Friday, January 29, 2016

How do you start to write a book?

  1. Decide on your primary objective(s): Change the world, entertain the world, educate, inform, preserve memories, personal fulfillment, fun, money, fame, status, revenge, something else.
  2. Decide on your target audience. If your audience is 'everyone,' it will be very expensive to reach them. If your target is too small, you may not sell enough books to make money. Your mother may be wonderful, but your potential sales of a book about her may be seven books. Or two. More on choosing a topic 
  3. Check out the competition. Does the world really need another barbecue cookbook, JFK bio or post-apocalypse teenage vampire sex novel? More about competition
  4. Come up with about ten possible titles, then cut back to three, and then one. More about choosing a title
  5. Even if you have no artistic talent, make some rough cover designs. More about covers
  6. Write a one-paragraph book description that could go on the back of the book cover and on booksellers' websites, and should keep you focused.
  7. Read books for authors. Many are reviewed at Books for Authors
  8. Write. How to deal with writer's block 
  9. Oh yeah, if you plan to write poetry, forget about making money.
  10. Think about how it's going to be published: (A) traditional royalty-paying publisher (difficult for a first-time author), (B) self-publishing company, (C) your own little publishing company. If you are considering A, this book will help. If you are considering B or C, this book will help

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Marginal thinking, marginal analysis, marginal remarks

I previously I discussed white space, also known as negative space or air.

The most obvious kind of white space in a book is its margins.

A margin
 is the space between your text or illustrations and the edges of the paper (or virtual paper in an ebook). I mentioned my rule of thumb: a margin at the side of a page should be big enough to fit an adult human thumb without covering any text or illustration.

Each page has four margins, and they can be the same or different. It’s common for vertical margins to be larger than horizontal margins, and sometimes the top and bottom margins are not the same size. This is where the book's formatter gets to make an aesthetic judgment. Small margins make a book look lousy and hard to read. New designers and cheapskates often maximize the number of words on a page, so fewer pages will be needed and a book can be printed for less money. (A printed page costs about a penny, e-pages cost nothing.)

White space demonstrates extravagance and implies wealth. When I was a child I was advised to eat everything on my plate. When I was a teenager I dated a wealthy girl who had been taught to always leave some uneaten food on her plate so no one would think she actually needed the meal. White space is part of the paper you choose not to print on. If your primary consideration is to get the most for your money, you would leave as little white space as possible.

Ample white space implies that you own the entire page but don’t need to consume it -- you can use it for aesthetics rather than for practical purposes. It’s like having roses -- not tomatoes -- in your garden.

Because of its uniform line length, justified text lacks some of the negative space that flush-left text provides. Experiment with other ways to add negative space to a page. Larger margins can help. Extra space between paragraphs adds negative space which makes a page more attractive, but also makes each paragraph look more independent rather than part of a unified “whole.”

Your publisher or printer can tell you the minimum margins for the page size you’re planning to use. A common minimum size is ½ inch on all sides. You can choose to have bigger margins than the minimum, but not smaller.

[above] The medium affects the margins—and the gutter
If you have either large pages or a spiral binding it’s good to have smaller margins on the inside of a page (the gutter) than on the outer edge. This can make the three vertical white strips (left, center and right) look approximately the same.
In thick books the inside gutter margins often dissipate as they curve into the binding With the common 6-by-9,so I like to use the same-width margins on left and right.
When a printed book has more than about 500 pages, it’s a good idea to provide additional gutter width to compensate for the white space that dissipates into the binding. Your printer or publisher can advise you.
If your book is going to be e-only, you don’t have to think about gutters.

A printed book with large pages simply has more room for white space than does a book with smaller pages. In newspapers where space is fought over by editorial and advertising departments, text gets less air than in books. 

[below] Some good advice from 1907.

[below] Without sufficient negative space, a page seems overstuffed and it repels -- rather than attracts—readers.

[below]  Compare how the same text appears with larger margins.

[below] Compare how it looks with larger margins, indented paragraphs and more leading (space between lines of type).

[below] When leading is too large, the negative space dominates the text.

[below] If your text is set as flush-left/ragged-right, particularly with no hyphenation and in multiple columns, pages can develop oversize and ugly blotches of negative space. Don’t let it happen.

[below] Here’s a much nicer version, with full justification and hyphenation.

[below] If the white space that separates columns of text on one page is too narrow, readers may skip over the space and start reading the next column, instead of moving down through the first column. 

[below] Negative space can be used as an alternative to horizontal lines (rules) to separate sections of text.

[below] Placing more white space above and below a subhead (also known as a breaker head) makes it more dramatic and important. If it introduces a new section, put more space above it than below it so it is more strongly associated with the text that follows.

[below] Placing more white space above the opening of a chapter makes it much more dramatic. Compare these pages from two of my books:

[below] When a graphic element is inserted within text, make sure to provide adequate white space around it. Compare the upper and lower photos in the page shown. The amount of white should be proportionate to the size of the graphic, but there is no specific rule. The more space you provide around a photograph, the more important it will seem to be. The default spacing in Microsoft Word is .13 inch. You probably should not go below .1, but if a photo includes its own white or light border you can get closer without crowding.

This post is adapted from my upcoming Typography for Independent Publishers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why Latin is sometimes called Greek, and why Latin is important to graphic designers and writers of English

While you are experimenting with different possible layouts for book pages or covers (or ads, catalogs, brochures or packages), it’s good to have real words to play with, even if  the text that will ultimately be used doesn't exist yet. Temporary text will help you to select type faces and size, page margins, headers and other "style" items.

To make a real-looking "dummy" cover or interior page, copy and paste-in what’s known as Greek text or Greeking (although it’s really semi-sensible Latin). Do a web search for “lorem ipsum” or go to and copy and paste.

Here’s what it looks like: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nulla dapibus elementum dui sit amet hendrerit. Fusce varius odio at nisi rhoncus ut tempor justo imperdiet. Mauris neque turpis, fringilla quis consequat scelerisque, egestas eu felis. Pellentesque ut turpis non metus pellentesque tempus a at erat. Praesent id libero ac ligula ultrices facilisis eu id est. Integer vel quam enim. Phasellus luctus porttitor augue, eget aliquet velit consequat quis. Nam massa lectus, accumsan sed iaculis id, sollicitudin sit amet odio. Duis id sem eu orci rhoncus semper. Mauris tortor enim, faucibus vitae commodo ac, lacinia quis libero.
  • In addition to its temporary stand-in function, Lorem Ipsum makes it easier to judge a graphic design because, unless they understand Latin, viewers won’t be distracted by reading the content. I had two years of Latin in high school and am a language "buff," so I get distracted. Maybe the book designers in Vatican City use Vietnamese text so they don't get distracted. I have no idea what Greek designers call "Greeking."

Former-Governator Ah-Nold starred in a shitty satan movie that used inverted Hebrew text intended to look diabolical. It didn't fool me.

Here's an important Little Latin Lesson:

Two short abbreviations for Latin phrases are often confused by people writing English. I.e. stands for id est and means approximately “that is.” E.g. stands for exempli gratia, and means approximately “for example.”

Don’t italicize them, but do put a comma after the final period. Here’s a mnemonic device (memory aid):
  • I.e., which starts with I means “In other words,”
  • E.g., which starts with e, means “for Example.”
  • Or, you could think that i.e. means “in effect” and that e.g. means “example given.”
Of course, those of us who studied Latin, don’t need mnemonic devices. Optima dies prima fugit. Cave canem. Caveat emptor. Nos morituri te salutamus. Sic transit gloria mundi. SPQR. INRI. Alter ego. E pluribus unum. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Persona non grata. Ave Caesar. Corpus delecti. Corpus Christi. Bona fide. Carpe diem. Status quo. Bogus. Bonus. Status. Flatus. Doofus (just kidding). Curiculum Vitae. Alumnus. Cannabis. Vagina. Roma. Dictum. Modus operandi. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et Cetera.

Sic is the Latin word for “thus.” It’s used to indicate that the preceding error or unusual wording or punctuation was in the source, and not copied incorrectly. The word should be italicized and within square brackets like this: [sic]. “Sic transit gloria mundi” has nothing to do with ailing trains or buses. Look it up.

- - - - -
Top photo shows statue of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, who said, “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you too, Brutus?”) when his buddy Brutus stabbed him. Those words were supposedly Caesar’s last words, on the Ides of March (March 15th) in 44 BCE. March 15th was the original income tax day in the United States.

Monday, January 25, 2016

What's the main difference between an amateur writer and a professional author?

A while ago I copyedited a book written by a woman who is an excellent storyteller -- but was not quite ready to be a professional author.

The book required so much editing that my hands ached from typing and mousing. I charged the woman much more than I would have if the text was prepared
better for me.

I'm sure the writer -- and perhaps her friends and relatives -- read the manuscript dozens of times. I'm sure they loved it. I did not.

The biggest single problem was lack of consistency.

Every book needs a style sheet (a set of rules for the writer). I usually make my style sheet as a temporary "page zero" that stays in the front of the book until the book is ready to be distributed.

The styles dictate such things as spelling, capitalization, abbreviation and hyphenation, and are promulgated in The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style (from the University of Chicago Press). 

The AP book is a reference book you can actually read for fun.

You can adhere to the rules of such style manuals or combine elements of several. It's less important to rigidly follow one book than to be consistent within your text -- but don't be consistently foolish.

Don't have “3 a.m.” on one page and “5PM” 100 pages later. Don't have "41" and "forty-one." Use "chairman" and "Chairman" in the proper places. 

Sometimes the style books agree with each other. Sometimes they don’t. For example, "Chicago" (which was first published in 1891) favors the serial comma, but the AP and the Times books oppose it. Their attitude may be based on the need to save space in crowded newspapers. "Chicago" style is more often used by book publishers.

The Chicago Manual of Style tells us that french fries and swiss cheese need no uppercase letters. The AP book says we should capitalize Swiss cheese.

The AP book was first produced as a 60-page booklet in 1953. Over the years, this “Bible of the Newspaper Industry” grew considerably in both size and scope. The 2007 version that I use is still a rulebook -- but it’s also a dictionary, an encyclopedia and a textbook. The AP updates annually. I'm still using the 2010 edition. The Chicago and Times books update less frequently. I have the 2002 version of the Times book. My 15th edition of the Chicago book was published in 2003.

The Oxford University Press and the Chicago Manual of Style insist that an em dash should be attached to the letters before and after it, like—this, with almost no visible space. On the other side, the New York Times likes to put a space before and after each em dash. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, with different styles in different books. As long as I publish my own books, I control my em dashes. You control yours.

While a self-publisher can choose (or create) her or his style, if you get a contract from another publisher -- or even if you freelance for a magazine, newspaper or website -- you may encounter "house style." Doubleday may have different preferences than Simon & Schuster, and the New York Times may disagree with Esquire.

Online, Slate, Salon and Huffington Post may have different standards.

Just as language does not stand still, neither do the official styles. The AP recently switched from "web site" to "website" and endorsed "email" over "e-mail," "handheld" over "hand-held" and "cellphone" over "cell phone." I made those changes years ago.

Other amateurisms:

  • Rampant use of ampersand instead of "and"
  • Use of numerals instead of spelling low numbers
  • Bad spelling
  • Factual errors
  • Repeated words and phrases
  • Omitted words
  • Omitted hyphens
  • Unnecessary hyphens
  • Omitted spaces
  • Unnecessary spaces
  • Wrong words (e.g., "house" instead of "horse")
  • Lowercasing proper nouns, such as "protestant"
  • Unnecessary uppercasing, such as "Church"
  • Not explaining esoteric terminology
  • Excessive informality outside of dialog (e.g., "my mom" instead of "my mother"
  • Not knowing when to use quote marks and italics
  • Over-long sentences and paragraphs
  • Improper dashes
  • Too many em dashes
  • Not verifying spelling of names (it's the Philips company, but a phillips screw)

Control yourself.

All writers have quirks that need to be controlled by their editors or by the writers themselves. Sometimes an editor who is paid by a writer will be inclined to not make a correction ("heck, it's his personal style") that an editor paid by a publisher would correct. That's why it's important for a self-pubber to recognize personal quirks and foibles and try hard to keep the undesirable, unnecessary and weird off the printed page.

Just as your style sheet specifies the type font for breaker heads and whether you capitalize the "W" in "web," it's good to have a list -- at least in your head -- of screw-ups to avoid.

One of my perpetual problems is giving too many examples. It's partly pedantry, which I inherited from my father. It may also be a bit of egomania, to show off how much I know.

My natural impulse is to write something like, "British automobile manufacturers -- such as Jaguar, Rover, MG, Triumph, Vauxhall, Austin and Morris -- had reputations for unreliable electrical systems."

Under my self-imposed limit, I am allowed ONLY THREE EXAMPLES," so I'd probably ditch Triumph, Vauxhall, Austin and Morris. I'd still make my point, and save some bytes and trees.

More advice in my Self-Editing for Self-Publishers (What to do before the real editor starts editing-or if you're the only editor)


Top illustration from MG photo from Brett Weinstein. Thanks.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Important website and blog advice for authors, Part 2

BEFORE I GET STARTED, here are four big blogging sins to avoid:
  1. I know of one blog that has so many guest posts that it's losing its identity and I visit it less often than I used to. Remember -- people choose late-night TV shows because they like Stephen, Trevor, Jimmy or the other Jimmy, not because of the guests. Limit the number and frequency of guest posts. 
  2. The blog of Outskirts Press boss Brent Sampson used to provide good advice for authors. Now it contains mostly puffery about Outskirts, so there is little reason to visit or read. Make your blog useful -- not just self-serving.
  3. Some blogs that provide useful and important information have not been updated in so long that I no longer bother with them and may miss something useful or important. Post often and on a regular schedule.
  4. Everything an author writes is a sample, an audition, for books. Write and edit carefully. Don't rush your blog or write while you are sleepy. Don't let potential book buyers think you are stupid or sloppy.
  5. Make sure that the links you publish go where they're supposed to go. Don't send visitors to the wrong place, or to oblivion.

Yesterday I discussed websites. Today's subject is the blog (“web log”). A blog is a specialized form of website. It’s like an online diary or journal, but it’s written for the world to read -- not just you and your heirs. If you are an author, you should seriously consider writing a blog, or several blogs. You are now reading my blog. Hello.

A blog usually consists of some introductory text plus multiple entries (“posts” or “postings”) displayed with the newest post on top, followed by older posts. The main page of a blog typically displays three to ten posts, and there are links to older posts that may be grouped by year, topic or both.

I (mostly) like Blogger, which hosts this blog. It's owned by Google, and it's free. The Google connection makes it easy to “monetize” a blog by carrying small "AdSense" ads on it. I like Wordpress, too.

You're not stuck with the awkward web address (URL, "Uniform Resource Locator") provided by your hosting company. This blog was originally located at For a few bucks per year I simplified it to 

Create new posts often -- at least twice a week. Don’t be reluctant to publish reruns, particularly of popular posts, updated if possible and with a new title. You should be constantly attracting new readers, so don’t assume that someone who sees a post on 8/4/13 also saw it on 11/7/10. Some items may be tied to the calendar and deserve annual or more-frequent publication. 

The blog should show your book cover(s), say something about it or them, and provide a link for ordering. You can also show and describe future books.

It’s common for an author’s blog to include full chapters or shorter book sections as previews to entice readers.

Some blogs deal with specific subjects such as politics, investing, parenting, publishing, food or travel, and others include whatever the blogger feels like writing about. Some are interesting, informative and entertaining -- and others are boring and useless.

Any news about your book -- such as awards, bestseller status, sales milestones, book signings, etc. -- should be touted in your blog. You can also conduct contests to build readership.

Make your blog as accurate and up-to-date as possible. Read, reread and re-reread to remove typing errors. Check your facts and spelling. Take past dates out of your calendar of upcoming events. Wait about an hour before you announce a new post so you can eliminate stupid errors you missed earlier.

Some blogs attract only a handful of visitors each day. Others attract hundreds or even many thousands. The more people who read your blog, the more people who may read your books. Blog traffic builds gradually. Don't expect huge numbers on your first day, or even in your first year. When this blog started in 2007 I had about 120 visitors per day. My traffic is now between 2,000 and 3,000 people on most days. That's not what the New York Times receives, but I'm not complaining. 

Blogger (and presumably Wordpress and other hosts) provide analytics that will tell you about your visitors (where they come from, what browsers they use, if they are mobile, etc.). To me, the most important data is the number of readers for each post. If you know which topics are the most popular, you can choose to write more posts about that topic.

Followers can elect to be notified whenever a new post appears. Some bloggers send out notices via Twitter or email to announce new posts. It’s important to build a strong following of regular readers. You can join a “circle” or “network” of bloggers with similar interests. Their blogs may send people to you, and vice-versa. Although I’m a “he,” I am a member of She Writes.

Most blogs are interactive to some degree, allowing reader comments or even interaction between the blogger and readers, and among readers.

Some authors’ blogs deal with a book, only. Others deal with the subject of a book or books, or life in general. If you write nonfiction and you are perceived as an expert in some field, or even if you are merely entertaining, you can build a following of readers who may buy books even if your book is not the main focus of your blog. If you write a history book or how-to book about bicycles or electric trains, you probably know a lot about the topics and can churn out regular blog posts day after day, year after year.
  • You can publish a blog not related to your book(s), but include ads for your books. I do that with my newest blog, The Finick.
Anyone searching for topics you’ve blogged about can find links to your blog, find your blog, and see an ad for your book and maybe buy it. Google typically indexes this blog less than an hour after I publish it.

It’s tougher for fiction. Many novelists’ blogs seem to attract only other novelists -- not readers. If you are a novelist who specializes in post-apocalyptic gay teenage albino vampire sex, how many blog posts about your novel could you come up with over the years? Three? One? Maybe a better strategy for a novelist would be to blog with news and opinions about something remotely related to the book topic -- like teenage sex, vampires or albinos -- that might catch searchers who might be interested in reading a novel.

Novelists will probably find it’s better to have a website that’s updated a few times a year instead of trying to blog hundreds of times a year. Unless you write books about writing, don't write about writing. Readers of novels probably won't care about how many words you churned out last night or if your cat dumped coffee on your keyboard.

Before you “go public,” publish five or more posts. This way, when you do go public, people who find you will spend more time on your blog, and people who are not interested in a particular topic are more likely to read your other posts than to merely dismiss you and go elsewhere.

Build up a backlog of posts (some complete, some almost complete and some that may be just concepts or titles). If you come up “dry” on a particular day, look at your pending post list.

Read, read, read and listen, listen, listen. New blog posts won’t always pop magically from your brain. You can publish your reaction (which can be praise, condemnation or amplification) of what you’ve read online or on paper, or a movie or TV show you’ve watched, even a conversation you’ve overheard.

Periodically change the way your blog looks (I redecorated this week, and I'm still fine-tuning). You can change a background color, change the title typeface, move the sidebar from one side to the other, change the sequence of items in the sidebar. Don’t let readers think, “same old same old.” This goes for websites as well as blogs.

See how your blog looks with different browsers, on a PC and Mac, tablet and smartphone, and make any needed adjustments. Colors may appear differently on different screens. Don't be too garish, or fade into oblivion.

Publish early in the day, before 9 a.m. eastern time -- or even earlier.

In your spare time, check your old posts. Fix what needs fixing and remove anything you don't feel right about.

Get known! Announce your blog and your latest post every time you can. Your blog address should be part of the signature you use in email and online. Put time and effort into Facebook, LinkedIn, maybe Twitter, and participating in appropriate online groups.

Get friendly with other complementary bloggers. Exchange links or ads and "guest-post" for each other. Limit the frequency of guest posts to maybe one or two a month.

More help in The One Buck Book Marketing Book.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Important website and blog advice for authors, Part 1

“Platform” is a major buzzword in current publishing.

It’s not the same as a political party’s platform. Think of it as a metaphor for a structure that will boost you up and make you visible to potential readers, sources of publicity and bookstore buyers. Components in your platform include websites, blogs, business connections, social media, radio and TV appearances, quotes in media, online men­tions, speeches, articles, friends, neighbors, etc. Your first book is part of your platform and should help sell your later books. If you hope to convince a publisher to invest in your book, you'll need to prove you have a platform.

(above) Website home page for Barbara Barth, author of superb book, The Unfaithful Widow.

It’s extremely important to have a website, or several websites, to provide information about you and your books. It’s neither difficult nor expensive to build and maintain a website, and most self-publishing companies can provide basic websites for their authors.

If you don’t have a website, you are missing a major opportunity to impress and interact with potential readers. Readers expect authors to have websites. Don’t disappoint them. You can have a website to promote one book, a series of books, a cause you support, your publishing companyyou as an author, you as a person, etc. The more, the merrier.  The more sites you have, the more likely it is that people will find you, and the more opportunities you will have to sell books. Your site or sites should have information that will be useful and interesting to potential readers, as well as to members of the media. 

Fortune magazine once said that a website would take six months to develop and cost $500,000. A well-known book marketing expert wrote that a writer’s website could cost as much as $6,000 to set up. Both costs are very wrong and could needlessly scare off writers who would benefit from having websites.

Today you can develop a website for zero dollars and no cents in less than an hour, and pay less than $5 per month to a “hosting company” to make the site available to the world. Prices at 1&1 and GoDaddy can be as low as $3.99 per month. I use Wix (starting at $4.08 per month), Network  Solutions (starting at $4.95 per month) and Yahoo (starting at $2.50 per month). 

 Free hosting is available from several companies, but is generally not a good idea because you’ll get a long, clumsy, ugly, amateur-sounding URL (“Uniform Resource Locator” or web address) like http://billsbook. instead of

Never get a URL with a hyphen in it (unless it’s a product name or term that is already hyphenated). If the name or term is hyphenated, your website should work both with and without the hyphen. The Coke website can be reached by typing either or Or

Short URLs are better than long ones.

While URLs can end in a variety of ways, including the ubiquitous dot-com, as well as dot-net, dot-USA, dot-CA, dot-TV and others, it’s generally best to use dot-com. If your website is, many people will go to They may find nothing—or a competitor.

Resist the temptation to use the dot-net version of a URL that’s already in use as a dot-com.

As of the end of 2011, there were reported to be more than 225 million URLs in use! While it’s been said that all of the good URLs have been taken, your book name should be unique, so you have a pretty good chance of getting it as a URL. If you want a URL with your personal name in it, you may face some competition.

Pay a few bucks so you will own similar URLs to capture bad spellers and to lock out potential competitors. Direct them to your site. You can register the alternate “phantom” URLs at NetworkSolutions and have traffic forwarded to the real website address.

Many book websites include an “online press kit” that replaces the once-common cardboard portfolio. At a minimum, the kit (which is really a page or a section of a website) should include a news release (“press release”) about the book, plus photos of the cover and the author and a brief author’s biography.

Some book websites sell books. Mine don’t. They have links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble which sell my books. I want to write and promote books, not operate a warehouse and shipping department. I make money when someone follows a link to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and buys a book. It’s easy money. If your website does not allow people to order books, include links to your books on bookselling sites. Don’t just mention that the book is “available at”

Obviously, your website should inform people what your book is about and try to convince them why it is vital that they buy it. The site is a good place to post reviews and comments from readers, reviewers and previewers, and to note awards the book has won. You can also show your table of contents and some excerpts to get people interested.

(above) There was nothing on Kevin Dorival's website that explains how to get a free copy of his book. The name of the publisher is probably not "Self-Publishing."

Make sure your website is complete, accurate and has no dead links, inaccurate links or template artifacts (below).

Update your site at least three times per year. Add content. Remove stale content (especially dates for events that have already passed). Change colors, type and layout. The site should seem fresh, not stale or neglected. Make sure your copyright notice has the current year. If It's October or later you can put in the next year so you won't have to remember to change it in January.

Some authors hire website designers. I don't.  You don’t need any special talent, experience or training to put a website together. Most hosting companies offer adequate and attractive templates which you can use as-is or modify if you want to. They are WYSIWYG (pronounced “wizzy wig” and standing for “What You See Is What You Get”) and allow you to get online in a few minutes—but you may spend the rest of your life updating and fine-tuning.

If you have stronger creative impulses, you can design a website from scratch using such software as Microsoft FrontPage (discontinued, but still useful), PageBreeze, Adobe’s DreamWeaver, and Microsoft’s Expression Web and SharePoint Designer.

There are books and businesses that specialize in SEO (search engine optimization), the process of getting a website into a top position in Google, Bing, Excite, Yahoo and lesser search engines.

The SEO experts charge for their services, but I’ll gladly give you some free tips based on personal experience.

People search for keywords (specific important terms, like “bicycle” or “Cambodia”) and it’s important that your book website include all relevant keywords, used as often as possible, without seeming obvious, artificial or awkward.

Include important keywords as often as possible without seeming artificial.Don’t try to scam the search engines by using white type on a white background, black on black, etc..

A keyword may actually be a phrase, not just a single word. If you think that people will be searching for “dirt bike” or “comfort bike,” and those phrases are appropriate for your book, they belong in your website, too.

Keep in mind that many potential readers don’t know that your book exists, but may simply be searching for information about buying or using a product. If you have a book about bicycles or amateur beer making, you want to attract people who are shopping for bikes or hops or need advice about fixing a flat or deciding on dry vs. liquid yeast.

Keyword-based online ads, such as Google’s AdWords, are great for driving potential book buyers to your website or to sites that sell your book. Unlike a mass of shotgun pellets, they are like aiming one bullet at a single, near­­­by target.

Because the ads should be seen only by people who are searching for specific subjects that your book deals with, they can provide a lot of website traffic for a few cents to a few dollars per mouse click.

Google’s legendary algorithm that determines a website’s position has been subject to much speculation, and it’s protected as carefully as the formula for making Coca-Cola. One key ingredient in Google ranking is the number of inbound links to a website. Google assumes that the more sites that link to a particular site, the better that site is, and the higher it deserves to be in the Google list. Google interprets a link from Susan’s website to Charlie’s website as a vote by Susan in favor of Charlie.

You should create inbound links in any legitimate way you can. If you post a comment in an online forum, put your website address in it. If you’re active in LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networks, promote your website there. Every email you send can list your site, and, of course, the web address belongs on your business cards and letterheads. If you have multiple websites, each one should promote the others. You can also ask the operators of other compatible but not competing websites to exchange links with you.

Some people will find your website by searching for terms that are within the site, and others may search for the name of your company, a book or your personal name. If Google thinks your company is important, it will provide links to interior pages—not just the home page. My Silver Sands Books site gets treated just as well as book giant Simon & Schuster, which is part of CBS. Simon publishes about 2,000 book titles each year. So far, we did eight In our best year but Google makes us look important.

There are lots of schemes for getting other sites to link to yours, but some businesses do very well simply by having a good site with useful information presented in a pleasant way.

To judge your progress, you can use websites such as WhoLinksToMe. These are the results for one of my websites: Google PageRank: 4. Google Links: 54. Yahoo Links: 2,940. Bing Related: 309.

Older sites tend to rank higher than newer ones. Even if your book won’t be out for a year, get a preview online right away so you can gradually make your way upward in the lists.

Track your traffic (hits). If few people visit your site, maybe you don’t have enough of the proper keywords or maybe you chose the wrong subject to write about.

 Use search engines to find what people are saying about you or your book. If you find an error, try to correct it.

Sooner or later the bots (robot indexers) or web crawlers used by the search engines should find your website, but it can’t hurt to tell them you exist. You may get emails from services that promise to Submit Your Website to 300,000 Top Search Engines for only $299. There are not 300,000 top search engines, or even 30. You should care about only a few. When you launch your website, notify the major search engines.

At least once a day, check to see that your website is really “on the air.” There are services that will check for you, such as WebsiteAvailability.

Tomorrow: blogging for authors

more in The One-Buck Author's Website Book