Welcome to The Writer's Blueprint

Whether you're a complete newbie to self-publishing, or a grizzled old vet who remembers the "good old days" of 2011, The Writer's Blueprint will help you get the most out of your next book. Because your book is a work of fucking art, and you want the whole world to read it, right? Damn straight.

The Writer's Blueprint won't tell you how to write the perfect book (although you may find a tip here or there on how to do it). But it will help you put that book in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

1
What to put in the backmatter of your books
2
The best productivity apps and extensions for writers
3
Cover Analysis: Cozy Mysteries
4
4 ways to get more ARC reviewers on your list
5
How to get your books in Amazon’s “secret” categories

What to put in the backmatter of your books

Or, to put the title more accurately, here’s what I put in the backmatter of my books. This is what works for me, and what has helped me become one of Amazon’s top publishers. Check them out below:

First of all, the front matter.

Ok, ok. I know this post said backmatter. But my own brain kind of considers front matter to be the same thing, and honestly, I think frontmatter is just as important as backmatter. And since it comes first when you’re reading a book, here’s what I have at the front of my books:

A link to 3-4 other books in the same genre

You know when you find that perfect book and even before you’ve read it you know you’re going to love it? The links in the front of my book are aimed at those people. The ones who saw my cover, read my blurb and automatically know they’re going to like my book, and decide to download as many of them as they can before they start reading the first sentence.

Is that a huge number of people? No. I track my links in my books using bit.ly and I usually only get a few clicks to my frontmatter links every day. But those few clicks are way more likely to convert than anyone else, and if that’s leading to a few extra sales a day, I’ll take it! I don’t include any other info for these few books other than the title of the book, since I want it to take up as little space as possible.

A link to my newsletter

Same thing here. Just a quick little sentence:

To be the first to find out about new releases, please click or tap here now to join the thousands of other readers on my mailing list.

It’s quick, it’s simple, and the two of these things together don’t take up more than one e-reader page. It’s enough to get some people to click on it, but not annoying enough to cause others to click off.

Table of Contents

I realize I’m in the minority here, but I had always put my ToC at the front of my books. Call it force of habit from reading so many physical books, but I don’t have a single book out there with the table of contents in the back.

And that’s it! You don’t really need a lot in the front matter, since you don’t want to annoy your readers before they’ve even started chapter one. Less is more is the perfect sentence to describe how I do frontmatter.

And now, for the backmatter content

This is where the going gets good! Your readers have already finished your book, they’re (hopefully) happy with what they’ve read, and they’re voraciously ready to read whatever else you have to offer them. This is your time to shine! Make a good impression. Make them want the rest of your books, and make it easy for them to get them! This is, in order, how I format my backmatter.

About the Author

Literally just 2-3 quick sentences. At the end of it, I add links to my Facebook page, website and my email address so readers can contact me. Easy peasy.

Mailing list link

After the “about the author” section comes my mailing list shout-out. It usually looks something like this:

Thanks for reading! Please don’t forget to click here to join my mailing list so you can be the first to find out about future releases. If you enjoyed this book I encourage you to leave a review on Amazon so you can help others find it as well.

If I’m actively looking to make my ARC list bigger, I’ll add a link inviting people to my ARC list as well. Check out this post for more info about adding ARC reviewers.

Links to other books

I don’t bother including covers to my other books in these links. Not only do the photos add to the file size (it might be minimal, but a couple cents here and there adds up over thousands of sales) but quite frankly, the small cover thumbnails look pretty shitty on a small e-reader screen. I format my links to other books in the backmatter like this:

Other Book Title: This is the blurb to the book. The whole blurb goes here. This is one of the reasons why blurbs are so important: in the back of your book, readers won’t get a good look at your cover. So you have to sell them with the blurb. Then, at the end of the blurb, I always add this sentence: Click or tap here now to read Other Book Title now.

Now, how do I decide what order to put links to other books in? Simple: I sort by genre, and then by bestsellers.

So if I have 3 books in the same genre as the book I’ve just written, I will put the blurbs to all three of those books in the back. I’ll put the bestselling of those 5 at the top, and then continue in descending order of sales.

I generally limit the number of books and blurbs in the back of my books to 5. I try to only add books in the same genre as the book I’m writing, but if I don’t have any I’ll link to whatever I have, just because it’s better to have some sort of links up than nothing. If I have three books in the same genre and more in a completely different genre, I’ll usually only link the three similar ones. Make it easy for your readers as much as possible, try to give them as many books that they might like as possible.

Finally, how often do I update my backmatter? I usually go through and update it in my novels every 3-4 months, but I only update once, or for really good sellers, twice. I work in romance, which means huge churn rates, so the books I published six months ago are making very little money compared to my new releases. That’s just a fact of life in this genre. It’s not worth it for me to go back after a year and update the backmatter again, because when my books are just down to making around $5-$10 a day, it’s really not worth it. The links to the books that are in there already will be fine.

Copyright statement

Finally, at the very end of the book I add a generic copyright statement. Honestly, I only put it in there to make my books look more professional. After all, anyone who’s going to pirate a book isn’t going to look at a copyright statement and go “oh shit well now that this is copyright I had better not pirate this book!” But it gives a bit more of a professional look to your book, and after all, you want to look like a pro. You’re an indie. Be proud of that. But you should still be striving for professionalism in everything you do.

 

And that’s all! That’s what my backmatter looks like. I know some people like to include excerpts from other books, but personally, I prefer to sell with a blurb. I hope this has given you a good model to base your backmatter on, or at the very least given you something to think about.

 

The best productivity apps and extensions for writers

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you wake up in the morning, scarf down a bagel, then make a cup of coffee and head over to your computer.

“They day is young,” you tell yourself. “I have so many hours, I’m going to be so productive today! But first, let me check my Facebook for about five minutes…”

Then the next thing you know it’s 11:30, your stomach is rumbling for you to have some lunch, and you look at your Word document and see you’ve only added 500 words.

Oops.

I know I’m guilty of this pretty much all the time if I don’t have my organization down pat. Here are a bunch of productivity apps that I use to make sure I don’t spend the whole day looking at cat videos on youtube, or at least to make sure I don’t do that too often. These are all for Chrome since that’s the browser I use, but if you’re using FireFox or whatever I’m sure you can really easily find extensions that do the same thing for that browser as well.

#1. Pomodoro

This is hands down the most important tool for any author, or really anyone who works at a computer, as far as I’m concerned. Pomodoros (the Italian word for tomato) work in a really simple way: they’re timers. They (generally) work in a 25 minutes on/5 minutes off fashion. So when you click your pomodoro to start the day, it blocks everything on your browser for 25 minutes. Then, when those 25 minutes are up, the app or extension makes a sound to let you know that the 25 minutes are finished, and that you can start your five minute break.

I always try to do 4 pomodoros in the morning, and 3 in the afternoon. That’s almost 3.5 hours of pure, solid, distraction-free work. I get so much more done using pomodoros than I do just by using my own willpower, it’s crazy. The one I use is called Strict Workflow. It works really well for me, and is a pretty basic app, but there are tons of options out there for everyone. A lot offer customization, such as only blocking specific sites (good if you want to do research online, but don’t want the temptation of Facebook or YouTube) or allow you to customize your workflow times, so if you wanted to do 40 minutes on, 10 minutes break, you can do that as well.

Either way, I strongly recommend giving a pomodoro tool of some sort a try. You’ll be hooked!

#2. Momentum

Photo from passthesourcream.com

Momentum is an amazing start page app that allows you to make to-do lists. While there are better individual to-do lists out there, I use momentum for this reason alone: it pops up every time you open a new tab.

See, I’m really good at burying my head in the sand. If I have a to-do list, but I have to click on something to see it, it’s pretty easy for me to ignore it and decide that literally anything else is a better idea. But if whenever I open a new tab I’m confronted with my to-do list, well, eventually I get pretty good at realizing I should get on that.

Plus every day the background changes to a different amazing scene from somewhere in the world, and that’s way nicer to look at than just a blank screen.

You can get momentum by clicking here.

I have also heard really good things about a similar extension called Limitless, but I haven’t tested it so don’t know for sure how awesome it is.

#3. Save to Pocket

So you know when you’re in the middle of writing, or doing some other kind of important work, and then you come across a link to an article or something that you absolutely, definitely want to read? But you don’t have time to do it now, and you don’t really want to leave the tab open because you’re working and you know if you leave the tab open you’ll either read the article anyway, or accidentally close it while trying to navigate to a different tab. Believe me, I’ve done that one only about a million times.

WELL PROBLEM SOLVED

Save to pocket basically lets you one-click save any link anywhere on the internet to read later. So while you’re going through things you can save link after link to your pocket, then when you’ve finished writing or whatever you were doing, you can go back and read everything you saved. Simple, beautiful and so useful.

You can get save to pocket for Chrome by clicking here.

#4. NoteBoard

Noteboard is the extension I use to keep track of all my writing projects. I add a new note for every project, and keep myself updated on its status: am I in the middle of writing it? If yes, when is my deadline? Has it been sent off to the editor? When am I expecting to get it back? Have I made a cover for it yet? All this and more, and it all fits on a handy e-corkboard. Way easier than trying to deal with that stuff on a real board.

Click here to get NoteBoard for Chrome.

#5. Noisli

Now, if you live in an environment where noise is a problem (I’m looking at you, parents who work from home!) Noisli is the perfect extension for you. It basically allows to create nice background sounds that you can listen to in order to drown out the hum of distracting noises in your every day environment.

You can get Noisli for Chrome by clicking here.

#6. Dropbox

Ok, so Dropbox isn’t technically an extension. It’s a cloud service, so it stores all your files that are in your Dropbox folder on your computer in the cloud.

Now, you might be thinking “why would I want to store all my work in the cloud?”

Believe me, the day your computer crashes and you lose absolutely everything, you will be so, so happy that you can get all the original files to your books back. This happened to me once, and it was absolutely no problem to get my books (and my other important files like pictures) back onto my new computer when I bought one.

If you only want to use it for a few files it’s free, it’s $50 a year or so for a lot more storage, which is the plan I use.

Plus – and this has absolutely nothing to do with publishing – I find it’s super easy to use Dropbox to sync the photos I take with my phone to my computer.

 

So there you have it! My whole productivity collection. Now go forth, and write more words than you’ve ever written before…

Cover Analysis: Cozy Mysteries

One of the two most important things when it comes to marketing your book is the cover. And it’s amazing how often I see people getting the cover completely and totally wrong. When you’re creating a cover, you want to reach your reader’s expectations. This is true in every single genre. Ever wonder why all those historical romance novels all feature a strong, topless dude holding a woman in a period dress with a backdrop of England or Scotland? Because it sells.

Sure, there are exceptions. Sometimes someone comes in with a cover that absolutely doesn’t look like anything else in the genre and it does amazingly. But guess what? Those people are one in a million. If you want your book to sell, you are much, much better off actually giving your readers what they’re looking for. There are visual clues in every type of cover that readers subconsciously associate with the type of book they want to read.

So now, let’s see how it works with cozy mysteries.

Of course, the first step to knowing what your readers expect is to look at the bestsellers in your genre. In this case, we’re looking at the cozy mysteries top 100 Kindle store list.

This is a picture of the top 18 cozy mysteries right now:

What’s the first thing you notice about these 18 top selling cozy mysteries?

For one thing, almost all of them are drawn covers.

This is huge. 13 of the 18 top selling cozy mysteries on Amazon right now have covers that are drawn, mainly in that cartoon vector style. Sure, there are exceptions. There always are. But you’re not looking at exceptions, you’re looking at the rule.

The next thing I always look at is the colours used.

In general, cozy covers tend to use bright covers, pastel colours and warm tones.

Even some of the darker covers have bright spots, like the #3 book: Southern Spirits. The cover might overall not have a ton of bright colouring, which fits the theme of ghosts and haunted stuff really well, but there’s still the bright pink/purplish text, and the female on the cover’s hair that are bright and make the cover stand out.

What kind of items feature on the covers?

In cozies, it seems to be a mix of things that the story might involve. There’s a girl holding a time capsule. A whole bunch of pets. A scene from the Australian outback. A gravestone. A cupcake. Some police tape.

But the thing that really sticks out to me in cozy mystery covers is the overall impression the items on the covers give. And here, it’s fun.

Almost every single one of these cozy mystery covers gives me the impression that the book is going to be a fun, lighthearted mystery. One of them is a bunch of kittens and a puppy sitting in a pile of grass, for crying out loud!

And finally, I always look at the fonts used on the covers. Obviously every cover is going to use a different individual font, but look at the overall styling of them.

In cozies, it’s all about the light cursive script, almost like handwriting.

These aren’t super fancy calligraphy fonts used. No, the majority of these books tend to use a lightly cursive font. Something a little bit on the “girly” side of things, but without being overly difficult to read. And they almost all use relatively bright colours for the font.

So, if I were to make a cozy mystery cover (I’ve never written the genre, though I would love to one day when I have more time) I would make sure to incorporate the following elements:

  • A vector-based cover, featuring a female (the MC) on the cover along with a background that signifies where my story would be taking place (a shopping mall, or a restaurant, maybe!)
  • A light cursive script for the cover font, in white with a bit of a drop shadow to make it stand out
  • I’d make sure the cover was bright, bright, bright! And fun!

Bright and fun. Those are the two most important words for cozy covers, as far as I’m concerned. As long as your cozy cover fits that theme, you’ve got a great advantage to make sure your cozy mystery finds the readers that are looking for your story. Give them the cover they want, a cover that catches their eye, and they will read your book.

4 ways to get more ARC reviewers on your list

So you want more reviewers on your ARC list, do you? Of course you do. There’s no such thing as an ARC list with too many readers on it. I’ve heard plenty of authors say before “but doesn’t a big ARC list take away from potential sales??”

If this is you, you’re thinking way too small.

Let me guess – your ARC list runs somewhere in the 100-500 subscriber range. What if you doubled that? Say you got to 1000 ARC reviewers, and let’s assume that 200 of them actually posted their reviews. You’d tell me “well Liv, I would have gotten 1000 sales from those people and now I won’t!!”

No. First of all, not all of those 1000 people would have bought your book. And secondly, those 200 reviews are social proof. You’re a reader. You know when you scroll past a book and it has a single 4-star review, you’re probably going to skip past it. But when a book has over 200 reviews and a 4.5+ average? Yeah, you’re going to click that. Because in your brain, if over 200 people liked this book enough to leave a review, then damn, it must be good.

And that’s how you get a hell of a lot more than 1000 people to buy your book. Sure, a ton of reviews isn’t a guarantee that your book’s going to do well. But it absolutely helps. You can’t think about giving away ARC copies as a lost sale. Think of it as an investment in your book’s marketing. Because reviews are a major part of marketing your book.

Now that you’re convinced that you need more ARC reviewers, here’s a few easy ways to get them:

#1. Goodreads Readers

This is one of my favourite ways to get reviewers for my ARC list. While its slow, they tend to be very responsive. Plus, it’s super easy and a great way for brand new authors who don’t have anything published yet.

Go to Goodreads, and find about 3-4 books that are similar to the genre you want to release in. Then, go through the list of people that have reviewed that book and given it 5 stars. Click on their profiles and look at their other reviews. If they only leave 4-star and 5-star reviews, message them asking if they’d like to join your ARC list, and send them a link. Remember to always be polite, and not to take it personally if they say no!

Make sure you’re only choosing people who always leave good reviews. You want your ARC list to be filled with people that will give you five stars, not one star. And on GoodReads, readers can be notoriously picky when it comes to reviewing well.

And make sure you’re only sending out about 10 messages a day. Any more than that and GoodReads will start blocking your account from sending more messages, due to thinking you’re spamming people.

#2. Cannibalize your existing list

Where’s a great place to get people that you’re sure are going to love your next book to read it and leave a review? Well, the people who actually bothered to sign up to your main e-mail list in the first place is a natural first stop! Send out an email asking anyone who’s interested in reviewing your books in exchange for a review copy to sign up. Sure, you’re going to be giving books away to people who were likelier than others to buy in the first place. But remember what I said above – your ARC list is an investment. And besides, what nicer way to reward your fans and keep them coming back over and over than by offering them to read your books for free? I find that a lot of my email list readers who moved to my ARC list still actually buy my book when it comes out!

Plus, the response rate from your existing fans is going to be a lot higher than people who don’t know you at all, and they’re much more likely to leave rave reviews.

If your list is so big you don’t want to invite that many people, just choose a segment of say, 1000 people, to send your invitation to.

#3. Post on your Facebook page and other social media

This is a different way of going to where your fans are, to extend your reach even further. Post on your social media sites that you’re looking for ARC readers, and give them the link to sign up.

If you’re a member of any groups for readers you can also post there, and you can also ask the owners of big pages related to your niche – or other authors! – nicely if they’d be willing to post a link for you. A lot won’t, but just one or two links from a page that has thousands of fans can get you a good chunk of new reviewers for your next book. If you get any other authors willing to ask their fans to join your ARC list, don’t forget to offer to do the same for them! Even if your page is a lot smaller, it’s just polite to reciprocate.

#4. Add links in your backmatter

The back of your books is an amazing place to add a link to your ARC list. What better place to hook a reader than at the end of the book they’ve just read and loved? I usually just add a simple sentence to my backmatter along these lines:

“If you’d love free copies of upcoming books in exchange for leaving a review, please sign up for my ARC reader’s list by clicking here.”

If you’re worried about readers just trying to get free books you can ask them to email you directly for the link. The extra step will drive away a lot of freebie seekers who have no intention of leaving reviews, but you may lose out on a few legitimate reviewers this way as well. Personally, I don’t tend to worry about freebie-seekers too much. They’re the kinds of people who don’t like paying for books anyway, and so were unlikely to pay for your future works.

Of course, don’t forget to also add a link to your regular mailing list as well; some readers simply aren’t interested in ARCs but will still want updates from you.

 

So there you have it! Whether you’re a brand new author with absolutely no following, or an old vet with a huge list, there are plenty of ways for you to add to your ARC list and make sure that when you launch your next book, you have a bunch of good reviews ready to go.

How to get your books in Amazon’s “secret” categories

Well ok, I might be stretching the definition of “secret” a little bit here, especially considering they’re listed on the KDP help site. But it is true that unless you know those pages exist, you might wonder how the hell books manage to get into categories like Romance > New Adult or Teens and Young Adult > Detectives. Well, wonder no more!

All you have to do is use certain keywords when you’re publishing your new book.

The full list of keywords for all the categories can be found by clicking here.

Now, let’s say I’ve written a novel, similar to James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club novels. Of the two main categories I’m allowed to choose when publishing my book in KDP, I’m obviously going to choose ‘Mystery, Thriller & Suspense’ as one of the categories. Because I’ve done that, I can now use the keywords that Amazon allows you to pick to describe your book to get into even more categories. You can see the full list by clicking the link above, but here is a sample of what those keywords look like:

So, using this list, I might make my keyword list look something like this:

As you can see, I have three of seven keywords that correspond to these extra categories: murder, serial killer and female protagonist.

This means that my book will now show up in these categories! This will increase my book’s exposure, giving it a greater chance of success. This is a very, very easy way to increase your book’s exposure right off the bat, and something every author should be using. Every time I publish a new book, I open up the list for my genre and I scroll through it once more, making sure every single category that can apply to my book gets added to my keywords.

Of course, don’t spam categories that you don’t belong in. You might get a few extra sales, but you’re also likely to alienate readers who weren’t after what you were selling in the first place. Plus, it’s just a really douchey thing to do.

But there you go! If you ever saw books in your genre in some of these categories and wondered how the hell they managed that, here’s your answer.

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