ETJ Writes

Archive for the category “Help & How To”

Top 5 Must-Buys for Indie Authors

Hello Friends!

Today we’re talking about the top five things you as an indie author absolutely MUST invest in if you want your book to have the best shot at success during and after publication.

Of course, you can do everything yourself and not spend any money, but chances are your final product will be rather poor quality both inside and out and therefore off-putting to potential readers. Not to mention, you might wind up giving away the rights to your book if you’re not careful.

So without further ado, here are the top five Must-Buys I recommend serious indie authors put money towards.


1. Book Cover

Unless you’re insanely talented, it’s a really good idea to outsource this part of the publishing process to someone else. Your cover is the first thing a reader sees, whether on a bookshelf or online (especially given that our world is very visual these days, a move that is increasingly more driven by social media) and getting it right is KEY if you want your book to sell.

You’ll want your cover to fit within your book’s chosen genre – for example, many scifi books have planets or tech on them, letting you know instantly what kind of book it is – and also fit current trends without being too locked into whatever is popular, given that tastes change very quickly in the publishing world.

You can work closely with an artist/cover designer to execute your vision or you can purchase pre-made covers. Either way, expect to spend anywhere from $100-$500 (possibly more) depending on what on level of quality and customization you are looking for, and on how many revisions are needed.

Don’t forget to credit your cover artist on your copyright page!

2. Editing

There are lots of different types of editing – developmental, line, copy, and proofreading, for example – and each stage is critically important for your manuscript to be the best version of itself. A traditional publishing company will have all these editors in-house, sometimes in multiple departments, often in just one or two people. However, as an indie, you’ll have to pay for each stage of editing yourself, which can end up being quite costly. The most consistent advice I’ve seen is to stick to beta readers and critique partners for the first few stages, and hire out to professionals once you are closer to the end.

I personally like to invest my money in a really good copy edit, but you may choose to put your money toward a different stage, or several, or all of them.

Quick side note here – I see quite a few people in writing groups mention that they paid someone to edit and then threw their books on Amazon without looking at their manuscript, and readers ruthlessly criticized the books for being riddled with errors. When you pay to get your book edited, your editor should mark changes, and upon receipt of your edited copy, you should be the one to accept or reject them.

Always proofread whatever you get back from the editor! As an indie author, it’s ultimately your job to write your book, not the editor’s.

Keep in mind that this is where you will likely spend the majority of your budget on self-publishing. There are very good editors out there who offer incredible discounts for indie authors, and you can have your novel-length book edited for as little $400-500, but for the most part, expect to spend anywhere from $1000-$4000 or so (depending on word count) on a good clean edit of your book.

3. ISBNs

The third thing I highly, highly, encourage you to spend money on are ISBN’s. I can already hear so many of you asking, “But don’t companies like IngramSpark and Amazon allow you to publish with a free ISBN?”

The answer is yes, but also no.

Yes, there are free ISBNs you can obtain from these companies, but they will ONLY work with those companies, and you cannot publish your book – that version of it anyway – on any other platform. That means that the free ISBN you have lacks the full functionality of an ISBN purchased through Bowker’s website.

Additionally, by using a free ISBN, you voluntarily hand over your publishing rights to your book.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not the copyright, but the publishing rights. But only for whatever particular version of the book you are publishing. So if you publish a paperback at a certain trim size with a free ISBN, you CAN publish an audiobook, ebook, or hardcover copy (at a different trim size to be on the safe side) with an ISBN you previously purchased and still retain your rights to that version of your book, which can then be printed/plublished with any platform you desire.

Of course, many people (especially in the ebook space) have published their books with a free ISBN and been fine, but since indie publishing is all about you being the one in control at the end of the day, it’s nice to be able to say you own the publishing rights to your own book. For this reason, I highly recommend purchasing your own ISBNs.

You can buy a single ISBN for $125, but since each given format of a book requires a different ISBN, I recommend you go for a bulk purchase and buy a pack of 10 at $295, which is a 75% discount.

4. Bookmarks

Now onto number four; bookmarks! There are so many websites out there that will let you upload custom designs and print and order sets of 500 to 1000 bookmarks that it’s WELL worth your money to invest in this. Bookmarks are probably the best in-person marketing tool for an indie author, as they are small, light, unobtrusive, useful and very easy to give away.

You can expect to spend anywhere from $60-$200 depending on how many bookmarks you order, what quality you choose, and which service you go with. I recommend ordering a few first to see if you like them before making a larger purchase.

5. Marketing

Lastly, we have advertising! Most indie authors are on a shoestring budget to begin with (and if you paid for a good edit, you might broken the bank already), so you can definitely invest time and effort into social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platform of your choice for free. However, it’s generally worth it to spend a little money on ads to get people outside of those platforms looking at your book.

I recommend AMS ads first and foremost. This is an ad option offered by Amazon if you are publishing through their KDP service. You can advertise both kindle and paperback versions with them, and the results can be highly effective, given that people using Amazon are already browsing the site with the intention of making a purchase and so are much more likely to be favourable to ads.

They can be tricky to get the hang of, but Author Dave Chesson has put together some courses and resources on how to effectively use and get the most out of AMS ads without spending bucket loads of money, which I highly recommend checking out.

Additionally, many indie authors find success with facebook ads, and to varying degrees of success, things like Bookbub deals. The 20Booksto50K Facebook group has a tonne more info on this.

I personally recommend doing a BIG push with ads right around your book launch, maybe a day or two ahead, definitely on the release date, and then for a couple months after – some people keep ads running indefinitely, and if this fits your budget, you can experiment with that as well, through perhaps at a much lower spend point.

If you do your research before jumping into buying ads, it can really help to minimize the amount of money you spend on them. I think it’s best if you keep it comparable to whatever you spend on your book’s cover, and you can probably expect to spend anywhere from $200-10,000 on ads depending on how much revenue they bring in. (I know that second number sounds scary, but there are indie authors making $10K or more a month on their books, and so can afford to turn around and reinvest that money into making sure new readers find them.)


So there you go! The top five things you should spend money on as an indie author.

Book Covers, Editing, ISBNs, Bookmarks, and Ads. I can’t give you a concrete number on all these things combined, because there is so much variance that goes into each element, but it’s worth noting that what you put into your work is what you will get out of it.

And that includes confidence! If you think you can put the best version of your book out there without spending any money, go for it! But readers expect quality – especially in such an oversaturated market – and it’s difficult to achieve that without spending at least a little money.

(There are other publishing/marketing things you can choose to invest in such as fanart, merch, book conventions, etc. They aren’t as necessary to sell your book in my opinion, but can be very fun and rewarding, and I do enjoy a good bookfair myself.)

Drop any questions you have in the comment section, and I wish you all the best on your publishing journeys.

Happy indie authoring!

~ETJ

Stock images sourced from unsplash or pexels

How to Get Free Books!

(If you cannot afford to buy)

Hello Friends!

In these trying times, escaping to a different world via a great book is what many of us are craving right now. Unfortunately, it’s also leading some people to start pirating books, which hurts struggling authors (which is the vast majority of them) and is generally just not kind.

Therefore, I would like to take this time to remind readers that there are some wonderful ways to get free books that still support the authors (taken from a post I wrote on tumblr some time ago):


  • The Library – if the library doesn’t have the book you want, ask them to buy it. I’ve never actually had to do this because the interlibrary loan system works so extraordinarily well, but if by chance the book is not on file, they can buy it for you. This benefits both the author and the library! (Side note: for indie books this works best when there’s a paperback in addition to an ebook available, and the book can be purchased outside of amazon.)
  • Digital Libraries – slightly different in that these only stock ebooks, but services like HOOPLA, OVERDRIVE, & LIBBY are free reading apps that work in partnership with local libraries to give and maintain free access to thousands of books. The more you use any library services, the better the chances of those services sticking around.

  • Free Amazon Books – Go to the kindle store on amazon, type in “free kindle books,” and thousands of results pop up. All you need are an amazon account and a kindle app (free to download for iOs, Android, PC, & Mac), and you’re good to go. Yes, a lot of the free books will be romances, but many other genre authors who are part of KDP select will put their books on freebie deals for a few days every now and then. Twitter is also a great way to find these freebies, just browse the #freeEbook hashtag.

  • Become a Book Reviewer – All of us have thoughts and opinions about literature, and reviews are coveted by both the traditional and indie published book industry alike. Popular book bloggers and booktube channels are often contacted by authors and publishing houses and are sent free books (usually ARCs) in exchange for honest reviews.
      • Smaller book reviewers can participate in blog tours (search twitter/instagram to find these) for new releases, both indie and trad, and/or sign up for a NETGALLEY (or similar website) account. Netgalley, BookSprout & BookFunnel are all sites that send readers free ARCs in exchange for reviews.

These are the best ways I personally know of to get free books and still directly support authors, whether it be by review or having a library purchase their books, and they help everybody in the book world.

(Let’s be honest, most of us have a mile long TBR, and so while some of the above methods require waiting, we have lots of books to read in the meantime. And if you do run out, there’s always AO3.)

That being said, happy reading, my friends! Let’s stick to imaginary piracy only, inside the pages of a good book, and practice kindness in our real daily lives.

~ETJ

All images sourced from unsplash or pexels

How to Turn any Kindle eBook into an Audiobook with this Simple iPhone Hack

Hello Friends!

In this article I cover how I seriously got into audiobooks, and the solution I discovered to get my phone to read aloud to me.

[Watch Video or Jump to step-by-step solution.]

You may recall that in my “Top 5 Books I Read in 2019” I mentioned that I struggled to read traditionally published books during college and for a few years afterward. Part of that, for me, was the work of having to commit to a new world, new characters, and plots. Once I’ve gotten into a series, I’m fine, it’s the getting started that’s the issue. (As opposed, to say, fanfiction, where I’m already attached to the worlds and characters I’m reading about.)

But early last year I was bound and determined to read more than one original work a year, so I set my Goodreads reading goal to 50 books, hopped on Twitter, and downloaded a varied selection of books to the Kindle app on my phone.

At first I was reluctant to try audiobooks. I’ve always been able to read much faster than I can listen, and I always felt I would be wasting time by listening to books instead of sitting down for a dedicated hour or three. But during college and after, I found that that dedicated hour or three was constantly being filled up by other things – writing, music, work, so I thought “What could it hurt? I might as well listen to a book and get two things done at once, even if it’s slower than reading it would be. I’m not reading anything at all, otherwise.”

As it happened, in late 2018, I’d stumbled across the Kingfountain series by Jeff Wheeler, whose books in the KindleUnlimited program all have the whispersync audiobook feature (meaning that one can listen to the audio recording without having to have audible).

The Kingfountain series was for me the perfect introduction into the world of audiobooks. I was forced to slow down and really absorb every word, as I couldn’t go back and re-listen to a certain phrase or paragraph if my hands were busy and I’d missed it. I started to deeply, in a way I hadn’t before, appreciate the care that other authors put into crafting every word, every emotional phrase. And I couldn’t get enough. I was suddenly reading 2-5-10! books. I would listen in the car, while doing dishes or laundry, or working out, or mundane work on the computer, gardening (practicing scales sometimes even!) – you name it, if I could listen and keep my hands occupied at the same time, I had a book on.

But I ran into a problem. That problem was that not every novel has an audiobook accompaniment. There were all these books on my Kindle that were piling up and I wasn’t listening to them. I knew that Kindles have a text-to-speech option, but I didn’t have a Kindle, only the Kindle app, which doesn’t have that feature (if amazon ever adds it, I’ll be thrilled, and update this article). I tried several different third-party apps, but nothing worked well.

Still determined, I experimented with the VoiceOver option from the Accessibility settings on my phone. That was a bit disastrous. But I was on the right path. And that right path led me to the solution, also located in the Accessibility section of Settings. I tried it on the book I was struggling to find time to read about the middle of 2019, and I never looked back.

And, dear readers, here is the “hack” I discovered.

(This solution is for iPhone, but I imagine Android and other smart phones have similar capabilities.)

I enabled Speak Screen. This setting allows you to use a simple finger gesture to activate the iPhone’s internal text-to-speech feature to read webpages and other detected text content. (Unfortunately it doesn’t work on PDFs, at least not yet.) It does take a little fiddling to get it to work correctly on the Kindle app, but once it gets going, it works like a charm.

Part 1 – Setup
(These steps only have to be done once, but can be adjusted as needed.)

Step 1. Locate Speak Screen from Settings>Accessibility>Spoken Content. (This might vary slightly depending on which version of IOS your phone is running.)

AccessibilitySpoken Content Speak Screen

Step 2. Toggle it on. (I would avoid turning on the other settings, as they can be a bit frustrating, but feel free to experiment with what works best for you.)

Speaking RateStep 3. Set the speaking rate. (I find the middle works best for me. Too fast is difficult to comprehend, too slow strands us firmly in the uncanny valley.)

Step 4. Select a voice. (There are a lot of voices, but I prefer to go with a female British voice. It’s very soothing, the inflection is usually correct, and it reminds me of listening to audiobooks as a child.)

Step 5. (Optional) As you have Speak Screen read aloud, you might notice it butchering some simple words, or struggling with fantasy novels’ pronunciations.

PronounciationTeutaOne that I’ve noticed is that it thinks “No.” (with a period at the end) is the substitute for “number” and so reads it that way. Consider adding in some alternate pronunciations if this bugs you – just make sure you tap on “Languages” and set it to your preferred reading voice.

Step 6. Open up your Kindle app.

Step 7. Make sure to tap on the page, and select the “Aa” from the top of the page to bring up the Kindle app options menu.

Step 8. Make sure that “Continuous Scrolling” (if the book you are reading supports it) is turned off.

AaContinuous Scrolling

This is because Speak Screen refuses to work in the Kindle app if this option is enabled.

Part 2 – Execution
(Just four more steps and your Kindle ebook will be an audiobook!)

Step 9. Set your volume to high and your brightness (if not plugged in) to as low as you can stand. This can be done from inside the app and with the volume control buttons on your phone, or by rapidly tapping home twice and swiping up to accessing your iPhone’s Control Centre.

Step 10. (This is where it gets a bit tricky!) Swipe down firmly with two fingers from the top of your iPhone. If not done correctly, this might swipe down the Notification Centre. Just slide it back up, and try again.

Step 11. (Vital!) Once the screen reader playback box appears, swipe to the page before and then back to the page you started out on. This will prompt the screen reader to keep reading once it reaches the end of the page. Otherwise, it will stop at the end of the page.

Step 12. Tap the arrow to hide the screen reader playback box. This will also help prompt the screen reader to keep reading.

Kindle Speak Screen PlaybackKindle Speak Screen 2Sometimes there is an issue where initially the screen reader will read from the previous or subsequent page. In this case, close the Kindle app, reopen it and repeat steps 10-12. This might have to be done one or two times to reset it correctly.

Step 13. DO NOT TURN OFF YOUR SCREEN. If you do, the screen reader will read to the end of the page, then stop, and you will have to repeat steps 10-12 again. In fact you will have to repeat those steps if the Speak Screen is disturbed in anyway (a phone call, going to another app, etc.) This is the purpose of setting the brightness and volume level before starting.

The brightness level is especially important here, because if your phone is at half/full brightness, unplugged, the phone will die rather quickly. On low brightness, it will last for a long time if not plugged in. I suggest having a car charger if listening on long car trips.

Speak screen also works for the Wattpad app (but you have to back in and out of the app for every chapter to avoid it reading the ads by mistake, so it can be a bit of a hassle), and for A03. On websites, you usually can turn the screen off or use other apps at the same time, because of the vertical non-stop scrolling. It’s just the page turning aspect of the Kindle app that forces the issue.

Yes, the Speak Screen output does take a bit of getting used to. There are no variances between voices for different characters, or for dialogue versus prose, but for a synthetic voice, it does a decent job. Good stories shine through, and badly written stories are immediately apparent.

And there you have it! How to get your iPhone to turn any Kindle book into an audiobook. I trust this will open far more reading possibilities for you all. It definitely has for me!

Happy listening!
ETJ

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: