Chef Writer

This writer is just like a chef.


He doesn’t use just the same ingredients as everyone else:

His stock is fresher and more extensive, with a secret stash;

It includes a wider vocabulary, many special phrases,

And plenty of combinations with which to spice it up.


The writing doesn’t taste bland to the reader:

He chooses each word with thought and care,

Causing the words to flow just as he pleases;

Smoothly for the most part. Pause. Here. And. There.


He avoids common foods that often pose problems:

Declining an adverb when a precise verb will do,

Not telling the reader, if showing would be better,

But simply telling when showing would be a distraction.


Many former customers have acquired his taste:

They ask for him by name, only eat off his menu,

Follow him if he switches to a new restaurant,

And know they will love it before they even taste it.


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

Can a Book have too Many Buying Options?

Options Pic

Once you decide to buy a book, you have several decisions to make:

  • online or in store
  • which bookseller
  • digital or print
  • if print: paperback, hardcover, spiralbound, etc.
  • if print: color vs. black and white
  • new or used
  • if new: direct from the bookseller or from a third party
  • if third-party: which third-party seller to choose from
  • if third-party: signed by the author or not
  • if used: collectible or not
  • which edition to buy
  • if out of stock: whether to order it or not
  • if in-store: whether to add a bookmark
  • if online: whether to add other books
  • cash, check, credit card, or debit card
  • if card: credit or debit
  • if credit: Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express, etc.
  • if credit or debit card: which bank
  • “Would you like to open a new credit card for this purchase?”
  • At least you usually don’t have to decide between paper and plastic anymore. 🙂

Options are a good thing, right? The more options there are, the better chance you have of getting what you want.

But from a selling perspective, having more options available presents a problem.

The benefit is that additional options may bring additional customers, since some customers may not buy the product at all if the option they want isn’t there.

The disadvantage is that additional options increase the chances of buyer indecision. Some customers walk away from a sale because of buyer indecision.

Suppose, for example, that you’re buying shoes. If there is only one type of shoe that you like and you can only pay cash, you will either take it or leave it. If you like the shoe enough and have the cash on hand, you won’t be worried about other options.

But what if the shoe comes in two colors – pink and blue? Maybe you like them both, but insist on only buying one pair. Now you must decide which one you like better. You might do something else in the meantime, giving yourself time to think it over – while also giving the impulse to shop time to cool off, so you might not buy any shoes at all. Or maybe you decide you like pink best, only to discover that pink is out of stock, but you refuse to buy blue because your heart was set on pink.

Back to books, the question the author or publisher has to ask is whether or not additional options will improve sales by attracting extra customers more than they will deter sales through buyer indecision.

Impulse shopping also plays into this. Extra buying decisions increase the duration of the buying process. The longer it takes, the more likely the sale will be interrupted and the more likely the impulse to buy will wear off before the sale is over.

The option to make both paperback and e-book is probably worthwhile for most books that can be formatted well both ways. For a book that sells predominantly as an e-book, the presence of the paperback still presents many benefits:

  • The e-book price shows as a discount off the paperback list price.
  • You can catch some mistakes when editing a paperback that you miss when editing an e-book.
  • You’re eligible for Kindle’s new MatchBook program.
  • Paperbacks come in handy for readings, signings, review copies, etc.
  • It helps to convince some people that you’re a ‘real’ author.

Some other options, however, may not be worth doing.

Suppose your book would look great in color. When you go to publish the paperback, you may find that the book would be much cheaper in black and white. This tempts you to publish the book both in color and in black and white editions. The problem with this is that the buyer is faced with a decision: Save money with black and white, or enjoy the book in color.

If the book really needs to be in color, don’t make a black and white edition; but if it would be just fine in black and white, don’t make a color edition. Or if you do make a color edition, make it a special edition that you sell directly or give away in a contest; but don’t add it to your product page. (I have the experience of publishing a book both ways, and if I could do it over, I would just choose one way.)

You face a similar dilemma with hardcover and paperback.

There are two more important points about creating different editions of a book. One is sales rank. Each edition of the book has a separate sales rank. When the book is only available in one edition, every purchase helps the same sales rank.

The other point has to do with customer books reviews. If one edition is more likely to generate negative reviews, that option can adversely affect the other editions – if the different editions are all linked together on the same product page.

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

The Entertainment Society

Born bored. But easily entertained.

When bored, cry or nap. Try crying first.

Entertainment will usually come to the rescue.


Growing older, less easily entertained.

Need games, shows, friends, television.

Want something to do every second.


Sit through a lecture? Practice with drills? No way!

Learn through video games. Entertain during class.

Kiss good old-fashioned learning goodbye.


Teach students to rely on constant entertainment,

Not to learn how to cope without it.

Make entertainment the norm, not the treat.


In the waiting room at the doctor’s office

What do we do? Get out the cell phone.

Text, call, email, games, internet, apps.


The television is the centerpiece of the living room.

This potato needs some entertainment, please.

More t.v.’s in the bedroom, kitchen, and garage.


Not being entertained at the moment.

Cell phone battery died. No magazines.

So bored. So unhappy. Nothing to do.


Being entertained right now, but still unhappy.

So used to this entertainment. Need something more.

Will it ever be enough? Will always crave more.


(c) 2013 Chris McMullen

The Publishing Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster Pic

A great book idea pops into your head.

You’re going to have so much fun with it,

Like going to the amusement park.


The writing goes agonizingly slow at times,

Like a very long line to ride a roller coaster.

Will you ever get there? No end in sight!


You completed the book. Hip, hip, hurray!

Thought you were all done. But no. You’re not.

Like when the line finally takes you indoors:

That wasn’t the end. The line continues inside.


So much editing and formatting to do,

Like when the line comes to a halt for repairs.

They don’t know how long, when, or if.

Will it go on forever? Why did we get in line?


The book is finally ready to publish. Ta-da!

Like reaching the end of the line;

The thrill of being next. It’s so exciting.


On board. Strapped in. The fun has begun.

Up. Up. Up. Way up. A hundred feet in the sky.

Wow. It sure is high up here. Face in the breeze.

What was I thinking? What have I done?

This is insane. Let me off! I’m too afraid.


The book just went live. It’s for sale.

Whhhheeeeeeee! Down, down, down you go.

Fast. Faster. Super fast. Scream stuck in your throat.

Exciting. Scary. Fun. Thrilling. Dangerous. Sweet.


Some sales comes in. You go up a little.

No sales for a while. Down you go.

The sales rank improves. Back up.

Another pause in sales. Back down.

Some good reviews. Higher, higher.

A bad review. Lower, lower, lower.


Sales and reviews finally steady down,

As the roller coaster ride comes to an end.

This sure was a lot of fun. Let’s do it again.


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

UK vs. US Spelling

This could be handy info. 🙂

Lionheart Writers


I was writing a short piece in Microsoft Word and a squiggly line appeared. I knew the word was spelled correctly but Microsoft was telling me otherwise. I quickly realized Word was trying to make my character American. No! Word, my character is British and his vocabulary shan’t be spelt differently.

So what type of spelling should you choose? Well, if you do not have a specific style guide that specifies what you should be using, I recommend knowing your audience and staying consistent. If your audience is mainly American, you may come off trite if you are using the British spelling; or, if you are looking to write for a broader community of people than I recommend using the UK spelling. Whatever you choose to use, it’s best to stay consistent.

Top 15 of my Favorite Vs. Spellings

UK to US

  • Aluminium → Aluminum
  • Artefact → Artifact
  • Colour →…

View original post 73 more words

Review Copies

Publishers and authors sometimes send out several advance review copies in an effort to try to build buzz for an upcoming book and, hopefully, generate some early reviews.

(If you’re interested in review copies for any of my books, please see the end of this post.)

Note that there are different types of book reviews. There are customer book reviews that can be posted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads, for example. Bloggers can post reviews on their blogs. Then there are media reviews that may appear in newspapers, magazines, etc.

Readers who receive an advance review copy are required to include a note in the review stating that they received a free review copy.

Amazon, for example, permits this as long as the reviewer isn’t compensated in any way other than a free review copy, it is made clear that the reviewer can leave a good or bad review, and the review doesn’t violate any of Amazon’s customer review guidelines. (Note that Amazon’s program is now pretty effective at blocking many reviews from close friends and family. They can help you generate buzz and promote your book, but aren’t eligible to review your book.)

There are a few ways that an indie author can give out advance review copies.

One way is to get fans to sign up to be on a mailing list for the chance to receive a review copy of your next book. When a fan contacts you, this is something you might offer. Or when you’re ready to send out a limited number of advance review copies, you can post an announcement. You could do this with paperback books or e-books.

Another way is to sign up for a Goodreads giveaway. Recipients are encouraged to post a review, but aren’t required to do so, and, of course, a review could be good or bad.

KDP Select provides an alternative means of giving away free copies with the hope of generating a few reviews. However, there is no guarantee that any reviews will come, and if they do, they may be good or bad. Actually, there is somewhat of an increased chance of getting a negative review because the freebie may attract readers from outside the genre, who aren’t familiar with what to expect, as well as readers who may not bother to read the description and check out the book as thoroughly as if they were to make a purchase. It’s also possible to give away hundreds of free e-books through a free promotion without getting a single review in return.

The KDP Select free promotion is more likely to be effective if you succeed at promoting the freebie to your target audience.

One nice benefit of the KDP Select freebie is that the reviewer may opt to have the Amazon customer review show as an Amazon verified purchase. Other kinds of customer reviews generated at Amazon from review copies will show as unverified purchases. Many reviews that show as unverified purchases may seem suspicious to buyers (although when they come from review copies, they are the result of additional marketing steps that the author or publisher has taken).

A month ago I announced that I was trying out the Goodreads giveaway program. Today I sent books out to 10 lucky winners. Now I cross my fingers.

If you weren’t one of the lucky winners, but are interested in receiving a copy for any of my books or future books, please let me know. One way to email me is to click my name where it shows the photo for the on my blog (on the sidebar to the right). Or you can just leave a comment (but don’t post personal information in the comment), and I’ll try to contact you in return.

Please specify which types of books that I write interest you (or if you have any specific titles, feel free to make a special request) – e.g. self-publishing, math workbooks, etc. It doesn’t have to be for you – e.g. if you have or know some kids who could benefit from some good old-fashioned math practice.

It’s not really a review copy in that I don’t expect anything in return; I just hope the book will be put to good use (or at least firewood). 🙂 (Of course, if there turns out to be a high demand, I may have to be selective. I’ll be surprised – pleasantly – if this offer turns out to be that popular though.)

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

Do You Support the Underdog as a Shopper?

There are many crowd-pleasing movies and books where the protagonist is an underdog who will beat the odds to triumph in the end. So as an audience, we tend to root for the underdog.

Is the same true when you’re shopping?

All other things being equal, would you prefer to buy a product from a major, national company or a small, local business?

Ah, but the question isn’t that simple because very often those other things aren’t equal. The big business may offer a better price or greater selection, or may provide more appealing financing. The small business may provide incentives of its own, by going the extra mile or being closer to your house.

There is yet another way that it’s not so simple to call the small business the underdog. Suppose, for example, that a huge company brings very low prices, saving people a great deal of money. Suppose further that this helps many low-income families live a little better. Aren’t those families the underdogs? So maybe if a huge business is helping people who could use the help in some way, then the business is supporting the underdog.

Here’s an interesting puzzle: When it comes to buying books from Amazon or a local bookstore, who is the underdog? Amazon is the huge company. Does this make the local bookstore the underdog?

Amazon supports millions of underdogs: indie authors, indie musicians, indie filmmakers, small business owners, small publishers, etc. This is in addition to underdog consumers who may derive benefits from shopping at Amazon. Furthermore, Amazon features success stories of indie authors and small business owners right on their home page from time to time.

Yet the local bookstore is an underdog, too, right? I don’t think it’s so clear-cut in this case. I know many people who would argue the point each way, and both arguments sound good to me. One is an underdog, but the other supports many underdogs. (Now maybe there are other underdogs who are being disadvantaged in the process… I don’t know, but if there is, that’s yet another complication to consider.)

Let me back up. It’s not always right to root for the underdog, is it? Suppose the favorite has worked tremendously hard, learned much from experience, and has rightfully earned the spot as the favorite. Should we automatically root for an inexperienced underdog who comes along just for the same of favoring the underdog? That doesn’t seem right to me.

If you think about the movies and books that feature an underdog, very often the protagonist displays positive character traits and is up against an evil villain.

My point is that character is important, too. It’s not just about figuring out who the small guy is. If the big business has a positive influence on the community, while the small business shows some signs of negative character, for example, that changes everything. Or at least, it should.

Suppose you’re an author (which will be easy to do for many of you because you are). Let’s say that you walk into a bookstore and discover that they have a flat-out “No!” policy regarding self-publishing or the management treats you condescendingly or you otherwise have a bad experience there. Are you likely to support that bookstore in the future?

(I’m not saying that they have to carry all self-published books; just that they should be open to the idea and base the decision on the merit of the book. If they have a few indie books on a shelf for local authors, that will earn my support. How they treat the inquiring author is very important, too.)

If instead you walk into a small, local bookstore that makes you feel like a royal prince, wouldn’t you feel compelled to drive traffic their way and do your shopping there, too? (You should.)

Does the underdog support other underdogs and treat other types of underdogs well? How about the big business? Also look at character. These are important considerations to me.

When it comes to buying a product, quality is also important. Perhaps the big business and small guy don’t have equivalent products. If one has superior quality, it’s more like comparing apples to oranges.

Finally, let me mention one more thing about buying books. This time, let’s look at the publisher instead of the bookseller. The indie author or small publisher is the underdog compared to the big publishing giants, right? Maybe not.

A book may have a small-time author who got a contract with a big-time publisher. And the big-time author was an underdog once upon a time, until many readers supported that author enough to turn the author into a success.

I suggest that there are many gray areas here.

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

Creativity: Good or Bad for Books?

Imagination is a good thing, right? I believe so.

It’s good to be creative as a writer, isn’t it? No argument from me there.

So books should show originality, don’t you think? Got my vote.

Nonetheless, here comes a great big BUT!

(Those who can spell realize I’m not talking about anatomy.)

Just to be clear, I’m not going to argue against creativity. I’m in favor of it.

Consider this: Does the bookselling industry discourage certain types of creative storytelling, rather than rewarding it?

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Suppose you write something so different that you’re breaking ground with a brand new genre. It doesn’t stand a chance of getting browse category visibility. How will readers discover it? The book is inherently disadvantaged.
  • Readers have an expectation for what to expect in terms of storyline, characterization, etc. in any given genre. The author who deviates from these expectations risks negative reviews for being creative.
  • How do romance readers react when the ending doesn’t turn out to be happy? Is there a significant readership for specific types of unhappy endings in this genre? There are some types of originality that many readers aren’t willing to support.
  • Even creativity in cover design has a significant potential downside. Many readers judge their interest in a book based on a cover. They are familiar with how the books they tend to read tend to look. If a book doesn’t look like it belongs to their genre, they might not check it out.

Do readers want to read the same types of books every time? I don’t.

First, I’m not saying that all forms of creativity pose problems. Some don’t, but others do.

If you want to write a romance, for example, there are already a variety of popular ways to go about it. First, there are subgenres, like contemporary or historical. If you choose a subgenre, there is plenty of room to follow a model while still being very creative. You don’t even necessarily need to follow a particular model. Yet there are some features that are high-risk to change – like taking away the happy ending, or giving the protagonist certain types of flaws.

The point is that while there are endless possibilities that do work, there are limits to it – i.e. there are some features that can hinder sales significantly if changed.

And something completely different is especially challenging to sell.

The problem of a new category is tough for the author or publisher to work around. But it can be done. We have genres now that we didn’t have in the past. So it is possible to breakthrough with something quite unique. Statistically, however, there have been many people with ideas for new types of books, but the ideas that actually opened the door for a new genre have been very rare in comparison.

It would be easy to solve this problem. Suppose, for example, that Amazon created a new book category called “Fresh and Exciting” or “Out of this World.” Don’t you think readers would check it out? Wouldn’t it also attract authors? It could be a very popular category. It has potential.

(Sure, there would be some not-so-good books in there. But you can find such books in all categories. When they don’t sell, they fall to the bottom, out of the way, where they aren’t harming anyone. And some of the books at the bottom are fairly good, but just not selling for whatever reason, and some readers will be happy to find them.)

Right now, the closest thing is “Other.” The name is important. It’s just not the same. “Other” suggests that the book just doesn’t belong.

But as it is, the bookselling industry seems to discourage, rather than reward, such innovation on the part of the author.

Writing a book that’s appealing to readers is important for sales. With the modern self-publishing revolution, every author has ample room to exercise creativity. However, if readers don’t respond well to the originality, the book won’t sell.

Even if many readers do appreciate the originality, some readers who don’t may inhibit sales through negative reviews.

So it’s not just the booksellers, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It’s the readers, too. Even if the book does have significant appeal, those readers who don’t like the change can influence sales through reviews.

Then there are agents and editors, who are looking for books that are highly marketable. They may be reluctant to take a chance on too much novelty. It would seem easier for a big publisher to attract readers with something fresh; but it’s also a risk.

Shouldn’t the system encourage innovation, particularly if the book is very well done?

How about you? Do you search for highly original books? Have you read anything that’s really clever and different lately? Do you reward originality in your reviews, or criticize the author for the deviation? Do you help spread the word when you find something very creative and also enjoyable to read?

(I have: For example, Reapers, Inc. by Dave Hunter. I thought the concept was cool; even the cover seemed different in a good way.)

We read books. We are part of the readership. From our end, the best we can do is help to promote original thought and encourage it through positive reviews.

Imagine H.G. Wells writing The Invisible Man, Jonathan Swift writing Gulliver’s Travels, or Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. Or imagine trying to write realism when romanticism was popular.

We have a very healthy variety of books today. Yet what are your prospects for setting the trend with something totally new?

If you haven’t already seen it, you should check out Misha Burnett’s clever idea for a new writing software package (his irony should be obvious, but I’ll mention it, just in case):

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

You Might Be a Stat Junkie If…

Stats Pic

How often do you check your stats?

You might be a stat junkie if…

  • You bought a cell phone mainly to check your stats away from home.
  • You check a different device when nothing has changed just in case that might be the problem.
  • You can’t resist the temptation to check your stats during a movie. Especially, a good movie.
  • You actually spend more time during the day checking your stats than doing anything else.
  • Your spouse calls from the room, “Honey, are you checking your stats again?” And your spouse is right.
  • You checked your stats when you saw this post. Hey, they might have changed.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when the internet is down, when your cell phone doesn’t work, when the site needs maintenance, when the phone line is out, or when you otherwise can’t check your stats for few minutes.
  • You’re a member of Stat Checking Anonymous. Or, if having heard the name of this organization, you feel the need to join it, until you realize that it’s fictitious. Even worse, you feel like founding such a program because it should exist.
  • You hardly get any writing done because you spend so much time checking your stats.
  • You check your stats every time even the smallest thing doesn’t go your way, hoping the stats will make you happier.
  • You get out a calculator to see how many sales you’ve averaged per day, or to figure out how many more you need to get back on track.
  • You wish that you could receive an email every time a sale is made.
  • Your stats control your mood.
  • Your muse doesn’t come around anymore because you’re too busy checking your stats.
  • You’ve ever checked your stats twice in a row (or more) because you forgot what the number was as soon as you logged out.
  • You’ve ever cried because your stats disappointed you.
  • You’ve ever walked into a wall, tripped, or otherwise mis-stepped because you were checking your stats while walking.
  • You’ve ever bought your own product just to see the stats change. Then repeatedly became upset that haven’t changed yet.
  • You can’t go to sleep until you finally get that one last sale. And when it doesn’t come for many hours, you start begging for it. Out loud.

Related Posts:

1. I got this idea from Victoria Grefer’s recent post:

2. If you missed my previous clockwatcher post, you might enjoy this:

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

An Index of Cover Design, Blurb, Editing/Formatting, Marketing, Writing, and Publishing Posts

Having seen a few followers hunting through old posts, I thought it might be handy to make an index for potentially useful posts on my blog.

The index page is divided into 6 parts:

  1. Cover Design
  2. Blurb
  3. Editing/Formatting
  4. Marketing
  5. Writing
  6. Publishing

(I haven’t yet included my poetry and related posts.)

You should be able to find the index page over to the right (on the sidebar). If you have any trouble finding it please let me know. It includes a date so you will know when it was last updated. If you know anyone who you believe would find some of these posts helpful, please feel free to direct them to the index.

If you check it out, please share any comments, feedback, or suggestions. The index is for anyone who might find those posts useful; especially, you. So if you have any requests, please share them. 🙂