Cheering for Our Future

Today we celebrate Pride in Calgary (Alberta, CANADA) 

me&staceprideparade2014The rest of the country has already had their parades, their parties and their hype. Now it’s our turn, and party we will. When I first moved to Calgary, I remember watching the dozen or so float entrants and defiant marchers from a hilltop, afraid to appear on camera for fear of losing my job.

cps-prideToday, rows of flag waving police officers celebrate down the streets and the parade has grown from a few, to an expected throng of 60,000 for 2015. Today, the parade is family friendly, and backed by not only LGBTQ organizations, but also financial institutions, corporations, politicians, service groups, major sports teams, public servants and people of all walks. And I’ll be there too, in the September rain, with my family and my flag, and we’ll cheer for our future.

Makenzi Fisk
Murder | Mystery | Thriller
Author of the Intuition Series

Authors: How I create marketing materials for less

Indie authors know that we not only have to write a good book, we also must arrange our own editing, formatting, publishing, marketing, etc. Because of some people’s perceptions about self-published authors, we need to be especially diligent in putting out a professional product and about how we present ourselves in public.


I can only achieve so much with my smiling face, so that’s where quality marketing materials can help. It’s no secret that most authors don’t earn a ton of royalties, especially in the first few years, and every tip to save cash can help.

With that in mind, here are a few things I do to save when buying advertising products. I have some design experience, but you can work with decent quality  images and templates included at no extra cost by many online printers.

* If you  have some good tips of your own, please let me know in the comment section below. I’d love to hear how you’re saving money.

I design my own and upload the completed file. I could save a little money by printing full sheets and cutting them myself, but I’ve learned that business card printing has come a long way in the last few years and the quality and price of professional printers can’t be beat. There are so many options, but I consider the anticipated life of a business card and choose basic. With low prices, I can afford two sets of cards. One for me and one for my book series.

Cost: I paid under $20 for 500 business cards at *Vistaprint

*Vistaprint quotes $58 + shipping for 100 bookmarks. Here’s how I do it for less. I choose 50 ‘Rack cards’ instead and design my artwork so it fits two, side-by-side on the front.

I select black and white for the backs and do the same, including details like my book description and where to purchase.  All I need to do is cut them in half when they arrive. It takes a little time but I decided it’s worth it.

Cutting tip: You can use a craft paper cutter, but I like precision cuts and can’t always get them with the cutters. I use a good self-sealing cutting mat, a cork-backed steel ruler and an Exacto. I learned in art class to flip the ruler backwards to ensure a better cut, and to use a sharp cutting knife. Sharp is important so you don’t pucker your cuts or tear corners. Exacto blades are not expensive, so snap that old one off and use a new one.

Cost: I paid around $30 for 100 bookmarks (including shipping) and saved myself at least $35.

Many authors I know get their banners printed using *Vistaprint, an online multi product printing service. I tried it and I’m satisfied with the result. They have a ton of high resolution images you can choose at no extra charge, and the interface is easy.

I chose a vertically oriented 6′ X 2 1/2′ banner and also chose to include a stand. When the banner arrived, I followed the instructions to attach the banner to the mounting brackets and set up the stand, which comes in its own carry case. I purchased a rigid document tube from the local art store to protect the banner from damage during transport to signings and events. It takes less than five minutes to unpack and set it all up, and it’s lightweight. I’m sure the stand wouldn’t withstand a windy day outside, but it’s perfect for my intended use.

Design tip: Keep it simple. Pair a strong image with a little text. Remember that your viewing distance is six feet or more so avoid small fonts and excessive writing. Have a good, long look at the sample image they show. If you can’t read your message in the preview size, it’s wasted on a banner.

Cost: I paid $75 for the banner, including the stand and mounting hardware, AND shipping. I paid an additional $20 to an online agency for the stock photo.

This is a new venture for me. I’ve seen a variety of ebooks for sale as gift cards and there doesn’t seem to be a standard size or format. I liked the idea of plastic cards with scratch-off codes on the reverse but the cost, and order quantity are prohibitive to small orders. This is what I chose for my trial run.

giftcardfront(front and back covers)

(inside layout)

I designed my own gift card to be printed on card stock. *Vistaprint’s “medium postcard” gave me the size I wanted, and I can get 50 printed for about $10. That’s only $0.20 per card, and doesn’t cut into my profits much. As usual, I design the card with front and back cover side by side on the front, and the inside like the inside of a book. I will be folding this in half and using a sticker to seal it once I’ve added the download code. The space I’ve left for download codes just happens to be the same size as a return address label, so I can easily print and add those before sale or giveaway.

For the download site, I use Smashwords coupons and set it at 100%. Recipients can just go to their site and download my book in a variety of formats. For ease of use, I created QR codes using a free QR creator (there’s a ton of them online but check to make sure it works before you print your cards). When scanned with a smart phone, they will direct the user to the applicable URL. In case that’s baffling for anyone, I’ve included the web address that can be typed into a browser manually. I added a barcode to the back, created from my digital ISBN for each book – because I’m optimistic.

Folding tip: If you’ve ever folded card stock, you know that it puckers and does naughty things. I wanted a nice clean fold and professional look and didn’t want to score the outside of the fold with a knife, so I used a pizza cutter to create a smart crease that will fold perfectly and easily. Make sure you do this on the outside of the fold, not the inside.
giftcardfolded                                            (finished and folded cards) 

Cost: about $13 for 50 cards + shipping

You can pay $20 or more for mounted feature signs to put on your display table. Here’s how I did it for less. I designed the image and had it printed on glossy photo paper at Costco. I like Costco for quick turnaround, consistent quality and because I’m always going there so it’s convenient. Other places like Walmart do a good job too. I chose glossy but matte would work fine too. It depends on the look you want. I buy full sheets of foam core at the art store for about $10 and cut them to size. I recently discovered that black foam core is available at the same price as white, and I like the look. Foam core is easier to transport than lumber, but sometimes big sheets just won’t fit in the car, or on the bus! If your sheet is too large, ask them to cut it in half there. They’ll usually do it in exchange for a smile. I cut the foam core at home with my trusty Exacto knife and cutting board, and affix to the photo print with double sided tape. Trim after mounting if  you need to ensure clean edges.

Cutting tip for foam core: Change your Exacto blade because here’s where you really need a sharp edge. Make your cuts in multiple passes, instead of trying to power through in a single cut. Hold onto that ruler to ensure clean lines.

8 x 12 photo print:  $2.50
Foam core: about $1 or $2
Double-sided tape: pennies
Document stand: $1 or $2 at the local dollar store, or you can tape a wedge of cardboard or foam core on the back like they did on the cheapie photo frames you got on your school pictures. I splurged at the dollar store for a half dozen stands to use for books and signs.

How many times have you been sitting there in front of your books and someone asks if you’re the author? Make your own nametag using an old retired one. I used my wife’s and glued a new image, printed using photo paper on my home printer. I discovered how awesome packing tape is (see Swag section below) and used it as a shiny plastic coating that protects it from fingerprints and scratches. I trimmed the edges with, yes, my trusty Exacto and ran a black Sharpie around the edges to conceal any imperfections.


Pick up packages of interesting pens or similar items like book lights at dollar stores, etc. I found items with light coloured areas for best results. Most of my items were $1 each, or pens for about $0.50 each.

I made my own stickers. I printed a simple design onto Clear Transparency plastic (Avery brand, intended for use on overhead projectors.) When I realized they weren’t actually clear stickers, I used clear packing tape and transferred the image to the tape by sticking it on and pulling it off.
It required a little finesse to keep it from wrinkling or folding in on itself but it took me way back to my crime scene work recovering fingerprints from crime scenes. Similar technique. I cut the packing tape (with scissors) into smaller pieces with a little tab to put my grimy fingers on. I trimmed that off later. The tape transfer worked remarkably well after a few tries, and it looked like a professional sticker. The thin tape adhered well and didn’t have a hard edge that would peel easily.

I gave these away to customers when I launched my new book in Chapters. The mechanical pencils with my sticker on them were remarkably popular. This was a bit of a time-consuming venture but fun if you like crafts and working with cantankerous tape.

I paid an average of $1 per item.

I like Vistaprint for their prices, quick turnaround, consistent quality and ease of use, but there are many others out there. [I can only hope Vistaprint sees this blog post and sends me free stuff.]

Bulk orders: When I place my order on Vistaprint, I choose a basic amount because they will invariably offer me a better discount at checkout, or even after purchase, for doubling my order. That’s how Vistaprint works, they try to up-sell you at checkout, and you can use it to your advantage if you know how it works.

Coupons: Make sure you’ve used any available coupons. Discounts range from 10-45% off. I do a Google search for this and try a variety to see which gives me the best benefit. Each time you make a purchase, they will also send you a discount code for your next purchase.

Stay focused: Just because they print on a million cool products, and you like the look of your logo on a six-pack of cute hockeysticks, it doesn’t mean you need to purchase everything you see. You’ll never save money that way. Just click to the end and buy what you came for.

Combine orders: I know you want it right now, but what else do you need? Combine orders for bookmarks, business cards and other items to save on shipping costs.

Makenzi-tableSomeday, a picture like this will mean I’m making tons of money. Right now, it means my kid probably told me a funny joke and happened to have her new camera in her hand.

Feel free to leave money-saving tips in the Comments section…

Makenzi Fisk
Murder | Mystery | Thriller
Author of the Intuition Series