Covers, Titles, and SEO. Whaaaaaaaat?

When I was involved in academia, I was never particularly interested in academia. Let me explain. I’ve been an excellent speller since I learned how to read and write. It drives me nuts to read grammatically incorrect writing. I had some wonderful teaching experiences when students were truly engaged in the learning process. I love literature. Even more than that, I love analyzing literature. Sounds kind of academic, huh? So, you can see why I ended up gravitating in that direction. These loves and obsessions combined with the fact that higher education seems to be the path of least resistance for channeling them. I remember telling Jeff Richards, then Chair of the English Department at ODU, that I wished I could write literary analysis without worrying about the academic journals or having a PhD. At the time, nobody published lit analysis outside of journals, and even Jeff couldn’t contemplate alternatives. I realize now that I’ve always resisted getting a PhD because I’m not by nature an academic. I love reading, but give me anything THEORY to read, and my eyes glaze over. For the purposes of this post, we shall equate theory with academia, though it occurs to me that another post might be in order to try to delineate my definition of, and aversion to, the concept of academia. Right now, I’m seeing how many times I can just repeat the word!

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. First, I started listening to a podcast called Income School, which was overwhelming me with information and inspiration. One of the ideas it planted in my head was the idea of an ebook. I was, at the moment of listening, relating that to photography. But later, in talking to a friend and co-worker, the idea hit me that I could self publish a literary analysis book. Maybe even a series of books. With self publishing ebooks on sites like Amazon, there are no limits! By the time I left work that evening, I had hatched a plan. My first book would be one I merely needed to put together and edit. In grad school, I had developed an intense interest in Virginia Woolf (read related blog post here), and still had my rather lengthy essays backed up to an external hard drive.

After a lifetime of assuming that any publishing I might do would be completely dependent upon the whims of others, it is so refreshing to know that I can do this myself with today’s technology. How do I know? Because I just did it! Go check it out right now, and then come back and read up on how I did it. I will give you a broad outline of the tasks involved.

The tasks:

Upon researching how to do this for myself, the first obstacle I encountered was the realization that I needed a decent cover. Everyone who has ever written on this topic stresses the importance of a good cover. Even though we shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover,” apparently we do. Literally. Most sources recommend hiring a graphic designer, but I don’t have a budget for that and I’ve been learning Photoshop lately, so I decided to take it on myself. My task was made a bit easier by the fact that there are a small variety of public domain images of Woolf. I chose a high resolution image of Woolf, and since I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, I also found some high resolution images of wood grain (if you do this, be sure they are free public domain images before using). I then spent several hours trying out different variations of blending the Woolf photo with the various wood grain photos, one at a time. I eventually settled on which wood grain photo I wanted to use, and then experimented with opacity. Although it was after hours of work, it still seemed magical when I came up with just the right settings to make my composite photo for the cover. Truth be told, the final image is a blend of three different photos, not two. One is just a gray background that seems to give it more of a 3 dimensional effect. After that, it was just a matter of how, where, and in which font I added the text. And voila! I had a cover! Phew.

The next step was bringing the essays to my current laptop to proofread and edit. I was surprised by how well written and argued they were. I half expected to not want to publish them after all. I had, however, changed a lot of my stylistic preferences since I had written the essays. That required an afternoon or two of careful reading and line editing. Normally, I suppose the writing and editing of the text will probably be step number 1.

After that, I wrote a preface to the book addressing myself to the most likely audience for it: students. I also set up camera in my living room and took some bad head shots of myself. Those head shots needed a lot of editing in Lightroom since I don’t have a proper lighting setup in my living room, and I was immensely grateful that the picture would be printed so small!

After integrating those into my document, I opened a publishing account on Amazon and started the process of getting this sucker to look reasonable on most devices. The previewer will show you what it looks like on three or four different Kindles, as well as the ipad and iphone. I’m sure there is a much more efficient way to do this, but I had to upload, edit, and re-upload at least twelve times before it seemed acceptable on most devices. Since I knew I wouldn’t be doing major marketing for this, at least not right away, I had gone into the project accepting that it would not be perfect. It would be the best I could do right then. This is a big deal for me, such a milestone! The old Tracey would have nuked it until she chucked it into the bin out of disgust and frustration. It never did look right on the iphone preview, but I finally decided that surely not too many people had the patience to read anything of substance on such a small device, and about 30 minutes ago, I hit the publish button. Boom! I have a book!

VWcoverAmazon says it will take up to two days to actually publish, so if it’s not there yet, check back later. If you purchase and read, I would be very pleased with an Amazon review. All I ask is that if it is negative, please say something useful and productive instead of just being negative. Better yet, you could send those critiques to my email via the contact page instead. As for marketing, for now my theory is that since Amazon has SEO (Search Engine Optimization), when students (or anybody) is searching for Virginia Woolf or the titles of the two novels I work with in my book, it will pop up. I am sure that is naïve, whether to a small or great extent remains to be seen. For now, telling everyone I know about it, and SEO will be my only marketing efforts, as I do not have a marketing budget (but I think we’ve covered that). Please check it out and let me know what you think. Also, if you have any insight into how to do this process in a better or more streamlined manner, PLEASE let us all know in the comments!

2 Comments on “Covers, Titles, and SEO. Whaaaaaaaat?

  1. The title of your book after the colon upended any expectations of what I thought it might be before the colon. But perhaps this is due to my own ignorance: never read Virginia Woolf! Oops.

    If I did would the wood grain background have more significance?

    Oh and good on you, Tracey, for putting a book together and publishing it, no matter the outcome.

    • Michael, regarding the title, it’s good for marketing 😉 Maybe. Sorta.

      Re: the wood grain: no, I just didn’t want a plain old picture of VW, wanted to give it some depth.

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