Note: Several Months after this series first came out here, Dear Author did a worthwhile post on the same topic. It’s worth checking out too.
Okay, so on Monday we looked at print publisher websites and learned a bit (hopefully) about what to look for. But epubs are different, so we’re going to look at an epub site today and see what we see.
For the legitimate epub site, I’ve chosen Liquid Silver Books. I chose them because I’m not published with them (so this doesn’t look like a plug) and because they’re not currently RWA-approved, and because I know for a fact they’re legit and have a stellar reputation. I have a lot of friends published at LSB.
Epubs almost always have a submissions link on the first page. (See it? Bottom left.) However, notice it’s still not a huge link right under their logo & slogan. It looks professional; they’re not trying to grab anything or make you submit before you’ve looked at the site. What matters most still matters here: this site is clearly aimed at selling books to the public. See, the “Cart” is right at the top, as is the list of genres.
What else do we notice?
*Professional-looking covers (I’ll get to those in a minute)
*List of genzres is clear; there’s no twee little categories or euphemisms to make it hard to find what you want (with the exception of “molten silver”, but I think that’s easy to figure out, don’t you?)
*There’s a link for their newsletter and Yahoo Group; this is also a good indication that they try to grow customer loyalty (I’ll discuss customer loyalty probably on Friday.) They have a forum, which I love, and a blog.
*I particularly like that their series have separate websites. The Terran Realm and their Zodiac series both have them, which is cool.
So everything looks nice. This is more important than you’d think when it comes to epublishing. LSB has either paid someone to do their site or somebody really knows how to work the html here.(Note: Since originally writing this I’ve had an email from LSB’s Acquisitions Director, Tina Burns. Tina informs me that LSB is working on making their site even more user-friendly and impressive, including a new shopping cart, wish lists, etc. They’d love feedback on the new shopping cart and welcome suggestions on other things readers would like to see on the site. She’s given me permission to post her email here; it’s Tina AT liquidsilverbooks.com [replace the AT with @ and remove the spaces], and she’s happy to answer any questions any of you might have about LSB as well. Thanks Tina!)
Check out the About page. Lookie there! There’s the names of the publisher, acquisitions editor, and editorial director, as well as the art director. (You also see they’re listed with Fictionwise. This is a good sign but not as important as some people think, IMO, because some perfectly legit companies choose not to distro through Fictionwise, and we’ll look at that more on Friday.) There are “Contact Us” and “Customer Service” links too, and while I prefer to have the name and email link on a page, rather than just being sent straight to email, again that’s personal taste and doesn’t mean anything as far as legitimacy or professionalism goes.
Let’s look at the covers. Now, I know there’s one legitimate press out there famous for their awful covers. But in general, covers are an important indicator of how professional a site is and how well they’re doing. LSB has perhaps an unfair advantage here, because their cover artist April Martinez is famous for her design skill. But you know what? That’s what you want. Covers are a big part of what makes a book look enticing and appealing. It’s one of the things that makes a difference between a site you want to shop at and a site you want to laugh at.
The occasional Poser cover (those artifical people with the bendy bodies and glassy eyes) isn’t a crime; some authors request those covers and some people like them. (And for people who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like, as Miss Brodie would say.) But look at the covers in general; do they look professional, or do they look like bad fonts stuck of top of clipart photos? Are the images oddly stretched? Are the colors shreiky and painful to look at? Really, is that the kind of cover you want for your book?
In general, I would say at least 50% of the covers should appeal to you. (Unless you have rather unique tastes.) And that’s a minimum.
Let’s pick a book to use as an example of what a listing should have. Once again, I’ve chosen (at random) an author I don’t know and am not to my knowledge associated with at any of my other publishers (I’m pretty sure I would remember “D.J. Manly.”)
Here’s D.J. Manly’s “Suffering Jordan”. (Personally, I’d prefer it if you could click the book’s cover for more info, rather than a link below it, but that’s personal taste.)
Okay. Title, author and ISBN right at the top. Check. Blurb makes sense, is spelled properly, and is grammatically correct. Check. There’s a nice big buy link at the bottom, and the price clearly listed (again, I prefer the price be a little bigger or in bold, but it’s certainly not hidden. It’s a reasonable price, too.) The genre is clearly shown. Even if the cover hadn’t given us a clue, we are told this is a ménage book, with m/m interaction as well as m/f/m, and some light bondage too. There’s also a link to buy more of that author’s titles, which is pretty standard and always nice to have.
We’ll look at the excerpt now. I’ll be honest and say the voice here isn’t really to my taste; but again, there’s no spelling or grammatical errors. The excerpt is long enough for us to get a feel for the book, to see if it’s something we want to buy or not.
All of which lends legitimacy, but we’re not done. You can’t possibly know if your book will fit in at a publisher after looking at one listing and excerpt. This is a process that takes time. It’s just as important as the actual writing, so please don’t skimp. Look at a lot of listings. Read a lot of excerpts. Look at genres other than yours. What kinds of stories do they sell? What kinds of heat listings do you see? Do these look like books you would read? Do they look like the kinds of books you write and the heat level at which you’re comfortable?
If not, move on. Why would you send your book to a publisher whose editing looks sloppy, whose books look dull, whose tastes don’t appear to mesh with yours? Readers tend to stick with specific epublishers. They might have several they buy from, and they might be willing to branch out, but they usually have a favorite, and that’s where they’ll buy new authors too—because they trust that publisher. So look carefully. Spend some time, I can’t emphasize this enough.
As you flit about reading excerpts and ogling cover art, pay attention to how easy the site is to navigate. Is it constantly making you pop up and exit new windows? Are any of the links broken? Are all of the pages finished—it’s easy to have a nice-looking Home page, but that care should extend throughout the site. An “Under Construction” notice is okay, but beware too many of those too.
Also look at their list of authors. Have you heard of any of them? Do you know any of them? Have you seen good reviews for them? Make note of some of their names and websites, you’ll need them later.
Now buy a book. After looking at all of those excerpts, you should have found at least one book you’d like to own (in fact, you should have found quite a few.) Buy it. You need to make sure the buying process is smooth and easy to understand. It’s better not to have to get codes and stuff in your email hours later; ebooks should be pretty much immediate (at least that’s what I think). You want to be able to choose a book, click a link, fill in some info, and get your book within minutes. Put a bunch of books in your cart and see how long the cart holds them, and if it’s easy to remove some later and add more. You should be able to keep stuff in your cart for a while; I know one non-ebook site I shopped on once deleted my cart after like twenty minutes, which annoyed me so much I gave up. You don’t want readers to give up. You don’t want them to get annoyed by having to hit extra buttons and wander through different windows. They will go somewhere else.
And if they’re going elsewhere, you might as well have left your book in your hard drive, right?
So does anyone else have anything to add?