Write Selflessly… to Sell More Books #WriteWithCare

Selfless

SELFLESS WRITING

By selfless, I don’t mean giving away your books for free.

I mean a distinction between selfless versus selfish in how you go about the writing, publishing, and marketing.

Really, there aren’t two extremes: one who goes about this 100% selflessly or 100% selfishly. Everyone is apt to fall somewhere in between overall.

But let’s look at one possible extreme. Let’s label this as completely selfish (even though from some perspective, one might not agree with this label—don’t worry, we’ll explore this perspective, too):

  • Write whatever comes to mind.
  • Don’t write for a specific audience.
  • Write however you feel like writing.
  • Focus entirely on writing, if possible.
  • Give as little attention to formatting, cover design, marketing, etc. as possible.
  • Avoid interacting with readers or potential readers.

One way this might seem selfish is that you would be writing for you, not necessarily for the benefit of any particular reader. Will any readers actually appreciate what you’ve written?

Another way is that this ultra extreme example doesn’t entail learning or at least exploring the craft of writing itself, such as the elements of storytelling or characterization or making the writing flow.

Finally, this extreme is selfish in not wanting to meet or interact with readers, not to take a vested interest in marketing, not to add a personal touch to the reading experience, not to be willing to get out of one’s comfort zone with marketing, or to not want to take a more authoritative role in cover design, formatting, or the blurb.

Let’s compare with the other extreme, completely selfless (in a sense):

  • Considering your abilities, knowledge, experience, creativity, etc. and how to harness these to match up with real readers.
  • Thinking of ways to attract, engage, and please (or perhaps better, to wow) your audience from the front cover (the moment the reader lays eyes on your book) to the ending (that fulfilling climax and beyond). (Oh, yes! The writing and selling process is a romance, even if the book isn’t.)
  • Researching, learning, and exploring ways to apply elements of effective storytelling, characterization, communication, etc. with a style that suits your writing.
  • Looking beyond the writing itself, appreciating the challenge of trying to hook the reader with the cover and blurb, taking an interest in how the design of the book can supplement the feel of the story, and feeling motivated to share your passion with readers through marketing.
  • Wanting very much to meet readers and potential readers, and to interact with them.

To be fair, there is another perspective to consider.

If you write so much for the readers that you lose yourself… you sacrifice your own style… you write about topics that don’t strongly interest you… your writing goes against some of your own beliefs… you write in ways that you hear are best, but you don’t really believe in them… your motivation becomes to sell as many books as possible, whatever it takes… or worse, you engage in unscrupulous behavior to reach more readers… then you are apt to feel like you’ve sold out.

But somewhere in between is a happy medium, where the author retains a strong sense of identity, but where the author writes more selflessly, trying to put the author’s talents, experience, knowledge, background, style, etc. to effective use to please actual readers.

C.A.R.E.

  • C-are
  • A-bout
  • R-eaders’
  • E-xpectations

Back to the romance analogy with writing, publishing, and marketing, you don’t want a one-night stand. You’re looking for readers to commit to your book. Your series. So you need to commit to your readers. It’s mutual.

Think about how much you C.A.R.E. and how showing this impacts sales, not just now, but in the long run.

  • C.A.R.E. enough to make it easy for your audience to tell what kind of book you’ve written from a glance at your cover.
  • C.A.R.E. to dress your book up in an attractive cover, one that tells readers, “Hey! This author C.A.R.E.s.”
  • C.A.R.E. to stimulate the reader’s interest in the blurb, to not ruin the story for the reader by giving too much away, to show what kind of book the reader should expect.
  • C.A.R.E. to learn and perfect the craft of writing to become an effective storyteller, to create strong characters, to communicate clearly, etc.
  • C.A.R.E. to put the best possible book on the market, one that you will be proud of, one that readers will feel was well worth the money and time spent.
  • C.A.R.E. to find out what readers think, to meet readers, to interact with potential readers, to let your passion show, to get out of your comfort zone and help readers discover your book.
  • C.A.R.E. to think about how readers shop, how they will discover your book, what will pull the reader to your product page, what will make the reader take a chance on your book, how the beginning of the story will hook the reader, whether or not your story will engage the reader throughout, and whether your story is powerful enough to make the reader crave more.
  • C.A.R.E. to make your book so good that it leads to word-of-mouth recommendations.
  • Just C.A.R.E.

This works beyond writing books. How selfless do you write for social media? How selfless or selfish is your blog, for example? Is it meeting the needs of actual readers?

#WriteWithCare

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2016

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

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

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How about an * Optional * Pages Read for Sales?

Image from ShutterStock.

Image from ShutterStock.

PAGES READ FOR SALES?

Before you race to the comments field to say what a bad idea this is, please note the important word OPTIONAL. 🙂

If you still feel it’s a bad idea, then please do rush to leave a comment. 🙂

Here is what I’m proposing for Kindle sales (not to be confused with Kindle borrows):

  • Authors set one list price for outright purchase, just as usual. No change to this.
  • Authors also set an optional price per page. Emphasis on authors getting to choose this.

Example:

  • List price = $2.99. Customers can buy the book for $2.99.
  • Optional price per page = 3 cents per page. Customers can choose this option instead of buying the book. Remember, in my proposal, the author gets to choose this price.

Let’s say that the book in my example has 150 pages. Then the customer has two choices:

  • Buy the book for $2.99. Customer can read as little or as much of the book as desired.
  • Pay 3 cents per page (re-reads of pages already read are free). Just pay for how much you read. If you read the whole book in my example, this will cost you $4.50, but you could have just bought the book outright for $2.99.

In my proposal, the author receives the usual royalty rate, 35% or 70%, the same as for sales (though the delivery cost has to be factored in somehow for the 70% plan, maybe divide the delivery charge for the book by the number of pages and subtract this from the per page royalty).

So, in my example, the author earns more if (A) the customer chooses to pay by the page and (B) the customer eventually reads the whole book.

Amazon isn’t going to take a credit card payment for one page read: The fees would cost more than 3 cents. What Amazon would do is charge the customer, say, 99 cents up front, then bill the customer for every $9.99 spent, or some other increments, kind of like they do for AMS advertising. In the long run, Amazon might make more money with such a billing program than when they sell 10 books for 99-cents each and have 10 separate credit card fees. (They could do the billing up front if ‘credit’ is a concern.)

WHY DO THIS?

This might impact reference books and cookbooks, for example. These are books where customers sometimes only need to read part of the book now. Maybe they will want the rest later, maybe not.

Let’s say the customer doesn’t want to pay the list price for the whole book. If pages read isn’t an option, the customer will walk away. If so, it’s a lost sale for the author.

Would the author have been willing to set a per-page price so that the customer could read, say, just Chapter 4? Maybe if the author could set a high enough per-page price, the author would be okay with this. It’s better than nothing, right? And the transaction improves the book’s sales rank, a nice little perk.

It might impact fiction, too. With the option to pay for pages read, even though you might spend more when reading a whole book, it gives you some flexibility to try a book out that you’re strongly interested in, but don’t want to commit to for its list price.

Based on the Kindle Unlimited model, Amazon seems interested in tracking customer engagement. They are probably measuring pages read for sales, even though it presently only matters for borrows. It’s possible that in the future visibility on Amazon will be based in part on successful customer engagement (i.e. getting a higher percentage of pages read). That’s purely speculative. I have no reason to believe that’s in place now, nor have I heard that it’s coming. But it is possible, isn’t it? It wouldn’t be good for some types of books, like reference books and cookbooks. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Heck, they could change the payout for sales to a pages read scheme and not even make it optional. Amazon determines the rules, right?

Presently, pages read doesn’t impact paid sales in any way. It’s only for Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime borrows. I haven’t heard anything to suggest that it might change, so don’t panic.

I’m just curious. What you do you think about this idea? As an author, or as a reader.

To be honest, I’m not even sure if I’m in favor of it or against it. I am curious about it, though.

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015

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
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

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How Many Books Does an Indie Author Sell?

Bookshelf

INDIE BOOK SALES

If you self-publish a book, how many copies should you expect to sell?

To me, this number is much higher than many of the popular numbers floating around. I will try to explain why I believe this.

The most popular estimate to throw around may be 100 books. Not per month. Not per year. Ever.

Other popular estimates are somewhere between 300 and 700.

I believe that any committed author should expect to sell much more than this in the long run, and I also believe that most committed authors either do or will.

BOOK SALE ESTIMATES

There are many ways to estimate the average number of books that an indie author sells by analyzing data that’s available.

You could study Amazon sales ranks, both Kindle and print. Sales rank interpretation, though, isn’t quite as easy as it seems. There are seasonal effects; as the number of books grows, books with higher sales ranks sell more frequently than they used to; Amazon often changes the algorithm, etc. Still, this can give you a general estimate that will be in the ballpark.

Then there comes the issue of which books are indie books? There are various ways to do this, such as that used for the Author Earnings report.

But those are just Amazon sales. Many authors are getting sales from Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and other online retailers. Many are selling in bookstores. Others sell effectively in person, such as at conferences, readings, signings, etc. These numbers are significant, especially for the many indie authors who effectively market their books through other sales channels.

So the first thing to realize is that there are hidden sales that many of the estimates don’t consider.

There are other ways to go about estimating indie book sales, but no matter what, it’s hard to account for direct sales, which are significant for some authors, so there will always be hidden numbers.

The hidden sales aren’t what I wish to focus on, however.

AVERAGE INDIE SALES

Let’s look at this word ‘average’ in the context of:

How many copies will the average self-published book sell?

To me, it’s not useful to average ALL self-published books.

Include all self-published books if you wish to pat yourself on the back for beating that number, or if you wish to discourage authors from self-publishing.

If I wish to set a good benchmark to aim for, there are many books that I would exclude from the list:

  • Many book ideas, unfortunately, have very little potential no matter how well they are carried out. There are just some topics that some people don’t want to read. Do you really wish to compare yourself to a genealogy intended for family members, for example? It’s not just genealogy. There are many kinds of books that are popular to write, but can’t be expected to have much audience. (At least the genealogies may sell to family members.)
  • How about those ‘authors’—if you can call them that—who view writing as a get-rich-quick-with-little-effort scheme, publishing pamphlets. Is this a realistic comparison?
  • Even many ‘real’ writers have published experiments, such as short stories and novellas, putting little effort into the book, hoping to learn something from the sales (or probable lack thereof). Surely, this shouldn’t be factored into setting a benchmark.
  • Then there are books with major issues with the storyline, plot, characterization, spelling, punctuation, grammar, flow, writing style, formatting, etc.—I’m thinking of those so drastic as to greatly deter sales.
  • Suppose that you have a fantastic cover. Should you compare your book to those whose covers convey the wrong genre? It seems like other books that clearly signify the content would provide better expectations.
  • Similarly, if you have some great marketing plans or prior marketing experience, should you compare yourself to all the newbie authors who do virtually no marketing, or whose marketing makes very little impact?
  • Are you a committed author, planning to create several quality books? Then don’t look at the one-book wonders (i.e. an author only wrote a single book) for your basis.
  • We can come up with other books that you might wish to remove from the ‘average.’

Do you want to compare your sales to those books? If not, you might also wish to exclude these from the ‘average.’

Think of it this way. Suppose your dream is to be a professional baseball player, and you’re motivated to work so hard that you’ll settle for nothing less than the major leagues. Do you want to know what the average professional baseball player makes, including minor leaguers? Or do you want to know what the average major league player makes?

(For the record, I don’t view traditional publishing as the major leagues and indie publishing as the minor leagues. I see many successful pros in the indie league, and I see many pros playing both leagues.)

If you remove all those books from the ‘average,’ I believe that you’ll find that the average indie author makes MUCH more than $1000.

If you want to look at the cream of the crop, if you want to confine yourself to Amazon, for example, you should be looking at author ranks of about 10,000 or less. I’ll return to this figure later.

AUTHORS VS. BOOKS

There is yet another important point to consider.

Most successful self-published authors write several books.

So if you want to know what an indie author makes, that’s far different from looking at what a typical indie book makes.

First of all, authors who write several similar books sell many more copies of each book than authors who just publish one book.

Then, whatever they make per book, multiply that by the total number of books, which may be 5 or 10, but is often 20, 30, 50, or more.

This opens the door for many authors who only make $500 per book. Publish 20 books and you make $10,000. Plus, every book you publish helps generate sales for your other books.

Multi-book authors tend to do more effective marketing. It’s simple, really. Whatever marketing they do has the potential to bring dozens of sales from a single customer, instead of just one.

Series authors have a marketing advantage, too.

AUTHOR RANK

In May of 2014, an author rank fluctuating between 5,000 and 10,000 would have sold 1,000 or more books for that month. I know this from author ranks that I’ve studied firsthand, and I’ve also discussed this figure with other successful authors.

On top of this, there are several authors with mild success writing in two or more names (using pen names). So, for example, an author can have two or more author names with an author rank of 20,000 or better, and may still be selling 1,000 books per month.

At a modest $2 royalty, which many indie authors make, you only need to sell 500 books to make $1,000 per month, which is $10,000 per year if you can do it consistently.

Personally, I think all committed authors should aim for an author rank of 10,000 or less—not just to get there, but to sustain it long-term.

Let me stress the long-term part. It could be several years down the line. I’ll give you another goal to work on first, in the next section.

Of course, the number of published books and authors is growing rapidly. Not too far in the distant future, an author rank of 20,000 or higher will yield sales of 1,000 or more books per month. As the number of books grows, it’s worth adjusting one’s aim to 20,000 or more, as appropriate.

PATIENCE

Most authors aren’t going to achieve success right off the bat, and even those who do struggle to maintain that success.

The way to sell 1,000 books per month is to first sell 100 books per month. Set attainable goals first, then increase these goals when you reach them. After 100 per month, aim for 200 per month, then 500 per month, and then you can finally aim for 1,000 per month.

It takes time, thought, research, inspiration, and some talent to produce quality content.

One book usually isn’t enough in modern times. It takes a great deal of time to produce a half dozen or more quality, marketable products.

It takes time to develop a professional online platform. It takes time to learn effective marketing strategies. And the marketing tends to be more effective when you have more books worth marketing.

Plan for long-term success.

Think 100 books when you start out. No, don’t expect this in Month 1. It might take a year, or a few years. But keep working to get to 100 books per month. Then you can start thinking about higher goals. It may take many years to reach long-term success. Think long-term, as it’s within your reach.

If you expect immediate results, you’re likely to be one of the many authors who get discouraged and give up prematurely.

At the same time, you need to get good evaluations of your writing style and storytelling, and you need to research what makes a book marketable. Not every book sells, so if you want to be a successful author, you need to ensure that you’re writing books with good long-term potential.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS

People like to throw out small numbers for how well the average indie book sells.

As I mentioned, I believe the average committed indie author makes much more than this figure.

But the truth is that the average traditionally published book doesn’t sell much either.

You’d hope to easily sell 10,000. You dream about 50,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000.

But very many don’t sell 1,000. Just being traditionally published doesn’t make the book marketable or in-demand.

However, we could similarly throw out the lowest-selling traditionally published books for various reasons, just as I did for indie books. If you have a large following or great marketing plans—perhaps a killer publicist who will surely book major league interviews and land great reviews—then you wouldn’t compare yourself to the average traditionally published author.

The biggest-name traditionally published books do sell with amazing sales frequencies.

Indie books do take up a large share of the market, especially among e-books, but for the top authors, traditional publishing offers great bookstore potential, and also reaches those customers who still prefer traditionally published books.

Famous traditionally published authors could surely self-publish and still be highly successful, perhaps more so:

  • Already famous, surely much of their fan base would still support them.
  • They can safely invest in professional editing, formatting, and cover design, so these really aren’t issues.
  • They are more likely to get a return on reasonable marketing expenses, too.
  • They can earn upwards of 70% royalties, rather than settling for 10 to 15%.
  • They can price their books lower than many traditional publishers would allow, which may actually improve both sales and royalties, and also allows them to reach a wider audience.
  • Now let me ask you this. Suppose you’re one of the most famous authors on the planet and you choose to self-publish. Are bookstores really going to close their doors to you and force your customers to buy online instead?

In fact, a few prominent traditionally published authors have made the switch.

Some authors also self-publish in pen names in addition to publishing traditionally. Perhaps they write more books than traditional publishers can accommodate. Or perhaps they want to prove to themselves that they could make it as indie authors, too.

I believe that many of the big-name authors from the past who succeeded as traditionally published authors could also thrive in today’s market as indie authors if they had been writers in today’s world instead. Not all would, of course, but those with a unique style and those who could really dazzle readers, wouldn’t they also thrive in today’s world, even as indie authors? Perhaps not all of the classics, especially literary works, but think about the more accessible reads, master storytellers (not literary wonders) that anyone can appreciate. I believe if they were really committed to indie publishing, they would thrive.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 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.

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How Can Kindle Unlimited Improve Your Sales?

More Sales

Kindle Unlimited

For $9.99 per month, customers can check out up to 10 Kindle e-books from an extensive library of 600,000 titles at Amazon. All books enrolled in KDP Select are participating (plus 100,000 others from mostly small presses). Authors will receive royalties in the form of KDP Select borrows. The July, 2014 KDP Global Fund has been increased to $2,000,000. You can read more about Kindle Unlimited by clicking here.

Authors need to decide whether to opt in or opt out of KDP Select. The big question to ask is whether or not participation in Kindle Unlimited will improve the book’s sales.

Obviously, some books will thrive in this program, others will not. The difficult question is predicting how your book will do. I will discuss the pros and cons of Kindle Unlimited by focusing on how it could improve sales, and then I will discuss the opposite.

How Can Kindle Unlimited Improve Your Sales?

  • Kindle Unlimited customers can download KDP Select books for free. They can store up to 10 borrowed books on their devices, then download more once they return any of those 10. Every time a customer downloads a book and reads past the 10% point, you receive a royalty. For Kindle Unlimited customers, your book is permanently free (well, they do pay $9.99 per month for the privilege) AND you earn a royalty when it’s read. Customers are looking for books to download.
  • Kindle Unlimited offers customers the opportunity to try newbie authors or indie authors without risk. Bad book? Doesn’t cost a penny. Just get a new one. There are hundreds of thousands of indie authors, though, so just because many customers will be trying out indie authors doesn’t mean you’ll be one of those authors. As always, you need good content, good packaging, and effective marketing to make the most of the opportunity.
  • KDP Select books that succeed in getting numerous downloads will have an advantage over books that aren’t in Kindle Unlimited. It allows indie books to compete with traditionally published book more than ever. Every download improves your sales rank. That improved sales rank helps you generate even more sales. Books that thrive in the program can reap many benefits. Not all books will thrive; the better your book, packaging, and marketing, the better your chances (but that’s true even if you opt out of KDP Select).
  • Another benefit of frequent downloads is more exposure through customers-also-bought lists. Kindle Unlimited naturally helps books that help themselves through good content and marketing.
  • More downloads also leads to more reviews. Some books won’t get additional downloads, so none of this will help those books (but for those books, opting out might not be any better). Kindle Unlimited puts a premium on writing the best book you can.
  • The best benefit of more downloads is for books with excellent word-of-mouth potential. Here is where Kindle Unlimited can really favor fantastic books. Succeed in getting frequent downloads in Kindle Unlimited, and if you also have great content, you may see a very significant long-term growth through word-of-mouth sales. Many books don’t succeed in generating word-of-mouth recommendations, but those that do can really take off.
  • If your book is perceived as a great value, Kindle Unlimited subscribers might be attracted to your book. Since they can get any book free, they aren’t shopping for the cheapest book—they’re shopping for the best value. Suddenly, a higher price seems like a better value (since it’s free, why not read higher-priced books?). In addition to price, they will look at the length of the book and the quality (it could be that longer books are a better value; time will tell). But with a higher list price comes higher expectations, and your book better deliver on those heightened expectations to thrive in the long run.
  • If you have a great book that customers want to keep, the customer might want to keep it permanently. The customer can only store up to 10 borrowed books on the device. When a customer cancels Kindle Unlimited, all the books disappear. So the customer might want to buy your book—as a sale through Kindle, or as a paperback. This way, in time, outstanding books may actually sell two copies to some customers (once as a KDP Select borrow, once as a sale).
  • Thousands of customers are using the free 30-day trial. When the trial ends, some will cancel their subscriptions. Now suppose they downloaded your book during the free trial period and wished they could continue reading it. Well, they can. Now they just have to buy it. Many books will actually earn two royalties in the first couple of months of the program because of this.
  • Like any tool, the tool itself might not have much value to you, but if you do effective marketing with the tool, it can pay significant dividends. Kindle Unlimited seems like it may be just like such tools. The more sales you drive through effective marketing, the more sales rank, reviews, and word-of-mouth sales can help your book. The quality of the book and packaging are important, too. For example, try using the #Free with #KindleUnlimited hashtags, or look for Facebook groups specifically for Kindle Unlimited, or show parents what a value Kindle Unlimited can be for their kids. Where there is a will…

Remember, just because it can improve sales doesn’t mean it will. Some books will thrive in the program, but others won’t.

Even if the KDP Select per-borrow royalty goes way down (it’s usually around $2), if you have more customers than usual, it may be a fair trade-off. Additional readers gives you:

  • Long-term potential for valuable word-of-mouth sales.
  • Improved sales rank.
  • More reviews, on average.
  • Greater exposure.

If your book enjoys any of these benefits, in the long run, it may even be worth staying in KDP Select even if your net income diminishes slightly.

And if you opt out, there’s no guarantee that will turn out to be any better. But it could be, so let’s look at the other side of the coin.

Could Kindle Unlimited Hurt Your Sales?

  • Well, if you choose to opt out KDP Select, any customers in Kindle Unlimited may be reluctant to buy your book when there are 600,000 others that they can get for free. But for the remaining bullet points, let me focus on how staying in KDP Select may actually hurt your sales, or where opting out may be the better option.
  • The biggest drawback of KDP Select still is, and always has been, exclusivity. You’re not allowed to publish the e-book edition of your book (or one similar to it) on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, or anywhere else. Some books sell primarily on Amazon; those books will probably be better off in KDP Select than not. Other books sell 25% or more through other sales channels; for these books, it’s possible that exclusivity isn’t worth the sacrifice. Though Kindle Unlimited may squeeze Kindle’s competition, reducing the potential to draw sales from other channels.
  • If your book doesn’t thrive in Kindle Unlimited, your sales rank will slip and that will in turn deter sales somewhat. You can actually get a few downloads every day and slip in sales rank because so many other KDP Select books are getting more downloads than you are. This will in turn diminish your prospects for reviews and word-of-mouth sales.
  • If Kindle Unlimited readers perceive that your book doesn’t have enough value, that may deter sales. They may deem that the price is too low (it would take 10 99-cent books just to make the $9.99 per month fee pay off), maybe the book is too short, or maybe they will scrutinize the Look Inside and pass on anything that doesn’t seem to be high in quality.
  • One of the bad things about freebies may be true of Kindle Unlimited: When customers can get something for free, they don’t always read the description or check the Look Inside carefully (or even at all!). Then they leave bad reviews because the book didn’t turn out as they had imagined. Sometimes bad reviews actually improve sales (especially, when it’s clear the customer made a mistake), but sometimes they do hurt sales, too. You won’t have to worry about customers hoarding books and not reading them, though, because they can only store 10 on the device.
  • If you’re used to stimulating sales through promotional strategiesfreebies, 99-cent prices, BookBub, etc.—these marketing tools may become less effective. What will a Kindle Unlimited customer care about freebies or low prices? They can get $9.99 books for free!
  • Series authors are impacted by Kindle Unlimited. It may be wise to remove the omnibus from KDP Select (but you’re probably still bound by the exclusivity terms if your individual volumes are in KDP Select). The omnibus will lose its effectiveness with Kindle Unlimited readers (though this may help the sales ranks of your individual volumes). If you ordinarily make the first volume free or 99 cents, or price all of your books at 99 cents, this strategy may not be appealing to Kindle Unlimited readers looking for a good value. Maybe a higher price would appeal to these readers more. (Or if all your volumes are cheap, maybe it does make sense to leave the omnibus in KDP Select—that volume may offer enough value to receive a download, if the individual volumes don’t.)
  • Mismatched value could lead to frustrated buyers and negative reviews. For example, if you take a book that’s really not perceived to be worth more than $2.99 and raise its price to $6.99, customers hoping to get a $6.99 value may be disgruntled. Higher-priced books are only favored if they deliver on the higher expectations.
  • If you have a long book and customers aren’t enjoying the beginning enough to reach 10%, you could potentially receive a bunch of downloads, but never see the royalties. More than ever, it’s important to engage the reader immediately and hold the reader’s attention.

Additional Notes

  • If your book wasn’t selling to begin with, Kindle Unlimited probably isn’t the answer to your sales woes. It could be the cover, the blurb, the Look Inside, reviews (maybe even the good ones), the idea, the lack of marketing… Don’t expect Kindle Unlimited to be that magic wand you were hoping for.
  • It doesn’t make any sense to compare July, 2014 to June, 2014, i.e. to compare your income with Kindle Unlimited to your income the way things used to be. The way things used to be just isn’t an option. What you really want to know is, will you be better off in KDP Select, or out of it?

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 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.

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Sell More Books

Fourth Quarter Pic

How to Sell Books

Perception marketing: A great book doesn’t just appeal to the target audience, but attracts the target audience.

  • A fantastic cover that the target audience loves. “Wow, look at that!” “That looks like a great read.”
  • A title that creates interest, is easy to remember, and indicates what to expect. Three words or less for fiction, but informative and including keywords for nonfiction.
  • A killer blurb that creates interest, flows well, has the right vocabulary and writing style for the target audience, and clearly shows what to expect, but doesn’t give away too much. Concise for fiction, separated into bullet points for nonfiction.
  • A look inside that looks professional, catches interest immediately and engages it throughout, and delivers on the expectations created in the blurb.

Delivering on the promise:

  • A great book that engages the reader’s interest throughout and exceeds the expectations created in the blurb and look inside.
  • A story that generates strong emotions, balances opposite emotions, and pleases the reader so much that the reader craves more. Nonfiction that provides excellent content and presents it at the right level for the target audience.
  • A book that goes beyond expectations so that it generates many word-of-mouth sales.

Word-of-mouth sales are critical toward building strong and lasting book sales.

Change Your Perception

You want to create a fantastic perception for your book. Start with the perception that you have when you are developing the concept, choosing the title, writing the book, editing, formatting, designing the cover, writing the blurb, perfecting the look inside, and marketing:

  • Don’t think: “I’ve seen books with worse covers sell,” or, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Think: “I want the target audience to drool when they see this cover.” Do: Spend time on your cover, tap into available resources, get feedback, get help if necessary.
  • Don’t think: “I’ll just get this book out there and see what people think.” Think: “I want to know that the target audience will love this book.” Do: Get feedback before you publish. Do you really want to risk selling just a few books after all your hard work? Isn’t worth the extra effort—whatever it takes—to ensure a positive, lasting success?
  • Don’t think: “I want everyone to see my book.” Think: “How do I find and interact with my target audience?” Do: Learn effective marketing techniques.
  • Don’t think: “I need to scream loudest to get my book discovered.” Think: “How can I get my target audience to discover my book?” Do: Build a content-rich website with content that will interest your target audience, and write more quality books.
  • Don’t think: “I don’t know if it’s worth investing in editing, formatting, or cover design because I might not even sell 100 books.” Think: “I want to write a book that people will love, which has a significant audience (it’s okay if it’s a niche audience; in fact, that may be a plus), which will sell enough to make an initial investment worthwhile.” Do: Your research on top-selling, self-published books similar to yours. Study covers, blurbs, titles, look insides, copyright pages, title pages, first pages, author pages, blogs, and marketing tactics.
  • Don’t think: “That reviewer is personally attacking me.” Think: “My book evoked a strong opinion,” and, “Is there anything useful I can take from this review?” Do: Focus on writing more books and marketing effectively. New sales will help to generate more reviews. Quality content will help achieve valuable word-of-mouth sales, which will help to offset any negative reviews.
  • Don’t think: “Let me try to summarize my book.” Think: “My blurb needs to generate interest, engage the reader, and make the reader curious.” Do: Study effective blurbs of similar books, especially top-selling self-published books.
  • Don’t think: “___ doesn’t matter as much as ___.” (Fill in the blanks as you please.) Think: “Let me excel at my strengths, shore up my weaknesses, and achieve good balance,” and, “Let me get it all right, not just part of the book.” Do: Assess your strengths and weaknesses, and strive to improve.
  • Don’t think: “This will do.” Think: “I want my book to be fantastic.” Do: Your best to make that happen.

Visualize an amazing book from cover to cover, and the packaging and marketing, too. Work hard to make your vision a reality.

Don’t settle. Put in the time, effort, and research to achieve a wow-factor.

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.

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The Critical Book Sales / Marketing Chain

Chain

Sales Formula

How many books will you sell? There is a simple formula for this:

SALES = (# of views) X (% of buys)

For example, if 1000 people view your book every day, but only 0.5% of those people purchase your book, you would sell 5 copies per day.

The two ways to maximize sales are to

  1. Maximize the frequency with which people view your book—i.e. increase your book’s exposure.
  2. Improve the percentage of people who purchase your book after viewing it—i.e. improve the buying ratio.

Wasted Effort

If your buying ratio is lousy, any time you spend improving your book’s discoverability is wasted because the buying ratio is inefficient. It would be 20 times more effective to raise your buying ratio from 0.001% to 0.1% (that’s 100x better) than it would be to increase your daily views from 1000 to 5000 (that’s 5x better). (The 20 times more effective compares 100x to 5x.)

Too many authors are focused on increasing the number of views instead of improving the % of buys. The latter may be easier and more effective.

You probably get hundreds or thousands of more initial views than you realize. Amazon.com sells millions of books every day (because the top 200,000 or so sell at least one copy per day, and the top books sell hundreds of books per day, adding up to millions overall). Shoppers view many more books than they buy, so there are probably billions of books seen on Amazon every day. At this stage, I’m saying that the thumbnail has been seen, but the book may not have been clicked on.

Of these billions of views, many shoppers click on one of the Last 30 Days or Last 90 Days links, which helps to find new releases. This filters the search results to help books that are otherwise hard to find get discovered in the first few months of the publication date.

TIP: Don’t enter a publication date at CreateSpace or Kindle. Leave this blank and the publication date will automatically be the date that you click the magic button to publish your book. This maximizes your book’s exposure in the new release categories.

Why should we think that a newly published book buried in Amazon’s haystack may be viewed hundreds or thousands of times more than the sales (or lack thereof) might suggest? (Again, by view, I mean that the thumbnail has been seen, not necessarily the product page.)

Because there are unmarketed books that get discovered and start selling frequently right off the bat. Although this is a rare percentage of books, it does happen, which shows that shoppers are discovering books through the new release filters.

Most books that don’t sell frequently on their own generally suffer more from a poor buying ratio than from poor exposure.

Buying Ratio

The buying ratio depends on this critical marketing chain:

  1. What percentage of people who see the thumbnail click on the book to visit the product page?
  2. What percentage of people who view the product page click to look inside?
  3. What percentage of people who look inside purchase the book?

This gives us another formula:

% of buys = (% of clicks) X (% of look insides) X (% of closes)

where the percentage of closes corresponds to point 3 from the marketing chain.

Suppose 1000 people view your book everyday, but:

  • 990 of them don’t click on it because it doesn’t look like it belongs to a genre that they read. In this case, a simple cover mistake may be costing you many sales.
  • 990 of them don’t click on it because the cover doesn’t look like it belongs in the category that it’s listed under. Such a target audience mismatch can greatly deter sales.
  • while 500 of those people do click on your book to see the product page, 495 of those don’t look inside because the blurb describes a different genre than the cover depicted. The cover and blurb must send a unified message.
  • while 500 of those people do click on your book to see the product page, 490 of those don’t look inside because the blurb doesn’t capture their interests.
  • while 500 of those people do click on your book to see the product page and 250 of those go on to look inside, 248 of those don’t make the purchase because the Look Inside doesn’t seal the deal.

More Sales

If you can improve the buying ratio, it will significantly improve your sales frequency.

There are three steps in the chain. Just one problem with these three steps can greatly deter sales even if the other steps are incredible:

  1. Improve the effectiveness of your cover at attracting your target audience. Cover appeal isn’t satisfactory. The most effective covers (A) pull you into them and (B) grab the specific target audience.
  2. Improve the effectiveness of your blurb to engage the interest of and arouse the curiosity of your target audience.
  3. Improve the effectiveness of your Look Inside in convincing your target audience that your book is Mr. Right for them.

A great cover with a lousy blurb = many lost sales.

A great cover and great blurb with a lousy Look Inside = many lost sales.

It’s really hard to make all 3 fantastic. But that’s what it takes to achieve a highly effective buying ratio.

Consider these points when designing your cover:

  • Spend hours researching bestselling covers within your specific subgenre. Find top sellers overall, good sellers with content similar to yours, and the best indie books. These are the kinds of images, font styles, and layouts that attract your target audience. But note that top authors and publishers can get away with a lesser cover due to name recognition.
  • Study cover design tips and mistakes. You can find such lists here at my blog, for example (click the Cover Design tab above).
  • Consider hiring a cover designer. You might think you can’t afford one. It might turn out that you really can’t afford not to have one. If you get a highly effective cover (now that’s a big IF, not guaranteed by hiring a designer, so do your research well) that improves your buying ratio by 10 times, that could make a huge difference over the next few years (especially, when you finally reach the level of having a professional author platform and several books out). On the other hand, if the blurb, Look Inside, or content greatly deter sales, that will put a huge dent in your cover’s potential effectiveness. There are no guarantees.
  • Get feedback, especially from your target audience. Be patient and redesign as needed.

Consider these points when writing your blurb:

  • Spend hours studying the blurbs of top selling books in your specific subgenre. What makes these books seem interesting? Does the writing flow well? Are the easy to read, or do you have to puzzle them out? Do they engage your interest throughout? Do they arouse your curiosity and make you want to click to look inside?
  • Don’t write a summary of your book for your blurb!
  • Ask yourself and your beta readers which elements of your book are most likely to attract interest in your book. Your blurb should use these effectively to draw out the shopper’s curiosity. You don’t want to give out information, but want to plant seeds that will make the reader want to know more.
  • Every sentence of your blurb needs to engage the shopper’s interest. Any sentence that doesn’t can greatly diminish your buying ratio.
  • Any spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes can greatly deter sales. Let’s face it: If you make a mistake in a 100-word blurb, that doesn’t bode well for writing tens of thousands of words well. Get help combing through this carefully.
  • Make sure your blurb reads well, flows well, and will be easy for your target audience to comprehend. Most people are looking for an easy read.
  • Shorter is often more effective for fiction. Anything extra increases the chances of the reader walking away. Come out punching, hook the reader, and make the reader look inside to learn more. For nonfiction, concise may also be good, though there are also benefits of showing expertise, qualifications, and listing selling features. If so, use basic HTML or go to Author Central to separate your paragraphs with blank lines and to use bullets to list features.
  • Get feedback, especially from successful indie authors and your target audience. Be patient and rewrite as many times as it takes to nail it.

Consider these points when preparing the Look Inside:

  • Browse through dozens of professional looking Look Insides of top selling books in your genre and compare them closely to your book. Don’t copy them; rather, learn what makes them highly effective.
  • Good editing and formatting are more important than many authors realize. Books tend to have more mistakes than the author realizes because the author tends to see what he or she meant to write rather than every word exactly as it was written. Get help ironing out your Look Inside. Your Look Inside is the only salesperson at Amazon making the difference between Buy It Now and Walk Away. Yeah, it’s that important.
  • The Look Inside needs to grab the reader’s interest right off the bat, arouse the reader’s curiosity, and seem like the kind of book that the cover and blurb depicted. The cover and blurb create expectations; the Look Inside must deliver on the promise.
  • The Look Inside must read well. The words should flow well. Even little things, like avoiding repetition, varying sentence structure, organizing your ideas well into paragraphs, dialog tags, and consistent style can have a significant impact if everything else is right.
  • This last point is huge. Your book idea has to have a significant audience (or a significant niche audience), and the category, cover, and blurb have to be effective at reaching this audience. The first step really is to research the potential of your book, starting by finding similar books and seeing how well they do, then by receiving ample feedback before, during, and after your book is written.

Putting extra time into perfecting the effectiveness of your cover, blurb, and Look Inside can pay huge dividends over the lifetime of your book. Rushing can cost you big time.

The X Factor

There is another factor that can have a huge impact on your buying ratio besides your cover, blurb, and Look Inside:

The impression that the content of your book has on your audience.

This make a big difference in the way of reviews, recommendations, and word-of-mouth referrals.

If you have a fantastic cover, a killer blurb, and an amazing Look Inside, but the content fails to meet the expectations that the cover, blurb, and Look Inside created, everything can backfire.

Bad reviews that highlight important points (i.e. important to buyers) which shoppers can corroborate with your Look Inside can kill your buying ratio.

So it’s also worth perfecting your content. Perfect your storyline, characterization, editing, formatting, and writing. This can make the difference between favorable recommendations and unfavorable criticism. You can’t completely avoid criticism because not everyone shares the same interests, but you want to do your best to limit it and to encourage positive feedback.

There is an abundance of good content already on the market. Writers who can achieve something extraordinary have an opportunity to stand out with marked word-of-mouth referrals. It’s not easy. Sometimes a story or character is just so memorable. Study stories and characters, especially those in your subgenre, that are exceptionally memorable.

There are two more ratios that are worth considering as they also impact your net sales:

  • Your return ratio: How often a customer is dissatisfied with your book.
  • Your referral ratio: How often a satisfied customer helps you reach a new customer.

Marketing

The higher your buying ratio:

  • The more books you will sell without marketing.
  • The more effective any marketing that you do will be.

For a given buying ratio, there are two ways that marketing can help sales:

  • Marketing can help you improve your book’s exposure. More views among your target audience means more sales.
  • Marketing can help you improve your buying ratio. Personal interactions can help stimulate sales even if the cover, blurb, and Look Inside are lacking to some extent.

Marketing is most effective when your efforts reach many people in your specific target audience who don’t already know about your book.

For example, spending a little time every week over the course of several months to prepare content toward developing a content-rich website that will attract hundreds of people from your target audience through search engines every day can give you amazing long-term exposure. 100 people per day equates to 36,500 people learning about you and your book every year. It’s an activity that can start out very slowly at first, but if done right can be highly effective after a year or more.

Long-Term Success

However many copies you sell, whether it’s a few a month or several per day, imagine if you could multiply this number by 2, 5, or 10. Going from 3 per month to 6 per month may not seem like much, but your book won’t be available for just a month. What if your book continues to sell for years? After a decade or lifetime of sales, multiplying all those sales by 2, 5, 10, or more could turn out to be huge.

This is especially true if you’re not trying to be a one-hit wonder. Most new authors’ books struggle. It’s not easy to get discovered. But there is a lot of potential for good writers with good ideas who persevere.

Focus on long-term success. Imagine having several similar books on the market. Now every book that you sell has the prospect of helping to market your other books. Anything you can do to improve your buying ratio can pay added dividends by helping to sell your other books.

Work toward having a professional author platform in the long run. Do a little here and there with this long-term goal in mind. Do marketing that is likely to reap long-term rewards.

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.

A Good Goal for Indie Authors: How Many Books Should You Sell?

Covers

How Many?

At any stage of writing or publishing—from the concept to already having a few books out there—you want to know how many books to expect to sell.

It’s the million-dollar question. Well, you hope it’s a million-dollar question. You’d hate to find out it’s a hundred-dollar question, a five-dollar question, or a zero-dollar question.

Getting answers isn’t easy. Many authors are reluctant to share their numbers. Perhaps there is good reason for this:

  • Revealing a high frequency of sales may attract unwanted attention. For example, it may evoke jealousy in others.
  • Revealing a low frequency of sales may make it seem like the author has failed, it may draw pity, and it may even deter sales.

It’s also not easy to gather sales data from Amazon, BN, Apple, and all the other book and e-book retailers out there.

Nonetheless, there have been several attempts to determine the average number of books sold. The numbers can vary somewhat depending on a number of factors, such as:

  • Whether the research involves all books, just print books or just e-books, just fiction or just nonfiction, just indie books or just traditionally published books, just Amazon or all retailers, etc.
  • The time period over which the research was gathered, since the numbers may change significantly within a few years.
  • How the researchers went about gathering their data.

Despite these differences, the average number of books sold is often said to be a figure like 100, 250, 500, or 650.

I can hear some of you asking an important question: Is that per month? per week?

Nope.

That’s right: It’s not per month, per week, or per anything. It’s just a period. That’s lifetime.

Those are some small numbers!

You know what I think about those numbers?

Unacceptable!

Too many authors work their rears off crafting a hundred thousand words, editing, formatting, polishing, learning the craft, blogging, tweeting, facebooking, developing a website, writing sequels, supporting other authors, working 40 hours a week to pay for the luxury of writing part-time, and supporting families while spending years writing their books… to sell a few hundred books all together.

That’s too much hard work.

The worst part of this is that there are many authors who’ve done all this hard work who are presently thinking, “It sure would be nice to sell 100 books,” because they haven’t gotten there yet.

Most of the authors I’ve encountered love to write so much they couldn’t imagine not writing. Many were writing novels before print-on-demand made self-publishing viable. Now they have the opportunity to share their work with others.

They do all of this hard work so that some readers can find a few weeks of enjoyment.

It might be a small niche audience who enjoys that book, but for many authors, that’s okay. They know that some people will enjoy their books even though they didn’t write the most popular topics (or didn’t write them the way they’re usually written), and they want very much for the audience that will appreciate their books to find them.

Another Number

One.

One what, you ask?

One book.

Sell a single book to a stranger.

Have one stranger enjoy your book.

The first time you autograph a copy for somebody.

Let one stranger reach out to you and tell you that your book was worth writing.

One can be a powerful number.

You can’t get to 50,000 without starting at one.

Number one in a category would be a pretty cool “One,” too, don’t you think?

Goal-Setting

First, I said that a few hundred is unacceptable. Then I said that one is special. Am I sending mixed messages?

My suggestion is that you don’t set a single goal, but set several goals in stages:

  • The first goal is to get regular sales of any sort. It doesn’t matter if it’s one book per month, one book per week, one book per day, a few per day, or what. A sales frequency with some regularity will net you sales in the long run. Time is on your side. One book per month doesn’t seem good, but if you can keep it up, after several years it will add up to something. Eventually, you’ll break that average number of books sold.
  • The second goal is to improve your sales frequency over the course of time. If you start at one book per month and raise it to one book per week, that’s a 400% improvement. The slower you start, the easier it is to improve. Starting with one book per day, try to get to 2 a day, then 3 a day, and so on. Be patient. And work toward your goals.
  • Better than comparing yourself against others (there will always be a bigger fish out there), try to improve upon your former self. Not just quantitatively. If you feel that your writing or publishing skills are improving, even if your numbers aren’t growing, that provides some satisfaction and gives you hope for future improvement.
  • One of your long-term goals has to be to exceed the average number of books sold. Whether it’s a year, a few years, a decade, or whatever—it’s not so much the time period that matters, but the satisfaction of getting over this hump—you’ve got to reach 1000 books and grow from there. First you’ll get there with the sum of all your books, but eventually you want each book to break this threshold. Work for it. Remember, it doesn’t have to happen this year. Time is on your side.
  • Then you’ve got to keep the momentum up. 1000 isn’t close to what your hopes and dreams were when you were fantasizing about sales before you pressed that publish button. If your numbers are growing, that’s a great sign. Let your long-term goal be to steadily improve your numbers and you will have much potential for future success.
  • Don’t just focus on the numbers. In the end, it’s not the numbers that matter. It’s how many readers benefit from your books that truly matters. Focus on your readers and, naturally, both your books and your marketing will be better with your readers at heart.

It’s not Easy

If the average number of books sold is 250, this doesn’t mean that every book is selling 250 copies.

Since it’s an average, it means that for every book that sells 100,000 copies, there are thousands of books that hardly sell at all.

There are millions of books available for sale, with tens of thousands coming out every month. It’s not easy to get discovered.

But the challenge makes success that much more rewarding. Accepting the challenge makes you want to write an even better book.

It’s also not as hard as it at first seems.

Many authors give up. Some books were published as tests. A few people took up publishing with the misconception that it would be an easy money-producer.

There are a number of reasons that tens of thousands of books hardly sell at all:

  • Content is lacking.
  • Little or no marketing.
  • Ineffective cover.
  • Bad need of editing.
  • Poor choice of categories.
  • Content doesn’t have an audience.
  • Author didn’t have relevant expertise (especially, for technical nonfiction).

This means there is hope. Books that were slapped together with the hope of making easy money are bringing that average down. Authors who got discouraged quickly are bringing it down. Books that need a much better cover, authors who don’t market, unedited books, all these factors make the average number of books sold smaller. If you could throw all these out, the average number of books would be higher. How much higher? That’s a good question, but higher nevertheless.

Work for It

It may not come easily, but you can do it.

You. Can. Do. It.

Here are some ideas to help you on your way:

  • Research the idea before you write. See what’s already out there. Try to gauge your book’s potential.
  • Give your readers the best content you can. Don’t rush it. Focus on long-term success. Quality affects long-term sales through word-of-mouth, customer reviews, and branding.
  • Get ample feedback from your target audience and fellow authors. Assess your storyline, characterization, writing style, formatting, cover, and blurb.
  • Make or buy a cover that will specifically attract your target audience. If you have a quality book, the cover can be a very influential sales tool. Most best-selling indie authors credit their covers for much of their success. A fantastic cover won’t sell a lousy book, but can make a huge difference for a great book. You work so hard hoping for your target audience to find your book, wouldn’t you like for them to actually click on it once they see it? It’s the cover that makes the difference. An appealing cover isn’t satisfactory. It has to attract your target audience to give your book maximum potential.
  • Write a killer blurb. Rewrite as many times as it takes, get as much advice as you need. A few sentences on your product page are the only thing that will determine if the customer will click to Look Inside or walk away. Similarly, perfect the Look Inside.
  • Good editing, good formatting, a professional appearance, a professional author photo, an effective biography… all these things influence sales and some also impact word-of-mouth sales and reviews.
  • Develop a professional online author platform. When people check you out, you want to look like a professional author. Create content that will attract your target audience, as this can be a highly effective marketing tool. Don’t try to build Rome in a day or a week. A little work every week over the course of several months can get you there. Visualize the professional author platform you’d like to have and work for it, little by little, with your long-term vision in mind. Meet and interact with other authors and check out their websites to help you improve your vision for your own platform. One year from now, you want to have 100 or more people who don’t already know about your book visiting your author platform every day by searching for relevant keywords through search engines (that’s over 30,000 visitors per year!—if the content fits your book well, these are people who may enjoy your book). It takes nonfiction content that’s a good fit for your book to attract them. Done right, it may be the most effective marketing you do.
  • Write more books. Every quality book you write improves your exposure. Customers who find one of your books are likely to find your other books, which gives each book much increased exposure. Some customers will also buy multiple books. You look like a serious author with several books out. Shoppers also realize that trying one of your books has the possible reward of providing a large supply—the risk is they may not like the book, but the reward is that it will be easy to find several other books like it if they do enjoy it. Each book also helps you reach more readers, and every reader you reach is one more person who might eventually tell a friend. Some authors get discouraged by a slow start and give up. Authors who push on and continually strive for improvement have a great deal of potential. Writing several quality books greatly enhances your prospects of selling a significant number of books.
  • Learn about marketing. Try out a variety of ideas. Spend a lot of time writing, but also spend a little time marketing every week. Marketing can pay off in the long run, but you have to do some of it and keep it up for marketing to pay long-term dividends for you.

If your book isn’t selling well, try to change it up. If sales decelerate or a critical review suggests need for improvement, consider a change.

One way to improve your numbers is to improve your books:

  • Try changing the blurb. This is something simple to change and in a couple of weeks, you may be able to judge its effect.
  • The next simplest thing to consider changing is the Look Inside. Both the blurb and Look Inside can have a significant impact when the content is highly marketable.
  • A new cover is a more drastic change. If you believe in your book and if feedback suggests that your current cover isn’t attracting your target audience, this may be worth considering.
  • If your book isn’t selling or if a critical review suggests improvement, consider improving your book’s content.
  • Be patient. Sometimes, there is an audience out there for a book and it just isn’t easy to match the book to the audience. It is possible for word-of-mouth and branding to eventually pay off, even if things start out very slowly.
  • When things seem really bad, seek advice from (A) people with experience and (B) people in your target audience. If it’s not working, you should be open to suggestions.
  • Market your book, run a promotion, try to get the word out. Paid advertising probably isn’t the answer for a book that isn’t selling, but there are a lot of ways to advertise for free that may be more effective. First perfect the content and packaging, then turn to marketing. Quality and packaging are more important for long-term success. Interact with your target audience.

Good luck with your books. 🙂

Wish your fellow authors well, too, and mean it. Similar books work together, whether you like it or not. Quality similar books thrive together through customers-also-bought lists and word-of-mouth. Foolish authors who shoot down their neighbors hoping to get ahead shoot themselves in their own feet because if they actually succeed in deterring sales of similar books, their own books will sell fewer copies from customers-also-bought lists. Customers don’t buy one book. Over time, they buy several similar books. Authors can benefit from this greatly, or lose from this, much depending on how the authors of similar books support one another.

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

My original self-publishing guide, How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon.com, recently updated and expanded, is temporarily on sale for 99 cents at Amazon.com.

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

Book Royalty Fantasy Fun

Fantasy

Prior to publishing, every author has the opportunity to entertain fantasies about book royalties.

Only a few authors get to experience the fantasy after publishing, yet every author can enjoy the dream beforehand.

Let’s have some fun with this.

If your wildest dreams could come true, would you:

  • Pay off your mortgage? Look for a new home?
  • Shop for a new car? Buy a yacht? Try on new jewelry?
  • Settle your student loan? Get out of debt?
  • Help out charity? Share with family or friends?
  • Start a new business? Play the stock market.
  • Blow all your cash before you realize how much you have to pay in taxes? Whoops!
  • Think of something creative you could do with mega royalties, like making a fancy gold-plated edition of your book.

This is the one occasion where every author should love math. It’s fun to play with the numbers in the months leading up to publication.

Dream about a bestseller.

  • Every time you check your sales reports, the numbers change, even though you just checked it a minute ago—heck, you just hit the refresh button repeatedly and the number of sales goes up. Cool, huh?
  • Imagine that you could sell 1 book every 10 seconds. That’s 6 books per minute, 360 books per hour, 8,640 books per day, 259,200 books per month, 3 million books if you can keep it up for a whole year. Now we’re properly in fantasy land.
  • At $2 per book (that’s 70% of a $2.99 e-book or a 20% royalty for a $9.95 paperback), you’d be making $12 per minute, $720 per hour, $17,280 per day, half a million dollars per month, and 6 million dollars per year.
  • Everybody will know your name, they will recognize you walking through the mall. Everyone will ask for your autograph. You’ll hire someone to handle all your interview requests. Isn’t life so grand?

Let’s be a little more modest:

  • 1000 books per day would be pretty awesome, right? At a modest $2 royalty, that would yield $2,000 per day or $60,000 per month. Not a bad month, eh?
  • 100 books per day is much more plausible; that’s just 4 sales per hour, one sale every 15 minutes. A $2 royalty would net $6,000 per month. Maybe your book is worth more. Suppose you set the price at $9.99 for an e-book and draw a royalty of $7. Sell 100 books a day and you earn $21,000 for the month. You could start shopping for that car…
  • 10 books per day seems like nothing, doesn’t it? That’s not even one sale every two hours. You’d have to earn a royalty of $3.33 in order to make $1000 per month.
  • 1 book per day is pretty modest, yet there are millions of books that don’t achieve this. You’d have to earn a royalty of $3.33 in order to make $100 per month.

A 99-cent e-book earning a 35-cent royalty requires many, many sales to make your dreams come true:

  • 1000 books per day is still pretty good: $350 isn’t bad for one day’s sales. You’d sell 30,000 books per month to earn $10,500.
  • 100 books per day works out to $1,050 per month.
  • 10 books per day comes to $105 per month.
  • 1 book per day can buy you two Happy Meals for the entire month. That’s about it.

While it’s fun to fantasize about being a bestseller, the reality is that most books sell fewer than one copy per day on average.

But you don’t have to sell loads of books to live the dream:

  • Just writing a book is a remarkable feat.
  • Becoming a published author—hurray!
  • Seeing your name in print—three cheers for you!
  • Your first sale to a stranger—way to go!
  • Got a favorable review—so cool!
  • Asked for your autograph—a Kodak moment!
  • Thanked by a stranger in the grocery store for writing your book—do I see tears?

Writing because it makes your life better and may make other people’s lives better… that’s priceless. 🙂

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.

How Do People Buy Books?

bookie

If you want people to buy your book, it makes sense to first try to understand how people shop for books. Such knowledge is power that you can use in your book design and marketing decisions.

How People Don’t Buy Books

Let’s begin with a very important double negative:

People don’t buy books that they can’t find easily.

Who Cares How People Buy Books?

So you wrote a book. (That’s awesome by the way. Jump up and give yourself a huge high-five.) You edited and formatted until you turned blue in the face. Then you added a cover. You finally hit that publish button. Ta-da! Now all you have to do is wait for those royalties to come pouring in.

And wait. And wait. And wait… and wait. a.n.d. w.a.i.t. a..n..d.. w…a.…i…..t.

You put so much energy into the writing process. That gets the book completed. Then you put so much more effort into transforming your manuscript into a book. That gets the book published.

But the book probably won’t sell until you try to master the buying process. And use your knowledge to your advantage.

How People Shop for Books

There are a variety of ways that people go about shopping for a good book to read.

(1) Very many customers shop for bestsellers.

You can agonize over this or philosophize about it all you want, but it won’t do you any good (except, perhaps, relieve a little stress).

There are two things you can do that are constructive: Try to understand it, and strive to get your book on one of the top 100 lists.

Why do people shop for bestsellers? It’s simple, really:

  • They are very easy to find.
  • They come with expectations (e.g. the author is established, many other readers have enjoyed the book).
  • They tend to show up higher in search results (not just because of their sales rank, but because so many customers have already searched for them and then purchased them). If you don’t want to buy a bestseller, you must first scroll past these books.

Amazon tends to reward authors who help themselves. That is, if you produce a highly marketable book and market your book effectively, Amazon’s algorithm will probably help you out in many ways. If you do this well enough to get on any top 100 list, you can really get some nice exposure.

(2) Many customers shop for books by authors they have read before.

Trying out a new author is a risk.

Buying another book by an author you like seems like less of a risk. Not only that, it’s easier to find an author’s other books than it is to browse for something new. Most authors have multiple books and keep writing more, so as long as the author continues to deliver, the fan base will keep on growing and supporting.

You can learn two things from this:

  • If you have books that readers will enjoy, anything you do to put copies of your books in the hands of your target audience can pay great dividends in the future (some authors go to the extreme of making one permanently free).
  • Authors who have several books on the market appeal to readers in two ways. First, they look like established, professional authors who are making a career out of writing. Secondly, they see a possible reward: If they like your book, there is a whole lot more where that came from.

There is a huge IF here. If they don’t like your book, neither point above has any value for you. Write books that people will love and these two points can do wonders for you in the long run.

(3) People are greatly influenced by the book’s cover.

Whether they see your cover in search results, on your product page, on your website, in your advertisement, on a coffee table, in a bookstore, or anywhere else, the cover is a huge factor in whether or not they will check your book out.

Only a fraction of the people who see your book will check it out. The cover determines what this fraction is. The better the cover appeals to your target audience, the greater this fraction will be.

It’s hard to get people to see your book. So when they do see your book, you want them to check it out.

People aren’t studying your cover. They glance at it. Either the cover appeals to them or it doesn’t. Either they check out your book or move on.

Customers see your book next to many other books in search results, on a bookshelf, etc. The cover that has the greatest appeal with the target audience will get the most attention.

It’s not just about having a fantastic cover. It’s about appealing to a specific target audience. Otherwise, the people who check your book out immediately put it down. “Oh, that wasn’t what I was expecting.”

There are two percentages that matter: the percentage of people who see your cover who check out your book, and the percentage of people who check out your book and make the purchase. A target audience mismatch (even a slight one, like romance vs. erotica) can kill this second percentage.

Your cover is also important for branding. People often don’t buy a product when they first see it. You want a memorable cover that makes a favorable impression, so the next time the customer sees your cover, they think, “I’ve seen this before and I remember being interested in it.”

It’s worth researching cover design and browsing the top selling books in your fiction genre or nonfiction category. Here are some cover design tips.

(4) The blurb and sample greatly influence purchases.

Once shoppers discover your book and decide to check it out, there is just one more hurdle. The blurb and sample will make or break the deal.

A concise blurb is often most effective, especially in fiction. It shouldn’t give away too much, should make expectations clear, should appeal to the target audience, should read well (one mistake here doesn’t bode well for an entire book), and should get the reader interested.

The beginning of the book has the same goal. Most customers won’t invest much time here. The book needs to grab their interest and run with it. A slow build will lose many sales. A beginning that doesn’t fit the genre and expectations will lose many sales. A sample with formatting or editing issues will lose many sales. A sample with a writing style that doesn’t appeal to the audience will lose many sales.

The customer is wondering such things as:

  • Does this book seem professional?
  • Does the writing style appeal to me?
  • Does it seem interesting?
  • Is the content relevant for me?
  • Is the presentation a good fit for me?

Write in a way that appeals to your target audience. Edit and format professionally. Create interest right off the bat. Ensure that the sample is a good fit for your target audience, and matches the expectations created by your cover, title, and blurb.

For an in-depth discussion of what makes a book highly marketable, read this article.

(5) Customers are more interested in books that are recommended to them.

At Amazon, recommendations come in the form of editorial and customer reviews. Customers like to see dozens of customer reviews. Why? Because this improves the chances that they will find reviews with advice that they deem to be useful. They like to see a variety of opinions and good balance.

Off Amazon, recommendations come in the form of book reviews, including blog reviews.

The most valuable recommendations are word-of-mouth (or word-of-fingers) referrals from people they trust.

The more marketable your book is and the more effectively you market your book, the more books you will sell and the more reviews you will get. Publishers send out advance review copies, but doing this on a large scale can result in many reviews not showing as Amazon Verified Purchases.

If you find bloggers who have a significant following in your target audience, properly approach them, and allow ample time, you can get helpful blog reviews.

If your book is very good—there are hundreds of thousands of good writers and hundreds of thousands of great ideas, but not all of these result in books that will greatly please a target audience—then the more your book gets read, the greater your chances of getting word-of-mouth referrals. It can take several months to get them, but if you have an amazing book, this can result in a many long-term dividends.

Another kind of recommendation is an award. There are many contests out there that you can enter. Win one, or just get into the later stages, and that offers you a little publicity and provides you with a little note that you can mention to add to your book’s credibility. Again, it comes down to writing an excellent book.

(6) Customers like sale prices and contests.

You (or your publisher) control the list price, while the retailer controls the sale price. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a sale.

If you control your list price, you can temporarily lower it to create a sale. (For e-books, KDP Select members can use a Countdown Deal, which shows customers that the book is on sale.)

But price doesn’t sell books. Marketing and marketability sell books.

That’s why many authors lower their prices and then express their frustration that they didn’t sell many more copies of their books. Price alone doesn’t do it.

Your target audience needs to learn about your sale in order for a discount to be effective. You need to promote a sale effectively to take advantage of the possibilities of offering a short-term discount.

It’s not just the lower price that helps to stimulate sales, but also the looming deadline. “Oh, I better act fast; this sale is almost over.” If customers don’t know about your sale or the deadline, your sale won’t make a difference.

An alternative to a sale is a contest. Similarly, you must promote your contest effectively for it to work.

Here are a few ideas to help promote a sale.

(7) Customers do browse categories and search with keywords.

This isn’t one of the top ways that customers shop for books, but since huge numbers of books are purchased every day, it’s still significant. On the other hand, there are millions of books in search results.

The books that show up on the first page of a category or the first page of search results get much more exposure. Books that show up several pages down the list aren’t likely to be found.

But here’s the thing: You don’t need to show up in the first page of the romance category or the first page of search results for “suspense.”

While it would be awesome exposure for your book to be number one in a broad category or for broad keyword searches, this isn’t a realistic expectation. That’s okay because you can still get good exposure with a wise choice of categories and keywords.

Look for keywords that aren’t too popular, but are searched for periodically, which are very appropriate for your book. You have a reasonable chance of showing up high in search results this way, and if the keywords are searched for periodically, your book will get some exposure.

Customers also search for keywords within subcategories, which helps you out by narrowing down the search results.

It’s very important to choose the most relevant subcategories for your book. It’s also very important to choose relevant keywords. It doesn’t help you at all to show up at the top of a search where 100% of the customers will think, “Ugh! What in the world is that book doing there?”

Don’t waste your keywords. Don’t use a keyword that:

  • is so popular that nobody will ever find your book in that search.
  • will almost never be searched for.
  • isn’t highly relevant for your book.

Do go on Amazon and search for keywords in your category (not in All Department or Books) to see what’s popular and which types of books show up in the search results. Also, check out this tip (hidden in the KDP help pages) for getting listed in special subcategories (look for the heading “Categories with Keyword Requirements”).

(8) Customers are more likely to buy a book when they’ve personally interacted with the author.

This item is last on the list, but most important for indie authors.

This is something every indie author can offer. This is why indie book sales are very significant compared to traditionally published book sales. Many effective indie book marketers are personally interacting with members of their target audience.

People might take a chance on a book by an author they’ve never heard of, but they are much more likely to support an author they’ve met in person where they enjoyed the interaction.

You can buy an antique that’s kind of cool and set it in your living room. When people ask where you got it, you tell them where the store was. But it’s really cool when you know the history of an antique. Now it means something to you, and it becomes a conversation piece.

A personal interaction adds meaning to your book. It shows that you’re a real person, not just a name. A positive interaction shows that you have character and an intriguing personality. If they sense your passion for your work, this adds to their interest.

There are so many ways to interact with your target audience. This is what marketing is all about. Help your target audience discover you, get to know you a little, and learn that you have a product or service that suits their needs.

Charm them, so they enjoy the interaction and want to check out your book.

Social media, readings, signings, seminars, blogging, conventions, community service… The goal is to meet and interact with your specific target audience.

How cool is it to be able to say, “Hey, I met the author of this book, and that person was pretty neat”?

Get coverage from your local paper or support from a small, local bookstore. Many people like to support local talent, and so might check your book out. The next step is for your book’s cover, blurb, and inside to make the deal.

Who Am I?

Chris McMullen.

I’m not just a name. I’m a person, too.

I have a Ph.D. in physics, but don’t let that scare you. I love to read and write. If you just look around my blog or at the books I’ve published, you’ll see that I love to write. I’ve come to understand and appreciate the marketing aspect, too. I didn’t like it when I first started publishing, back when I naively thought marketing meant salesmanship and advertising. Now that I realize that marketing is more about branding, showing that you’re a person and not a name, and letting your target audience discover your passion—and more meaningful and subtle things like these—I’ve come to enjoy it. I hope to reveal the enjoyable and fascinating side of marketing—the parts that aren’t so obvious—to other authors. Focus on this side of marketing, and you may find yourself more motivated to do it, the process more rewarding, and hopefully better long-term results.

Follow me at WordPress, connect with me at Facebook, or follow me at Twitter.

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

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

Read Tuesday would Love Your Help

It’s going to be huge.

What is Read Tuesday? It’s a Black Friday type of event just for books. In 2013, it will be Tuesday, December 10, 2013.

We’re off to a good start:

  • We have an official website up and running, with content.
  • We have a healthy start in terms of followers, especially the Facebook page and Twitter.
  • We have several authors who’ve shown interest and agreed to participate.
  • We have a press release and we’re now at the stage where we will distribute it.
  • We have been advertising on various websites to let both authors and readers know about the event.

Read Tuesday could use your help. If you can help with one or more of the following, your help will be greatly appreciated:

  • We’re looking for any name recognition that may help to promote the event. We have a little to begin with; the more we can get, the better. Any authors (or even indie publishers or booksellers), for example, who have achieved some small measure of success who may be willing to participate in Read Tuesday could help to promote the event as a whole. It’s a win-win situation, as we would include your name with our press release, press release distribution, and other efforts to promote the event (including paid advertisements and social media). This would help to advertise the authors (or entities) who have a little name recognition in addition to advertising the event. This will help to promote these authors along with the event. If you know anyone with mild success, please let them know about this offer. They can contact Chris McMullen at the email in the next bullet.
  • We can always use more participation, especially books and authors added to the catalog. We’ve had many more authors say they will participate than have taken the time to add their books or names to the catalogs. I expect they will be promoting their books on December 10 and participating. It would help the event be better if we could get more books and names in the catalogs. Simply email your ASIN (for a Kindle book that will participate) or a link to your book at a website where it will be on sale to Chris McMullen at greekphysics@yahoo.com. It’s that easy.
  • Tell a friend, or several friends; tell anyone. If you like the idea of Read Tuesday, you can help make it better just by helping to spread the word. Word of mouth, email, blog, Facebook, Twitter, any way you might spread the word will be valued. 🙂

Give the gift of reading this holiday season.

Chris McMullen, founder of Read Tuesday

Follow the Read Tuesday blog: http://readtuesday.com

Like the Read Tuesday Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ReadTuesday

Follow Read Tuesday at Twitter (@ReadTuesday): https://twitter.com/ReadTuesday