Authors: Are You Clockwatchers?


A clockwatcher is someone who frequently looks at the time. An employee might do this on the job, constantly checking to see if it’s time for break, lunch, or punching out. Someone who wears a watch can fall into the habit of glancing at it.

An author may be a watcher of a different sort.

If you’re an author, you may be a:

  • royalty clockwatcher. Do you check your royalty report several times per day? (Hey, you might have sold a book in the last minute. You never know. Better go check, just in case.)
  • sales rank or review clockwatcher. Do you check your book’s detail page at Amazon a few times per day to monitor the sales rank and see if there are any new reviews or comments?
  • media clockwatcher. Do you check your views, followers, reblogs, and comments throughout the day at a website, blog, or social media? (Of course! What else would we do?)
  • writing clockwatcher. Do you check your word count every few minutes as you type? Whether your goal is 5,000 words or 100,000 words, you like to see where you are.
  • reading clockwatcher. Do you check your page count, chapter count, or percentage of ebook read frequently as you read? (Doesn’t that distract you from the story? Or is it a sign that the story didn’t engage your attention enough?)
  • community clockwatcher. Do you closely monitor posts and comments at any community discussion forums?

Checking royalty reports can be tedious. If you publish with CreateSpace, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and so on, you have several different reports to check.

Even checking the KDP royalty report is interesting. There is a separate report for each country. By the time you finish checking every report, you might as well start over because you might have sold something since you started. 🙂

The best way to check on sales rank and customer reviews at Amazon is through your Author Page via AuthorCentral. There is a little delay in reporting reviews to AuthorCentral, but it’s worth the wait. If you have multiple books, all of the reviews are collected together on a single page and you can monitor the sales ranks for all of the books together. You’ll also find author rank and Bookscan data for print sales.

Note that searching for your own book on Amazon (rather than getting there from AuthorCentral or a bookmark) may not be a good thing to do every day. If you use keywords to search for your book and don’t buy the book, this could send a message to Amazon’s algorithm that your book isn’t relevant to that search. Amazon’s algorithm changes periodically, so even if that’s not the case now, someday it may be.

It seems like it would make sense for the algorithm to order search results based on what’s most likely to be purchased, then what’s most likely to be clicked, then what’s most likely not even to be clicked. But the algorithm doesn’t always do what authors or customer expect. Also note that Amazon may display search results differently for you than for other customers, as different customers have different interests (so if you search for your book by keywords and it seems to move up in the search on your screen and shows up on your homepage next time, this may be different for other customers – certainly, there homepages will have vastly different recommendations than yours).

Frequently clockwatching probably isn’t a healthy activity for authors. Go write instead, for your book, blog, or whatever. Go do some marketing. Get out of the house and exercise. Interact with your target audience. These things would be much better use of your time.

Look, even if a sale of your book did just report five minutes ago, it will still be on your report tomorrow. Why do you need to check it now? (You do, don’t you?)

The more frequently you check your reports, the more likely you will be disappointed. The longer you wait to check your reports, the more likely you are to notice several sales at the same sitting. And if there are no sales, you’re only disappointed once, not the twenty times you might have checked the report in the same period.

Monitoring reviews closely is a bad idea, too. Take time between looking for possible reviews. When you do see a review, wait a few days and digest it. Try not to comment on the review, blog about the review, or mention the review. It looks more professional, for one. It lets you calm down and avoid reacting emotionally, for another. Reacting emotionally, in public, can lead to disastrous results. A few days after first seeing the review, reread it calmly, looking to see if any criticism may help you as a write or your book, and discard the rest. Remember, the review is for other shoppers, not for the author. Even though you’re personally attached to your book, try not to take the reviews personally. This means good reviews or bad ones.

A single review may not significantly impact your sales, and sometimes it has the opposite effect compared to what you expect. You have to wait a few weeks to really gauge the effect. Just be patient. (Easy to say, easy to hear, hard to do.)

Blogging and social media are more likely to supply you with some positive data. At least, you’re more likely to have a few views than you are to have a few sales or a few reviews. But the mind begins to compare. If you’re used to getting 30 views per day, and suddenly you get 10 views, it might seem like a bit of a downer. (So what do we do? Add five new posts!)

Like any other bad habit, such as nail-biting, even if you know that clockwatching is bad for you, you might still do it. 🙂 At least, it’s probably better than many other bad habits.

Everything you check – from royalties to website views – will have ups and downs. Don’t let your emotions ride this roller coaster.

Remember, happiness comes from within.

If your happiness is dependent upon a royalty report or any other data, that information is controlling your emotions and will often prevent you from being happy.

I stopped wearing a watch several years go. But I don’t know if I can stop carrying a cell phone. 🙂

By the way, Clockwatchers is the title of a movie released in 1997. These department store employees were frequently watching the clock.

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

Marketing and publishing with Harry Steinman–farewell post:(

This is great advice. 🙂

readful things blog

All good things must come to an end eventually I suppose. This is the farewell post of the marketing and publishing series with Harry Steinman. I would like to personally thank him for sharing his insight, humour and overall knowledge and experience with all of us over the course of these weekly posts. Harry! You are one of my very best friends. Would be lost without you. (Enough mush.) Put your hands together for Mr. Harry Steinman. If you are all really nice we might be able to get him back for a random guest post here and there:)

How to Break Into Amazon’s “Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store”


(Advice On Staying There, Not Included)


A Farewell Post By Harry Steinman




Anyone with a damned good book, blurb, and cover can have a Kindle best-seller, if only for a few days.

Is Kindle too…

View original post 1,242 more words

Marketing: Why Should People Buy Your Book?

Marketing Ideas Pic

Before you can expect to sell books, you must answer two important questions:

  1. Why should people buy your book?
  2. How are people going to learn why they should buy your book?

If you can’t sell the book to yourself, it’s not reasonable to expect to sell it to others.

(A) Because your book is good? Lousy answer.

Why? Because that answer won’t help you sell your books. It’s too general. You need something more specific to work with.

If you hope to advertise that your book is the best thing since ____ (fill in the blank with something fantastic), then most people won’t buy your book because it sounds unbelievable and those who do buy your book may be frustrated if it doesn’t live up to those lofty expectations (which can deter word-of-mouth sales, for example).

More importantly, hearing that your book is good doesn’t attract a specific audience. People are more likely to become interested in your book if they learn something specific about it that appeals to them.

If you offer nothing specific, there is a good chance you won’t be attracting any attention at all. When you do offer something specific, some people will think it’s not for them, but that’s okay because if they aren’t the target audience, they aren’t likely to buy it no matter what (and they are less likely to appreciate it). But if they are the target audience, the specific information will help to attract their interest.

(B) Because there is something unique that will appeal to them.

What distinguishes your book from others like it?

You want this distinction to be conveyed through your marketing efforts.

But don’t make the mistake of saying what’s great about your book while at the same time saying what’s bad about other books.

There is a good chance that people in your target audience love those other books. So if you say anything bad about those other books, this is likely to deter sales.

You’re not trying to show that your book is better. You’re trying to show that your book is different and how. This distinction will be appealing to some people in your target audience.

That distinction might be a clean romance, a protagonist who doesn’t fit the genre’s stereotypes, a plot that will help teens deal with difficult situations, a sci-fi novel specifically for computer geeks, or a textbook with a built-in workbook.

(C) Because you were able to interact with your target audience and show them what makes your book special.

Nobody knows your book better than you do. And that’s the problem! You want others to learn what makes your book special.

So what makes your book special? And how will you get the word out to your target audience?

Identify your target audience. Find your target audience. And when you market, you don’t just want people to discover that you wrote a book. You want them to see what makes your book special. This distinction needs to stand out in your marketing.

(D) Because people who enjoyed your book are telling others what makes it special.

Word-of-mouth sales are invaluable, especially when people don’t just mention that a book is good, but take a moment to explain why it’s good.

The first step is to make your book very good, with some aspect that sets it apart. It has to be worthy of a recommendation by a complete stranger.

The second step is to get your book read. You need to market your book effectively to your target audience.

There are a few things you can do to try to encourage word-of-mouth sales. You can search for bloggers who occasionally review books similar to yours and politely request a book review or interview on their blog (and then wait very patiently). You can contact a small local paper with a press release kit. You can let people discover you’re writing a book and what the special feature will be, do cover reveals, etc.

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

Developing Good (and Avoiding Bad) Writing Habits

Writing Habits Pic

Authors love to write, write, and write some more. They enjoy sitting down at the computer, typing creatively.

Sitting down and reading grammar books usually isn’t one of their passions. Neither is reading their work carefully to edit it.

Grammar and editing are very important tasks. Authors do them as they must, but it usually isn’t something they love to do.

This makes it all the more important to strive to develop good writing habits. The author who succeeds at this has fewer issues to find and correct when editing.

Just reading about grammar may not be effective; especially, when the reader isn’t passionate about learning it.

Every time the author sits down and writes, the author is reinforcing any bad writing habits that the author may have. And authors tend to write quite frequently.

Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect; practice makes permanent.

In order to reduce bad writing habits and develop good ones, writers must practice good writing habits.

It’s the same reason that golfers who naturally slice will continue to slice forever if they don’t learn how to avoid it. Every time the golfer goes to the driving range and practices the slice, the bad swing habits become more ingrained. If the golfer instead receives effective instruction and practices hitting the ball straight, then the golfer is developing good habits to replace the bad habits.

So writers just need a little instruction and a ‘writing range’ on which to practice.

Every day, learn one new thing about writing (or one thing long forgotten) from a reliable resource. It could be a rule of grammar or punctuation (like when quotes should come before or after other punctuation marks), the distinction between similar words (like ‘affect’ and ‘effect’), or writing advice (like cutting down on useless words). There are many helpful writing resources, from bloggers to textbooks, so there is no excuse for not finding one point of advice every day.

But that’s not enough. Otherwise, the idea may quickly be forgotten.

Now sit down at the computer and type several sentences practicing the correct technique. Practicing what is correct will help turn a bad writing habit into a good writing habit.

Don’t just sit down like a mindless drone cranking out sentences.

Get into it. Write creatively, as if writing a short story or a poem. This will help generate the interest needed to better retain the lesson.

Another way to develop better writing habits is to read books that are well-written, especially well-written classics. This helps the mind become better accustomed to good writing.

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

The Person Behind the Words

Person Words Pic

The author wrote the book, but exactly who is the person behind those words?

There are a few different ways that this information is useful:

  • Potential customers might have a more enjoyable reading experience if they check out the author page and blog to learn more about the writer before buying the book.
  • Fans can learn more about the author.
  • Authors can reveal something about themselves through marketing in order to help match their books to their target audience and to make their marketing efforts more personal.

You can learn more about the person behind the words by checking out the author page, author’s blog, author’s social media pages, and more.

As a reader, the author’s blog provide an additional writing sample, which may not have been edited as well as the Look Inside. This extra writing sample can help demonstrate the book’s potential for being well-written throughout (not just in the beginning of the book, which may receive more attention) for those readers who strongly value this.

Checking out an author’s other writing (e.g. the blog) gives an indication of the author’s personality, character, and possible motivation for writing the book. Occasionally, blogs and social media pages consist mostly of requests to please buy the book now. Sometimes, they are packed with useful information. If there is supplemental material that may interest fans, this may be a reward for reading the book. Does the author mostly blog about himself or herself? Does the author seem genuinely concerned about others? Are the author’s websites up-to-date or outdated? Are the posts too rare, too frequent, or just right for you? Is the material of interest to you?

You also get a sense of the author’s visual style, writing style, and thinking style. Some writing and thinking styles may conflict with yours, so you may have a more enjoyable reading experience by taking a few moments to avoid possible conflicts. You don’t necessarily need to find writing and thinking styles that match yours; we’re often attracted to different ways of thinking. What you want is to sample whether or not you find it agreeable.

From the author’s perspective, author pages, blogs, and social media are opportunities to make your marketing efforts more personal, attract your target audience with information that is useful for them, show your personality, demonstrate good character and values (in the eyes of your target audience), and show that you care.

Are you an author? If so, you’re not just an author. Exactly, who is the person behind those words?

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

Visual Branding for Small Businesses and Authors

Visual Branding Pic

  • When you see a large brown delivery truck, does UPS come to mind?
  • Do you recognize the Mercedes symbol when you see it?
  • Which brands of shoes can you identify when you see people wearing them, even when the brand name and logo aren’t visible?
  • Have you ever been on a road trip hoping to see a pair of golden arches in the shape of an M?

These are businesses that have succeeded in visual branding.

And even though these are huge companies, they didn’t achieve their visual branding through advertisements. Sure, you’ve seen their commercials. But the commercials aren’t the reason that your mind has been stamped with these visual brands:

  • There are thousands of UPS delivery trucks. They are all the same color, and it’s a unique color so it stands out from all of the other trucks making deliveries every day.
  • Every time you drive, you see other cars. Even if you just go for a walk outside, you see them. This is why you recognize many car brands by their logos.
  • If you’re really into shoes, you can distinguish between different brands that have similar styles, even if the brand names and logos are removed. You have partly been branded by your own interest in them, and by each manufacturer adopting a sense of style that defines their brand.
  • If you drive through the US, you see those yellow M’s all over the place. It’s simple and you see them frequently.

The point is that smaller businesses and artists, including writers, can also achieve similar visual branding. And they can do it without advertising.

For small businesses who may be able to afford advertising, following are a few examples of visual branding that you may be familiar with:

  • Do you recognize any insurance or real estate agents whom you’ve never met? It may be because you’ve repeatedly seen their faces on billboards or in brochures.
  • Have you ever seen a car fully decorated to match the theme of the business? A dog grooming service might have a car that looks very much like a dog, or a flower delivery truck might have flowers painted all over its surface. Such vehicles grab your attention and clearly reveal the nature of their business.
  • Can you think of any local businesses where the employees wear very distinctive uniforms?
  • Would you recognize the logos from any local businesses?

Here are a few examples of visual branding among books:

  • Can you tell that a book is part of the Dummies series when you catch a glimpse from a distance?
  • Do you recognize Waldo from the Where’s Waldo? books?
  • Would you know if a book is part of the Dr. Seuss collection if the title and author were covered up? The cat is distinctive.

Visual branding occurs even in the world of self-publishing:

  • If you’re not already familiar with them, check out Aaron Shepard’s books. He features a similar drawing of himself on every cover. Not everyone is fond of holding a book with that image, but it works: You see that picture and immediately recognize it as one of his books. He may not have been famous when he did that with his first book, but this consistent branding and unique style have helped create fame.
  • Search for Fifty Shades of Gray at Amazon and look at the covers. The style is distinctive and it’s carried over into other books in the series.

Whether you have a small business or you’re an artist or writer, here are the keys to visual branding:

  • Frequency. You need people to see your visual brand repeatedly. Not several times per day, but here and there over weeks and months; you want the message to be pleasing and the frequency not to be annoying (or your image will be branded the wrong way). Marketing isn’t just about what you say; it’s also very much about what you show. If people forget what you said or wrote, they might remember what they saw.
  • Consistency. Show the same image consistently; don’t show different images in each marketing effort. Choose your visual brand wisely from the beginning and stick with it. Select one image that you want people to remember.
  • Distinctive. If brown delivery trucks were common, would you associate this color with UPS? If every author had their picture on their cover, would you recognize Aaron Shepard?
  • Unity. Sending a unified message may be more important than being distinctive when it comes to visual branding memory. When the image relates to the nature of the business, this makes it easier to remember. A car decorated to look like a dog helps people remember if the business relates to dogs. Those golden arches that make the M are French fries, fitting for a restaurant.
  • Appealing. The image should attract the target audience. It needs to look good, else the audience thinks, “Ugh,” every time it is seen.
  • Deliver. The product or service needs some feature that stands out to associate with the visual branding. It might be luxury, or it could be cheap. It could be fast, or it could be quality. Visual branding is enhanced when the brand has some aspect that makes it worth remembering.

Authors have a choice of what image to brand. How do you want to be remembered? What will be distinctive for you? Pick one image and have it visible in all of your marketing efforts. Potential customers may see your image on your book covers, social media banners, online profiles, author pages, author blogs and websites, business cards, bookmarks, etc. The more your target audience sees the same image, the better. Here is what can be branded visually:

  • A logo for a publishing imprint.
  • A style consistent throughout a series.
  • A protagonist (like James Bond) or a children’s character (like Winnie the Pooh).
  • An author’s photo.
  • A distinctive visual feature common to all of the author’s books. It could be a distinctive font that the author developed that really stands out and grabs attention. It could be a unique way of arranging objects on the cover. It could be a design layout used on every color. It could be a particular image.
  • Even a blog can be branded visually by having a consistent style for the main image used with each post. Do you ever see posts in your reader and immediately recognize the blogger from the image? Those bloggers have succeeded in creating visual brands for their blogs.

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

Authors: You’re not Selling Books

Selling Books Pic

If you aren’t selling enough books, maybe part of the problem is your mindset: You shouldn’t be trying to sell books.


There are tens of millions of books to choose from. If someone just wants to buy a book, how are they ever going to find yours, and why would that be the one they choose?

You’re not a bookstore. You’re not selling a book.

What you have is more than a book. That’s what you need to realize. What you provide that’s more than a mere book is what can help your book get discovered and why customers might choose your book.

If you’re not selling a book, then what are you selling?

You can find some examples below. Your book is unique. Figure out what you should be selling and how to orient your marketing efforts toward this.

Use it to help you brand an image. Sell this image, not the book.

You don’t have to be a salesman to sell an image. You market an image. You make people aware of the image. You make them want the image. Crave the image.

The image is free. Once the image is sold, the books well sell along with it.

(And maybe some add-ons. If they really want the image, they might want to get it in the form of t-shirts, bookmarks, collector’s editions, etc.)

(1) Are you selling a better place?

Did you create a fantasy world that is better than our universe?

Then don’t sell the book. Don’t sell the story.

Sell the experience of living in a better world.

Brand your book as a better reality. Brand yourself as a creator of other worlds. Brand the fantasy world itself by name so that others want to go there.

Like Hogwarts. Imagine how many schoolchildren wish they could go to Hogwarts. They recognize this better place by name.

(2) Are you selling something exotic?

Is the book set in Paris, Tokyo, or someplace people dream of traveling to?

Does your book have exotic creatures?

Then you can offer the same wonders that a travel agent can offer, except that your ticket will cost much, much less.

Focus on the features that make your book exotic, not the book itself. Sell the experience of traveling.

Remember the movie Gremlins? It wasn’t just a movie. It was an experience with a really exotic pet.

(3) Are you selling passion?

Does your book offer a romantic escape from a mundane reality?

Sell the opportunity to experience romance.

Make your audience crave the romance, without giving any of the story away. It’s not just a romance novel. It’s so much passion it’s dripping off the pages.

The Blue Lagoon was a movie with a boy and girl trapped on a deserted island. But it didn’t sell because the description simply stated this. (Okay, maybe the movie stars – e.g. Brooke Shields – helped attract their own attention.) Imagine the previews for this movie. They weren’t selling romance or adventure. They were selling something much deeper than that. That’s what people crave.

Note: Make sure that your book is an excellent fit for what you are selling. Don’t oversell it such that it makes your book sound far better than it is. Disappointment leads to bad reviews.

Do make your book as good as you can, and then find a creative way to sell something that fits your book perfectly, in a way that it won’t disappoint anyone who buys into what you’re selling.

(4) Are you selling excitement?

Did you write a non-stop, action-packed adventure?

Sell the adventure.

Focus on taking a safari through the jungle, not a book about a safari.

Jumanji wasn’t just a safari, either. It was a movie that brought the jungle to you.

(5) Are you selling entertainment?

Is your book very humorous? Sell the laughs.

Is your book super scary? Sell the fright.

Focus on being scared out of your shoes. Create a video on YouTube that will frighten and intrigue, without giving any of your story away.

Check out this book trailer (I discovered this when the author shared it on CreateSpace; I don’t know the author) for a book called Nothing Men:

(6) Are you selling self-help?

Does your book help others lead better, healthier lives.

Sell the prospects for a positive future.

Suppose your book provides a ten-step plan to overcoming depression. Sell the idea of seeking happiness in ten easy steps. Use this phrase when you interact with others. Brand the image of seeking happiness. Provide help for others through a blog, on community forums, through community service, etc. Focus on selling happiness, not on your book; but make it easy for others to discover your book. Brand yourself as someone who cares about others and can help others find happiness.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is selling a much better relationship.

(7) Are you selling information?

Did you write textbook, how-to book, or workbook?

Sell the knowledge. Sell the skills.

Focus on learning something new or improving what people know already.

You’re not selling a grammar book. You’re selling the benefits of improved grammar. You’re selling not having a resume thrown in the garbage and writing letters that get results.

Think about what people can gain from your book. That’s far more important than the book itself.

Use this in your marketing. Your blog, seminars, and all of your personal and online interactions should brand you as a helpful, knowledgeable person who is selling the knowledge or skills that people need.

Suze Orman isn’t just selling financial advice. She’s offering the keys to wealth.


There are a host of other things that you can be selling: creativity, fun, morals, wisdom, beauty, etc.

Differentiate what you’re selling from what others are selling. There are thousands of mystery novels, for example. They can’t all succeed in selling the experience of feeling like a detective. Find a way to make what you’re selling unique.

Remember not to oversell; you don’t want bad reviews from disappointment. The better your book lives up the hype, the more you may receive good reviews and valuable word-of-mouth sales. Make your book as good as you can, then build the hype to match it perfectly.

Live what you’re selling. Your personality and lifestyle – your image – need to send a unified message with what you sell. You must look luxurious if you want to sell luxury. You must seem happy if you’re selling happiness. You must sound adventurous if you’re selling adventure.

Who is your target audience? Where will you find your target audience? You want to market this image specifically to your target audience. Let them discover what it is you’re offering (not a book!). Brand your image. Make them crave the brand – i.e. the concept that you’re offering. Then they can ask you (or check out your online profile) to learn about your book.

Package your book to match the image that you’re selling. The cover has to fit this image well. The title has to fit, too. The blurb needs to sell this image (not the book!). The blurb is the only salesman at the point-of-sale. Don’t oversell, but do show the reader that there is more than just a book in your book. The Look Inside has to seal the deal; it has to provide the content that endorses the hype. The rest of the book must also achieve this, as this makes the difference between a satisfied customer who is ready to share this image with others or a disappointed reader who may show frustration in a bad review.

It’s easy to hype a book. For the hype to work, the book has to also walk the walk. Perfect the product, perfect the packaging, and market the image (not the book!).

There is something more that you can offer.

You can offer the personal touch. You can interact with your target audience in person and show that you care, show that you’re passionate about the image that you’re marketing, show that you’re human, show your personality.

You’re not just selling a book.

You should be selling much more.

One last example (in the line below):

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers tour guide for your self-publishing journey

What Makes People Buy Books?

Buying Books Pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) Shopping for books by their favorite authors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(3) Recommendations from trustworthy sources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(4) Discounts, promotions, and contests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(6) Personal interactions with the author.

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

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

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

Charm them.

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

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

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

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





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

There Is no ‘I’ in Author

Author Writer Pic

There is a ‘u,’ but no ‘i,’ in the word ‘author.’ As an author, I write primarily for you, not for myself.

There is an ‘i’ in writer. There are many forms of writing where I can write primarily for myself.

If I wish to write only for myself, I would keep a private journal or diary.

If you wish to have others read your writing, then don’t write just for yourself.

Another way to think of the ‘u’ in ‘author’ is unselfish.

Putting little or no effort into editing and formatting is selfish. Making a concerted effort to improve these benefits your potential audience (some of whom may screen your Look Inside for this).

Not bothering to learn the basic rules of writing and punctuation (or finding an editor who does) is selfish. Learning the rules, and then only breaking them when you have good reason for it, is something your audience desires.

Writing without first researching the expectations of a genre is selfish. Learning these expectations and understanding the reasons for them helps you write a book that fits an audience.

Publishing a book primarily for money is selfish. Writing to share your passion is far more likely to please an audience and help generate valuable word-of-mouth sales.

Blogging mainly to generate direct sales is selfish. Blogging to connect with people who have similar interests and to share your ideas and knowledge is what followers seek.

Little or no marketing is selfish. Marketing helps others find your book so that you can share it.

Lack of effort in a cover is selfish. Striving to put a cover on your book that your target audience will be happy to hold in their hands and which looks suitable for its genre helps the target audience find your book and shows them that you care about quality.

Begging for reviews is selfish. Trying to get reviews by marketing to get more sales and professionally seeking reviews on relevant blogs through advance review copies helps the right audience discover your work.

Responding to customer reviews is selfish. Understanding that the review is about the book and not about you, realizing that no book will please everyone, and refraining from commenting on customer reviews appears professional.

Complaining about bad reviews is selfish. Examining criticism to see if there are any valid points that can help you grow as a writer and discarding what remains may help you improve as an author.

Self-promotion is selfish. Finding your target audience and showing that you care, letting people discover your book rather than advertising it openly, and branding your author image are less selfish and more effective forms of marketing.

Sticking with an idea that pops into your head when you discover that it’s not working is selfish. Realizing that a cover concept didn’t come out right or that a writing idea isn’t working and correcting the problem is what your audience wants.

Publishing to have your ego built up from loads of high praise is selfish. Joining a writer’s group to help improve your writing, learning the trade, and working diligently to perfect your craftsmanship are far more likely to merit such praise.

Selfishness shows.

If you’re driven primarily by money, the book you write is less likely to sell well. If your writing is driven by passion, your book is more likely to sell well. So even if you really crave the royalties, it still makes sense for you to instead by driven by passion.

Even if it sells well initially, apparent selfishness or lack thereof can have a major impact on valuable word-of-mouth sales.

Your book is more likely to be purchased if it is well-written in terms of spelling, grammar, punctuation, use of correct tense, use of consistent person, showing more and telling less, editing, writing style, formatting, and other related issues. If the title, blurb, or Look Inside reveal any writing, editing, or formatting problems, it deters sales because many readers check this carefully before making a purchase.

Emotional and reactive behavior look unprofessional. Patience and professionalism help your author image.

Books that meet the needs of your audience are apt to sell better than those that don’t.

Show that you care:

  • Let your passion for your writing and subject show without self-promoting it.
  • Put the effort into perfecting your book cover to cover to deliver a high-quality book.
  • When marketing, show that you care about the person and not just the royalty.
  • Don’t just advertise you and your book. What can you do that will benefit your audience?
  • Market your book diligently without self-promotion to help it get discovered.
  • Care enough about being a professional author to behave professionally.
  • Learn the value of the words ‘thank you.’
  • Demonstrate by example that you have good character.
  • Don’t just focus on you and your book. Make each reader feel special.

People are more likely to invest in you when you first invest in them.

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