Howto: Book Samplers

MCMMonday, September 13, 2010

This is the first in a series of posts offering real, solid, practical advice on how to be a weblit author. They're in no particular order, so get ready for some crazy focus shifting!

Let's say you're going to an event like a convention, and you want to spread the word about your writing. Postcards are good, and bookmarks are useful, but they all depend on someone taking the time to follow through to your URL. You need something more immediate, more directly-useful. They need to see WHY you're worth visiting. That's where the book sampler comes in.

The traditional book sampler usually consists of several pieces of letter-sized paper, folded in half and stapled so they make a booklet. The benefit of this format is that you can cram as much in there as you can afford, and the dimensions are somewhat similar to a proper book. The downside is that they're not always cheap to produce, and the more you pack into them, the harder they are to carry around. The quicker and cheaper alternative is the tri-fold book sampler, made out of a single sheet of paper.

The trifold can hold about 1,000 words of content, as well as a cover and marketing material to help your readers take action. They're thin and light so they're easy to carry, and they pack enough punch to convince people you're the best writer on the planet. Take a look at the two spreads below, which are from the sampler I made for Typhoon...

So how do you make one? Very easy! Open your favourite word processor and let's get started!

  1. You're using letter-sized paper (or local equivalent).
  2. Set your page alignment to landscape mode.
  3. Minimize your margins. You'll need to play with your output printer, but you can usually get away with 1/4 of an inch on all sides. Whatever it is, keep track of it.
  4. Set your page layout to have three columns. The space between the columns should be TWO TIMES whatever your margins are.
  5. Set your font to be something like 10-point size, with line spacing at about 1.1. I use serif fonts (Minion, Timesish stuff), but you can use anything.

Now comes the hard part. Filling it all in.

The cover is in the first column on the first page. Remember that you probably can't print straight to the edge of the page, so when you design the cover for this product, you want to cover up that deficiency (or at least take it into account). Also, the folds in your paper may not be exactly where you expect them to be, so you're either going to have an equal margin on the right side of your cover image, or you're going to want to wrap it around onto the back of the tri-fold somehow (see fold lines below). Make sure your cover is punchy and powerful, and (unlike my version here), put the title near the top. People don't seem to notice it when it's at the bottom.

The action page is in the middle column on this page. I used it to advertise other titles, but it'd be ideal for quotes, URLs or author bio information. This will be the back of the tri-fold, so it's the second-most viewed part of your presentation. Use it well.

The sample itself starts in the third column, and then flows to fill the entire second page. I included a little "read more at..." box at the end of the text, but if you used your action page for that, you wouldn't need to. Put page numbers at the bottom of these pages, because there's a good chance people won't intuitively figure out how to read it, and the numbers may save your life. If your text is too long, I STRONGLY recommend trimming your content, not shrinking your font size. 10-point text in Minion is at the low end of what most people would find readable, and if you reduce it any further, you're asking for trouble. When you pick your text, it doesn't necessarily need to be the first chapter. This is like your textual trailer... it needs to catch the reader's imagination and make them NEED to see more. Don't waste it setting the mood or on contemplative text (unless your whole story is like that). This may be your one shot to convince someone to read more.

Printing and folding can be done by a printer for relatively little money. It's a simple double-sided job, but when the proof is done, make sure you actually measure the margins to ensure they're what you wanted them to be. If you're off by even a few millimetres, it can screw up your folds. You can print a few dozen copies yourself, but I would strongly recommend getting them folded by your local Kinko's or Staples. The price is usually $0.02/sheet, and they do it overnight, which is a much better deal than a thousand papercuts on your fingertips and sloppily-folded samplers. You're folding in a standard tri-fold format, but technically upside-down from the usual approach (you open the sampler on the right, not the left like a regular book).

Here's a little more about book samplers, based on actual experience...

Big oops

I brought sets of book samplers to FanExpo in Toronto, and watched closely how people interacted with them. The biggest mistake I made was standardized formatting of the cover area. You can see I have "Book Sampler" on the side... despite the fact that it properly identifies what the thing is, a lot of people assumed the five samplers were different parts of the same book. In the top 2/3 of your cover, it's probably best if each of your samplers look entirely unique.

Another important thing to consider is writing "FREE" somewhere on the cover, so people know they can take one. It should be obvious, but I noticed a lot of people passing on taking one, and even more asking me "are these free?" This, despite the fact there was a big label above them that said "TAKE ONE, THEY'RE FREE".

Effectiveness of trifold samplers

Based on my recent experience, I'd say the samplers produced pretty good business. I gave away about 250 of each book (5 books total, so about 1,200 samplers) and it turned into 600 direct-to-book hits on the site. As far as marketing goes, they're far more effective than most banner ads. I created these things at the last minute, and if I'd had half a brain, I would have make trackable URLs to see how many of the visitors actually went on to read more than one page (or buy a copy of a book). You could try that on yours!

So that's trifold samplers. Very easy to make, and highly effective in the right environment. If you make one (or improve on the concept), please let everyone know by leaving a comment below. And hey, if you think it's stupid and won't make one, tell us that too!

Finally, I want to invite anyone in the weblit community to send me their "How To" posts and ideas for this series. If you've done something cool you think other people could use as a foundation, just send me an email and we'll get you hooked up!

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