What you need to know to win an award for your book

Earlier this year, we announced some thrilling news to Houston banker Bill Herrington. His memoir about Hurricane Katrina, Contraflow, won the prestigious 2017 Independent Publisher bronze for Best Regional Nonfiction (South U.S.).

His book was one of more than 5,000 entries that were submitted to the annual Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs), the oldest, most established book awards in operation. For 21 years, the IPPYs have been honoring the year’s best independently published titles from around the world.

 

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Publisher Ella Ritchie (right) with an IPPY representative at the 2017 IPPY awards ceremony, New York City, 2017

 

Not bad for a first-time author.

We wanted to know what made Contraflow stand out as a winner. So we asked the IPPY awards director, Jim Barnes, to share a few bits of insight with us.

But before we get to what he said . . .

Why does it matter?

The recognition of an award is a huge morale boost for you and your team. You’ll see renewed enthusiasm because your hard work is confirmed as credible. It didn’t hurt that we were whisked away to New York City to celebrate at the IPPY awards ceremony. And it’s rewarding for the other businesses and individuals who lent their names and support for your project.

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The 2017 IPPY awards ceremony, Copacabana Night Club, New York City

 

 

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The 2017 IPPY awards ceremony, Copacabana Night Club, New York City

 

An award also increases the visibility of your marketing campaign. You’ll have photo opportunities and will receive book seals that can added to your covers. You may be mentioned in a new wave of websites, press releases, and international articles to new audiences.

 

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The 2017 IPPY awards ceremony, Copacabana Night Club, New York City

 

You might be given opportunities to feature your book as a guest blogger. The Independent Publisher website featured Contraflow and one of our articles, 9 Tips to Nabbing Your Best Endorsement.”

Ultimately, all of this means that your message may reach new people and lead to increased book sales.

Let’s get back to Jim’s insight.

 

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The 2017 IPPY awards ceremony, Copacabana Night Club, New York City

 

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The 2017 IPPY awards ceremony, Copacabana Night Club, New York City

 

 

What is considered?

Jim said IPPY book submissions are judged by longtime publishing experts. They narrow their selections based on the following six criteria, and then a committee selects the winners.

  • First Impression
  • Design
  • Originality
  • Use of Language
  • Message Delivery
  • Relevance

These criteria underscore the importance of selecting a publishing team that will pay attention to every detail of your book – from writing and editing to design. “Books are judged by their covers,” Jim said, “so make sure your book looks really good. Your book title and cover should tell exactly what it’s about and what readers should expect.”

 

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IPPY Awards Director Jim Barnes presents the 2017 IPPY awards

 

That’s why the author of Contraflow collaborated extensively on the book cover. He wanted to nail the exact colors, images, and words that would convey his message.

(If you’re in the Houston area and want to know more about creating your best book cover, join us for our upcoming talk, “Don’t Blow Your Cover,” hosted by the Houston Chapter of the Nonfiction Authors Association.)

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Jim continued, “Opening lines should grab the reader and suggest great things ahead. Careful editing and proofreading are vital, especially in the early pages.” That’s why we opened the book with a line that is sure to stir curiosity:

“Right away, it was obvious that something was wrong.”

What is not considered?

Jim said there is one aspect that doesn’t tip the scales.

“We judge the book and only the book,” he said. “So any marketing material accompanying an entered book is discarded. We don’t pay any attention to reviews or publicity.”

Two things that spell doom

There are two red flags for a book – and they both have to do with being too vague. Jim said, “One thing I hear that spells doom for a book is, ‘You have to read about halfway into my book to really get it.’”

For this reason, the most heavily edited section of Contraflow was the Preface. We knew it was critical to establish the purpose of the book in the first few pages. (You can peek inside the book on Amazon to read the Preface for yourself.)

Jim said another red flag is when an author says, “My book is really hard to classify and kind of falls between a few different categories.” It’s important to thoughtfully consider your genre before you even start writing – and again when it’s time to enter it for an award.

There are more than 80 subject categories in the IPPYs, from economics to science fiction to cookbooks and coffee table books. Since Contraflow is part autobiographical and part regional, we consulted with a marketing guru, David Ivester of Author Guide, on the best category. David advised that we enter the Regional category because it’s not as broad as the Autobiography category. (We’re glad we listened.)

So start with the end in mind. As you write your book, be clear on what you are writing and who you are writing it for. Partner with a professional team that will craft the best book for you. And then dream big!

Jim BarnesElla Ritchie (pictured left) is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

Jim Barnes (pictured right) is the awards director of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, which bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university, and self-published titles published each year.

Choose Your Own Adventure in Book Publishing

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Have you ever read the Choose Your Own Adventure book series? They give the reader the delightful power to direct characters through plot twists to their favorite ending.

Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing from too many authors who consider books anything but a great adventure. When it comes to publishing, they don’t feel any sense of control over their own book. Some are staring uncertainly at the options while others are feeling disappointed and disillusioned with their publisher.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way.

We’ve seen the guts and dedication it takes to pour your story onto paper. It’s time to reclaim your sense of adventure and power in publishing by bringing some clarity to your next step: Choosing your publisher.

Let’s take a look at three publishing options. We’ll give you a few pros and cons of each path – as well as the two questions that should guide your decision.

Traditional Publishing

This is the traditional way that authors were published before self-publishing came along. In traditional publishing, you take the time to research the publishers that may be interested in your manuscript, send them a query letter, and wait to find out if they will represent your book. An interested publisher will purchase the rights to your manuscript.

Pros: There are big benefits. The publishing house often bears all or most expenses. Also, you and your book have instant credibility as well as an instant audience for broader reach.

Cons: Waiting to hear back from publishing houses can be very time-consuming since it can sometimes take more than six months. And because many people are vying for a chance with them, the odds of being selected are competitive. Also, the traditional publisher owns the rights, which means they have the control of your book. This impacts the amount of royalties you receive from sales and means that they have the final say on every aspect of the book. They may also have additional stipulations, such as required attendance at book conferences.

Self-Publishing

At the other end of the spectrum is self-publishing. With this option, you own the rights to your book and are responsible for every aspect of the project. This path is available to any author who wants to be the publisher of his own book.

Pros: With the development of Printing on Demand (POD), publishing is now easily accessible to any author. You no longer have to wait on traditional publishing houses to see your book in print. The main benefit of this path is retaining control of your book. You call the shots on what it says, what it looks like, and when it is published.

Cons: The downside to making every decision on your own is that you may not be making the best decisions. This path can also feel pretty confusing and overwhelming at times because of the hundreds of big and small decisions and research that come with creating a book on your own. Some online platforms don’t allow you to speak directly with your editor or formatter, which means things can get lost in translation. Unfortunately, a tell-tale sign of a self-published book is when quality is sacrificed for the sake of the budget. For this reason, readers can often spot a “do it yourself” book and won’t take the writing seriously. This takes away from your credibility and can hurt your marketing efforts.

Assisted Publishing

This third option is a blend of traditional publishing and self-publishing. Assisted publishers bridge the gap between the two options so that self-published authors have some of the benefits of being represented by a publishing house. This describes our own company model, so we’ll tell you the pros and cons of our approach. When you’re contacting assisted publishers, be sure to ask a lot of questions because each company does things a little differently.

Pros: This option is for authors who are ready to begin the process toward publishing a manuscript – and who want collaborative guidance on how to do it. An assisted publisher is an advocate who helps you determine the best choices for your book, providing honest feedback and other considerations. It’s an intimate process with a lot of back-and-forth on ideas and details. You retain control of the process and the book while relying on experts for quality work. This collaboration impacts your marketing efforts because the public sees that you’re more than a “one-man band” – your book cover and marketing materials show that you’re backed by a publishing company.

Cons: Engaging a project manager throughout the process makes this option more costly than self-publishing on your own. Also, an assisted publisher may share in book earnings, so be sure you’re comfortable with company policies. And while some assisted publishers have an audience, you’re still essentially a self-published author and not as likely to achieve the same reach as in traditional publishing.

Two Important Questions

As you consider your publishing options, it’s time for some self-reflection. Ask yourself these two questions:

▪ What are my short-term goals? That is, what do I want to happen within the first year that the book is published?

▪ What are my long-term goals? What do I envision for my book 10 years from now?

Now prioritize your list of goals to find out which you value most. For example, some authors value wide audiences and sales while others value a legacy they can pass to their children. Still others want to publish as inexpensively as possible. When you’re honest with yourself, your goals will point you to the type of publisher that is right for you.

Now that you have some clarity on the paths to publishing, you can take your next step with confidence. Choose your own adventure!

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

 

8 Pro Tips for Your Best Book Signing Event

The staff at River Oaks Bookstore knows about book signings. Since their doors opened in Houston 45 years ago, the booksellers have handled more than 3,000 book events for authors. That’s why their feedback on Bill Herrington’s book event last week mattered.

Their unanimous response? “It was one of the best events we’ve had,” they all said. In contraflow-cover-mockup-front.pngfact, book sales tripled their expectations.

It’s no wonder. Nearly 60 friends, family, and colleagues had streamed into the cozy shop to celebrate Contraflow, Herrington’s memoir about the leaders who provided hope to New Orleanians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The evening was a culmination of years dedicated to shaping his eyewitness experience into a compelling tale.

So how can you ensure the same positive experience for your own book signing event? We teamed up with the author to share some pointers.

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The publisher with Bill Herrington, the author of Contraflow

 

Tip #1: Align yourself with a publisher who is an advocate for you.

An advocate will provide the accountability and encouragement to see your project to the end. “From my endorsements to my book event,” said Bill, “Ella has pushed me to go further than I thought possible. I was initially hesitant to host an event, but my philosophy became, ‘Go big or go home.’”  

Tip #2: Define your goals and expectations.

Book events typically result in few sales, so don’t make the mistake of measuring your success solely by numbers. Set realistic expectations by shaping the event around your original goals. What were your reasons for writing the book in the first place? Whether you sell more or less books than you hope, this is an opportunity to bring these goals to life beyond what was accomplished in the pages of your book.

“In my case, my primary goals were to share my story with family and friends and to honor Houston leaders,” said Bill. “These two goals were even more important to me than making sales. So we based every detail of my book event on these two goals.”

Tip #3: Plan your format.

Decide whether you prefer a casual signing or a more structured format that designates a time to share a formal reading and in-depth thoughts. Be sure to mention the plan in your invitations so guests know what to expect.

Bill said, “I decided that my two-hour signing would be a come-and-go event on a weeknight. I liked that people stopped by at different times after work to grab a book, say hello, and mingle. However, there were some downsides, like the fact that some were pressed for time and had to leave before my speech that was given midway through the evening. So you really have to think about what you want.”

Tip #4: Choose a fitting location.

Consider a venue that maximizes your ability to accomplish your goals as well as your guests’ ability to attend. A bookstore is a solid pick because it has ample space and staff experience to accommodate a book event – and it’s usually in a recognizable location. Most stores keep a portion of the book sales in exchange for handling logistics like tables and chairs, book purchases, parking, and refreshments.

For Bill’s signing, we chose River Oaks Bookstore because it provides a charming atmosphere in the heart of Houston. Bill said, “I visited the shop before the event to introduce myself, ask questions, and scope out the space. I like that a small shop can make even a small event feel well attended. If you prefer to not share a percentage of book sales with a store, another idea is to host your event at a spacious home.”

Tip #5: Arrive early to arrange your materials.flowers.jpg

Bring plenty of books, a display stand, and several fine-tipped black Sharpies for easy signing. Set out business cards and a stack of press releases that can be left with the bookstore as promotional materials. Name tags and Sharpies are useful if you’re welcoming people from different social and business circles. Finally, keep a water bottle on hand to keep your throat clear.

Bill said, “Colleagues sent flowers, which turned out to be a nice touch as a table centerpiece.”

If you want to get creative, you can also display photographs, a slideshow, or other materials related to your book. Some authors choose to have their book cover, author portrait, book title, and name enlarged on a standing poster board. This might be worthwhile if you plan to host future signings.

 Tip #6: Plan your message.

When it comes to your written message, choose the page of the book on which you’ll sign, which might differ in your paperback and hardcover formats. Be ready to ask for names and spellings, try to personalize the message, and sign your name legibly. If you don’t know a guest well enough to write a personalized message, consider a signature phrase, such as “Much appreciation” or “In gratitude.”

This is also a great time to express verbal thanks for your endorsers, family, and community members who contributed in some way. Guests attend these events because they want a personal connection with you as the author, so think about how you can take this deeper than what they can read in the book on their own. Consider telling about how you made your choices on content or cover design, or explain your emotional journey in making your book. Aim to keep it short – no more than 15 minutes. Bill said, “You’ve got to practice and rehearse what you’re going to say. The only thing I wish I’d had was a podium to glance down and remember everything I wanted to say and everyone I wanted to recognize.”

Tip #7: Recruit others.

Before the event, ask friends and family to mention the book event online to drum up curiosity and potential sales. Then ask them to arrive a little early at the event to help welcome guests and make them feel comfortable. Designate a friend or two to take photographs at the event. Afterwards, offer to sign some copies to leave at the bookstore as an incentive for them to sell.

Most importantly, pay attention to your guest list. “I didn’t send an Evite to everyone I know,” said Bill. “I invited people whom I trusted would bring a positive, supportive energy for an enjoyable evening.”guests

Bill offered a few more tips on inviting guests. “You need to spread the word yourself. The only people who will come to your event are those you bring,” he said. “So invite the centers of influence. Invite people from your circles far and wide. Invite them even if they already own your book because they may want their book signed or may want to buy more as gifts. Like any party, you’ll want to invite more than you think will come because about 20 percent won’t show up. And don’t be afraid to send a reminder – people have good intentions but might forget because they’re so busy.”

Tip #8: Make it fun and interesting.

Showcase another guest of honor or a product that you think would interest your guests. Because Bill’s book was about paying tribute to city leaders, he invited former Houston mayor Bill White to share a few words about his role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Not only was Mr. White relevant to the evening – he added credibility to the book.

We also coordinated with Mr. White to display his own book, America’s Fiscal Constitution, along with a bowl to collect names for one complimentary copy. This added an element of fun for guests but also brought attention to Mr. White’s book as a gesture of thanks.

After a long journey to publication, you don’t want to miss out on the satisfaction of a successful book event. So follow these eight tips and then – in Bill’s words – “Go big or go home!”

 

Ella7_croppedElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that delivers quality, integrity, and reliability to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

 

Author portraitAs a corporate banker in New Orleans for 20 years, Bill Herrington actively supported community education alongside his wife Frances, a teacher. In Contraflow, he uses his unique perspective of the extraordinary leadership witnessed after Hurricane Katrina to raise funds to support the education of youth impacted by natural disasters or family tragedies.

 

9 tips to nabbing your best endorsement

 

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A few months ago, corporate banker Bill Herrington whooped with joy. I’d just told the first-time author that the former mayor of Houston, Bill White, would endorse his book. He knew White’s words would lend credibility to his memoir about leadership witnessed after Hurricane Katrina.

But White wasn’t the only one. Since then, seven more prominent leaders have endorsed Contraflow: From New Orleans to Houston, which was released last week to mark the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. They include a former senator, former U.S. Army General, school president, former school superintendent, sheriff, magazine editor, and board member.

These endorsements lend more than credibility to Bill’s book. They also extend his reach to people beyond his personal and professional circles, leveraging his opportunities to have an influence on others and to make sales.

So how do you nab your best endorsement? Try our nine strategies for success.

  1. Dream big.

When you make your list of prospects, go big. Brainstorm high-profile people who are relevant to your material. Retired folks make great candidates because they may have more time on their hands but are usually still very connected to the community. Politicians, celebrities, company presidents, prominent community leaders and professionals . . .  The possibilities are endless. Of course, you’ll also want to brainstorm the people you know – and the people they know – who are already in your network. But the point is to reach higher than you think is possible. You’d be surprised how accessible people are.

  1. Pique their interest.

Make sure your email request is as thoughtfully written as your manuscript. You’re asking for more than just a quote – you’re asking for their trust in lending their name to you and your work. So it’s more than just an email; it’s a campaign that’s tailored to each prospect. And one way to get your foot in the door is to craft a subject line that gets attention. Here are some of the subject lines we used to pique the interest of our prospects and motivate them to read our email.

“Mention in an upcoming book”

“References to your leadership”

“Do you remember Mr. Harrigan?”

“A John Wayne Dude”

Some of these won’t make sense to you, but they make sense to the prospect. Take your time and consider the most meaningful approach for each person.

  1. Leverage a publisher.

The more prominent your prospects, the more people that are probably already knocking at their door. Set yourself apart as someone to be taken seriously by introducing your book through a third party, such as an assisted publisher or literary representative. Your prospect is more likely to respond because you’re communicating that you’re more than a one-man band . . . You’ve invested in a credible process and have other people backing you.

Here’s how we introduced Bill’s book to one of our prospects.

Dear (Prospect),

I want to share an excerpt about you in a client’s upcoming book, Contraflow: From New Orleans to Houston. It is his account of the lives of people, businesses, and cities that were temporary reversed and permanently altered by Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic storms on record. The book is slated for release on April 29, the 11th anniversary of the storm.

We mentioned in the first line that our prospect is in the book so he’d sit up and take notice. And we included the target release date as another way to communicate that this was a serious project – not just an item on Bill’s bucket list.

  1. Share a worthy purpose.

Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than himself. Invite your prospects to be part of your big purpose. The more worthwhile the cause, the more likely they’ll want to join you.

His purpose in publishing the book is two-fold. He wants to honor the civic and corporate leaders, including you, who stepped up to help New Orleanians, exhibiting tremendous leadership and compassion in their time of crisis. He also wants to generate charitable contributions in support of the education of youth who are impacted by disasters and family tragedies.

  1. Drop names.

Mention any weighty endorsements you already have. Your prospects want to know they’re in good company.

Because we admire your leadership, I’m also writing to ask you to add your endorsement of the book to those who have already done so, including retired U.S. Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré as well as the University of Houston’s Center for Public History.

  1. Tell them why they matter.

Explain why you value their name and how their endorsement will make a difference.

I believe your name would lend credibility to the book, helping readers move past any negative connotations they may associate with Hurricane Katrina.

  1. Make it a win-win.

Think of some way you can return the favor by endorsing his/her own cause.

I know that you’ve recently published your own book, and I would be happy to include it in your byline to raise awareness for your cause as well.

  1. Make it easy.

Include a few samples of endorsements that they can edit. If they like your work, it’s standard practice in the publishing world to provide the words you’re hoping for.

If interested, please provide a quote by Friday, July 15. I’ve included a few lines below that are representative of the type of endorsement I’m seeking. To save time, you’re welcome to use them in their entirety if they reflect your sentiments. If you prefer to modify them or write something new, of course that’s more than fine.

  1. Let your material speak for itself.

The first eight tips will get your foot in the door. But no matter how great your pitch, it’s ultimately the quality of your materials that persuade your prospect. Bill’s manuscript and cover design were attached, both of which had been refined through more than a year of editing, designing, and revising with a professional team. His materials reflected his dedication and thoughtful process – and that’s what finally nabbed his endorsement.

Ella7_croppedElla Ritchie is the founder/owner of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that delivers quality, integrity, and reliability to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

 

author portraitAs a corporate banker in New Orleans for 20 years, Bill Herrington actively supported community education alongside his wife Frances, a teacher. In Contraflow, he uses his unique perspective of the extraordinary leadership witnessed after Katrina to raise funds to support the education of youth impacted by natural disasters or family tragedies.