How Special Editions Can Help Authors

Most self-published writers publish one paperback edition with a print-on-demand service such as CreateSpace and one eBook edition with a variety of eBook publishing services like Kindle, Nook Express, Kobi, and Smashwords.

There can be benefits of publishing multiple paperback or eBook editions of the same book.

A special edition can be made for free using CreateSpace (though it would be wise to invest in the author copy plus shipping charges to order one test copy). PDF’s and eBooks can also be made for free. So money isn’t the obstacle to making a special edition. It just takes a little more time; but not much, since it’s just slightly different from the original.

(1) Advance Review Copies

Authors send out advance review copies to local press, bloggers in the same genre, and potential reviewers. Some accept eBooks in PDF, epub, or mobi format, while others only accept hardcopies. Occasionally, these advance review copies are resold (e.g. as a used book on Amazon).

Why not put the words ADVANCE REVIEW COPY in large letters across the front and back cover, title page, and last page of the paperback, and the cover page of the eBook file? This can even be put on the header of the paperback and PDF versions.

(2) Draft Copy

Similarly, the word DRAFT can be used for copies distributed to proofreaders and members of a loyal fan club. This can even be used as a watermark for paperback and PDF editions.

(3) Large Print

For a novel or other book that mostly consists of plain text, it’s very easy to change to a size 16 or so font to qualify as large print on Amazon. Note that the paperback book will cost more if this increases the number of pages (unless the overall page count is still under 100 pages for black and white or 40 pages for color at CreateSpace, in which case the cost doesn’t change).

Add the words LARGE PRINT to the title. Only the regular print edition will show in Amazon search results unless the customer adds the words “large print” to the search. The large print edition will show on the regular edition’s product page, possibly hidden under a + sign (Amazon often uses this to hide other paperback editions, instead of listing every paperback edition separately). A note could be added to the product description that the book is also available in large print.

Large print only affects physical books (except for fixed layout Kindle eBooks).

A possible disadvantage of a large print edition is that when customers buy this edition, it doesn’t improve the sales rank or affect the Customers Also Bought lists of the regular edition. However, the large print edition may not sell enough for this to be a significant concern. It may also be offset by customers who would never have bought the book if the large print edition hadn’t been available.

(4) Color vs. Black and White

Sometimes an author wants to publish a paperback book in color, but the list price would be much higher than it would be for black and white. Instead of choosing one or the other, the author could publish both color and black and white editions.

However, in this case, the special edition could backfire. This presents a difficult choice to the buyer. Would you rather have the better book, or would you rather save money? Unfortunately, some buyers will actually walk away because of the choice, who would have bought the only edition available otherwise.

If color is essential, don’t make black and white. If color isn’t essential, just go with black and white.

Exception: A special color edition can be put on the author’s website. The Amazon customer won’t see it and be troubled by it. Someone who has met the author is more likely to buy the special color edition, and that’s how this customer will be shopping at the author’s website instead of Amazon.

Of course, there isn’t any extra charge for making an eBook in color. But sometimes an eBook that looks great in color looks lousy in grayscale. For example, two colors that contrast well might look nearly the same in grayscale. In such cases, it could be beneficial to make separate color and grayscale editions of eBooks.

(5) Omnibus or Anthology

Authors who have series or multiple titles that are similar can put the collection in a special edition. If the omnibus is discounted compared to buying the books separately, this discount may inspire sales. The author also gets paid for the entire series up front, instead of waiting for the customer to buy each book in the series one at a time over several months.

The omnibus also makes for a great promotional tool. Discount the price over a short period of time and announce this on the author’s blog, social media, and elsewhere and this might result in a sudden burst of sales.

(6) Hardcover

CreateSpace actually has a hardcover option (just contact support). Alternatively, use Lightning Source or Lulu to make a hardcover edition. A few customers actually prefer hardcover editions. The question is whether or not the added costs to the author are worthwhile.

Some books, like textbooks, stand the test of time much better when they are hardbound.

(7) Limited Edition

Sell a limited edition with valuable bonus material (not promotional material) from the author’s website.

(8) Translations

Books can be translated into Spanish, French, Chinese, and other languages. Multilingual authors can take advantage of this, and may be more likely to develop a significant following in other countries. There are also translation services available.

(9) Audio Books

The Kindle Direct Publishing newsletter advertises the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). It’s an Amazon platform. An author who has a book that may be a good fit for truck drivers and who may be able to market toward this audience may be able to draw a significant number of sales through this medium.

(10) Clean vs. Adult Content

Movies often come out in both rated and unrated editions. No reason authors can’t do the same.

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

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Guest Blog: Do’s and Dont’s of Indie Authoring by Ionia Martin

Some great advice here. 🙂

Legends of Windemere

This week’s guest blog is brought to us by the delightful, funny, and hard-working Ionia Martin of Readful Things.  She also is the mastermind behind The Community Storyboard where writers and readers from all walks of life can gather for some fun.  Did I mention she’s hard-working?  If you haven’t had the joy of checking out both of Ionia’s blogs then I suggest you take the time to do so.

Now, I asked Ionia to make a list of Do’s and Donts’ for the Indie Authors.  I thank her for taking up the challenge and having fun with it.  Enjoy.

So you have decided to be an indie author, huh?

I can always count on Charles Yallowitz, the owner of this here excellent blog for two things. Number 1: He writes great books.

Number 2: He is always entertaining and ensures that his posts far outweigh any other responsibilities…

View original post 1,070 more words

My First Trip to Manhattan

DSC06306

I finally made it to the Big Apple. I grew up in Los Angeles and have lived in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. I was attending a wedding in Tarrytown, NY, on Memorial weekend, when I finally got my chance to see Manhattan.

We took a taxi from LaGuardia airport to Times Square on Memorial Day evening. That taxi ride was an experience in itself. We walked several blocks taking pictures, looking for a nice restaurant.

The workers in the first restaurant laughed like we were crazy to think that they might be open at 9:30 p.m. on Memorial Day…

We had better luck at the next restaurant. I enjoyed eating at Bistro. They had open air seating. We were stuffed silly. They began with a bowl of olives of assorted colors, crunchy bread with sauce, and a bowl with a variety of breads. The food was delicious and the service was excellent.

There had been vendors outside the restaurant selling artwork when we arrived, but they had vanished by the time we went out. In their place were piles and piles of trash bags. The amount of garbage was unfathomable. Just imagine the sky rises and how much garbage they must collect each day.

(Wait a minute. Maybe open air seating wasn’t the greatest idea after all…)

So my daughter (five) is walking down the streets of New York City shouting that the city stinks. Then I’m trying to convince her to please not do this. (NYC is a great city, by the way.)

DSC06289

The next afternoon, we checked out of the hotel near LaGuardia airport, but had several hours before our flight. With too much baggage to tote around the streets of Manhattan, we decided to drive there. Driving through Manhattan was a real adventure. Thank the inventor of GPS.

Driving to Manhattan, at one point GPS made us drive around in a circle, then another circle, and then yet another circle. I had to look at the screen of my cell phone to see the beautiful knot that was just tied. It looked like a Mickey Mouse cartoon. No exaggeration. There is no way I could have taken that same route without the navigation system.

It was still quite a challenge with GPS. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you what lane you need to be in. Sometimes, you find out at the last minute that you need to be several lanes over. If not for a thousand other cars already parked in those lanes, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

We were saved by rerouting. Thank the inventor of this, too.

Pay a toll of $7.50 to get into Manhattan. Pay it again to get out. Pay another $20 (plus tip) to park the car for a couple of hours. Don’t forget gas.

We finally get into Manhattan and then the real driving fun begins. The highlight was when I was waiting at a green light for pedestrians running across the street both ways (wait a minute, it was red for them), while at the same time the car behind me was passing me (to turn right, but I was on the right) and nearly running over these pedestrians.

Unfortunately, we were told that we wouldn’t be able to go to the Statue of Liberty due to damage caused by Sandy. (But far more unfortunate for all those who were affected by the storm.) We wanted to try to drive close enough to see it from the shore, but it was overcast with poor visibility on the last day. I will have to see it next time.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved seeing Manhattan (and even driving through it). It’s a great city. I really loved it at night. The Empire State Building looks awesome with the top lit up in red, white, and blue (but this isn’t pictured below).

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Photos from Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown, New York (Sleepy Hollow)

New York 576I attended a wedding in New York this Memorial Day weekend at the Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown, New York. I didn’t encounter the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow, but I did snap a few photos of this cool castle.

New York 577Here is a close-up of the castle.

New York 595I got to tour the inside, too. All of the furnishings are roped off.

New York 582There is a lot of architectural detail inside the castle.

New York 585As far as I know, none of these heads belong to the Horseman. 🙂

New York 590The ceilings are highly detailed, too.

New York 584There are a lot of arches in the castle.

New York 586Even the windows are amazing!

New York 589This is my dream desk. So many compartments!

New York 580Of course, there has to be a grandfather clock.

New York 581A castle clock on the fireplace mantle.

New York 593Here is a view of the Hudson river from inside the castle. The castle sits at the top of a hill overlooking the river.

New York 583I walked down to the bottom of the hill for a closer look. Apparently, many others have done the same, as there was a stone bench down there to enjoy it.

New York 612Looking back up the hill at the castle.

New York 606I found another magnificent home at the bottom of the hill right next to the river.

New York 610The expansive grounds were green and lush.

New York 594Even the trees are worth a look.

New York 601This tree shows a lot of character.

New York 600

 

Nonstandard Tipping: Tips for Other Professions (Without Paying $$$)

We all know to leave a tip at a restaurant indicative of how much we appreciated the table service.

But if you really enjoy a product or service of other kinds, you can reward the provider with another kind of tip.

No, it’s not another way to spend your hard-earned cash. These other kinds of tips just cost you a moment of your time.

And might have a small impact on your prospects of being able to enjoy similar products or services in the future.

Suppose a new small business opens in your community. You try it out, and you’re highly impressed.

What should you do?

No, you don’t find the owner and leave him a little cash. That’s not appropriate.

Instead, you could spread the word to friends and family, you could return to that business the next time you need a similar product or service, and you could even write a nice review for it (there are places for this online, or you may have a blog with a relevant audience).

Many of us already do this to some extent. Definitely, if we have a good experience with a business, we’ll consider coming back. That’s automatic.

Some of us tell friends and family.

Most of us probably don’t think to rate the business online or leave a review.

Except for certain kinds of products. It’s becoming more and more common to review books and movies, for example.

Spreading the word and leaving reviews helps reward a business for providing useful products and services at reasonable prices.

Such marketing may actually play a role in whether or not the business thrives.

If you discover a new product that you love, but never tell anyone about it, and suddenly the product is no longer available. Well, if you had helped spread the word, maybe the product would still be available.

What if you try out a product or service, and it turns out to be bad?

It’s interesting to draw an analogy with restaurant tipping.

If you receive lousy service at a restaurant, what do you do? Leave a smaller tip. Maybe even no tip at all.

I bet you wouldn’t ask the waiter or waitress to pay you a tip instead!

Normally, poor service results in a lesser tip, great service in a better tip.

So if you receive lousy service, perhaps the right thing to do is simply not to use the same product or service again. Spread the word about other products or services that you like better.

Saying bad things about the product or service is kind of like asking the waiter or waitress to leave you a tip.

But sometimes it’s necessary. When table service is really awful, you might talk to the manager. Similarly, if a product or service is really awful, you don’t want your friends and family to use it either, so you want to warn them.

Although, saying good things about a product or service that you like better has much the same effect as saying bad things about the product or service that you don’t like. You can choose to focus on positive thoughts about a good product or service instead of negative thoughts about a bad one. You’ll probably feel better this way, too.

For example, if I love a book or movie, I will leave a good review for it. If I don’t like it, I just won’t leave any review at all. It would have to seem particularly deceitful for me to consider leaving a bad review – like advertising a novel when it’s really a short story. Even then, someone else will be all too happy to leave the bad review, so I may as well stay positive and not bother with those unhappy thoughts.

Recently, a new restaurant came into town. We love it: Great food, great service, great prices (usually, you only get two out of the three, at best). We go there frequently, spread the word, and I even went on Google to leave a review. That was my tip. 🙂

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

Are Amazon Customer Reviews Helpful?

Amazon Reviews Pic

Introduction

Have you ever stood in a bookstore aisle, trying to choose a book in your favorite genre? You weren’t influenced by customer reviews posted next to each book. The only customer input you saw was incredible praise for how awesome the book was on the back cover or first pages. There wasn’t anything negative posted about any of the books.

In the pre-internet days, if you wanted to see a written review, you had to browse newspapers and magazines. The only way to receive input from other customers who read the book was to meet them in person and ask them.

How times have changed! Now Amazon allows all customers to share their feedback, and this information is publicly posted on the book’s detail page.

Is this helpful? Let’s consider some of the major criticism. Note that Amazon has recently released an article clarifying, to some extent, what is or isn’t allowed in customer reviews. You can find this in Reference 1 at the bottom of this blog post.

(1) Authors and customers have abused the system with sock puppets and shill reviews.

A sock puppet is a false account that someone creates in order to deceive others with a false identity. Some authors have created sock puppets to give several good reviews to their own books, and some customers have created sock puppets to give multiple bad reviews to a book.

A shill review is written by someone else to help the agenda of another. Some authors have compelled family, close friends, and people with a financial interest in the book’s success to help promote their books by leaving shill reviews, and some customers have used shill reviews to bring a book down.

Fortunately, Amazon has taken steps to block and remove reviews suspected of being sock puppets or shills. A very large number of reviews have actually been removed. See Reference 2.

It’s not just authors trying to get good reviews of their own books that poses a problem. See Reference 3 for an example of large-scale swarming of negative reviews against a book about Michael Jackson. This shows that abuse with negative reviews can also be a major problem.

While sock puppets and shill reviews are a problem, Amazon’s actions to limit this have greatly improved the customer review system. Amazon has access to a great deal of information in its database, and apparently runs cross-references to help catch much of the possible abuse. When customers report possible abuse, Amazon also looks into this manually.

(2) Amazon is more likely to remove positive reviews than negative reviews.

Many authors have complained about the loss of four- and five-star reviews, and many authors have complained of one- and two-star reviews that seem to violate Amazon’s review guidelines which Amazon has refused to remove.

Some of the removed four- and five-star reviews that disappeared were removed because the reviewer was suspected of having a financial interest in the book. Yet, some legitimate reviews appear to have been removed as casualties in the process.

There are many one- and two-star reviews that are quite spiteful, and many others that spoil the ending. According to Amazon’s customer review guidelines (see Reference 4), spiteful remarks are not allowed, yet there are several reviews that make very spiteful remarks about the book or author that haven’t been removed (despite requests by authors and readers).

Highly spiteful remarks ruin the ambiance at Amazon. Wouldn’t it help Amazon’s image to remove these? Amazon could choose to remove the spiteful remarks, rather than removing the entire review. That would be a step in the right direction. Perhaps it would take too much manpower to remove all of the spiteful comments. When it’s well-known that most spiteful reviews won’t be removed, authors are less inclined to report them.

Is it helpful to leave reviews that spoil the ending? If a customer reads a review that gives the ending away, that customer is far less likely to buy the book. Wouldn’t it benefit Amazon to prevent this?

Is it helpful when suspicious four- and five-star reviews are much more likely to be removed than one- and two-star reviews that seem to clearly violate Amazon’s policies?

Customer reviews are most helpful when there are ample reviews that provide a good balance of opinions. When good reviews are more likely to be removed than bad reviews, doesn’t this offset the balance?

There may be two reasons behind this practice. First, four- and five-star review abuse is probably much more common than one- and two-star review abuse. Amazon has removed four- and five-star reviews because the abuse was out of hand; many customers were complaining and there were high-profile articles written on this subject. Perhaps negative review abuse hasn’t reached nearly the same level to demand such attention.

Also, it’s much easier for Amazon to block and remove abusive four- and five-star reviews. It’s easier for Amazon to cross-reference their database and see if a four- or five-star reviewer may have a connection with the author. It’s much more difficult to determine if a one- or two-star review has an agenda.

The vast majority of one- and two-star reviews come from customers who simply didn’t like the book. Most of the one- and two-star reviews were not written with ulterior motives in mind.

Fortunately, many of the one- and two-star reviews that arguably should be removed don’t have much credibility. Many customers can see through spitefulness, for example. Some of these reviews don’t explain what is wrong with the book. These types of negative reviews may actually help the book’s credibility, by adding balance to the reviews (if there are already good reviews present), while not being effective at persuading customers not to buy the book.

(3) No qualifications or experience necessary.

Anyone can review a book. You don’t need expertise to review a technical book. It isn’t necessary to be an avid romance reader to review a romance novel.

But that’s okay. You don’t have to be an expert to form an opinion. Many customers themselves aren’t experts, and would like to hear from other customers like themselves.

A reviewer who has expertise can mention this in the review, although there evidently isn’t any fact-checking. A customer reviewing a workbook might say that she has been a teacher for twenty years, but there is generally no way for potential buyers to know if this is true.

If customers want to find expert reviews, they can search online for professional book reviewers.

Not requiring expertise helps Amazon generate millions of reviews. More input is probably better than less input, in general. If only experts review books, then experts will basically be telling people what to and what not to read (kind of like editors who, prior to the self-publishing explosion, decided what was or wasn’t fit for the public to read).

(4) You don’t have to read a book in order to review it.

Just to be clear, you don’t have to read a single word of the book in order to be eligible to review it. We’re not talking about people who read the first two chapters and stopped reading in disgust. You don’t even have to open the cover. You don’t even have to buy the book. You don’t even have to see the book.

In Reference 2 at the bottom of this article, you can find this quote from an Amazon spokesman: “‘We do not require people to have experienced the product in order to review.’”

If you’re shopping for a book, it may be useful to know what other customers who have read the book (or at least tried to read the book) have to say about it.

But is it helpful, at all, to read the opinion of a customer who never even opened the cover? How does this help anyone?

This is a highly controversial point. Part of the reason for this may come down to proof: How do you know if a customer has read the book or not?

Occasionally, a customer review starts out, “Although I haven’t read the book yet…” In this case, it’s very easy to tell that the customer hasn’t read the book. Wouldn’t it be nice if Amazon would remove the reviews where there is no doubt that the customer hasn’t even opened the book? How can this opinion be useful to other customers?

This problem is abused two ways. Some popular authors (or their publishers) send out advanced review copies, encouraging customers to post reviews on the release date. Some customers actually leave a review before they read the book, knowing that they will love the book because they love the author’s other works. Does it really help other customers to do this? Why not actually read the book first and then post the review?

It is also abused with negative reviews from competing authors or publishers, jealous rivals or enemies, and anyone who doesn’t like the author personally. To be fair, if these reviewers actually read the book first, it probably won’t change their reviews.

Many people wonder why Amazon doesn’t require customers to make an Amazon Verified Purchase in order to leave a review. At least this way, people reading the review would know that they have bought the book.

The problem here is the large number of people who buy the book in a bookstore or read it in a library. Amazon doesn’t want to prevent this large group from posting reviews.

What about eBooks? Well, customers don’t have to buy them on Kindle. Amazon still wants their reviews. Plus, if the eBook and hardcopy are linked, a review on either edition shows up on both editions.

Customers who have bought the book from Amazon can lend their reviews more credibility by choosing to let Amazon mark them as Amazon Verified Purchases. Potential buyers can choose to just look at Amazon Verified Purchase reviews if they want to know who has actually purchased the book.

Here is what Amazon may be thinking (of course, only Amazon knows for sure). Customers who want to leave a good or bad review without actually reading the book will probably leave pretty much the same review whether or not they are required to read part of the book first. It might infuriate numerous authors and even some readers, but all in all, policing this would generally be very difficult and quite a hassle, and probably isn’t worth the effort.

If you force customers to buy a book in order to review it, guess what will happen. People will buy the book and return it for this privilege. It’s not in Amazon’s best interest to encourage returns. If you want to remove a customer’s review if he or she returns the book, now you run into the problem where the customer is returning the book because the book was bad: Amazon will want these customers to be able to express their opinions, too.

Simply encouraging anyone to review a book provides more input to the consumer. More input is generally better than less input.

(5) The review doesn’t have to be truthful.

It’s kind of like politics. A candidate for office can say anything, true or not. Somebody might check and report the facts, but the lie itself generally doesn’t get the candidate disqualified from the competition.

A customer can say that there are fifty typos on the first page, and the review will stand even if this is clearly false. In many cases, potential readers can cross-check a reviewer’s comments by reading the blurb and Look Inside. If the review complains of typos, but the Look Inside is very well written, the reviewer will lose credibility. On the other hand, many customers may not bother to check a reviewer’s statements. Some sales may be gained or lost by blatantly false reviews.

This has been abused with both good and bad reviews. A review can make a lousy book look great or a great book look lousy simply by bending the truth. There are tens of thousands of books with contradictory reviews. Almost all of the bestsellers seem to have inconsistent reviews.

From Amazon’s perspective, it would be a nightmare to try to check the facts of all of the reviews. Some things are easier to check than others. If a review is clearly false, other customers may vote it down with No votes (although the voting itself has been abused). It would take a great amount of resources just to check the facts where someone complains that a review may be false. It probably isn’t practical to enforce review truthfulness.

Most statements aren’t facts, but opinions. Readers will definitely differ in opinions. Any book that is read enough will have a large group of readers who love it and another large group who hate it. This is true among virtually all popular, bestselling authors. No book can please everyone. If you want to require all reviews to be honest, you will quickly find yourself in the gray area between facts and opinions.

Amazon wants to solicit all opinions. You can’t argue that an opinion is wrong. Most review statements aren’t clear-cut facts that are clearly right or wrong; most are opinions.

Again, more input is generally helpful, even if some of it is contradictory. Potential buyers can check the blurb and Look Inside to help determine which statements are correct. They can also try to judge the character of the reviewer from the writing sample. Any comments and the number of Yes versus No votes may also be helpful, although the voting system can also be abused.

Conclusions

Amazon’s review system isn’t perfect. There is room for improvement. However, the system does result in a great deal of feedback. The more reviews, the better for shoppers, authors, and publishers. Amazon’s customer review system, as it is, provides much more information than not having any reviews at all – like the pre-internet days of standing in a bookstore aisle. We just have to take the good with the bad.

References

  1. http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/816983/47a12f62f7/1497798605/9bce9ac8db/#4
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/technology/amazon-book-reviews-deleted-in-a-purge-aimed-at-manipulation.html?pagewanted=all
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/business/a-casualty-on-the-battlefield-of-amazons-partisan-book-reviews.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  4. http://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-reviews-guidelines

Comments

Please feel free to share your opinions, even if you disagree, by posting a comment or replying to a comment. Your input is encouraged. What is your experience as a customer or author? What would you suggest to improve the system?

Author

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

Is Amazon Our Friend?

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked this question by an author on the KDP community forum.

Many people are quick to criticize Amazon, and there may be some room for improvement, but I wholeheartedly believe that Amazon is highly beneficial to shoppers, writers, and small businesses.

I’ve been a customer at Amazon from the very beginning. I appreciate the convenience, selection, savings, and free shipping on qualified orders. I also have Amazon Prime.

You can even find out what other customers have to say. The customer review system isn’t perfect, but some input beats no input.

I’ve written and published several books. If not for CreateSpace and KDP, writing would just be a hobby for me.

Amazon opened the door for any and all authors to make their writing available for millions of potential customers around the world. Anyone can publish a book and share with others this way. Amazon similarly opened the door for small businesses to sell online at a very popular website.

Amazon represents freedom and opportunity. Amazon gives the small guy a fighting chance. Amazon regularly features success stories on their homepage of indie authors and small business owners. Self-published books and small business products are available beside traditionally published books and bestselling products by big businesses.

Where would we, the small guys, be without Amazon?

Let’s take a look at some of the criticism:

The book is not visible in search results.

  • There are 20 million books on Amazon. They can’t all be first in search results. Does it benefit customers to have new books by new authors show up before books that have established successful sales?
  • Amazon provides the opportunity. Diligent, motivated authors can take advantage of this through effective premarketing and packaging (relevant and attractive cover design, blurb, and Look Inside), and quality books that earn good reviews and word-of-mouth sales.
  • Amazon’s system tends to reward authors who scrupulously help themselves. Authors who work hard to generate sales through marketing can gain exposure through a better sales rank, early reviews, Customers Also Bought lists, and top 100 lists.
  • It’s not easy to produce a great book cover to cover. The books that best attract and fit an established target audience are more likely to be successful. Only the top couple hundred thousand books, out of millions, sell one or more copies per day on average.

Amazon removes 4- and 5-star reviews, but not 1- and 2-star reviews.

  • Unfortunately, a significant number of authors and small publishers had been taking advantage of customer reviews by leaving 4- and 5-star reviews written by the author, publisher, editor, family members, paid reviewers, and other parties who had a financial interest in the book’s success. There were several books with dozens to hundreds of fake reviews, sometimes for lousy books. Customer complaints and high profile articles led Amazon to block and remove 4- and 5-star reviews that they suspect of being fake.
  • There are some 1- and 2-star reviews from competing authors and publishers, people who loathe or are jealous of the author, and people who are otherwise upset. Some of these reviews are very spiteful, some spoil the ending, and some outright lie. But the fact is that most of the 1- and 2-star reviews out there are legitimate reviews from customers who simply didn’t like the book. No book can please everyone. There are many such reviews on bestselling books by popular authors, so it’s unreasonable not to expect this on all books by all authors.
  • Fake 4- and 5-star reviews had been more numerous and posed a much greater problem for Amazon than fake 1- and 2-star reviews. It’s also easier for Amazon to block and remove potential fake 4- and 5-star reviews than it is to catch fake 1- and 2-star reviews. The Amazon bot can cross-reference information in the 4- and 5-star case, but it’s really difficult to distinguish between disgruntled customers and fake 1- and 2-star reviews. As much as authors and product owners don’t like them, the 1- and 2-star reviews do help to provide balance. Customers are often suspicious of books or products that only have good reviews.

Do KDP and CreateSpace cheat authors on their royalties?

  • Amazon is a huge business. Almost everything is automated at Amazon – even grabbing products in the warehouse. It’s only logical for the sales and royalty reports to be automated, too. There is the possibility of an occasional glitch, but it’s highly improbable.
  • There are many authors and publishers who sell thousands (or more) books everyday. They check their sales reports, Nielsen Bookscan data, and royalty reports carefully, closely corroborating the results. Amazon has millions of dollars at stake. They can’t afford to cheat authors, publishers, and businesses. All large businesses, like Amazon, also have audits.
  • The royalty doesn’t show instantly, and this is probably what creates concern among self-published authors who only sell a few books. The royalty often appears within a few days, but sometimes it can be delayed for a couple of months. Paperback returns may be resold, and in this case the royalty doesn’t show at all on the CreateSpace report because it was already paid once before. Amazon may have books preprinted to stock in their warehouse, in which case they pay the royalty in advance, not when the book sells. Occasionally, Amazon sources a sale through a third party seller, and CreateSpace then reports it correctly as a full royalty, but not for a couple of months, when expanded distribution royalties show up. Because of this, an author may be aware of an occasional sale, but not see the royalty show up.
  • CreateSpace customer service is willing to track data regarding royalty questions. Authors can report the sales information to CreateSpace, and they will track the sale to help the author understand why the royalty didn’t show up immediately. It’s obviously in Amazon’s best interest to correctly report sales and royalty information to authors.
  • An occasional complaint about royalty payments shows up on the CreateSpace or KDP community forum. Most authors monitor their sales rank and royalties closely. If there were significant issues with this, complaints would be much louder and more numerous.
  • There are also complaints about royalty payments from traditional publishers. Small publishers are more likely to have manual rather than automated systems, they have less to lose than Amazon by cheating authors, and some of the stories involve much greater discrepancies than any complaints about Amazon’s royalty payments. Unless you own your own publishing company and print your own books, you simply have to trust someone. I haven’t observed any discrepancies in my reports, and over the years I’ve come to trust Amazon both as a customer and as a writer.

It’s easy to demand more and better. Amazon gives us an opportunity, and the opportunity is free. What we get for free is pretty awesome. We can’t expect Amazon to do all of the work for us (with 20 million books to manage, it’s not reasonable to expect Amazon to do much work for free). Preparing an excellent product, packaging it for the right audience, and marketing it are all up to us. The harder we work and the better job we do, the better Amazon helps us.

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

Book Pricing Strategies

Many authors who self-publish aren’t happy with their sales. So what do they do? Lower the price! When that doesn’t boost sales, then what? Figure out how to make the book free. If that doesn’t work, what will they try next? Surely, they won’t pay people money to read the book…

99 cents is just a price. Even free is just a price. Readers aren’t shopping for prices; they are searching for books in their favorite genres that show strong potential for engaging their interests.

A book with a lower price suggests lesser quality. Many readers who are hoping to find something professionally done and worthwhile stay away from the lower price point.

Authors instinctively expect to sell more books when they lower the price, but often discover that they sell fewer books when they try this. Fewer sales with a lower royalty for each sale – that’s not what they were expecting.

These authors are thinking about the concept of supply and demand. The problem is that there must first be a demand before the price can affect the demand. Authors who don’t market their books effectively so as to create a demand probably won’t benefit from lowering the price.

Readers know what price range is typical for the type of books they read. Anything below this price range is screaming low quality; anything above this price range will seem risky. It makes sense to research this price range among established competition (i.e. not among other self-published authors who haven’t yet achieved success) for similar books.

However, it is possible to use lower prices effectively.

For example, if the low price appears to be temporary, then customers may view it as a “sale” instead of an inferior product.

Simply lowering the price won’t give the impression that the book is on sale. If the book is normally $5.99 and the price is dropped to $1.99, Amazon will just show it as a lower list price; Amazon will not show it as regularly $5.99, now on sale for $1.99. (Amazon does sometimes put books on sale at their own discretion. For example, CreateSpace paperbacks are sometimes discounted this way, and Amazon pays the full royalty based on the list price. The author has no role in these discounts.)

Yet the author can still make a temporary discount appear as a sale. The way to achieve this is through marketing. Authors can spread the word in person, on their blogs, on their websites, and via social media (but 90% of the posts must provide useful content geared toward the target audience, otherwise the promotion is likely to be tuned out), for example.

Authors may also find other blogs and websites that match their target audience and gain a little exposure for their promotions through them.

If people see that a book is highly discounted for a limited time, then the low price appears as a good deal. An author can use a low price to increase demand in this way.

There are many ways to spin this. Authors can add “special earlybird pricing” to the top of the description when the book is first published, promoting an initial sale price with their premarketing materials. They can periodically discount the book and promote the sale. They can offer special holiday pricing.

But beware: If the sale is too frequent, word will spread. Customers will wait for the sales, and few books will sell at the regular price.

Remember that price changes may not show up immediately. It’s not easy to change the price and time it perfectly for a one-day sale, for example.

Another opportunity comes with series of books. This strategy works best for series where the reader is very likely to be drawn into the next volume, but not nearly as well when there are unrelated stand-alone books.

One way to benefit from a series is to have a discounted omnibus. If you can buy each of 4 volumes for $2.99, or the entire series for $6.99, the omnibus is a good deal. When pricing the omnibus, keep in mind that some readers will buy volume 1 by itself to try it out. With this in mind, it might be desirable if volume 1 plus the omnibus together are discounted compared to buying each volume separately.

New readers are more likely to start with volume 1; referred customers might be confident enough to head straight to the omnibus.

Putting volume 1 or the omnibus on sale and promoting the discount can help spur sales. Some authors price volume 1 very cheaply (even going to great lengths to permanently price it for free), showing confidence that it will hook the reader.

But remember that free is just a price. Free doesn’t sell books; marketing sells books.

If the book is just free, it might be perceived as worthless. If the free price is promoted effectively, then many readers may view free as a great value.

Note that the series is currently in fashion. Numerous authors are publishing series and trying this tactic. A series is a big commitment for the reader. If it’s known (through reviews, for example) that the first volume isn’t fulfilling in itself, readers may not want to take a chance on the series. Ideally, each volume will provide satisfaction for a reader who wants to walk away, but be good enough so that most readers will want to continue the series.

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

Hy-phen-a-tion: How a Teeny Weeny Line Can Make a Huge Impact

Almost all traditionally published books and eBooks are justified – i.e. a computer program varies the width of the spaces between the words such that the right and left edges of the text are aligned. Books that are instead aligned left are said to be “ragged right” because they are not aligned at the right.

Left-aligned books often give an impression that the work is amateurish. Many new writers do this intentionally because they don’t like the gaps that they see between words when the text is justified (others do this accidentally, simply using Word’s default settings). On the other hand, setting the alignment to left doesn’t remove the gaps – it simply puts the spaces at the end of the line instead of spreading them out between the words. Book designers and editors prefer the look of justified text.

Large spaces in justified text do pose a formatting problem. There is, however, a simple way to reduce them: hyphenation.

Manually hyphenating a word at the end of a line where the gaps are large reduces the gaps. Don’t hyphenate manually until the manuscript is complete, edited, revised, and perfected. Otherwise, after revisions to the text, words that had been hyphenated may no longer appear at the end of a line, and new lines may need to be hyphenated. Consult a dictionary to find the natural breaks between the syllables.

Watch out for Word’s AutoCorrect tool: If this tool is on, one or both fragments of the word may automatically be respelled when the hyphen is inserted. For example, if a hyphen is inserted in the word “invented” to make “inven-ted,” Word will change this to “invent-ted.” Why? Because Word sees this as two separate words, “inven” and “ted.” Word automatically corrects (so it thinks!) the spelling of “inven” to make “invent.”

It isn’t actually necessary to hyphenate manually. Microsoft Word, for example, has an automatic hyphenation feature that can be activated. In Word 2010, find this on the Page Layout tab.

When using Word’s hyphenation tool, go into Hyphenation Options and increase the Hyphenation Zone to about 0.3” to 0.4”. Otherwise, there will be hyphens all over the place (including headings that span multiple lines).

Those who have used WordPerfect and Word may be aware that WordPerfect’s hyphenation is aesthetically a little more appealing. But it’s not necessary to buy WordPerfect: Word actually has an option to hyphenate like WordPerfect. In Word 2010, go to the File tab, scroll down below Help to find Options, select Advanced, click Layout Options at the bottom of the list, and search for the line that starts, “Do full justification…”

Note that Word won’t hyphenate words that its dictionary doesn’t recognize. It’s necessary to search for lines where it may be possible to hyphenate a word at the end of a line for which Word doesn’t have a hyphenation key.

Also making an eBook? If so, it’s necessary to make a different edition of the file without hyphenation. Therefore, any manually hyphenated words must have their hyphens removed. Some eReaders actually hyphenate words for the reader, but not the Kindle. Since an eReader can have a large font and a small screen, the gaps on justified text are nicely reduced on the screen when the device automatically hyphenates it for the reader.

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

Character Marketing (Exemplified with Sherlock Holmes)

All authors know that they need to market their books. Many authors also realize that they must also market themselves – i.e. their own brand as an author.

But it’s also important to market the characters of fictional works.

There are two types of character marketing:

  • The first type is marketing and branding a very memorable character, much the same way as marketing and branding the book or author. An example of this is Sherlock Holmes.
  • The second type of character marketing occurs in the writing of the book itself. Here, the narrator and other characters help to market a character.

Authors can brand a memorable protagonist or antagonist using similar techniques that they use to brand the book or the author’s image. This is what authors who include the name of the protagonist in the title are hoping to achieve.

Play to your strengths. What makes your book special? If your book has a character that many people in the target audience are apt to fall in love with, this may be a strength that you wish to utilize in your marketing.

What makes a character memorable? Sometimes, marketing within the book – from the narration or from the dialogs of other characters – can help with this.

Why is Sherlock Holmes so memorable, for example? We all know that he is a super sleuth. How did he get this reputation?

It’s not because the narrator started the book by writing, “Sherlock Holmes was the greatest detective who ever lived.” You can’t sell many books by telling everybody your book is the greatest book ever. This technique doesn’t work with character marketing either.

Character marketing must be more subtle, like book marketing.

In the case of Sherlock Holmes, the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, developed a supporting character, Dr. Watson, to aid in this. (Dr. Watson may have been introduced by the author for another reason, but this is definitely a major benefit that Dr. Watson delivered.)

The adventures of Sherlock Holmes are presented as memoirs of Dr. Watson, who has a firsthand account. Dr. Watson appears quite humble about his own abilities, while making Sherlock Holmes seem superhuman. He doesn’t just tell the readers that Sherlock Holmes is incredible: He shows them.

For example, Dr. Watson recounts conversations where Sherlock Holmes impresses everyone – even the reader – with his amazing powers of deduction, making the problem seem impossible in the beginning, yet the solution so clear in the end. The mystery itself seems impossible to solve until Sherlock Holmes solves it, and the solution always seems so clever.

It’s not just the puzzle that matters: It’s the presentation. Dr. Watson’s presentation markets Sherlock Holmes as a super sleuth.

Dr. Watson’s role also allows Sherlock Holmes to have a measure of humility. It would be far more arrogant for Sherlock Holmes to write his own memoirs. Furthermore, Sherlock Holmes actually mentions in his dialog with Dr. Watson that his memoirs tend to make Sherlock Holmes appear far more extraordinary than he actually is. This helps market some modesty.

The next time you read an amazing book, think about how the narration and other characters help with character marketing. Also, think about how this technique can help with your own writing.

If, like me, you lover Sherlock Holmes, the best reference is:

http://amzn.com/B005HJU7HA

The formatting is fairly good. If you prefer print, the Dover Thrift Editions are a great deal.

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