You walk into a department store. What do you see? Sony. Levi’s. Apple. Nike. LazyBoy. Everything is branded. You’re in a big business. Many of the products for sale were manufactured by big businesses. Ultimately, people were involved at some stage: design, manufacture, assembly, shipping, merchandising, advertising deals, etc. Much of the work may also have been automated.
Now you walk into a bookstore. Obviously, you see thousands of books. And there are big brands around, if you look closely enough to see the names of the popular publishing houses. Yet the experience is vastly different.
Most of the books were conceived of and written by, to a large extent, a single human being. You’re surrounded by thousands of such works. They share unique experiences. They store knowledge. They weave words together in unique ways.
Shopping for books, and reading, these are very personal experiences.
Think about that the next time you’re browsing for a book to read.
Even if it’s not in a bookstore. At Amazon, for example, when you’re searching for a book in your pajamas, you have millions of books at your fingertips. And each work offers a personal experience for you.
Not all of the books are published by the big publishing houses. Many are published by small, even family run publishing houses.
Well over a million are published by indie authors. When a single author handles not just the writing, but also plays the supervisory roles of cover design judge, editing overseer, interior design judge, marketing coordinator, etc. (perhaps even doing much of this work independently), the experience is arguably even more personal.
I’ve read several indie books lately, and I enjoy that personal touch. From unique chapter headers to the little thank-you notes in the back of the book, I appreciate how their personal touches spread from cover to cover and even show on the product page (not just in the author’s biography, but in the product description and selection of editorial content).
Many indie authors have learned, through experience or by necessity or by motivation (or probably a combination of all of these), a great deal about marketing. One of the points that many authors agree on is that the author himself or herself can become a very strong brand.
That’s because readers aren’t just looking for a story or knowledge.
Readers like to feel a personal connection with the author to some extent. Learning more about the author, the person, the man or woman behind the words, even little personal notes… all of these things can help to enhance such a personal connection. (So, authors, you have the chance to begin this personal experience in your marketing.)
Shopping for books and reading can be personal experiences.
Friend and family reviews are a touchy subject among both authors and customers:
For the customer review system to be effective, customers need to be able to trust the system. This is why Amazon removes and blocks reviews suspected of being posted by the author’s friends or family members.
For the customer who posted the review, having it blocked or removed is time wasted, and discourages the customer from posting reviews in the future.
For the self-published author, an invaluable part of marketing entails creating personal relationships. Sometimes, the occasional personal interactions with a fan who didn’t previously know the author causes a book review to be blocked or removed.
Unlike the big publishers, self-published authors and indie presses can’t afford to send out hundreds of review copies to strangers. They can get friends to help get the ball rolling, except that friend reviews often get blocked, and they can interact with their target audience in person, although that sometimes leads to blocked reviews, too.
Amazon itself thrives on content engagement, one of their best marketing tools. Amazon wants to get customers (and authors) to frequently return to their website. Blocking or removing reviews discourages customers from writing future reviews, which limits their content engagement.
Although Amazon frequently blocks and removes 4- and 5-star reviews, Amazon almost never removes a 1- or 2-star review, which brings the average star rating down and discourages sales overall. It allows jealous authors and spiteful exes to prevent sales of books at Amazon that may otherwise sell.
Instead of blocking or removing the review, Amazon should keep the review, but clearly mark it as having detected a possible relationship with the author.
Let each individual customer decide how that matters to them. Some customers may see that designation and discard the review completely, a few may feel disgusted and move on, but in this way, Amazon would let the customer make the decision. Other customers won’t be put off by the designation, and may appreciate the comments. Yet other customers will approach those designated reviews cautiously. One thing we know is that every customer interprets reviews in a different way. So why not let each customer choose what to do with a potential friend or family review?
In addition to clearly marking such reviews as being from customers with potential relationships with the author, they could separate those reviews so they show in a slightly different area (perhaps one set above the other, or a different column) so that customers can easily tell the difference.
There is a precedent at Goodreads, which allows reviews from friends and family, but which clearly denotes reviews from friends. Surely, Amazon could do this, too.
Amazon could first give the customer the opportunity to disclose the relationship, then mark the review as a Family Review, Friend Review, or Fan Review, for example. If the customer doesn’t check one of these boxes, Amazon could then include a note that they discovered a possible relationship with the author and give that review yet another name (e.g. Reviewer May Know the Author).
This would solve a few key problems with the current customer review system:
Customers would see that X number of reviews were left by friends or family members. This is disclosed up front. Presently, customers assume that some reviews are from friends and family, without knowing how many, and customers don’t realize that most of those are actually blocked and removed. With full disclosure, customers will begin to realize that Amazon can often tell the difference.
Indie authors and small publishers won’t be so disadvantaged compared to big publishers who can send out hundreds of advance review copies. Amazon does want to give indie authors a fair chance, which is why indie authors now have pre-orders, AMS ads for KDP Select, and other new features that used to be only available for big publishers.
Amazon will enhance their customer engagement, i.e. have more activity on their website, which is one of their top marketing strategies. Customers won’t be discouraged by having their reviews removed, and thus will be more likely to post reviews in the future.
Authors who put the personal touch on their marketing, meeting new people in their target audience, won’t be penalized when Amazon discovers a possible relationship with the author, when in fact that customer had previously been a complete stranger until interacting with the author as a fan.
By not blocking and removing so many 4- and 5-star reviews, this would help to achieve a more balanced picture, and limit the effectiveness of jealous authors or spiteful exes striving to prevent a book from selling.
Lighthouse24 recommends that both authors and customers who like this idea should share this suggestion with Amazon. Sounds like a good plan to me.
When I turned on my Kindle Paperwhite today, I received a nice surprise.
It automatically downloaded an update: version 5.6.5. When it finished, a note popped up describing new Kindle typesetting improvements.
This is a cool development because Kindle typography has been very limited. The new Kindle typesetting has appeared on various devices over the course of the past several weeks. This is the first time I found a note with the update.
Before you publish a book with the new features in mind, you want to get a feel for how many devices use the new Kindle typesetting engine, as well as how many books implement it. Presently, the new features work for about 500,000 Kindle e-books, but within a year, that should be a few million. (There are nearly 4 million Kindle e-books at the moment.)
So if you publish today, the new features probably won’t matter. But within a year, it appears that they will. (Except for customers using a device—perhaps an older Kindle—which doesn’t support the new engine. It may not have yet even finished rolling out to customers with new devices.)
The new typesetting engine is geared toward an improved reading experience: subtle typography tricks to create faster reading, less eye strain, easier word recognition, and a nicer look to the digital ‘page.’
Following are some of the improvements:
Kindle introduced the new Bookerly font. I opened a page where the justification was quite poor, and changing the font to Bookerly. The justification improved tremendously.
Justification is supposed to be improved. I didn’t really notice this except with the Bookerly font, though maybe I just don’t have one of the books that fully benefits from the new typesetting engine.
There is supposed to be improved spacing and improved character positioning. The Bookerly font may be more Kindle-kerning friendly.
One of the new features is hyphenation, which has me concerned. For weeks, I’ve read about Kindle hyphenation that doesn’t hyphenate in the proper breaking positions. However, the note that came with the new typesetting engine claims that it will hyphenate properly. I haven’t yet seen a hyphen, though I checked out several books. So I’m hopeful, but waiting to see it firsthand before I get too excited.
There is supposed to be more natural spacing and more words per page (so less clicking or swiping to paginate).
Drop caps are supposed to be much improved. I opened every book on my Kindle and downloaded many recommendations and top sellers from Kindle, yet I didn’t see one drop cap. That’s because most e-book formatters have learned to shy away from the drop cap because of formatting problems they’ve discovered in the past. If you happen to know a book that has drop caps that was likely to be among the first to adopt the new typesetting engine, please suggest it in the comments. I’d love to check it out.
Another feature was a smart card with smart lookup, which works with the dictionary, Wikipedia, and x-ray. These are great ways to improve vocabulary and comprehension, and to take notes or make flash cards. It’s also great for educational books.
The note said that it had changed the order of my books on my device, showing those with enhanced typesetting first. However, when I checked my book list, the order appeared unchanged. First on the list was a book from 47North, one of Amazon’s own imprints. Yet I didn’t notice the new typesetting features (except for the cool Bookerly font) with this book or any other book that I downloaded today. If you happen to know of a book that definitely works with the new typesetting features, especially one that includes drop caps (but it’s okay if it doesn’t), I’d love to check it out.
Have you received a similar update on your device? Which device? Have you noticed the new features? What do you think of them?
Do you read mostly full-length books? novellas? novelettes? short stories? short or long nonfiction books?
The first 4 questions are for fiction; the last 2 are for nonfiction.
The 2 questions about short stories and novelettes exclude children’s, so that we don’t get illustrated children’s picture books mixed up with short stories, for examples. (See my other surveys—there is a link below the surveys—if you’re curious about children’s books.)
View the results after you take the survey.
You can take each survey more than once, if, for example, you have multiple family members using the same computer.
I will leave these polls open indefinitely. The more people who take the survey, the more meaningful the statistics become.
If you missed my other reading surveys, you can check them out here:
As you can see, my daughter had some fun with a magnifying glass and a camera.
Which gave me an idea…
Wouldn’t this be a cool, interactive way to involve kids in stories.
Obviously, this story would be about Little Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Wolf.
Use the magnifying glass to make Big Eyes, a Big Mouth, and Big Ears.
It wouldn’t be a bad thing to get more kids to enjoy reading.
More than that, this is a marketing opportunity for children’s authors.
I don’t mean Little Red Riding Hood. I mean the idea of making the storytelling fun and interactive. Not necessarily with a magnifying glass.
Surely, you can think of some other prop relevant for your story.
When you interact with kids in person, that fun moment that you create may help to get the kids—or more importantly, their parents—interested in your brand of authorship.
Online, your cool idea for making storytelling may help your marketing. You can post cool pics (with permission, of course) showing your idea. You can market the idea of helping to make reading fun, while indirectly benefiting your book and your brand as author. Or you might create a viral Facebook post or YouTube video.
Or just mentioning the prop and its use for your story might prove to be a valuable merchandising tip.
It’s all about inspiring more kids to enjoy reading. But if you’re a children’s author and can benefit from helping to achieve this, there is a possible bonus in there.
Our survey on how people read books have received much attention. We’ve had over 100 referrals today from Facebook and LinkedIn, and it’s been a week since the survey started.
I’ve also received some valuable feedback on how the survey could be improved.
My plan is to create a new and better survey, while continuing to let the original run, too. This way, we won’t lose the original data. It won’t be consolidated either. The new survey will start over. I’ll go into the original survey and add the new survey to it, so anyone finding the original can also take the new one.
The purpose of this post is to give you a chance to provide helpful feedback, comments, and suggestions before the new survey goes live. (Doh! Why didn’t I do that the first time?)
I will consider all feedback, but may not be able to accommodate all requests (especially on occasions where two people offer contradictory suggestions), though I will try in most cases.
One suggestion was that some questions should allow for multiple answers.
Here’s a sample poll. You should be able to select two or more answers. I’ll make the new survey questions work like this, where relevant.
I set up the poll to block by cookies. It’s not perfect, but helps to prevent multiple voting by the same person that might skew the results. Do you have any strong opinions on this?
1. Which of the following methods do you use to read Kindle e-books?
Other Kindle device
Kindle for PC reading app
Kindle for Mac reading app
Other option not listed above
I don’t read Kindle e-books
Would you like to see additional options? If so, which ones?
Suggestions so far include Kindle app for iPhone, Kindle app for Android, and Kindle Keyboard.
Maybe it’s worth knowing both the main preference and seeing all devices used, but that would take two separate questions.
I’ll change this to allow for multiple selections (with no limit).
2. Which of the following methods do you prefer for reading?
E-book (any type of digital book)
Paperback (any type of softcover)
Hardbound (any kind of hard cover)
The questions asks which you prefer. But I could change the question to ask which of these you read, allowing for multiple answers. If I leave the question unchanged, I think it should only allow for one answer. Maybe it’s worth knowing both the preference and seeing all that are used, though that would take two questions. Another idea is asking which methods would you not use.
Would you prefer the original question, or to change it?
3. Where do you prefer to buy your e-books?
Barnes & Noble’s Nook
I don’t read e-books
Would you like to see additional options? If so, which ones?
Suggestions so far include Smashwords, Google, and Gutenberg.
I’ll change this to allow for multiple selections (with no limit).
4. How many e-books do you let your kids read per month (on average)?
I can add an option for, “I don’t have kids.”
One issue is that it may depend on age… Another issue is that you might babysit or otherwise have an opportunity to let kids read e-books even if you’re not a parent… And what if the kids are grown up?
Would you like me to change the question, add more choices, refine the answers, or anything else?
5. How many books do you read per month (on average)?
Would you like me to change the question or add more answer choices?
6. Do you have Kindle Unlimited?
Any suggestions here, like adding a Scribd option?
7. Do you read books by indie authors or small publishers?
More often than not
About half the time
Fewer than half the books
I’m not sure
One criticism was that this survey only reaches people who go online. This might be quite relevant for the questions regarding print books.
That’s a tough one. If you have any ideas regarding this challenge, please share them.
Are there other questions that you’d like to see on the survey?
I tried to restrict the number of questions. My feeling was that if I asked too many questions, it may deter participation. I can include more questions, though. If you have suggestions, please share them.
One possibility is where to shop for print books: chain bookstore, indie bookstore, Amazon, BN.com, The Book Depository, the library, etc. If you like this question or have suggestions for more answers, please let me know.
It would help to have more data. Much more data. But we have a start.
The more people who take the survey, the more meaningful the data will become.
WHICH BOOK FORMAT DO READERS PREFER?
Interestingly, there was almost an even split between e-books and paperbacks:
This split can vary significantly by genre, but I think it shows that if you only sell your book in one format, you’re really limiting your potential customer base.
The audio book market might look like a slim slice of the pie, but there is also less competition within that market.
WHERE DO READERS BUY E-BOOKS?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the majority vote went to Kindle:
Amazon’s Kindle 81%
I don’t read e-books 7%
Barnes & Noble’s Nook 4%
These numbers may change somewhat with greater participation, but I think we can expect Kindle to remain the popular favorite.
It makes you wonder how much you stand to gain by opting out of KDP Select. However, there is also less competition outside of Select, which helps authors who publish elsewhere.
Also, I must apologize for leaving out an option for Other. Smashwords, for example, generates some indie sales.
Some customers buy books in multiple formats, and unfortunately the survey didn’t allow readers to select two or more answers.
Another notable statistic is that 7% don’t read e-books. But remember, 54% of readers prefer a different format over the e-book. The print market is quite significant.
HOW DO PEOPLE READ KINDLE E-BOOKS?
It’s all over the place! There is no clear favorite.
In addition, many customers read Kindle e-books more than one way, but the survey only allowed for one answer.
Kindle Fire 15%
Kindle Paperwhite 15%
I don’t read Kindle e-books 14%
Other Kindle device 12%
Android device 13%
Kindle for PC reading app 9%
Other option not listed 4%
Kindle for Mac reading app 1%
This shows that it’s worth making sure that your book formats well across all devices. If you only format a Kindle e-book with one device in mind, it probably won’t be a good fit for most readers.
Note that 14% of those polled don’t read Kindle e-books.
HOW MANY BOOKS DO PEOPLE READ?
The people who participated in the survey are readers. None selected zero.
Of course, that’s not typical of the population as a whole.
5+ books per month 45%
3 books per month 20%
2 books per month 14%
1 book per month 11%
4 books per month 10%
More than half of those surveyed read 4 or more books per month.
Remember, though, most of the people who have taken the survey already like to read. If we can get more exposure for this survey, this may change significantly.
HOW MANY READERS HAVE KINDLE UNLIMITED?
At this stage, 91% of those surveyed do not subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.
What surprises me is that 45% of those surveyed read 5 or more books per month.
There are a few ways to interpret this:
Some avid readers are buying 99-cent books, so even though they read 5+ books per month, it doesn’t make sense for most of them to spend $9.99.
Some avid readers would love to sign up for Kindle Unlimited, but the books they really want to read aren’t in the program.
Some avid readers prefer to purchase their e-books, to keep them forever, rather than borrow up to 10 books at a time through a library.
Some avid readers prefer another subscription service, like Scribd.
Some avid readers aren’t eligible for the available payment options.
Some avid readers are upset about some aspect of Kindle Unlimited.
Some avid readers haven’t made up their mind about Kindle Unlimited yet.
Some avid readers haven’t heard of Kindle Unlimited.
Some avid readers don’t want to make the commitment needed to joint Kindle Unlimited.
A combination of the above.
We need more people to take the survey to get a better indication of the stats.
It seems that there are a lot of excuses one could have to not to sign up. So maybe 9% isn’t as small compared to 45% who read 5+ books per month as it first seems.
HOW MANY READERS SUPPORT INDIE BOOKS?
This includes indie authors and indie publishers.
Read indie books less than half the time 33%
Read indie books about half the time 31%
Read indie books more than half the time 23%
Always read indie books 7%
Not sure 6%
Never read indie books 0%
There are people who never read indie books. They just hadn’t taken this survey yet.
Overall, there appears to be good support for indie books.
The leading answer (narrowly leading) reads indie books less than half the time, yet still does read indie books.
Nearly one-third of those surveyed read indie books about half the time.
61% read indie books about half the time or more than half.
We can see that some people aren’t sure if they’re reading indie books. Partly, it might not be easy to recognize all the major imprints, or it might not be well-known where the small publisher versus indie publisher line crosses. Or some customers just might not pay attention to how the book is published (maybe they don’t really care).
DO PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS READ E-BOOKS?
How many e-books do parents let their kids read per month?
The two main answers are “not at all” and “frequently”:
0 per month 48%
5+ per month 32%
1-2 per month 15%
3-4 per month 5%
The predominant answer is a resounding NO! Some people feel strongly about not letting their kids spend too much time in the digital world (on top of video games, televisions, apps…).
It seems that children’s authors definitely need to make print editions available.
However, nearly one-third let their kids read 5+ books per month via Kindle. So there is a significant Kindle children’s market, too.
Obviously, things may vary somewhat depending on the kind of book.
Again, 32% seem to be a good fit for Kindle Unlimited, yet only 9% of those surveyed subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. If parents read a few books per month themselves and their kids read 5+ books, then wow, it seems like Kindle Unlimited would be a bargain. But maybe parents aren’t finding the books they’d like their kids to read in Kindle Unlimited; and we have that list of factors that I gave previously.
(At least one person answered zero because she didn’t have kids presently, but someone else may have answered based on hypothetical kids.)
Several readers described their personal reading habits in the comments section of my survey post.
If you’d like to read some of those comments, you can find that post here: