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Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

I’m thrilled to announce that next week I will be interview live on Mixed Chicks Chat, the only live podcast that focuses on being racially and culturally mixed. I will be on the air at 2pm Pacific Time, 5pm Eastern Time. For those of you who can’t listen to the list broadcast, the episode will be available for free on iTunes.

I’m very excited for this opportunity, mostly because I am a huge fan of the show. For those of you who don’t already know, I’m biracial–half Chinese, half Caucasian. Emma, a main character in Raggedy Chan, is also biracial.  I’m excited to share some of my experiences, particularly how they influenced my writing. Hope some of you have a chance to tune in!

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Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

In recent weeks I’ve been learning about these nifty things called QR Codes. Here’s an example of what they look like:

A QR Code is a two-dimensional bade code that can be read by a Smart Phone. (If you’ve already got a Smart Phone with a QR Reader, go ahead and scan this code – it should take you to my website, www.pixiupress.com.) They have the potential to open new doors for indie writers and publishers.

This past week I had the privilege of taking a webinar on QR Codes. The webinar was presented by Rick Breslin, Founder and CEO of Hello Vino. And though the webinar focused on QR Codes in the wine industry, I learned quite a bit that can be applied to the publishing company.

Here’s some of what I learned from the Hello Vino webinar. And although this webinar was aimed at the wine industry, most of what I learned can be applied to the publishing industry.

You can use a QR Code to:

1. Link directly to a URL – sends your customer to a URL of your choosing. From a URL, there are a various things your customer can do:

            a. Discounts/Coupons

            b. Access additional information about product

            c. Enter sweep steaks

            d. Sign up to receive more information

            e. Access video

            f. Make purchase

            g. Interact with social media

2. Send a text message – allows your customer can send you a text message (Interesting tidbit: this allows you to capture the phone number of the person texting you.)

3. Call a phone number – allows customer to call phone number supplied by you

4. Decode a secret message – you can embed a message up to 500 characters long in the QR Code; scanning the code will display the “secret” message. Some companies have been using this method to send customers on scavenger hunts.

5. Download Vcard contact info – allows you to download contact info; the future of business cards

Where you can get a free QR Code:

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1.Go QR – this is a neat site that allows you to create QR codes that do all 5 of the items listed above. It’s totally free.

2. Kawya – another free site. It allows you to do all of the above except #5.

3. To find other free QR code generators, do a Google search for Free QR Codes.

What the QR Code Scanners do (not all do exactly the same things):

1. Send you automatically to a website

2. Capture the website so you can go to it later

4. Give customer yes/no options

5. Maintain history of accessed sites

What your customer needs to scan a QR Code:

1. A Smart Phone with a camera

2. An App that reads QR Codes. Here are a few:

            Red Laser (iPhone)

            ScanLife (Blackberry)

            Quick Mark (Android)

3. A QR Code that’s dark in color on a white/light background (contrast is imperative)

4. A crisp QR Code, preferably one that’s generated from an EPS file. JPEGs may work, but be sure to test them.

Why QR Codes are good for businesses:

1. Deliver extra value to your customer

2. Allow you to collect contact info

3. Allow you to capture the location of your customers (usually with their permission)

4. Present incentives to purchase

5. Allow you to interact with your customer

6. Inexpensive and quick to set up

7. Allow you to track consumer awareness and engagement

Best Practices for businesses using QR Codes:

1. Use short URLs. The longer the URL, the more complex the QR Code. The more complex the URL Code, the more difficult it is to scan (generally, you have to make complex codes proportionately larger). If you don’t have a short URL, you can shorten it using bit.ly.

2. Cross Platform Compatibility – make sure the Code can be used on multiple devices.

3. Give instructions to your consumer so they know what to do with the QR Code. For example, if you print the Code on the cover of a book, print a statement like this below/beside it: “Scan this with a Smart Phone app that reads QR Codes.” Until QR Codes are more widely recognized, businesses must help educate consumers. Check out this Macy’s YouTube campaign to educate consumers on QR Codes.

4. Test QR Codes over and over again with multiple apps and phones before releasing to the public.

5. A “micro site” for customers. A regular webpage can be pretty hard to read and navigate on a Smart Phone. Landing sites for QR Codes need to be dimensionally smaller; in other words, designed for a small Smart Phone screen. Check out Hello Vino’s website for an example of a “micro site”. On the right hand side of their home page is a picture of a Smart Phone displaying the Hello Vino app. The website even allows you to navigate the app right on your computer so you can see how it will look on a small screen. Notice how easy everything is to read and how nicely it fits on a small screen.

A quick story relating to QR Code Best Practices: A colleague of mine did some experimenting with QR Codes. Using a long URL, she was unable to successfully scan .5″ QR Code. When she blew the code up to 1″, she was able the scan it. Our IT department shortened the URL, and she was able to scan it at .5″. This illustrates 1) how important it is to have a short QR Code, and 2) how important it is to test QR Codes.

QR Codes are Ugly! What can I do?

Worried that QR Codes are going to look tacky on your book cover? Check out some of the innovative ways you can spruce up at QR Code:

If you’re looking to do something like this, you have to hire a designer. I did a quick Google search and found BeQRiuos, a place that specializes in creating custom QR Codes. I don’t know what this sort of thing costs, but if you’re interested it would probably be worth your time to request a quote from a few of these companies. (Notice that both of these QR Codes adhere to #3 of “What your customer needs to scan a QR Code” – that is, both provide a dark QR Code on a lighter background for contrast.)

My plans for QR Codes:

I have a lot of ideas for how I would like to use QR Codes on my upcoming books. I’m thinking they will function as “Bonus Features.” Here are some things I would like to include:

            a. full color illustrations for fantasy creatures in my books

            b. YouTube video of me giving a school presentation

            c. YouTube video of me talking about my writing process/inspiration for my story

            d. early drafts of the book or deleted/altered scenes

            e. promote the free teaching curricula I give away on my website

QR Codes and E-books: I don’t see any reason why a writer/publisher can’t include QR Codes in e-books. I’m thinking in my table of contents, I will have a “Bonus Features” hyperlink which will take readers to the QR Code. I will also include a hyperlink to the website, in case the reader does not have a Smart Phone. For those readers who may not have a Smart Phone or an e-reader with access to the web, I may also include the actual website address.

I’d love to hear ideas from other indie writers and publishers regarding QR apps. How would you use them to supplement the reading experience for your customer?             

 ***

There were some kind bloggers out there who also published this article on QR Codes. If you’re interested to check out the other ideas and comments about QR Codes and books, you can check them out at Lindsay Buroker’s blog and Joel Friedlander’s blog. Both bloggers have excellent blog sites and I recommend you check them out anyway.

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Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

Here I am, still slogging away on my e-book adventure. I have successfully uploaded the Raggedy Chan e-book to both Nook and Kindle. Smashwords is the last e-book site on my list. I admit I’ve been putting it off because I’ve heard the file prep is a bit complicated.

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I won’t lie. The file prep is time consuming. First, I read the 70 page Smashwords Style Guide, a step-be-step guide written my Smashwords founder Mark Coker to help authors correctly formatting e-book for Smashwords. It took me about an hour and a half to read the Style Guide, which I did read form cover to cover. On the upside, the Style Guide is totally free and easy to understand. I also learned some nifty new things about Microsoft Word (the required file type for Smashwords), so I’m coming out on the other end more educated, another good thing.

After I finished the Style Guide, it took me about 2 hours to format Raggedy Chan to the appropriate specs. Not hard, just time consuming. I could have hired someone. Smashwords has a list of folks you can hire to format your work for you. (To get the list, email list@smashwords.com.) Pricing generally starts at $25/hour. Since I plan to publish a lot of e-books in my lifetime, I figured it was worth my time to sit down and figure out how to do this myself. In the long run, I should get more adept at the formatting process and save myself money.

A pretty big bummer for me was discovering that Smashwords does NOT accept square images for cover. And of course my e-book cover is square. I had to send a very apologetic email to my cover designer to see if the cover could be re-formatted as a rectangle. At this point I am still waiting to hear back. Lesson Learned: going forward, all e-book covers will be rectangles. It’s no good if I can use a cover image and Amazon and B&N, but not at Smashwords.

Next step: uploading Raggedy Chan to Smashwords (with appropiately shaped cover).

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Grammar Lesson – Money Well Spent

Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

I’m going to tell you a story. There once was a writer who had a college degree in Creative Writing. She was pretty good at English grammar. Even so, before she ever published a story, she always had is proofed by her family or professionals: her husband, an English teacher, and her parents, both retired English teachers. She figured that between 4 sets of professional eyes, her stories would be free of grammatical mistakes.

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Flash forward to 2008. This writer decided to self-publish her first book. She knew all pros selling books to big NY publishers had copy editors. Still, she was on the fence about hiring a professional editor. It cost money, and her budget has already been stretched pretty thin. Between her own English background and that of her family’s, she figured her work is clean.

But there’s a nagging voice in the back of her mind. The sort of voice that kept her up late at night fretting. In the end she  decided it’s better to be safe than sorry. With that, she set out to find a copy editor. A reference from a fellow writer put her in contact with Erin Wilcox, owner of Wilcox Editing Services. Erin has a BA from UC Berkley and an MFA from University of Alaska.

The write shipped off her manuscript and was shocked when it came back full of red marks. Spelling mistakes, punctuation mistakes, etc. — Erin found it all. Next to each red mark was a citation that tied back to the Chicago Manual of Style, in case the writer needed further clarification.

As the writer carefully combed through Erin’s edits, one thing became abundantly clear: Erin made the work better. She took homemade chocolate cake and added triple fudge topping.

The writer learned that a copyeditor is essential in the self-publishing process. No story of hers would ever see the light of day until it first passed through the hands of Erin Wilcox.

I’m sure it’s obvious, but this is a story about me and the publication of my first book, Raggedy Chan.

This isn’t just a plug for Erin Wilcox. (Although I hope it’s obvious that I’d rather throw myself in front of a moving train than publish any of my work she hasn’t edited.) It’s a story to show other self-publishers out there the importance of hiring a copy editor. For me, it was about learning that it doesn’t matter how good I am at English, or about how good my mom or my grandma or my cat is as English–it was about finding a pro editor. And a copy editor doesn’t just mean someone who has an English degree. It means finding someone who sleeps with the Chicago Manual of Style under their pillow every night, someone who lives and breaths gerunds and dangling participles and comma splices. Someone like Erin. (And I’m sure if she reads this blog, she’ll find dozens of mistakes.)

Copy editing might be pricey, but the way I figure it, you can’t NOT afford it. Your book deserves a chance to put it’s best foot forward, and the only way to do that is with a good copyeditor. So if you haven’t found one yet, start looking.

And of course I highly reccomend Erin Wilcox.

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Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

This month, BAIPA  had the pleasure of hosting Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. He gave a presentation entitled 7 Secrets to E-book Success, which was packed with wisdom and information. I scribbled notes frantically for a good hour, and will do my best to translate them coherently for you.

 A little backstory: Mark Coker came from the high tech industry. He and his wife, Lesleyann Coker, wrote a book entitled Boob Tube, a fiction novel that takes place in the world of soap opera stars. (Lesleyann was a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly.) They landed a big agent in New York, who spent the next two years trying to sell the book. Sadly, the agent never sold their book.

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 It was this experience that led Mark to question the paradigm of traditional publishing, and eventually led to his launch of his own independent e-book distribution company, Smashwords. Today, thousands of independent authors distribute their e-books worldwide with Smashwords.

 A little about Smashwords: You can upload your word.doc for FREE! and have it converted into 9 different e-book formats. Generally, authors keep 85% of the list price. The company’s growth has exploded in the past four years, and Mark was kind enough to share some figures with us:

2008 – 140 titles for sale

2009 – 6,000 titles for sale

2010 – 28,500 titles for sale

2011 – 75,000 titles for sale by the end of the year

 And now…drumroll, please…Mark Coker’s 7 Secrets to Indie E-book Publishing Success:

  1. Write a great book. Edit, revise, edit again. Along with writing a great book, make sure you invest in a good cover. Smashwords has a list of designers who will create books covers for you at a reasonable price.
  2. Write another great book. Work to turn your name into your brand. Build a backlist. Each new book offers an opportunity to market your backlist to new readers. All bestselling authors on Smashwords have deep backlists.
  3. Maximize distribution. If a book is not available, it’s not discoverable. Make it available in as many places in as many formats as possible, something Smashwords can help with.
  4. Give some books away for free. This is one of the best—and often the most under-utilized—tools available to indie authors, tool. When you develop a backlist, make sure you always offer some titles for free. All Smashwords highest grossing authors all offer at least 1 e-book for free.
  5. Patience is a Virtue. E-books can start small and grow big, but it can take time. Remember, e-books are immortal. They never go out of print. That’s a long time to find an audience.
  6. Trust Readers & Partners. If an author limits distribution due to lack of trust (aka, fear of theft) you will limit your success. DRM (Digital Rights Management) can actually limit the ability of your customer to transfer your book from one device to another.
  7. Marketing Starts Yesterday. Marketing starts before you write your book. Cultivate a social network. Readers are your sales force, so network with them.

Mark also had some other wisdom to share with us:

 Problem with Big Publishers

  1. The business model has not changed in 50 years.
  2. Their acquisitions strategy is backwards and outdated. In Mark’s words, they’re looking now for what was popular yesterday to sell two years from now.
  3. High New York rents add no value to books. Someone’s got to pay the rent – and publishers, that’s through the sale of books.
  4. They are unable to take risks on deserving authors.
  5. Readers are shut out. Ex., a book may have an audience of 100 readers. That book has the possibility of profoundly affecting the lives of 100 readers. Why shouldn’t that book be available to those readers?
  6. Authors are now required to take on responsibilities that originally fell to publishers, such as marketing and promotion.

 3 Big Trends Reshaping the Rules of Publishing:

  1. Bookselling is moving to the web. Readers are finding better prices, a more convenient shopping experience, and better selection via the web. The web offers indie authors a distinct advantage: indies are listed side-by-side with the big New York publishers. With brick-and-morter, big publishers have the advantage of access to distribution channels, which can be very challenging for indies to secure. This advantage goes away on online bookstore.
  2. Authors become the publishers. Power is shifting to authors. Indie authors are getting 45% – 70% (and sometimes more) of the list price, vs. 5% – 17% royalties that authors get from big publishers. Indies have free and low-cost options to publish their books. The number of indie books is on the rise, while the number of books being released from traditional publishers is flat.
  3. Reading is moving to screens. 30% of e-books reading is done on personal computers. Fun fact: India is the 4th largest source of traffic on Smashwords.

Why e-books are good for consumers:

  1. Changeable font
  2. Portable and compact
  3. Better purchasing experience (huge selection, convenient, lower cost)

Why e-books are good for indie writers:

  1. Instant access to global market.
  2. Never go out of print. With big publishers, authors often go out of print before readers have a chance to find them.
  3. Earn more per book. Higher royalties means you can charge less for a book but still make more money than if you went with a big publisher. Lower book prices generally mean higher sales.
  4. Lower expenses.
  5. Closer to customer.
  6. Democratized distribution.

I hope you all enjoyed learning about e-books as much as I did! Thanks so much to Mark Coker for taking time out of his busy schedule to present to BAIPA members!

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QR Codes – good for books?

Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

I work in the corporate world, and recently I’ve begun to see emails fly around about QR codes. Here’s a sample of what a QR code looks like:

QR Code

It’s a new type of bar code that can be read by a Smart Phone. The idea is that when a customer is in a store, and he/she come across a product with a QR code, the customer can whip out his/her Smart Phone and scan the barcode. Your Smart Phone will then take you to a pre-determined web location where you can get additional information about the product.

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For example, I work in the wine industry. When a customer scans the QR codes on our labels, they will be taken to a website with additional tasting notes on the wine. Pretty nifty, huh?

Of course, before your Smart Phone can scan the QR code, you need the QR Reader app, which you can gets at iTunes.

I think these QR codes offer a lot of potential to writers and publishers. I intend to use one when I publish my next book. I’m not yet sure what I will link to, but I’m kicking a few ideas around. Perhaps I will link it to a YouTube video of me giving a library or school presentation. Or maybe I will link it to a YouTube video of an interview of me or a family member who inspired my story. Or maybe to a site with “fun facts” about the story that may not be apparent in the story itself–anecdotes about the story’s origin, etc.

If you’re into e-books, it will be a simple matter of hyper-linking to the same website a customer finds when scanning the QR Code. Whatever you create as a landing page for QR codes can be used for both tree-books and e-books.

For a free QR code, check out this site. It’s called Kaywa.You can get your QR code for free, plus link it to the webpage. Kaywa will even email you a JPEG image of the QR Code, which you can use on your book cover.

I think this is all fascinating stuff and wanted to share it. I’d love to know what folks out there think is this.

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Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

Raggedy Chan e-book is now live on Amazon! You can check it out here. Still not up at Barnes and Noble, but it can take up to 72 hours. Of course I will be checking regularly.

As a promotion, I am giving away 25 copies of the Raggedy Chan e-book. If you’d like a copy, drop me a note at camillepicott at gmail dot com. Let me know if you want epub or mobi file.

In return, I hope you’ll consider posting a review at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Reviews are proven to help sell books, and I am not above asking for help! If you already have a copy of the book, please consider posting a review. Help me get Raggedy Chan out there into the hands of other readers!

Thanks!

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Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

I’m always intimidated when it comes to technology. Half of me always expects something to go wrong, or to encounter something that I can’t figure out.

I’m happy to say that none of these things happened today when I ventured onto B&N’s Pubit and Amazon’s Kindle. I uploaded Raggedy Chan to both of them without any headache. My book should be available for sale within the next 24 – 72 hours. (I guess I should continue to hold my breath until I actually see the titles for sale on the sites, heh.)

Anyway, there are quite a number of things both sites required. I had to spend a bit of time digging things out of file cabinets and out of computer files to get everything successfully set up. I’ve compiled an E-book Checklist for other authors out there, with the hope that I can help others streamline this process.

So, here it is: Your E-book Checklist

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1. Author Bio (It’s good to have this ready before hand so all you have to do it copy-paste.)

2. Book Summary (This is like the back cover copy you read on tree-books. Again, I think it’s easier to have this ready before hand. Makes the uploading process much quicker.)

3. E-book files, in both epub & mobi formats (Epub is for Nook/Pubit; mobi is for Kindle. Both places have their own conversion software, but from what I hear the results are sketchy. I hired Dellaster Designfor my file conversion. The owner, Ted, works quickly and professionally. He even sent me a sheet on how to download epub and mobi previewers, so I could see both files before I uploaded them. I highly recommend him.)

4. Cover (Both places want a file that is at least 500 pixels.)

5. Credit Card (B&N’s Pubit requires a credit card to set up an account. I don’t know about Amazon, since I’ve been a cutomer for years.)

6. Bank Account & Routing Number (Pubit requires this. Amazon will mail you a check, but your royalties have to amount to $100 before they cut you a check. If you give them your banking info, they’ll automatically pay you every time you have $10 in royalties.)

7. SS# of EIN# (SS#s work for most people, but since I own my own publishing company, I used my EIN#.)

If you’ve got all this stuff at your finger tips, you can get your e-book uploaded in about 30 minutes.

For a great article on uploading to B&N’s Pubit, check out The Book Designer’s mini tutorial.

I’ll let everyone know as soon as Raggedy Chan is officially up on both sites!

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Raggedy Chan hits local coffee shops!

Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

Jeane Slone, local Healdsburg author of She Built Ships During WWII, runs a small business ditributing authographed books to coffee shops in Sonoma County. She creates lovely displays to showcase the works of Sonoma County authors. I am thrilled that she agreed to add Raggedy Chan to her distribution list! You’ll be able to find Raggedy Chan, and other books by Sonoma County authors, at these fine coffee houses:

- The Bean Affair - Healdsburg

- Geyserville Mud - Geyserville

- The Dry Creek Store - Healdsburg

- The Barking Dog Roasters – Sonoma (on both Sonoma Hwy & W. Napa St.)

- Cafe de Croissants - Oakmont

- Aqus Coffee Shop - Petaluma

- Apple Box Coffee Shop - Petaluma

- Kenwood Farmhouse Gift Shop - Kenwood

- Bungalow Coffee and Tea - Larksfield

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E-book Adventures: New Cover Complete!

Originally published at Pixiu Press Blog. You can comment here or there.

Drumroll, please!

Here’s the new Raggedy Chan e-book cover created by the fabulous Joey Manfre:

RC e-cover

I could not be more thrilled with this cover. Most importants, the title, graphics, and byline all stand out even when the image is reduced to a thumbnail.

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