get reviews on your book. If you have a list of readers already, then you can let them know about the new book or offer advanced reader copies. You could offer the book in the Apex Authors Facebook Group and ask for reviews. You can also use the Book Review Rocket to find reviewers that liked similar books to yours and that have made their contact information publicly available so that you can get in touch to offer them a free copy of your book.

You could also enroll your book into KDP Select, which would put your book into the Kindle Unlimited program so that people could borrow your book for “free” and would also allow you to set it free to the whole store for up to 5 days, which is a great trick for when you do contact advanced readers so that they can get a verified “purchase” of your book.

Once you have double-digits for reviews, that opens up a lot of other opportunities for promoting your book, such as purchasing ads or trying to get a BookBub Featured Deal.

I am wondering how important it is to officially copyright books, particularly if you do the illustration yourself?

Ivonne Plankey

If you live in the United States, your books are copyrighted as soon as you create them in a tangible form. You only need to register the books if you intend to sue somebody over an infringement of your copyright, and in that case you want to make sure you've registered your copyright within 3 months of publication or before somebody began infringing upon your work, as that allows you to recoup more damages and it makes it easier to make the lawsuit earn back enough money to pay for itself. We have a whole training dedicated to copyright that you might want to watch.

Does one need to create a publishing company (even if sole proprietorship)? Pros and cons?

Ivonne Plankey

You don't need to create a publishing company, no. Given the nature of what we do, if somebody is going to sue you they will probably sue you as an individual as well as you as a company, so while there are some liability protections they are going to be fairly limited. There can be some tax consequences to registering as an actual business that it might be worth speaking with a local attorney or accountant about.

The general rule of thumb is that a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company is going to treat you just fine until you are making around $30,000-$35,000 per year, and then the fees associated with creating an s-corp or some other business entity and paying yourself a salary will be less than the additional taxes that you would pay with pass-through income from the LLC or by running it directly through your personal taxes.

I have images ready to go that I used in the version I printed, I made them via using png photos overlaid on google image backgrounds then used the app Prisma to ‘cartoon' it. Since the animals that I used are a brand name of a stuffed animal company – is that a copyright issue? Or should I just start over with a new illustrator to steer clear of that?

Bethany Niccum

Using the stuffed animals could potentially open you up to a potential copyright or trademark lawsuit, yes. You could probably argue Fair Use for them, since they are photographs you took of products you purchased, and there are certainly plenty of examples of books using photographs of other people's products on the market that never have any trouble.

But, do you want to have to worry about the risk of a lawsuit? Personally, I tend to err on the side of less to worry about, and would lean towards finding an illustrator to create some illustrations that you can hold the copyright to and have free and clear.

That said, if you aren't too concerned about it, as long as you don't portray the products in such a way that the company who creates them appears to be endorsing your work or trying to pass your book off as an official publication from that company, you likely don't have too much to worry about. When in doubt, you can find a local intellectual property attorney for some specific advice for your situation.

For my very first book, do you recommend setting up all the social media avatar and blogs and website, or see how the book does with KDP direct and see if it gains traction? I see a lot of info about the marketing portion assuming you have more than one book and a social media following and website.

Amanda Nicholls

If you enjoy Social Media, blogging, website design, etc. then by all means I would recommend that you get that stuff setup as soon as possible. The older a site is, the easier it is to get backlinks and to get ranked.

That said, if you do not enjoy those sorts of things, then don't bother with them early on because you won't enjoy putting the time and effort into them that they would require to become effective marketing tools for you.

Jay does not actually have a traditional website for his books, and we don't have any social media accounts for them. What we do have are individual landing pages for each book, which we created using the Book List Rocket, though we do host them on a dedicated domain.

If you publish for other authors, can you add them to your Author Central account?

Lee Jackson

Yes, from a technical perspective you can add up to 3 pen names or other authors into any given Author Central account. However, if this particular author is an actual living and breathing person (and not just a pseudonym of yours) then it might be worth either first asking them if they want you to, or else at least creating a separate Amazon login account for them. You don't want to have a situation where you have them mixed into your Author Central account and they then want to create their own, as the book can only be claimed by one account at a time for any given contributor. It's far easier to give them control of an account that just has them in it than it is to recreate their author profile page from scratch in a new account or to extricate them from an existing account.

That said, remember that while you can create multiple Author Central accounts, you are only allowed to have one KDP account. So if you are going to be the one publishing them, be sure to upload the books themselves to your KDP account and not to create a separate one. (If they later buy out the rights to their book, it's not very difficult to transfer a book listing from one KDP account to another by contacting support. I've done it before without any trouble whatsoever.)

How do we go about possibly getting critique?

Peter Johnson

For a Hot Seat, we usually do them every 2-3 weeks, so email the link to your book and any questions you have to our help desk at [email protected] and Erin will add you onto our queue. If you want a critique of the contents of your book itself, you can upload it to our Facebook group and ask if people are willing to provide feedback. (Just be ready for both positive and negative feedback if you post it; people will be honest in an effort to genuinely help you.)

What's most important, the story or images? (I am not a great writer.)

Peter Johnson

That will depend upon the age demographic that you are targeting. A book meant for babies or pre-school kids is going to be far more engaging with bright and interesting illustrations as long as it has a reasonable enough amount of relevant copy to keep the adults interested in sharing a book. In some books, that might mean just pictures and no words, or it might be just a word or two or a short phrase on each page, or it could be a story with a paragraph per page.

For older kids, the words become a lot more important. They are probably just as important as the illustrations for 6-8 year olds, and are far more important once you start writing for kids that are 9+ years old. The illustrations will draw them in and get them interested, but if the story's can't hold their attention then they won't hesitate to put your book down and go watch television or YouTube instead. If you have a compelling story, though, then that will keep them spell-bound for hours on end and they might just sit there and read your book over and over again.

Here is my first question for the group… Once a manuscript is drafted (mine is not but hopefully will be soon), approximately how long does it take to find an illustrator, have the illustrations completed, get everything formatted, finalized, marketed and posted for sale?

Hank Phillips

It depends…for a first time, it can take a little while, especially the “find an illustrator” part, and it's hard to say how long it will take them when working with somebody new. You might find somebody within a day or two and get back some early samples and be totally happy, or you might have to start your search over, so that can be a really variable piece, especially since you might not get a response for a day or two for each one you contact.

That said, once you find somebody you like to work with and work with them on future books, if you can get on their calendar then you'll have an idea how long it will take them to do the artwork. Depending on the individual person and how long it takes them to work and what types of illustrations they are doing, it could be a few days to a week turnaround at the fast end to dragging out for months at the slow end (though most will likely be between 2-3 weeks depending on volume and scope…)

Once you have the illustrations, things can move pretty fast. Again, your first time through might take a little time to learn the tools and to go through the training a few times on how to use them, but after a couple of books the formatting and actual production process will probably take less than a day from when you receive the finished artwork.

Uploading to Amazon, your book appears in the marketplace usually within a few hours, though it could technically take up to 3-5 days to get approved. I've never personally had it take more than 2 days, and almost always is within 3-6 hours.

If you want to speed up the production process, practice using the tools you plan to use (Kindle Kids Book Creator or the Formatting Rocket) with some sample images and your manuscript ahead of time so you can get used to it while waiting for your illustrations to come back to you.