Branding Distinction for Authors

What distinguishes your book from others? What makes it special? How is it unique?

You don’t just want people in your target audience to see your name and the name of your book repeatedly. You want people in your target audience to associate something with the kinds of books that you write.

Knowing the author’s name or the book’s title provides recognition when they see it. You don’t just want people to buy your book when they recognize it. You want people to search for your book.

If you brand a distinction for your writing, people in your target audience may search for your book when they’re next in the market for a book of that kind. This is better than recognition.

When people in your target audience discover your name or the title of your book while they interact with you, you’re branding your name or your book’s title. It may be more effective to brand a signature that distinguishes your writing. Give your target audience a compelling reason to search for your book.

First, you must identify your target audience. Secondly, you must market your brand effectively – e.g. through discovery or by providing valuable content (whereas self-promotion and being too frequently visible may get you tuned out).

Interact with people in your target audience and let them discover that you’re a writer and what makes your work special. The more you write or say, the less people will remember. You want the emphasis on a concise phrase (just a few words, nowhere near an entire sentence) that brands your specialty and something to go along with it – your name, your book’s title, or the name of a series, especially if it’s very short – so that they can easily find it when they’re ready to search for it.

Here are some examples of how to brand distinction:

  • Your Name, writer of clean romance
  • Series Title, featuring Brooklyn’s modern day Sherlock Holmes
  • Book Title, a dancing guide for people with two left feet
  • Author’s Name, specializing in vampire erotica
  • Workbook Series, math for children with ADHD
  • Name of Book, sick of implausibly perfect characters?

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2, on editing/marketing, is now available)

Inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock

Last night, I watched the recent movie, Hitchcock. Don’t worry: I won’t spoil the plot for you.

In this movie, I saw many parallels with the art and business of self-publishing:

  • The name Alfred Hitchcock was very well branded. The movie, while it may have a little more Hollywood style and a little less reality, provided some insight into his character as a movie maker. You can guess how his distinctive personality and specific talents helped with his branding.
  • The silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock was also very well branded. It wasn’t just a logo. Remember how he used to walk into the position where the silhouette would form? This technique really helped brand his image.
  • The movie revealed a few marketing tactics. He was not only renowned for creating suspense, but he was even effective at utilizing suspense in his marketing tactics.
  • At a stage where he may have been expected to retire, he dared to take a new direction with his filmmaking. He didn’t have the backing of the film industry (i.e. the big money) – at least, not to exercise his creativity and pursue this new direction his own way. So he was very much like an indie filmmaker. Of course, he had financial resources of his own, but he took a huge risk.
  • He abandoned the rules of what works and pursued his own ideals. Authors have long had traditional publishers telling us what works, not wishing to deviate more than about 10% from this established path. We now have the opportunity to pursue something different on our own. There is a great risk, as very often these new paths don’t succeed. But the door is now open.
  • Back in his day, censorship was fairly heavy. We have a great deal of freedom to write as we please these days, but a few authors still push the boundaries further. There will always be critics and lawmakers strongly involved in this.
  • Hitchcock didn’t just film a movie. You could get a sense for how much editing and formatting was involved afterward, and how important this was for the movie’s success. Similarly, there is much more to selling books than just writing them. The importance of editing and formatting cannot be overlooked.
  • In making a movie, there is a large production team involved with many people working on different tasks. These days, there are many indie authors trying to do the writing, editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, and public relations all on their own. At least, collaborating with others to share skills or ideas would help a little with teamwork.
  • It wasn’t just the movie idea that led to its success. You could see how the marketing ingenuity and seemingly little things like sound effects could play a very significant role. People skills and developing contacts are important, too. The same is true with publishing books.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

Murphy’s Laws of Writing


(1) You are more likely to be interrupted when you’re in the middle of a very deep thought. Silencing your phone, sending the kids out, and disabling the doorbell simply inspire Murphy’s creativity.

(2) Your muse will abandon you whenever you need her the most. But don’t worry: She’ll return as soon as you become too preoccupied to write.

(3) Your best ideas are most likely to come when you don’t have anything to write with or to write on. You’re also likely to be frequently interrupted between your moment of inspiration and the moment you’re able to jot it down.

(4) Whenever you correct a set of typos, you introduce some new ones.

(5) The fewer words you write, the greater the chances that there will be a glaring typo.

(6) Your worst typos are most likely to occur in the most prominent places, such as the first paragraph of the book or the book description.

(7) It’s much easier to see somebody else’s mistakes than it is to find your own.

(8) Not checking your preview or proof is like waving a large red flag with Murphy’s name on it.

(9) If you’re not sure about something that you’re writing, but don’t take the time to check, it will probably be wrong. However, if you do take the time to check, it will probably be right.

(10) The more people who read your writing, the greater the chances that there will be an embarrassing mistake in it. Presenting it to a large audience via PowerPoint improves the odds.

(11) After submitting revisions, if you quickly thumb through your book, your eye is very likely to spot a typo.

(12) The more frequently you check your sales report, the more likely you are to be disappointed.

(13) The more frequently you check your book reviews, the more likely you are to be disappointed.

(14) You’re much more unlikely to see a sale post on your report while you’re spending money.

(15) A good review is 100 times more likely to disappear than a bad review.

(16) One stupid comment that you make in the most remote corners of the internet is far more likely to generate publicity than anything else that you do.

(17) If you only have one copy of your file, this improves the chances that the file will become corrupt. The closer the book is to completion, the greater the odds.

(18) If all of the versions of your file are stored on the same computer, this improves the chances that the hard drive will crash.

(19) If you download a program to help with your book without paying attention to where the file is saved, it will be buried in the least obvious place.

(20) If you need to revise your book, but didn’t keep track of the location and name of the most recent file, you’re more likely to reintroduce old typos when you correct new ones.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

Stages of Branding

A brand is a name that people in the target audience recognize. It’s not necessarily the name of the product, like Levi’s. Names of people can be branded, too, like Michael Jackson. Even an image can be branded, such as a logo or cover art.

Sometimes, branding the person’s name is more effective than branding the name of the product. This is especially true for singers, writers, and artists of all kinds. For example, it’s much easier to remember Stephen King than it is to remember the titles of all of his books.

Branding occurs when members of the target audience see or hear the name of the product or person or see the image repeatedly over a period of time.

Companies that have money to invest and products or services for which there is a wide target audience may achieve this, in part, through advertisements on television, radio, magazines, billboards, websites, etc.

Advertisements aren’t always effective for all products. For example, a book at first seems to have a wide possible audience because millions of people read. However, there are twenty million books to choose from; even in a specific genre, there are thousands of competitors. Compare this to toilet paper: There are a dozen or so brands of toilet paper in a store, not millions to choose from. Compared to artistic works like books, products like toilet paper have a much large target audience and much less competition.

Fortunately, advertising isn’t the only way to brand a name or image. There are many ways to market a name, product, or image through branding. The goal is to have the name, product, or image seen or heard among the target audience.

For artistic goods and services, such as books, cd’s, editing, and cover art design, getting discovered or providing valuable content is often far more effective than self-promotion. The idea of self-promotion is like shouting, “Here I am! Look at me!” Discovery is about getting noticed through personal interaction. For example, a potential customer may discover that a person is a singer or real estate agent when asking, “What do you do for a living?” The self-promotion equivalent is walking into a room and saying, “I just released a new album.” For online interactions, discovery can occur by posting information in an online profile, whereas self-promotion posts this information clearly out in the open.

How the information is conveyed is also important. It should relate to the target audience and make it clear what the product or service is. It should convey this in a way that the target audience will respond positively. Generally, it should generate interest, convey passion, and sound confident, but should not seem boastful.

Providing valuable content geared toward the target audience, especially for free, is another way to get discovered. Sending a press release package to local media can help with this, too. Creating buzz for a newly released product is another common tactic.

Another way for branding to occur is through reviews, such as in magazines or on websites, and word-of-mouth recommendations. Companies sometimes give away free samples or accessories, hold contests, or mail out advance review copies with the hope that some customers who appreciate the product or service will tell their friends and family members.

These are some ways that a product, name, or image can become branded. Branding occurs in various stages. It can take several months for branding efforts to achieve a full effect. First, people in the target audience must be exposed to the branding efforts. This must occur not just once, but on multiple occasions (but not so frequently that it gets tuned out) over an extended period of time. Once they buy the product or service, it may be a while before it is used, and used enough for them to judge the quality. If they are pleased with it, it takes even more time to recommend it to others.

Branding isn’t about achieving instant sales. It’s about the potential for long-term success. Branding requires patience.

Stage 1: Recognition

When people in the target audience see the name or image, they recognize it. People tend to favor products that they have heard of before.

Stage 2: Awareness

People think of the name of the brand when they consider shopping for that product or service. At this stage, people search for the product or service, rather than simply recognizing it in a store or directory.

Stage 3: Backing

People have heard good things about a product or service. This may have come from a recommendation or a review, for example. At this stage, the prospective customer feels some measure of confidence about the purchase decision.

Stage 4: Association

Potential customers associate the brand with a favorable attribute. For example, Wal-Mart is regarded for low prices and Sony is regarded for high quality. At this stage, customers have a particular expectation for a product or service. In some cases, such as high quality, customers may be willing to pay extra for this distinction.

Stage 5: Experience

Customers have used the product or service and they enjoyed it. At this stage, they are likely to invest in the same brand in the future.

Stage 6: Charm

A personal interaction with an artist, agent, or representative, for example, made the customer feel special. The personal touch can go a long way beyond just the product or service.

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

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A Humble Little Book

Part 1

She worked from 9 to 5. It was a boring job, but it paid the bills.

From 6 to 10, she sat at her computer, typing a book. This was very fun, but just a hobby.

Several months later, her book was finished, but not yet complete. She spent a few more months reading, revising, proofreading, editing, perfecting.

Then it was time to share her work. She viewed her writing as a hobby, not as a profession. So she opted to self-publish.

Specifications. Formatting. Googling computer skills. Researching. PDF conversion. Formatting problems. Asking for help. Reformatting. Not the fun part of her hobby, but at the same time, she was growing anxious. So thrilling and nervous at the same time!

She thought about hiring an editor to help revise and format her book. She considered hiring a cover designer. But as this was just a hobby, should would settle for a humble little book. However, she did proofread it carefully again, and even sought help from friends.

The description was the hardest part to write. All in all, she wrote a dozen descriptions, and the last didn’t remotely resemble the first. It wasn’t a killer blurb, but she researched descriptions of similar books and sought advice from friends. It would suffice.

The biography was a stumper, too. Qualifications? Experience? Skills? Background? Then she realized that she wasn’t writing a resume. Writing was her hobby, not her profession. Readers might be interested in her life experience, not her writing career.

Author photo… (she was a little shy). But her writing was very personal, and she was sharing that. So she would share her photo, too. Not glamorous, but much better than the DMV.

Approve Proof. Click! Ta-da! Celebration coming on!

There it is on Amazon. Check that out. She showed her friends and family. Some pats on the back. A show of support. A little unexpected criticism.

Way down the search results. No reviews. Occasional sales. Well, she wasn’t a bestselling author; not bad for a hobby. Wrote and published a book: Quite an accomplishment!

Part 2

He saw the thumbnail. Not a Picasso. Not eye-popping. But there was something about it. So he clicked the link.

Didn’t sound like the popular books. But it was intriguing. So he looked inside.

Wasn’t fancy. But it was nice enough. And the story caught his interest. So he bought it.

Wasn’t flawless. A few typos. An occasional formatting mistake. But not enough to detract from the story. So he read it.

Wasn’t a nail-biter. Not a page-turner. Yet he enjoyed the story. So he finished it.

He even left a review and told a few friends.

Part 3

It wasn’t a bestseller. But it sold occasionally.

She didn’t market avidly. Yet many (to her) people read her book and truly enjoyed the story. She touched their minds. They shared experiences and emotions that she created. And they appreciated this.

She continued her hobby.

It was a humble little book. Yet it was a success.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

Common Blurb Mistakes

For online bookstores, the cover, title, blurb, and sample are the book’s only salesmen at the point-of-sale. A great blurb can help motivate purchases, whereas a lousy blurb tends to deter them.

(1) Summarizing the book.

The blurb’s number one priority is to create interest in the book, not to summarize it. Summaries often don’t sound interesting and provide too much information.

(2) Giving too much information away.

An effective blurb arouses the reader’s curiosity. Rather than answering all of the reader’s questions about the book, ask some questions – either explicitly or implicitly. A customer who wants to know something about the story has to read it to find out, unless the blurb answers the question.

However, nonfiction books should make the content clear.

(3) Building suspense.

Customers tend to be impatient. If the blurb (or sample) starts out slow, some customers will walk away without reaching the main part of the blurb. Start out by creating interest to capture the reader’s attention.

(4) Sending mixed messages.

The title, cover, blurb, and sample should send a unified message regarding the genre and content. The message should be clear in each component. Confused buyers look for other products that aren’t confusing. If the cover looks like fantasy, but the blurb sounds like science fiction, for example, then the audience that is drawn to the book won’t buy the book.

(5) Spelling and grammar mistakes.

If the hundred or so words in the blurb have any spelling or grammar mistakes, the tens of thousands of words in the book itself must be plagued with editing problems. At least, this is what potential customers will expect.

(6) Too long.

Buyers tend to have short attention spans. If a buyer becomes bored while reading the blurb, the buyer will check out a different book. The longer the blurb, the more difficult it is to hold the buyer’s attention throughout.

A long blurb also looks intimidating to some readers. There are customers who immediately return to the previous page when a blurb looks too long. This depends in part on the target audience, and is a bigger concern for fiction than for nonfiction.

(7) Overselling.

If the blurb makes the book sound far better than it actually is, the blurb will backfire as soon as customer reviews reflect this disparity. Also, when a book sounds too good, many customers will be skeptical.

(8) Bragging.

Boasting tends to deter sales. Avoid comments like, “This Book is much better than That Book.” However, stating that a book is similar to a well-known book or movie – without making it sound better – can help potential buyers understand what to expect. Compare this comment with the previous one: “This Book is similar to That Book,” or, “This Book is a cross between Book A and Book B.”

(9) Telling readers what to think.

If a book is funny, for example, there is no reason to come right out and say this. Let customers form their own opinions. Most people don’t like to be told what to think. Saying that the book is a comedy may be helpful, whereas saying, “You will laugh your pants off,” tells readers what they will do.

(10) Poor formatting.

Insert a linespace to separate paragraphs. Break large paragraphs into smaller ones. Don’t use returns to force text onto a new line in mid-sentence. Don’t format each sentence on a separate line (unless using bullets). Boldface, italics, linebreaks, and bullets are available through AuthorCentral for Amazon book descriptions.

(11) Not giving readers a good idea of what to expect.

While it’s important not to reveal too much information, it’s also necessary to provide a general idea of what type of book to expect. Nonfiction should also make the content clear. The blurb should attract the right target audience for the book. Otherwise, customers are likely to express negative feedback in customer reviews.

(12) Lack of feedback.

Share the blurb with several people from the book’s intended target audience prior to publishing. Discover how they react to the blurb – especially, what they do and don’t like about it.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

Cover Art Critics

Cover Critics

The self-publishing revolution has brought forth a generation of cover art critics. It seems that there are many more cover art critics than there are art critics.

To be fair, they also criticize traditionally published covers, and a few of the best covers out there are actually on self-published books. However, the reality is that the vast majority of lousy covers are on self-published books.

Anyone can be a cover art critic. No talent for cover design is needed to form an opinion.

But that’s the point. Don’t create a cover to satisfy the critics. Instead, create a cover that will please potential readers. Back to the point: All potential readers are cover art critics! Complaints that are common among the cover art critics tend to deter sales because many readers feel the same way.

Here are some common complaints:

(1) Can’t tell what the book is about!

(2) Text is illegible!

(3) Colors don’t work well together!

(4) People look deformed!

(5) Used crayons or colored pencils!

(6) Photo-bombing image!

(7) Used Comic Sans for font!

(8) Aspect ratio is distorted!

(9) Illustrator’s name appears on a lousy cover!

(10) Image appears blurry or pixelated!

(11) Cover is too busy!

(12) Fonts are boring!

(13) Hard to read fonts!

(14) Wrong words emphasized in title!

(15) Three different fonts used!

(16) Images have nothing in common!

(17) Settled for image that doesn’t quite work!

(18) Doesn’t look good both full-size and as thumbnail!

(19) Red-eye!

(20) Typo in title!

(21) Poor drawing skills!

(22) Poor photography skills!

People do judge books by their covers. As they should! At least to the extent that buying a book where the author or publisher didn’t put much effort into the cover is a risk: If little effort was put into the cover, there isn’t any reason to expect that greater effort was put into writing, editing, and formatting.

The cover is a marketing tool. Customers do browse for books in search results and click on thumbnails that interest them. Trying to avoid common cover design mistakes may pay off. It’s challenging to design a perfect cover, and any cover – no matter how good – can still be criticized. It’s much easier to find fault in a cover than to make a cover without fault. (No wonder there are more cover art critics than there are great covers.) But the cover is very important, so striving to design a great cover is worth the effort.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

Rush, Rush, Rush to Self-Publish!

Day 0:

Think, think, think. Think. Think… think.


Day 1:

Type, type, type. Type. Type. Type, type, type.

Day 14:

Type, type, type.

Day 30:

Writer’s block.

Day 35:

Type, type, type.

Day 60:

T. Y. P. E.

Day 90:


Day 91:

Proofread, proofread, proofread.

Day 92:

P. R. O. O. F. R. E. A. D.

Day 100:

Research publishing options.

Day 101:

Decide to self-publish.

Sign up for an account.

Day 102:

Learn about formatting.

Day 103:

Format, format, format.

Day 104:

F. O. R. M. A. T.

Day 110:


Day 111:

Check digital proof.

Day 112:

Ask for help on the community forum.

Day 113:

Implement formatting changes.

Day 114:


Day 115:


Day 116:


Day 117:

Encounter Look Inside issues.

Day 118:

Post question on community help forum.

Day 119:


Day 120:


Day 121:

Find book way down in search results.

Day 122:

Still no sales rank.

Day 123:

No activity.

Day 130:

Request feedback on community help forum.

Day 131:

Look for cover designer and editor.

Day 191:


Day 200:

Sales still infrequent.

Day 201:

Look into marketing.

Day 210:

Why was I in such a rush to publish my book?

* * *

If only there were a better way, like:

  • Researching the book idea before writing.
  • Perfecting the craft of writing.
  • Reading bestsellers in the genre to learn what works.
  • Checking out covers of top sellers in the genre to see what readers expect.
  • Reading blurbs of best sellers in the genre to learn how to draw interest.
  • Getting the book edited before publishing.
  • Seeking feedback on the cover and blurb before publishing.
  • Learning how to create buzz for an upcoming book.
  • Learning about marketing before the book is published.
  • Marketing before the book is published.
  • Coming up with an effective promotion plan.
  • More marketing after the book is published.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

Three – the Self-Publisher’s ‘Magic’ Number

In many ways, the number three serves as a ‘magic’ number for self-publishing.

(1) Three words or less.

Bestsellers often have three or fewer words in the title. This makes the title easier to remember, which helps with branding and word-of-mouth referrals.

(2) Three images or less.

The best front cover designs often feature three images or less. This makes the cover more memorable, and helps book browsers quickly see what message the book is sending regarding its genre and content. Busy covers tend to deter sales. Just one striking image that signifies the precise genre and relates to the content is most memorable.

(3) Three seconds to catch attention.

Customers who are browsing for books in search results quickly glance at various covers. Book covers have just a few seconds to catch attention.

(4) The three-color rule for cover design.

Professionally designed covers usually follow the three-color rule. The primary color and secondary color should create marked contrast. An accent color complements either the primary or secondary. The colors come in the approximate ratio 6:3:1.

(5) The rule of thirds.

According to the rule of thirds, an image stands out when it is one-third from the edge, rather than occupying the center. This also helps to leave room for the title and other cover text. Visually, the rule of thirds helps the onlooker to determine which part of the cover is the main feature. With the three-second rule in mind, this is an important tactic. When the main image is placed in the center, it instead divides the book into two equal halves.

(6) The trilogy.

Customers who enjoy a book usually want more. Three books is the tried and true number, such that we’re all familiar with the term ‘trilogy.’ Do you happen to know the terms for series with a different number of books? Most of us don’t, but we all know the term for a three-volume set. Readers like it when each volume of the series provides a satisfying ending of its own, and where each volume is so good that they want more. But after the third book, it becomes a challenge to maintain the original spirit while also utilizing enough creativity.

(7) Three or more contributors.

The self-published author must do all of the writing, editing, formatting, illustrating, marketing, and public relations. Almost all authors need help with at least two of these areas. Most self-published authors should hire an affordable, yet quality, editor for proofreading or formatting and an experienced, inexpensive cover designer. Marketing is another area where authors need help, but where there isn’t an easy way to buy your way out of this necessary and challenging work.

(8) Three R’s of branding.

Authors and books get branded with repetition among the target audience. Branding results in purchases when members of the target audience recognize the book while making a future purchase. It’s most successful when there are many customers both recognizing the book from branding and referring the book to others because they love the book. A prior article discussed the three R’s of branding (actually, this article has a fourth R):

(9) Three marketing targets.

Authors can receive early sales of their first book from family, friends, and acquaintances and also use this group to help create buzz. They can draw from their fan base for similar support of their subsequent books. Their ultimate target is new members from the book’s target audience.

An author’s personal social media account helps to reach friends, family, and acquaintances. Fan pages and blog or social media followers of the author’s writing account help to stimulate sales of subsequent releases. Keywords, tags, and hashtags help to reach new members of the book’s target audience, as do personal interactions online and writing articles, for example.

(10) Save novelties for book three.

Most self-published authors want to deviate from traditional bestselling ideas. But this freedom comes at a cost. It’s more challenging to market books that aren’t geared toward a traditional audience. Authors looking to be in the elite group of bestselling authors should seek genres in which they are a good fit to write and for which there is a very large existing audience, such as mystery or romance. Don’t break the unspoken rules (like not providing a satisfying happy ending or giving the protagonist character traits or actions that will upset many readers) and design a cover, title, blurb, and story that these readers will be looking for if you’re hoping to be a top seller.

Once you’ve established yourself and built a following, with your third book you can exercise some creative freedom and break some of these rules. This way, there will already be a large audience willing to try your creative book, whereas trying this with your first book may reach a very narrow audience.

You don’t have to “sell out.” You have the artistic freedom to write as you wish. The question is how you wish to weigh the benefits of doing what you want versus the benefits of selling more books, as there is often a very strong inverse correlation.

(11) Three types of author websites.

An author’s blog features daily or weekly written articles. An author’s website does more than this. It may offer the author’s books and related materials for sale or provide supplemental content, for example. A fan page is geared toward existing fans. The blog and author’s website hope to reach new members of the target audience as well as interest current fans with useful content.

(12) Three author pages.

Authors maintain an author page at Amazon through AuthorCentral. They also establish an author account at GoodReads. A social media fan page, at Facebook or Twitter, for example, is another avenue where customers frequently search for authors.

(13) Three-dollar eBooks.

With KDP paying 70% royalties on eligible eBooks with a list price of $2.99 and up, the three-dollar eBook has become quite common. This may not be the best price, but it’s certainly common.

(14) Three books on the signature line.

An author with very short titles can squeeze up to three books on the signature line of online posts.

Chris McMullen, author of Book One, Book Two, and Book Three. (If only I had had the wisdom of choosing shorter titles in the past, I could illustrate this by example without making up book titles. :-))

(15) Edit three ways.

First, scroll through the book to look for visual formatting issues, like page break problems or inconsistent headers. Next, read the book thoroughly for proofreading. Finally, check all references to page numbers, figures, tables, citations, etc. for nonfiction and check for consistency in character and storyline references and development for fiction. For both, check the page numbering of the table of contents.

(16) Three e-readers.

The original black-and-white e-readers had small screens and allowed only basic formatting. The new color and high definition e-readers have larger, higher-resolution screens. Many readers also use small iPhones. It’s a challenge to make an eBook that has pictures format well on all three devices.

(17) The first three months.

With the Coming Soon, Last 30 Days, and Last 90 Days links at Amazon, books have a brief window of opportunity to thrive and develop their own legs to stand on. Good sales and early reviews that come through effective marketing can get newly released titles better visibility in search results and several associations on Customers Also Bought lists to help them succeed after the first three months.

(18) Three page layout terms.

Self-published authors who publish a paperback may learn about page layout issues known as widows, orphans, and rivers (you can find good images for this with Google, for example).

Three cheers for self-publishing! 🙂

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming soon)

Cost-Benefit Analysis for Marketing Books

When trying to decide if a book marketing strategy is worth doing, consider this in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. What you hope to determine is whether the costs are worth the prospective benefits.

Even if the marketing technique is free, it still costs time. Time is money. You don’t want to spend several hours per week doing marketing work that yields very little in return. So you must factor both money and time into the costs.

Benefits very often aren’t measured in immediate sales. Marketing that helps new members of your target audience discover your book or which improves or furthers your branding efforts has value, too. Some sales from continued branding efforts may not come for months.

There are also other possible costs (besides money and time) and benefits (besides sales, discovery, and branding).

For example, a marketing strategy that places books into the hands of people outside of your target audience might be more likely to draw negative reviews, since these readers may not really appreciate and understand the genre. Similarly, giving your book away for free might draw a negative review from a customer who didn’t take time to read the description and therefore didn’t get what was expected. A few negative reviews help to provide balance and sometimes have a positive effect on sales, but too many negative reviews can deter sales.

On the other hand, some marketing strategies may be likely to result in positive reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. The more customers who read your book and like it, the more good reviews and word-of-mouth sales you may receive. When the readers are in your target audience or are bloggers who frequently review books in your genre on their blogs, for example, this improves these prospects.

Another thing to factor into cost-benefit analysis is the quality of the product and packaging. The packaging includes the title, blurb, Look Inside, and customer reviews. The better the packaging looks, the more this will help to magnify the benefits of effective marketing; the worse the packaging looks, the fewer benefits any marketing will reap. Similarly, a better book is more likely to receive good reviews and recommendations, while a poor book that receives many low-star reviews will inhibit sales.

Even a seemingly small thing like the title can impact this. A title that’s short and easy to remember is more likely to earn word-of-mouth sales. Just imagine this: “Oh, that reminds me of a great book that I read once. Oh, too bad I can’t remember the title of it.”

Realize that some marketing strategies may be reaching the same members of your target audience. Very often this is okay because it takes repetition for branding to become effective, but it’s still something to consider.

When you’re thinking about costs, you should be thinking:

  • How much money will you need to spend on this marketing strategy?
  • How much time will you need to spend doing this marketing?
    • What impact will this have on your author image? Anything you might do to brand yourself with a negative image can be a hefty cost.
    • Might this cause people to buy the book without realizing what they’re getting? For a free book promotion, for example, this could be the case. If so, these customers are more likely to express frustration if the book doesn’t meet their (sometimes unreasonable) expectations.
    • Is there any reason for customers to feel that the book is unprofessional? Poor editing, formatting, or storyline, for example, may result in bad reviews.

For benefits, you can’t calculate how many sales you will derive. Many of the sales may not be realized for several months. Instead, you should be thinking:

  • How many new members of my target audience will this reach? Don’t waste your time with marketing efforts that aren’t geared toward your target audience.
  • Will the interaction be personal or impersonal? Will it be engaging, or momentary? Personal, engaging interactions make a much stronger, lasting impression. Impersonal and momentary interactions are only worthwhile in very large numbers.
  • Does this come across as self-promotion, advertising, or salesmanship, or does this work like discovery and branding? Most people have an aversion to the former, but respond well to the latter.
  • Is this likely to generate thoughtful reviews from members of your target audience or bloggers in your genre?
  • Are you putting the book in the hands of highly social people in your target audience who may, if they like the book, spread the word in person or on Facebook or Twitter?
  • How strongly do you believe in your book? The better your book is cover to cover, the more it enhances these benefits through possible reviews and recommendations.
  • Have you written a series where the book is good enough to induce purchases in subsequent volumes? If so, prospective sales of the later volumes can significantly enhance the benefits.

Example 1. Should you invest in professional cover design?

Costs: How much will you pay for the service? Divide the financial cost by the per-book royalty to see how many copies you must sell just to break even. How much time will you invest looking for a designer and then interacting with the designer throughout the process?

Benefits: How much will the cover improve over what you could do yourself? Will you sell most of your books in person or at Amazon? Your cover is far more important at Amazon. Will the cover attract your target audience? How well will the cover stand out among other thumbnails in your genre? Are the blurb and Look Inside effective enough to seal the deal? Will the book live up to the expectations? Is there a large market for your book idea? You can search for other books similar to yours and see how well they are selling.

Example 2. Should you invest in bookmarks?

Costs: How much will you pay for the bookmarks? How much time will you invest looking for a company to make them, developing a design, and distributing them?

Benefits: Will they be appealing enough for people to use them? If they look like advertisements, no; if they only mention your title and name, but mostly have appealing images, yes. Will they be distributed primarily among new members of your target audience? Seeking feedback on the bookmark design may be helpful.

Example 3. Should you give your book away for free?

Costs: Every book that you give away is a royalty that you won’t earn. If you give away paperbacks, it also costs you money to print the books.

Benefits: Are most of the recipients in your target audience? What are your prospects for word-of-mouth sales? Do you have other books that may interest the customers if they enjoy your book? Giving away the first book of a series may help to sell subsequent books in the series, provided that the first book is very good.

Example 4. Should you write an article that relates to the content of your book?

Costs: How much time will it take to research magazines, newspapers, and websites that are a good fit for your target audience? How long will it take to write the article? How much time will you spend on submissions? What are the prospects for having your article accepted? If you have relevant expertise and experience with the subject matter, this greatly improves your chances. Also, there are very many websites online. Finally, in the worst-case scenario, you can always post the article on your own blog or other website.

Benefits: What is the circulation of the magazine or newspaper, or the frequency of site views of the website? What percentage of this audience is a good fit for your book? Will your name and the title of your book be visible at the bottom of your article? This helps with discovery and branding.

* * *

For each marketing strategy that you consider, make two lists – one for costs and another for benefits. Is this geared mainly toward your target audience? That should be one of your main questions. Remember that discovery and branding among your target audience are very helpful long-term benefits. Another main question is: Will this seem more like advertising or discovery? A marketing strategy is worth adopting when benefits outweigh the costs (and not just slightly).

Let me mention one more important benefit. For many authors, this may outweigh many of the other benefits. It’s not just about sales, is it? Many of us write for other reasons besides money. Even if we didn’t write for money, we still appreciate those royalty checks. (You might ask, if you’re not in it for the money, why not give it away for free? Maybe we want our work to be valued. If we give it away for free, many people who may have read our books might feel that if it’s free, it isn’t worth reading.)

If money isn’t your only motivation, there are some other benefits to consider. There is the benefit of sharing your work with others, telling your story, having your work appreciated, spreading knowledge, etc. But if you think about it, these really amount to the same thing as sales: The more books you sell, the more your work is shared with others, the more knowledge you spread, etc.

What I had in mind is a benefit that doesn’t correlate with sales. That’s the benefit of the marketing endeavor itself. For example, blogging is something that all writers should do even if a cost-benefit analysis says that it’s not worth doing. As writers, blogging is a useful creative outlet. We can explore new techniques, try a different voice, develop a new character, receive feedback, reduce stress by getting stuff off our chests (but beware that what you say could negatively impact your author branding), etc. There are many positive benefits of blogging that make it worthwhile even if this effort doesn’t result in a single new sale.

Another example is performing community service. If you write a self-help book, you may be able to get discovered by members of your target audience through your involvement in related community service. Even if this doesn’t make sense from a cost-benefit analysis in terms of sales, though, there are many other benefits of community service that may make it worthwhile.

For other marketing strategies, you might also consider if there are valuable benefits other than just sales that may make it outweigh the costs.

Don’t market for the sales. Be passionate about your writing and market to share your passion. Don’t market just to share your passion. Be passionate about the marketing strategy itself – e.g. be passionate about blogging, writing an article, or doing a book reading. When others indirectly see your passion, it has a positive impact on sales (but don’t be boastful, overconfident, or talk about your book too frequently, as these things deter sales).

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

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