I’ve written before about how a simple photo swap can dramatically increase sales. But how do you accomplish that gorgeous product photography? Should you hire a professional, or can you learn to do it yourself? I talked to businesses and photographers to see what tips they shared. If you think I’ve missed any, please leave your advice in the comments!

Strategy matters

First things first. Consider what your product shots should accomplish, and what tone of voice they need to create. Food photographer Sarah E. Crowder wrote, “as a photographer, it comes as no surprise that I think high-quality photography is important to your business, but it’s important to get other aspects of your venture in order before investing in photography. For example, you should establish a marketing strategy and go through some sort of branding process before hiring a professional photographer so that you can get the most out of that investment.” Plan the kinds of product photography you need as well as those nice-to-have extra shots that might be leveraged elsewhere. Understand what media channels your product photos will inhabit: e-commerce pages and social media images all the way up to larger-than-life posters or trade show displays.

product-photography

photo: Peter Alessandria / greatproductshots.com

White seamless backgrounds or lifestyle shots?

In all likelihood, you’ll want a combination of pure product photography as well as in-use lifestyle portraits. CJ Johnson, founder of digital agency Januel+Johnson says, “because we live in an era of social media, I typically advise brands to showcase more of what their products look like in use: high-quality lifestyle images, worthy of being featured on Instagram.” In addition, he recommends ongoing studio shoots with generic product shots against simple backgrounds. “If you’re doing both strategies, then you’re getting the most of out of your photos because you can use them for digital ads, your website updates, blogs, promotions, social media, look books, catalogs, and more. If you do both strategies simultaneously then you’re really firing on all cylinders because you’re able to compare the results of doing generic product shots and lifestyle shots.”

DIY or hire?

The answer may come down to a matter of personal preference and marketing objectives. There are product photography studios online where you can ship your products and they’ll shoot and retouch the photos for you. Just a few include Pelican Commerce, Pixel Productions, and Pixc. You can also hire someone locally so that you can be present during the shoot. But even if you end up hiring someone, doing it yourself may help form a basic understanding of product photography that will help you judge the pros. Lisa Chu, owner of children’s clothing company Black N Bianco said, “I started my e-commerce business with a very tight budget and I had to do everything myself. I can say from experience once you understand the basics of photography it will a breeze to take engaging product photos for your e-commerce business.” Even lifelong photographers admit that because cameras have come such a long way, professional-level photos can be had with a minimal investment in camera and lighting. Which brings me to the next tip:

Basic equipment

Camera

Sure, you could use the iPhone in your pocket. But you probably shouldn’t. The lens on your cellphone has a wide angle which distorts the view of your product and can’t compare to a real camera lens in terms of sharpness, clarity, and perspective. Product photographer Peter Alessandria writes, “I bought my 10-year-old niece a refurbished Canon Rebel SL-1 (including lens) from the Canon USA website for less than $300 and I could probably do 80% of my professional work with this camera if I had to.”

Lighting

Crowder recommends, “If you do not have excellent natural light available to you, invest in an inexpensive light kit. I love the Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light Kit and have a tutorial on how to use it here.” The lights will run you about a hundred dollars. If you want to go even simpler, Alessandria advises, “get some desk lamps at IKEA or work lights at Home Depot if you don’t already have them. Then make sure the White Balance on your camera is set to Auto. The key to good lighting is to use at least two lights and place them to the left and right of your product. Never light the product straight on. Play with different angles to see what looks most interesting. Also be sure to shift the lights or your camera angle to avoid glare if your product has a shiny surface.” He also emphasizes not using the built-in flash on your camera. “Direct flash is the most unflattering light for both people and products.”

tips-product-photography

photo: Peter Alessandria / greatproductshots.com

Background and Tripod

Chu believes that “one of the most important aspects to running an e-commerce business is having product photos that convey value and trust in your business. High-quality beautiful product photos can heavily influence your conversion rate.” In order to accomplish this, she says, “it’s best to use a tripod.” For a clean background, “you can purchase a white mat board at your local art store.”

Evolve. Test. Repeat.

Experiment with different featured shots to see if the needle moves on clicks or sales. If you don’t have the time or patience for a live A/B test on your website, use PickFu to poll audiences about what photos they find most attractive. In just a few minutes, you’ll have valuable feedback on what customers are drawn to, and how they react to your product photography.

If 2017 is the year you plan to publish a book, resolve to take solid steps to get you there. Here are five suggestions to set yourself up for success. Ready? Go!

1. Measure yourself

Set up a concrete goal in order to hold yourself accountable to writing. Perhaps it’s a word count, perhaps it’s a defined block of time. But whatever you choose, quantify it. That way, a month from now you’ll be able to say, “wow, I wrote x thousands of words” in January, or “hey, I spent y number of hours doing nothing but writing”!

2. Define your writing strengths and weaknesses, then put them to work

Have an honest talk with yourself about what you’re good at and what needs improvement. Make a list. Then, see if you can put your strengths to work helping other writers. For example, if you’re skilled at editing, offer to edit someone else’s work. Maybe you’re skilled at character development. Join a writer’s group to see if someone there could use your input. Conversely, look at your weaknesses and evaluate how you can improve. Could your grammar use a brush-up? Take some courses or add some grammar books to your reading list.

3. Remember, all great writers are great readers

No one writes brilliantly in a vacuum. Constantly take in other authors’ works. And don’t just stick to your genre or subject matter. Branch out. If you’re writing non-fiction, reading novels is a fantastic way to absorb how to set a scene or make a character come to life. If you’re working on a novel, make a point to read magazine profiles or biographies and learn what observed traits, behaviors, or dialogue might benefit your fictional characters. Poetry is also a wonderful way to explore language and learn to write richly and concisely. Keeping a journal of well-written passages or new words that you learn will be a constant inspiration for your own work.

4. Set up a support network

Having a writing buddy or joining an author’s workshopping group not only creates a cheering section and an opportunity to network, but also pushes everyone to hold each other accountable to their goals. Meeting regularly will create weekly or monthly deadlines to create new drafts and make sure your work keeps moving forward. It may take time to build trust and create a rhythm in the group, so don’t worry if your first few meetings are bumpy. It’s all part of the process.

Your social media network is also useful to sticking to your resolutions. Announce your goals as you create them, and keep your friends apprised of your progress. It’s even okay to admit your shortfalls. Your fans will admire your honesty and inspire you to push ahead.

5. Keep a running list of clichés and no-nos

As you write, notice if you fall back on words or phrases that aren’t serving your work. Just in the process of writing this article, I’ve flagged words like great, very, and amazing. These words aren’t descriptive; they’re useless fluff. As you edit, use the find and replace function in your word processor to flag them. Also make note of any bad habits like overuse of the passive voice, run-on sentences, parenthetical asides, or my personal pet peeve: exclamation points. Avoid these habits l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶p̶l̶a̶g̶u̶e̶.

Last year, we ran a featured poll about success and failure of new year’s resolutions. See what 100 PickFu respondents said!

Clay Ostrom is the co-founder of a consultancy called Map & Fire which helps brands develop Lean Strategy. He was introduced to PickFu in a Medium article by Mike Fishbein, who we’ve also featured here on the PickFu Blog.

Taking Mike’s advice, Clay used PickFu to test two titles for a Medium article he was writing. He wanted to see which title and illustration had more click appeal.

The poll results were a perfect split – 25 preferred the puzzle pieces, and 25 preferred the blindfold. I’ve previously written about the value of a tied poll result, and Clay agreed. “For me,” he wrote in an email, “it was arguably more interesting than an obvious winner.” After reading and analyzing the comments, he concluded, “the more you connect with people around the value of the experience as a whole (understanding how people think), and the emotional connection, the more it reduces the importance of a definitive ‘right’ answer.”

Being a strategist, Clay decided to take it a step further. Using PickFu as a brand, he went through an exercise to identify what elements of value he experienced while using the polling service. These values were based on Bain & Company’s pyramid below:

After identifying key values that PickFu’s product addresses, he formulated four potential marketing messages:

  • “Avoid the white-knuckle moment of launching a marketing message that you never really tested”
  • “Get fast, in-depth understanding of how your audience really thinks about your product — in their own words.”
  • “Customer insights so quick and easy, you’ll actually look forward to testing.”
  • “Trade your mountains of raw data for clear insights that actually get you informed”

  • Clay delves into the process by which he arrived at these marketing ideas in a second article on Medium.

    That’s when we here at PickFu decided to see what kind of traction these messages had. We tested the four options in a round-robin poll, where each option is pitted head-to-head against all the other options.

    These were the results:

    Though Option B, “Get fast, in-depth understanding of how your audience really thinks about your product — in their own words,” won overall, Option A, “Avoid the white-knuckle moment of launching a marketing message that you never really tested,” brought out some interesting insights.

    “I wouldn’t have guessed white-knuckle would turn so many people off….or simply be misunderstood,” Clay said. “Great example of the bias we have as marketers and writers, where we may take for granted terms as being commonplace or at least not off-putting.” In addition, some respondents “didn’t like it because it created a sense of anxiety, which… is actually a benefit,” Clay noted. “That tension can be a motivator to using a product.”

    The white-knuckle idea goes to show that even if an option doesn’t “win” in a poll, the comments reveal what audiences associate with each message, and the feelings they have about your product. Synthesizing the comments in aggregate helps develop what might become secondary selling points or brand pillars, and lead to better communication and messaging overall.

    If you’re looking to hone your own marketing messages, test your ideas using PickFu now!

    User reviews not only influence other users to try your app, but they help boost your app’s visibility in an already crowded marketplace. We spoke with app creators and got their tips on encouraging user reviews.

    Target Early Adopters

    When you’re first launching an app, introduce it to enthusiasts who read up on new apps. “Early adopters, like those found on Product Hunt, Hacker News, etc. are far more likely to leave reviews because they understand the importance of reviews on your business,” said Brandon Wright, who works in marketing for ThoughtLab.

    Try a Low-Tech Approach

    Brandon offers another, more personal tip: “Surprisingly,” he says, “the very best way to generate reviews and downloads is to hit the street and ask for them. Literally walking up to strangers, telling them about your product, asking them to download your app, and then requesting that they leave a review if they like what you’ve made. People really remember when the person who built an app or owns a company walks up and tells them about it. It makes them feel special.” But, he warns, this technique doesn’t work at conferences, where the internet is slow and everyone’s attention is elsewhere.

    Time Your Ask

    It’s tempting to request a review every time your app is opened. But this interrupts the user experience, and could even leave a negative impression. Instead, think about when a user is feeling most positive about your app, such as after earning a badge or passing a game level.

    Max Page, founder of Lifter, says “awesome support… is your best opportunity to get a 5-star review. If a user emails in with a problem [that] you solve quick and above expectations, ask for a review. Most of the time the user is so happy you helped them they go straight to the store and review your app positively.” He made sure to add, “the trick to this tip is making your Support Email easy to find and contact in your app.”

    Integrate a “Soft” Review

    Approximately half my life is spent playing Two Dots, a puzzle strategy game. The programmers there have implemented a clever pop-up that I’ve since noticed in other apps as well. It asks, “What do you think of the game?”, and then gives you a thumbs-up or thumbs-down option. If you hit thumbs up, it says, “Great! Would you mind leaving a review?”, but if you hit thumbs down, it says, “Oh no! Is there anything we can help you with?” and directs you to Support. It’s an easy way to get feedback, but also primes a user who likes your app to do a little something to help it out.

    A book’s title is its calling card. It’s how a potential reader finds your book. It’s how a satisfied reader talks about it to a friend.

    So when it’s time to dream up a book title, what must you consider? We turned to four experts on the topic, who shared these tips:

    Word of Mouth

    Word of mouth is still the number one reason readers buy books. If you want to maximize your sales and earnings as an author, you need to understand the word of mouth sales process. It all starts with your book title.

    Every word of mouth sales process has three simple steps:

    1. Memory
    Your reader or fan must fall in love with your book and remember the book title so they can…

    2. Share It
    When a reader shares the title of your book with someone else online or in a conversation, they have to be able to not only remember the title of your book, but also be able to share it with others. After that, your new potential reader must be able to…

    3. Find It
    This is where a new potential reader goes online and searches for your book so they can buy it.

    This whole process sounds really simple, but if any part of the process breaks down, you lose the sale.

    If your readers can’t remember the title of your book because it’s long, confusing, or boring, they won’t be able to effectively share it with others.

    If your book title is filled with homophones or archaic words, regular folks without a lot of time to waste and an Oxford dictionary on hand won’t be able to understand the title of your book, and they won’t be able to find your book either.

    If a new potential reader types in the title of your book in Google or on Amazon and don’t see it in the search results, they won’t be able to find your book.

    So, if you want to maximize word of mouth sales, it’s pretty simple: choose a book title that is memorable, repeatable and searchable. Choose a title that doesn’t have homophones, archaic words or confusing language.

    tom-corson-knowles-photo-150x150– Tom Corson-Knowles

    Tom Corson-Knowles is the international bestselling author of The Kindle Publishing Bible.  Tom is also the founder of EBookPublishingSchool.com, a free self-publishing training course for authors, and TCK Publishing, an independent book publisher specializing in publishing and marketing ebooks, print books and audiobooks online.

    TCK Publishing

    Stand Out

    1. Do your research into the title — then stay away from “the pack”
    Writing minds often think alike. I recently read a mystery entitled The Black Widow. I was talking about the book to a colleague but couldn’t remember the author’s name, so I went to Amazon.com to prompt me. Well, there are an awful lot of mysteries with some version of “black widow” in the title and many came up in search ahead of the one I’d read, which was by Wendy Corsi Staub. Staub is a bestselling author, and that book took a few minutes to locate — even when I knew what I was looking for. If you’re just starting out as an author or still trying to build an audience, a unique title will help distinguish you.

    2. Use keywords, if possible
    There are many factors involved in naming a book, but for non-fiction, having your important keywords in the title makes for better SEO.

    3. “Front-load” the unique title
    There’s a character limit on book inventory management systems, which sometimes truncates the book title. If your book is one of a series, make sure to put the title first. For example, say you’re writing a “men in uniform” romance series. You want Foot Soldier of Passion: Book 1 of The Heartfelt Uniform Trilogy vs. The Heartfelt Uniform Trilogy Book 1: Foot Soldier of Passion. In the latter case, the last part of the title might be cut off, making it harder for the store clerk to figure it out if, say, your potential buyer only remembers “foot soldier.”

    4. Make it easy to pronounce
    If at all possible, stay away from foreign words that aren’t already in the vernacular. Many people are shy about saying words they can’t pronounce and you really want to limit or eliminate any barrier to a potential reader asking for — or talking up — your book.

    Valerie Peterson - blue jacket2– Valerie Peterson
    The author of four books (and counting), for fifteen years, Valerie directed marketing departments for major book publishers. Over the course of her career, she has managed, touched and/or had a front-row-seat to nearly every part of the book publishing process — she understands the business side of book publishing and its “peculiarities.”
    ValeriePeterson.net

    Be Inclusive

    Don’t try to be clever and come up with a title that has meaning that is hidden until the book is read. The title is not for someone who has already read the book – it’s there to entice someone to buy. It should speak clearly about the genre, preferably one of the words in the title (maybe the only word) should clearly identify its subject matter. So using words like ‘assassin’, ‘murder’, ‘love’, ‘conspiracy’, ‘countdown’ etc can instantly convey the book’s content. The title then starts to work as a sales tool. It’s hard of course, because you’ve poured your heart and soul into the book and you want a brilliant title that uses a clever play on words to subtly hint at the exciting denouement…however the reality is that a clunky title that screams ‘THRILLER’ is better for you. After all the reader will only appreciate the clever play on words AFTER they’ve bought and read the book.

    speaking-engagement– Mark Dawson
    Mark Dawson is an Amazon, US Today and Barnes & Noble best-selling author. He writes two thriller series, John Milton and Beatrix Rose as well as a Soho Noir series.  In addition Mark has developed best-selling online courses for independent authors, Facebook Ads for Authors and Self Publishing 101.
    SelfPublishingFormula.com

     

    Use Keywords

    You can either write the book title based on keywords, or on branding and creativity.  It’s really up to you.

    I do recommend putting keywords in your main book title when it is a natural fit.  Otherwise, you can put keywords in your subtitle.

    What are keywords?  Keywords are phrases people use to search on Google or Amazon for your topic.  Therefore, I recommend doing keyword research on both Google and Amazon.

    For Google, you can use their keyword planner tool. It is free to use, and a good way to see which keywords people are searching for the most on Google.  You will need to sign up for a free Google Adwords account to use it:  https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner 

    For Amazon, I recommend using the paid tool, Kindle Samurai.  It will give you a lot of helpful information on keywords potential readers are using on Amazon.  You can also use Amazon’s search bar to manually find keywords. 

    My husband is the resident “branding expert,” and he helped me come up many of my creative book titles. However, when I use a creative title, I usually include keywords in my subtitle. 

    For my book, Self-Publishing Books 101, I decided to put my keyword phrase “self-publishing books” in the main title instead.  If you want to rank well on Amazon and/or Google for a certain keyword, it is best to also include that keyword in your main book title.  It is really up to you. 

    shelleyhitzauthor-header-new

    – Shelley Hitz

    As an author coach, book marketing strategist, and Christian entrepreneur; Shelley Hitz is on a mission to help you reach more people with your message.  She has coached thousands of authors through her books, training programs, online events, seminars, and more.

    ShelleyHitz.com

     

     

     

    Check out these posts for more tips on titling your book:

    • From Working Title to Title That Works
    • You’re Not Always Right: How to Succeed on Amazon
    • How a Book Title Impacted Performance by 400%

    Exactly who likes your product or design should never be a mystery to you. Knowing your audience means understanding their needs and desires, and knowing how best to address them.

    On PickFu, you always know who answers your polls – each result includes a demographic breakdown of gender, age, income, ethnicity, and education level. But you can also target certain demographic groups so that only certain subsets of the population respond to your poll.

    “Your audience gives you everything you need. They tell you. There is no director who can direct you like an audience.” – Fanny Brice

    Mobile Device Platform

    One of the most practical demographic segments PickFu offers is targeting iOS or Android users. If your app is only available on one platform, why poll those who couldn’t download it if they wanted to? This Android game wanted to see what users thought of a new mobile app icon. The poll encompassed Android users between the ages of 18 and 34:

    app-icon-testing

    PickFu also offers the ability to target Mobile Gamers.

    Reading Preferences

    Authors use PickFu extensively to test book titles, subtitles, cover designs, and blurbs. Knowing this, we created several categories on PickFu so that authors could better target readers. You can poll based on the type of reading (fiction or non-fiction) readers prefer, and the number of books they tend to read per month.

    When writing effective book descriptions, a top tip is to use the first sentences of your blurb to hook a reader in. One author used PickFu to poll females who preferred fiction to gauge which opening sentences were more intriguing.

    reader-poll

    Vegetarianism

    If your book is aimed at a niche market, why poll those outside that niche? One author whose cookbook included kosher vegetarian recipes polled 50 vegans and vegetarians. They overwhelmingly preferred the colorful, more poetic option over the straightforward title.

    demographic-targeting-vegetarians

    It would have even been possible to target only vegetarians of the Jewish faith on PickFu, though it would have taken longer to complete the poll. This author decided not to keep the focus that narrow. After all, the kosher recipes could still be enjoyed regardless of religious beliefs.

    Income

    When you’re launching a boutique product, it makes sense to ask opinions of those in your target market. This line of organic skincare products polled women who made over $60,000 to see which logo they preferred:

    logo-poll

    Age

    Perhaps your product is aimed at the youth market. This upcoming line of streetwear wanted to see what males under the age of 50 thought of its logo design:

    poll-young-males

    These are just some of the ways the ability to laser-focus polls has helped our customers. Who is your main audience? Do they share certain traits? Are there even more segments that would be useful to you? Send your thoughts to us @PickFu!

    When Steve Jobs talked to Fortune in 2000 about the Mac OS X’s Aqua interface, he delivered a classic line:

    “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”

    Today, an app’s icon needs to meet that standard if it’s going to gain traction with users. We reached out to app creators and UX designers to understand how to think about your app’s icon. Here’s what they shared:

    Keep it simple, stupid

    Like all good design, simplicity is key. “Your icon occupies invaluable real estate on your customer’s phone screen and as a developer, you need to treat every pixel like gold,” said Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal.

    “The best app icons out there are easily recognizable, consist of few design elements and use a limited color palette that is consistent with the brand,” adds Victoria Gerchinhoren, Head of Design & UX at Thingthing, an iOS keyboard app.

    Simplicity Part II: Remember you’ll use it elsewhere

    Thingthing's app icon

    Thingthing’s app icon

    “Simplicity is also important for scalability,” Gerchinhoren says. “Your app icon will be shown in several places across different platforms and in various sizes. It must be clear and recognizable in all cases, large and small.”

    Simplicity Part III: Familiarity = Freedom

    Infiltr's app icon

    infiltr’s app icon

    When your app is new, it needs to convey more. It must clearly communicate how it meets a user’s needs. Philippe LeVieux, co-founder of infltr, said, “We currently use a camera icon with an infinity sign inside because we offer an infinite number of filters in our photo editor and camera app. With time, we want to evolve and drop the camera, and simply use the infinity sign. When you launch a new app, you want users to understand as much as possible from the icon. When you are established, you can start to simplify!”

    Use color wisely

    “In my experience, the most effective approach is to use the brand’s iconic mark or logo as the app icon, with the background color of the icon being the brand’s primary color,” said Nick Saporito, a freelance graphic designer. “Users tend to identify apps by color while scanning through their catalog of apps, and the background color is what’s most visible, so it makes sense to use your brand’s prominent shade.”

    Tell a story

    Petter's App Icon

    Petter’s app icon

    A clean, minimalist logo should still be able to say something about your brand and evoke emotion. “I went through multiple designs for the app icon, and finally settled on one that tells a story,” said Jeanie Galbreath, creator of The Petter App. “The turquoise in the icon is actually a hand that pets the animal.”

    Continue to iterate

    Adam Davis, Thingthing’s CMO, said that “although [our icon is] professional, easily recognizable and connects to what the app is about, we’re in the process of taking it further to more effectively communicate what makes [our] keyboard unique and better connect it to people’s productivity needs.”

    A new icon helps convey a major update to users, like the addition of new levels in a game, or the introduction of more features.

    When iterating icons, many developers turn to app icon testing on PickFu. For just a few dollars and in only minutes, companies can test versions of app icons to gauge audience reaction. Best of all, testing takes place before a live update in the App Store, saving approval time should multiple design revisions be needed. Simon Newstead, CEO of Frenzoo said, “When we created our unique 3D Fashion Game for iOS and Android, we used PickFu extensively to poll different icons, section names, and even the name of our game itself! It’s a cost-effective, fast, and very helpful service.”

    app-icon-testing

    See more examples of App Icon tests, and then give it a try yourself!

    It started with an idea. Then it turned into a manuscript. Maybe you used one of the eight tools we highlighted to write and edit that manuscript. Now it’s time to publish. How can you transform and format your text into an attractive, sellable e-book? Whether you’re a design pro or a design no, these five tools will help you create a stunning, professional layout for ePub and Kindle formats.

    Pages

    pages-epub-template

    If you’re an iWork user, you’ve already got Pages on your Mac. The good folks at Apple provided a digital book template that exports to ePub. Simply open the template, adjust the typefaces for titles, subtitles, headers, subheads, and copy in paragraph styles, and export.

    Jutoh

    jutoh

    Jutoh is more robust than a word processor such as Word or Pages, with a cover designer feature and a table of contents wizard. It also offers more formats to export your book, and you can add viewer applications to preview what your book will look like on various devices. There is a one-time fee for purchase, but Jutoh offers a demo version to try before you buy.

    CreateSpace

    createspace

    CreateSpace is Amazon’s foray into publishing software. It offers free tools like Cover Creator, with access to 2,000 stock images, and Preview, where your friends and family can download an excerpt of your book in order to provide feedback. CreateSpace works for both printed and digital book formats. Amazon also offers file conversion, editing, and layout for a fee.

    Blurb

    blurb-plug-in

    If you want to create your layout in Adobe InDesign, then Blurb is a plug-in to help you create both print and digital books and magazines. Templates are created automatically based on your book size and page count, including appropriate bleed, trim, and safety areas. Blurb offers a print-on-demand service and enables authors to sell books on the Blurb website.

    Wordzworth

    wordzworth

    Not interested in designing or formatting your book yourself? Outsource it to Wordzworth, a team of designers who will create a cover (not from a template), typeset your text, and format your images to produce in print or on screen correctly. Each book receives a quote, which is payable in two installments — one at the beginning of the project, and the other at the end.

    At its most basic, writing only requires a pen and paper. But these eight tools will help you take your writing further – from composition to grammar checking, from workshop groups to professional editing.

    Google Docs

    google-docs

    Google Docs just might replace Microsoft Word, especially if you’re collaborating with co-authors or an editor. Everyone can access and edit a document in real-time, and there are chat features and comments to hammer out any sticking points. The real-time nature of Google Docs spares you the confusing process of emailing different versions back and forth, keeping everything centralized. Your work is stored in the cloud, meaning you can work on your book from any device when you’re on the go. Best of all, it’s free.

    Scrivener

    scrivintrolarge

    For a more robust composition software, try Scrivener. It’s made specifically for writers, with features that break your manuscript into chapters or scenes and enables you to navigate between them easily. You can also import research, notes, and images. Once you’re finished, Scrivener can export your work into an e-book. Scrivener is $45, and offers a free 30-day trial.

    Grammarly

    grammarly

    Grammarly is a browser extension that goes beyond simple spell-check. Whatever you’re writing (be it your book, a Facebook promotional post, an email), Grammarly examines it for grammar, punctuation, proper sentence structure, and word choice. It even checks for plagiarism. Grammarly is free with a paid option.

    Inked Voices

    inked-voices

    Looking for critiques on your book? Inked Voices is a membership site where small writing groups gather to workshop and improve one another’s work. Founder Brooke McIntyre explains, “Writers can also get critiques from professional editors and writing teachers via the site. Once a writer launches his or her book, we support them by announcing their latest books in our newsletter and on social media.” Membership is $10 a month or $75 a year.

    Hiring an Editor

    If you’re looking for a freelance book editor or ghostwriter, you might look at sites including Upwork, Fiverr, iFreelance, and FreelanceWritingGigs.com. Your experience will vary based on the person or people you hire, but these boards are a good way to connect you to lots of available talent. They’re also a good place to shop for graphic designers for your book cover.

    Next up: Tools to help you format your book! Stay tuned…

    Self-publishing is a learn-as-you-go process. Authors must constantly adapt and try new tactics in order to get their books in front of the right audience. We asked experienced authors if there was a single thing they did that helped boost sales. Here’s their helpful advice.

    Advertise to the right list, even if that list doesn’t look like it accepts advertising

    When Naresh Vissa released his book Podcastnomics, he was disappointed with initial sales. “I did a couple of Reddit AMAs, was interviewed by some small print and broadcast media, and used social media to spread the word,” he said, but “my book still couldn’t crack 100 books sold. Fortunately, I found a targeted blog geared towards podcasters, contacted the administrator, and asked him if I could advertise to his mailing list for nearly $300. He said very few people contacted him to advertise and that he never even thought of accepting advertising.”

    The blogger agreed to Naresh’s request and sent an e-mail to his list, teasing the book and recommending it as required reading for all podcasters. “Within 24 hours,” Naresh said, “I sold more than 90 copies of the book, and later that week, it climbed all the way to #1 in its primary category on Amazon’s bestseller list. I recouped my advertising expense with that one quick and simple send. And because it rose the charts, Amazon then started pushing my book out because they thought it would sell well moving forward… and it has. I’ve sold more than 4,000 copies of the book to date.”

    Get smart with email drip marketing

    David Brown, author of The PFB Diet book, managed to triple his sales by setting up a drip marketing sequence. “Instead of directing my readers directly to the book sales page,” he said, “I started directing them to my subscribe page, where they can instantly download a free sample chapter from my book. After downloading the sample chapter, they receive five follow-up emails over the next 5 days, and these emails offer further insight into how my diet works.” David remarked that even though “I have done a ton of things to optimize my sales figures,… this one change really stands out in terms of how little work it took to gain such a major boost.”

    Repackage what has sold successfully before

    Carey Heywood is a best-selling romance author, and has had success by bundling her already-published material into a boxset. “The investment is low since the material already exists,” she says. “The cost to create a bundle is mainly formatting, cover design, and advertising.” Simple as that!

    Redesign the cover

    Carey also recommends redesigning a book’s cover, a strategy she calls “a cost-effective way to bring new attention to an older book.” She is currently designing a new cover for her book Better. “Once I have my new cover,” she says, “I plan to promote it with a paid cover re-reveal blitz and a sale,” a strategy that worked well for her in the past.

    cover-design-poll

    Many authors also use PickFu to test cover designs and find the one that audiences find most appealing. Author Dennis J. Coughlin said, “I loved my PickFu experience. I used it for my book [Rain Down‘s] cover design and I found the results were extremely helpful. I was impressed by the speed of the voting and the fact that everyone left a detailed comment in addition to their vote.”

    Have you found a simple trick that boosted your book’s sales? Let us know!