Eye-popping Blurbs

I discovered an amazing blurb on Amazon. My first thought was, “Wow! How did he do that?” So I asked.

Here is a link to the book that has the incredible blurb:


The formatting pops right out at you. Yeah, it’s the formatting that caught my attention – not necessarily the writing that made this an exceptional blurb. The top of the picture showing there compels the customer to click the “Show more” link – something that most customers seldom do. The headings, the color, the cute second picture – it’s visually quite appealing and provides a professional look.

A similarly formatted description can be found here:


So how did these authors do it? Here is the link to the KDP Community Forum thread where I discovered the first author’s book and asked him. Since he revealed his secret, I just had to buy a copy. 🙂


Okay, there is a problem here: The KDP forum responds to HTML, so you can’t type your HTML in the forum without the text of the code converting to formatting.

Find the code for the second description at the link below. Since this link doesn’t go to the KDP Community Forum, you can see the actual code this time. Compare the code to the description.


Also, you have to use the ASCII codes for the less than (<) and greater than (>) signs:


The h1 and h2 tags apparently also affect SEO rankings, as explained here:


I thought this was pretty cool and wanted to share it. But credit the HTML experts who discovered this; all I did was try to organize the information.

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

Strive to Be Positive :-)

Positive Pic

Help make the world a more positive place than you found it.

  • Negative interactions affect mood and demeanor like a virus.
  • Positive interactions are the cure for the common complaint.

Feel better inside and have a positive influence on others, too.

  • An outward smile tends to lift the spirits of those around you.
  • An inward smile improves your own mood and reduces stress.

Train yourself to react positively rather than negatively.

  • One negative action can create a multitude of negative reactions.
  • A positive mood can become a habit if properly cultivated.

Much better than earning straight A’s, strive to B+!

Chris McMullen, coauthor of the Negative/Positive Antonym Word Scrambles Book: A fun way to practice turning negative thoughts into positive ones

Useless Words

Although it may not seem like it at first, this article actually does have a point. In the beginning, that point is made indirectly, yet by example, whereas toward the end, the point will become directly clear. In a way, it is a sort of mystery, dropping a few subtle clues, which will (hopefully) seem to be obvious when revealed later.

Yes indeed, the matter is plain to see, right before your eyes, under your nose, just waiting for you to grab it (so just reach out and take it, please). If you haven’t guessed it yet – the point of this article, that is – keep trying. There will certainly be many more opportunities to do so. Absolutely, positively!

Maybe you’re wondering if you’ve already figured it out. Well, if you’re presently thinking that the entire article is wastefully useless, that’s not it. (This entire article might actually, in fact, be useless, but that’s not the point that this article is trying to make.) But the title of the article is a hint, and it doesn’t just relate to this article, but to the process of writing in general.

Spoiler alert: Ready or not, here comes the answer. The point is that most writers have a natural tendency to include many useless words in their writing (without even knowing it). Realizing which types of words may be useless can impact our writing and our revising.

So which words are useless? There are many kinds of useless words and phrases.

One type is a tautology. For example, “wastefully useless” is redundant. There are also other sorts of redundancies in meaning. The first two sentences are repetitive with “at first” and “in the beginning,” for instance.

Another sort of word that can be wasteful is an adverb. Stephen King said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” One school of thought about writing suggests to avoid using adverbs that end with -ly (as opposed to a few that don’t, like “well”). For example, consider “directly clear” in the first paragraph. Was it really helpful to include the word “directly”? The end of the second paragraph, “absolutely, positively,” combines these two ideas together with redundant adverbs.

Sometimes, adverbs do add meaning, but when they do, it is often passively rather than actively. For instance, “she returned to her bedroom sadly” tells that she was sad, whereas “she wiped the tears from her eyes on her way to the bedroom” shows that she was sad.

Various forms of the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were, been, etc.) also tend to tell rather than show, and can also be useless words. I could easily remove “to be” from “seem to be obvious” in the first paragraph. Replacement of the verb “to be” may mean removing a couple of short words in favor of a few longer words. For example, compare “it is very cold today” with “although he wore a thick jacket, a scarf, a ski hat, and mittens, he was still shivering.”

Some words and phrases are essentially filler – that is, the same information can often be conveyed without using them. (It’s true! See!) Check out the very first word of this article: although. Others used in this article include “that,” “whereas,” “in fact,” “in general,” and “as opposed to.”

Comments in parentheses and footnotes can distract (like this one, which interrupts the flow of the sentence) the reader. This is necessary to insert a note that may be helpful to many readers, but sometimes the note may not really be needed or there may be an alternative to interrupting the text.

I’m not saying to eliminate every use of “is” and “was,” remove all adverbs that end with -ly, never write a passive sentence, or completely avoid filler words and comments. Each of these can be used effectively in moderation, and some may help to develop your sense of style. However, it may be fun to look at some of your writing and see if you tend to use any useless words. If you see that you do, you might consider what alternatives you may have had. In the end, you might be happy with it the way it is, but at least you’ll know that those words are there.

Let me acknowledge Pat Fitzhugh’s article, called “Three Simple Writing Tips,” which helped to inspire my article. I recommend checking out:


Chris McMullen, self-published author of Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace

The Short Link to Amazon Books (Why Doesn’t Everyone Know This?)

First, here is the wrong way to link to an Amazon book. Search for the book on Amazon, click to open the book’s detail page on Amazon, copy the webpage url, and paste it.

What’s wrong with this? It makes the url much longer than it needs to be.

See this with an example. I’ll go to Amazon’s homepage and type “self publishing chris mcmullen” in the search field, and click on my own book. (I would happily have used your book as an example instead, but you didn’t ask. :-)) Now I’ll copy the webpage url:


(Yes, of course I could have given the link a short title. When you insert a link, you can make the text for the link different from the url itself. But that’s not the point. The point is that the url itself can be much, much shorter.)

So what’s the short way to do this? First, find your book’s ISBN (the 10-digit number will work) or ASIN (if you have an ebook that doesn’t have an ISBN, use this). You can find this number on your book’s detail page at Amazon.

The short link has the form http://amazon.com/dp/ISBN (or use ASIN in place of ISBN). Obviously, you have to put the ISBN number in place of the letters I-S-B-N at the end. 🙂

For example, the short variation of the above link is:


That’s much shorter (and I didn’t even have to use text in place of the url to make it short).

Actually, you can make it even shorter than this. Use amzn instead of amazon and remove the /dp:


But it’s not much shorter, is it? When you use amazon, people can see they’re being directed to a site that they (hopefully) trust, but when you use amzn instead, it might arouse suspicion (well, it shouldn’t, but it probably will).

Every day, I come across many links that authors have posted to their books, which use the long form instead of the short form. You may have noticed this, too. The easiest way to spread the word is to use the short link yourself whenever you post a link to your books. Somebody may notice and try this out with their own book.

Just think about how much we’re inconveniencing those poor little electrons when we make the link longer that it needs to be. J/K. 🙂

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.

Indie Author ‘Uh-Oh!’ Moments

(1) Spelling or grammar mistake in the title (whoops!)

(2) Used image placeholder (had no cover)

(3) Published an ebook without checking the preview (surprise!)

(4) Sued over copyright infringement for internet photos (they’re not free?)

(5) Got in a lengthy argument with a reviewer (sure showed the world)

(6) Used Google’s automatic translator (won’t understand the bad reviews)

(7) Didn’t read any formatting guides (it looked perfect on the monitor)

(8) Blurry paperback cover (used free 96 DPI picture from Google)

(9) Used Comic Sans (look out for the font police)

(10) Sued for using lyrics in book (they’re just 20 words out of 60,000)

(11) Didn’t report royalties to IRS (wasn’t much to report)

(12) Reviewed his/her own book ten times (multiple personalities?)

(13) Used the same author page for young adult and erotica (umm)

(14) Ragged right, strange line and paragraph spacing (used Word’s defaults)

(15) Crazy search results (used “harry,potter,twilight,lady,gaga” for keywords)

(16) Drew cover illustration with crayons (nice book to hang on fridge)

(17) ENTIRE BOOK WRITTEN IN CAPS (loud and clear)

(18) Misspelled author’s name (identity crisis)

(19) Forgot to change page headers for second book (head-smack)

(20) Tried to sell to local bookstore, but forgot to bring books (uh-oh)

Fortunately, most indie authors don’t make such outrageous mistakes. But a few do. We often focus on the few who make the worst mistakes, rather than the majority who only make minor mistakes. Of course, the bigger the mistake, the greater the entertainment.

Let’s remember what challenges face the self-published author. Writing a few hundred pages is an accomplishment in itself, but it’s only the beginning. There is proofreading, which is different from editing and formatting. Then there is the art of writing itself. Add to this the challenge of designing a cover, making illustrations, writing a blurb, publishing, marketing, and public relations.

While it may be fun to laugh at the sillier mistakes, perhaps we should also silently acknowledge the many indie authors who have managed to publish their work with only minor mistakes. Congratulations to all of you! 🙂

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

All Books Go to Heaven

Anne’s book proposal was accepted by a small publisher. They printed and distributed 500 copies, and that was the end of it. But those books found readers, and some of those readers enjoyed the story.

Bill wrote a book that didn’t quite fit into a well-defined category, and so it went largely unnoticed. Still, a few strangers appreciated the novel concept.

Cara published a controversial book. Several non-readers stoned her book with bad reviews. Yet many people who opposed the opinions of the stoners still read the book supported it.

Dave made a simple, humble cover for his book, which didn’t attract much attention. However, those who read it learned some valuable lessons.

Erin’s writing had some grammatical mistakes, but she couldn’t afford an editor. Still, those who read the book were amazed by the vivid characterization.

Finn felt personally attacked by a negative review and couldn’t refrain from commenting on it. Unfortunately, this attracted a mob of negative reviews. Sales continued, albeit much less frequently, and many of the customers experienced very passionate emotions while reading it.

Gwen didn’t realize that her book was selling for twice the average price of similar books. Yet the brave customers who invested in her book found it very useful.

Hank’s title didn’t seem to fit the genre. But his readers laughed several times during the book.

Inga couldn’t find the courage to share her work with the whole world. However, her family cherished it wholeheartedly.

John wrote his book in Pig Latin, which deterred many potential customers. But some readers who spoke Pig Latin fluently enjoyed the chance to apply their knowledge.

A book doesn’t have to be a bestseller, or have a fantastic cover, or be traditionally published, or have hundreds of five-star reviews, or be written with Pulitzer-Prize style, or be praised by a major newspaper – in order to be a good book. A book can humbly achieve a much milder form of success and still be a good book.

A book is something that an author is sharing with the world. The book may share experience, it may share powerful emotions, it may share vivid characters, it may share a great plot, it may share helpful instructions, it may share much creativity – there are so many wonderful things that a book can share. A reader somewhere just needs to appreciate something that the book is sharing, and that book will go to Book Heaven.

The better the writing and editing, the better the sharing. The better the cover, blurb, and marketing, the more people the book is shared with. There are ways to increase and improve the sharing.

Writers do the sharing, with hopes of readers who will do the caring.

The better the sharing, the more the caring.

Share a few books. Care for many books. But try not to scare them.

All of the people described in this blog post are fictional characters. Any resemblance to real authors or books is purely coincidental.

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

Book Fashion – Judging a Book’s Clothing

Would you show up to an interview wearing sandals, a Hawaiian button-down shirt, and sunglasses? Would you go to the beach in a tuxedo?

The answers to these questions might seem pretty obvious, yet several books are actually dressed for the wrong occasion. The cover and title are the book’s packaging.

If you’re shopping for cereal, you’re far more likely to pick up a box that catches your eye if it has a picture of cereal in a bowl and includes the word CEREAL somewhere on the box. If you see a box in the cereal aisle that has a picture of a breakfast bar on it, or if it has the word BAR in large letters, you’re probably not going to pick this up if you really want cereal.

When an action thriller has a cover that looks like a romance or the title sounds like a whodunit, it’s like trying to sell cereal inside a box of oatmeal.

It probably still seems pretty obvious, yet it’s also pretty common for the title or cover not to reflect the true nature of the book. Many indie authors, especially, tend to make this mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make. It’s not as obvious as putting cereal in an oatmeal box, but the effect is roughly the same.

How do you know what the package is supposed to look like? Check out the bestsellers in a given genre. Those are the types of covers that readers are accustomed to seeing. Putting the right outfit on the book doesn’t mean copying the cover concept from another book. It does, however, mean taking the time to do some research to explore what features are indicative of the genre.

A couple on a cover often signifies romance, for example. Yet even here it gets a little tricky. A romance author who wants to use sex appeal on the cover has to be careful not to make the cover look like erotica. On the other side, a young adult romance cover will look somewhat different from an adult romance cover.

The title should also be appropriate for the genre. If the cover says, “I’m a mystery, come solve my puzzle,” while the title says, “I’m a romance, let me add some spice to your life,” this mixed message can greatly deter sales.

Once the packaging makes you pick up a product, you start to explore the details. You might check out the ingredients or read the product description, for example. The table of contents specifies the book’s ingredients, the blurb is the product description, and the Look Inside offers a sample.

The blurb and Look Inside must reinforce what the cover and title suggest the book is about. Otherwise, it’s like wearing flip flops and a suit together.

Don’t confuse your potential readers. Don’t settle for a cover just because it looks nice, or a title just because it sounds good.

Print out your cover, hide the title, and show it to different people who have no idea that you wrote a book. Ask them what type of book they think it is.

Show people your title (nothing else – so these can’t be the same people who saw your cover) and ask them what they expect the book to be about.

Now get new people to read your description all by itself, and see what they say.

If you’re getting mixed messages, this may have a very significant impact on sales.

It’s not the fashion police you should be worried about if your book is caught wearing the wrong outfit, if the colors clash, or if your book doesn’t accessorize properly. It’s the potential sales that you may lose that should get your attention.

I could have titled this blog post, “All about Bikinis.” This blog may have had many more views if I had done that, but then nobody would have ever reached the end of this blog (except those few who may have been so desperate to find the product that had been advertised).

Chris McMullen

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

Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace

How to Cook a Book


26 letters, uppercase and lowercase (A to Z and a to z)

22 punctuation characters { [ ( , ; : . ! ? – – — “ ” ‘ ’ ~ * / ) ] }

12 keys (Enter Backspace Ctrl Shift CapsLk Tab Esc Home End PgUp PgDn Delete)

10 digits (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9)

10 fingers (2 thumbs 2 index fingers 2 middle fingers 2 ring fingers 2 pinkies)

8 opinions (great good okay neutral unsure poor bad awful)

7 days (Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday)

6 degrees of separation

4 arrows (right left up down)

2 genders (male female)

2 cents

1 word processor

1 keyboard

1 dictionary

1 thesaurus

1 mouse

1 pillow

1 editor

1 mind

1 heart

1 soul



Blend heart with experience.

Infuse soul with character.

Combine mind with knowledge.

Mix 1 mind, 1 heart, 1 soul.

Stir occasionally.

Seat mind, heart, and soul at 1 word processor.

Add 1 keyboard and 1 mouse.

Pour in 26 letters (uppercase and lowercase), 22 punctuation characters, 12 keys, 10 digits, 10 fingers, and 4 arrows.

Separate contents with 1 dictionary and 1 thesaurus.

Create protagonist, antagonist, and other characters in 2 genders with 6 degrees of separation.

Remove 5 degrees of separation.

Mix characters thoroughly.

Press Backspace and Delete repeatedly.

Write more.

Edit and revise.


Give up.


Edit and revise.

Send to 1 editor.

Cry into 1 pillow.

Stir with word processor.

Send back to editor.

Cry into pillow again.

Stir with word processor.

Seek 8 opinions.

Receive 9.

Earn 2 cents for each opinion.

That makes 18 cents.

Cry into pillow.

Edit and revise.

Send back to editor.

Cry into pillow.

Format, format, format.

Send back to editor.

Scream for joy!




Scream for joy!


Receive 5-star review.

Scream for joy!

That makes 20 cents.


Receive 2-star review.

Cry into pillow.

That makes 22 cents.

Stay away from word processor for 7 days.


Receive a compliment from a complete stranger in person.

Cry for joy.

Write next book.


Secret Recipe:

3 parts heart, 1 part brain.

40 years life experience.

Mix thoroughly.

Infuse with passion.



Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (and Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace – coming soon)

Those Silly Short Lines

A hyphen or a dash. Short dash, long dash. Those silly short lines.

We all know that the hyphen (-) is used to hy-phen-ate, and we all know that the short line is used to do this, so it should be easy to remember that the short line is a hyphen and the long line is a dash. Yet we sometimes forget. (It really doesn’t help that there are two types of dashes, each different from a hyphen.)

The keyboard just has a hyphen. No dash. You can easily make a dash in Microsoft Word. With Word’s AutoFormat as you type feature turned on, type two hyphens consecutively mid-sentence, like this – and they turn into a dash.

The better way to make the dash is to hold down the Alt button while typing 0150. Why does it matter? If you publish an e-book that you typed in Word, it might make a difference.

The downloadable Kindle previewer (said to be more reliable than the online previewer) with Device set to e-Ink device and Kindle Selected, for example, might show a box in place of a dash made from Word’s AutoFormat feature. Use the Alt method to produce the symbol without AutoFormat. (That’s for those of us who cling to the convenience of Word. The safer way is to learn how to properly modify the HTML.)

The en dash (–) is just one of two common dashes. The other is the em dash (—). Hold down Alt and type 0151 to make the em dash. It’s said to be good form to choose one dash or the other and be consistent.

Well, be as consistent as English allows. Use the en dash for a sequence, as in 42–81 (this time without the space). Give credit to the source of a quote with the em dash, as in the following (this time with the space).

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. — Cyril Connolly

Here, the em dash indicates a quote (in lieu of quotation marks) and also indicates the author to whom the quote is attributed. (If you want to use a horizontal bar instead of the em dash, you know too much for your own good. Or, at least, for my own good.)

We know that the letter ‘n’ is shorter than the letter ‘m,’ so this should help to remind us that the en dash is shorter than the em dash. We still sometimes forget.

The en dash is used with spaces – like so. The em dash is used without spaces—like this.

When reading e-books, we sometimes see the hyphen used in place of the dash. Was it a mistake? Or was the author playing it safe, worried that an e-reader might not recognize the dash? Or did the author see a box in place of the dash when carefully checking the previewer?

En–ie em—ie miney moe,

Pick a dash by its toe!

If it hyphen-ates,

Let it go!

This blog was brought to you by the following punctuation marks:




Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (and Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace – coming soon)

The Self-Publishing Lottery

Millions of people buy lottery tickets every day. For every hundred dollars spent, very little – if any – will be returned unless… unless the ticket hits the jackpot. The odds of hitting the jackpot are astronomical. Yet millions of people continue to play the lottery. Why? Hope. As long as there is even the tiniest fraction of a chance of having the winning ticket, people will continue to feed this hope.

Hundreds of thousands of people are now writing and self-publishing books. There are millions of books available on Amazon. The top 5,000 sell several copies every day. The top 50,000 sell a few copies every day. The top 200,000 sell once every day or so. But 10,0000,000 sell a few copies per month or less.

Most of the books sell just sporadically. Yet hundreds of thousands of aspiring authors continue to self-publish. Thousands of new books are published every day. Why? Hope. There is a chance that the book will be successful.

A lottery ticket just costs a dollar. Writing a book takes a great deal of time and effort. But people believe that the chance of success is much greater with writing a book, and that even in the worst-case scenario, the book will still sell some copies.

Here’s the thing. A book isn’t just going to be a top seller because the author hopes it will sell well. Everyone who buys a lottery ticket has the same chance of winning. But not everyone who writes a book has the same chance of success.

Some book ideas are better than others. Some books are better written, edited, and formatted than others. Some books have better covers and blurbs. Some books evoke strong emotions and have memorable characters. Some books are marketed very well. Book success isn’t just left to chance.

Each book is competing for sales against millions of other books. Only a small percentage of books sell with high frequency. The author who sits back and hopes shouldn’t expect much to come of it. The author who makes every effort to put the odds in his/her favor is much more likely to taste the success.

Writing a book takes a great deal of time and effort. Why not take a break after the book is written, then put more time and effort toward improving the book’s chances of success before (and again after) publishing? The author who has the dream of success should strive to make the dream a reality.

Hundreds of thousands of other authors want their book to be successful. But only a small percentage of books will sell with high frequency. It’s a competitive world. Most self-published authors won’t take the time to perfect every aspect of their book – storyline, cover, blurb, editing, formatting, marketing, etc. The author who does suddenly has a rare advantage.

The first step is to have a great idea. Sure, everyone already has a book idea – if not several – which they already believe is a great idea. But most books aren’t highly successful, so maybe they aren’t all that great after all. Which ideas are great? It’s not too hard to figure that out. Check out the bestselling books in a given genre. Study those books. They are the models of success. These books are presently attracting many readers.

What about creativity? Trying something new? Self-publishing offers freedom and independence. So why write material that is similar to what’s already out there?

Because those were proven to succeed. Those are concepts that readers are willing to invest in.

Write something new and hope for an audience. Or write for an existing audience, and then after establishing a reputation, write what truly interests you. This way, you can eventually write with the freedom and independence that you crave, while also having an audience for it once you do.

You can’t just copy the same concept. But you need to understand the readers’ expectations. Do the top-selling romance books all end with a happily-ever-after? What negative characteristics (if any) is the protagonist allowed to have in a mystery? How realistic does a sci-fi concept need to be? If you dream of a large audience, you must first understand the readers’ expectations. Upset your readers and you lose valuable word-of-mouth sales. (When you become an established author, then you can upset some readers in the name of artistic freedom. Nonetheless, you still have a great deal of freedom without upsetting a large number of readers in your genre.)

But just subscribing to traditional methods doesn’t guarantee success. Bestselling books have some common features. They have fantastic covers. (Study the covers in your genre. This is what readers expect to see when they browse for books.) They are well-edited. They are professionally formatted. They are well-written. They are effectively marketed. In fiction, they have very memorable characters and – in many genres – suspenseful plots, and they evoke strong emotions.

You might find an occasional exception. Don’t cling to the exception. You can find tens of thousands of books that could have been much more successful if only, if only, if only… Cling to the if only.

Too much time? Plenty of time. What’s the rush?

Too little money? There are affordable options. Save up. What’s the rush?

(There is a wealth of free help out there, too, often from knowledgeable, experienced small publishers. Check out blogs, self-publishing community forums, books. Find out how good your work is, get opinions, and exchange ideas with colleagues at writing venues or book clubs.)

Rush your book out to the wolves. Or do some research, polish it up as best you can, bring your best book to the market. Make your first book your best book – it’s the book you will establish your reputation with.

It’s a common mistake to think: I’ll just get my book out there and see what people think of it. If they complain about editing, I’ll get an editor later. If I sell enough copies now, I’ll hire an illustrator later. And so on and so forth. Give them your best work the first time. Don’t give them any reasons to complain.

There are many self-published authors who have experienced these publishing mistakes firsthand. If you haven’t published yet, there is still time to learn from and avoid these common mistakes.

(Don’t have the hope of selling many copies? Then be a true artist and do as you please. J)

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