Author Business Cards

an overlooked book marketing tool

© Can Stock Photo / iqoncept

The lowly business card. One of the most overlooked, and underused, tools in an author’s promotional arsenal.

I studied graphic design in college, and one of my instructors taught us to think of a business card as a billboard in miniature. It’s an advertisement for the product or service you represent. Sadly, too many people don’t see it that way. Many of the business cards people hand me are so poorly done I want to dump them in the recycling bin. Honestly, it’s not hard to design a professional looking business card that helps promote your book. (Or your product or service.) 

Use easy to to read serif fonts

You want your message to be understood. Therefore, it needs to be easily read. As a graphic designer, I suggest using serif fonts. Serif fonts are easier to read than sans serif fonts. Common serif fonts include Times New Roman, Baskerville, Century Schoolbook and Garamond. All are attractive and easy to read. I highly recommend using them for your most important information, such as your name, phone number and email address. If a fancy, decorative font makes this information too hard to read, your card may end up in the trash.

Use a light colored text on dark backgrounds

Someone once handed me a business card with tiny red text on a dark brown background. Both colors had the same value, meaning there was no contrast between them. This made her phone number and email address unreadable, so her card went into the trash.

If you must use a dark background, use a light color for your text, such as white or yellow. Ideally, you should use a light background with black or navy blue text. Light texts on dark backgrounds are hard on the eyes.

Keep the font size to a 9 point minimum

I’ve been frustrated to no end trying to decipher phone numbers and email addresses printed with a 6 point, or smaller, font. Even with my strongest prescription glasses, the type is too small for me to see clearly. My graphic design instructors taught me that any font size smaller than 9 points is very difficult for people to read. If I can’t read it, the card goes into the  wastebasket. No exceptions.

Don’t be cheap

I get it. Money is an issue for many of us. However, you want to avoid cutting costs on your business card. A cheap looking card makes you look, well, cheap, and no one wants to do business with someone who looks like they don’t have any money.

One of the biggest no-nos is printing out your business cards at home. I recall a business association meeting where someone asked the woman sitting next to me for her card. She smiled and proudly handed that person a home printed printed card. The person she gave it to responded with, “Oh, I see you’re using Papers Direct.” That was it. She was done. What could have been a good business lead instantly went sour. Don’t be that woman. A homemade business card makes you look like a rank amatuer.

Be careful with online templates

Online business card templates have become popular with those on a budget. However, other people are using the same template too. I have, on occasion, ended up with identical business cards from different people in different occupations who used the same background template. This made it all too easy for me to pull up the wrong card. If using an online template keep it simple, and stay away from the artsy fartsy Vista Print background templates with all the flowery swirls. 

The best design for author business cards 

For you authors out there, I recommend a designing simple card, with your book cover or logo, along with your name, website and contact info. A plain white, ivory, or pastel background should work just fine. If your budget is small there are plenty of online printing companies, such as PrintingForLess.com, who can print 500 4-color cards for around $50, including shipping. If needed, they can also help you design your cards.

Remember, your business card represents you. Oftentimes it’s the first thing people will see about you, and you want to give them the best impression you possibly can.

Gayle Martin

Revisions vs Rewrites

© Can Stock Photo/ Balefire9

Oh the silly things we authors can have major hang-ups over, such as doing revisions and rewrites. Rewrites and revisions are not one in the same. They are actually two entirely different processes.

I’ve always subscribed to the notion that the first draft is all about getting your ideas down. Worrying about syntax, grammar, punctuation and so forth while putting your ideas on paper can thwart your creativity and may even result in writer’s block. The first draft isn’t your final edit. Get your ideas down. Worry about the rest later.

Revisions

Once I have my initial idea down, I’ll go back and revise. The word revision means making an alteration. It’s changing a word here, rephrasing a sentence there, correcting grammatical and punctuation errors, or eliminating filler words. In other words, it’s editing. The story itself remains the same. Sometimes I’ll do this at the end of the chapter. Other times I may revise a paragraph as soon as I finish writing it. It all depends on what pops in my head at a given moment. I enjoy doing revisions. They make my story read better. The better my story reads, the more excited I get about it.

Rewrites

Rewrites on the other hand, are much more involved than simply changing the phrasing or fixing a punctuation error. New ideas will come to me as I craft my story.

For example, I may have created a character who I intended to be a cold-hearted villain. Then, as I got into my story, I realized he was a more complex character than I had originally envisioned. He really isn’t a bad person at all, and his motive was never to cause any harm. He simply has the same goal as the protagonist. Therefore, he has to compete against the protagonist, thus creating the conflict. This changes the entire story dynamic, so I now may have to go back and rewrite some of my earlier chapters to reflect this new perspective. Instead of a minor alteration to the wording, I’m making a change to the story itself. This sometimes happens, but certainly not with every novel I write.

Revisions are part of the writing process. They help bring clarity to your story and create a better experience for the reader, but they don’t change the story itself. Rewrites, however, add an entirely new concept or dimension to your story. I do as revisions as I write, and then my editor will make even more, but rarely do I ever have to do an actual rewrite. Don’t let anyone chastise you or intimidate you for doing revisions. It’s your story. If you’re not satisfied with it your readers won’t be satisfied with it either, assuming your editor doesn’t send it back because it needs more work. Trust me, no one ever writes a perfect novel on their very first draft.

Gayle Martin

Tax Tips for Authors and Writers

The holidays are over, which means it’s time to start preparing for tax season. I want to begin by saying for the record that I’m not a tax expert, nor am I giving any kind of legal advice. However, one thing I have learned, through trial and error, is to save those receipts. Come April 15, it’s far better to have your tax preparer tell you that you can throw a receipt away because you don’t need it, instead of having him or her tell you that you won’t be able to claim a deduction you would have otherwise been entitled to because you don’t have your receipt.

Generally speaking, if it’s an expense incurred in writing, publishing or promoting your books, you may be able to deduct it. Your tax preparer will ultimately determine which, if any, deductions you are allowed to take, however he or she will want to see your documentation first. Therefore, you should keep your receipts for:

  • advertising expenses
  • book design services
  • book reviewers, (if you had to pay for a review)
  • editing services
  • photographers and illustrators
  • publishing services
  • research materials

Does your publisher charge you for copies of your books? If so, hang on to the receipts.

other potential deductions

Other expenses which may possibly be deductible would include:

  • Book signing materials, such as tablecloths, display items and signage
  • Cell Phones, (if purchased for business use)
  • Computer hardware and software, (if purchased for business use)
  • Office supplies
  • Postage and shipping services, such as UPS
  • Website hosting


Do you work out of your home? If so, a portion of your rent or mortgage payments, and utility bills, may be deductible. Save those receipts.
Some authors, including yours truly, write genre books which may require special attire for book signings. For example, I write Old West historical fiction, and some venues where I sign my books require me to wear western clothing. Therefore, if I have to buy any special outfit or accessory for business use, such as a book signing, I keep the receipts, as it may be tax deductible.


Travel Expenses


Some authors have book related travel expenses. This would include travel for book signings, research or business meetings. Whether it’s across town or across the country, you need to keep track of your travel expenses, as they too may be deductible. These expenses would include:

  • Airfare
  • Hotels and lodging
  • Meals
  • Rental cars
  • Taxi fare

Business mileage is another tax deduction many us may forget about. You can document your mileage by either keeping a logbook in your car, or via websites like Google Maps. Simply enter your address and the address of your destination, and the exact mileage will display on the page. Print out the page and put it in your tax files.


Remember too that authors and writers are not immune to tax audits. You should keep your final return, as well as all of your documentation, including receipts, on file for at least six years. Rest assured, if you’re ever audited, you will most certainly need your receipts. If you don’t have them, the IRS may disallow the deduction. They may also hit you with a penalty. It’s far better to have those receipts and not need them then the other way around.


For more specific information regarding taxes, and which deductions you may be entitled to take, please consult with a professional tax preparer, or the Internal Revenue Service.


Gayle Martin

 

Lessons I Learned from Self-Publishing


I still have the last remaining copy of my first book; a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen. I produced and self-published it back in 2005. I learned a lot from the experience, and I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with other authors.

Looking back, I must admit I was such a little smart-aleck at the time that I thought I knew everything. Okay, so maybe my having been a freelance graphic designer helped. I was able to produce something that looked really cool. That counts for something. Right? However, back then I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are but some of the lessons I learned.

  • A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
  • If you want your book to be distributed, you really need Ingram.
  • 500 books really does take up a lot of room in your shed.

Ah, I was so naive at the time, but it was a good, yet humbling, learning experience. The following year I wrote Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. That same year I signed on with a publisher, Five Star Publications, Inc. (Now Story Monsters, LLC.) Linda Radke, the company president, was an amazing mentor. I learned a lot about the publishing business from her.

After I finished Riding with the James Gang, the final book in the Luke and Jenny trilogy, I was ready for a change. I wanted to write full-fledged novels for adult readers. In 2011, I wrote my first romance novel, The Reunion, under the pen name, Marina Martindale. Linda Radke was also changing her business model to publishing children’s books only. However, we both agreed that I was ready to go out on my own. So, that same year, I founded my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC.

Writing novels isn’t a hobby. It’s a business. My advice to any novel writer, or prospective novel writer, is to treat it like a business. Kudos to you if you’re lucky enough to beat the odds and sign on with a traditional publisher. However, as I explained in my earlier post, The Three Options for Publishing Your Book, the odds of a major publishing house signing on a first-time author are extremely slim at best. Most of us will either sign on with a partnership publisher, or start up our own publishing business. This means you need to do your homework and learn as much as you can about the book publishing business. I’ve learned a lot, and I have no regrets.

Gayle Martin

And Now for the End of our Story

Every story ever written has two things in common; a beginning and an ending. It’s at the end of the story where we, as storytellers, deliver the punch lines which will impact our readers.

What readers expect

Regardless of your genre, most readers want, and expect, a happy ending. One which ties up all of the loose ends and leaves them satisfied. Most of the time this is what they get. In my genre, romance, it’s pretty simple. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but there are conflicts and obstacles to be overcome. Once the conflicts are resolved, everyone lives happily ever after. THE END. But then again, some of the most well-loved and compelling romance stories ever written didn’t end with the couple living happily ever after.

Remember Romeo and Juliet? This timeless tale of two star crossed lovers ended with a double suicide, which compelled their two warring families to put an end to their bitter feud.

More recently there was Gone with the Wind. After thinking she was in love with Ashley Wilkes for all those years, Scarlett O’Hara suddenly realizes she’s been in love with Rhett Butler the entire time. Unfortunately for Scarlett, Rhett’s response is to walk away and slam the door behind him, leaving her to ponder her next move. This ending certainly left us wanting more.

My favorite unexpected ending

My person favorite famous ending comes from the movie, Casa Blanca, which was actually based on a play called, Everyone Comes to Rick’s. It too is a love story with a twist. Boy meets girl. Girl ditches boy. Boy meets girl a second time, only now she’s brought her husband along. So, along with some unforgettable dialog, “Of all the gin joints in all the places in the world, she had to walk into mine.” we all root for Rick to get Ilsa back. Instead he puts her and her husband on the plane and sends them away for good. The final scene ends with the plane taking off while Rick walks away with Louis Renault saying, “You know, Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Good stories aren’t always about happy endings. Sometimes they’re about doing the right thing, even when doing the right thing isn’t so easy to do. The same can also be said of real life.

Gayle Martin

Think You Don’t Need an Editor? Part 3

© Can Stock Photo / bradcalkins

In my first article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part One, I described what a book editor does. In my second article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part Two, I talked about who would be the most qualified to edit your book. In this final article of the series, I’m going to discuss what readers expect when they buy your book.

Readers really do notice

Never, ever assume your reader is stupid. He or she has paid good money for your book. He or she used to reading well written and edited books and expects your book to be well written and edited too.

It’s also a given that not everyone will like your book. The subject matter may not be of interest to the reader, or the reader may not agree with your point of view. As writers we expect to have a small percentage of readers return our books and ask for refunds. It’s part of the business of writing and publishing books. However, the last thing any writer wants or needs is for a reader to reject the book because it was poorly written or edited. 

Don’t let the joke be at your expense

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, but because we can’t view our work objectively we oftentimes miss our gaffes. The list below came from one of my writing forums, and it’s typical of the mistakes we all make. I’ve paraphrased it to protect the guilty. 

  • A character gets into a Handsome Cab. (As opposed to a hansom cab. Perhaps the cab driver was handsome.)
  • The lead character is locked in a dudgeon. (That must be where the threw the stupid prisoners. No doubt the others were locked in the dungeon.)
  • He wrapped his arms around her waste. (Yuk! I’m seeing a really nasty visual here. Hopefully the next time he’ll wrap his arms around her waist.)
  • During a sex scene a character is having an organism. (There’s an interesting twist to a love scene. After the tryst is over he or she will need to see a doctor.)
  • He would gather her up in his arts. (What? You mean he put her body parts into his sculptures? Like Vincent Price did in the movie Wax Museum? I’d much prefer that he gather her in his arms.)

What do all these faux paus have in common? They all, allegedly, were found in self-published books. And while it may be funny to us, it’s certainly not as funny to the authors who wrote them. These are just a few of the mistakes that a good editor will catch, and correct.

So you still think you don’t need an editor? Well, if you don’t mind being laughed at on a public forum then maybe you don’t. However, if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and if you want your book to be successful, you need find yourself a good editor.

Gayle Martin

Don’t Do the Project

 
if you can’t pay your people

It’s one of my all time biggest irks. Seeing so-called job listings for creative services, from people working on other creative projects, with such caveats as, “We can’t afford to pay at the present time,” or, “No pay but we’ll provide food.” Then there’s my all time favorite. “We can’t afford to pay you but we’ll give you free exposure.”

Wow. Some things make me so angry it’s hard to find the right words.

I get it. We all have dreams. Whether it’s writing and publishing a book, producing a film or recording a CD, we all need professionals to get the project off the ground. But here’s the rub. These professionals spent years learning their craft. And, depending on the project, they may have to use their own equipment as well. So makes you think you’re entitled to get it for free? Think about it. Your doctor doesn’t work for free. Your mechanic doesn’t work it for free. So what makes you think your editor should work for free? 

We don’t have the money because we’re just getting started.

That’s the same lame, tired, worn out and overused excuse that everyone uses whenever they want something for free. “We’re just getting started so don’t have the money.” Well, too bad, because in the real world people expect, and deserve, to be paid for their time and labor.

It’s a business, so treat it like a business.

Any kind of creative business venture, whether it’s writing and publishing a book, making an independent film, or recording a music CD, is a business venture. Any business venture, whether it’s creative or not, requires a certain amount of capital upfront. Fortunately, there are places where you can get the money. If you’ve ever registered a business name then you know your mailbox will soon be filled with all kinds of offers for business loans. Here’s an idea. Apply for them. Even if you can only qualify for a small amount, it may be enough for you to pay your people.

Same goes for grants. There are all kinds of grants out there for creative projects. Apply for them. Yes, it can be time consuming, but you just might get the funding you need to get your project off the ground. Another option is crowdfunding through Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or other crowdfunding platforms.

If all the above fails, then do it the way our parents and grandparents did it. Put a little money aside from each paycheck until you save up enough to pay for the services you need. Sure, it’ll take some time, and in the interim it won’t hurt to go out and start promoting your project. Who knows? You may get lucky and find yourself a sponsor.

The bottom line

Unless you’re a 501(C) 3 nonprofit, and the people providing their services can provide them as a tax deductible donation, then you frankly have no business asking a professional to provide you a service free of charge just because you want it. Not only is this demeaning to the service provider, it’s also insulting. If you can’t afford to pay your people then you can’t afford to do the project. Period.

Gayle Martin

And Now for a Time Out

© 2019 by Gayle Martin. All Rights Reserved.

I’ve finally completed my latest Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel. Now I’m ready for a much needed break. In fact, I typically go on hiatus after a new novel is published.

Writing truly is one of my life’s passions. However, I’m also aware of the thin line between creativity and burnout, also known as the dreaded writer’s block. Burnout can happen when we overextend and push ourselves too hard, although sometimes we’re so into what we’re doing we’re not aware we’re overdoing it.

Once I finish one novel I’m already formulating the next one in my mind, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is starting page one the day after my current novel goes to press. Like the tide, creativity ebbs and flows, and none of us want it to ebb unexpectedly. I’ve learned, through experience, that the best thing to do after finishing a novel is to put my creative writing muse on the back burner, even as ideas for the next book pop into my head. Or, should I say, most especially when those new ideas are popping into my head. I’ll jot them down, and perhaps start working on a treatment, but I won’t take them any further anytime soon.

I enjoy my down time between novels. It can last for a few weeks to a few months because I’m no longer on a time schedule. Then, when I feel I’m ready, I’ll start my next book. Until then, however, it’s my time for me.

Gayle Martin

The Three Options for Book Publishing

© Can Stock Photo/ Baloncici

So you’re a new author and you’ve just completed your first manuscript. Congratulations. This is a big accomplishment. However, it’s only the first step for getting your work in reader’s hands. Your next task, if you haven’t done so already, is to determine how you want to publish your book. You have three options; traditional publishing, partnership publishing, or self publishing. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

traditional publishing

Let’s begin with the option most people are familiar with, traditional publishing. Some of the most well known traditional publishers in the United States include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. No doubt you’ve heard of them as they’re part of a group known as The Big Five. This certainly is the big leagues, so you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have them publish my book. I’ll send them a copy of my manuscript and wait for them to call me.”

If only it were that simple. In reality, getting onboard with one of the Big Five publishers is about as easy as going to Hollywood, walking into a major motion picture studio and telling them that because you were the star of your high school play, you’re now ready to become a movie star, and would they please sign you up. Signing on with a major publisher, especially when you’ve never been published before, is a long, complicated and daunting process filled with rejection. Even if you have a good literary agent and a well written manuscript, there is no guarantee they will accept your work, and even if they do, they will drop you if your book sales don’t meet their expectations.

Partnership Publishing

This can be a viable alternative as partnership publishers provide many of the same services as a traditional publisher. They produce, format and distribute your book, and they pay you a royalty. However, unlike a traditional publisher, they don’t buy the rights to your book. You keep the rights, and you pay them for their services.

There is, however, a huge difference between partnership publishing and vanity publishing. A vanity publisher will produce your book, usually for a hefty fee. However, they don’t distribute your book, and your printed books are often poor quality. A partnership publishing company on the other hand will distribute your book, typically through Ingram. It’s up to you, however, to do the research and find out if the company is indeed a legitimate partnership publishing company. Most importantly, before signing any contract, ask if they distribute through Ingram. If the answer is no, walk away.

For the record, I started out with a very reputable partnership publishing company, and my books did quite well. I had to pay them for their services, and they took care of the cover design, printing, and distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book, and I could leave them at any time.

Self publishing

Self publishing has lost much of the stigma it once had, and, on rare occasions, a traditional publisher will pick up a self published author.

The big advantage to self publishing is that the author has complete control over all aspects of the publishing process. This includes editing, proofing, typesetting and ebook formatting, printing and distribution. In other words, it’s a lot of work. Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their in house self publishing tools. Even so, editing and proofing are still the author’s responsibility.

I was lucky. I was a graphic designer for many years before I became an author. In 2011 my partnership publisher decided to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and started writing contemporary romance. She was, however, a mentor as well as a publisher, and I learned a lot about the publishing business from her. We both agreed that I was ready to start up my own publishing company. For me, it was the perfect choice. With my graphic design background, I’m able to format and design my own books. My company is an LLC, registered in the state of Arizona, so I was able to distribute through Ingram. However, after I started up my own company, Ingram created a division called Ingram Spark, which caters to self publishing authors. That said, I still recommend setting up an LLC if you’re serious about self publishing. Not only will you come across as more professional, an LLC can help protect your personal assets if you should ever experience an unexpected legal challenge.

Marketing Your book

Please note that regardless of which option you choose, book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility. Marketing your book your responsibility, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Book marketing can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help you. Again, it’s up to you to find those resources and use them.

Good luck with your book. If you would like to see my company website please click on the link below. I’ve included it as an illustration of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Please note, however, that I am unable provide publishing services for other authors.

Gayle Martin

Good Oak Press, LLC

How to Write an Honest Review

for a book you didn’t like
© Can Stock Photo / Pixelbliss

Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, all authors want their books to be read, and reviews are an essential marketing tool. This is why authors ask other authors for reviews.

A good review is like gold. The author may include it on his or her website and media kit, or even as a back cover blurb. This can benefit the reviewing author as well, as his or her name, and book title, may get a free mention. Most of the time, it’s a win/win for both. Most of the time. However, there are times when it can be problematic.

Authors often post review requests on online forums, and back when I was a newbie author, such a request caught my eye. It was for a nonfiction book about UFOs and aliens, and the author wanted some reviews on Amazon. While not my writing genre, I grew watching Star Trek, and I’ve always been interested in UFOs. So I contacted the author, and he mailed me a copy of his book..

It wasn’t what I expected

I eagerly opened the envelope as soon as it arrived. However, once I started reading, I realized it wasn’t at all what I expected. I’m not an astronomer, but I know we live in a vast universe. New solar systems are being discovered. I’m hardly a mathematician either, but I know we live in a galaxy with trillions of stars and perhaps billions of planets. Therefore, it seems logical to me that a certain percentage of those planets would have life. Maybe not life as we know it, but if I were a betting person, I would say yes. There is life on other planets. This author, however, didn’t think so.

The author turned out to be a born again Christian who didn’t think life on other planets existed. He also believed that what we may see as UFOs and aliens, such as the grays, are actually demons.

Okay, we won’t be having a religious debate here. I’ll simply say that while I believe in God, I also believe in science. (Many people believe in both.) However, until life on other worlds can be definitively proven, if ever, people will have their own opinions and beliefs. I happen to believe that extraterrestrials, if they do exist, are not demons. A demon is a spiritual entity. An extraterrestrial is a living being with a physical body, even if that body is only a single, microscopic cell.

The conundrum

In the meantime, the author is waiting for a review, and I honestly don’t like his book. So, what do I do? Do I decline? Do I write a bad review? Or do I try to come up with a different approach?

Declining to review a book can be awkward. It’s even more awkward when the author and I are on the same forum. Writing a bad review can have unintended consequences as well. I don’t want to make enemies or risk getting retaliatory negative reviews. Nor do I want to earn a reputation as someone who only writes bad reviews.

My solution

To the author’s credit, the book was well written and professionally edited. His argument went well beyond quoting Biblical scripture. His theory, while rooted in his faith, was well thought out. I just didn’t happen to agree with it. So, I tried to come up with a way to write a fair and honest review. Then, it hit me. Why not address the review to the people he wrote the book for? Christians. After all, Christian books are a recognized genre.

I gave the book a four star review, and mentioned some of the things I’ve mentioned in this article. The book discussed the UFO phenomenon from a Christian perspective. It was well written and edited. Christians might find it an interesting read. I didn’t go into my own opinion or debate the author on the subject matter. As mentioned, the subject matter has yet to be proven. Until then, all we have is speculation, conjecture, and opinions. Opinions are like a certain body cavity. Everyone has one.

In conclusion

Book reviews should be honest and fair. If for any reason you decide you don’t want to review a book you can certainly decline. Had the book been poorly written, I would have declined for that reason and told the author it needed more editing. However, that option didn’t apply. So before writing a bad review, consider doing what I did. If possible, try writing a review for the author’s intended audience, and tell that audience why they might find the book interesting.

After I posted my review on Amazon I got a nice thank you note from the author. It was nice for both of us to walk away happy.

Gayle Martin