NY Published Author Successfully Transitions to Self-Publishing: The Amazing Story of Cheryl Holt

After Writing 24 Books for New York Publishers, Cheryl Holt Adds 24 More by Self-publishing

This amazing, inspiring author success story needs to be shared throughout the indie publishing community.

I was very fortunate to interview Cheryl Holt, who had written 24 books for New York publishers and then successfully transitioned to self-publishing.

You can hear Cheryl’s story straight from her, and there is much that you can learn from her answers to my questions.

(1) What have you done to help market your self-published books? Was this a viable option when you were traditionally published?

When I wrote for the NY companies, I was “just” a paperback romance writer, so I got very little marketing assistance from my publishers. The biggest thing they did for me was to always buy me an ad in a romance trade magazine, Romantic Times, when I had a book released. Otherwise, I was pretty much on my own as far as handling any marketing. So from the very beginning, I had to devise my own marketing strategies, and I’ve continued to use those old tried-and-true ones as well as latching on to new ones that technology has made available.

I market my self-published books in exactly the same way that I marketed my books that were published by the NY companies. My biggest marketing tool, and the one I spend the most time on, is growing my mailing list. I started my mailing list with my very first release, and I constantly work on it. I have sign-up forms posted all over my web site, and I run contests several times a year, where I give away autographed print copies of my novels as the prize. The entrants’ email addresses are added to my mailing list. I work on the list constantly; I work on it everyday. The number one way to sell something (in any field) is through direct marketing to your dedicated customer base. So I keep track of my readers, and when I need to notify readers about a new release, that’s where I start. They’re loyal and voracious, and they’ve been very kind to me in sticking with me through all my career ups and downs. I’m always so grateful to them, and they’re the first to hear about everything that’s happening with me and my books.

There have been changes to my marketing that have come over the years. I have a Facebook fan page, and a Twitter account, but I don’t use them for personal postings. I simply post about my books, what’s coming, and what’s happening. I’ve always had a web page, ever since it became a “thing” that people could have (around 1999). I’m meticulous about keeping it updated. My readers like to know what’s coming next and when it’s coming, so I try to make it easy for them to log on and quickly see what’s happening. If you’d like to take a peek, the URL is www.cherylholt.com.

When I have a book coming, (in the month before the release date) I do a ton of promo to get myself noticed. I do blog tours at the big romance reader sites, I run contest giveaways, I do interviews, I buy banner ads, I buy spot ads, I do reader promotion at reader sites. I’ve even hosted Facebook parties with lots of guest authors and prize giveaways.

The main problem for self-published authors is that we’re being buried by a wave of content that’s swept over all of us. So it’s a hundred times harder to get noticed than it was ten years ago. There are so many books out there now, and even with my name recognition and dedicated fan base, it’s an enormous and exhausting challenge to get people to notice that I have a book coming.

For example, this was the first year since 2005 that I didn’t produce a book trailer for my new series. The web is so overloaded with video content that it’s just about impossible to justify the expense of creating a book trailer. Even with expanded distribution by a video company, any video is thrown into a sea of millions of other videos. So I’ve stopped doing them.

But otherwise, each and every year, I do more promo. It’s a constant battle to stay ahead of the game, and that hasn’t changed with self-publishing. I’m doing more and different types of promo, and I’m using more intense marketing than ever before.

(2) What advice would you offer new authors who are just learning the self-publishing ropes?

My biggest advice would be to read all about self-publishing and to learn as much as you can about it before you jump into it. And once you get going, keep reading and keep learning. The publishing industry—both on the NY end of it and in the self-publishing world—is changing so fast, and you have to keep up, or you’ll get crushed in the wave of what’s happening.

I heartily advise people to join a writer’s group (both a local one and a national one). At the local one, you can hang with other writers once a month and listen to how they’re working and adapting to this strange, new world we’re in. There are also big national groups you can join in various genres, such as Romance Writers of America or Sisters in Crime. You’ll get a monthly newsletter that contains articles about markets, trends, and changes.

If you can afford it, try to attend a big national writer’s conference. They’re always held once a year. Take all the classes and chat with other writers so you can absorb some of what they’ve figured out.

There are publishing companies, such as Writer’s Digest Books, that publish tons of “how to” books about writing, publishing, and book marketing, particularly e-book, self-published marketing. Start buying them and reading them.

Go out on the web and find some good blog sites (how about Chris McMullen’s blog?!) and other sites where authors provide guidance and advice. If you’re a tech dummy, as I am, find companies that can help you figure out how to format and publish on your own. I always use BookBaby to format and distribute my novels. I met them in the vendor’s room at a national writer’s conference, when I was first trying to figure out how I could start publishing my own books. I had no idea how to do that, and it seemed really complicated. I’m not much of a computer person, and all the processes seemed beyond my ability to figure out. At one on-line site, I was told to read their 85-page formatting manual before I tried to post anything! It was all so bewildering.

When I talked to the Book Baby book rep, he said, “We can do all that for you.” I about fainted. It had never occurred to me that there were companies out there that could provide exactly the sort of services I needed.

There are all kinds of companies now that help authors get their books published. When I first started writing novels, the web wasn’t a “thing” yet. I lived in a little town in rural Oregon, and I staggered around for years, trying to figure out how to start. It’s so much easier now to get information. Join a writer’s group! Attend regularly! Find several good blog sites, read them religiously, and absorb every bit of advice that’s offered! Read books about marketing and trends! Do some research and find companies that can help you. Read, read, read. Learn, learn, learn.

That’s always the best advice. Learn—and get smarter and better.

(3) When you made the switch from writing for NY publishers to self-publishing, what changes (if any) did you make to your writing?

I started writing manuscripts in the late 1990s, and my first books were published in 2000. For a decade, I wrote for various NY publishers, and I was a genre paperback writer. When I started out, paperbacks were really long. I’m dating myself, but do you remember books like SHOGUN? They were massive in length. So my first novels were really long, but “book length” was a factor that changed significantly in the decade that I wrote for those NY companies. And that’s precipitated the biggest changes to my current writing.

Book length is measured by word count, and my early novels were around 110,000 words. But starting about 2004, the price of paper shot up dramatically, so the NY publishers responded by shortening the length of books that they published. This caused a significant abbreviation of the size of novels, but it also caused authors to adopt major stylistic changes in our writing as we had to be able to tell much more story in a much shorter span of pages. Authors had to cut descriptive prose and tell the story using more dialogue. This brought us fast, fleet stories that were much easier (quicker) to read, but for many readers, they’ve gotten much less satisfying.

My early paperbacks were around 110,000 words, and when I finished writing for those NY companies a decade later, my books had to be between 80,000 and 85,000 words. That’s a considerable drop in book length, which brought about significant changes stylistically, so my early NY-published books are very different from the later ones.

I liked writing longer novels, and my biggest NY sales came in the beginning of my career when books were much longer and I was able to write long, emotional stories. I’m great at using emotion and drama, and I feel like I’m better at a longer length—and that my readers enjoy a deeper, more satisfying emotional story. So I’ve gone back to writing long books. With my self-publishing of e-books, I don’t have to worry about the price of paper or of page length. I’m typically writing books that are 120,000 words now, and my readers seem to really enjoy the longer length. I’m able to give them a “bigger”, more involved story with more in-depth characters and interesting plots.

My longest books, the ones I’ve published on my own, have been my biggest sellers in my career.

Cheryl Holt’s Story: The Transition from NY Publishers to Self-publishing

BookBaby author Cheryl Holt made a name for herself, as well as a respectable living, writing historical romance novels, first for a dedicated paperback publisher, then for several big mass market publishers. Her books did well, though Holt often had to come to terms with market forces beyond her control, that didn’t light her creative fire.

Holt had started writing as a young mother in her 40s. At home with small children, she wanted something to do, something that earned some money. She landed on novel writing. “I was clueless about how the money worked, or how the business worked,” she admits. Inspired by stars like John Grisham, she drew on her legal training to craft her first books. Her forays into suspense didn’t pan out, so she decided to look elsewhere.

“The romance companies back then used to find their new talent among moms who were at home and writing to earn a bit of extra money. They were essentially paperback mills who ran romance book clubs. They bought straight from the writer. ‘I’ll sell these romances,’ I told myself, ‘then I’ll go back.’”

Her seventh manuscript, a Regency-era romance, finally sold. Holt didn’t go back, but dug in, writing and editing steamy tales in the car, at soccer practices and swim lessons, whenever she had a few spare moments. She discovered something she never suspected: She could write really, really good love stories.

At the time, romances ran longer and readers devoured elaborate storylines. “When I was starting and reading, historical romances were just massive,” Holt recalls. “They had wild love stories, when the heroine was, say, taken to harem after being kidnapped by pirates. I’m not a particularly romantic person, but I got hooked on them. Romance readers have certain things they love, but I didn’t know what they were. I had no preconceived notions. Readers loved that.”

Holt’s unconventional takes on the genre led to her selling book after book to publishers. One of her early books sold out nationwide due to a hot cover that connected with fans, and soon she built herself a sizeable following. As tastes changed, Holt learned the hard way to adapt. By 2000, erotic romance was the rage, and Holt wrote what publishers asked for. But her readers longed for the sweeping romantic tales that had launched her career.

“Books were getting shorter, more erotic,” Holt says. “It was leaning toward pornographic really fast. I wasn’t into that. My sales were starting to fall. My hardcore fans kept asking why everything was vampires and erotica, instead of real love stories.”

Then 2008 hit, the economic downturn that kicked the legs out from under many mass publishers. Holt had a deal in place, but her publisher faced a daunting reality: the overwhelming majority of bookstores closed as the economy faltered, stores where her publishers had banked on selling Holt’s work. “They wrote me off as a loss,” she sighs.

Holt found herself unemployed, with a family and a mortgage in Los Angeles, one of many workers in their 50s looking for a job, any job. She was so discouraged, she thought she’d never bother with writing again, though writing had been her profession for years. “The recession cut a swath through the ranks of paperback writers,” she says. “I took it personally. The universe was telling me to go get a real job, but there were no jobs.”

Time passed, however, and Holt noticed that fans were still out there, hoping for new reads from their favorite authors. Kindle came onto the scene, and Holt began to reconsider. “I asked myself if I should start over. I was good. I was popular, but the companies didn’t really care. We writers were a dime a dozen in their eyes. There was no chance to go back that way.”

Self-publishing beckoned. The project management and production side of things still seemed daunting, however. Then, at a romance conference, she ran into some people from BookBaby, who helped her see how simple publishing her work independently could be.

After writing 24 novels for publishers, Holt has put out 24 of her own, letting her own interests and fan response determine when and how she publishes her work. An example: She gave her readers all three books in a trilogy at once, where a traditional publisher would have doled the books out over several years.

Like love, an independent career is not as easy as it seems at first. It takes work. Holt still struggles to find the right supporting team, and income isn’t what it once was during paperback publishing’s heyday. But Holt is glad she’s still able to write and reach readers, now on her own terms. “It’s a blessing to be on my own. My best sellers are ones that the publishers rejected,” she laughs. “My Lord Trent trilogy, for example, have been best-selling books of all.”

You can find out more about BookBaby and their recent Independent Authors Conference.

More about Novelist Cheryl Holt

CHERYL HOLT is a New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon “Top 100” bestselling author who has published forty-eight novels.

She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age forty, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance where she was stunned to discover that she has a knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories.

Her books have been released to wide acclaim, and she has won or been nominated for many national awards. She is considered to be one of the masters of the romance genre. For many years, she was hailed as “The Queen of Erotic Romance”, and she’s also revered as “The International Queen of Villains.” She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year” by the trade magazine Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.

She lives and writes in Hollywood, California, and she loves to hear from fans.

Visit her website at www.cherylholt.com.

Follower her on Facebook.

Check out her latest series:

Forever Yours by Cheryl Holt

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

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

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Book Marketing by the Numbers

Two Valuable Book Marketing Statistics

Consider the following two numbers:

  • 1 out of 1000. That’s a rough estimate of how many strangers will click on a typical link to an Amazon product page.
  • 1 out 40. That’s a rough estimate of how many strangers who visit a product page for a book will purchase the book.

First, we’ll discuss these rates, and then we’ll discuss them in relation to book marketing.

Click-through Rate

The first figure, 1 out of 1000, is called a click-through rate (ctr).

A ctr of 0.1% (which equates to 1 out of 1000) is typical of internet advertising.

I’ve placed over 100 ads for a variety of books under multiple pen names on Amazon itself using Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), and most of my ctr’s fall in the range 0.05% to 0.2% (varying from 1 in 2000 to 1 in 500).

Some books get better ctr’s than others. Here are a few factors that affect the ctr:

  • compelling book cover (if the cover is seen with the link, this can be a strong factor)
  • effective title (conveys content clearly, reinforces cover, concise, and/or catchy)
  • effective branding (recognition of the author name, title, or series, for example)
  • audience targeting (the book appears to be highly relevant to the people who see the link)

Conversion Rate

The conversion rate is the percentage of people who purchase a product after visiting the Amazon product page.

A conversion rate of 2% to 4% (1 out of 50 to 1 out of 25) is relatively common. However, the conversion rate can vary considerably. A few books command conversion rates of 10% (1 out of 10) or more, but there are also a significant number of books with conversion rates well below 1% (1 out of 100).

Some books’ Amazon product pages get better conversion rates than others. Here are a few factors that affect the conversion rate:

  • compelling book cover (draws visual interest)
  • compelling description (arouses curiosity, creates suspense, promises desirable information, and/or reads well)
  • compelling Look Inside (professional appearance, fantastic start to the story, reads well)
  • audience targeting (the description and Look Inside reinforce expectations created by the cover or the information available with the link that brought the customers to the product page)
  • other factors such as customer reviews, author photo, author biography, etc.

Illuminating Example

Consider a book where the author does no marketing whatsoever: The only people discovering the book are shopping on Amazon. In this extreme example, the author didn’t even tell a friend or family member about the book.

The book does get discovered. Maybe the cover and title show up in an occasional keyword search, or maybe a customer discovers it browsing in a subcategory (perhaps using a Last 90 Days search filter). Once the book sells enough, it may also be visible on other books’ customers-also-bought lists.

Let’s suppose that the book sells 1 copy per day on average. Obviously, this number can be much more or much less, but the math is very simple with 1, so it’s a good place to start.

Let’s also go with the rough averages: 1 out of 1000 people who see the cover and title on Amazon click on the link to visit the product page, and 1 out 40 of the people who visit the product page purchase the book.

Wow! With these “rough” averages, there are 40,000 people visiting that book’s product page every day.

But only 1 out of 40,000 who saw the book cover and title actually purchased the book. Another wow!

This number isn’t far-fetched. It’s actually pretty common.

I have much experience advertising books on Amazon through AMS (over 100 ads on a variety of books in multiple pen names), and have discussed advertising statistics with several other authors. Many of the ads show in keyword search results, and others ads show on other books’ product pages. Advertising increases the overall number of impressions (the number of times that customers see the cover and title), but the ctr’s and conversion rates are typical of ordinary customer searches. A ctr of 0.1% (1 out of 1000) and a conversion rate of 2% to 4% (1 out of 50 to 1 out of 25) are rather common.

(I have over 25 ads that individually made over 1,000,000 impressions, so I have plenty of my own data to analyze, but I also interact with many different authors and discuss advertising with some of them.)

There is significant traffic on Amazon. There are millions and millions of customers. And they are seeing covers and titles of many different products. Obviously, the top sellers are seen millions of times per day, but even products that sell once a week are seen roughly 10,000 times per day.

Here is another way to look at this number: For every sale that you get from a complete stranger, roughly 40,000 people saw your cover and title, and roughly 40 people visited your product page. (But it’s a rough estimate. Maybe 100 people visited your product page.)

How to Improve Your Sales

There are two ways to go about this:

  • Work hard to get more impressions (to get more people to see your cover and title).
  • Make your product page more compelling (cover, description, Look Inside, beginning of story, author photo, author biography, etc.).

The first point is saying, if you can get 400,000 impressions per day on average instead of 40,000 impressions per day, you can sell 10 times as many books.

The second point is saying, if you can get 1 out 10,000 people who see your cover and title to buy your book instead of 1 out of 100,000 people, you can sell 10 times as many books.

Really, you want to do both things. If you can make your product page more compelling, it will make all of your book marketing more effective. It’s too common for a book’s Amazon product page to have some kind of deterrent such that only 1 out 100,000 (or worse!) customers who see the cover and title purchase the book. It just takes a few too many typos in the description or first chapter, or a cover or description that is bland, or a description that doesn’t set clear expectations to significantly deter sales.

One little detail can persuade customers to walk away. It takes strong appeal all around to command a killer success rate of 1 out 10,000 or less (customers who see your cover and title and then purchase your book), and this is quite rare. (This figure combines both the ctr and conversion rate together.)

Book marketing is important, too. It starts out slow because you can’t get tens of thousands of people to discover your book every day when you first begin to market your book. You have to start a blog with content that people may search for in the future, set up social media and interact online, find your target audience both online and offline, publish additional books, and look for other ways to get your cover and title out there (local newspaper, guest post on a blog, write an article for a website, podcast, local radio, conference, seminar, etc.) so that you can gradually grow the number of people who discover your book each day.

Another way that book marketing is important is that it can improve your conversion rate. When you have a positive interaction with your target audience (online or in person), those potential customers are more likely to purchase your book, review your book, or ignore reviews already showing on your product page.

On Amazon, only 1 out of 40,000 complete strangers who see your book may purchase it.

When you create positive interactions with your target audience in person, you might sell books to 1 out of 10 potential customers (or better), if you succeed in coming across as knowledgeable, or if you succeed in creating interest in your book or yourself.

When you create positive interactions with your target audience online, it’s probably not as effective as interacting in person, but you can reach many more people online, and online interactions are probably much more effective than marketing to complete strangers on Amazon.

Branding. Branding. Branding.

If 40,000 see your cover and title today, but only 1 of those people actually purchases your book, all is not lost. There is still branding.

39,999 other people who saw your cover, read your title, and saw your author name are potentially “branded” to some degree. These represent potential sales at a future date.

Branding is a very important part of book marketing (and all forms of advertising and marketing).

Your book cover is a visual brand. Your book title is another brand. Even your author name is a brand.

A brand is anything that customers come to recognize through repetition. In general, very few people purchase a product when they first discover it. Most people make a purchase after branding has occurred.

When you see a commercial on t.v., do you hop in the car, drive straight to the store, and purchase the product? If you watch t.v. for a few hours, you probably don’t buy the 100 different products that you saw the same day, right?

But when most people are purchasing a product, whether it’s a toothbrush or toilet paper, they usually prefer a “brand” that they recognize.

Branding is another reason that you should look for effective ways to market your book long-term.

The best brand is one that customers recommend to other people. When you write a book that is so compelling (or a nonfiction book where the information is so helpful), for example, that it generates significant offline recommendations (in addition to online reviews), this can really help your sales soar.

Three Kinds of Marketing Traffic

It’s important to realize that there are three kinds of traffic relevant to book marketing:

  • Shoppers at Amazon.com who happen to see your cover and title (in keyword searches, in subcategory searches, customers-also-bought lists, or ads placed with AMS, for example).
  • People who discover your book off Amazon (blog posts, social media, advertisements, Goodreads, business cards, and any of your other online or offline marketing endeavors).
  • When customers recommend your book to their friends, family members, coworkers, or acquaintances. It takes an exceptional book to garner significant recommendations, but books that achieve this can have their sales really take off.

If your book isn’t selling well enough to strangers at Amazon, your alternative is to try to get people to discover your book elsewhere (both online and offline). Ideally, you want both types of traffic to be significant.

Amazon Measures Your Click-through and Conversion Rates

The algorithm at Amazon knows which books are more likely to lead to clicks and purchases.

Suppose book A and book B are very similar, and suppose that the algorithm knows that 1 out of 500 customers who see book A’s cover will click on it, but 1 out of 2000 customers who see book B’s cover will click on it. Or suppose that 1 out of 20 people who visit book A’s product page will purchase it, but 1 out of 80 people who visit book B’s product page will purchase it.

Which book do you think is likely to display more prominently in customer searches (all else being equal)?

This is one more reason to make your product page as compelling as possible. Improve your cover, iron out your description, perfect your Look Inside, and write a quality book that exceeds the customers’ expectations. If you can improve your ctr and conversion rate, not only will you get more sales from the traffic you already have, but you might also get much more traffic.

Improved sales can also get additional exposure through customers-also-bought lists. Amazon’s system tends to reward authors who scrupulously help themselves (by making a more compelling product page, publishing a compelling book, or who generate sales through their own marketing).

You Should Also Measure Your Ctr and Conversion Rate

Amazon’s algorithm knows what your ctr and conversion rate are.

You should figure these rates out, too.

Once you see where you stand, you will have a better idea for how much room you have to improve them.

For example, if you knew that 200 people clicked on a link to your book, but only 1 person purchased your book, you would know that your conversion rate is very low (0.5% in this example).

How are you going to figure these rates out? Amazon doesn’t tell you in your reports, right?

Actually, there is a way. If you advertise a book with Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), the report for your ad campaign will show you the number of impressions, the number of clicks, and the estimated sales for the ad. If you publish a Kindle e-book with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you can advertise on AMS via KDP. (Your book no longer has to be in KDP Select in order to take advantage of this.)

Note that advertising carries a risk. The royalties that you earn from your ad might amount to much less than the cost of the ad. Monitor your ad report daily so that you can pause or terminate your campaign if it doesn’t seem to be performing well enough. Although there is a minimum budget of $100 to advertise with AMS, you’re not obligated to spend your entire budget: You can pause or terminate your ad campaign at any time. However, note there are sometimes reporting delays, such that the ad report may continue to accumulate impressions and clicks for a few days after you stop your ad campaign.

If you can afford it, ideally you would like to hundreds of clicks to obtain meaningful results. Note that this data may come at a significant cost, especially if you place a high bid for your ad. For example, if you bid $0.25 per click, it may cost up to $50 to obtain 200 clicks worth of data.

To determine your ctr, divide the number of clicks by the number of impressions. To express this as a percentage, multiply by 100%. For example, if your ad has 100,000 impressions and 120 clicks, your ctr is 0.12%.

Another way to look at it is to divide the number of impressions by the number of clicks. In my example, you would get 833, meaning that on average 1 out of 833 people who saw the book cover and title clicked on the link to visit the Amazon product page.

To estimate your closing rate, you must first estimate the number of sales. The AMS report instead shows your sales as a dollar amount. If you didn’t adjust your list price during your ad campaign, divide the sales amount by your list price to estimate the number of sales. For example, if your list price is $2.99 and your sales column shows $14.95, you had approximately 5 sales during the ad campaign.

To estimate your closing rate, divide the number of sales by the number of clicks. To express this as a percentage, multiply by 100%. In my example, there were 5 sales and 120 clicks, so the closing rate is 4.2%.

Another way to look at it is to divide the number of clicks by the number of sales. In my example, you would get 24, meaning that on average 1 out of 24 people who visited the Amazon product page proceeded to purchase the book.

I like to combine the ctr and closing rate together. Specifically, divide the number of impressions by the estimated number of sales. In my example, there were 100,000 impressions and 5 sales, which means that 1 out 20,000 strangers who saw the ad ultimately purchased the book.

A killer conversion rate (number of sales divided by clicks times 100) is 10% or more. It happens occasionally, but it is quite rare. However, such books tend to sell very well on their own. A conversion rate of 10% or more is something to strive toward. If your conversion rate is 2% or less, your product page has significant room for improvement. Your product page isn’t as effective as it could be. Give your cover, description, Look Inside, and first chapter a close inspection.

Click this link to learn more about advertising on Amazon.

Imagine a mere 1 out of 1000 people who reached the bottom of this article proceeding to click the above helpful link. Well, hopefully the ctr will be better than that for my blog. 😉

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

Click here to view my Amazon author page.

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

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

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Are you getting the most out of your fantastic book cover? Let’s see…

This cool image was created by The Story Reading Ape: http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/tsra-3d-books/.

This cool image was created by The Story Reading Ape: http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/tsra-3d-books.

BOOK COVER PROMOS

If you have a great book cover, you want to take advantage of it.

While I designed most of my own book covers, my best book covers were designed by a professional. For example, the cover you see below was designed by Melissa Stevens at http://www.theillustratedauthor.net. (This is a lower resolution version for my blog.)

Book cover designed by Melissa Stevens at http://www.theillustratedauthor.net.

This cool book cover was designed by Melissa Stevens at http://www.theillustratedauthor.net.

Just imagine your cover on a big city billboard like the one below, put together by The Story Reading Ape at thestoryreadingapeblog.com/tsra-3d-books.

This cool image was created by The Story Reading Ape: http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/tsra-3d-books.

This cool image was created by The Story Reading Ape: http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/tsra-3d-books. The background image was licensed through http://shutterstock.com.

If you’re thinking, “Sure, that would be cool, but I could never afford that, and even if I could, I would never recover my investment,” then you’re missing the point.

What you can do is create 3D versions of your cover, like the one below (designed by The Story Reading Ape at thestoryreadingapeblog.com/tsra-3d-books), or put your cover in some unexpected, cool-looking place, like on a billboard in downtown Hong Kong.

This cool image was created by The Story Reading Ape at http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/tsra-3d-books.

Take your cool book cover and make it pop even more.

Compared to the price of a typical book cover, getting a 3D promo cover can be quite reasonable. The Story Reading Ape’s services are quite affordable, in my opinion.

You can use these book promo covers:

  • on your blog
  • on your Author Central page (you can add images)
  • on bookmarks (through overnightprints.com, for example)
  • on letterhead (through overnightprints.com, for example)
  • on promotional items like t-shirts or coffee mugs
  • on exclusive items readers could win through contests
  • on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media

Or you can take things a step further, and get fans to take photos of themselves doing something (zany? fun? smart?) with your book, posting the images on their own sites.

If you like the billboard idea:

  • When searching for big city billboards on stock photo sites like ShutterStock, beware that most of the results are for editorial use only. Filter the search results by clicking the option to Refine Your Search, selecting the Non-Editorial option.
  • You might want to make a disclaimer that says, to some effect, that your book isn’t really displayed on a Manhattan billboard, and that the image is for entertainment purposes only. But I’m not an attorney, so if you want legal advice, you should consult an attorney.

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2016

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

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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How the hashtag do #Authors use Twitter? #pubtips

Images from ShutterStock.

Images from ShutterStock.

TWITTER FOR AUTHORS

Almost all authors know about Twitter.

Few authors feel that they really know how to use it.

Some authors believe that Twitter isn’t as effective for book marketing as it once was.

Other authors believe Twitter isn’t for them.

Yet many authors do use Twitter quite effectively.

One important note is that there isn’t just one way to use Twitter.

So you can find the right combination of tips to fit your needs and personality.

Twitter Tip #1: Make the Most of Hashtags

What you want is a hashtag that your target audience actually checks out. Otherwise, your hashtag is wasted.

This takes some research. But the research is worth it because once you find an effective, relevant hashtag, you can use it not just for your current tweet, but for hundreds of related tweets in the future.

Many authors simply throw a hashtag sign (#) in front of any relevant word that seems to come to mind: #romance #mystery #book #kindle #actionpacked.

That’s just guesswork. Are readers in your target audience actually searching for tweets with those hashtags?

Find a variety of relevant potential hashtags and check them out. Look at the tweets that you find there. Is the content that you see there likely to draw in an audience? Next consider the Twitter users who made those tweets. If the best content is coming mostly from the same source, there is no reason for people to search for that hashtag: They can simply follow that one user and get all the best content that way. But if good content is coming from multiple sources, it would be easier to get that content by searching the hashtag than paying close attention to every tweet coming from a few different users.

But even if there is great content there, it’s possible nobody in your audience is actually searching for that hashtag. A little trial and error on your part may help you find gauge the effectiveness of a hashtag, as you can monitor your tweet engagement (you also need the kind of tweets likely to generate that activity).

If there is good content, but it’s drowned out by poor content, that’s a problem, too. It takes time to find a great set of hashtags, but it’s worth it if you do. (But keep in mind that those might not remain effective forever.)

Find authors with books similar to yours who appear to be using Twitter effectively. Check out the hashtags that they’ve used.

Note the #pubtips hashtag that I used for this post (publishing tips). I first learned about this hashtag when I saw Amazon KDP use it in a tweet with a publishing tip. Check it out here (you can learn a lot, as it’s packed with publishing tips):

https://twitter.com/hashtag/pubtips

You can even help inspire readers to regularly search for a particular hashtag. For example, you might get together with several other authors in the same genre, and come up with an idea for semi-weekly tweets likely to attract those readers. You might be able to get readers in the habit of checking out tweets in a particular hashtag. You have to put on your creative hat, and think of what kinds of tweets would draw in your audience. Something simple that you and others could do, which readers would appreciate.

Twitter Tip #2: Don’t Overdo the Hashtags

Two hashtags per tweet is a good rule of thumb.

#Nobody #will #read #a #tweet #that #looks #like #this #########!

Twitter Tip #3: Find Twitter All-Stars

Find and follow authors (both in and out of your genre) who appear to be using Twitter effectively.

You can learn a great deal about Twitter just watching from the sidelines for a couple of months. But you have to get good seats.

Beware that not everyone with a huge following is using Twitter effectively.

So look beyond the follower count. Also pay attention to engagement, as well as you can judge it from your perspective. If the content happens to engage you, especially when you were just checking it out to see how it’s done, you definitely want to pay close attention to those tweets.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Do they include links? Are the links in the beginning? at the end? somewhere else? What kinds of links are they?
  • Do they include images? How often do the tweets include images? What kinds of images? Is there text in the images? (Even pay attention to size, color schemes, and font styles.) What aspect ratio do they use? pixel count? (Right-click on an image to check out its properties.)
  • Which hashtags do they use? How many hashtags do they include in a typical tweet? Are any of these hashtags relevant for any of your tweets? In what context is each hashtag used?
  • How often do they tweet? How often do they retweet? How often do they self-promote? (If ever.) Do they ever draw up a new tweet to help promote someone else rather than simply retweet? If so, in which situations. Do they ever click the Twitter share button to tweet about relevant articles that they discover online?
  • How do they make effective use of that very limited character count? What kinds of words are they using, and where are they putting them?
  • Observe Twitter etiquette with regard to tweet frequency, direct messages, retweets, thank you’s, etc.

Twitter Tip #4: Get Started

You don’t have to turn into a Twitter pro overnight.

The first step is just to get started with something. Otherwise you’ll never get there. It will continue to be a nagging feeling that maybe you could (or should) be using Twitter more than you are now.

I’m not one of the Twitter pros yet. (When you find one, you’ll know the difference.) But I’ve taken the plunge, I’ve grown a following, I’ve followed many authors, I’ve done a ton of research on how to use Twitter (haven’t yet applied it all, but I’m getting there)… and that’s the way marketing works. You keep trying to improve and learn and try new things, and some of it will pan out. I started out with a simple WordPress blog a couple of years ago, and now I have a respectable following and average about 300-400 views per day. It functions as a content-rich website now, with most of my traffic coming from search engines, but it didn’t start out that way.

So if you want Twitter, or your blog, or any other aspect of marketing to work for you, the first thing is to take that first step and get it started.

Remember, you don’t have to build Rome in a day. You can take small steps and still eventually get there:

  • If you haven’t already done so, sign up for Twitter and setup your profile.
  • You can feed your WordPress blog posts (or Facebook posts) into Twitter. This will help give you some content at Twitter to help attract an initial following. It also helps connect an author who prefers WordPress or Facebook, for example, to potential followers who prefer Twitter. Let people follow you from their favorite platform. (But watch out for possible double or triple posts. For example, don’t both feed WordPress into Twitter and Twitter into WordPress—just do one or the other.)
  • When you come across an article that’s relevant for your audience, use the Twitter share button to tweet it. This will give you something different to share on Twitter.
  • Follow authors who appear to use Twitter effectively. This may help you learn some handy tips and build up the confidence to take a bigger plunge.
  • Then you can gradually start to apply various tips that you’ve learned.

Twitter Tip #5: Search for Twitter Help

This is the information age. Take advantage of it.

Use a search engine to find helpful Twitter tips for authors.

Here are a few to help you get started:

Check out the comments for my blog post. You might find some valuable tips there. If you have any Twitter tips, feel free to share them in the comments.

If you leave a comment with a tip, please include your Twitter handle (@you) so people can check out how you use Twitter.

Twitter Tip #6: Use Twitter Analytics

Measure tweet engagement, check out follower demographics, and more.

Using Twitter actually gets you an abundance of information (that can help you market better as well as better understand your audience).

And it’s free:

https://analytics.twitter.com/about

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015

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

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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How to Market Fiction Books (Show, don’t Tell)

aliens

Images combined from ShutterStock. Space Age font from mickeyavenue.com/fonts/spaceage.

 

FICTION BOOK MARKETING

I meet many amazing fiction writers here at WordPress. I’d like to see you sell more books.

Not by telling you what you should do. Though I have several book marketing posts that do just that.

But by showing you. I’m going to take the plunge and write, publish, and market fiction.

I’ve written, published, and marketed a variety of nonfiction books. So this will be a change.

More than that, I will show you how I go about the planning, writing, publishing, and marketing. Every step of the way.

I hope you’ll see that I do some things different. I hope you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” (But if you do, it won’t be too late.) Or, “Oh, I want to try that, too.” I’ll also carefully consider the many decisions that authors must make as they write, publish, and market, and share my reasoning with you. Maybe this will help other writers with their decisions.

TIMELINE

I’m not going to rush. I don’t have any deadlines. I’m not trying to get a book out in one month or six.

I realize that time is on my side. I’m setting my goals long-term.

For one, I need time:

  • planning
  • research
  • writing
  • revising
  • editing
  • pre-marketing

Since I believe that this idea is worth writing, my goal is to try and do it ‘right.’

You want exposure for your book, right? So don’t rush. Take your time to help gain exposure along the way. It may pay off in big ways in the long run.

I don’t want the marketing to be an afterthought. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth finding readers.

My timeline is continued progress. I’ll show you that progress as I show you how I strive to make my book marketable, and strive to market my book.

This blog will remain focused on helping authors on their writing and publishing journeys. I’ll only mention my fiction books in posts that aim to show fiction book marketing firsthand. I’ll be adding a separate website to promote my fiction books.

I will try not to over-post on this blog. I’ll try to mix it up with my usual variety of posts.

CHALLENGE

Are you working on a book, too?

We can pursue our writing, publishing, and marketing journeys together. Follow along.

Wondering what to do with your book?

Struggling to make decisions?

Not sure what direction to head?

I’ll be facing these same questions along the way. I’ll show you how I made my decisions, which may help you make yours. Of course, you might not make the same choices, but that’s okay.

CONTENT

As you may have noticed, I’m trying not to reveal too much today.

I plan to reveal more as my journey unfolds, so that you can see my decisions as I make them and explain why I did what I did.

Though the cover pic for this post provides a hint. Not quite. Don’t take the pic too literally. Just a hint.

My next post will reveal the topic, why I chose that topic, and the important issue of my writing goals. I’ll try to show you what’s important about it. And this will already include some book marketing ideas. It’s never too early to start thinking about marketing.

Remember, you’re not advertising. You’re not marketing for immediate sales (think of those, if you get them, as a sweet bonus). You’re trying to attract readers. You’re showing that your book is worth marketing. You’re not trying to shove your book down peoples’ throats. You’re trying to get discovered, in subtle ways, branding an image for yourself, not tattooing your book on readers’ foreheads though. You’re trying to establish yourself as a professional writer. You’re trying to convey your passion for your book.

Your best bet is to think long-term.

CONFIDENCE & HUMILITY

I’m confident in my idea. I have to be. Otherwise, why bother? Get that self-confidence. Motivate yourself. You can do it. I believe it. But you’re the one who needs to believe it. Before your readers will.

Convince yourself that you have the:

  • relevant background
  • writing ability
  • storytelling ability
  • special ingredient readers will appreciate
  • right elements to make your book marketable

I’ll get more specific in another post, when I give reasons to believe in my project.

But you have to balance confidence with humility. It’s a tough combination, yet an important one.

Readers want you to believe in yourself and your book, but they don’t want you to come across as overconfident or egotistical. This is vital to your marketing.

STARTING OUT

In a way, I’m starting out as a new author. A new fiction author.

I’ve published and sold many books as a nonfiction author. But fiction is different.

In a couple of ways, I do have an advantage:

  • I have experience with writing, publishing, and marketing.
  • I have a nonfiction following, which is better than no following at all.

But even newbie authors can help to offset this:

  • Who says you can’t start building a following before you publish? Nobody! Start thinking of ways to build an audience for your book.
  • You can learn from the experience of others. Many authors share their experiences and provide helpful tips. Do some research.

Still, I need to build a new following. My fiction books will have a different target audience. (Well, of course, I’d be honored to have you read my book, too.)

I’ll show you how I go about this.

I’m not looking for a one-hit wonder. I plan to publish several similar books, perhaps in a series (that will be one of the decisions I must carefully consider). Obviously, not publishing all at once. It will take time to get there. But time is on our side, if we would simply let it play on our team. 🙂

I HOPE IT HELPS

I hope that my effort to not only write, publish, and market my fiction books, but also to show how I do it and my reasoning along the way will help other authors.

Maybe it will provide some helpful ideas.

Maybe it will help with motivation.

Maybe it will offer inspiration.

I hope it helps in some way.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015

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

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Book Marketing Karma

Karma

KARMA

Wouldn’t you love it if you had anonymous advocates for your book?

People who read your book and enjoyed it so much that they are telling people they know and meet about your book. They might even recommend your book on Facebook or Goodreads, without ever having interacted with the author. They did so because they loved the book and wanted to share it, not because they were asked to promote it.

Such word-of-mouth support would just be golden.

Guess what.

You could be the anonymous supporter for wonderful books that you’ve read.

If they are, in fact, wonderful books, they very much deserve your support. If also you paid very little for said book, while deriving much enjoyment from it, your support would be a great way of leaving a little tip for all the time and effort that must have been put into making that book wonderful.

Who knows?

The positive things you do just for the sake of doing good (for those things that are worthy of your support) may return something positive to you some day.

Or at least you’ll be in a more positive mindset, knowing that you’ve done good deeds, so that you’re more likely to see the good things in your own future, rather than focusing on the negatives.

Or maybe a few of the people who see all the good you’re doing will feel the urge to do something nice for you.

Don’t perform good deeds for the mere hope that good deeds may come back to you. Rather, do them because you see the value in doing the good deed itself.

And for those who are slamming the competition or playing unfair, they are probably shooting themselves in the feet. But they are also inviting bad karma to someday repay them the favor.

Or at least they’ll be in a more negative mindset, perhaps worried about possible bad karma, more likely to see the bad things in their future, taking anything positive for granted.

Or maybe people who see all the bad they’re dishing out will be more reluctant to do nice things for them.

There is another reason to support good books.

It helps to create a better brand for the book industry, which helps everyone.

Show what positive wonders there are in the book world. Show the best examples of great stories and great writing.

This helps to attract more readers overall.

Show examples of great self-published books, and that helps to recruit more support for self-publishing.

Show examples of great Kindle Unlimited books, and that helps to recruit more subscribers for Kindle Unlimited.

But focus on the poor features of the worst books, and that hurts these brands, deterring readers.

After all, books are competing against videos, movies, games, and other media.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set now available for Kindle and in print (both at special introductory prices)

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Great Time for Authors to Shop for Promotional Supplies

Author Michelle Proulx’s cool bumper sticker.

CYBER MONDAY

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. It’s a great time to enjoy holiday savings.

But not just for t.v.’s, clothes, and gifts.

Authors can find great deals on promotional supplies, too.

It’s a great time to order bookmarks, posters, business cards—even domain names.

Look for great deals at Vista Print, for example.

Don’t get so busy shopping for gifts that you forget to look for great deals on author supplies.

I discovered author Michelle Proulx’s bumper sticker recently and thought it was pretty cool.

Michelle is currently running a successful IndieGoGo campaign, which includes this bookmark in the Swag Bag option.

http://michelleproulx.com/2014/11/29/perk-spotlight-imminent-danger-bumper-sticker

The featured book, Imminent Danger, is a great read. If you enjoy space opera, look for its re-release: It will be worth the wait.

Read Tuesday

Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.

You don’t have to imagine it. It’s called Read Tuesday, and it’s free: www.readtuesday.com.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • Boxed set (of 4 books for the price of 2) now available for both Kindle and paperback

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Promoting Scary Books

SCARY BOOKS

‘Tis the season to dress like a zombie and scare up some sales.

Even if your book doesn’t relate to Halloween, it’s a great time to read scary books.

Here are a few ideas to get your brain churning:

  • Create an event. It could be a zombie run, or it could be a Halloween bash. Here is an example of a Halloween-related event at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/596532817124822.
  • Contact local newspapers with a press release. An article mentioning your book in the context of Halloween helps to stir interest in Halloween among the community, which actually helps local businesses. If you want to get your book in the news, you have to try, and you have to come up with an angle that makes it newsworthy.
  • Join or start a group that features horror, scary books, Halloween, or a related topic. Facebook has groups, for example.
  • Tweet with relevant hashtags, like #Zombie for a zombie book, or #Halloween. Research hashtags. Find authors who are highly successful with Twitter and ask for suggestions.
  • Get together with other authors who have scary books. You might be able to find creative ways to promote the group of books, and you might feel more comfortable with this than self-promoting just your own book. I recently added a Scary Books page to my blog: https://chrismcmullen.wordpress.com/scary-books. (Want on the list? Use the Contact Me button on my blog.)
  • How about a cool scary bookmark—one that doesn’t look like an advertisement, but does mention your book?

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of Self-Publishing with Amazon (Boxed Set: 4 Books in 1)

Now available for pre-order for Kindle: http://amzn.com/B00O6MT158.

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Short Stories & Kindle Unlimited: The good, the bad, and the whacko

Short

INTRODUCTION

I will make two points in this article:

  1. Don’t sweat the myth that Kindle Unlimited promotes shorter works. It doesn’t.
  2. There is an opportunity to market shorter works through Kindle Unlimited. But it won’t be easy.

If you have short stories that you want to market on Kindle, the second point will present ideas for how to do this effectively.

However, as the first point will stress, Kindle Unlimited won’t open the door for the get-rich-quickly-through-short-works bandwagon.

I’ll explain why I believe that Kindle Unlimited doesn’t actually favor short fiction, while at the same time showing that it is possible to market short stories.

It’s not really contradictory: The key is that selling shorter works is neither easy, automatic, nor obvious. This explains why most short pieces won’t take off, even though it will be possible to market them effectively.

SHORTER BOOKS, BIGGER PROBLEMS

A big myth going around presently is that Kindle Unlimited favors shorter books.

The underlying idea seems to be that it’s easier for customers to reach 10% of shorter books, and 10% is the critical number for getting paid for Kindle Unlimited downloads. (Need an introduction to Kindle Unlimited? Click here.)

Customers could easily get 30% through a short story before realizing that they don’t actually want to finish it, but for a 200,000-word book, they must read 20,000 words before the author will get paid.

But here’s the thing: All books aren’t created equal. There isn’t equal likelihood of customers downloading shorter books and longer ones. This is where most short books are greatly disadvantaged.

Here are several hurdles that authors must overcome in order to succeed in the short reads market with Kindle Unlimited customers:

  • Kindle Unlimited customers tend to be avid readers. It costs $9.99 per month, which amounts to $120 per year, to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. This will attract avid readers, who will easily get their money’s worth. Spending $10 per month to read short stories won’t seem like a good value to many customers.
  • Avid readers tend to be smart book shoppers. They aren’t likely to be fooled by authors trying to game the system. They are likely to consider the value of books when they shop. Page count will be a factor. So will price.
  • Kindle Unlimited customers may prefer to download higher-priced e-books. It takes ten 99-cent e-books just to get your $9.99’s worth for the month, but if you download five $6.99 e-books, you get a $35 value. Short books are likely to be priced at 99 cents. Simply raising the price of a short story to $5.99 won’t work: Customers will see a large price on little content… and… remember, avid readers are smart book shoppers.
  • Shorter books require even better writing. A few mistakes in a 300-page novel: no problem. One mistake in a 20-page short story: ouch! It’s not just the mistakes, but the mechanics of the writing, the flow of the story, the characterization, the plot, a satisfying ending… the idea has to be fantastic. When you write 100,000 words, you can have a few weaknesses provided that your strengths make the bulk of the book intriguing and enjoyable. In a short work, mistakes of any sort really stand out. The challenge of writing an effective blurb shows how much harder it can be to write much less and do it very well.
  • Writing that works for short stories is different from the kind of writing that works for novels. So if you simply produce a very short version of novels that you’re familiar with, it probably won’t work. You have to research which kinds of short works sell and come to understand how they are effective. (Now the devil’s advocate will say that all writers should try writing short stories—despite the fact that they might be much harder to sell, in general—because learning how to write a short piece well can be highly instructive for writers. Write a short story for what you can gain from it in the long run.)
  • Although readers could take a chance on a short story since little commitment and investment is involved, it’s also true that readers may be pickier when choosing which short stories to read. There certainly are enough short stories out there to choose from. One story doesn’t satisfy a reader for long. What’s the reward for liking the short story? Will there be another 200,000 words worth of writing to enjoy by the same author? You see, when you find a novel that you like, if the author has a few other novels, the reward is a lot more where that came from. If you just have a dozen short stories out, a reader could blitz through the whole collection in a day; you aren’t offering a huge supply of reading material as a potential reward if the reader likes your style.
  • There is much competition from free and low-priced stories. Why should people read your short stories when they can get the entire Sherlock Holmes collection for 99 cents or free? There are many classic short story collections out there at great prices. This comes back to my last point: If you like Sherlock Holmes, or any other classic short work, there is a ton of similar material to satiate your craving for it. If you like a short story by a modern author, often there are just a few more short stories—not enough to satisfy a reader for long.
  • Visibility is a huge issue. Suppose, for example, you want to write a short romance story, hoping to take advantage of the huge romance market. Do you think Amazon wants your short story to show up among hundreds of popular novels when customers search for romance? That could create confusion. So instead your short story should be listed among Short Reads or short story collections. 99% of romance readers will instead be browsing the romance category, looking for novels. There is a marketing challenge here: You’re not just selling a book to romance customers, you’re selling a short story specifically to the very few romance readers who want to read a short story. There is a market for that, just not nearly as wide as the romance novel market.
  • Another marketing challenge is the Look Inside. The shorter your ‘book’ (if you can call it that in this case), the shorter the Look Inside. The Look Inside is a valuable sales tool. A short story has a very short Look Inside. There may easily not be enough there to catch the reader’s interest. You could just give the title, author name, and start the story, moving the copyright notice to the end, but you still need the Look Inside (10%) to be long enough to sell the book.
  • Effective marketing is more costly and time-consuming for a series of short works. It’s fairly affordable to hire out quality cover design and editing for a full-length novel, but can be quite expensive to buy several covers for short pieces or have several short works edited.
  • For those hoping to game the system with short works, customer reviews will be an equalizer. Especially, if they are hoping to benefit from Kindle Unlimited, as avid readers tend to be smart book shoppers.
  • Another equalizer is experience. Customers don’t have to get ‘burned’ too many times to become wiser shoppers. Time favors quality and good value.
  • Even if short works do gain traction, as soon as it becomes popular and fashionable, the market will be flooded with short works. (This really doesn’t affect other authors, as the cream rises to the top. It’s always easy to find books that have achieved success; the not-so-good stuff really isn’t in the way—it falls to the bottom, out of the way.) The thing is, the flood will make it ineffective for authors hoping to generate high rewards with little effort, which means the flood won’t last. Those who succeed through quality writing, satisfying a niche audience, will continue to thrive—hard work, good ideas, and effective marketing will always help such authors thrive.

There are different kinds of short books. Let’s do authors a favor and not generalize them. Some authors slap something short together quickly, hoping to get rich. Other writers craft short pieces with masterful storytelling. These are the two extremes, then there is much in the middle. We would do a great disservice to masterful storytellers who specialize in short fiction by saying bad things about all short works.

A few of my points above specifically address the gamers, but the rest are hurdles that all short works authors must overcome in order to thrive in the short reads market.

BOOK CHOPPING

Okay, there is another extreme that I should address: book chopping. Again, I can’t imagine this being effective, and I will explain why.

Here is what I mean by book chopping: An author takes a regular-length novel and divides it up into smaller chunks (as short as a chapter, perhaps, or it could just be a few parts).

The idea behind this ‘strategy’ is that Kindle Unlimited customers can download several books without paying an extra penny, while the author earns a royalty every time a customer reads 10% of one of his or her books.

So, you could sell a novel and earn $1.80 or so for one download, or you could split that same novel into 5 parts, earning $9 from every customer who finishes the novel. Why stop there? Split it into 20 parts and you make $36 for that single book, right?

Except… Kindle Unlimited customers aren’t likely to reward this behavior, for the many reasons listed above.

On top of that, you have several ‘chapters’ cluttering up your Kindle, and you can only store 10 Kindle Unlimited downloads at a time. Suppose you’re reading Chapter 32 and would like to go back to Chapter 4 to refresh your memory of something that happened earlier. INCONVENIENCE doesn’t sell books!

Sure, some unscrupulous authors might find a way to abuse the system in the short run with this, but (A) they won’t find substantial or long-term success by chopping books and (B) Amazon tends to learn how to prevent authors from taking advantage or catch and provide a fit punishment for those who game the system. It’s not going to work to achieve anything significant, and even for those who are so unscrupulous, the benefits definitely don’t outweigh the risk.

Series are an exception. When each volume of a work reaches a natural division, and where each volume provides a complete, satisfying reading experience, then it’s not a chopped book—it’s a series. Many customers appreciate series, and series authors often do well. You can be a successful series authors, and marketing a series has many advantages. It’s even possible to develop and market a series of short pieces, but this won’t be a chopped novel—each piece will be effective by itself.

MARKETING SHORT WORKS

It is possible to succeed with short fiction or nonfiction pieces.

It’s not easy. You have to overcome the many challenges that I’ve outlined above.

It will take hard work and effective marketing. Find ways to use hard work and brain power to overcome these challenges, and you can stand out from the crowd and succeed with short pieces.

Following are some ideas to help you with this.

  • You need to cultivate a culture for your series of short works. You need to play an angle that gives your short reads an edge. You need to find a concise way to announce this clear and up front, e.g. in a subtitle, through a strap line, as a cover byline, in your blurb, with a slogan, on all of your marketing materials, etc. It’s the card you have to play. Take full advantage of it. Sometimes, it’s not enough to fill a need: You have to show people that they have a need, and you have what they didn’t know they needed. See my next bullet for some specific suggestions. But, whatever angle you play, focus on fostering a culture. This is the key to long-term success.
  • Here are some possible angles. Commuter fiction—read on a plane, subway, or train: Market to commuters, show how your series is tailored for this. Lunchtime reading—have some free time at lunch, but can’t really go anywhere to enjoy it. Morning inspiration—short motivating reads to help people get their days started on the right foot. Bedtime reading—a leisurely way to wind down for a good night’s sleep. People aren’t going to think of the angle for you. You need to find the angle that suits your short works best, and make this point abundantly clear. Don’t sell the book: Sell the benefit.
  • You can get good visibility through wise choices for your categories and keywords. The problem is that you only get to choose 2 categories and 7 keywords, so you must do some research and choose wisely. Find short works similar to yours selling well on Amazon and see which categories they are listed under, and see which keyword searches they show up in. The most relevant category may be Kindle Short Reads (click here) at Amazon.com, but this category is not available through the publisher’s choice (see here); yet there are 700,000 Kindle e-books in this category (with 250,000 in KDP Select), so although it’s said to be ‘restricted,’ evidently it’s easy (or automatic) to get in just by having your book the proper length.
  • Check out the Kindle Short Reads page, as it provides a useful guide for how long it takes to read how many pages. You need to know this. If you’re selling your book as commuter fiction or lunchtime fiction, for example, you need a reliable estimate for how long it will take to read your book. This number is valuable. “Have 30 minutes to read on your lunch or on a train ride? This 15-page book will hit the spot.”
  • Research a couple of specific keywords that may be relevant for your short work. Start typing in the search field at Amazon and it will show you popular matches. You want matches that are both popular and specific to your book; that helps you gain visibility (it doesn’t help to be the last book in a search with many results). Note that popularity varies whether you search in all departments, books, Kindle, Short Reads, or a specific category: So test them all out. Note that “commuter fiction,” for example, doesn’t even pull up a match presently, so don’t waste your keyword with things like this that are never searched for. “Short reads,” on the other hand, is a popular search (with 1250 results, though, so you need to be high up on that list).
  • You want to create a series of short works that stand out and are easy to find. You could put “commuter fiction,” “lunchtime fiction,” “Lisa’s shorts,” “inspirational stories,” or something in a subtitle or series title (though you have to number series with Kindle) or in parentheses, making it easy to find your brand—while also declaring it a short work. If the subtitle or parenthetical note, which will be visible in search results, also emphasizes the advantage of your book’s length (e.g. Commuter Fiction), even better.
  • The covers of your series need to send a clear, unique brand. Have a dozen short stories? You want them all to look uniform. You want them all to be very easy to find. A customer sees any of your short books and immediately recognizes the series. Branding is vital. You want new customers to see that you have a wealth of similar books, i.e. the reward for trying you out and liking your writing is much more where that came from. You want old customers to easily find your other pieces. An appealing (to your target audience) visual brand that creates a unique signature, that’s what you want.
  • Write several similar short books. You’re not likely to sell a ton of short books if you only write one or a few; one-hit wonders aren’t likely in short fiction. If you succeed in hooking some customers on the benefits of your short works, where you really stand to benefit is when you get customers to buy several of your books. It also shows new customers that you’re a serious author, and that there is plenty of reading material similar to any of the short pieces that you offer.
  • Once you succeed in growing a fan base, you want timely releases. They’re short, so you can write, say, one a month. (Say, you spend a month writing. You pass it onto your editor, getting it back weeks later. You also wait for your cover designer. It might take a few months before it’s publish-ready. But once the train gets started, you can have one to publish every month.) You want to publish regularly, so fans start to look forward to the 15th of every month (or whenever, but they know when to expect it). An advantage of releasing a short piece in 30-day intervals is that you always have a book in the Last 30 Days new release category.
  • Amazon tends to help authors who (scrupulously) help themselves. Effective premarketing and marketing can pay big dividends, not just in immediate sales. Another factor on your side is word-of-mouth. Learn the craft and produce quality short reads, and it can lead to long-term success.
  • Look for marketing groups, e.g. in Facebook or at Goodreads. Some groups will correspond to your genre, e.g. fantasy or romance. Also look for groups dedicated to short reads (heck, you could start a group). If you’re using Kindle Unlimited, look for groups associated with this, too.
  • Make one short read free. You should plan to publish dozens of similar books, so, really, why can’t you afford to make one good one permanently free? The freebie won’t be in KDP Select. Publish it on Kobo, Smashwords, etc. At Kobo and Smashwords, you can make it free, and then you (or customers) can notify Amazon of the lower price, politely requesting a price match. The hope is that your freebie will encourage many readers to try out your other stories. Remember, your work has to be good enough to make readers want more of the same. Making junk free isn’t helping anybody.
  • Educate your audience. Show them the benefits of Kindle Unlimited, e.g. how for $9.99 per month they can read your series of dozens of books without paying an extra penny. Show them how to find short reads (include the link to the Kindle Short Reads category). Explain how they might benefit from short reads, e.g. during commutes or lunchtime. Of course, you mention your series at the end of your marketing endeavor. If you’re promoting commuter or lunch fiction, remind your readers to stock up on the weekends, so they don’t waste precious time during their commutes or lunch breaks just searching for the next read.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Bookmarks (Better than Business Cards for Authors)

bookmark 001b

Bookmarks

I ordered bookmarks from Overnight Prints and I’m very pleased with the results.

  • The images and text printed wonderfully (be sure to use 300 DPI).
  • I’m pleased with the quality of the cardstock.
  • The 2″ x 6″ size works for me.
  • I ordered double-sided bookmarks with rounded corners.

There are many sites that print bookmarks. I appreciated that Overnight Prints specifically mentioned bookmarks on the site (i.e. I didn’t have to choose a custom product to create something that was shaped and sized like a bookmark).

I may have supported Amazon by ordering bookmarks from CreateSpace, but CreateSpace would only create bookmarks for the book, more or less following some template; they wouldn’t allow me to create a bookmark for a series of books, for example. I wanted the freedom of design for my bookmarks.

The design for my bookmarks was created by artist Melissa Stevens (she also made my covers and website banner).

In addition, I ordered some business cards and magnets.

I’ll be using the bookmarks much more than anything else.

A bookmark is basically a business card that will actually be used.

Do you know anyone with a drawer full of business cards? Or who throws business cards away? Sure, a business card fits in a wallet, but if you receive dozens of business cards, you’re not going to have every one of those in your wallet (along with your id, credit cards, photos, and cash).

Readers use bookmarks. The ‘trick’ is to create a bookmark that doesn’t look like an advertisement. It needs to appeal aesthetically so that it actually gets used.

Now when that person finishes the current book, what will he or she do? Answer: Ask, “What should I read next?” And the answer is right before his or her eyes! Hey, maybe I’ll check out the book from this bookmark.

Don’t just stick them on windshields or pass them out at the mall. You want your target audience to find your bookmarks.

(Okay, so I know a zombie author who ‘accidentally’ left some bookmarks in popular novels like hers on a shelf in a store. I might add that this author has sold a LOT of books.)

When you interact with people in your target audience, include bookmarks. I suppose that you could even include one in books you give away through contests.

Anytime you’d be inclined to hand out a business card, consider a bookmark instead.

I’m not saying business cards are useless. I did order some of these, too, and I will use them.

When I ordered my business cards, there was an option to also order magnets of the same size. I have one sitting on my refrigerator presently.

The magnets were slightly curled upon arrival, but that seems to be natural (maybe they don’t like Louisiana heat and humidity). It’s easy to fix by adhering them to the refrigerator for a while (and since that’s likely how they’ll be used, it doesn’t matter much that they’re curled).

The magnets are somewhat more expensive and may not be as useful and effective as bookmarks, but they’re still cool to have… and I’m sure I can find people who appreciate having them.

(Despite the name “overnight,” when you place an order, you receive a variety of shipping options—the slower ones save you money.)

bookmarks 001b

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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