A Guide to Preorder Strategy by Mark Coker

This presentation from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, teaches indie authors how to make their book release more successful by leveraging ebook preorders. Multiple Smashwords authors have hit the top of the charts using preorders. Learn the successful strategies behind preorder timing, promotion and marketing. Learn how some retailers such as Apple iBooks and Kobo give preorder books a merchandizing and discovery advantage. Learn why authors who do preorders have an advantage over those who do not.

Three Types of Dashes

Three Types of Dashes and When to use Them

 Dashes: There are three types of dashes commonly used in writing. Each has its own significant purpose.

  • Hyphen
  • En Dash
  • Em Dash


Hyphen -The basic function of a hyphen is to separate the words in a compound adjective, verb, or adverb.


En Dash – Is a typographical unit that is almost as wide as the letter N. It is used for periods of time when you might otherwise use to and in place of a hyphen when combining open compounds.

Em Dash – Is a typographical unit that is almost the width of the letter M. It’s commonly used to replace comma, semicolons, colons, and parentheses to indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or an abrupt change of thought.


  1. En Dash – When using an en dash in your writing use the short cut alt 0150.
  • March–June
  • The Iowa–Illinois State Line
  1. Em Dash – When using an em dash use short cut alt 0151.
  • I work hard—she spends all the money.
  • If only we could—oh, forget I said anything.
  1. Ellipsis – The famous dot, dot, dot used to leave a reader hanging in suspense. This typographical punctuation’s short cut is alt 0133.
  • Original Sentence:

    “All employers must offer full time employees insurance benefits or risk being fined high penalties.”

  • Rewritten:

    “All employers must offer full time employees insurance benefits…”

Helpful Formatting Tips

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that formatting is essential in the world of self publishing. Today I’m going to give a few pointers to help with formatting using Microsoft Word.

Number One: Do NOT use tab or space bar to create paragraph indents. This is a major issue with some writers. Using either of these methods for indentions causes issues with the conversion process and should be avoided at all cost.

Number Two: Always turn off Word’s “Auto Correct” and “Auto Format” features.

Number Three: Pick a paragraph style. Use first line paragraph indents or the block paragraph method, not both. An indented paragraph is most commonly used for fiction writing, while block paragraphs are generally used for non-fiction. It’s your book pick either one, but don’t switch between the two. This will result in conversion errors, which on some platforms may cause your e-book to be rejected.

Number Four: Using fancy non–standard fonts, colored fonts or font sizes will also cause issues when converting. They won’t translate the way you intended and will in most cases end up looking ugly. Try to keep your largest font size at 16pt. I’ve found 10pt–12pt works the best for the text body, while 14pt–16pt works best for Chapter titles.

Number Five: If you feel quotes add to your story and you just have to have them try to differentiate them from your own work. Italicize the text to help it stand out. Using block quotes and italics is the best option in this author’s opinion.


Being in love is a mutual exchange of energy.


Nuclear Method:

If your document originated in PDF or a program such as InDesign or WordPerfect it can be corrupted when converted to a Microsoft Word file. It may also become corrupted if it’s been touched by multiple word processors during any part of the writing process.

To clear out any hidden anomalies you may want to consider using what is commonly called the Nuclear Method.

Step 1: Make a backup of your manuscript. Never make changes without first backing up your work.

Step 2: Copy and paste your entire manuscript into Notepad. This will strip out any previous formatting and remove errors, anomalies and corruption.

Step 3: Close Microsoft Word and reopen showing an empty document.

Step 4: In Notepad you’re going to “select all” by pressing the Ctrl and A keys at same time (Ctrl A) then “copy” Ctrl and C keys (Ctrl C)

Step 5: Paste it all into the empty Word document either using right click then paste or Ctrl and V keys (Ctrl V)

Step 6: Format according to specifications found in the guides I mentioned in my previous posts here.


10 Helpful Shortcuts:

1. En Dash: Alt 0150 – When using an en dash in your writing use the short cut alt 0150.

· March–June

· The Iowa–Illinois State Line

2. Em Dash: Alt 0151 – When using an em dash use short cut alt 0151.

· I work hard—she spends all the money.

· If only we could—oh, forget I said anything.

3. Ellipsis: Alt 0133 – The famous dot, dot, dot used to leave a reader hanging in suspense. This typographical punctuation’s short cut is alt 0133.

Original Sentence:

· “All employers must offer full time employees insurance benefits or risk being fined high penalties.”


· “All employers must offer full time employees insurance benefits…”

4. Paste: Ctrl V – Allows you to paste (place) text any where you want after you copy or cut it.

5. Undo: Ctrl Z – Will undo last action performed.

6. Select All: Ctrl A – Highlights the entire document.

7. Copy: Ctrl C – Copies any highlighted text into memory.

8. Cut: Ctrl X – Similar to copy this shortcut removes any highlighted text from the screen and places it in memory.

9. Save: Ctrl S – Saves changes to current document.

10. Find and Replace: Ctrl H – Pops up a window that allows you to search for designated words or codes to replace them as needed. Very handy to use in formatting.

Self Publishing for Beginners: Part 3

Our Two Best Marketing Tools

Don’t forget two of the most important marketing tools you have available for your e-books.

Cover Art: Your book cover is a first impression to the world. Take your time and do it right. There are three main methods:

1. Pre-made covers – Some authors find this convenient, just keep in mind most pre-made covers are sold multiple times.

2. Cover designer – Pay a company or individual to design a unique cover for you. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Shop around a bit, there are plenty of companies that offer a cover for $100 or less.

3. Do it yourself – I only recommend this if you know what you’re doing.

Let’s take a minute to examine all three options.

Pre-made covers: They’re cheap and fairly easy to get your hands on. You browse through a selection of covers, make your pick, pay for the cover and submit your title and author name. They then slap on the book title and author name and email you your very own e-book cover. Going to Google and typing in the words “pre-made e-book covers” renders you a large selection of choices.

As I said earlier these are not always exclusive, however I have found two websites that specifically mention exclusive rights. I have never used either website nor am I affiliated with them in anyway. They just happened to come up in a search for pre-made e-book covers.

Fantasia Frog DesignsTheir pre-made covers average around $40

Websites promise: Fantasia Frog Designs creates new and unique covers for each author. Once an image is used, it is taken out of our available files. That way no two covers can be duplicated, sold twice.

Graphicz X DesignsThey offer pre-made covers for $60 with the option of a matching header or banner for an additional $45

Websites promise: Each ready-to-go design is original and, once purchased, is for your exclusive use and will not be re-sold or re-used in any way.

Cover Designer: A professional cover designer can become expensive. Doing a little research I’ve found two websites that offer reasonably priced covers. Both websites also have a selection of pre-made covers.

Wicked Cover DesignsTheir e-book covers start at $75, with package deals starting at $95 which includes:

· 1 book jacket (front, back and spine)

· 1 e-book cover

Kalen O’Donnell Cover DesignsTheir custom covers start at $120, with an All In One package for $220

· Custom e-book cover

· Custom print cover

· Website/Facebook banner

· Business cards/bookmark designs

Do it yourself: If you’re proficient with Photoshop, GIMP or similar image manipulation software by all means be my guest and try your hand. Just keep in mind nothing says “Amateur” louder than poor quality. There are websites dedicated to bad e-book covers, trust me when I say you don’t really want to be on them.

Your cover art is the first thing a potential customer sees. The impression they receive from that cover determines whether they stop for more details. That brings us to the second tool at our disposal.

Book Description: This is a key component in publishing. Every retailer requires a description of some kind. Throw in a short excerpt if that’s what you want. It’s your chance to describe the book to potential readers. The idea is to try and grab the reader’s interest, getting them to purchase the book.

A good length is between 100 and 200 words. Don’t make it to long your potential reader may lose interest. Always write in third person no matter what POV the book is in. Use emotional power words, but sparingly. Don’t deviate into subplots with the description, it’s best to stay with the basics of the story. Try to answer the questions who, what, when, where, why and how. Stay away from asking too many questions of the potential reader.

I found a decent blog post here.

 Remember an advertisement will bring a potential customer to the books profile, but from there it’s your job to get them to click that buy button. If my three part series has helped, even in a small way then it has done its job. If you have any questions feel free to email me through my website. Best of luck with your self – publishing endeavor.

Self Publishing for Beginners: Part 2

Publishing with a Retailer

So your book is done and ready to be published right? Wrong! You have a few more steps to consider. Before you do anything you need to make the choice of self publishing directly with the retailers or using a distributer. There are a lot of distributors as well as retailers, but for the sake of expediency I will only list the most well known.

Three of the top distributors are:

· Smashwords – If you’re accepted for their Premium Catalog for a small percentage of your sales (on average you receive 60% royalty for every book priced at 0.99 or above) they will distribute your e-book to a total of 10 different retailers. They also offer your book on their site {you receive 85% royalty for sales directly from their site) in all formats for your reader’s convenience.

· Bookbaby – For a fee (starting at $99) you supply the publishing-ready e-pub file and they’ll distribute your eBook to your selected digital retailers. You’ll also get full access to the accounting dashboard reports and weekly payments. According to their website they offer 11 retailers.

· Lulu – According to their website: “Lulu is a company committed to helping you sell more books and reach more readers. Whether you are out to make your fortune, or simply share an idea, Lulu empowers authors, publishers, educators, and businesses to bring knowledge and expertise to readers more easily than ever before. You can do-it-yourself at no cost using their publishing wizard or choose from a wide range of Lulu services for help. Through their Internet retail site, retail partners, and global print network Lulu has created a one-stop shop for the ultimate in publishing freedom. You pick the price, market, and medium. As a Lulu author, you have complete control over your price and content.” You earn 80% of the profit or more when your work sells.

Choosing a distributer makes it simpler to get on some of the retailer channels. Sony encourages self published authors to use a distributor. Then there is iTunes which requires iTunes Producer to direct publish with them.

Publishing direct with retailers means you get a slightly higher profit in most cases than you would with a distributor and a little more freedom to correct errors if they are made. I’ve picked three of the top favorites to discuss below.

Publish direct to retailers:

· Amazon – Amazon calls their program KDP, which stands for Kindle Direct Publishing. They offer two royalty options a 70% royalty option for books $2.99 – 9.99 and 35% for everything else. The 70% option sounds appealing, but there are a few catches.

1. Titles must be made available for sale in all geographies for which the author or publisher has rights.

2. The title will be included in a broad set of features in the Kindle Store, such as text-to-speech. This list of features will grow over time as Amazon continues to add more functionality to Kindle and the Kindle Store.

3. Set and adjust your List Price so that it is at least 20% below the list price in any sales channel for any physical edition of the Digital Book.

4. To be eligible to earn 70% royalty for sales to customers in Brazil, Japan, and India, titles must also be enrolled in KDP Select

KDP Select is an alternate program offered through Amazon’s KDP program. It offers some extra benefits with the promise of exclusivity for 90 days at which time you may opt out. In other words if you enroll in the KDP Select program you can NOT put your e-book on any other website, including your own, for sale during that 90 day period. This does not affect print books.

· Barnes & Nobles – Their program was called Pubit, but recently changed the name to Nook Press. Your e-books list price can be no greater than the e-book’s list price at any other retailer, website, or sales channel.

1. NOOK Books with a List Price at or between $2.99/£1.50 and $9.99/£7.99

  ~ 65% of the List Price

2. For NOOK Books with a List Price at or below $2.98 /£1.49, or at or greater than $10.00/£8.00 (but not more than $199.99/£120.00 and not less than $0.99/£0.75)

  ~ 40% of the List Price

An exclusive contract is NOT required for the above stated royalties.

· Kobo – Their publishing program is called Kobo Writing Life. They pay royalties twice yearly. In most countries a list price of $1.99 – 12.99 qualifies for 70% royalties. All other is 45% of SRP or Suggested Retail Price.

Your SRP for each eBook must adhere to the following pricing rules broken down per country;

A. less than or equal to $12.99USD and greater than or equal to $1.99USD in the US

B. less than or equal to £7.99GBP and greater than or equal to £1.99GBP in the UK

C. less than or equal to $12.99CAD and greater than or equal to $1.99CAD in Canada

D. less than or equal to $11.99 AUD and greater than or equal to $1.99 AUD in Australia

E. less than or equal to €12.99 EUD and greater than or equal to €1.99 EUD in the European Union

F. less than or equal to $12.99 NZD and greater than or equal to $1.99 NZD in New Zealand

G. less than or equal to $99.99 HKD and greater than or equal to $15.99 HKD in Hong Kong

H. less than or equal to ¥1,040 JPY and greater than or equal to ¥80JPY in Japan

Here is a basic break down of the rules for your e-book to qualify for Kobo’s 70% royalty program.

1. The SRP for your eBooks provided to Kobo must be less than or equal to the lowest price provided by you to any third party.

2. Your Works cannot be works in the public domain, being works published before 1923 in the United States, “author’s lifetime + 50 years” in Canada and New Zealand, “author’s lifetime + 70 years” in Australia, the EU, and the United Kingdom.

3. Your eBooks must be made available to Kobo for sale in every geographic location within which Publisher has intellectual property rights.

4. Must be at least twenty (20%) percent below the SRP of the physical edition of the book, if one is available.

To sum this up Amazon and Kobo both offer 70% royalties compared to B&N’s 65% on books priced within a designated range. All three offer free publishing, they get paid only when you sell a book. Unlike Kobo and B&N, Amazon requires you to place your e-book price 20% lower than all other retailers to receive this 70% royalty. With both Kobo and B&N the list price must be less than or equal to the lowest price at any other retailer, website, or sales channel.

Whether you publish directly or through a distributor you will need to gather some important information for the submission process:

Book Title – Try to pick a title that grabs the reader’s attention.

Book Description – You want something that will grab the reader’s attention, make them want to read more.

E-book Cover – Although cover images aren’t necessary in most online stores to publish, if you want to sell successfully they are required.

Price – Decide your pricing beforehand, remembering that the pricing sometimes results in different royalty percentages. Also keep in mind a new author just is not going to sell a book for $9.99 no matter how good it is. Readers have to trust an authors abilities before they are willing in most cases to spend that kind of money. Take your time and choose carefully.

Territories – Which geographical territories you hold the rights for your e-book? This is a question every retailer or distributor asks. If your e-book is an unpublished work then most likely you still hold rights for all territories.

ISBN – An International Standard Book Number or ISBN is a number that uniquely identifies books and e-books published.

All print books require an ISBN, but not all e-book stores deem it necessary. Amazon provides an ASIN in place of the ISBN for any e-book on their platform for free. Smashwords and several other companies offer you an option for a free ISBN. Remember these free numbers are not transferable outside their offered platforms. In other words, if you opt for a free ISBN from Smashwords you can’t use it to direct publish on another retailers website.

Format: Each retailer usually has their own formatting preferences. Although they may be similar they are not the same. Some authors find the requirements confusing and end up paying a company or individual to take care of this, while others prefer doing it themselves.

Some helpful free guides are:

· Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide

· Amazon’s Building Your Book for Kindle

· Lulu’s eBook Creator Guide

· Kobo’s Learning Centre

While B&N doesn’t exactly have a free guide like the others they do provide a guideline .

Mark Coker has provided a list of independent formatters and cover artists here .

Hopefully this guide has helped clear up some of the basic confusion. The idea is to provide you with enough knowledge to make an informed decision. There are a lot of choices to make. You can choose one or two options, all, or a combination of several. It all depends on your preference. The consensus from authors is the more retailers you have your e-book available in, the better your chances are of selling your books.

This author has only used KDP and Smashwords until recently. My reasoning is quite simple, Smashwords distributes to the major retailers, I only had to upload my original .doc file and they transformed it into other formats for me. I also direct publish with Amazon because of this statement on Smashwords: “Although we have a distribution agreement with Amazon via their Kindle Direct Platform, they’re unable to receive our entire catalog until they create of a bulk upload facility.” (There I corrected their statement for them…) “In the meantime, we’re only distributing a few hundred titles to Amazon out of our catalog of over 150,000.”

It just made better sense to direct publish instead of waiting for a possible date in the future. With the release of my latest book I decided to try KDP Select out, in 90 days I may have an opinion on this program other than the obvious exclusive clause.

Join me next Tuesday when I finish off my three part segment with Self Publishing for Beginners: Our Two Best Marketing Tools.

Self Publishing for the Beginner: Part 1

Getting Your Manuscript Ready

I remember when I first considered self- publishing as an option for me. I spent days researching, which only accomplished me becoming even more over whelmed. I also got a huge migraine. In the hopes of helping others I’ve decided to share my findings in a three parts series.

  • Part One: Getting the Manuscript ready
  • Part Two: Publishing with a retailer
  • Part Three: Our Two Best Marketing Tools

Now let me share with you some of what I found. This article is meant to be a guideline to point you in the right direction.


Step One: Write your manuscript. I believe every author has their own style when it comes to manuscript progression. Some authors start with an outline, while others just sit down and write. I’ve read articles by authors who write their endings first then go back and write their beginnings. I’ve come to believe this is a matter of preference, not every style works for every author. Remember to always do what feels comfortable for you.

I don’t believe in the term “aspiring author” you’re either an author or you’re not. Let’s look at the word author. The dictionary defines an author as: the writer of a book, article or other literary text. You can aspire to be a bestselling author, a well known author, or even a good author. The point is, if you write, you are an author.

As the days and months wind down and your MS is finished then what? It’s done shouldn’t I be able to upload it to my favorite retailer? The truth is you can and some actually do, but should you?


Step Two: Proof read. The idea of this step is to examine your text for typographical errors as well as mistakes in grammar, style and spelling. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on this subject other than to say if you care about your readers at all proof read. This article from The Writer’s Handbook gives some helpful suggestions.


Step Three: Find a beta reader. There are many loose definitions of a beta reader. It is this author’s opinion that they are your test audience. Their job isn’t to rewrite your story and yes there are those that will try I’ve personally met them. The idea is to critique, help with flow, continuity issues and plot holes.

I suggest finding several people for this job, but ultimately it’s up to you. I used 4 beta readers for my last book the one before that only 1. A family or friend will work for this, but make sure they are willing to give you honest input.

The ideal candidate typically enjoys the genre of the book you have written and are volunteering to be your first reader. As I said earlier, this is your test audience. It’s also a completely free service, but in most cases the author will provide a finished copy of the book as a show of appreciation. I would avoid anyone that asks to be paid to do this. Remember, while a beta reader might do some proofreading it’s typically not their job. Content and flow is. Be kind to them, check for errors before you send them a copy.

Two well established beta reader forums can be found here: Absolute Write and Goodreads. If you have a strong media following you can also use this to your advantage by putting feelers out for volunteers. Don’t spam just ask interested parties to DM you for details.


Step Four: Fixes and rewrites. After my work comes back from the beta reader I typically comb through their notes and do some rewriting. I take all their suggestions into consideration, but that doesn’t mean I use them all.


Step Five:  Editing.  This is the stage where you say I’m done let’s get this baby out there for the public to read. If you can afford it, pay for an editor. It’s well worth the money just to have another set of eyes looking at your work.


A writer may be skilled at explaining a procedure or verbally depicting a scene, but the editor is the one who makes sure the manuscript’s syntax is smooth, that the writing adheres to the conventions of grammar, that the wording is proper and precise and punctuation is appropriate and correctly placed. An editor may also do or suggest some reorganizing, recommend changes to chapter titles and subheadings, and call out lapses in logic or sequential slip-ups.


Like a beta reader and possibly proofreader if you have both, an editor only recommends changes and does not implement them. When there are errors it is an author’s job to correct their own mistakes.


Step Six: Rewrites and fixes. Taking the editors notes you again go into rewrite mode, tweaking your story here and there as you see fit. Remember these are recommendations; ultimately it’s your work.


Join me next week for part two as I discuss the process of publishing with a retailer.

Understanding Book Lengths

I realize sometimes there is confusion when it comes to e-book publications. Most e-books are categorized differently than a print book. Where a print books length is obvious based on the number of pages e-book standards don’t rely on page numbers for most devices. Sometimes you will see only a file size, but most publishers have attempted to let the reader know the length of a book by its number of words. Below is a list of generally accepted lengths.

The Science Fiction Writers of America define book lengths for their Nebula awards as follows:

  • Short fiction: under 7,500 words
  • Novelette: 7,501-17,500 words
  • Novella: 17,501-40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,001 words and up