Amazon Prime Day Deals Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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AMAZON PRIME DAY, 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017 marks Amazon Prime Day this year.

It’s like a summer Black Friday exclusive for Amazon Prime customers.

Check out the deals at Amazon.

It kind of snuck up on me this year. Is July 11 really here so soon? Wait: It’s already July? Didn’t the year just start? I guess that means I’ve been busy writing, which is a good thing.

There has been a banner on Amazon’s home page for a few days mentioning it, but Amazon really didn’t tap into the indie potential. I didn’t see mention of it in the KDP newsletter. Maybe the reason is that Amazon’s emphasis is on other products, but it seems that if they encouraged indie authors to schedule a Countdown Deal on Prime Day, or if they would discount more CreateSpace paperbacks on this day and let authors know about it (rather, CreateSpace paperbacks are more likely to be discounted on other days, it seems), well… surely those authors would really help to spread the word about Prime Day and be excited about it. Imagine the millions of authors who would like to feel “included” in the deal, even if they are small names, and would be excited to let their fans (even if in small numbers) know that they were somehow involved, if only they were directly involved and encouraged to participate. Multiply their fan bases by the huge number of indie authors (many of whom have actually developed great marketing skills), and it could be helpful advertising for Amazon.

I do love Amazon, and Amazon has been great for me as an author (and customer). I’m just thinking that if Amazon could see the potential here, they could make Prime Day even better.

BUT YOU CAN STILL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PRIME DAY—EVEN IF YOU MISSED IT

So maybe you’re an author and you weren’t prepared for Amazon Prime Day.

Maybe you weren’t given a heads up. Maybe you didn’t put any of your books on sale.

Or maybe you did have a sale on Prime Day and it was a DUD, considering all the other great deals going on.

If so, it’s not too late to use Amazon Prime Day to YOUR advantage.

Put one of your books on sale AFTER Amazon Prime Day. That’s right: after.

Probably a Kindle e-book that isn’t already at its minimum possible price. That’s the easiest way for an indie author to put a book on sale.

When your sale starts, use your marketing to promote it something like this: “Missed Amazon Prime Day? Don’t worry, you can still catch a great deal.”

(You could do this after Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc.)

Now your book is on sale, but not at the same time as the majority of other items, and not when customers are too busy on other deals to look for indie books.

Sales aren’t easy to come by, even with discounts. Marketing isn’t easy, even when you have a good idea.

But there is an opportunity here. It can be pulled off if done right.

Much of marketing is learned through experience. Come up with ideas, try to find out which of them suit you.

HAPPY PRIME DAY

Maybe you can find some good deals on something you’d like and save some $$$.

Good luck!

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

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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Big Bang, Inflation, Steady-State (Marketing Strategies)

Image from ShutterStock

Image from ShutterStock

BOOK MARKETING STRATEGIES

One of the main book marketing strategies that I see focuses around a Big Bang.

Yet a book marketing strategy that focuses more on consistency may have better long-term potential.

There are benefits and disadvantages of each, which depend on the nature of the book and author.

And recent changes in the dynamic book publishing environment impact the decision for how to market.

BIG BANG

The Big Bang book marketing strategy focuses on driving as much traffic as possible to the book’s product page over a short period of time.

Pre-marketing and buzz-building are amped up for a powerful book launch with several early reviews and many early sales.

BookBub and related promotions are utilized to revitalize sales with additional Big Bangs throughout the year.

Email lists for a newsletter and online followings are grown to launch the next book with a Bigger Bang.

New content is released frequently to generate more Big Bangs.

STEADY-STATE

The steady-state book marketing strategy strives to fuel consistent sales.

Regular sales are favored more than sales spikes.

One main goal is to sustain sales long-term.

Another main goal is to reach a point where sales generate much on their own.

INFLATION

The inflation book strategy is similar to the steady-state strategy.

Emphasis is placed on long-term growth.

It’s not sufficient to sustain sales; the goal is to improve sales annually.

New content is released to help improve sales.

Branding, word-of-mouth, and long-term strategies are applied to generate future sales.

COMPARISON OF BOOK MARKETING STRATEGIES

Many successful indie fiction authors that I have met have used the Big Bang book marketing strategy quite effectively.

Traditional publishers often launch their books with a Big Bang.

I have drawn my success in nonfiction with the inflation book marketing strategy.

There are also popular authors who have earned their success with a combination of Big Bang and inflation strategies.

Personally, given a choice, I prefer sales consistency to sales spikes. That’s the key to long-term success.

You aren’t presented with a choice, though. For some books, a Big Bang is more attainable than sales consistency.

But if you can have both sales spikes and annual sales growth, you get the best of both worlds.

Furthermore, some recent changes in book publishing dynamics may shift the balance a little.

BIG BANG BENEFITS

If you succeed in generating many sales over a short time, your Amazon.com sales rank can really soar.

This improves your chances of landing on a hot new release or top 100 bestseller list (at least in a subcategory).

Some customers browse through the bestseller lists, so this is your one shot to reach those readers.

Frequent sales help give your book additional exposure through customers-also-bought lists, recommendations, etc.

In can take 100 to 1000 sales to get a review, so the sooner you get your sales, the sooner you get customer reviews.

You also get word-of-mouth exposure sooner, and you can build a fan club faster, which helps you release your new books.

If you have other similar books, a sales spike in one book can feed sales to your other books.

BIG BANG DRAWBACKS

It’s hard to maintain a stellar sales rank, which limits the benefits.

If you generate a lot of early reviews from an early sales spike, once the sales rank drops off, the review-to-sales-rank ratio may arouse customer suspicion. (But you can run new short-term promotions in the future to help revive your sales rank.)

Some of the popular methods of Big Bang book marketing, like BookBub and other advertisements, can be somewhat expensive, which makes Big Bang marketing riskier.

Amazon may have recently changed their algorithm to limit the long-term influence of sales spikes on sales rank.

If you could get many of those same sales distributed more evenly over a longer period (not that this is easy to do: a short-term promotion is easier), such sales consistency might have a better long-term impact on sales rank. (Analyzing which factors impact sales rank is complicated, though, and so this might not actually be quite the case.)

It can take a lot of work over a short period to create a high level of anticipation and to generate many early sales.

CONSISTENCY BENEFITS

Consistent sales over a long period lend better stability to your Amazon sales rank.

This may now also have a stronger long-term influence on your sales rank.

Customer reviews are more likely to seem aligned with sales rank at any given time.

Your book is less susceptible to one untimely influential review, technical problems beyond your control, etc.

If you invest in advertising, you can do it with a long-term promotional plan, risking less per month than with the short-term promotions involved in Big Bang marketing.

There is much long-term potential if you succeed in driving consistent sales over a long period.

Your first few books haven’t dropped off the chart when you release a new book, which makes it easier to help a new release feed sales to your older books.

You spread your work load out over a longer period.

CONSISTENCY DRAWBACKS

It takes very frequent sales to get the best exposure with bestseller and hot new release lists.

It’s not easy to generate consistent, long-term sales over a long period of time.

You need to find effective, long-term marketing strategies, and it takes dedication and patience to see them through.

Consistent sales over a long period often requires releasing new content periodically.

It takes longer to recover your investment, and more time to grow your sales.

While it would be great to achieve both, you do have to make some decisions that lean one way or the other.

For example, if you tell everyone you know about your new release at the same time, many are likely to buy it on the same day. But if you tell different groups on different days, you might get more consistent sales. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks. (Though if your book will be on sale for a short period, why not be a nice guy or gal and let people you know in on the deal?)

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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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

more, More, MORE; will it ever be enough?

More Pic

 

You start out with some sales.

So happy to sell your first book.

Something to show for your hard work.

 

Then you realize it’s not like you dreamed.

You had fantasized about a bestseller.

Now that seems ridiculously far-fetched.

 

Maybe it’s your cover. Could it be the blurb?

Or does it need an edit? What’s the problem?

See if some revisions will do the trick.

 

You’re excited when sales improve.

Until you realize it wasn’t all that much.

Your dreams remain a long way off.

 

Aha! Marketing must be the answer.

You scour the internet for information,

Learning everything you possibly can.

 

Sales improve after trying these ideas out.

That must have been the key.

Except that it’s still not enough.

 

Then you get a new idea. Write another book.

The sales will feed off each other.

Why hadn’t you thought of this before?

 

Your new book helps. As does the next.

Pretty soon you have several books out.

Sales are so much better now.

 

But it still isn’t enough. You want more.

You crave it. You can taste it. You need it.

Why? You don’t know. You just do.

 

Afterword:

 

I think it’s important to compare yourself to your former self (and not just in terms of numbers).

Don’t worry about how many books other authors are selling.

Some books rarely sell, some sell like hot cakes.

Trying to grow your numbers is a good goal to strive for, as long as you don’t go overboard.

As you learn more and gain experience, and as you have more books out, this should help your numbers grow.

Improvement will give you a temporary euphoria.

Then you get accustomed to it and expect better.

When the numbers drop, as they surely will, you’ll feel depressed.

Sales fluctuate. It’s a fact of life. Strive for long-term growth. Try to ignore short-term drops.

There are seasonal and many other effects, which guarantee some drops.

Try not to let your sales dictate your happiness. Otherwise, you’ll be unhappy much of the time.

Try not to fall into the MORE trap, which doesn’t just plague book sales, but plagues many aspects of life, such as finances.

More can’t really make you happy. You seem happy about it at first. But you can’t always get more. Do you want to be unhappy all those times that you can’t have more?

But more can be a healthy goal, in moderation.

You can use this goal to strive for improvement, and to stay motivated.

Just try not to let it consume you. Then more becomes a huge problem.

Remember, you can measure “more” in other ways besides numbers—better quality, for example.

The last things you want to do are lose your passion for your hobby, forget your roots, or feel like you sold out… all to get more, More, MORE.

If you focus on more, it will never be enough.

 

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Selling Books Directly – How to Do It and Why You Should

Books

Some authors are highly successful with direct sales – i.e. copies they sell personally – as well as getting local booksellers to stock their books. There are a few simple things that anyone can do that would help with direct sales. You don’t have to be a car salesman to effectively move your books. We’ll return to this point shortly.

First, there are several benefits from selling directly:

  • Author copies are very reasonable for paperback books from CreateSpace, which allows you to discount the book and still make a significant royalty. Any discount you offer from the list price works as an incentive – like being on sale – for readers to buy your book.
  • You may sell some books to customers who wouldn’t have bought the book otherwise. This widens your exposure. The more people who read your book, the better your prospects for reviews and word-of-mouth sales.
  • People often buy on impulse. Once that moment has passed, you may have lost your chance. If you tell someone about your book, by the time they get home and log onto the computer, they might change their mind or forget about it. When you sell directly, you can avoid this delay.
  • Selling directly is a very personal form of marketing, and you combine the marketing and selling into a single step. Readers often enjoy the chance to meet and interact with the author, and this improves the chances for them to buy your book. You have the chance to charm them.
  • Nobody is as passionate about your book as you are. Therefore, you are your own best salesman. There is no salesman at all when customers shop online. When you sell directly, you have the opportunity to let your passion show through. (Instead, if you don’t show much interest in your own book, it will be difficult for readers to imagine enjoying your book.)
  • Holding a book in your hands is different from viewing the cover, blurb, and Look Inside online. A professional looking paperback or hardcover book can make a positive impression. People do buy books because they seem interesting (that’s why they have books lying around the house that they’ve never even opened, but intend to read someday).

Don’t view yourself as a salesperson. Think of it as marketing. You’re the author. Let your passion for your work show naturally (don’t overdo it). You’re trying to help people in your target audience discover your book, and by offering a discount (if you choose to do this – and check if you’re beating Amazon’s price, since that may be discounted, too), you’re helping them save money.

Here are some tips for selling books directly:

  • Put the book in the customer’s hands. Be discreet about this, and be insistent. Your goal is to get the book in the customer’s hands and keep it there. When the customer tries to hand the book back to you, you want to have your hands full or busy or to be positioned in such a way that the customer won’t simply hand you the book in return. But you have to be natural and smooth. If the customer succeeds in returning the book (setting it on a table, for example), at some point you want to naturally pick it up and try to put it back in the customer’s hands. If the customer gets the book out of his or her hands, the customer is more likely to walk away without buying it.
  • Offer to sign the book for the customer. This is a way that you can create a perception of added value to the product. It’s another incentive for the customer to make the purchase. If you succeed in getting the customer to hold onto the book, after the sale is made, get out a pen and ask the customer how he or she would like the book to be signed. Once the transaction is complete, you don’t have to worry about the customer letting go of the book temporarily. Don’t mention signing the book too early – you might be able to use it to help close the deal later.
  • Smile. Be confident (it’s very important that you appear to believe in your book – otherwise, why should the customer?). Be courteous. Let your passion show through naturally. Talking about some aspect of the book you love is a great way to take your mind off your nervousness and quench those butterflies. Let a little creativity show. Charm helps.
  • You can have too few books, but not too many. Keep a stack of nicely packaged books in the trunk of your car (well, maybe not in extreme heat or humidity). Whenever your book comes up in the topic of conversation, you want to have a copy handy. Being out of stock is a good way to lose sales.
  • Format your book so that the cover and interior look professional. The more professional your book appears and the more the cover fits the genre, the better your chances of making the sale.
  • Strive to have the voice of a confident author and not the voice of a desperate salesperson. If you don’t want to feel like a salesperson, the first step is to realize that you aren’t really a salesperson and shouldn’t feel that way. You’re the author. People have the chance to meet the author in person and get a signed copy.
  • Don’t be a pressure salesperson. Create a relaxed ambiance.
  • Very often, the customer wants to buy a product, but is kind of stuck in limbo. If you see this hesitation, that’s the moment you’re waiting for to say the magic words. Maybe they are, “How would you like me to sign this?” Don’t ask, “Would you like to buy this book?” If it’s a yes-no question, you give the customer a chance to say, “Not today.”
  • Every salesperson understands the value of add-ons. “Would you like a bookmark to go with that?” (Bookmarks are also helpful marketing tools, especially since they may actually get used by readers.) “Your daughter might enjoy this children’s book I’ve written.”
  • If your list price is $12.95, consider selling it for $10 in person. Round numbers make it easy for customers to pay and help relieve the issue of making change. Come prepared with denominations that you may need to make change. At a large event, you want to be setup with PayPal on a laptop, for example.
  • Offer a discount for buying multiple books. For example, $8 each or $20 for the trilogy. (Look at your cost – don’t forget shipping you pay to get the books – and potential royalties first – don’t just make up numbers.)

You don’t have to sell just paperback or hardcover in person. You can sell an e-book directly, too. Transfer the file directly. Once you figure out how to transfer the file successfully a couple of times, you’ll have the confidence to pull this off at the point-of-sale.

Where and how should you be selling your books directly?

  • Readings and signings. You can’t set these up if you don’t try. Try to be professional. Prepare a press release kit. Some managers are just trying to gauge whether you’re an amateur or a professional. If you’re not having luck with bookstores, look elsewhere: local stores (antique stores, perhaps) that sell books, coffee shops that might like to sell some coffee to anyone who shows up, have a picnic at the park – be creative (arrange a zombie race and have your signing at the end of it). Work to populate these events so you don’t wind up with zero audience. Schedule your event on your AuthorCentral page, then add a photo of it there afterward.
  • Anyone you interact with who shows interest in your book. Remember to always have a stack of neatly packaged books nearby (e.g. in the trunk of your car). Print out a nice looking coupon with a discount code and your CreateSpace eStore in case you don’t have a book handy, or at least have a business card or bookmark with your website on it. However, you’re more likely to sell a book that you have handy than get a sale later from a website.
  • Booksellers. Not just bookstores and libraries. You may have better success in local shops that sell a few books. Start small and try to work your way up; you’ll gain experience with each attempt. A press release kit may come in handy. You prefer to sell copies directly (they’ll want a hefty discount, which should be okay since author copies are low cost), but they may prefer to do consignment (this gives them less incentive to sell, and your copies may be bruised or lost – plus what happens if the store goes out of business?). Consignment is better than nothing; there is a little risk, but all investments carry risk. They can order your books from Ingram or CreateSpace Direct, but selling your author copies may be the best option.
  • Seminars. Whenever you give a presentation, you want to have a table stacked with books when it’s over. You can arrange a workshop where you teach some valuable skill that relates to your book, you may get invited to give a seminar, you might volunteer to teach a skill at a senior center, etc. Where there is a will, there is a way.
  • Relevant stores. For example, if you wrote a grammar workbook, look for teacher supply stores, educational stores, and any other stores that sell workbooks. Schools may also have an interest. Look for home school teachers, too. Look online, too. For example, for workbooks, there is a website called Teachers Pay Teachers. If you didn’t write a workbook, think about what other kinds of stores sell such books. Try going to the store in person, first. If you contact them by mail, you want to prepare professional documents like those in a press release kit.

When people look on your AuthorCentral page or blog and see that you’ve been giving seminars on this topic or have a schedule for signings and readings, it looks impressive. It’s the sign of a serious author.

The more people in your target audience you interact with, the more people who may buy your book and the better the prospects for reviews and referrals. So the more people you meet through direct sales avenues, the better.

Plus, when you look at what makes people buy books, personal interactions is one of the main factors that applies to authors who don’t have big names. The other big factors include being on the bestseller list, referrals, and top search results. The most accessible factor for most authors is personal interactions. You have to aim for this (and if you succeed, it may help your book benefit from the other factors).

People like to buy books from authors they’ve met and interacted with where they enjoyed the interaction. By trying to sell books directly, you have a chance to make a big impact.

People you interact with personally are not just more likely to buy your book, they are also more likely to review it and refer it to friends. So you have every reason to try to meet people in your target audience and try to interact with them. You can do it. 🙂

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

What Makes People Buy Books?

Buying Books Pic

It’s awfully silly to start marketing your book until you first devote some time to a couple of basic questions:

  1. What causes people to buy books? (Equally important: What tends to deter sales?)
  2. Who is your specific target audience?

Knowing the answers to these questions can significantly affect your marketing strategies. In this article, we’ll focus on Question #1.

(1) Browsing for books on the top 100 bestseller lists.

More than any other method, customers buy books by shopping the top 100 bestseller lists. There are New York Times bestseller lists, there is a special bestseller section in most bookstores, and Amazon lists their top 100 sellers in any browse category. You can even search for the top 100 authors.

Evidently, these books were good enough that many other people read them. Many of these books are traditionally published and were written by popular authors. But more and more indie authors are starting to break through, especially on Amazon.

Bestselling books sell dozens or hundreds of copies per day (of course, it depends whether we’re talking overall or just in a particular category or subcategory, and the precise number can be sensitive to a number of factors). So bestsellers account for a huge percentage of book sales.

You might not like the fact that many customers look to see what’s popular and shop for books based on this. But that’s irrelevant. Unless you have an idea to change the way millions of people shop for books. It’s just something to consider.

If you can succeed in earning a spot on any of the top 100 lists, this amazing exposure can lead to wonderful things. Provided that your book runs with it; some books get onto the list and fall right off.

There are tens of thousands of authors doing all the right things (and others doing wrong things) to try to get their books onto these coveted lists, and you’re competing against popular authors and traditional publishers. But you’ll find some indie authors there, too (studying what they’ve done right may prove to be valuable research).

If you feel strongly that you have a book with the potential to get onto these bestseller lists, go for it!

  • You need a book idea that has a large preexisting audience. Find a genre that you’re a good fit to write in and research what this audience expects. Develop your writing and storytelling toward this end. Become familiar with the rules of the genre, and understand why these rules exist.
  • Develop a fantastic story and memorable characterization for fiction, or valuable content for nonfiction. Write in a way that your audience will enjoy the read in terms of both making the words flow (or not, when the occasion arises) and use of grammar blended with style. Perfect the book cover to cover in terms of front matter, back matter, editing, and formatting. You don’t want anything to detract from the read. Give people reasons to leave positive reviews and recommend the book to others, and avoid giving reasons to say anything negative (it’s unavoidable, but strive to minimize this).
  • You need initial sales to get things going. A history of poor sales rank is a challenge to overcome. So build buzz for your book with cover reveals, letting people discover that you’re writing a book, interacting with people who ask how your book is coming along, getting feedback on various aspects of your book (cover, title, blurb, first chapter, draft) on different occasions from different groups of people in person and online. Focus groups, contests, promotions, etc. can help you get people excited about your coming book.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of packaging. The book has to absolutely look like it belongs in its genre. If you want a top seller, on top of everything else, the cover has to quickly register as being the kind of book that the customer is looking for. If the cover attracts the wrong audience, there won’t be any sales. Research the covers of bestsellers in the genre. Design a professional-looking cover that will attract customers who are accustomed to seeing those covers. The title, cover, and blurb need to send a unified message and grab the target audience’s attention. Craft a killer blurb that will entice interest without giving too much away. The Look Inside needs to close the deal.
  • Do premarketing. Don’t wait until your book is published. Look for bloggers in your genre who occasionally review books well in advance of publishing, since they may already have numerous requests and reading takes time. Make a professional press release package. Contact local media. Try giveaways on Goodreads. Arrange signings and readings. Have a book launch party. Why wait until your book is already available and not selling well to do all the things you should be doing? If you’re going to market your book anyway (and you’ll discover the hard way that you need to), do it right and help your book take off with a bang in the first place. Even if you don’t think the 100 bestseller list is realistic, doing your best to get your book on this list gives you the best prospects for success.
  • Believe in your book. Visualize success. Not just you sitting on a pile of money receiving praise from everyone you meet. Visualize the path to your success that makes this vision realistic and work diligently to get there. If you don’t show belief in your own book, how can you expect others to believe in your book? Your lack of confidence can deter sales. But don’t get overconfident as bragging tends to deter sales.

(2) Shopping for books by their favorite authors.

When customers like books, they sometimes search for other books written by the same author. Indeed, books are frequently sold this way.

This affects all authors who’ve written more than one book (well, unless you write one children’s book and one book that’s not for children, for example).

Write two or more related books. Or better yet, write a series of books. Then you can benefit from such sales.

Ah, but there’s a catch. The first book they read has to be good enough to make many readers want more. The book has to be seem like a good value (and the subsequent books can’t seem like a rip-off), and should provide a sense of satisfaction by itself.

  • Memorable characters give readers a reason to continue the series.
  • A great storyline in one book creates high expectations for more of the same.
  • Editing, writing, formatting, and storyline mistakes discourage future sales.
  • The subsequent volumes need to live up to expectations in order to merit good reviews and recommendations; if they don’t live up to this, there may be negative referrals (e.g. “Stay away from that series”).

Discounting book one, making book one free, creating an omnibus, promoting temporary discounts, contests, etc. can help generate sales. The more people who read one of your books and love it, the more of your other books you are likely to sell. Plus this improves your sales rank, chances of getting reviews, and prospects for word-of-mouth sales.

(3) Recommendations from trustworthy sources.

An editorial review from a highly reputed source, like the New York Times, can have a very positive impact. This isn’t realistic for most indie authors (or even many traditionally published authors), but there are many ways that every author can benefit from recommendations.

The most accessible is word-of-mouth sales. If the book is good enough – see the points from (2) above – for a percentage of the customers to recommend it to others, this can generate valuable sales. If a thousand people read a book initially, and a hundred recommend it to their friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances who read similar books, and then a fraction of those people recommend it to others, and so on, sales can really grow in the long-term.

You have to be patient. First, you need the initial batch of people to read your book. If sales are slow (a few a day), that can take a long, long time. See the points from (1) above for a few marketing ideas.

Once people buy your book, they must read your book. They might already have other books to read first. Then when they do read your book, it might just be in their spare time, which they might not have much of. As soon as they finish reading your book, they won’t go scream from the mountaintops. They might not mention your book at all. The more they love your book, the more likely they will recommend it. But then it might not be until it naturally comes up in conversations, which might not be for some time. Then those people might not buy your book right away. It can be weeks after they hear about your book before they consider buying. Not everyone who hears great things about your book will buy it.

It can take several months for word-of-mouth sales to build up. And your book has to be good enough to receive those recommendations. You can do your best to perfect your book, but you can’t control customer recommendations. All you can do is wait and hope.

If someone very social falls in love with your book, that can be quite fortunate. If people who are really connected in the social media world enjoy your book, this can potentially be big. Just imagine the buzz in social media when Twilight was coming out. Reproducing that might not be realistic, but it shows the potential. If a blogger in your genre falls in love with your book, or if a book reviewer for an online magazine loves your book, or even a customer who often reviews books on Amazon loves your book… recommendations help, especially when they come from trustworthy sources.

You can try to solicit reviews from bloggers in your genre who sometimes review books. Maintaining a blog and being active in social media might help make some valuable connections. But remember that some bloggers receive an insane number of requests and that it takes time to read books.

Put together a press release kit with advance review copies and contact local media. For indie authors, it may be easier to get an article or review if you write nonfiction, have something unique going for you (like being a triplet, but there are many other ways for the press to take interest in you), or if you have a very small local paper.

You also have your own friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances. If you succeed in building buzz for your book – see point (1) above – then they may help stimulate sales by recommending your book to their friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.

Another trustworthy source that’s very valuable is the retailer itself.

Once a book sells a few times along with another book, it can show up on Customer Also Bought lists. The more frequently your book sells – and the more effective your marketing efforts – the more these lists can help give your sales a significant boost.

Excellent packaging boosts your chances of getting sales from Customer Also Bought lists – see point (5) below.

(4) Discounts, promotions, and contests.

People tend to love sales. But they have to know about the sale, which means that you have to promote your discount. And they have to want the product. The book has to be a good fit for them. Which means you have to find your target audience and market your promotion toward them.

A temporary discount entices customers to buy before the sale ends. If a discount is too frequent and regular, people will learn to wait for it, and sales may be much slower in the interim. Contests and giveaways can help stimulate interest, too. Like the giveaway program at Goodreads (but you need to have a hard copy, like paperback).

Amazon sometimes discounts books. They have been doing this more frequently in 2013 for indie authors, especially with CreateSpace paperbacks. There is no guarantee that a retailer will put your book on sale, and you have no control over this. (But with CreateSpace, you still get the full royalty, provided that the book sells directly through Amazon.)

(5) Searching for books by keywords or browsing for books in categories.

Shoppers do go to Amazon and other online booksellers to search for books by keywords or just browse page by page through categories (or do a search within a specific category). Browsing page by page without a search tends to put the bestsellers up front, like point (1) above. But customers do search for various keywords.

A greater percentage of books sell other ways than searching for keywords. However, there are so many customers buying books that this still represents a very large number of book sales.

The problem is that there are tens of millions of books to search for.

  1. Millions of books sell this way, but there are also millions of books. On average, most titles sell fewer than one a day through this method. Fewer than a hundred thousand titles sell multiple copies per day through online search results. (The top couple hundred thousand books on Amazon sell one or more per day, but many of these sales are not from keyword searches.)
  2. Books that show up on the first page of one or more keyword searches are much more likely to sell through keyword searches. Most books don’t show up on the first page of any search results. Only a few books show up on the first page of very popular keyword searches.

Amazon tends to reward books whose authors and publishers (scrupulously) help themselves. The better your book and the better your marketing, the greater your sales rank and the more reviews you will draw, which can help to improve your book’s visibility. It’s not just sales rank and reviews. More sales might mean you’re selling more books through keyword searches, which may have a greater effect on visibility than from sales rank along.

Once your book becomes visible in one or more keyword searches, you need for it to get noticed.

Excellent packaging can make a marked difference once your book becomes visible. It has to attract the right audience. If it looks like sci-fi, but it’s really action, then the people who click on the book won’t be the people who buy the book. Research books in the genre that sell regularly to see what customers are accustomed to seeing in search results. You want a professional-looking cover that clearly signifies the genre in order for keyword searches to work for your book. You also need a title, cover, and blurb that send a unified message about what to expect. A killer blurb that attracts interest without giving too much away can help immensely, provided that your book is getting noticed. The Look Inside needs to be good enough to seal the deal once shoppers become interested.

(6) Personal interactions with the author.

If you’re not selling books the other 5 ways, this is your best opportunity. Even authors who are selling books the other ways should be taking advantage of this. A very significant number of books sell through personal interactions with the author. Strive to provide the personal touch with your marketing endeavors.

It’s a treat to be able to read a book where you’ve personally interacted with the author. When people interact with you and enjoy the interaction, they are much more likely to read your book, enjoy your book (because they read it in a good frame of mind, whereas we often read critically or with skepticism), and review your book.

Especially if you make each person you interact with feel special. If they interacted with you and felt like you were a salesperson, they probably won’t feel special. If they meet you, ask what you do, discover you’re an author, and enjoy your discussion, what a difference that makes. But don’t interact with people just because you want to sell them something. Interact with them to get to know them. If you really care, this will show and can make a huge difference. Be genuine.

Charm them.

Who is your target audience? These are the people you want to interact with personally because they are many times more likely to buy your book than anyone else. If you write a romance and market it mainly to people who rarely or never read romance, your marketing will be a disaster. Think long and hard where and how to find your target audience. And then you don’t want to be there just to sell your book. You want to provide help (volunteer work), knowledge (a seminar, a blog), or entertainment (a reading), for example, to help attract your target audience, and have them discover that you wrote a book that may interest them (happen to have bookmarks to pass out?).

You can start with friends, family, acquaintances, and coworkers. If you have a large (or any size) social media following, you can tap into this to help with initial sales. (Remember, close friends and family can’t review your book on Amazon.)

You can meet people anytime. They may or may not be in your target audience. If it comes up naturally that you’re an author, even if they don’t read that genre they might have a friend who does.

But you can’t rely on luck. You have to find your target audience. In person is best, but online interactions help, too.

References

1. http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2012/06/22/part-2-where-people-discover-and-get-their-books/

2. http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2013/02/27/the-trouble-with-finding-books-online-and-a-few-solutions/

3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2013/02/20/half-of-amazon-book-sales-are-planned-purchases/

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