Category Archives: Publishing

Optimizing an Ebook for Amazon Previews

Ebeling-RestoringFreedomAndProsperity-Faces3SmallWhat can you do to hook a potential customer who’s browsing through the preview of your ebook?

Our newest ebook, Austrian Economics and Public Policy by Richard Ebeling, has just hit the Amazon shelves.

Ebeling and the Future of Freedom Foundation (the publisher) have a solid following, and their 2015 release, Monetary Central Planning and the State, hit the #2 and #5 Amazon spots in its categories.

This time, in our quest to hit #1, I focused my attention on some details at the very beginning of the new book.

That’s because Amazon lets any potential customer read the first 10% or so of your book in two different ways: by sending them a Kindle “free sample,” and by letting them “look inside” the book right from a web browser.

Anybody who uses one of these options is curious about your book, but not yet a customer. Our job is to make them convert.

Put the Good Stuff First

Both Amazon preview methods show the first 10% of the book, regardless of what’s in it. This is not like leafing through a paper book in a physical bookstore, where the reader can zip through the whole volume to see if anything catches their eye. We need to put the most engaging material right up front.

For instance, it’s customary to put acknowledgments at the beginning of a book. But this time, I tucked them into the back matter. Acknowledgements are important, but they aren’t what a person previewing your book is really looking for.

This book has a neato Austrian School Family Tree showing the connections between the major Austrian scholars all the way from Menger to Horwitz. In a print book, that might conceivably go in an appendix. In this book, we put it right before chapter 1.

Also, Dr. Ebeling and I took a few extra edit passes together on the introduction to get his value proposition up front in the very first paragraph, which is the part of the book the previewers are most likely to see right away (because it’s the specified “start” location in the ebook files).

Scroll vs Swipe

One special quirk of Amazon’s web-browser “look inside” feature is that it shows the book in a single long panel that you scroll through top to bottom, not as a set of discrete “pages” or screens that you swipe through left to right like a Kindle book. That scrolling feature makes the repetition of a book title on the half-title and then the title page — which is completely normal and aesthetically pleasing in actual Kindle or print — look strange.

Check out this screenshot from the preview of Ryan Levesque’s book, Ask. Do you see how his title gets oddly repeated? That’s his half-title and title pages back-to-back in the scroll. Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 8.46.53 PM

So in this book I just got rid of the half-title altogether.

The first sales are already rolling in, and I look forward to seeing if this extra attention to the Amazon preview experience gives a boost to FFF, Dr. Ebeling, and their new book.

Update — We’re Number 1!
It’s the morning of September 1, approximately 48 hours after release. We just hit #1 in our category (Economic Theory).

Leave a comment

Filed under Ebooks, Publishing

Jeff Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition

Libertarian-tradition-creased-cover

Today, I finally get to reveal to you something I’ve been talking about in private meetings and then working on in secret solitude this year.

It’s Jeff Riggenbach’s glorious new ebook, The Libertarian Tradition.

Liberty.me members get it free. Everyone else can buy it on Amazon.com for $8.99.

Riggenbach, widely known as the voice of liberty, has been reading, researching and writing about the history of libertarianism for decades.

The Libertarian Tradition represents the culmination of this work — more than 90 essays by Riggenbach, each focusing on some intriguing person or persons who contributed in their own way to the idea that we humans should live peaceful and free with each other.

Every chapter sparkles with Riggenbach’s erudition, his wry humor, and his gift for storytelling.

He takes you from the rise of the libertarian idea in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, through innovative and playful adaptations by outsiders and novelists in the twentieth century, and right into the current debates in the dawning of the twenty-first.

Get your copy now and savor a piece of the libertarian tradition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ebooks, History, Libertarian Letters, New Releases, Publishing

Why Is Our New Book Already #2 in Its Amazon Category?

Ebeling Cover SmallThe Future of Freedom Foundation’s newest release is soaring through the Amazon charts. The book is Richard Ebeling’s Monetary Central Planning and the State, and we released it just yesterday.

How did we do this — again?

(The “we” here is FFF plus InvisibleOrder.com.)

Well, it helps that there are hundreds or maybe thousands of readers who have been thrilled by this book already in its first incarnation as a series of 40 articles in FFF’s Freedom Daily years ago. So right out of the gate, this book starts with a great reputation.

It also certainly helps that Ebeling is a venerable figure, who has built a mighty following with decades of consistently erudite, clear writing.

It helps that the cover is interesting to look at and well-suited to the Amazon sales environment.

It sure helps that the book itself is of professional quality, but it’s also priced down low to make it move (just 99 cents!).

And it helps that we picked good categories for it to succeed in (you want a category that does have other books your potential customers are reading, but that isn’t so crowded that you’re going to be stuck down at 1,000,000th place).

Right now, Monetary Central Planning is #2 on Amazon’s charts in the category of Political Freedom, and it’s #5 in Economic Theory. That is an amazing place to be on its very first day. And there’s no reason it can’t hit #1 in both tomorrow.

Now, when we look at tomorrow’s rankings, it’s going to help that we built on this early success by blogging about it, and that our friends and fans shared and tweeted posts like this one (hint, hint).

And when we look at the rankings over the next month, it’s going to help even more that our friends and fans and readers wrote some reviews of the book on Amazon (hint, hint, hint).

Leave a comment

Filed under Ebooks, Publishing

What Is the Best Length for a Book?

Tinybook-IOI recently had a conversation with an author who is planning on publishing a book of her short stories on Amazon.com. She wondered what the best length for a story and the best length for a whole book would be.

My suggestion to her was that she experiment by releasing some of her short pieces as individual ebooks, as well as and before putting them together and releasing them as a big Kindle or print compilation.

In fact, this is good advice for almost any author today, fiction or nonfiction.

Why?

The old physical constraints of paper books once forced authors, publishers, and readers to deal in bulky objects of 100 pages or more. It was just uneconomical in most cases to ship and sell physical books much smaller than that. Nowadays, ebooks let you sidestep this physical constraint, and that creates an opening to trade in smaller units of writing.

It’s as if once upon a time you could only buy grapes in 1lb bags. Anybody who wanted to buy less than that had to choose between (a) no grapes at all, or (b) moldy grapes in the fridge.

Nowadays, you can buy and sell grapes individually. And it turns out there are customers who only wanted one grape at a time, and there are customers who would never buy a full 1lb of some new exotic Mediterranean grape — but would happily gobble up two or three just to try it out.

Based on my experience, I’d say releasing some smaller ebooks plus a compilation gives you three advantages over authors who stick to selling great big books exclusively.

Advantage 1. You make your compilation look more awesome.

Say you were going to sell a compilation ebook of your short stories at $4.99. If it contains 10 stories, 3 of which you also sell individually for $0.99 each, then you can say that the book has 7 great stories PLUS as a bonus it contains stories X, Y, and Z for free.

Now the perceptive customer can see that your $4.99 book comes with ~$3.00 of bonus material. Everybody loves bonus material.

Advantage 2. It gives you a better chance of being discovered by a new customer.

If a new customer who has never read anything by you before, and never bought anything from you before, only has to pay $0.99 to get their first hit of your stuff, they are more likely to jump in.

Advantage 3. You get more detailed market feedback, and you get it sooner.

In the long run, this is the most important benefit.

A Car Crash of Sorts, by Frank Marcopolos. A very fun story, just ~8,000 words.

A Car Crash of Sorts, a very fun short story by Frank Marcopolos. ~8,000 words.

Let’s say you’ve finished the first 3 short stories, and you plan to write 7 more for your book. (If you’re Frank Marcopolos, you can write a story a month and then publish them all for Christmas). You can keep those first 3 stories to yourself and spend the next few months toiling away in isolation. Or you can sell those first 3 stories separately, and learn from how the readers respond to them while you’re writing the rest.

The sales and reviews will tell you whether they like your longest story or your shortest one, whether they like your first-person-present murder mystery or your third-person-past wizard duel, et cetera. And all that feedback helps you decide what to write more of and what to emphasize in your bigger volumes.

Of course, it’s a great idea to keep tabs on what other successful authors with a similar target audience are doing, but every book and every author’s voice is unique. Your writing isn’t really just another fruit in the produce section.

If Daniel Sanchez and Wendy McElroy and Jeffrey Tucker each wrote a 1,000-word article about the same new law, you would have 3 very different pieces of writing, with three different audience reactions.

The same goes for you. Your readers are going to find you and interact with your writing a little bit differently than they do with anybody else. The best way to find out how is to put some of your writing on the market and see what they do with it.

For all three of these reasons, nowadays I find myself advising just about every author and publisher I meet to release some smaller pieces of writing as well as big tomes of knowledge.

Its one more way to get your grapes on the table.

However, there are three caveats you should be aware of.

Caveat 1. Maximize the power of your preview.

Amazon automatically lets people see the first 10% of your book as a preview via the Look Inside feature. For a very short book, the front matter can eat up a lot of that 10%. To get around this, just put your copyright, dedication, et cetera, at the end of the book.

That way, readers who check out your preview will see the things that might make them want to buy.

Caveat 2. Amazon’s royalty system used to be better for short books.

Those of you familiar with the intricacies of Amazon’s royalty system know that Amazon recently changed the payout scheme for some royalties on some books. The short version is that within the Kindle Select program, you are now getting paid based on the number of pages your customers read rather than the sticker price of your book, so short books are penalized relative to long books with the same price.

This does reduce the potential monetary gains to selling shorter books via the Kindle Select program. But the three reasons to do it listed above still stand. Just sell a short book and include the text of it in a long one.

Caveat 3. What is the smallest size you can effectively sell?

Once upon a time, Amazon sent out messages to authors of very small ebooks, saying “Content that is less than 2,500 words is often disappointing to our customers and does not provide an enjoyable reading experience.”

Amazon doesn’t appear to do that anymore. And some authors report having success with really short ebooks. See the forum comments here and here, for instance.

Personally, I would start out with something 5,000 words or more. If your pieces are naturally shorter than that, you could try putting a few of them together as a small compilation.

Whatever you do with a smaller book, put the word count in the description, or even put something like “A Short Story” as the subtitle, so the reader isn’t surprised by its brevity. Nothing generates bad reviews like readers who feel cheated.

(Yes, the number of pages is automatically listed by Amazon, way down on your book page, but some readers won’t look at that.)


My fellow authors and publishers, have you tried releasing pieces of different lengths, either for free or for sale? What have you learned about your own corner of the market? I’m eager to find out in the comments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ebooks, Publishing

Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies

FaultyPremisesCoverWe at Invisible Order are proud to announce our most recent publication: Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies, available in Kindle edition and paperback (and also as a free ebook with a Liberty.me membership).

Jeffrey Tucker calls it “an incredibly good guide to showing precisely what is nonsensical about political debate.”

How many times have you watched a public policy fiasco and been mystified as to how the politicians can believe their own rhetoric? They talk about how raising the minimum wage is going to make the poor better off, even though there is no mechanism in the nature of things to bring about that reality; about how some new war is going to rid the world of despotism, despite knowing that the history of war tends in the opposite direction; about how some new healthcare mandate is going to bring freedom from disease, and yet you know that legislation can’t actually achieve anything like this.

There always seems to be a missing step in the chain of logic. Politicians and pundits actually seem to believe that passing a law will generate a certain wonderful result, even though the relationship between cause and effect is nowhere present. It seems like a giant exercise in fantasy.

Galles has provided an outstanding tool for navigating your way through the sea of folly that is the politics of our time. There is no anger in his prose, and there doesn’t need to be. He has the arguments, the analytics, and the facts — those alone make the case.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ebooks, Print edition, Publishing

And Now, a Word from One of Our Clients

In a discussion over at the Libertarian Fiction Authors association, during a recent conversation about professional publishing assistance, one of our clients recently gave us a ringing endorsement. Here’s the full statement from John Brown, author of State of Terror.

Having a professional do your editing, cover, and interior design is not an option; it’s mandatory. Don’t even think about editing your own writing, even if you’re an editor by trade. And, do you have a solid background in graphical design? How about HTML? Sure, you could just hit a button and publish, but this is one of those things where just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Try to save money by doing it yourself and it will show. In traditional publishing, they do these services for you. With self-publishing, you are still expected to have a polished product. You can afford to pay for your own professional team because you’ll be getting much higher royalties. It’s an investment; you’ll get a return from higher sales and better comments. I think we owe the reading public the very best we can do. If your name is on it, then it should be of the highest quality, something in which you can take pride for many years. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Publishing is much more than just writing. It’s best to put one’s ego aside and think of the entire project as a collaboration. The writer may be the master architect, but there are builders and designers involved, and they play a critical role in execution. Much of the creative process comes from involving others and letting the project evolve in unforeseen directions. For this reason, I don’t like speed writing contests, the 50,000-words-in-50-days type of promotions. Art and craft take time.

I also believe that it’s best to hire professionals who can work together. Handoffs are to be avoided; it lessens responsibility for the final product. That’s why I went with Invisible Order. They do it all, from editing and design, to setting up ISBNs and vendor accounts. Jeffrey Tucker and Wendy McElroy went with IO, and that was good enough for me.

We’re very grateful to John and all the other authors who’ve put their trust in us over the last few years. To see a sample of our handiwork, you can buy the ebook of John’s IO-produced novel, State of Terror, on Amazon.com. We’ll be releasing the print version shortly.

State of Terror.

Click the cover to see this book on Amazon.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ebooks, Endorsements, New Releases, Publishing

When Layouts Go Bad

The Poke, a British humor site, has a compilation of print layouts that went hilariously wrong. Their list begins with this news bulletin about the rampage of Winnie the Pooh.

Layout-Failure-Winnie

Click the picture to see the whole collection. (Warning: some lewd humor.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Publishing, Typesetting

Our Experience in Your Hands

Every time we assist you with a publishing project, you get the benefit of our experience — and complete control over your project.

Whether you’re getting our help with editing or ebook creation or print-book creation, you’re really buying 2 things.
(1) Your book the way you want it. 
(2) Our advice on what you should want.

For big issues (cover design, overall appearance, matters of content, etc.), we tend to check in with you and have a discussion about the options. In those cases, our advice comes explicitly as part of that conversation. We usually show you several different approaches, explain what we think should be done, and explain our reasoning based on our experience with print and digital writing and publishing.

For the myriad of small issues that come up in each book (comma placement, ebook file structure, exact print-book gutter margins, etc.), we generally just produce the book the way extensive experience tells us it should be — and then we ask you to review it and make sure you like what we’ve done. 
In that sense, we embed our advice in the product itself. 

Any time you wonder about (or dislike) the way we handle those small issues, we’ll be happy to separate out the advice and explain the decisions on those details. But if we explain our thinking, and it doesn’t fit with your vision, or you decide you’d like something done differently for any reason, you still get #1: your book the way you want it.

To find out how we can help with your next publishing project, just email us at invisibleorder@invisibleorder.com, or click here to use our contact form.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ebooks, Publishing

A Note from a Freeman Reader

One very pleasant aspect of publishing in the Freeman is that I get to see the online article first, then a couple of months later I receive the print magazine (seeing my stuff in print still has a special appeal, much as I advocate digital), and then a few weeks later I sometimes get the more thoughtful notes that come from print readers:

Subject: Black Death and Taxes

Dear Mr. Marcus:

I have been reading The Freeman for fifty years or more now, and even though it is reaching the point that nearly everything in it is something I have heard before, every once in a while it supplies me with a new insight or piece of enlightening information. That was the case with your article in the most recent issue. When I read it I immediately rushed across the anteroom in the social science complex here at MSU-Northern to see what my colleague, a historian of libertarian inclination thought, and he confirmed everything you said.

Thanks.

James R. Edwards, Ph.D. (Economics)
Montana State University-Northern

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Publishing

A PDF Is Not an Ebook or The Incredible, Moveable Ebook

CeciNestPasUnEbookThere are two common misconceptions in the blogosphere these days:

  1. that a PDF is an ebook;
  2. that a PDF can seamlessly become an ebook (MOBI for Kindle or EPUB for all other eReaders).

Let’s start with the first one: a PDF is not an ebook.

You might say, “Well, when I look at a PDF on my computer, it looks exactly like a book. It has page numbers and page headings and everything. I can even read it on my iPad.”

But the fact that you can read it on your computer or your tablet does not make it an ebook. It does indeed look like a print book. And that’s where the problem lies.

How an Ebook Redefines Moveable Type

An ebook is a text that can adjust itself to the device you use to read it and to settings you choose.

A PDF (Portable Document Format) cannot adjust itself. It is an image of a document that is always meant to look the same — the page always starts with a certain word and ends with a certain word. It has a hidden layer of code speaking to the electronic PDF reader and telling it how to display a static page — imagine an invisible grid with horizontal and vertical coordinates to place each element in a precise location.

These hidden instructions are why a PDF is not an ebook and why a PDF cannot be seamlessly changed into either of the standard ebook formats: MOBI and EPUB.

Ebooks are about flexibility — about reflow. An ebook morphs depending on what your settings are and what device you are reading on. You can change the font size, read a book in one-column view or in two columns, read the same copy of the book on your iPhone, iPad, computer, or even on your Kindle. The book needs to adapt easily to each of those devices and to how you want to read it.

When we make an ebook, we work on creating something that resembles a print book but that is malleable, transforming itself to meet the needs of the reader and the reading device.

We have to think about all the different platforms that people read on (Kindle, Nook, iBook, etc.) and the different ways readers customize their screens. I know people, for example, who have failing eyesight and who thought they would have to give up reading. Ebooks — true ebooks! — have changed their lives, because they can make the font as big as they need or even adjust the text color and contrast.

But what happens when you enlarge the font on a PDF? You can’t: you just enlarge the PDF and if you enlarge it too much, you can’t see the whole page on your screen.

You may want to say, “Well, yes, that’s true. But if I want to play with font size and read a PDF on a Kindle, I can put it through a free converter that will make an ebook for Kindle.” (I have in fact seen this as part of the sales pitch on websites selling PDFs as “ebooks.”)

That is indeed true and, occasionally, it might turn out all right. But usually it needs some help. And often a lot of help.

Why a PDF Can’t Magically Become an Ebook

This brings us to point number 2. Remember: the PDF has a hidden layer of information that gives precise instructions on how to make a page look like the printed page of the book. These instructions are useless for the eReaders because an eReader does not want to make a static page.

In fact, the program you use to make an ebook out of a PDF will not know what to do with most of those instructions. Computer programs are useful tools, but it is very hard to create one that can catch all the complexities involved in translating a PDF into an ebook.

Here are some examples of conversion oddities that we regularly encounter.

(1) Mysterious Text

The other day I started creating an ebook out of a PDF. I had put my document through the first step of the process and was going through the text to see just how much needed to be fixed when I came upon what seemed to be a random list of geographical places:

English Channel

England

France

Spain

Atlantic

Mediterranean

Africa

Having no idea why the list was where it was, I looked at the PDF as a reference. It turns out that the list had originally been words labeling different parts of a map. The PDF maker had layered the names of places on top of the image of a map. When I extracted the text from the PDF to create the ebook (and thus temporarily removed images), the names that had been layered onto the map were left all on their lonesome, referring to nothing and not knowing how to position themselves on the screen.

(2) The Ebook vs. the Typesetter

Think about what typesetters do: they do not let words fall randomly on a page to create a book. They are, after all, setting the type. Typesetters have to think about things like widows (the last word or last few words of a paragraph printed alone at the beginning of a new page or column) and orphans (the first line of a paragraph starting at the very end of a page or column), and when they are confronted with widows and orphans, they manipulate the page to get rid of them. And this becomes part of the PDF’s code.

When translated into ebooks, the mechanisms used to avoid widows and orphans turn into strange spaces between paragraphs or into paragraphs that start on the same line the previous paragraph ended:

Be good enough, honourable deputies, to take our request seriously, and do not reject it without at least hearing the reasons that we have to advance in its support.                                                                                     First, if you shut off as much as possible all access to natural light, and thereby create a need for artificial light, what industry in France will not ultimately be encouraged?

(3) Ran-dom Hyphens

Ever read an ebook and found a word with a ran-dom hyphen in the middle? It’s not just a typo.

Sometimes a word at the end of a line of text is too long and is continued on the next line. To let you know that the word is interrupted, the typesetter (or word processor) adds a soft hyphen at the end of the line — or sometimes the typesetter (or program) makes a mistake and adds a regular (hard) hyphen instead.

A soft hyphen is meant to stay in a word only if it is interrupted at the end of a line. Systems converting PDFs into ebooks don’t always know what to do with these and will often just turn them into hard hyphens. Thus, even if the word is not shared between two lines, it still has a hyphen in it.

For more on the when and why of ligatures, check out I Love Typography's "The Decline and fall of the ligature."

For more on the when and why of ligatures, check out I Love Typography’s “The Decline and fall of the ligature.”

 

(4) Ligatures

Printed books and their PDFs often have something called ligatures. A ligature is actually a combination of two letters that would otherwise look awkward next to each other. For example, f and i are often slurred together to avoid the awkward juxtaposition of the tip of the f and the dot of the i.

But an ebook converter won’t necessarily know what to do with ligatures and instead you’ll get a hyphen in the middle of a word, or a strange vertical line, or even a question mark to replace the ligature that once represented two letters.

These are only a few examples of why many ebook makers prefer to manually go through a text that is being converted from PDF to ebook: there are too many little details for a converting program to catch, and so the human eye is still vital in the process.

Think about how far we are from Gutenberg’s moveable type: a PDF may remind us of the beautiful, static pages Gutenberg offered the Western world, but the ebook redefines the notion of “moveable” type — with a well-made ebook (and often “handmade” ebook), each reader can move the type to create his own version of the text.

6 Comments

Filed under Ebooks, Publishing