Writing

Self-Published Book Awards: Are They Right for You?

 

Image Credit: Franz Diwischek

Image Credit: Franz Diwischek

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Even though the stigma of self-publishing has decreased over the last few years, it can still be difficult for indie authors to find ways to gain recognition and respect for their books.

Book awards are one way to help overcome that hurdle. Some of the best awards give the winners media exposure (leading to more book sales), cash prizes, and opportunities to speak with agents/editors from traditional publishing (if that’s a path the winner wants to consider). Beyond that, having an award win, or even an honorable mention, adds credibility to you and your book.

But not all awards are created equal. Some are scams. Some won’t give a good enough return on investment for your time and entry fees.

Before we enter any contest, we should ask ourselves a few questions about our book and about the potential competition.

If you’d like to read the rest of this post, please join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University where I’m talking about “Self-Published Book Awards: Are They Right for You?” as my regular monthly guest post.

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue. Now available in print!

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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A Crash Course in Horror Sub-Genres

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira (via freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira (via freeimages.com)

Due to reader requests, I’ve extended my genre series to include horror.

As I bring this series to a close, I wanted to remind you that I can’t cover absolutely every option. My goal is to give you the main categories, so you can better understand where your book might fit or what you might be interested in writing in the future. Of all the genres I’ve covered so far, horror is the least clear cut in its sub-genres, but I think it’s still helpful as writers to at least attempt to categorize what style of story we’re writing.

Back in my post on fantasy genres, I noted that science fiction, fantasy, and horror often get lumped together into the category of speculative fiction, yet there are major differences between the three.

According to the Horror Writers Association, “horror can deal with the mundane or the supernatural, with the fantastic or the normal. It doesn’t have to be full of ghosts, ghouls, and things to go bump in the night. Its only true requirement is that it elicit an emotional reaction that includes some aspect of fear or dread.”

Great horror will tap into commonly held fears and should evoke feelings of terror, repulsion, loathing, and stress in the reader. One question people who don’t like horror frequently ask is why readers would want to scare themselves. Why would they want to experience those negative emotions? Before we can write good horror, we have to be able to answer that question.

In her essay “Elements of Aversion,” Elizabeth Barrette pointed out that our fight-or-flight response isn’t as necessary in modern society as it once was, but that we still crave the adrenaline rush. Hence, the horror genre was born. But Barrette also argues—and I agree—that the best horror does more.

She writes, “Sometimes a story intends to shock and disgust, but the best horror intends to rattle our cages and shake us out of our complacency. It makes us think, forces us to confront ideas we might rather ignore, and challenges preconceptions of all kinds. Horror reminds us that the world is not always as safe as it seems, which exercises our mental muscles and reminds us to keep a little healthy caution close at hand.”

Anyone who studied Dracula in university has heard the rhetoric about how the author was commenting on both the sexually oppressive norms of the time and on the corruptness and excess of the upper classes.

But all speculative fiction genres intend to force us to think and to shake us from our complacency.

Horror is unique in two ways. The first is the intensity of the warning and the second is the antagonistic force.

Horror will generally be much darker in tone and will make your heart race more frequently than will either science fiction or fantasy. Horror means to scare the reader, whereas the most science fiction or fantasy mean to do is warn them. It’s the difference between the weather forecaster on the news telling you that your area is under a tornado watch (fantasy/science fiction) and a local warning siren going off, telling you that you need to take cover immediately because a tornado is bearing down on your house (horror).

Unlike in any other genre, the antagonist in horror must always be a villain. Every book needs an antagonist (someone who stands in the way of our main character reaching their goal), but not every book needs a villain (who is, by definition, evil) as the antagonist. In horror, the villain must be, literally or figuratively, a monster.

Philosopher and film critic Noël Carroll put this best in his book The Philosophy of Horror. He said that a horror story must have a “menace” in it, and that menace needed to meet two criteria.

(1) It needed to be physically, psychologically, socially, morally, and/or spiritually threatening.

(2) It needed to be unnatural in some way. Carroll used the term “impure” because he didn’t mean that the menace couldn’t be naturally occurring in our world. He meant that the menace needed to be abnormal. A sentient car that wants to kill people is abnormal, but so is a serial killer. In some way, the menace must violate the norms of our society.

The most well-known award for horror is the Bram Stoker Award, presented by the Horror Writer’s Association.

Defining Horror Sub-Genres

Psychological Horror – You won’t find as much physical violence in psychological horror. In fact, you might find none at all. The trauma and agony in psychological horror is mental, and paranoia, suspicion, self-doubt, and mental illness are common.

Slasher Horror – When it comes to horror stories, slasher horror is the most graphic. The violence is depicted in detail, and the focus is often on the fragility of the human body. A common trope of this sub-genre is that the killer is seeking vengeance or to punish wrongs. So, for example, a community committed some horrible crime in the past and now the killer has returned to take revenge, or the (usually young) cast engages in illicit activities (like sex, drugs, or horrific bullying) and the killer wants to punish them.

Supernatural Horror – Stephen King became famous for his supernatural horror. As you might have already guessed from the name, supernatural horror contains supernatural abilities or beings—psychic powers gone wrong, vampires, the devil, demonic possession, poltergeists, and so on.

A sub-set of supernatural horror is ghost stories. Ghost stories aren’t always horror however. It comes down to the intent of the writer and the emotions they want to evoke in the reader. If your ghosts create a real threat for other people in your story, then you likely have a horror on your hands.

Survival Horror – The setting is what defines a survival horror story. Your character is separated from the wider civilization and not only has to survive the environment around him but also has to evade the terror stalking him. This isn’t the same as “teenagers in a cabin” in a slasher film. Your character is more likely the only survivor (or so he thinks) of some catastrophe or has become stranded with only a small group of other humans…followed by things going even more terribly wrong. The setting itself plays a large role in the horror because of the isolation from outside help and additional challenges it creates.

Science-Fiction Horror – You might think this one shouldn’t be included because it looks like it’s just a joining of two genres, and couldn’t we mash any two genres together this way? Yes and no. Horror doesn’t combine with any other genre in the same way that it does with science fiction. Science-fiction horror is a well-established sub-genre of horror and not of science fiction. It’s a horror story set in space, usually with alien creatures as the villains. Alien and Prometheus are both examples of this sub-genre.

Are there any sub-genres of horror you’d like to add to this list? If you’re a reader or writer of horror, what about the genre appeals to you?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

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A Crash Course in Romance Sub-Genres

Romance GEnreBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome to the second to last post in my genre rundown. I hope you’re feeling more confident when it comes to genres (a topic that gives most writers a headache). Today we’re taking a look at romance.

What Is Romance?

A romance is a story where the central focus (and the core conflict) revolves around a romantic relationship between two people. Unless you want angry readers, a mandatory ingredient is a happy ending.

If you’re writing romances, it would be a very smart move for you to join your local chapter of the RWA (Romance Writers of America). Because of how big and popular romance is as a genre, romance writers have more awards to pursue than any other genre, but the most coveted are probably the RITA (for published novels) and the Golden Heart (for unpublished novels).

Defining Romance Sub-Genres

Romance is slightly more complicated when it comes to classifying it than are the other genres because, along with the sub-genres per say, you also need to define the heat level of your romance.

Heat level in romance refers to how intense and explicit the intimate scenes are. Romance novelist Starla Kaye gives an excellent overview of heat levels in romance at her website, including what publisher lines print them and the classifications given to the various levels by different publishers.

Once you know your heat level, you can pick one of the following . . .

Contemporary Romance – As the name suggests, contemporary romances take place post 1960. This is kind of a catch-all category for romance that doesn’t fit in any of the others.

Historical Romance – The line dividing a historical romance from a contemporary romance is, frankly, a little fuzzy. If your book is set pre-1960, you’re probably safe calling it a historical romance, but my suggestion for this one is to find out what your ideal publisher defines as historical and go with their dividing line. If you plan to self-publish, look at how similar books are categorized on Amazon.

Western Romance – Set in the American frontier, or in a contemporary “western” setting such as the Canadian prairies or Australian outback, western romance readers expect to experience horses, cowboys, and a simpler way of life (though not a simpler plot line).

Gothic Romance – Gothic romance combines romance and horror and often involves a mystery. The darkness and terror should complement the sexual tension between your main characters.

Regency Romance – Set in regency-era (circa 1790-1820) Great Britain, it takes more than just a location and time period to make a successful regency romance. Readers expect wit and fast-paced dialogue like that found in Jane Austen’s novels. This sub-genre is less likely to include open discussions of sex than the other sub-genres (but a lot of subtext and innuendo can replace it). Marriages of convenience, false engagements, mistaken identities, and large differences in social class are popular elements.

Romantic Suspense – Romantic suspense is the most plot-driven of all romance and usually involves a strong heroine who finds herself in a dangerous situation. The key to a successful romantic suspense is to blend both elements so that neither overwhelms the other.

Paranormal Romance – Paranormal romances usually involve a romantic relationship between a human and a ghost, vampire, shapeshifter, werewolf, or some other non-human or quasi-human being. They can also focus around psychic abilities. Unlike with fantasies, the romance rather than the otherworldly elements is central. Kait Nolan’s Red and Jennette Marie Powell’s Hanger 18 Legacy are examples of paranormal romance. (As is Twilight technically.) Many people get confused about whether their book is urban fantasy or paranormal romance, but the answer is actually simple. If the core conflict of your book revolves around the romance, you’re writing a paranormal romance. If the core conflict of your book revolves around something else, even if it has strong romantic elements, it’s an urban fantasy.

Inspirational Romance – Inspirational romances will always fall to the most conservative end of the heat spectrum. If you want to sell an inspirational romance, don’t try to push the envelope. The envelope isn’t going to budge, and you’re just going to end up with a lot of very painful paper cuts. Inspirational romances always end either in marriage or the very strong potential for marriage, and the characters’ faith journeys need to be central to the plot and their relationship. Inspirational romance can serve as an umbrella category for the other sub-genres as well. For example, you could be writing a romantic suspense that’s also an inspirational romance because of the faith element to it (ala Dee Henderson’s books). Author Jody Hedlund writes inspirational historical romance.

If you’re writing a romance, regardless of the sub-genre, I strongly recommend you read Jami Gold’s post What Makes a Romance Believable?

Where does your book fit? What do you love about romance novels? What do you hate?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

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4 Tips for Setting Up Your International Amazon Author Central Pages

Amazon InternationalBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last month, I walked you through the 6 Steps for Setting Up Your Amazon Author Page. In that post, I talked exclusively about your author profile on Amazon.com, but Amazon sells books all over the world. While setting up our author page on Amazon.com is the most important (because that’s where we’re likely to sell the most books), we shouldn’t overlook our author pages elsewhere.

You might be thinking, Why do I want to take the time to do that for non-English speaking countries?

The answer is simple. English is the most common second language in the world. Even if English isn’t the primary language of Germany or India or China, many people living in those countries still speak it, read it, or are trying to learn. Creating an author page on international sites gives us a leg up over authors who only bother to update their Amazon.com page.

Because you’ll want to add the same information as you did for your Amazon.com author page, I won’t go over all of that again. You can read my previous post for details. What I’m going to focus on in this post are the unique things to keep in mind when we’re updating our pages on the international sites.

I’m doing my regular monthly guest post today at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, so if you’d like to read the rest of this post, please join me there.

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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A Crash Course in Mystery Sub-Genres

Mystery Genres

Image Credit: Lance Kidwell

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In my genre examination I’ll still be covering romance and horror. If there’s any genre that I haven’t covered that you wish I would, please leave a comment or send me an email. If enough people request a post on a not-yet-covered genre, I’ll happily oblige. These Thursday writing posts are meant to help you.

What Is a Mystery?

Last time we talked about genre, I picked apart the differences between mysteries, suspense, and thrillers.

In that post, I pointed out that mysteries are meant to be a puzzle. The thing that mystery readers enjoy about the genre is solving the puzzle of the crime (usually a murder) alongside the main character. If you tell them whodunit early in the story, they’ll feel cheated. The main character needs to be the one investigating the crime, but they can be either a professional detective or an amateur sleuth. Mysteries tend to share the common characteristics of red herrings and that the first person the main character suspects turns out not to be the bad guy in the end. The main character in a mystery usually isn’t in any danger throughout the book, or if she is, it’s either moderate danger or she’s only in danger as she closes in on the identity of the suspect.

If you’re a mystery writer, you may want to join the Mystery Writers of America. Two of the most prestigious awards for mystery writers are the Arthur Ellis Award (Canada only and given out by the Crime Writers of Canada) and The Edgar Allen Poe Awards (which includes the Mary Higgins Clark Award as a category).

Defining Mystery Sub-Genres

Cozy Mystery – Cozies are the softest version of mysteries. They don’t have explicit sex or violence, and are often set in small towns rather than big cities. The protagonist is a female layperson (think Murder She Wrote) with a knack for getting into trouble and solving puzzles. She’s not a member of the police or other law enforcement. In fact, the police in the story probably view her as a pest.

The fraternal twin of the cozy mystery is the hobby mystery. Basically this is a cozy where the main character is involved in a niche hobby and the crime is intimately involved with that hobby. For example, your protagonist collects rare books and a rare book is stolen from the used bookstore in town.

Elizabeth Spann Craig is a good example of a cozy mystery writer (and she also has some books that could be considered hobby mysteries).

Police Procedural – The focus of a police procedural isn’t so much on the reader figuring out who the criminal is but rather on how to catch him and prove he was the one who committed the crime. Because of this, the bad guy is often figured out earlier in the book than would be the case in other mystery sub-genres. Readers of police procedurals expect detailed descriptions of the investigative techniques used by the police. For a TV example, look no farther than CSI.

General Mystery - The protagonist in a general mystery is normally a private detective rather than a police officer (police procedural) or a layperson (cozy mystery). Oftentimes, however, the PI will have a non-PI friend/employee/client who plays a key role in the plot as well. The emphasis in these stories is definitely the puzzle of whodunit. Examples include The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton.

Historical Mystery – These stories revolve around a historically significant crime (real or fictionalized). Anne Perry and Steven Saylor are well-known writers in this sub-genre. An excellent up-and-coming author in this sub-genre (in my opinion) is K. B. Owen with her Concordia Wells mysteries.

Noir/Hardboiled Mystery – On the opposite end of the mystery spectrum from the cozy is the noir or hard-boiled sub-genre. With its realistic, gritty portrays of sex and violence and dark tone, this sub-genre got its name from its tough voice and unsentimental take on life. Protagonists are so deeply flawed, self-destructive, or damaged as to almost be anti-heroes. These mysteries aren’t for the faint of heart.

Do you prefer to know the criminal in a mystery or do you like to try to figure it out as the book goes along?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Busy Writer’s Guides Come to Print

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Since my first Busy Writer’s Guide came out, I’ve gotten one question more than any other–are these available in print?

Now, for my two most popular Busy Writer’s Guides, the answer is yes.

How to Write Dialogue and Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction are now available in print. Click on the images below to buy your copy!

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Write Dialogue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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6 Steps to a Professional Amazon Author Page

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When you sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing to publish your book on Amazon, you’ll find almost everything you need from the menu at the top of the page. They make it easy for you to update your account information, add new books, and track your sales.

But one important piece of publishing on Amazon isn’t there—your author page.

Many authors make the mistake of leaving their page blank, but it’s a powerful tool for funneling readers to your social media sites where they can better connect with you and for letting them know about your books.

Today I’m going to walk you through where to set up your author page and what you should put on it.

Please join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the rest of this post about your Amazon Author Central page!

Janice Hardy's Fiction University

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including How to Write Dialogue and Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction. They’re now available in print!

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

A Crash Course in Thriller Sub-Genres

Thriller Genres

Image Credit: Dave Dyet

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

We’re now moving away from speculative fiction in our examination of genres. This week I’m delving into thrillers, and in two weeks (after my regular monthly post at Fiction University) I’ll be looking at mysteries.

What Makes a Thriller? What’s the Difference Between a Mystery, a Suspense, and a Thriller?

Just like with the speculative fiction genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, before I can talk about thrillers, I need to go over how thrillers are different from mysteries and suspense.

A mystery is meant to be a puzzle. We don’t know who the “bad guy” is at the beginning. The reader discovers things along with the main character. The biggest difference between a mystery and a suspense or a thriller is that, in the latter two, the reader often has knowledge about the “bad guy” that the main character doesn’t.

In thrillers, we know who the “bad guy” is from the beginning. Whereas mystery readers want to figure out the who, thriller readers want to figure out the how. How is our hero going to stop the bad guy in time? In a mystery, the sleuth’s life usually isn’t in jeopardy. In a thriller, the hero’s life almost always hangs in the balance at many points during the story. Thrillers are action-packed.

The best explanation of suspense I’ve ever heard came from Alfred Hitchcock. He said suspense is “a state of waiting for something to happen.” The example he gave was of a couple eating in a restaurant and a bomb goes off. If we had no forewarning, it’s surprise. If we watched the villain planting the bomb and then page after page agonized over whether the couple was going to get out of the restaurant in time, whether the bomb was actually going to go off, or whether someone would discover the bomb in time to stop it, you have suspense.

There are two main differences between suspense and thrillers. The first is that, unlike thrillers, a suspense doesn’t need to be action-packed. There’s tension and danger, but not necessarily a lot of physical daring do (like car chases). But the biggest difference between suspense and thrillers is the scope. Thrillers tend to have big picture consequences. If the protagonist doesn’t succeed, terrorists will unleash a devastating biological weapon on North America or the world will be thrown into World War III. Suspense novels tend to have more intimate consequences. If the protagonist fails in a suspense, she might die, but the world will otherwise continue as it always has.

Is there overlap between these genres? Of course! If you’ve learned nothing so far from these posts, I hope you’ve learned that genres aren’t a straightjacket. They’re more like maps. (In fact, many a psychological or legal thriller would be better called a psychological suspense or a legal suspense.)

If you’re a thriller writer, you might want to consider joining (or in some way becoming involved with) International Thriller Writers or the Crime Writers of Canada.

Defining Thriller Sub-Genres

Espionage – Also called spy fiction, espionage is the land of the CIA, assassins, secret agents, and James Bond. If you’re writing something like Robert Ludlum’s Bourne books or you want to be the next John La Carre or Alan Furst, you’re probably working on an espionage novel. They’re often set during World War II or the Cold War, but that focus may now be shifting to more modern settings as well.

Medical Thriller – Your POV character in a medical thriller is going to be employed in the medical field (e.g., a doctor, a medical examiner) or be closely tied to a hospital setting. This type of thriller is a race to uncover or fix a deadly medical situation–organ black markets, an out-of-control virus, patients falling in mysterious comas, etc.

Psychological Thriller – These are battles of the mind and the wits. They’re often dark and focus more on emotional trauma to the characters than physical trauma. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and Along Came a Spider by James Patterson would both be categorized as psychological thrillers.

Legal Thriller – Similar to medical thrillers, the POV character in a legal thriller is an attorney. The story centers around a legal dilemma or courtroom drama. John Grisham’s name is almost synonymous with legal thrillers.

Historical Thriller – If you set your thriller prior to around 1960, you’re likely going to fall into the historical thriller sub-genre. Readers of this sub-genre expect historical accuracy and engaging details as well as a fast-paced read. Good historical thrillers can be especially challenging to write due to the need to evoke a rich historical atmosphere without slowing down the story.

Techno Thriller – The most powerful technology of today has fallen into the wrong hands, and it’s up to your main character to get it back or destroy it. Ever read a Tom Clancy book? Then you’ve read a techno thriller.

Military Thriller – Military thrillers have a lot in common with techno thrillers, but instead of focusing on technology, they focus on military objectives. Your main character in a military thriller is likely to be a member of the military (no shock there). Bob Mayer’s Green Beret series is an example of military thrillers. Both techno thrillers and military thrillers are often global in their scope.

Supernatural Thriller – Supernatural thrillers blend the expected fast-moving suspense plot with some paranormal or other worldly element. Your main character might be a psychic or see ghosts.

Thrillers are my second love (after speculative fiction). What’s your favorite genre? Do you ever read outside of it?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including How to Write Dialogue and Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Two Dialogue Death Sentences & How to Get a Stay of Execution

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In my years as a freelance editor, I’ve worked with clients all the way along the writing path—from newbies who are just starting their first book to seasoned veterans with multiple books on the market. I can now guess with a high level of accuracy where a writer is along the path based on the types of dialogue mistakes they’re making.

Newer writers tend to use creative dialogue tags or allow their characters to speak for paragraphs (or pages!) at a time without interruption.

But new level, new writing devil.

As writers gain experience in the craft and stop making the newbie mistakes, they run into a new dilemma. They’re told their writing still isn’t ready.

And one of these dialogue death sentences is probably playing a role in killing their chances at publication success.

If you’d like to read the rest of this post, please join me at Kristen Lamb’s blog. I’m back home here next week continuing our series on genre with thrillers :)

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Three Quick Tips to Help Your Print Books Look Professional

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Many self-publishers stress out about formatting their ebooks (my post Understanding Your Ebook Formatting Options explains your choices), but they assume putting together the print book files will be easy. After all, we’re writers because we love books. We’ve read thousands of them over our lifetime. We know how they should look, right?

Wrong.

When we were reading all those books, we probably weren’t paying much attention to the layout, but there are definitely right and wrong ways to format the print version of our book if we want to look professional.

Today I’m over at Fiction University, the blog of the lovely Janice Hardy, talking about three areas where we authors often make mistakes when it comes to print formatting, so that you’ll know what to do when the time comes to create a print version of your book.

To read Three Quick Tips to Help Your Print Books Look Professional, click here!