Marketing Children’s Books

Childrens Books

What Do I Know About This?

Children, tweens, and teens make up a significant portion of the target audience for dozens of books that I’ve published.

This includes my Improve Your Math Fluency series of workbooks (arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry), my chemistry and astronomy books, projects where I’ve collaborated with other children’s authors, and books that I’ve published under a pen name.

(My audience isn’t just children, though. Many adults buy the same books. Most of my books have a grown-up look to them so that the same books can appeal to both audiences.)

I have implemented the marketing tips that I share below.

Math

Who Is the Target Audience?

Ultimately, you write a children’s book for the kids. If the kids who read the book don’t benefit from the book, it will be very difficult to achieve lasting success.

But the kids may not be involved in—or even present during—the purchase. Parents and educators are more likely to make the purchase.

Both the packaging (cover and blurb) and content must appeal to parents and educators, or the book won’t sell.

The book needs to appeal to the target age group, their parents, and the educators of this grade level in order to have a fighting chance.

You must target a very narrow age group or grade, such as Ages 9-11, preteens, or grade 4.

You would love to sell your book to everyone from age 0 to 115, but if you market your book this way, it may not sell to anybody.

Consider the parent or teacher who is shopping for the book. For example, a parent may be shopping for a book for a child who reads at the second-grade level. This parent doesn’t want to buy a book that has a kindergarten reading level because that would be too easy, and doesn’t want to buy a book with a fourth grade reading level as it would be too hard.

The parent also wants the content of the book to fit the interests and perhaps relevant curriculum standards for this grade level. The material must also be parent- and teacher-approved.

Many authors avoid mentioning the age or grade level, but this is a big mistake. The worry is that specifying grade 4, for example, will eliminate a great percentage of the shoppers. And there may be children in grade 2 who can handle the material, or children in grade 6 who are still reading at the level of grade 4 or who would benefit from additional practice with the easier material. Specifying grade 4 might lose those sales, right? But it’s just the opposite!

What parent is going to buy 50 books to find the one that’s the right level? None! Parents and teachers need to know exactly what they’re getting. Specifying an age group or grade level (not broadly, like grades 1-6) helps much more than it hurts. If the parent can’t determine the grade level, from the perspective of the parent, chances are that it’s not the right level, so it’s not a good gamble. When the level is clear, the guesswork is removed.

Some parents will say, “Oh, that’s the wrong level,” and that’s okay. First, they weren’t going to buy the book anyway if the level hadn’t been clear. Second, if they did, they would be unhappy with the purchase, which leads to a return or a bad review. What you gain by specifying the level are several customers who say, “Hey, that’s the level I’m looking for.” Catching the interest of 10% of the people who check out the book is better than having 99% of the people who check out the book pass on it because the level is unclear.

There are a few exceptions. For example, if you write a book on arithmetic facts or tracing the alphabet, parents know by the topic whether or not the child is in the right age group. But if your book is about math, reading, science, history, or fiction, for example, there are many books on each of these subjects in many different grade levels, so you must make this very clear.

Here’s a tip: Use the words “and up.” For example, kindergarten and up, or grades 4 and up. This is less restrictive.

Level

The Challenges

One difficulty is designing a cover that appeals to both the children in the target age group and their parents or teachers. Cover design is already challenging when there is just one target audience. It’s even tougher for children’s books because it must appeal to two audiences to result in a single sale.

Traditional publishers often indicate the grade level on the cover, such as a large “2nd” in the corner. (Note that Amazon has a new feature that hides the top right corner of the cover until the buyer looks inside.)

Similarly, the content must appeal to children, parents, and educators.

With self-publishing, it’s up to the author to determine the grade level. The writing has to match the grade level that you specify, the content has to match this level, and everything must be age-appropriate. It’s not easy to get this right, but one mistake can greatly deter sales. You can search online to find tools to help give your book a readability score.

The better approach is to talk with local teachers of the approximate grade level, ask for their opinion, and find out what standards they use to determine readability. For example, if there is a particular software program that can help you pinpoint the reading level that is more likely to be recognized in your state or country, then that’s the program you want to use.

Another thing parents and educators have on their minds is the author’s qualifications. This may be a relevant degree or teaching experience, for example, but not necessarily. A degree and educational experience may be more relevant for nonfiction. But even for fiction, parents and teachers want their children to read text and content that is free of mistakes. How will children learn to read and write well if they read books that have mistakes? It’s important to write well and iron out the blurb and content as well as possible.

K-12 educators are strongly oriented toward a curriculum, which follows state or national standards. You want to determine how your book fits, or doesn’t fit, into the curriculum. If you’re hoping to have your book used in a classroom setting, teachers will surely be thinking about how it ties into the curriculum. Your book doesn’t necessarily need to tie into the curriculum, though. For example, many schools are dropping cursive handwriting from the curriculum, yet parents buy cursive handwriting books because they still want their children to learn these skills. How you go about marketing your book depends on whether or not it fits into a school’s curriculum.

Formatting is generally more complicated for children’s books, especially if there are pictures. In many ways, it is easier to format text. For full-page picture books, the text and images must fit together, and full-page images must be designed to bleed past the page edges for paperback books. Full-page pictures with text are challenging in e-book design since an e-book may be read on a tiny cell phone screen or a large iPad: Text needs to be clear either way. The screen may have color, or may be black-and-white, but sometimes two colors that contrast well together don’t look different in grayscale, so ideally the images should look good both in color and grayscale. Image size and memory are two more challenges for e-books that have pictures.

New children’s authors generally find it difficult to get discovered by their target audiences, but it is doable. Ultimately, it takes great content, but it also requires effective marketing, patience, and developing an author platform that includes several similar books.

One more challenge is the perception of value. Beginning-level books, especially, often have very few words, so it may not seem, to the reader, that much work is involved in making the book, unless there are really intricate pictures (when, in fact, it takes a great deal of effort to write a book at the appropriate grade level, and to format most children’s books; but the shopper may just be thinking about the word count). Paperbacks and hardcovers printed in color may be quite expensive, and Kindle e-books with pictures may have a high memory. This means that the price may be higher than you or the customer would like. One possibility is combining multiple books together into a single book to help create the perception of better value, but it doesn’t always work out (if the page count is high for a full-color book, or if the images take much memory in an e-book, a larger volume may still turn out not to seem economical). Chapter books, consisting mostly of text, have an advantage when it comes to pricing reasonably.

It’s important to be aware of the challenges as you plan your book, write your book, design your cover, prepare your blurb, and establish the grade level.

Writing

Blurb Tips

Parents and educators are most likely to read the blurb. If you write to a teen audience, this improve the chances that the “child” will be reading the blurb. Younger kids may also read the blurb, but even if they do, they probably won’t buy your book unless their parents also read your blurb.

So you want to have the parent and educator in mind while preparing the blurb. But the child is important, too.

It’s important to establish the specific grade level, target age group, or reading level. Parents and teachers don’t want to take a chance; they want to know the proper level.

Note that grade levels can vary considerably by country. For example, it may be more appropriate to identify the key stage for UK children’s books. Also note that Amazon uses the same product description for all countries, so if your primary audience resides in the USA, for example, it’s probably not worth indicating the appropriate level in the UK (also, spelling and wording would be different there).

A parent isn’t just looking for the grade level, but to see that the material is age-appropriate, the reading level is a good fit, the content is what the parent or child is looking for, the material will engage the child, etc. Think about the best features that your book offers. These should be clear from reading the blurb (but not explicit for a fiction blurb).

Concise blurbs are often more effective. A fiction blurb should grab interest quickly and arouse curiosity. A long blurb runs the risk of boring the shopper or giving away too much. You want the buyer to look inside.

A nonfiction blurb can be longer, if separated into block paragraphs. Use bullets to highlight key points. You can format blank lines, bullets, italics, boldface, and underline by signing up for Author Central.

Blurb Girls

Category and Keyword Tips

Unfortunately, the BISAC categories that you select when you publish your book are different from the categories that you find on Amazon. You must choose the closest match.

Tip: There is a “secret” to getting into special categories. A hard-to-find page in the Kindle help pages (check it out even if you publish a print book) reveals how to use keywords to get your book listed in certain categories:

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41

Once there, click on one of the categories (such as Children’s or Teen & Young Adult) to pull up a table. The table lists the keywords that you need to use to get your book into a specific category.

In particular, to get listed in a specific age group, you must use one of these keywords:

  • Baby to 2 years old: Keyword = baby.
  • Ages 3 to 5: Keyword = preschool.
  • Ages 6 to 8: Keyword = Ages 6 to 8.
  • Ages 9 to 12: Keyword = preteen.

It doesn’t say, but if your audience is teens, it seems logical to include “teen” as a keyword (without the quotes, of course).

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to choose two categories, but CreateSpace only lets you pick one. Well, that’s not quite true:

Tip: Contact CreateSpace after your book appears on Amazon and politely request that it be added to a second browse category. Browse through the categories on Amazon, and when you find the best second category, copy the browse path (e.g. Books › Children’s Books › Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths › Collections) into your email to CreateSpace.

In the past,  I have been advised that the BISAC category must be within Children’s in order to add a second category under Teen.

Rank 2

Getting into the Classroom

Just enabling a distribution channel that’s available to academia probably won’t generate many sales to schools. It’s worth having access to such a channel. For one, you can then say that your book is indeed available through that route if the topic comes up in a conversation. But you’ll probably have to market personally to generate sales among educators.

Well, I have had multiple sales of 25 to 200 books directly from Amazon. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened periodically with me. Teachers are looking for material that they can use in the classroom, and some do have a budget for additional classroom resources. If your product page appeals to teachers, there is potential. This is like winning the lottery. You can’t plan for it. You can make your content and packaging as appealing as possible, and if you get lucky, enjoy it. If not, well, you should have realized it was unlikely. If you do get bulk orders this way, it’s likely to be rare unless you’re motivating these sales through personal interactions.

I’ve also had upwards of 150 copies of a book purchased in bulk through the Expanded Distribution. That academic outlet is open, but, in my experience, is quite rare.

The more likely way to get a book adopted for classroom use is to personally interact with teachers. You may have to suffer many rejections along the way. First, you have to have content that’s an excellent fit into the teacher’s curriculum. Then the teacher may already be quite happy with the materials already on-hand or accessible online. The teacher may not have a budget. The teacher just might not like your book. The grade level might not match up as well as you’d hoped. There are many reasons that your book might not get adopted. However, there are books that appeal to teachers, and if you happen to have one of those, taking time to personally interact with teachers may pay large dividends.

If the teacher wants to adopt your book in the classroom, it could be ordered directly from Amazon, it could be ordered through the Expanded Distribution (though not all teachers may know how to go about this), or if you publish with CreateSpace you can create a discount code and direct the teacher to your eStore. The per-book shipping is pretty reasonable for large orders, and a sufficient discount may be enticing. If the teacher is investing his or her own money, rather than placing an order from the school through the school’s budget, the optimal solution is for you to order author copies and sell those at a discount in person. You probably can’t sell author copies if the school is purchasing the books through school funds (since auditors will examine records, hoping to prevent schools from overpaying for products through personal transactions of this sort); in this case, Amazon, Ingram, or your eStore are best.

It’s still worth interacting with teachers even if the chances of your book being adopted for classroom use are very slim:

  • Teachers can help you judge the reading level of your text and the grade level of the content of your book.
  • Teachers can help you determine whether or not your book fits into the current curriculum.
  • Teachers may give you good ideas that you hadn’t thought of.
  • If the teacher likes your book, he or she could recommend it to parents, other teachers, etc.
  • The teacher may be able to help you arrange a local reading of your book to children and their parents at the school or a library (you may need to go through a fingerprinting process with the local police to ensure safety).

Most teachers are very busy people, and if you catch them at the end of the day, they’ve been dealing with kids all day long. Keep this in mind. If you show up seeming like a salesperson, you may not receive the warmest reception.

Don’t forget librarians: They can also help you judge the reading level of your book. They may even be willing to order copies of your book through Baker & Taylor to stock. Or you might be able to volunteer to read your book to children.

Another great opportunity comes with specialty bookstores that specifically stock educational materials. It’s like a teacher resource store, filled with educational workbooks, supplemental books, and all kinds of classroom materials, from dry erase boards to highlighters. If you can find any of these in your region, you may be able to sell them author copies at 40% to 55% off the list price (or on consignment).

20131102_090534

Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

You may have better success among parents or home school teachers. For one, they may not be as tied to the standard curriculum.

One way to meet parents is through local readings at a school or library.

There may be another opportunity. Many parents are looking for after-school help. This could include tutoring or additional practice for students who are struggling. But it also includes advanced sessions for students who are breezing through school.

I know a local parent who used to offer advanced math lessons in the evenings. She was very good at helping advanced students learn math ahead of the curriculum. Parents observed this, news spread quickly, and her after-school program was in-demand.

You can try to find parents or home school teachers willing to use your books. You can also create your own after-school program (or perhaps even an online course) where your book is part of the required reading. There are many opportunities if you have good content, personal marketing skills, the ability to think outside the box, and the motivation to do the work.

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Personal Interactions

Authors intuitively search for marketing strategies that involve little time or interaction, hoping to reach a large audience with little or no effort.

This is why so much money is squandered on ineffective advertisements, promotions, and hiring people to do the marketing for the author.

But personal interactions have the potential to be far more effective.

For one, it’s easier to get people interested in you—a living, breathing, interacting person—than a book that just sits there.

For another, parents and teachers will judge your character and personality. They can ask you questions to learn things that aren’t evident in your blurb, but which matter to them.

People who meet and interact with the author—and who enjoy this interaction—are more likely to check out the product page, buy the book if it’s a good fit for them, and leave a review if the book was helpful or entertaining.

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Marketing Children’s Books Online

You can’t interact directly with your target audience because you’re an adult. But you can interact with parents and educators.

It’s hard to find your target audience through social media, discussion forums, a blog, etc.

But you may be able to help your target audience find you. It may involve some work, but if you pull it off, it might be the most effective marketing that you do.

One way is to post an article in a high-traffic area. The article must be relevant to your target audience and your book. The end of the article needs to state Your Name, author of Your Book.

Another way is to create content for your own website or blog that will appeal to your target audience. Most authors who attempt this become quickly discouraged, and so never realize the full potential.

The problem is that if you write one article today, or a few articles this week, you can pour hours into the writing, yet even if the content is incredibly valuable to your target audience, it might get only a handful of views when it’s first posted, and then may not be viewed at all after that. It’s really tough to post more articles when the initial results are so dismal.

It can take months and several content-rich articles before a content-rich website begins to show its effectiveness.

A blog receives initial traffic from followers, reblogs, and the reader. But it can also receive continued traffic through search engines.

Your goal is to get regular search engine traffic. These are people who search for keywords on the internet, then find your article in the search results.

For this to be effective, the articles must be highly relevant for your book, and the keyword searches must be highly relevant for the articles. You don’t want to write about something so popular that your article will be virtually invisible, but you do want the keywords to be searched for with some frequency. It can take several articles before you hit the magic combination that pulls in traffic from search engines.

If you can direct dozens of people to your blog from search engines every day, this adds up to thousands or tens of thousands of people in your target audience discovering your book (assuming you mention or show your book somewhere on your website or at the end of your article, with a link to it). Presently, I have over 100 views of articles on this blog every day, on average, with at least 70% of the traffic coming from search engines. It didn’t start out that way. In the beginning weeks, I had just a handful of views of any post, with none of it coming from search engines.

The potential is there. You can’t realize it if you don’t try.

Wacky Sentences

Feedback Is Vital

How do you know if your book is good? Get it into the hands of your target audience.

You need beta-readers. (Don’t make your first customers beta-test your book. Then critical feedback comes in the form of a permanent review.)

Find out what children in the target audience like and dislike. What do the parents think?

Ask teachers, too. Their feedback can help you establish the grade level and see how your book fits with the standard curriculum.

Reviews 3

Who Are You?

When people discover your book, that’s what they’re wondering.

Are you qualified to write this book? Do you have relevant expertise or experience? These are things you want to highlight in your biography if you have the qualifications that parents and teachers are looking for.

You’re not just selling your book, but partly yourself, too. Ultimately, you’re trying to create a brand as the author of a children’s book or series.

Your author photo should portray the look of someone who could write a children’s book.

Author Picture 4 Cropped Small

More Than Just an Author

Chris McMullen, more than just the author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

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

AUTHORS – When was the last time you?

What a great reminder list. There are several things here that we should be keeping up with.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Said THANK YOU to a reviewer and clicked the LIKE button under their review?

like-button2The means to do both is provided by Goodreads and Amazon!

Authors often complain about the lack of reviews for their Bestselling Stories, but how many of you interact with readers who DO leave their reviews?

Having received thank you’s and/or messages from authors about my short, simplistic and unprofessional (but honest) reviews myself, I know how nice it feels (and I deal with authors on a daily basis!).

It may encourage them to read at least one more of your books!

Likewise, when Amazon sends me an email to notify me that someone has advised that my review helped them, (they had clicked the LIKE button under it), it pleases me and it’s not always, or only, the author who does so.

fightAVOID making comments or taking up arms against unfavourable reviews – read

View original post 487 more words

Great Time to Be a Muse

Muse

Are you looking for a job?

Competing against the mob?

It’s a great time to be a muse.

You’re sure to be put to good use.

Writers everywhere need you.

On their knees and begging, too.

Please, oh please, tell me what to write.

I promise to stay up all night.

The job comes with some great perks.

It’s fine if you have some quirks.

You can come and go as you please.

Redo it from scratch. Be a tease.

You’ll be free and won’t need tools.

There are just two simple rules.

The first rule is you must inspire.

Next, don’t let the writer retire.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

How to Kill Your Book Sales

Kill Sales

The Problem

Sales are going along steadily. Then you get a sudden urge to limit your income.

  • Maybe your spouse is spending too much money, and this will provide a valuable lesson.
  • Perhaps you’re worried about paying too much in taxes.
  • It might be that you want to eliminate the headache of what to do with all that extra cash.

Whatever the reason—and I bet it’s a good one—you want to kill your sales.

If you’re an author or publisher, you came to the right place to learn how to do it.

Following are several possible solutions.

(1) Naked Cover

No, not naked people, a naked cover. (Though if you wrote a book on conservative Christian values, naked people on your cover might work, too.)

What’s a naked cover? It’s a plain white cover with the title and author name written on a tiny font so that you can barely see them—like the one below.

Thirty years from now naked covers will become the new trend, and you’ll be complaining, “Hey! That was my idea!”

Naked Cover

(2) Toga Party

Edit your book so that customers think, “That’s Greek to me.” Literally: Pay a translation service to rewrite your book in Greek, then upload the Greek file in place of the English one.

However, if a large portion of your target audience actually speaks Greek, maybe you should try Egyptian hieroglyphics instead.

(3) Pure Jibberish

Change your blurb so that it’s completely unintelligible. For example, you might rewrite it in Morse code, using burps and hiccups in place of dits and dahs. For example, it might start out something like this:

Burp hiccup hiccup. Burp burp burp burp. Hiccup burp hiccup hiccup.

Hiccup burp burp. Burp burp. Hiccup burp burp.

Hiccup burp hiccup hiccup. Hiccup hiccup hiccup. Burp burp hiccup.

Hiccup burp burp burp. Hiccup hiccup hiccup. Hiccup! Burp burp burp burp. Burp! Burp hiccup burp?

On the downside, your blurb might make perfect sense to drunk or buzzed shoppers. But there is always the hope that they will return their books after they recover from their hangovers.

(4) Insult to Injury

Insult your reviewers. Of course, you have to sign on with an account where you use your real name so that everyone knows that you are, indeed, the author.

Unfortunately, you can’t just drop F-bombs in the comments. Otherwise, Amazon may remove your comments and this will lose its effectiveness.

No, you must be clever. Insult your customers in such a way that they feel, “Why, I never!” But do it in such a way that your comments don’t appear to violate the review guidelines.

Perhaps something like, “Thank you for taking the time to leave that glowing, five-star review. I’m surprised that someone with a pea-sized brain was able to comprehend my literary genius.”

Some people don’t read the comments, so you have to go all out. Comment on every review, from one to five stars. Leave 300 or so comments after each review. When customers see that each review has hundreds of comments, that may draw their interest.

Go to every customer discussion forum you can, make it crystal clear who you are and how to find your book, and insult the daylights out of everybody there. That will attract more interest in your reviews, and, hopefully, add hundreds of one-star reviews to your product page.

Though some customers may feel pity for you and buy your book anyway.

(5) Haywire

Create a formatting nightmare as follows:

  • Place your cursor in the middle of a paragraph and encourage your toddler to play with the keyboard for a few minutes.
  • Indent your paragraphs from the right side.
  • Align your text so that it’s ragged left. (See the image below.)
  • Rotate an occasional page 90 degrees. Don’t worry if part of the text gets cut off.
  • Double space every other page.
  • Use italics, boldface, underline, and strikethrough (all four at once) on an entire chapter. Preferably Chapter 1, so it shows on the Look Inside.
  • Add dialog tags to every word of dialog. For example: John said, “Good,” then said, “morning,” and added, “Jane.” Then John said, “How,” to which he added, “are,” and finally, “you?” Jane began her reply, “I’m,” and ended it with, “miserable.”
  • Insert a random watermark, like the word REJECTED, onto every page of the book. (Find an example below.)
  • Hold down the Shift key and press Enter after every heading so it expands to fill the margins.
  • Cut your pictures in half horizontally. Paste the top half on one page and the bottom half on the following page.
  • Vomit on the floor, take a high-resolution picture of it, scan the image, and insert it in your book immediately following the copyright page. (If you receive an invitation to post that page of your book on the wall of an art museum… well, then, maybe your book was just destined to sell after all. Stop fighting fate.)

Kill Sales 2

Rejected


 

Good Luck!

Sorry, satisfaction is not guaranteed. You should have read the fine print before you initiated action.

(Of course, if you want to be boring, you could just hit the button to unpublish your book, but that would be like cheating. Show some ingenuity!)

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

Authors, What Are You Selling?

Selling

The Question

Aren’t you selling more than just a book? much more?

If all you’re selling is a book, that’s a big problem for you: It’s easy to find books. The library has thousands. You can find thousands in bookstores, millions on Amazon, and hundreds at yard sales.

It takes more—much more—than just a book to make it worth reading.

  • What more are you offering than just a book?
  • Who is likely to benefit from what your book offers?

You want to identify the benefits your book offers, the people most likely to appreciate those benefits, and figure out how to match those people (your target audience) with your book.

Well, duh!

But many authors either aren’t doing this, or aren’t taking full advantage of this seemingly simple logic.

Features vs. Benefits

People don’t buy anything.

People don’t buy features.

People may buy benefits (if those benefits are a good fit for them and they perceive the benefits as a good value).

Example: Someone asks you, “Was self-publishing your book easy to do?”

  • Nothing special: “The writing was fun, but the editing and formatting were nightmares.” You missed a golden opportunity here to introduce a benefit.
  • Features: “It was because I really enjoyed the writing, which took two years, and I hired an editor for the tedious part.” This highlights two features: Ample time spent on the writing and having your book edited.
  • Benefits: “I really enjoyed the months that I spent studying swordsmanship and how to describe it in fiction, and I hired an editor to make sure it reads very well.” First, if you’re really into swords and sorcery, this sounds authentic. Second, people don’t care for the editor (that’s a feature), but they may appreciate that it will read well (that’s the benefit).

You might be thinking, “Well, if you mentioned the editor, it should be obvious that the book should read well.” But not necessarily. For one, there are different types of editors. Some customers might interpret mention of the editor to mean that there are no spelling mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that it will read well.

And not everyone will make the connection. Sales people have better success when they describe benefits than when they list features, especially when they describe specific ways that a product will benefit each individual.

Example:

  • Nothing special: “This television measures 27 inches diagonally.” Everyone is thinking, “So do many other televisions.”
  • Feature: “This television comes with picture-in-picture.” Many customers are thinking, “Well, I don’t need that. I’d rather save money.”
  • Benefit: “With picture-in-picture built-in, your husband won’t have to change the channel during your soap opera to check the score of the game every few minutes.” Now if this applies to you, you may be starting to consider the benefit that this feature offers. You might not have considered this benefit just from the feature itself. You might have interpreted the feature to mean you could watch two shows at once, which you didn’t intend to do.

Just-a-Book Marketing

If all you have to offer is a book, then it should be satisfactory to just:

  • Tell people that you have a book. That should do it, right? Maybe tell the genre, too. But a romance novel is still one of thousands. What makes it special?
  • Keep mentioning the title so that people can remember it. But if they do remember, why should they read it?
  • Show people the cover so they can see it. But if they do see it, why should they care to find out what’s inside it?
  • Advertise that it’s on sale. But people don’t buy prices. They need a reason to want the book before price helps to create value.

Branding is important, and branding does involve getting your target audience to see your cover, your title, and your name multiple times over a long period so that they recognize it.

But branding is more effective when they associate some benefit with your book.

When you hear Sony, do you think high quality? When you hear Costco, do you think large quantities and good savings? When you hear Disneyland, do you think your kids would be happy to go there? When you hear McDonald’s, do you expect fast service and low prices? When you hear Bounty, do you think absorbent?

You want to associate some benefit with your brand. Then, when your target audience is shopping for a book in your genre and remembers your book, they will have some positive quality to associate with it.

They might not buy your book just because they recognize it. But if they recognize it and a benefit comes to mind, this greatly improves your chances for a sale.

But it’s not just about the book. It’s about you, too.

More-than-a-Book Marketing

There are two ways to offer more than just a book:

  • Mention a specific benefit that your book offers.
  • Remember that the author is an important part of the book and marketing.

This second point can make a big impact on marketing effectiveness. We’ll get to this in the next section.

Your product description is a valuable marketing tool. Think about the important benefits that your book offers your target audience. These benefits should be clear from reading your blurb, but fiction is a little tricky because the benefits generally must be implicit.

The author’s biography provides a chance to show how the author is qualified to write the book. For nonfiction, this is often a relevant degree or experience. For fiction, if you have a writing degree, you should play your card, but if not, you may still have relevant experience. Have you traveled to the place where part of your book is set? Have you spent a significant amount of time learning or studying a relevant skill, like forensics for a crime novel?

Instead of trying to brand just your book’s title, you might develop a concise phrase to serve as a hook. Use this to create interest in your book and to associate your book with a positive quality. Anywhere you mention your book’s title, you could include the hook next to it, such as at the end of blog posts, emails, or on business cards. You can even mention it in person, at readings, signings, or anytime you get the opportunity to interact with your target audience and the subject of your book comes up.

Example: Instead of just mentioning the title, A See-Through Relationship, you could also include the hook, “What if you fell in love with a ghost?”

It’s not easy to come up with a clever, appropriate, effective, very short hook, but it can really be worth it if you pull it off. It’s definitely worth spending time thinking about this.

I bet you recognize some company slogans. The hook works for authors much the same way.

When you have the chance to describe your book, online or in person, you want to make the benefits of your book clear. The better you know your target audience’s interests, the better you can show them how your book may benefit each individual.

The Author

It’s challenging to get people interested in your book.

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party, but it’s not an ordinary cocktail party. 90% of the people in attendance are sci-fi enthusiasts, and you have a science fiction book.

Suppose you set your book on a table in the center of the room and leave. I bet a few people will pick up the book, if the cover has good appeal, and check it out. But it’s just a book, and people didn’t attend a cocktail party looking for a book. They went to the party to meet people.

If instead you leave your book at home, but this time you stay at the party, there is a good chance that you will meet many people and get people interested in you.

You have a pulse. You move around. You talk. You interact. Unlike your book.

It’s easier to get people interested in you, the author, than it is to get people interested in your book.

Once people become interested in you, let them naturally discover that you’re an author, and their interest in you may translate into interest in your book.

By discover, I mean waiting for, “So what have you done lately?” instead of volunteering, “I just published a new book.” Wait for the prompt.

Use this to your advantage: Interact with your target audience, both in person and online.

You have a personality; your book doesn’t. You can interact with people; your book just sits there.

People in the target audience who personally interact with an author are more likely to check out a book, buy it, and leave a review than some random stranger who happens across it.

Online, a large number of people can come across your book. But to most of them, it’s just a book they see while passing through.

On your product page, your description may help to show the benefits, but first you need them to find your product page.

In person, your interactions can help to get people interested in your book through their interest in you, and then you can show them the benefits personally. Now you’re selling more than just a book.

You can also provide the personal touch online. You can also let people see that you’re more than just a name; you can help them discover the person behind the book.

More Than Just an Author

Chris McMullen, more than just the 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.

Puzzle: Four-Letter Word for Contradiction

Contradictory

It’s been a while since I’ve made a puzzle post.

This puzzle is a four-letter word for contradiction.

No, it’s not one of those kinds of four-letter words.

Yuck! Now I have to wipe that foul language off my blog.

(Just teasing.)

Here comes a hint.

Believe it or not, the people below are all talking about the same thing:

John: I know exactly what I’m doing.

Ivan: Everyone knows you’re making the biggest mistake of your life except for you.

Jean: I made that mistake before, and I want you to benefit from my wisdom.

Geovanni: You’re doing the wrong thing, but sometimes we need to learn for ourselves.

Yohan: Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems after all.

Jonka: Don’t worry. It will all work out in the end.

In fact, these could all be the same person thinking about similar circumstances at different times.

Remember, we’re looking for a four-letter word for contradiction.

Spoiler alert.

Ready or not.

Here comes the answer.

It’s something we can all relate to. It’s called life.

🙂

Love

Is

For

Everyone

Listening

Involves

Focused

Ears

Living

Independently

Frustrates

Elders

Lost

Individuals

Found

Everywhere

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

Even Indie Authors Get Rejected

Rejection

One great benefit of self-publishing is that it’s a sure thing.

You don’t need to send out query letters or book proposals.

You won’t be rejected by agents or editors.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t feel rejected.

Formatting Rejection

Once your manuscript is complete, you spend several days hammering that square peg of a book into a round hole, trying to reshape it into acceptable formatting.

You might be rejected by Microsoft Word, refusing to number pages, format headers, or keep the layout the way you would like it.

The publishing service might reject your file because it didn’t meet the technical guidelines.

Kindle might show you a preview that doesn’t look anything like your Word file.

Smashwords might not accept your e-book into the premium catalog.

Editing Rejection

People may point out spelling and grammar mistakes in your writing.

They might suggest that you really need an editor.

You might receive some constructive criticism on your writing, which, even when it has merit, can be hard to swallow.

Even worse, when you seek to hire an editor, the editor can choose to turn down the job.

Technical Rejection

When you order printed books, there is a chance of receiving defective copies.

A customer can receive a defective copy. No manufacturing service is perfect.

Even an e-book customer can experience technical hiccups while downloading or reading a book.

When one of your few customers encounters a problem that’s beyond your control, it can be frustrating.

Content Rejection

You can’t publish anything.

Amazon has content guidelines.

CreateSpace has content guidelines.

Kindle, Nook, and Kobo have content guidelines.

If you probe the limits of your writing freedom, your work could get rejected.

Sometimes there isn’t a clear line between what is or isn’t acceptable, but a murky gray area.

Legal Rejection

If you quote a line from a song, you could receive legal notice to take your book down.

If your writing infringes upon the rights of others, your book could lead to a lawsuit against you.

Legal action could cause a retailer to stop selling your book, or the publishing service to stop distributing your book.

Article Rejection

With the hope of gaining more exposure among your target audience, you may submit an article for publication.

Just like submitting a book proposal, your article may be rejected.

Contest Rejection

If you enter your book into a contest, you might not win.

You might not even make the first cut.

Review Rejection

Critics can leave bad reviews.

They can post one-star reviews right on the product page, where every shopper can see it.

Where your family and friends can see it.

Where you can see it.

Those comments can cut deep.

Sales Rejection

There is no guarantee that you will sell a single copy of your book.

Many books never sell 100 copies.

Not 100 per month. Not 100 per year. Not ever.

There are books that have been on the market for over a year that have no sales rank.

To not sell any books must hurt worse than receiving thirty rejection letters.

Public Rejection

People you know can complain about your book.

Or about how you’re wasting your time pretending to be an author.

While you strive to build positive publicity for yourself, once you enter the public eye’s scrutiny, one false step can lead to negative publicity.

Bully Rejection

Cyberbullies can target you.

Family Rejection

Your own family might not appreciate your writing.

They might wish you did something more “meaningful” with your time.

Self Rejection

You could be your own worst critic.

You might regret your prior writing.

You might delete your work and start over before you ever finish.

You might not even find the courage to publish in the first place.

Approved!

You write, therefore you are an author: See “Intimidation is nine-tenths of the writer’s law,” by Ionia Martin.

You don’t need permission to share your passion. You are approved!

Don’t focus on the worst that can happen. Focus on readers who can benefit from your writing. Those are the people worth writing for.

Writing and publishing a book is a huge accomplishment, no matter how you do it. Give yourself a round of applause. Congratulations!

Grow a thick skin. Find a support system. Don’t let ’em bring you down.

When you feel rejected, turn it around. Use it as a motivator. Let it boost you up.

Support

Offer support to other authors.

Read. When the writing is good, leave positive reviews. Spread the word about good books.

Share your wisdom and experience with authors who seek help from you.

Provide emotional support where it’s needed. Oh, yes, it’s needed.

Applaud authors everywhere for working hard to create wonderful reading experiences.

Listen.

It’s faint, but listen.

Do you hear it?

Sounds like a clap.

More clapping.

It’s growing louder.

Applause.

Take a bow. That applause is for you.

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.

Your Blog Traffic Includes Three Audiences

Audiences

Target Audience

It’s important to identify your target audience and prepare content for that audience.

It’s also important to realize that your blog has three different audiences:

  • Active bloggers who frequently read your posts and contribute to the comments section.
  • Fans who stop by to check out your blog, who may find helpful content and continue to visit.
  • Potential customers who discover your blog through search engines, links to your website, etc.

Each audience is important in its own way:

  • Fellow bloggers who frequently like your posts and interact in the comments section give your blog life and personality. This activity makes you feel better and creates a great vibe when your other audiences discover your posts. Much of your following consists of other WordPress bloggers, Facebook followers, and Twitter followers.
  • Fans of your current books may discover your blog from the About the Author section of your books. They may be hoping to learn more about you, find additional content on your website, or receive updates about your works in progress.
  • People in your target audience who discover your blog through search engines are prospective customers. They didn’t already know about your book before discovering your blog. If the search terms they used are highly relevant for both the content on your website and in your books, your blog is working to help customers find you (rather than you trying to find customers).

Blog Traffic

It’s easy to get caught up in views, likes, follows, and immediate sales.

When you start out, these numbers can seem quite frustrating, since blogging tends to be very slow in the beginning.

Most of your likes, follows, and initial views are coming from other WordPress bloggers. Most of these bloggers aren’t in your target audience.

Fellow bloggers can provide amazing support, offer helpful advice, help to spread the word about you in the social media world, add to your following, and make your posts look engaging. You can also find wonderful friends among other bloggers.

But remember, most of these—totally awesome—bloggers aren’t in your target audience. Yes, some of your blog pals will support you with sales and word-of-mouth recommendations. But most of your potential customers aren’t to be found in your likes, follows, and initial views.

Your following will consist of some fans once you begin to attract readers. However, fans may represent a very thin slice of your total following. Much of your following may consist of ghosts, i.e. people who clicked the Follow button, but will almost never read your posts. But if you have readers and you direct them to your blog, some of them will show up as fans.

Tip: Don’t just include a link to your blog. Also add a reason to visit your blog. What will they find there that will make the trip worthwhile?

When you do a cover reveal, your fans will help you build buzz for the new release. When you release a new book, fans will help you with early sales and reviews. The larger your fan base, the better the potential of your next book launch.

Fans are people in your target audience who already know about your book. Bloggers mostly already know about your book, but aren’t likely to be in your target audience.

(Exceptions are fantastic, but they are still exceptions. Most of the books I’m reading now were written by WordPress authors that I met here. There are many WordPress bloggers who read books by fellow bloggers. This is all wonderful, but remember that most bloggers are outside of your target audience.)

Your website will be most successful in generating sales when it reaches people in your target audience who don’t already know about your book.

(Sales may not be the best measure of success, nor the best motivation for having a blog. Blog and write to share your passion. But in the interest of helping to share your passion through sales, the question of how to generate more sales may have some importance to you.)

That’s where the search engine can be a valuable tool. Prepare content that is likely to attract people in your target audience to your blog. The material has to be highly relevant both to your audience and to your books. Even if you write fiction, you can make some nonfiction posts that relate to the content of your books.

Test out keywords on Google. The keyword should be relevant to your post, relevant to your audience, searched for with some frequency, but not so popular that your post will be drowned out by many other articles.

When you see views of old posts every day, when your WordPress stats show that you have a large percentage of search engine traffic, and when the keywords searched for are highly relevant for your books, then you know that you’re doing some things right to attract people through a content-rich website.

This can start out very slow. If you write a post hoping to attract people through search engines, you might see dismal results in the beginning. It takes quality content and even then you must persevere through a long slow period.

After six months, if you have dozens of views every day coming from search engines, your blog traffic consists of hundreds of people per month who didn’t previously know about your books. There is incredible potential here, well worth the effort and the patience required to see it through.

Variety

On the one hand, you’re trying to establish your own brand, and this comes about from consistency and unity.

But on the other hand, variety helps to attract different parts of your target audience because even people who share some common interests do think much differently. Variety also gives you some flavor for your blogging.

It is possible to show variety while also being unified toward the same brand.

You want to prepare material for all three audiences, and to mix it up. This helps you engage everybody, such that when people stop by, on any given day one of your recent posts is likely to appeal to them.

  • Engage your fellow bloggers and interact with them.
  • Have content that will interest your fans and encourage them to visit your blog periodically.
  • Post content that will attract your target audience through search engines.

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.

Kerning in Microsoft Word

Awkward

Kerning

The spacing between letters sometimes doesn’t look quite right to the eye. Kerning is the art of adjusting the spacing between individual letters in order to improve visual appeal.

Certain pairs of letters can be especially problematic. For example, consider the word WATER written in uppercase letters. If you look closely, you will see a noticeable gap in the pair WA, while the letters TE are nearly touching.

Water

Contents

  1. Kerning Example
  2. Does it Matter?
  3. Kerning in Word

1. Kerning Example

Inconsistent spacing between letters arises from the shape of the letters. The W is slanting toward the A, which slants away from the W. The process of typing generally creates each letter in its own little block. The W and A blocks force a minimum separation, unless kerning is applied. See the image below.

WA

Through kerning, the space between the W and A can be decreased, as in the following picture.

WA Kern

Note that the font above (Georgia) has a serif (that small line at the ends of each letter). When the WA pair is kerned, the space between the letters is decreased such that the end of each letter without the serif matches up with the end of the serif of the other letter. That is, look at the two red lines in the middle of the picture above and how they line up with the two letters.

See how kerning the WA pair improves the word WATER:

Water Kern

But it still isn’t perfect: It looks like there is too much space between AT, while TE seems crowded. These are adjustable, too:

WATER Kern 2

Does it look right to your eye now? It’s better, but for perfectionists, there is still a little room to work with.

2. Does it Matter?

The eye can tell when the font isn’t kerned properly. Even if you know nothing about kerning, if the letter-spacing is off, your eye realizes that something isn’t quite right. You may not know what it is if you’re not knowledgeable about typography, yet you know that something seems funny.

Kerning is most important on the book cover. The cover makes the first impression. If the shopper is thinking, “Something seems funny here,” this factors into that first impression.

The text inside the book is important, too, but the font on the cover is usually quite large (so that it can be read in the thumbnail image), such that improper kerning tends to stand out more.

When the interior is properly kerned, the design of the book offers a better reading experience and may even be easier on the eyes.

However, the more people read electronic text without kerning (although kerning is performed on some web-based text, for example), the more they are accustomed to not reading kerned text.

A book may have a hundred thousand words, whereas the cover only has a few. Manually kerning every word carefully in the interior file would be a tedious process. If kerning is important, using a desktop publisher with automatic kerning is highly convenient. When kerning manually, searching for letter pairs that are the worst offenders will help make the task more efficient.

There is a danger. Expert typesetters know what they are doing. It is possible for a novice to do more harm than good, with a result that’s worse than no kerning at all.

Here are my suggestions:

  • You should examine your title, subtitle, and author name on your cover. If there is significant inconsistency among letter spacing, try to resolve this. Get feedback from others about how the result looks compared to the original.
  • If you don’t have a program with automatic kerning, either don’t apply kerning or just look for the most notorious letter pairs, such as Te and ry. Note that a letter and punctuation mark may warrant kerning, as in T followed by a period or colon.

3. Kerning in Word

I will describe how to apply kerning in Microsoft Word. I will do this specifically for Microsoft Word 2010, which is very similar to 2007 and 2013.

Consider the following sentence (written in Times New Roman). Kerning is off, which is the default in Microsoft Word.

Sentence

In the sentence below, automatic kerning has been turned on:

Sentence KernedNotice that the word WATER looks much better. Automatic kerning is more efficient than working with one pair of letters at a time. Another significant improvement is that the period moved closer to the T.

Here is how to apply kerning in Microsoft Word 2007 and up:

  • If the text has already been typed, highlight the text (use Select All at the right of the Home tab if you wish to highlight the entire document).
  • Click the funny icon in the bottom right corner of the Font group on the Home tab (this is illustrated below).
  • Select the Advanced tab (the default is the Font tab).
  • Check the box next to Kerning for Fonts. You can specify a minimum font size.
  • If you want to get technical, for Open Type fonts you can play with the dropdown boxes at the bottom of the pop-up window.

Font Dialog

Font Advanced 2

Should you prefer to apply kerning manually to specific letter pairs, highlight a single letter, then follow the instructions above, but instead of checking the box for Kerning, set the Spacing to Expanded or Condensed. (When you apply Spacing to an entire word, it’s called tracking, but when you expand or condense the space between a single pair of letters only, it’s called kerning.) Tracking can come in handy when you need to adjust the number of words on a specific line, e.g. to avoid a widow or render justification with smaller gaps between words.

If Microsoft Word doesn’t support automatic kerning for a font that you are using, you can still use the manual method.

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

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

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

Check Your KDP Dashboard. Cool New Feature.

New 2

Finally!

Visit your Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) bookshelf and check out the new, totally amazing Sales Dashboard.

It may not help you get more sales, but it will make it easier to track what sales you do get:

  • The best feature may be the running totals at the bottom (under the chart), showing you exactly how much you’re making in each country (well, borrows can’t be figured into this since). Change the period from the last 30 days to month-to-date and click the update report button to see how much you’ve made in each country this month.
  • A graph shows you your sales over a period of time. This will help to keep track of which days are better or worse for sales and how a promotion impacts your sales frequency.
  • For KDP Select authors, the graph shows borrows separately from sales (and if you do a freebie, those are shown separately, too). Uncheck a box at the bottom of the chart for any data you don’t want to see.
  • The left filter lets you see all marketplaces together, or you can pick a specific country.
  • You can also see data for a specific book rather than all titles.
  • Note that the report defaults by showing you data for the last 30 days. If you prefer to see what you’ve sold just this month, for example, change this to month-to-date. There are 5 time periods to choose from.
  • You can also create your own time period by using the calendars.
  • Click the button at the right (Update Report) when you wish to make a change.
  • Try the button at the bottom called Generate Report. This gives you a customizable Excel table.

I’d like to see one more thing in this report: Why not add a column at the bottom showing the total number sold in each country? If you’d also like to see this, send KDP an email. They won’t know if this may be a popular feature unless they hear from you.

What do you think of the new report?

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.