Authors, What Are You Selling?

Selling

The Question

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

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

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

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

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

Well, duh!

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

Features vs. Benefits

People don’t buy anything.

People don’t buy features.

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

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

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

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

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

Example:

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

Just-a-Book Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More-than-a-Book Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than Just an Author

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

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

Even Indie Authors Get Rejected

Rejection

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

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

You won’t be rejected by agents or editors.

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

Formatting Rejection

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

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

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

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

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

Editing Rejection

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

They might suggest that you really need an editor.

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

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

Technical Rejection

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

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

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

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

Content Rejection

You can’t publish anything.

Amazon has content guidelines.

CreateSpace has content guidelines.

Kindle, Nook, and Kobo have content guidelines.

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

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

Legal Rejection

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

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

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

Article Rejection

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

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

Contest Rejection

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

You might not even make the first cut.

Review Rejection

Critics can leave bad reviews.

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

Where your family and friends can see it.

Where you can see it.

Those comments can cut deep.

Sales Rejection

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

Many books never sell 100 copies.

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

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

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

Public Rejection

People you know can complain about your book.

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

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

Bully Rejection

Cyberbullies can target you.

Family Rejection

Your own family might not appreciate your writing.

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

Self Rejection

You could be your own worst critic.

You might regret your prior writing.

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

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

Approved!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support

Offer support to other authors.

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

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

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

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

Listen.

It’s faint, but listen.

Do you hear it?

Sounds like a clap.

More clapping.

It’s growing louder.

Applause.

Take a bow. That applause is for you.

Publishing Resources

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

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

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

to Write is to Serve

Serve

Authors write books. A book is a product.

But authorship entails more than just making a product. Authorship is a service.

Ultimately, writers want their work to be read, and therefore they serve an audience. Please the audience and gain more readers.

The first step is for the content to please the audience, but it goes well beyond that.

Readings, signings, and other events allow authors to engage the audience in person.

Authors engage with fans online through fan clubs, blogs, and social media.

And let’s not forget one major service that most authors provide: marketing. Many writers spend several hours per week helping readers from the target audience find their books. This is a concerted effort that the author makes to help readers become interested in books that may be a good fit for them, but which they may have otherwise not discovered.

Feedback leads to yet another service: revisions. With the technology of e-books and print-on-demand, a book has become a dynamic product that can be updated anytime. It’s not just to correct issues, but in nonfiction is vital for keeping content up-to-date.

Our aim is to please readers. That’s why we sit at the keyboard typing for several hours per week for months or years. It’s why we revise, edit, and format. It’s why we try to find a cover and craft a blurb that will help the target audience find the right book for them. It’s our motivation to market our books. To serve our readers.

Good evening, Mr. or Mrs. Reader. Thank you for stopping by. We hope you’re having a wonderful time.

We’re at your service. Let us know if you need anything.

— authors everywhere

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.

Why You Want Fellow Authors to Succeed

Compliments

You want your fellow authors to be successful.

You even want books similar to yours to do well.

And it’s not just about creating good karma.

It makes good business sense, too.

Some would have you believe that the way to thrive in the competitive publishing business is to play the cutthroat game and slam the competition. Unfortunately, you can find stories of a few big authors and publishers slamming one another, not just recently, but even going way back. You can also find gossip about more underhanded activities.

But that’s just foolish.

And again, it’s not just because it’s not nice. Economically, it doesn’t make sense if you take a moment to look a few moves ahead.

Highly similar books usually sell together. Some customers buy them all at once. Some buy one today, another in a month, and another a few months from now.

Similar books help one another out through customers-also-bought associations. They also help one another out through word-of-mouth referrals because they share a common target audience and people within that audience do discuss books they enjoy.

When you buy a book online, Amazon recommends similar books. When you visit your homepage, again Amazon recommends similar books.

Foolish authors look at similar books and think, “Oh no! That book looks good. It might take all my sales.” The immature reaction is to slam the competition.

And shoot yourself in the foot in the process.

Most likely, that book won’t take your sales. Most likely, that book will either (A) help your sales or (B) not affect your sales.

When customers really like a book, they want to find more books similar to that.

But there is one way that similar books can take your sales. That’s when you succeed in hurting that book’s sales.

Then, instead of that book’s sales helping your book out through customers-also-bought associations, it’s hurting your sales by not sending traffic your way.

When authors slam one another and a lot of the competition, it creates a bad vibe for the whole set of similar books. It hurts sales for everybody.

Similar books are free marketing for you. Other authors’ great content and effective marketing helps you through customers-also-bought marketing. You don’t need to do anything to benefit from this except continue writing your own books, developing your own author platform, and marketing your own books.

Applaud your fellow authors and watch them help you without even trying.

Act on your jealousy and watch you hurt yourself.

First of all, your efforts to hurt the competition may actually help the competition because you’re giving those other books more publicity, even if it’s negative. And you have to credit people, who can often smell a rat.

Second of all, you don’t want to hurt the sales of similar books that can only help you out.

And what about those amazing authors who break through and make it big time?

Does that make you feel all jealous inside? Do you look at those books critically and think how childish the storyline is, how poorly edited the book is, and completely miss the big picture?

Applaud those authors. If you self-publish, applaud the indie authors who succeed. They’re helping to make a great name for indie authors. They’re reaching hundreds of thousands of readers and showing them that indie books can be amazing.

If you self-publish, you want other indie authors to be successful. Their success builds a large audience of readers who are willing to take a chance on indie books. That helps you.

It’s not just indie author success. It’s any author success. Any author who makes readers love the reading experience creates future sales for many other authors.

There is no indie versus traditional battle. What’s most ridiculous about that is the increasing number of authors who publish both ways. Should they punch themselves in the face?

There is just one battle. That’s you wrestling against yourself, your emotions, and your irrational instincts.

What’s good for readers is good for all authors.

And if there are readers who enjoy a book, that book is pleasing readers and therefore good for all authors, including you, whether or not you approve of that book.

Way to go, Amanda Hocking! You made a huge name for yourself. You made a huge name for indie authors.

Way to go, Hugh Howey! Way to go, E.L. James!

Way to go, Stephen King! Your great works have hooked millions of readers not just on your books, but on the love of reading.

Way to go, J.K. Rowling! Way to go, Anne Rice!

Way to go, all authors, big and small, whose books have pleased readers.

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.

What Determines If a Book Is Good?

good

What determines if a book is good?

The answer is a 7-letter word.

Unlike many conventional puzzles, plurals ending with -s are allowed.

The answer is not E-D-I-T-O-R-S. Although they may be able to help make a book better and they might be qualified to judge writing on many levels, whether or not a book is good doesn’t ultimately depend on the opinions of editors. There are, in fact, highly successful books that many editors don’t think highly of.

The answer is not R-O-Y-A-L-T-Y. A good book doesn’t need to be widely popular; a good book can provide value to a small audience. There isn’t a magic number of sales or royalties to determine if a book is good or bad.

The answer is not R-E-V-I-E-W-S. Even the most highly esteemed books receive critical reviews. So just receiving good reviews doesn’t make a book good, and receiving bad reviews doesn’t make a book bad. The number of reviews doesn’t make it or break it, either, as this depends strongly on the number of sales. The average star rating is not a good indicator, as opinions and systems for reviewing can vary wildly from one person to the next.

The answer is not P-U-B-L-I-S-H-E-R. Aside from the fact that this word has too many letters and the reality that for decades publishers have prevented many book ideas from ever being read, publishers don’t ultimately determine whether or not a book is good. In fact, there are many popular stories of publishers who have turned down books that later turned out to be amazingly successful.

The answer is not A-U-T-H-O-R-S.  Well, this depends in part on how you want to define a ‘good’ book. The author determines whether or not the book is good enough to share with others. The author also determines whether or not the book is successful; what one author considers a success, another might deem a failure. We’re not talking success versus failure, or how the author feels about his or her own book. A ‘good’ book should provide value to more than just its author.

The answer I have in mind is R-E-A-D-E-R-S. But not in terms of the total number of reviews or the average star rating; the answer is readers, not reviews.

Publishers think in terms of sales, investment, risk, net profit, and cost-benefit analysis. They don’t determine if a book is good; they strive to determine what will make them money. And they sometimes make mistakes with their predictions.

Different editors think in terms of writing style, storyline, plot, characterization, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. And each editor has his or her own set of opinions, and knowledge of various ‘rules.’ It’s possible for a writer to adopt a writing style or method of storytelling, for example, that creatively blows the ordinary rules right out of the water, while also producing a really good book. Ignoring the rules certainly doesn’t make a book good; and following any usual rules or guidelines, in itself, doesn’t distinguish good books from bad ones. (However, as you know if you read my blog, I do stress the importance of editing.)

Royalties and sales reflect how wide your paying readership is and how successful your book is business-wise. But what if tens of thousands of people read a book because you’re a very popular author, but later feel strongly that it didn’t live up to their expectations? All those sales don’t necessarily imply that the book was good. And what about the book that has a really small readership, but where most of the readers loved the book. Isn’t this book good?

What I Don’t Mean

I’m not saying that bad reviews indicate that a book is bad. Most readers don’t review books at all; surely, their opinions count, too.

I’m not saying that good reviews necessarily make a book good.

Again, I mean readers, not reviews. And I don’t mean all readers. No book pleases everyone, so it’s not possible for everyone to love a book.

What I Do Mean

If complete strangers discover a book and feel that it was worth the read—that if they had time machines at their disposal, they wouldn’t choose to go back in time and not read the book—then to these readers, the book was good.

If some wish they hadn’t read the book, this doesn’t make the book bad. Every book that’s had thousands of readers has some that strongly dislike the book.

Good, Better, Best

I don’t think it’s helpful to try to rank books. It’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges. If you love apples, can you fault the orange for trying not to fit the apple mold? Even if two books fall into the same subgenre, like romantic comedy, different authors and readers vary in their perception of just what a romantic comedy should be. So two different romantic comedies aren’t two kinds of apples, one is a lemon and the other is a lime. Two different books aren’t supposed to be the same; they were intended by their authors to be different.

What I feel is more important is the notion of improvement. I’m a fan of the compare-yourself-to-your-former-self concept. If we can all achieve this, surely the world will be a better place. If an author learns ways to improve, the author can make his or her book better.

Another factor is doing your best with the time and resources you have available. Strive to do your best each time, and as you learn and grow as an author, strive to become better. If you feel strongly that you should have done something different, then your book could have been better than it was.

Bad

When the author feels that he or she should have done better, that the book really wasn’t fit to be published, the author is judging that his or her book isn’t good. When no readers will ever feel that the book is worth reading, they are judging that it wasn’t fit to publish. (If there is a narrow audience who just hasn’t discovered the book yet, that’s different.)

A books that was written for the wrong reasons, which is lacking in effort, which no reader will enjoy, had ample potential to be something much better.

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.

About the Author Section—What It Needs

Reason

You probably have an about the author section in the back of your book with your photo, biography, and links to your online sites.

Do you just have a list of websites, including your blog, Facebook page, Twitter, fan page, email newsletter, or other websites? Or do you also include a little more.

Here’s what you should consider adding, if you don’t already have it: a reason.

Why should the reader or fan visit the page?

If you can concisely provide a compelling reason for people to visit your sites, this can improve the chances that they will check them out.

Compare these examples.

Versus

If I include the latter in a book related to self-publishing, it’s more likely to stimulate interest in my blog.

Here are some more examples:

  • Visit my fan page at ___ to view maps and to read bonus material.
  • Sign up for my email newsletter at ___ to learn about new releases and special sale prices.
  • Check out my author website at ___ to see character sketches and learn how the book came about.
  • Read poetry and romantic short stories on my blog at ___.
  • Download a free PDF booklet with 100 book marketing ideas from my website, ___.

Of course, instead of ‘my’ you can write your name (with the apostrophe and s).

Think beyond the about the author section of your books. Anywhere you provide a link to one of your sites, consider including a concise note of what to expect.

On the other hand, if there isn’t likely to be anything of interest, don’t add a reason. For example, if your Twitter page is identical to your blog posts, provide a reason to visit your blog, but simply say, “or follow me at Twitter at ___.”

Also, don’t hype it up to make it sound better than it is. If people make a trip to your site and see something different from what they were expecting, probably all you did was waste their time and cause some frustration.

Publishing Resources

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:

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.

The Other Side of Taking Your Time with Your Book

Fast SlowI’ve been a recent advocate of taking your time with your book: showing patience, getting help as needed, perfecting your work, doing pre-marketing, etc.

Let me balance this by referencing an article in the Wall Street Journal regarding self-publishing at a fast pace:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303640604579298604044404682

I have some trepidation that authors might read this article, especially given where it was published, and interpret that to mean that writing and publishing as quickly as possible is a successful business model.

No matter how you publish, it will take a special brand of content and packaging to attract a large readership, and discoverability is only becoming more challenging each year.

If the book isn’t attracting readers, having thirty such books probably won’t help.

But if you have a special book that’s just a magnet for readers, those readers will crave more, and the faster they can get it, the better.

The getting-more-books-out-there-quickly plan may have some merit.

Let me emphasize that there is more to it than just a large number of books; content is especially important, and so are packaging and discoverability.

I’ve mentioned previously the power of a backlist: Most authors who put out many titles in a few years already had much of the work done before publishing.

I benefited from a backlist, a coauthor, and publishing many workbooks that don’t compare to writing a novel. I know that it can help to have several books out. The more marketable books, the better. Having a large number of books that aren’t too marketable won’t help much.

What’s right for you? That’s the million-dollar question you’ll have to figure out. 🙂

Publishing Resources

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:

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.

Building Credibility as an Author

Trust 2

Have you heard stories about plagiarism, authors behaving badly, review abuse, major formatting problems, or books with spurious typos?

If such stories are circulating, readers may be aware of them, too.

Would those readers grant you credibility simply because your name is in the author field? Or would credibility be something that you must earn?

Let’s imagine that we’re shopping for a book and consider some ways that we might assess an author’s credibility.

Packaging Display

We see the cover, blurb, and Look Inside on the book’s product page.

What does the cover say about the author?

  • Is an appealing cover a sign of an author who likes to do everything right? Does it show that the author believes in the book? Is it a symbol of professionalism?
  • If the cover seems to lack effort, is it a sign that the book is similarly lacking effort?

The answers to these questions are not necessarily, “Yes.” For example, the author might believe the adage that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or might have The Catcher in the Rye in mind as inspiration.

However, the shopper doesn’t know the author’s true motivation; the shopper only sees the result. Cover appeal does make an impression.

What can we learn about the author from reading the blurb and Look Inside?

  • Are typos, formatting issues, or writing mistakes a sign that the author didn’t take the work seriously? If these short writing samples have problems, how does that bode for hundreds of pages?

There may be a reason for it. For example, the author might be a gifted storyteller who just doesn’t have the gift of grammar. Regardless of the reason, doesn’t this impact the author’s credibility?

Contributors

I read a thought-provoking article1 by former publicist Sandra Beckwith last night, which inspired this point.

If the author receives help from an editor or a cover designer, does this lend credibility to the book?

  • Does the presence of an editor suggest higher quality?
  • Do other contributors show that the author is willing to work with others, recognizes his or her limitations, and is serious about perfecting the book?
  • When the author does everything alone, does this suggest that there may be some aspects that are lacking, that the book could be better?

These are all tough questions. I’m not suggesting that the correct answer to each question is necessarily, “Yes.” What I’m wondering is how such things may impact readers.

Public Relations

What can we learn from how an author handles criticism?

  • Does an author lose credibility when he or she comments on a review? I’ve heard from several reviewers who say that they strongly dislike it when an author invades this space. So even if you comment tactfully, this may lose credibility with some shoppers.
  • Let’s go a step further. Suppose that the author comments, sounding defensive. Does this make the author seem needy, immature, or unprofessional?
  • What if you check out an author’s blog, and the author is lashing out at a reviewer there? Although the blog is the author’s own site, it is in the public eye. How does this look to a prospective reader?

The toughest public relations challenge may be cyber-bullying, which poses a serious threat to authors, both indie and traditional. Ionia Martin, an avid book reviewer who often provides helpful advice for authors, suggested in a recent article2 that authors who are unfortunate enough to encounter this should deal with it using intelligence, honesty, and tact.

Perhaps intelligence, honesty, and tact, would go a long way toward building credibility in all of an author’s public relations.

Author Photo

Assuming you’re looking for a book you’d like to read and not for an author you’d like to date, does the author photo matter?

  • Do you need to look like an author in order to be a great writer? Or do you just need to look professional?
  • Or is it the quality of the photo that matters, not so much how the author looks? Do things like lighting, red-eye, blurriness, and pixilation impact the author’s credibility?
  • Does a touch of personality appeal to you? Does too much personality put you off?

These questions might be worth considering, even if they aren’t easy to answer.

Author Biography

What do you look for in an author’s biography?

  • For nonfiction, do you want to see the author’s relevant qualification?
  • For fiction, does it matter to you if the author has a writing degree? Should the author have taken a writing class? Should the author belong to a writing group? Do you want some sign that the author has received feedback or help from others?
  • Perhaps, for fiction, you don’t want to see a resume, but want to learn something about the writer’s relevant life experience or personality.

Not all of these questions may be straightforward. For example, some people have strong opinions about writing classes. I don’t want to open that can of worms, but would rather simply state that opinions on this differ. My concern here is just whether or not this impacts an author’s credibility with some prospective readers.

We probably have different expectations for what should be in a biography, especially for fiction. An effective biography will lend the author credibility with the target audience.

Did you know that CreateSpace has free marketing resources? One of these includes tips for writing an author biography.3

Marketing

When the author interacts with the target audience, both online and in person, the author has a chance to build credibility with prospective readers, but the author also has the opportunity to detract from it.

What do you look for when you meet an author?

  • Do you like to see signs of professionalism? Suppose you visit an author’s blog. Your first impression could be, “Wow, this author really knows what she is doing,” or it could be, “Umm, uh, well…”
  • If the author’s writing samples in a casual setting appeal to you, does that help to create interest in the author’s book? If there are frequent writing mistakes, is that a red flag?
  • Does the author’s character impact your buying decision? How about the author’s personality? Or the author’s writing persona? After all, you’re going to read the book, not go on a date with the author.
  • Do you like to see a few signs of the author’s humanity? Do you want to learn more about the author as a person?

References

1. http://buildbookbuzz.com/author-social-media-persona

2. http://readfulthingsblog.com/2014/01/07/the-legacy-you-leave-a-few-thoughts-on-literary-hate-packs/

3. https://www.createspace.com/en/community/docs/DOC-1871

Resources

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:

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.

Marketing a Book Is Like Dating

Date

The Bar

Authors dress their books up with covers and blurbs, and mingle with readers through marketing. Readers are searching for good books, checking out those covers and blurbs, looking for a good catch to take home and bundle up with.

The Pick-up Line

Trying to stand out, authors try to design fantastic covers, promote their books with special deals, or catch interest with a clever strapline. Readers want to be impressed; they won’t fall for a common one-liner. If the line does impress them, they will play hard to get.

The Blind Date

A reader who enjoyed a book sets the book up with a friend. The friend is nervous. If the book doesn’t turn out to be good, he will feel obligated to grind through it so he doesn’t let his friend down. He’s also worried that the book may be too good for him, with more vocabulary and complexity than he’s prepared to handle.

The Courtship

Authors interact with their target audience in person and online through readings, signings, seminars, presentations, blogs, fan pages, podcasts, and interviews. They brand their images over a period of months, hoping to show readers that they are serious about the relationship.

The Kiss

Finally, after weeks of branding, the reader has clicked link to view the book’s product page, read the blurb, and—oh, here it comes, the moment we’ve been waiting for—KISS!—the reader is viewing the Look Inside. It better be a good kiss. If you like it, there are hundreds of more pages where that came from. Come on, kiss this book like you’ve never kissed a book before.

The Commitment

It was a good kiss. The reader invited the book home for the evening. This is the best night ever, a moment the book will treasure for the rest of its life. It’s a dream come true.

The One-Night Stand

What happened? It started with a good kiss. The book went home with the reader. They had a great time. The next thing the book knows, it was returned. The reader is gone. How could this be?

The Dump

Once the reader got home, it discovered that while the book had a handsome face, it was really a scoundrel of a character. Beyond the Look Inside, the book turned into something awful. The book is promptly dumped, confined to sit on a shelf, watch the reader pass by a few times each day, and bear the agony of seeing the reader sit by the fireplace with other books, smiling and laughing gleefully. Life is just unbearable.

The Climax

Just what every book and reader were hoping for, the book was good enough to please the reader, who finally reached the climax of the book. The feeling is just wonderful. For a few minutes. Then the book realizes that this is the end. Well, it was good while it lasted. At least the reader left some change on the nightstand.

The Marriage

Every author dreams about the marriage: Readers who enjoy the first book so much they propose to marry the whole series. It will be a grand wedding.

The Affair

While conversing with a fan, an author learns that she is reading a book in the same genre by a popular author. How could she do a thing like that? What will people think?

The Divorce

It’s that tragic moment when the reader gives up on a series. It was a match made in Heaven. What could possibly have gone wrong?

The Proposal

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:

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.

Self-Publishing Experiments

Experiment

With millions of books to choose from, why would anyone choose to buy an experiment?

If the author treats a book like it’s an experiment, the quality of the content, packaging, and marketing will reflect this. Customers will see it.

  • It’s not worth putting a fantastic cover on a book that’s an experiment.
  • It’s not worth perfecting the editing or formatting for an experiment.
  • It’s not worth crafting a most wonderful story for an experiment.
  • It’s not worth marketing an experiment.
  • The author won’t be confident in or passionate about an experiment.

So why bother making an experiment?

If you just want to know if your writing appeals to others, simply share drafts of it or join writing groups.

It’s not Necessary to Experiment First!

Why not? Because there are already millions of books on the market. Researching those, especially successful indie books, will prove far more valuable than any experiment you might do yourself.

  • Sales ranks and reviews can help you gauge which kinds of books are or aren’t popular.
  • Repeated comments in a subgenre can help you learn specific things that many readers do or don’t like.
  • Writing samples in the Look Insides can help you see what kind of writing appeals to readers.
  • Covers of bestselling indie books can help you learn how to attract your target audience and signify your subgenre.
  • Look Insides of bestselling traditionally published books can show you what a nicely formatted book should look like.
  • Product pages of bestsellers can show you how to make the most of your book’s detail page.
  • Author pages and websites of top indie authors can show you a variety of marketing possibilities.
  • A ton of free and low-cost publishing and marketing resources can help you perfect your book.

Study books that have succeeded. That’s experimental data that you have right at your fingertips.

It’s a Mistake to Experiment First!

Why? Because your first impression is very important. A big part of marketing is the author’s brand. It takes time to build credibility as an author.

If your first effort is an experiment, many shoppers who come across your book and were interested in it may remember your book or name in the future. The next time they see one of your books, even though it may be much better, they may pass on it simply from their first experience.

Success in the publishing business is difficult to come by, so start out by putting your best foot forward.

About My Blog

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:

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.