Positive Reading Experience

Customer Service

Everything that you want to know about buying and selling books comes down to three simple words:

Positive Reading Experience

That’s what it’s all about.

This is exactly what readers want. Put your focus on maximizing the reading experience for a significant target audience. When your book is perfected, switch your focus to showing the target audience that your book provides an excellent reading experience.

What Makes a Good Reading Experience?

Several factors go into delivering this:

  • The storyline engages the reader’s interest.
  • The characters fascinate the reader.
  • The information is helpful to the reader.
  • The content is what the reader was hoping to find.
  • The words, structure, and ideas flow well for the reader.
  • There are virtually no editing or formatting hiccups to distract the reader.
  • The reader perceives the book to be a good value.
  • The book pleases the reader.

If you can go beyond the reader’s expectations, really impressing the reader can be a wow-factor worthy of many referrals and recommendations.

How Do You Show This to a Customer?

  • Design a cover that reflects the quality of the book.
  • Design a cover that attracts the specific target audience that will most appreciate the book.
  • Devise a short title that appeals to your specific target audience.
  • Prepare a concise blurb that captivates your target audience’s interest.
  • Structure the beginning of the book in a way that will show your target audience that your book is what they were hoping to find.
  • Market your book to your specific target audience to help them discover your book.
  • Let your passion for your book show through implicitly in your marketing.
  • Offer a short sample of your book that will make them want more.
  • Provide excellent customer service in your interactions with your audience.
  • Develop a reputation as a professional author.
  • Show samples of diagrams, notes, photos, and other things you use to help prepare your book as these reflect your diligence and dedication while also helping to create interest.

There are two parts to this, and both are critical. One part is showing the customer that the book will provide an excellent reading experience, and the other part is delivering on the promise.

Positive Customer Experience

Many businesses, like Amazon, orient themselves toward excellent customer service. This is what brings customers back for more, and it’s what generates referrals and recommendations.

Authors can similarly benefit from striving to provide a positive reading experience.

Did you see this article about Jeff Bezos and leadership in Forbes in April, 2012? If not, it’s worth checking out. I like point two, where an empty chair was used to signify the customer who was crucially important, but not present at the meeting.

I spoke with a representative from Amazon’s marketing department over the phone a couple of weeks ago, and one thing that repeatedly stood out was a “positive customer experience.” For example, consider those advertisements you see on Amazon’s website that drive traffic to a particular product. If that product runs out of stock, the algorithm stops displaying those advertisements because that wouldn’t provide a positive customer experience.

Ultimately, Amazon’s algorithm is trying to determine which books provide the best reading experience. The best way to benefit from this is to deliver a book that provides an excellent reading experience and market your book effectively to your target audience.

Think, “What can my book do for my target audience?”

The things that your book does to impress your target audience are your strengths that can help attract the target audience. The things that your book does to detract from the reading experience are your weaknesses. You can’t hide these, so you must shore them up as best you can.

Who Am I?

Chris McMullen.

I’m not just a name. I’m a person, too.

I have a Ph.D. in physics, but don’t let that scare you. I love to read and write. If you just look around my blog or at the books I’ve published, you’ll see that I love to write. I’ve come to understand and appreciate the marketing aspect, too. I didn’t like it when I first started publishing, back when I naively thought marketing meant salesmanship and advertising. Now that I realize that marketing is more about branding, showing that you’re a person and not a name, and letting your target audience discover your passion—and more meaningful and subtle things like these—I’ve come to enjoy it. I hope to reveal the enjoyable and fascinating side of marketing—the parts that aren’t so obvious—to other authors. Focus on this side of marketing, and you may find yourself more motivated to do it, the process more rewarding, and hopefully better long-term results.

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

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

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

How Do People Buy Books?


If you want people to buy your book, it makes sense to first try to understand how people shop for books. Such knowledge is power that you can use in your book design and marketing decisions.

How People Don’t Buy Books

Let’s begin with a very important double negative:

People don’t buy books that they can’t find easily.

Who Cares How People Buy Books?

So you wrote a book. (That’s awesome by the way. Jump up and give yourself a huge high-five.) You edited and formatted until you turned blue in the face. Then you added a cover. You finally hit that publish button. Ta-da! Now all you have to do is wait for those royalties to come pouring in.

And wait. And wait. And wait… and wait. a.n.d. w.a.i.t. a..n..d.. w…a.…i…..t.

You put so much energy into the writing process. That gets the book completed. Then you put so much more effort into transforming your manuscript into a book. That gets the book published.

But the book probably won’t sell until you try to master the buying process. And use your knowledge to your advantage.

How People Shop for Books

There are a variety of ways that people go about shopping for a good book to read.

(1) Very many customers shop for bestsellers.

You can agonize over this or philosophize about it all you want, but it won’t do you any good (except, perhaps, relieve a little stress).

There are two things you can do that are constructive: Try to understand it, and strive to get your book on one of the top 100 lists.

Why do people shop for bestsellers? It’s simple, really:

  • They are very easy to find.
  • They come with expectations (e.g. the author is established, many other readers have enjoyed the book).
  • They tend to show up higher in search results (not just because of their sales rank, but because so many customers have already searched for them and then purchased them). If you don’t want to buy a bestseller, you must first scroll past these books.

Amazon tends to reward authors who help themselves. That is, if you produce a highly marketable book and market your book effectively, Amazon’s algorithm will probably help you out in many ways. If you do this well enough to get on any top 100 list, you can really get some nice exposure.

(2) Many customers shop for books by authors they have read before.

Trying out a new author is a risk.

Buying another book by an author you like seems like less of a risk. Not only that, it’s easier to find an author’s other books than it is to browse for something new. Most authors have multiple books and keep writing more, so as long as the author continues to deliver, the fan base will keep on growing and supporting.

You can learn two things from this:

  • If you have books that readers will enjoy, anything you do to put copies of your books in the hands of your target audience can pay great dividends in the future (some authors go to the extreme of making one permanently free).
  • Authors who have several books on the market appeal to readers in two ways. First, they look like established, professional authors who are making a career out of writing. Secondly, they see a possible reward: If they like your book, there is a whole lot more where that came from.

There is a huge IF here. If they don’t like your book, neither point above has any value for you. Write books that people will love and these two points can do wonders for you in the long run.

(3) People are greatly influenced by the book’s cover.

Whether they see your cover in search results, on your product page, on your website, in your advertisement, on a coffee table, in a bookstore, or anywhere else, the cover is a huge factor in whether or not they will check your book out.

Only a fraction of the people who see your book will check it out. The cover determines what this fraction is. The better the cover appeals to your target audience, the greater this fraction will be.

It’s hard to get people to see your book. So when they do see your book, you want them to check it out.

People aren’t studying your cover. They glance at it. Either the cover appeals to them or it doesn’t. Either they check out your book or move on.

Customers see your book next to many other books in search results, on a bookshelf, etc. The cover that has the greatest appeal with the target audience will get the most attention.

It’s not just about having a fantastic cover. It’s about appealing to a specific target audience. Otherwise, the people who check your book out immediately put it down. “Oh, that wasn’t what I was expecting.”

There are two percentages that matter: the percentage of people who see your cover who check out your book, and the percentage of people who check out your book and make the purchase. A target audience mismatch (even a slight one, like romance vs. erotica) can kill this second percentage.

Your cover is also important for branding. People often don’t buy a product when they first see it. You want a memorable cover that makes a favorable impression, so the next time the customer sees your cover, they think, “I’ve seen this before and I remember being interested in it.”

It’s worth researching cover design and browsing the top selling books in your fiction genre or nonfiction category. Here are some cover design tips.

(4) The blurb and sample greatly influence purchases.

Once shoppers discover your book and decide to check it out, there is just one more hurdle. The blurb and sample will make or break the deal.

A concise blurb is often most effective, especially in fiction. It shouldn’t give away too much, should make expectations clear, should appeal to the target audience, should read well (one mistake here doesn’t bode well for an entire book), and should get the reader interested.

The beginning of the book has the same goal. Most customers won’t invest much time here. The book needs to grab their interest and run with it. A slow build will lose many sales. A beginning that doesn’t fit the genre and expectations will lose many sales. A sample with formatting or editing issues will lose many sales. A sample with a writing style that doesn’t appeal to the audience will lose many sales.

The customer is wondering such things as:

  • Does this book seem professional?
  • Does the writing style appeal to me?
  • Does it seem interesting?
  • Is the content relevant for me?
  • Is the presentation a good fit for me?

Write in a way that appeals to your target audience. Edit and format professionally. Create interest right off the bat. Ensure that the sample is a good fit for your target audience, and matches the expectations created by your cover, title, and blurb.

For an in-depth discussion of what makes a book highly marketable, read this article.

(5) Customers are more interested in books that are recommended to them.

At Amazon, recommendations come in the form of editorial and customer reviews. Customers like to see dozens of customer reviews. Why? Because this improves the chances that they will find reviews with advice that they deem to be useful. They like to see a variety of opinions and good balance.

Off Amazon, recommendations come in the form of book reviews, including blog reviews.

The most valuable recommendations are word-of-mouth (or word-of-fingers) referrals from people they trust.

The more marketable your book is and the more effectively you market your book, the more books you will sell and the more reviews you will get. Publishers send out advance review copies, but doing this on a large scale can result in many reviews not showing as Amazon Verified Purchases.

If you find bloggers who have a significant following in your target audience, properly approach them, and allow ample time, you can get helpful blog reviews.

If your book is very good—there are hundreds of thousands of good writers and hundreds of thousands of great ideas, but not all of these result in books that will greatly please a target audience—then the more your book gets read, the greater your chances of getting word-of-mouth referrals. It can take several months to get them, but if you have an amazing book, this can result in a many long-term dividends.

Another kind of recommendation is an award. There are many contests out there that you can enter. Win one, or just get into the later stages, and that offers you a little publicity and provides you with a little note that you can mention to add to your book’s credibility. Again, it comes down to writing an excellent book.

(6) Customers like sale prices and contests.

You (or your publisher) control the list price, while the retailer controls the sale price. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a sale.

If you control your list price, you can temporarily lower it to create a sale. (For e-books, KDP Select members can use a Countdown Deal, which shows customers that the book is on sale.)

But price doesn’t sell books. Marketing and marketability sell books.

That’s why many authors lower their prices and then express their frustration that they didn’t sell many more copies of their books. Price alone doesn’t do it.

Your target audience needs to learn about your sale in order for a discount to be effective. You need to promote a sale effectively to take advantage of the possibilities of offering a short-term discount.

It’s not just the lower price that helps to stimulate sales, but also the looming deadline. “Oh, I better act fast; this sale is almost over.” If customers don’t know about your sale or the deadline, your sale won’t make a difference.

An alternative to a sale is a contest. Similarly, you must promote your contest effectively for it to work.

Here are a few ideas to help promote a sale.

(7) Customers do browse categories and search with keywords.

This isn’t one of the top ways that customers shop for books, but since huge numbers of books are purchased every day, it’s still significant. On the other hand, there are millions of books in search results.

The books that show up on the first page of a category or the first page of search results get much more exposure. Books that show up several pages down the list aren’t likely to be found.

But here’s the thing: You don’t need to show up in the first page of the romance category or the first page of search results for “suspense.”

While it would be awesome exposure for your book to be number one in a broad category or for broad keyword searches, this isn’t a realistic expectation. That’s okay because you can still get good exposure with a wise choice of categories and keywords.

Look for keywords that aren’t too popular, but are searched for periodically, which are very appropriate for your book. You have a reasonable chance of showing up high in search results this way, and if the keywords are searched for periodically, your book will get some exposure.

Customers also search for keywords within subcategories, which helps you out by narrowing down the search results.

It’s very important to choose the most relevant subcategories for your book. It’s also very important to choose relevant keywords. It doesn’t help you at all to show up at the top of a search where 100% of the customers will think, “Ugh! What in the world is that book doing there?”

Don’t waste your keywords. Don’t use a keyword that:

  • is so popular that nobody will ever find your book in that search.
  • will almost never be searched for.
  • isn’t highly relevant for your book.

Do go on Amazon and search for keywords in your category (not in All Department or Books) to see what’s popular and which types of books show up in the search results. Also, check out this tip (hidden in the KDP help pages) for getting listed in special subcategories (look for the heading “Categories with Keyword Requirements”).

(8) Customers are more likely to buy a book when they’ve personally interacted with the author.

This item is last on the list, but most important for indie authors.

This is something every indie author can offer. This is why indie book sales are very significant compared to traditionally published book sales. Many effective indie book marketers are personally interacting with members of their target audience.

People might take a chance on a book by an author they’ve never heard of, but they are much more likely to support an author they’ve met in person where they enjoyed the interaction.

You can buy an antique that’s kind of cool and set it in your living room. When people ask where you got it, you tell them where the store was. But it’s really cool when you know the history of an antique. Now it means something to you, and it becomes a conversation piece.

A personal interaction adds meaning to your book. It shows that you’re a real person, not just a name. A positive interaction shows that you have character and an intriguing personality. If they sense your passion for your work, this adds to their interest.

There are so many ways to interact with your target audience. This is what marketing is all about. Help your target audience discover you, get to know you a little, and learn that you have a product or service that suits their needs.

Charm them, so they enjoy the interaction and want to check out your book.

Social media, readings, signings, seminars, blogging, conventions, community service… The goal is to meet and interact with your specific target audience.

How cool is it to be able to say, “Hey, I met the author of this book, and that person was pretty neat”?

Get coverage from your local paper or support from a small, local bookstore. Many people like to support local talent, and so might check your book out. The next step is for your book’s cover, blurb, and inside to make the deal.

Who Am I?

Chris McMullen.

I’m not just a name. I’m a person, too.

I have a Ph.D. in physics, but don’t let that scare you. I love to read and write. If you just look around my blog or at the books I’ve published, you’ll see that I love to write. I’ve come to understand and appreciate the marketing aspect, too. I didn’t like it when I first started publishing, back when I naively thought marketing meant salesmanship and advertising. Now that I realize that marketing is more about branding, showing that you’re a person and not a name, and letting your target audience discover your passion—and more meaningful and subtle things like these—I’ve come to enjoy it. I hope to reveal the enjoyable and fascinating side of marketing—the parts that aren’t so obvious—to other authors. Focus on this side of marketing, and you may find yourself more motivated to do it, the process more rewarding, and hopefully better long-term results.

Follow me at WordPress, connect with me at Facebook, or follow me at Twitter.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

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

A Look at a Successful Fiction Marketer

Charles Yallowitz

In this post, we will learn valuable marketing and marketability tips by looking at a successful fiction author. In addition to writing a highly marketable book, today’s author is also active with a variety of effective marketing strategies.

Sword and sorcery author Charles Yallowitz has a popular fantasy series called The Legends of Windemere. If you’re a WordPress blogger, you may know Charles, as he is an active and highly supportive blogger in our community. Even if you’re familiar with Charles and his series, hopefully you will still find some helpful tips about marketability and marketing in this post.

Beginning of a Hero

Prodigy of Rainbow Tower

Allure of the Gypsies


Let’s begin by taking a close look at the book covers for The Legends of Windemere:

  • The covers look like they are part of the same series. This is an important part of series branding. Once readers become familiar with the series, you want them to instantly recognize the brand when they come across new books in the series. The series name looks exactly the same, even in the same position, in each volume; and so does the name. The title has a cool style, consistent with each volume: Look at the first and last letters.
  • Volume 1, Beginning of a Hero, clearly signifies the genre. This is a vital ingredient of a highly marketable book. A fantastic cover won’t sell a book that lacks marketable content, but can really help a book that has marketable content. It’s a sword and sorcery novel, and there you see the protagonist with a sword on the cover. More than that, the artwork looks like it was done well, and the cover will appeal to the target audience (teenagers who read sword and sorcery fantasy novels).
  • If you have a person on your book cover, an important, but often overlooked, key is the facial expression. You definitely don’t want a blank stare, but even a subtle effect where the expression doesn’t seem to fit the scene can deter sales. The first volume shows a look of intensity on the protagonist’s face.
  • The most important cover is the one on the first book of the series, but the others are very important, too. The first one helps to draw readers into the series, but the subsequent covers can impact whether or not readers continue in the series. Volumes 2 and 3 have dynamic covers. It’s hard to pull off the effect of movement well, but these covers do it. You can see the gypsy dancing in Volume 3.
  • It’s not easy to follow the three color rule (primary 60%, secondary 30%, accent 10%) when drawing people and scenery, yet each of these covers is pretty effective at mainly using only a few colors. Although the color scheme changes from one volume to the next, the style and structure are preserved wonderfully.

Of course, there is more to marketability than just the cover:

  • The blurbs are concise, which works especially well in fiction. You want the blurb to reinforce the cover by revealing the same genre and content (you want the reader thinking, “Yeah, that’s what I was looking for,” and not, “Oops, that’s not what I expected”). You want to give just enough to create interest, and make the reader look inside to find more.
  • I read Volume 1, so I know firsthand that the storyline and characterization are highly marketable. These books are rich in great ideas. A highly marketable book must deliver something that readers will very much enjoy. For sword and sorcery readers, this storyline and these characters are a great fit. This no doubt creates many recommendations and reviews, especially valuable word-of-mouth referrals.
  • A marketable cover (that signifies the genre), a concise blurb (that signifies the same genre), and a variety of reviews help to get readers to Look Inside. These books have all three. The reviews partly reflect the story’s marketability and the author’s marketing skills (for one, the more effective your marketing is, the more readers you will get; for another, personal interactions and showing your humanity may help to elicit reviews, on top of the effect of your story).

I’ve interacted with Charles here at WordPress rather frequently, and I encounter his marketing here and at other sites. I have seen that he is very active with marketing, and utilizes a variety of effective marketing strategies. He clearly works hard at it, and he shows that hard work can pay off:

  • Charles uses his blog quite effectively, which isn’t as easy to do in fiction. One of his keys is variety. His poems are excellent, and they are a short sample that can create interest in his writing; weekly goal posts show that he is organized and provide a feel of a professional author; he does post about his own books, but these are supplemented by much other content; updates on his writing offer something for fans, yet also include questions to help engage his blogging audience; and some posts reveal a touch of his personality, family life, or humanity (you become more than just an author when readers recognize you’re a person, too, and of good character). Any one of these topics by itself would make his blog much less effective; this particular variety works very well for him.
  • If you’ve encountered Charles in the blogging or social media realm, you know that he is highly interactive. It’s amazing how much interaction he provides on his own posts, on other people’s posts, and on multiple sites; and very often his responses are almost immediate. He interacts with all bloggers, big and small. When you’re a tiny fish in a big sea and a big fish takes time to interact with you, it makes you feel special.
  • He is also very active with the Community Storyboard. Several authors make regular contributions to this interesting blog (you should check it out, if you’re not already familiar with it).
  • Charles is amazingly supportive of his fellow authors. It’s a great reputation to have because when he releases a new book or does a cover reveal, many authors whom he has helped are happy to reciprocate. It’s not just a matter of reciprocation: He interacts avidly and shows that he cares, and this helps to build engaging, supportive relationships. Another benefit of building connections is that you can receive valuable tips and marketing advice.
  • Blogging is just one aspect of the much larger marketing picture. Charles feeds his WordPress posts into Twitter and Facebook, and is also active at Facebook. He uses social media effectively, not just posting content, promoting his books, interacting, and building a following there, but also by joining and being an active participant in several Facebook groups (this is a valuable resource). He doesn’t stop with Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also encountered him at Google+, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Pinterest. He is highly visible and connected this way.
  • Visibility is important. Charles posts regularly to social media and Facebook groups in addition to his blog. He is highly active with this, which helps him brand his image and give him exposure. He appears as a professional author (of course, he is, but some authors who are don’t create the same perception, but appear invisible in the background) by engaging in this activity. Readers are apt to be familiar with his name and covers from seeing them frequently. It’s not just about posting regularly, but also about searching for the right groups so you become visible with your specific target audience.
  • Author interviews and guest blogs are important, too. I’ve seen several guest blogs and author interviews featuring Charles, and I also see these on his site for other authors. As I mentioned previously, he is very supportive of other authors. Take the time to find bloggers that are a good fit for your content, and learn how to interact with them and approach them to make polite and effective requests. These can be very helpful in gaining exposure for your book.
  • Charles runs occasional promotions for his series. If you have a highly marketable series, your main concern is generating exposure among your target audience. You can give the first book of the series away for free periodically in order to get more readers interested in your series. A short-term sale can help to draw readers in. Charles has used some paid advertising sites effectively, including Askdavid.com, Goodkindles, Novelspot, Bookpinning, Indie Author Anonymous, and Indie Author News (click here to learn more). The key is to have a highly marketable book from cover to cover and to gear your promotions toward your specific target audience.
  • Getting onto any of Amazon’s top 100 lists can really help to improve your exposure. Charles shows that creating a highly marketable book and working hard to market your book effectively can help you land your book on these very helpful lists.

Charles uses a touch of humor, and does so effectively. He uses it occasionally in his marketing (I see it on his blog, for example) and also in his novels (he mentioned that his can help with character depth—but, of course, must be done in moderation, and only when it fits the character; some characters shouldn’t show humor).

So I thought it would be fitting to mention a little humor, coming from Charles himself. “I thought I lost my cellphone and went looking for it. I was carrying the house phone, so I decided to call my cellphone to find it. Well, I had my cellphone in my hand and called it anyway.”

Charles will be participating in Read Tuesday, a Black Friday type of event just for books on December 10. All authors are welcome to participate (it’s free).

Check out Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere series at Amazon:

  1. Beginning of a Hero
  2. Prodigy of Rainbow Tower
  3. Allure of the Gypsies

Connect with Charles Yallowitz:

Love books? Check out Read Tuesday, a Black Friday event just for books (all authors can sign up for free): website, Facebook page, Twitter

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

Creating a Highly Marketable Fiction Book

M. Louisa Locke, author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series

Today we will examine the books of a highly successful fiction author to learn some valuable marketability tips.

Historical fiction author M. Louisa Locke has a popular series called the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series. The first book in the series, Maids of Misfortune, has over 500 customer reviews on Amazon.

Click on the image to view this book’s detail page at Amazon.

You can learn some things about marketability just by visiting the detail page for Maids of Misfortune:

  • The cover fits the genre very distinctly. This is incredibly important for a book to be highly marketable. You want your target audience to see the book and instantly recognize that it’s a perfect fit for them. One glance at the cover and you know it’s historical fiction. Your book will be seen in your marketing, search results, customer also bought lists, and more. If you want a significant percentage of the people who see your book to buy your book, you need the cover to grab your target audience.
  • Not only that, but the cover is appealing, looks elegant, and the title and author name are easy to read in the thumbnail. The challenge is to make the font interesting, yet still very clear, and fit the genre. This book pulls it off very well. Don’t underestimate the effect that font issues have on sales.
  • Check out the other covers in the series. They all fit together, which helps greatly with branding, yet each is distinct.
  • The blurb is divided up into short paragraphs. Shoppers have a short attention span, and this blurb addresses that. If the blurb doesn’t interest the buyer immediately and continue to engage the shopper, the shopper will hit the back button of the browser.
  • The first sentence of the blurb describes trouble. Now the reader is concerned. The second paragraph starts with a secret, the third introduces a problem, and the last speaks of murder. Each paragraph begins with some way of engaging the reader. Everything reads well and clearly, and no paragraph is too long.
  • Look at the categories. Normally, having too many categories poses a problem, but upon closer inspection, each subcategory is very specific and actually is appropriate to the book. You want your book to get into specific categories that are highly relevant for your book, but not to get into categories that aren’t highly relevant (buyers see this, become confused, and back out). Check out this page to learn some Kindle keyword tricks (thanks to S.K. Nicholls and others for pointing this out to me). Check your detail page periodically and contact Author Central if your book gets into a category that isn’t highly relevant.
  • M. Louisa Locke’s author photo is a perfect fit for her profile—a Victorian author and retired professor of U.S. and women’s history. Her qualifications certainly help; although she is a fiction author, her expertise relates to the subject her novels.
  • The 500 reviews really stand out on the product page. Excellent marketability and effective marketing help to earn sales, and a fraction of those sales may result in customer reviews. One way to help improve this percentage is to encourage customers to contact you and to mention that you would appreciate a review on Amazon. Check out the second paragraph of M. Louisa Locke’s biography.
  • If you write fiction, Shelfari offers many book extras that you can add to your product page. Check out the book extras on this product page.
  • This book is available on Kindle, paperback, and as an audio book.
  • The cover grabs the attention of the target audience, the blurb draws interest, and the reviews lend credibility, but it isn’t a done deal yet. We still have the Look Inside. This Look Inside seals the deal. The cover looks great not only as a thumbnail, but also in the much larger Look Inside. The book comes right out and draws interest right off the bat. You want to develop your story slowly, but readers don’t have such patience for a new author. Come out swinging with your best stuff. Grab the reader’s attention and don’t let go. This book draws interest immediately, and each paragraph starts, like the blurb, with some word or phrase that will draw the reader’s curiosity. The Look Inside fits the genre well, which is highly important, reads well, and appears to be well-edited. These three points can make or break a sale, even when everything else is perfect.

There is more to success than just creating a highly marketable book and product page and throwing it out there. But it’s not a secret. Many popular authors reveal tips that made them successful.

If you visit M. Louisa Locke’s blog, you’ll see that you can learn a great deal there about marketability and marketing. Especially, read these two posts and study the details:

M. Louisa Locke’s paperback books will be participating in Read Tuesday, a Black Friday type of event just for books on December 10. All authors are welcome to participate (it’s free).

Learn more about M. Louisa Locke: website, author 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), Facebook page, Twitter

An Example of Successful Nonfiction Marketability and Marketing

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000448_00019]

Today, instead of discussing marketing ideas in general terms, I will provide a specific example.

I think this will be quite useful. This post features a specific nonfiction book, which has many instructive marketability features, and its author, who has done some wonderful things in the way of marketing which are accessible to most authors.

The e-book is currently number #1 in Happiness at Amazon, and was in the top 1000 in paid books in the Kindle store when I checked on it last night. This is a result of the book’s marketability combined with the author’s marketing. I will try to reveal many of the instructive features that have made this book successful, with the hope that doing so may help other authors.

I plan to do a future post on a fiction book, too. I also have one in mind that features a specific website with instructive marketing and publicity features. If these work out well, I’ll consider preparing posts like these more often.

The book I selected is Happiness as a Second Language by Valerie Alexander. This book is available as a paperback, e-book, and audiobook. I happened to discover Valerie’s blog several months ago and immediately bought the book because it strongly appealed to me. (I have several books from my fellow bloggers, and you can bet I’ll be a happy shopper on Read Tuesday.)

I recommend checking out the paperback edition on Amazon. Explore the book’s detail page and the Look Inside. There are specific features that help its marketability. I’ll refer to these; if you see them for yourself, it will be more instructive. The Kindle edition has the much better sales rank presently, but the paperback edition has some nice formatting that I’ll mention in a moment.

What makes this book so marketable?

Several things:

  • The concept: Who doesn’t want to be happier? It’s a hot commodity. But it’s not just happiness: It is teaching happiness like it’s a foreign language (which correlates with experience).
  • Cover appeal: (1) Yellow is a happy color, which fits the theme. I like the ‘A,’ because it sends out good vibes. I feel happy just looking at it. (2) Three color rule: Mostly yellow, contrasting with black and red nicely. (3) Easily readable, yet the font is interesting and seems to fit the theme. A large title is common in nonfiction. (4) Grabs the attention of the target audience quickly. (5) Simple yet effective. Didn’t make the mistake of being too busy.
  • Effective blurb: It’s concise and clear. It comes right out with the best stuff. What’s really nice is that it presents ideas that seem foreign, so you feel like there is a lot of material you can learn, but it also makes everything seem like it might be easy to understand (“happy colors” isn’t technical jargon, but sounds easy to learn and apply).
  • Formatted blurb: Note the occasional use of boldface and italics, which can be done through AuthorCentral.
  • Emotion: Check out Valerie’s bio. She experienced life’s challenges and overcame them with the techniques that she explains in her book. It’s a moving success story. Notice that she just briefly mentioned her low point in her bio, instead of going into detail her. Wise decision, I think.
  • Smile: Her author pic shows a nice smile, which it must, because she’s selling happiness. The photo is appealing, which is important.
  • Professional Look Inside: This is very important. Once the cover and blurb entice the reader, the Look Inside has to close the deal. The copyright page shows that it was published by Goalkeeper Media, Inc. Look at the bottom of the copyright page where it lists people who took the author photo, designed the cover, did the cover layout, and designed the interior; you’ll find similar information in many traditionally published books.
  • Design marks: The design marks on the first page of each chapter and the page headers look professional (I’m referring to the paperback edition). Note that the page header marks are light so as not to call too much attention from the reader (and distract from the reading). If you can find any of the tables or textboxes, they are well-formatted, too (maybe try searching for “Pop Quiz” in the Search Inside feature). Professional touches make a big difference.
  • Editorial reviews: A few of these on your book’s detail page can be helpful.

The book looks professional from cover to cover. This is so important. Combine this with content that appeals to a large target audience a book will have amazing potential.

That’s what readers want. They want books that appear professional from cover to cover and on the product page, where both the content and packaging appeal to them. Isn’t that what you want when you’re shopping for a book?

What did the author do to market this book?

Note that these are all observations that I have made on my own. I did contact Valerie to get her consent before preparing this post, but I have based everything on my own observations.

Like just about everyone else reading this post, Valerie has a blog. I checked out her Speak Happiness blog and the archives date back to January, 2013. I checked her Kindle and paperback product pages, and her publication date is April 30, 2013. Therefore, I see that she started building an online following and creating buzz for her book 3-4 months before she actually published it. Premarketing is very important.

You can see from her blog site that she—like many authors—is also active on Twitter and Facebook. Her headers are effective, too. They help to brand an image from her cover.

She doesn’t just have the social media going, she’s also an active and supportive member of the community. I know this firsthand from my occasional interactions with her on both of our blogs.

Creativity can be put to good use in marketing. Check out the Reader Gallery on her blog site. You see pictures of readers holding her book up. This was a clever idea, and Valerie succeeded in getting participation.

One of the best things, in my humble opinion, that Valerie has done in the way of marketing is to get visibility among her target audience in high-traffic areas. This can be huge. She achieved this by publishing articles that relate to her book’s content. This is a very valuable resource that most authors don’t bother with. There are so many places online and offline that need relevant content that it gives you a chance to succeed in getting an article published and mentioning next to your name, Author of My Book Title.

Valerie published multiple articles with the Huffington Post. You can’t do it if you don’t try. Valerie tried and succeeded, and it greatly helps with exposure.

When I first contacted Valerie to mention that I enjoyed her book, months ago, she had asked very politely if I might be interested in doing a blog interview with her. At the time, I said no. As you know if you follow my blog, I don’t presently do book reviews or blog interviews. But it shows that she was contacting bloggers to help gain exposure. From a recent comment she made on one of my blog posts, I learned that she’s had some recent success with bloggers featuring her book. (Yes, today, months later, I have featured her book. I still don’t do interviews or book reviews so-to-speak, but I am testing out the idea of preparing posts with useful marketing ideas that feature a specific book.)

I think it’s very notable that she didn’t price her e-book at the bare minimum. Her original e-book price was $6.99. I’d say that most of the books in the 99 cent to $2.99 price range (but note that I myself have some for $2.99) should actually be in the $3.99 to $5.99 range instead. Exceptions might be the first book in a series or every book in a really long series, for example. I know some authors with marketable books whose sales actually increased when raising the price from $2.99 to $3.99. Many readers who get frustrated with a 99-cent or $2.99 e-book purchase shop in the $3.99 to $5.99 window, hoping to get what you pay for. (On the other hand, they still want value for their money. A short story can be a hard sell, but pricing a short story in the higher price range might not work out.)

You can create the perception of value. First, the price itself helps to establish this. Next, personal interactions with your target audience add value to your book. If you’re providing quality service like this and you have a marketable book, you don’t have to price at the low end of the spectrum.

Also note that a higher price may actually help your sales rank if you can succeed in generating sales at  the higher price. If a 99-cent e-book sells 100 copies per day, a $5.99 e-book that sells 50 copies per day actually makes more profit for Amazon. So Amazon should (for Amazon’s own benefit), and seems to, factor price into sales rank.

Her relatively higher e-book price also helped her achieve some recent success. Valerie placed multiple ads (BookBub, Book Gorilla, and others) for a special, one-time promotional discount of her e-book. Happiness as a Second Language is presently 99 cents, which is a huge savings. The promotion ends on Halloween, so you still have a chance to take advantage of this if the book happens to interest you. (I wasn’t asked to say this. I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.)

Valerie is just doing one huge promotion this October, and after that her e-book will be permanently priced at $4.99 (a discount off the original price, but nothing like 99 cents). I’m fond of this strategy. She went all-out to promote the daylights out of her book’s sale. She makes it very clear that it’s a one-time deal, which provides a sense of urgency. After the sale, nobody will be thinking to wait until the next sale.

I really like that she isn’t giving her book away for free, yet she is making highly effective use of a one-time sale. She’s getting ample exposure while still drawing royalties. Unlike freebies, since people are paying for the book, they’re probably actually reading the blurb to make sure it’s something they want and they are more likely to actually read the book once they buy it.

There are a couple of marketing tools that Valerie has used, which many authors don’t. One is a book trailer and another is an audiobook (there is a significant market for audiobooks, especially among truck drivers; if your target audience is in this market, it may be helpful to do).

An important note about Valerie’s book trailer is that she shot the video on her iPhone. You don’t need access to a professional movie studio to do this. If you need a little help, try contacting the film department at the nearest university. There is a good chance that a film student would be interested in earning a little income to help you out.

When I showed Valerie a draft of this post, she mentioned that she sees her shortcomings more than what she may be doing right and compares herself to other authors who seem to be doing everything right. If you feel this way, as many authors do, there is something you can take from this. Even authors who seem to have achieved various degrees of success struggle with doubts, find faults in themselves, and see greener grass on the other side. In a way, this can be good and help to keep you humble. It may be helpful to other authors to realize that even successful authors experience these same issues.

I hope you got something useful out of this article. In the past, I haven’t done interviews or book reviews. This is as close as I’ve come. I feel like I’m providing useful marketing content while also helping another author at the same time. Please let me know how you feel about this, as feedback will help me decide whether or not to try it again in the future.

Let’s offer a big THANK YOU to Valerie for allowing me to feature her book in my post.

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)