How To Choose a Domain Name – An Author’s Guide

by Mark Levine

how to choose a domainFor many authors, the domain name they choose to use for a website or blog is often done without much thought.  It shouldn’t be.  It’s really the basis of your marketing strategy.  You build a website around the domain and your social media around your website, and so on.

A great place to start doing a search for an available domain name is DomainTools.com.   If a name is taken, you can see who owns it (unless the name is privately registered), when it expires, and if it’s for sale.  If a domain name is not registered, there will be a link to Godaddy.com, where you can buy the name. Many names with a “.com” extension are already gone.  Keep searching until you find one that isn’t.  A “.com” is still the gold standard of domains, and unless you have a lot of internet marketing experience, a .com is the best way to go.  It’s the easiest for your potential readers (and customers) to find and remember.

Domain Name Characteristics for Authors

If you’re new to the domain name world, keep it simple. You want something easy for people to remember and type into a search engine browser.  I always tell the authors I work with that they need to envision themselves doing a radio interview and announcing their domain name on the air.  The shorter, the better.  The less confusing the spelling, the better.  And whatever you do, don’t have dashes or numbers in your domain if you can help it.  If a radio host says, “Tell our listeners where they can find your book,” it is going to be a lot easier for the listeners to remember “MyBookTitle.com” than it will be do remember “My-Book-Title.com” (which on air will sound like — “my dash book dash title dot com”).

So, stick to .com’s and no numbers or dashes.  Got it?  Now, the next thing to decide is do you want a domain name that identifies you as an author (e.g. JohnDoe.com or JohnDoeBooks.com)?  Maybe, you want a domain name that identifies your book (e.g. TitleofMyBook.com).  How about a domain name that identifies the type of book you’ve written (e.g. SoulPurposeBook.com)?

All three make sense, and I’d suggest buying up 5 to 10 domain names — a few that contain part or all of your title, a few that contain your name, and a few that identify the type of book. Domain names that have never been registered and/or that have reverted back to the registration pool are cheap.  About $8—$10 each (don’t ever pay more).  There are many domain registrars around.  The biggest (and easiest) to use is Godaddy.com.   The prices are low and almost any web person you work with should know his or her way around Godaddy.  If you end up using Godaddy.com to register your domains, go to http://livecodes.blogspot.com/ first.  It’s where Godaddy.com provides discount codes for everyday use.

Where to Find Great Domain Names

After a few searches, you may discover that every name you like is gone.  But, many of those domain names and thousands like it are being sold by their owners or just dropped altogether (someone choosing not to pay the yearly registration fee).  There are sites that sell and auction domains.  Sometimes you can find the perfect domain that someone is trying to sell.  I use Namejet.comSnapnames.com, and auctions.godaddy.com to search for names that are being auctioned off or sold.  The prices are higher than just buying an unregistered name.  If the perfect domain is available for $100, it might be worth it.  But, if you aren’t experienced with buying and selling domain names, this is an area you should tread cautiously.   A few hundred dollars is one thing, but when the prices start going up from there, you really need to know if such an investment is worth it.

Buying All Available Extensions of a Domain Name

Today, there are literally hundreds of domain extensions. If you are buying a domain name just for your book title or your name, the .com alone is sufficient.  Consider the .net and .org, but it’s not crucial.  For businesses, there are more reasons why securing many extensions of your name may make sense (that’s another article).

What if a .Com Isn’t Available?

Find one that is.  Keep coming up with names or do whatever you have to do to get a .com. Don’t settle for a .net because it’s there.  If you and/or your book start to get a real following, you’ll wish you had a .com.  People will assume you have the dot come and will be searching for it that way. You don’t want someone else getting your traffic.

Making Sure Your Twitter and Facebook Handles are Available

When you choose a domain name, it’s a good idea to check Facebook and Twitter to see if the name is also available as a handle on those sites.  It’s not a huge deal if they aren’t, but it sure can make life a lot easier.  Obviously, if your domain name is longer than Twitter or Facebook allow, that won’t be possible.

The above is really just a primer on how to choose a domain name. There are many options and your spending can get out of control quickly. So, stick to the basics.

[box border=”full”]Mark Levine is the CEO of Hillcrest Media Group, Inc., a Minneapolis-based book publisher. Hillcrest owns more than 1,300 book publishing, book genre and related domains, including Fiction.com.[/box]

Fine Print of Self-Publishing Giveaway – Thursday

Writing contest not your thing, but you still want to win? You’re in luck! Hillcrest Media CEO Mark Levine has donated 5 copies of his book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing to give away to a random participant every day of Writers’ Week! Use the widget below to enter to win today’s copy.

Sorry, this one’s open to U.S. residents only. (It’s a shipping thing.)

the fine print of self-publishing

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From First Draft to Finished Product: The Editorial Process

By Kelly O’Connor McNees

editorial process self-publishingYou’ve decided to publish your novel or nonfiction book independently, and that makes you more than just the author—you’re also the project manager. As a wise manager, you know that you can’t—and shouldn’t—try to do everything on your own. You need to recruit a team of experts who can help make your book shine, and an experienced, reputable editor should be at the top of your list.

But what, exactly, does an editor do?

As a way of answering that question, let’s examine the editorial process. A book begins as a first draft. Then you revise, revise, and revise some more. Then you ask some early readers—your friends, your mom, teachers or colleagues—to help you figure out what else might need work. You revise a little more. Then, finally, you have a draft you’re ready to share.

Phase One: Substantive/Developmental Editing

You might consider hiring an editor at this phase in the process to get focused, specific feedback based on your goals for the manuscript. Some editors call this substantive/developmental editing, or a manuscript evaluation. An experienced editor understands what makes a novel engaging for readers, and what makes a nonfiction book informative and compelling. She can provide an evaluation that outlines the steps you might take to get the manuscript closer to your goals: Engaging your reader and building an audience for future titles. Specifically, this kind of editing addresses things like organization, structure, plot, character development, pacing, and dialogue.

With this evaluation in hand, you can make one last revision. Now, after all this work, your manuscript reads just the way you want it to. Each chapter begins and ends with a bang. If your book is a novel, each scene is vivid, and the characters’ conflicting desires lead to conflicts that propel the story forward. If your book is nonfiction, your prose is concise but packed with the results of your careful research. This manuscript is ready to become a book! Well, almost.

Phase Two: Copyediting

An important, sometimes invisible last step is copyediting. I say invisible because it seems that we only notice copyediting when it has been done poorly or not at all. And nothing says amateur like an e-book full of grammatical errors, punctuation missteps, and cut-and-paste blunders. Copyediting clarifies meaning, eliminates jargon and repetition, and polishes word choice; it also addresses grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics of style so that your manuscript will be clean, professional, and ready to publish.

Finding the Right Editor

The abundance of freelance editors available online is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you have plenty to choose from. On the other hand, some of them don’t really have the skills to serve you well. Before you commit your time and money to this relationship, be sure to find out about a prospective editor’s level of experience, and what kinds of projects he or she has worked on in the past. Ask for testimonials from past clients because good editors will have plenty of happy customers ready to sing their praises. And don’t work with an editor who doesn’t put everything in writing up front: schedule, fees, and a detailed description of the services he or she will provide.

How long?

The editorial process can take a few weeks or a few months, depending on the editor’s schedule and the length and complexity of your manuscript. Be patient—good editorial work and revision take time. Focus on doing it well, not quickly. Besides, while you’re waiting to hear from your editor, you can get started on writing your next book!

[box border=”full”]Kelly - Word Bird EditsKelly O’Connor McNees is the founder of Word Bird Editorial Services, and along with colleague Kelly Harms Wimmer, edits traditionally and independently published books by writers of all stripes. She is also the author of two novels, In Need of a Good Wife and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, published by Berkley/Penguin. Follow @wordbirdedits on Twitter.[/box]

#WritersWeek Twitter Chat Tonight at 6 p.m.

writers week twitter chatTonight’s Twitter chat starts at 6:00 p.m. Eastern—so we’ve got plenty of time to chat about writerly things and I can still get to bed at a respectable hour. There’s no set end time, and there’s no penalty for showing up late. Come when you can.

Log on to Twitter this evening and use the #WritersWeek hashtag to talk about things important to our little, but growing, community. Things like the writing contest, self-publishing, blogging, and our current projects. I’ll probably toss out a few questions to get things started.

So set a reminder to Tweet with us tonight at 6:00 p.m., or leave a comment with your Twitter name if you want me to elbow you with an @mention right before the fun starts.

Fine Print of Self-Publishing Giveaway – Wednesday

Writing contest not your thing, but you still want to win? You’re in luck! Hillcrest Media CEO Mark Levine has donated 5 copies of his book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing to give away to a random participant every day of Writers’ Week! Use the widget below to enter to win today’s copy.

Sorry, this one’s open to U.S. residents only. (It’s a shipping thing.)

the fine print of self-publishing
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Attention Writers: 6 Ways to Spot a 5-Star Publisher

By Sara-Jayne Slack

6 ways to spot a 5-star publisherAs the owner of an independent publishing house, reading about the shenanigans of iUniverse on this very site made me feel as though I needed to apologise for the sheer number of bad practices that people within the publishing industry seem to be piling up on authors these days. Whilst I could write at length about what publishers need to do to pull themselves out of the rut they’re in, instead I’d like to offer some advice to you, as writers.

There are a number of different ways you can check that the publishing house you’re looking into isn’t going to leave you high and dry. Of course, these aren’t foolproof, but they will act as a good screening method for when you’re researching who to send your manuscript to.

1.     Quality of past work

Take a look at their catalogue. Do you cringe at the cover art they use? Are all of their eBooks 99p on Amazon Kindle? Download the best looking one to assess writing and editing quality. If these books don’t live up to the standard you’d expect, don’t think that your novel would be treated any differently. Sloppy work is the front-view of a sloppy business. The ONLY caveat I would suggest here, is if their later titles look better in quality to their older ones. Seen in this light, the positive development is actually quite a good thing. It shows a willingness to progress and grow…but if they’re all the same, turn heel and run. (This includes all of the titles having the same sort of cover feel to them. the same font over the same part of a stock-image photograph is a precursor for a distinct lack of imagination on the part of the publisher, not to mention an inability to treat each work individually).

2.     Other authors web presence

Do you recognise any of their authors?  If the names don’t speak for themselves, go and take a look at personal websites and blogs. What sort of Twitter-er are they? Do they come across well? Poor social media presence or personality can be taken as an indicator that the publisher doesn’t spend much/any time helping them to develop their platform. Remember what I said earlier about publishers needing to prove that they add value? Well, this is one of the many ways, and if this development is something you want help with and the publisher isn’t delivering to their other authors, you need to consider just how important it really is, if you want to still sign on their dotted line.

 3.     Good website

There are only so many times I can look at a blog with dodgy graphics and poorly-chosen static pages and wring my hands. If the business doesn’t even have their own domain name, I would be very cautious. For many businesses, websites ought to be seen as a ‘shop window’. Ask yourself the question; “If this was an actual shop window, would I go inside to browse what they had to offer?” If the answer is ‘no’ for whatever reason, simply walk on by.

 4.     Clear information & easy to contact

So their ‘shop window’ looks pretty good, but do they have a clear means to contact them? Is the information on their site clear and concise? Transparency is a huge issue for publishing houses these days (just look at how badly iUniverse failed at this!) If the only way to contact them is via their submission form, then be wary that they hold the reins of contact-ability. This might play against you in the future if you need to call them to find out exactly where your royalty cheque is…

5.     Interactive – they’ll answer your questions and be transparent

I guess this should really be 4.5, since it fits in nicely from my last point. Send the publishers a couple of easy questions about their ethos and project management and see how they respond. If they don’t reply at all, just imagine how good they’d be at communicating with authors who have difficult questions for them. If they do respond in good time (anywhere up to a month, although the less time the better), consider their tone of voice. Do they end with thanking you for your enquiry and to get back to them with any more questions? How transparent are they with their answers?

 6.     They match your values

This isn’t an aspect of finding a publisher that I’ve seen people speaking about all that often. of course, it’s incredibly important to find a publisher who actually deals with your genre, but what about the other, important things? Where do they stand on the eBook evolution? Do they host or attend any special events? Are they affiliated with any charities or other businesses? Heck, are their printed books FSC stamped? It’s important to know who you’re aligning yourself with, and to make sure your values are a good fit. Don’t be afraid to ask these sorts of questions, either! If you’re passionate about literacy in school, send your potential publisher an email, asking about initiatives and their stance on that sort of thing.

Now, I could go on for a while longer with this list, and each of these points could quite easily make its own post…but I did promise to keep it to 6 (short!) items.

I hope I’ve managed to give you all something to think about past the regular ‘look up their testimonials’, because as we’ve unfortunately seen with companies such as iUniverse, that doesn’t always cut the mustard.

Remember: do your homework now, to save later headaches.

[box border=”full”]sara slackSara-Jayne Slack is the owner of Inspired Quill, an ecologically-friendly, people-orientated publishing house. She loves the theatre, huge cups of tea, and telling people her theory that ‘to-do’ lists breed when you’re not looking. Follow @inspiredquill on Twitter.

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Self-Publishing Fundamentals

By Kim Bookless

self-publishingSelf-publishing can transform the lives of authors and their readers. The concept has been around for hundreds of years but recent technological advances, along with increasing turmoil in the traditional publishing industry, have made self-publishing a popular and easy way to bring a book to life. Aspiring authors are no longer dependent on the whims of editors at the few remaining traditional publishers. With self-publishing, authors now have complete control over when and how their books are published.

Self-publishing authors have to invest time and money, and be willing to push through a learning curve, to bring their books to life. Successful authors avoid self-publishing pitfalls by taking the time to educate themselves before jumping in. When planning to self-publish, an aspiring author should give considerable thought to goals (the purpose of the book and the desired outcome), budget (how much money there is to work with), and method (which parts of the self-publishing work the author will perform and which parts will be hired out).

Goals

Most self-publishing authors fit into one of three categories:

  • Personal – Some self-publishing authors write for strictly personal reasons, such as creating a memoir to give to family members. These authors usually have little interest in selling their books to the public so marketing, distribution, ebook formatting, and building an author platform are unnecessary.
  • Prestige – Other self-publishing authors write books for prestige reasons or to position themselves as experts in their field. For these authors, using their books to boost their credibility is more important than making money from book sales. Professional editing and design, and building an author platform, are crucial.
  • Profit – Most self-publishing authors write to make a profit from selling their books. For these authors, every step of the publishing process is critical, including professional editing and design, multiple formats, marketing, distribution, and platform building.

Budget

In traditional publishing, the publishing company covers the costs of producing a book, including editing, design, printing, and marketing costs. Few authors who wish to self-publish can perform all the book production tasks without help, and hiring professional service providers can total several thousand dollars or more. There is no guarantee the book will sell enough copies to break even, let alone make a profit, so self-publishing authors should be prepared for the possibility that they won’t recoup their investment.

Method

Self-publishing authors can purchase publishing services a la carte or hire a self-publishing company to handle everything. Authors who choose the a la carte method have to find all of the necessary publishing service providers and manage the entire publishing process. This option is often less expensive than hiring self-publishing companies, but authors will need to invest a bit of time and effort to make it work.

Hiring a self-publishing company usually costs more than going the DIY route but it can make the publishing process much easier for authors. The challenge with this option is to separate the reputable and reasonably priced self-publishing companies from the unethical and overpriced ones. Mark Levine’s book The Fine Print of Self Publishing and his website Book Publishers Compared are excellent resources for choosing and working with self-publishing companies.

Some authors hire a publishing consultant (also called a book consultant or book coach) to manage the process. The consultant educates the author on self-publishing, helps make the necessary decisions, and works to develop a publishing plan. The consultant works with the service providers, oversees the book’s production, and serves as a single point of contact for the author throughout the publishing process.

The Basics of Self-Publishing

Most authors want to make money from selling their books, and profit-oriented authors follow ten basic steps to bring their books to life:

Writing

There are many resources to help authors with their manuscripts, including writing coaches and developmental editors. Software programs like Scrivener can help organize manuscripts and make the writing process a little easier. Other writers and trusted colleagues can serve as beta readers and give suggestions for improving a manuscript. Working out manuscript kinks during the writing process will save money on editing later.

Editing

It is critical to have a manuscript professionally edited. Industry associations like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) maintain directories of excellent book editors.

Cover design

Book design is an art and a cover is, among other things, an advertisement for the book. Unless the author is a graphic designer with experience in creating book covers, it’s best to hire a professional to create the front, back, and spine cover design.

Interior layout

Authors should hire book designers to format their books’ interiors so that fonts, margins, page numbers, headers, etc., look professional.

Ebook formatting

A good ebook formatter will typically charge a few hundred dollars or less to convert a manuscript into various ebook formats.

ISBNs

Authors who plan to sell their books online or in stores need ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), which must be purchased from Bowker. A single ISBN costs $125 and a block of ten ISBNs costs $250. It’s a good idea to purchase a block of ten because each format of a book (paperback, hardcover, Kindle, epub, PDF, audiobook, etc.) needs its own ISBN. Print books also need a barcode, which is a scannable ISBN that is available from Bowker.

Printing

An author’s printing needs will depend on the goals for the book. Print on Demand (POD) has eliminated the necessity for authors to order thousands of books just to get a good printing price. Dan Poynter’s book and his website www.parapublishing.com offer information on printing options, as well as warnings on how to avoid unscrupulous POD companies.

Distribution

Dan Poynter’s book and website give a great overview of book distribution options available to self-publishing authors.

Author platform

Building an author platform is a vital part of book marketing and selling. Just like a real platform, an author platform is a foundation – it’s what an author “stands on” to deliver his message. Jane Friedman’s author platform article is an excellent resource for author platform building.

Marketing

Self-publishing authors either handle their own marketing or hire people to do it for them. There are many ways to market a book that are free but require the author’s time, such as an author blog, writing guest posts for other blogs, and requesting reviews from book bloggers. Hiring a book marketing company or consultant can help an author reach a wider audience.

Authors who educate themselves have an advantage over those who don’t. These sites are some of the best places to learn about self-publishing: ParaPublishing, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, The Creative Penn, and The Book Designer. Armed with knowledge from these and other industry experts, authors can bring their books to life via self-publishing in their own timeframe and on their own terms.

[box border=”full”]Kim BooklessKim Bookless is a Chicago-based publishing consultant, writer, and editor. She co-founded the Chicago Self-Publishing Meetup Group to help educate aspiring authors on the joys of self-publishing, and she is the Publicity Chair for Chicago Women in Publishing. Connect with Kim at www.kimbookless.com and on Twitter at @kimbookless.

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