Should You Self-Publish?

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For most authors, the decision of whether to self-publish or search for a traditional publisher is a tough one. I wrestled with this decision (it fought like a crocodile) in the years leading up to 2008. Even after self-publishing multiple books in 2008 (I had one completely written and the material for several others already well-prepared), I continued to wrestle the crocodile for another seven months. Then sales of two of my books erupted and later the next summer I launched a series that became popular enough that I no longer questioned my decision.

That’s what you hope for, when you’re wondering which route to take. You’re hoping that a day will come when you no longer look back over your shoulder, wondering about the other road (that road you didn’t take is such a clichéd road, it really isn’t worth any anguish).

Not an Easy Way Out

Self-publishing isn’t the easy way out. It might seem that way at first:

You don’t have to find a publisher or an agent, you don’t need to write query letters, you don’t need to put a book proposal together, you don’t need to buy Writer’s Market, you don’t need to meet the right people, you don’t need to write sample chapters for a book that might never get published, you don’t need to make marketing commitments, and you don’t need to wait years hoping to get lucky.

You also won’t have to deal with a pile of rejection letters:

Self-publishing is a sure thing, baby! (Well, at least as far as getting published is concerned; whether or not you’ll sell a copy to anyone other than your grandma, that’s another question.)

But self-publishing is still a lot of work. You’re the writer (so you still need to learn the craft), you’re the editor (which means a great deal more work once the book is written), you’re the formatter (which means learning a new art and how to use the software to pull it off), you’re the illustrator (can you draw, too?), you are your own marketing department (put Executive on your name badge), and you are your only public relations specialist (if you fail at this job, you can kill all your hard work faster than your favorite speedy cliché).

That’s a lot of work for someone who just wants to write. It might just be easier to find an agent or publisher after all.

And you don’t really escape the pain of rejection… because anybody can post a critical review right in plain sight where the whole world can see it (stock up on thread to mend your bleeding heart).

You’re not Really Alone

It really isn’t self-publishing. It’s indie publishing.

You only do it all yourself if you choose to do so:

  • There is an abundance of free information available to help authors learn writing skills, editing skills, cover design skills, marketing skills, and publishing skills.
  • The CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing community forums have many knowledgeable participants to help out if you have a question.
  • You have the option of joining a writing group or organizing a focus group from within your target audience to help provide valuable feedback.
  • You can recruit extra pairs of eyes to help you proofread.
  • Services are available for editing, formatting, or cover design if you need to hire help. You may find affordable service at high quality if you do your homework well.
  • What you lack in financial resources you can make up for in time (it’s money, right?). You can choose to take your time to get it right.
  • You can find support from others, such as this wonderful WordPress community.

Changing Tides

It wasn’t long ago that self-publishing equated to hundreds of books piled in an author’s garage (though somehow I still have hundreds in my home office…).

For most authors, it was either traditional publishing, vanity publishing, or no publishing (and too often, the latter was the case).

Print-on-demand services like CreateSpace and e-readers like Kindle have revolutionized the publishing industry. Now anyone can  publish (and, believe it or not, there are even some authors who have their dogs publish, so if you hear this expression, there is a little truth to it—a photo book about dogs, surely; why shouldn’t it be written by, narrated by, and published by the dog?).

And hundreds of thousands of indie authors are publishing.

Self-publishing was ripe when it first came out. Many readers weren’t aware of the new concept in the early years. There were fewer authors and books, too. E-readers were new and quite appealing. The market was growing rapidly.

Then word started to spread about books with editing, formatting, and content problems. Many customers discovered these problems firsthand. Some review abuse from authors didn’t help the image (fortunately, Amazon has made great strides toward limiting this in the past couple of years). There were also some people (perhaps the extremists we will not label as authors) who had heard of amazing success stories, who were hoping to make a quick fortune with little effort (you can easily spot them because they have deep scars where they continue to scratch their heads).

Yet the number of indie authors and indie books continued to grow, and support for them grew with it. Take tens of thousands of authors, add their families, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, and you can see that there is ample support for the concept of self-publishing. Many indie authors read indie books; many more people who know indie authors read indie books (and not just by authors they know). It’s not uncommon to search Amazon for “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform” to try to find a good self-published book to read.

Amazon and traditional publishers both did indie authors some huge favors. Amazon’s role is obvious: Thank Amazon for the beautiful red carpet. Every big traditional publisher must yearn badly for a time machine. How has indie authorship come to take so much of the current market share? Would the publishers change their e-book pricing strategies if they could dial the calendar back several years? Would they focus more of their efforts on the advantages of digital books? Would they try to get to market faster? Would they encourage their authors to utilize more marketing strategies that top indies have come to thrive on? You might sooner solve the Tootsie Roll riddle…

Traditional publishers have responded to the effects of print-on-demand and e-books. But they also have the disadvantages of being big business: especially, s.l.o.w. response time. Things continue to change, though. They are looking ahead, they have a great deal of publishing experience, and they have many resources. They haven’t disappeared; they just haven’t dominated the market like they once did. Definitely, don’t count them out.

Several bookstores, especially chains, might wish they could turn back the clock, too. So many indie books selling each year. Some bookstores have taken advantage of this opportunity; some have avoided it at all cost. It may have been silly for them to blindly stock several copies of every indie book. But there were some good opportunities to get some of this traffic.

The image of indie publishing seems to be rebounding. Customers have realized that they can filter out what’s good to read by careful study of the product page and Look Inside. Excellent content is good to read regardless of how it is published. Some indie books have exceptional covers, wonderful editing and formatting, and great stories, too. Indie authors have the freedom to provide content that traditional publishers would never have published in the past. An indie author can choose to write to a smaller audience; that smaller audience may appreciate this. Many indie authors provide personal experiences with their marketing, which helps to attract new readers. The best indie books are competing with the best traditionally published books.

Successful indie authors are opening doors for everyone else. Some are even turning down lucrative offers from traditional publishers (check out this article, recently referred to from the CreateSpace community forum). If you do sign with a traditional publisher, you risk having your digital or other rights tied up for a very long time (if you can get a little success, by that point in time you might do much better than the advance offered up front).

Success Still Isn’t Easy

Amazon and other companies are giving indie authors the opportunity to publish. But everyone won’t be striking gold. You might not even strike dirt.

There are millions of books available for sale. Only the top 200,000 or so sold one copy in the past day. Most books don’t even sell a copy per day, on average.

You put so much time into writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing (what you don’t do yourself, you still put time and money into arranging). You invest months, perhaps years of hard work, and you may also invest good money along with it. But sales aren’t guaranteed.

Sales are still hard to come by.

Traditional publishers and agents do have benefits to offer (you might also wonder if they are receiving fewer submission: are your chances better now?). They may be able to help with editing and formatting. They might help a little in the way of marketing, like getting your foot in the door for television or radio interviews, hooking you up with an effective publicist, sending out advance review copies, and listing your title in their catalogs. You’ll probably still be expected to market. You might receive an advance, though it may be $5,000 or less, not the big number you’ve always dreamed about. You have better prospects for getting your book stocked in a chain bookstore (then you get to learn the reality of returnability and big discounts).

No matter how you publish, the key to success is hard work combined with marketable content.

In the end, to the customer it’s the quality of the book that you’ve produced that really matters, not how you got it published.

Option Three

It isn’t indie publishing versus traditional publishing. Both have merit, not just to authors, but to readers, too.

Some authors are choosing both.

Traditional publishers can only produce books so quickly. Some authors write books faster than they can be published. Other authors write a few books that interest big publishers, but several other books that may not. One way to publish all their books is to traditionally publish some and self-publish the rest (sometimes, with a pseudonym). More and more traditional authors are exploring self-publishing.

On the other side, many authors are starting out with self-publishing, hoping to attract traditional publishers.

This can work two ways. If you self-publish a book that scarcely sells, it will be hard to convince a publisher to take up your book. But if you grow a large following and gain frequent sales and many reviews, a publisher may be interested in publishing a subsequent book (or even republishing the same book). They’ll want to be impressed with your success and your marketing platform, and it won’t be easy, but the potential is there.

Yet if you can build a large following and earn frequent sales on your own, why would you want to sign a contract with a publisher, tie up your rights, and take a big cut in royalties (even though a large sum up front would be enticing)? If you can be self-made, why give that up? It’s easy to fantasize about receiving a lucrative offer and turning it down, but if you wind up wearing these shoes, it might not turn out to be so easy. It would sure be a nice problem to have, though, wouldn’t it?

Other authors wonder if the grass may be greener on the other side. Some authors try self-publishing, then try to find an agent or publisher when that doesn’t pan out. Some authors land a contract with a traditional publisher, but don’t make what they were expecting, and switch to self-publishing.

Conclusions

There are a lot of opinions out there on whether self-publishing or traditional publishing is better.

Personally, I think it’s the wrong question to ask.

What’s better for you may not be the same as what’s better for someone else. Other people’s lists of advantages and disadvantages can help you collect ideas for your own list, but your list of pros and cons will be unique.

I believe both options can be good, and so is “option three” (i.e. both).

Nothing beats the feeling of holding your book in your hands, knowing that you gave it your best, believing it to be done professionally. That’s what you should strive for. Whether you do this yourself, with help as an indie author, or via a traditional publisher or agent, the end result is still the same—you shared your passion with readers.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Is Kindle Countdown the new Free? Keeping books visible in 2014

This post is phenomenal! Incredibly detailed analysis and statistics for both freebies and Countdown Deals from an author with a hot-selling series (Maids of Misfortune). Information you would surely pay good money for, only it’s free. 🙂

M. Louisa Locke

Rory_sketch_-_confusedFor the past year there has been a good deal of hand-wringing over the question of KDP Select free promotions. Have they de-valued fiction, do they attract negative reviews, do they even work anymore? As anyone who regularly reads my blog posts knows, I have been a strong proponent of offering ebooks free for promotional purposes, and free promotions have been very good to me in terms of increasing my reviews and keeping my books visible and selling.

However, I also believe one of the distinct advantages we have as indie authors is our ability to use our own sales data to respond innovatively to changes in the marketing environment. As a result, in the past year I followed a number of different strategies to keep the books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series visible, including beginning to experiment with the new promotional tool, the Kindle Countdown

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Should You Make a New Edition?

Updated

Republishing Your Book

You’re faced with an important decision when you revise your book:

  • Should you create a new edition of the same book?
  • Or should you simply update the current edition?

Revisions are easy to make in the modern publishing world. With print-on-demand paperbacks and with e-books, there is no need to produce a new batch of hundreds of books.

You could simply upload new files to replace the old ones in the existing book. Or you could create a new book with a different edition number.

Each has its own benefits and disadvantages.

Keeping the Same Edition

In this case, you simply upload revised files to your existing book.

Possible pros:

  • Your book won’t have to rebuild customer-also-bought associations at Amazon.
  • If your book has good visibility in search results at Amazon, you won’t have to rebuild this.
  • If your book has a good sales history, you won’t have to start over with no sales history.
  • If your book has a good history of reviews, you won’t have to worry about transferring them.
  • All the links in your online marketing to your current book will still work.
  • There is no need to use a new ISBN; customers who search for your book by ISBN will easily find your update.
  • Kindle has new features to help customers get the most recent version of your e-book.

Possible cons:

  • If your book has a slow sales history* and you’re hoping to improve on this, the lack of sales in the past month may be tough to overcome.
  • If your revisions address critical reviews, those reviews may continue to haunt the book after republishing.
  • Your book won’t gain new exposure in the new release categories.
  • Since the ISBN and edition haven’t changed, customers who purchase used copies may receive old editions without realizing it.

*Sales rank combines both recent and distant sales history. When a book hasn’t sold much in the past month and suddenly sells, its sales rank climbs much more rapidly than a book that normally sells frequently, but just hasn’t sold recently. It’s easier to maintain a good sales rank than it is to overcome a history of slow sales.

You can still write the edition number on the copyright page. In fact, this is a good idea: That way, you’ll be able to tell which edition is showing on the Look Inside at Amazon, and if you’re discussing your book with a reader, you’ll be able to tell which edition the customer has.

Making a New Edition

With this choice, you publish a new book with a different edition number.

Possible pros:

  • You get new exposure with the Last 30 Days and Last 90 Days new release filters for sorting search results on Amazon.
  • If your earlier edition struggled with sales and reviews, a new edition gives your book a chance for a fresh start.
  • It should be clear (but isn’t foolproof) if customers are selling or buying old editions of your book, since the editions are clearly separate and have different ISBN’s.

Possible cons:

  • You have to rebuild your sales rank, reviews*, search visibility, and customers-also-bought lists at Amazon.
  • Any links to your old edition in your online marketing need to be updated; there may be some links on websites that you can’t update.
  • The new edition needs its own ISBN (in order to distinguish the two different books). If customers search for your book by the old ISBN, it will pull up your old book.**
  • If customers want to get your updated edition, they must purchase the new edition (for print books, this will be true regardless of how you update your book).

*It is possible to get your new and old editions linked together on Amazon in order to consolidate reviews. Your best bet is to make the request through Author Central. (If they hassle you over it, go to the CreateSpace community forum and find examples of books for which this has been done. Cite these examples to help demonstrate that it can be done.)

** If you get your editions linked together, customers will have the opportunity to find your new edition from the product page of your old edition.

You do have the opportunity to build buzz for the new edition. Successful pre-marketing can help you start out with a good sales rank, early reviews, and make early progress rebuilding your search visibility and customers-also-bought lists at Amazon.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Real Data about E-books and Self-Publishing

This is highly fascinating and amazingly detailed (especially, if you also click on the link in this post). You’ll be glad you looked. 🙂

tracycembor

The world of publishing is changing. I think everyone can agree on that without too much fuss. The part where everyone gets their panties in a bunch deals with where and how is it changing the most. The Big Five Publishers, Amazon, B&N, etc. aren’t sharing their sales data, so it is difficult to get a clear picture on the state of change.

Hugh Howey shared their analysis of data that he and an Anonymous Data Guy collected through a “software program that can crawl online bestseller lists and grab mountains of data. All of this data is public—it’s online for anyone to see—but until now it’s been extremely difficult to gather, aggregate, and organize. This program, however, is able to do in a day what would take hundreds of volunteers with web browsers and pencils a week to accomplish. The first run grabbed data on nearly 7,000 e-books from…

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What Can Authors Learn about WordPress Stats?

Stats Search

WordPress Stats

WordPress provides a variety of statistics for your blog, individual posts and pages, views, likes, followers, comments, geographic data, and more.

Authors can learn something valuable from these stats.

The challenge is to extract useful information from the numbers without becoming a stat junkie.

Look Beyond Views, Likes, and Follows

When you post an article, you’re hoping for a positive response. Those early likes feel redeeming. A few follows create the perception that you blog is growing.

Although views, likes, and follows are important—that’s where your support and active following are—there is more to be found beyond these numbers.

Views, likes, and follows tend to grow very slowly when a blog is starting out. If you blog as an author and hope for your blog to be a valuable part of your marketing strategy, these stats can seem very discouraging. As slowly as the numbers grow, it’s even more discouraging to realize that much of your active following doesn’t consist of readers from your target audience and only a small percentage of your total following actively reads your posts.

However, a blog has much marketing potential beyond the likes and follows. Look at the search engine stats for signs of hope.

Search Engines

Your active followers probably already know about your book—they probably know too well about it. Do they see your book with every post? And how many posts do they read each month? A couple of new bloggers do visit your blog periodically, but for the most part, all your posts are being read by pretty much the same group of (totally awesome!) people.

The support that your active following shows is invaluable, but you already know that. Let’s look beyond your following.

WordPress’s search engine stats can help you gauge your blog’s potential to reach members of your target audience who don’t already know about your book.

Check the WordPress stats for your blog. Monitor the traffic that your blog receives courtesy of search engines. Look at the search engine terms—even though most will be encrypted, those that aren’t reveal valuable information.

Next, study the list of posts viewed each day. Look for posts that aren’t recent posts, which likely correspond to views generated by search terms.

If the search terms are highly relevant for the target audience of your book and your website is getting regular traffic through search engines, your blog is on the right track—it may grow into a potentially effective marketing tool known as a content-rich website.

Content-Rich Website

Suppose that you write a dozen nonfiction articles for which you have expertise and which will highly interest your target audience. This is the basis for developing a content-rich website. The idea is for the content to attract your audience to your website.

If you start out trying to do this, you could get discouraged very quickly. You know what will happen: Starting out, you get just a few views, likes, and follows with each post. You think about the effort you put into preparing the content versus the lack of turnout, and quickly lose the motivation to continue.

Let’s imagine that you keep up the effort regardless… the result might be better than the initial numbers suggest.

You might write dozens of content-rich articles over the course of a few months. Your views, likes, and follows will grow so that you do have some activity with each post, though even after a few months the likes and follows may still seem insignificant compared to your hopes and dreams.

Something nice may actually be brewing after a few months of preparing a content-rich website. The activity might just be visible in your WordPress stats.

You could have a dozen or more views each day of older posts, with the traffic coming from search engines. At first, you’re thinking, “Another mere dozen—a dozen views, a dozen likes, a dozen follows, now a dozen people coming from search engines. What’s another dozen?”

The difference is that if you have a dozen people liking each post, it’s usually the same dozen people who already know about your book. If you have a dozen people coming to your older posts via search engines, it’s probably a dozen different people each day.

This means you get to multiply that dozen by 365—that’s 4,380 people visiting your blog each year. If the search terms and content are highly relevant to your target audience, that’s 4000 people who may actually have interest in your book.

And what starts out as a dozen a day can grow. When you get 50 visitors from beyond your active following to visit your website each day, that’s 18,250 people per year. You see where this is headed..?

If you can prepare content that attracts your target audience and is relevant to your book, a content-rich website can be a highly effective marketing tool.

Don’t worry about the initial results. Look at:

  • whether you’re getting any traffic from search engines
  • whether the search terms are relevant to your target audience
  • how many older posts are getting regular visitors
  • whether, on average, the number of search engine views is increasing

If your search engine traffic is rising, on average, things are headed in the right direction. Time is on your side.

Of course, there will be some visitors who click on your page in the search results, then immediately click the back button because that wasn’t quite what they wanted. Plus, you shouldn’t think about instant sales, but should also consider the long-term process of branding—someone who learns about your book today but doesn’t buy it today might still buy your book several months from now. You’ve planted the seed.

Dust Your Attic!

Don’t ignore your older posts, especially those with content relevant to your target audience. These may be the most valuable marketing assets on your blog.

Look at your older posts. Make sure that your most viewed posts provide a link to your book at Amazon at the end of the post. If not, go back and add this. Don’t turn your post into an advertisement. Just offer a simple mention of and path to your book to any kind strangers who might happen to visit the post.

If you see traffic dwindling to a previously popular post (not day-to-day, which can fluctuate highly, but over a couple of weeks) or if you have a helpful post that seems to be neglected, try updating the post. You can add an image, change an image, add an introduction, strengthen the conclusion, add some content, revise the keywords, etc.

Once you have several content-rich articles on your blog, you need to create an index or table of contents or some means of making it easy for people to find your posts. Someone who finds one post through a search engine might want to check out your other posts, for example. Make this easy to do.

Nice Example

Check out One Cool Site: http://onecoolsitebloggingtips.com.

This website (pretty cool, just like its name) is very content-rich; the articles serve as excellent examples for how to provide valuable content through a blog.

I didn’t cite this as an example of a website that’s effectively marketing a product or service, but as an example of a content-rich website that can pull an audience effectively. In this case, the audience is bloggers, so you might be interested in the content. There many excellent articles on One Cool Site regarding how to improve your blogging. I’ve been following this blog for some time now and highly recommend the content there (I discovered it from the WordPress help forums).

Some sites come across as businesses. I see business sites and instantly think sales or advertising.

Some blogs are highly personal. That’s not as likely to draw in readers from your target audience.

One Cool Site looks professional, yet when you look at the comments, you see it also receives personal attention and when you read the articles, you see the personal element and style.

As opposed to just making a content-rich website, what you really want is a content-rich blog with that personal element. The personal touches show that you’re human; plus, you’re branding your image as an author and demonstrating your character, not just branding the image for your book. The content is what can attract external readers, but the personal element is important, too.

My Website

This blog started out just as a humble blog (and it still is!), just like everyone else. I didn’t set out to create a content-rich website. I started blogging actively with the hope that I could help other authors on their publishing journeys, to share my interest and experiments with marketing, and to provide an example of how authors might use their blogs as a marketing tool.

My blog started out very slowly, with just a handful of views, likes, and follows here and there, but after more than a year of active blogging I get more than 100 views most days even if I don’t post any new content. Most of this is coming from search engines. I have one post from almost a year ago that usually gets 10-20 views per day (even though it wasn’t nearly so popular when it first came out) and several posts that usually get some daily activity.

Every blogger has this potential, and more. There are other bloggers getting much more traffic than my blog gets.

Don’t be discouraged by early results. Think about what content you can write that’s likely to attract your target audience. Focus on creating valuable content. If indeed the content is valuable, in the long run you should generate traffic. Look for signs of search engine activity and continual growth of these numbers. If you see it, this is very encouraging (focus on this, and not immediate likes and follows from recent posts). If you don’t see it, you may need to reevaluate your content, website, keyword choices, images, post titles, etc.; some feedback might be handy.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Book Contests & Giveaways

Contest

Win, Win, Win

Being a winner is a great feeling.

One way to help promote interest in a book is to give something away through a contest.

The winners feel special.

It’s different from just giving the book away for free with KDP Select. With a Select freebie, everyone gets the book for free. Through a contest, only the lucky winner gets something free.

When the book is free for everyone, it tends to be valued less. When you win something, it tends to be valued more.

People who enter the contest, but don’t win, have learned about the book. The contest provides exposure, creates buzz, and helps with branding.

As with all marketing, it works best when readers in your target audience participate.

You still have to promote. People won’t come out of the woodwork, marching zombie-style to your contest.

But promoting a contest or giveaway may be a little easier than promoting your regularly-priced book. You might find bloggers and websites willing to help promote your contest.

The prize can be a free copy of your book, an autographed copy, a special edition, a bookmark, or a t-shirt, for example. The idea is to give something that the target audience will value to help stir interest in your book.

One popular website for arranging contests is Rafflecopter. Charles E. Yallowitz, author of the Legends of Windemere sword and sorcery series, presently has an amazing Rafflecopter giveaway running through the end of February. This was put together by Danielle Taylor.

There are over two dozen prizes, including many great books and a $10 Amazon gift card. (Charles E. Yallowitz has his Legends of Windemere books participating, Danielle Taylor has entered her books, one of my books, A Visual Guide to Extra Dimensions, in color and in paperback, is participating, and there are over two dozen others.)

Click here to see and enter the giveaway.

Another way to give a few free books is through a Goodreads giveaway. Some recipients will post reviews or ratings at Goodreads. Several people will mark the book as to-read. Reviews on Amazon aren’t as likely.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Writers

Heart Book

It’s a great time to celebrate the love of writing.

  • Writing will always be there for you.
    • Except when you experience writer’s block.
  • You don’t have to try to figure out your writing relationship.
    • You’ll never understand your muse, so don’t bother.
  • The passion you put into writing will never be rejected.
    • But you might receive some criticism from readers.
  • No commitments will stress you out over your writing relationship.
    • Unless you’re presented with a contract to mull over.
  • The reason you can’t stop writing is that Cupid shot an arrow into your rear.
    • Fortunately, it doesn’t prevent you from sitting several hours a day at your desk.

Happy Valentine’s Day, writers!

This day’s for you. 🙂

Set a candlelight dinner for you and your special laptop, and enjoy.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Great fantasy worlds, and what makes them great

There are some good ideas here for fantasy authors (though many other fiction authors create worlds of sorts).

Gwen Bristol

A world I grew up loving...Oz!A world I grew up loving…Oz!

I fell in love with fantasy worlds in fifth grade. That year, one very influential teacher held a reading contest, and I won by immersing myself in Frank L. Baum’s Oz books, the chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, all of the Mary Poppins books, and just about everything else I could get my hands on from the tiny elementary school library.

My prize: a boxed set of Tolkien’s works–The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings–which, I am sure, stamped, sealed and certified my enduring love of fantasy.

Decades later, I still think it’s all about the worlds. Even then, I knew the revitalizing power of escaping. I understood there was a real chance of finding my lost self when I delved into a good book.

Who doesn’t love immersing themselves in someplace new? Taking a break from reality? Isn’t that…

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Counting with Clichés (a Poem)

Peas

Counting with Clichés (a Poem)

  1. When the fair maiden, Belle, laid eyes on the tall, dark, and handsome stranger, Beau, it was love at first sight.
  2. The more they got to know each other, the more the happy couple realized they were two peas in a pod.
  3. Although things were rough at times—leading to two separations—the third time was a charm.
  4. Their passion for one another was the one constant to persist through all four seasons.
  5. One day, when Belle found the scent of another woman on her man and questioned him, Beau pleaded the fifth.
  6. Beau was lucky Belle chose to bury the hatchet and not plant him six feet under.
  7. So grateful, Beau sailed all seven seas with Belle; they were in seventh heaven.
  8. The stork delivered several babies, until they decided that eight was enough.
  9. Although they went the whole nine yards for their kids, for every inch they gave, the kids demanded a mile.
  10. Their eldest daughter, Fair, was a perfect ten, but more spoiled than their youngest child.
  11. In every argument, Fair would hold out until the eleventh hour.
  12. Eager to get Fair betrothed—and out of their hair—they invited suitors to meet and greet her with a dozen roses.
  13. The thirteenth suitor, Jinx, finally agreed, but it proved to be an unlucky number.
  14. He literally broke a leg, had to put in his two weeks’ notice at work, and called the engagement off.
  15. The next thing they knew, Fair was fifteen and pregnant.
  16. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), it wasn’t a very sweet sixteen for Fair.
  17. To make matters worse, Fair’s seventeen weeks ultrasound revealed triplets.
  18. Her parents fought with her like cats and dogs; it sounded like the War of Eighteen Twelve.
  19. Fair wanted an abortion, but her parents refused; she cursed them for living in the nineteenth century.
  20. Each of Fair’s brothers and sisters played twenty questions with her.
  21. Fair was one girl who was not hoping to be forever twenty-one.
  22. Then one day, Jinx showed up on her doorstep and proposed with a twenty-two karat diamond ring.
  23. Suddenly, Fair felt not twice, but three times a lady.
  24. The triplets made more work than there were hours in a day, yet Fair loved every minute of it.
  25. Of course, everyone lived happily ever after.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

Amazon Sales Rank—Why Does It Matter to Customers?

Rank

Obviously, sales rank is important to Amazon. It makes sense to showcase products that are more likely to sell, and those that have been selling frequently have a proven track record. Sales rank factors into bestseller lists, ordering of search results (to some extent), visibility with special features, etc.

Sales rank is also important to authors and publishers. It helps to show how the book is selling.

Perhaps the strange thing is how important sales rank is to customers.

Popularity

Do people like to buy what’s popular? Aren’t there people with their own sense of style, who want something nice of their own that few other people are enjoying? Some clothes are highly popular, yet you still see a large percentage of people who are uniquely attired.

A few times in the past five years Amazon’s sales rank has been down for several hours to a few days. Sales tend to drop off during this period. Usually, no sales rank means that book has never sold. Suddenly, books that usually sell a few copies per day stop selling while the sales rank feature is temporarily disabled. Why? Because having no sales rank versus a rank of 30,000 can have a significant impact on a buying decision.

It’s like many customers are thinking, “If it’s not good enough for everyone else, it’s not good enough for me, either.” This seems to be a prevalent opinion in the well-educated, well-read world, at least as it applies to book-buying decisions.

There are a few customers who will take a chance on a book with a sales rank in the millions, but not many, and certainly not enough to go around for the millions of books that have received this fate.

Not a Constant

It’s funny when a book that spends most of its time with a sales rank in the millions suddenly sells, and sometimes sells a few more copies that same day. The only thing that has changed recently is the sales rank.

However, while a sale does drop the sales rank considerably—it can drop down to 100,000 from the millions—very often it doesn’t spark more sales. That’s because sales rank combines sales from the past day, week, and month. When a book that rarely sells suddenly sells, its sales rank drops down near 100,000, but rises very quickly. There is a narrow window of opportunity for customers to discover the book with that low sales rank before it returns to its home country.

In contrast, when a book that normally sells every day stops selling for a while, its sales rank climbs much more slowly.

In this way, the deck has been stacked. Hot sellers have a distinct advantage; slow sellers are inherently disadvantaged.

Fairness

This does make sense in many ways. If a book truly is lousy, its sales rank should skyrocket and that book should become less visible.

In other ways, it can seem unfair. There are tens of millions of books on Amazon. It’s absurd to think that only 100,000 are good and 30,000,000 are lousy.

What about books with a very tiny audience? Even if the book is excellent, sales are limited.

How about books that don’t fall into any standard categories? Even if the book is wonderful, it’s hard to find.

There are a number of reasons that a book can be very good, yet not sell well.

Unfortunately, there are also many books that don’t provide a good customer experience: ridiculously short (just a few pages), very poorly written, major formatting issues, etc.

For many customers, the simple solution is to buy books with a track record of selling well—i.e. look for a low sales rank.

Indeed, many customers only shop bestseller lists.

This gives big publishers and popular authors a distinct advantage. A large preexisting fan base gives rise to many early sales. At the same time, these books have a history of providing customers with good reading experiences, so this advantage has been earned.

The new author who throws a book out there has a distinct disadvantage. It takes time to get discovered and by the time a few readers have tried it and found it to be very good, the history of slow sales makes it a challenge for the sales rank to rebound.

Premarketing

Many publishers and authors do premarketing—sending out review copies, creating buzz, going on blog tours—hoping to stimulate early sales, knowing how much this can impact the fate of a book.

Abuse

A few people may try to abuse the sales rank factor, but probably in many cases to no avail. For example, Amazon could easily track authors who buy several copies of their own books and factor this into sales rank (if it’s not already done, it could change). If a lousy book does manage to acquire a low sales rank number, the Look Inside and reviews are likely to expose it for what it really is.

Opportunity

You can look at sales rank as a hurdle, in the sense that it takes sales to get sales.

Or you can look at sales rank as an opportunity.

Self-published books aren’t penalized compared to traditionally published books and popular authors. Any book that sells well improves its visibility. A self-published book that sells 20 copies today will compete in visibility with a traditionally published book that sells 20 copies per day.

Daily sales matter much more than weekly or monthly sales. Monthly sales determines how slowly or rapidly sales rank climbs when a book isn’t selling. When a book is selling, it is daily sales that matters.

This means that a traditionally published book that’s sold thousands of copies in the past still needs to sell copies today to compete with a newly released self-published book. In this way, the playing field is surprisingly level.

Sales rank tends to reward books that help themselves. If you write a highly marketable book, have a cover that attracts your target audience, write an effective blurb, have an engaging Look Inside, and the book generally pleases an audience, all this is on your side: It will help your book get discovered and sell when it gets discovered. Every sale helps your sales rank.

If you also do effective marketing, every sale helps even more. The more sales you stimulate through good content and effective marketing, the more sales rank helps you rather than hurts you.

This is why there are many indie authors achieving some measure of success. The opportunity is yours, too.

Reviews

Another way that sales rank matters to customers has to do with reviews.

Many customers look at the number of reviews and the sales rank.

If a book has several reviews, but a large number in the sales rank, the customer may be suspicious. How did the book get so many reviews without selling?

Of course, there may be a simple explanation:

  • Sales rank isn’t a constant. Perhaps the book was a hot seller when it first came out, but has now saturated the market.
  • Maybe the author has done some effective, temporary promotions in the past. A freebie can give out thousands of copies of the book without directly improving sales rank.
  • Advance review copies may have helped to get some early reviews.
  • The book may have been out for several years and sold thousands of copies, but just doesn’t have a great sales rank presently. Checking the publication date can help with this point.

But many customers will wonder if there is another simple explanation:

  • Were the reviews posted by close friends and family members?

Regardless of the actual reason, this perception can limit the sales of a book that has good reviews, but not a sales rank to match.

A Problem for Amazon?

There is one way that Amazon may be shooting itself in the foot with sales rank: It may be limiting growth to some extent. Five years ago, if a paperback book sold, its sales rank dropped down to about 50,000. Now, this number can be closer to 200,000, depending on the season. Why? Because there are more books, and more books that are selling about one copy per day on average or better. The change is even more extreme with Kindle.

The more books that sell well, the more books there are with higher sales rank numbers that are selling better than they seem.

In previous years, a Kindle book with a sales rank of 350,000 wasn’t selling at all. Now, it’s selling occasionally, and 1,000,000 is not selling at all.

The numbers are changing, but the perception doesn’t change with it. People still look at that Kindle book with a sales rank of 350,000 and think, “That book never sells.”

If there are now 200,000 books selling about one book per day on average, it will be hard for the number of books selling about one book per day on average to climb up to 1,000,000 because of this perception. If Amazon wants to have more books selling at least once a day, sales rank is working against this. Amazon wants to sell more books overall. It may be hard to increase the frequency of top sellers. It might not be as hard to “double the tail,” i.e. double the sales frequency of books at the bottom, without disturbing sales at the top.

The Good Old Days

When you stand in a bookstore, you have no idea which books are selling well.

(Okay, the bestseller lists and books that indicate bestseller status on the cover are a couple of exceptions.)

For the most part, when you stand in an aisle looking at a shelf, you have no idea which books have sold recently and which haven’t.

(Okay, if you’re a frequent customer, maybe you can remember the contents of the shelf well.)

You do see several copies of a few books, and only one copy of most books. If there are several copies, is that because it’s a hot seller? Or are there so many copies left because it hasn’t been selling?

Imagine if you saw the sales rank on every book. You pick up a book, see the number 462,165 on it. You drop it like a hot potato. You better go wash your hands with soap and warm water.

Gosh, ten years ago I used to pick a book based on the cover, spine, back cover blurb, and especially how the first chapter began. There was no sales rank. There were no customer reviews (unless you want to count glowing quotes on the first page and back cover).

You

How do you shop for books? Is sales rank important to you?

If you feel that sales rank should be important to customers, you can market this perception to others.

If you feel that sales rank shouldn’t be so important, you can market this perception.

You have the chance to discuss sales rank with others and to debate (professionally and tactfully) the pros and cons of factoring this into a purchase decision.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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