That Book is a Monster

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MONSTER BOOK PROJECTS

There is one book that I’m wrapping up now that has grown and grown and grown… turning into a monster.

In a good way. But it has been very time consuming.

It’s a good thing that I really love to write.

That’s why, in 2017, I didn’t blog nearly as much as in previous years. I’ve been busy with a seemingly never-ending project.

Actually, a few very large book projects.

One, which I’m in the process of completing, is Kindle Formatting Magic.

The other is a series of physics workbooks/study guides.

Both projects wound up growing much, much larger than I had originally envisioned.

It has taken much more work than I had planned, but it has been worth it.

If you’re a writer, have you become involved in any monstrous book projects?

Or perhaps as a reader there is a monstrous book or series that you appreciate.

KINDLE FORMATTING MAGIC

You may have noticed that my Kindle Formatting Magic book has been “coming soon” for several months now.

When I first added that note to my blog, the book was nearly complete and I was expecting to publish it in a matter of weeks.

But I realized that I wasn’t happy with the organization of the book.

So I reorganized it and completely rewrote it.

That took a long time, but then I reorganized it and completely rewrote it yet again.

Third time’s a charm.

Now it really is “coming soon,” though by that I mean it’s still a matter of weeks. But this time it will be a few weeks or more, certainly not a year.

The book feels “right” now. It hadn’t before.

Once I finally got it to feel “right” to me, it continued to grow.

I realized that I needed to add a few more chapters beyond what I had intended.

And I have spent a great deal of time putting together over 100 pictures to visually demonstrate important problems and solutions with Kindle formatting.

On top of that, I’ve been editing, revising, re-editing…

Speaking of which, over the course of this project, there have been numerous changes to Kindle Direct Publishing, including the nature of the previewer and Kindle conversion, the steps and organization of the publishing process, and the organization and content of the KDP help pages.

Which has added several revisions to my revisions.

This book has grown into a monster, but I’m taking my time. Having already put so many additional months into this book, I want it to feel as “right” as possible before it hits the market.

Almost done.

It’s a good feeling to be almost done. I’m enjoying it.

Being completely done will be a nice feeling too.

This will be far and above my best formatting book ever.

PHYSICS WORKBOOKS

If I had only been working on my formatting book, I would have finished months ago.

But I also spent much of 2017 completing my series of physics workbooks/study guides.

There are three volumes, each 300 to 500 pages. (This includes space for students to work out the solutions to problems.)

Originally, I planned for my physics workbooks to include problems for students to solve along with answers.

But they grew into so much more.

I added material to each chapter to help students understand the main concepts. I added definitions. I added full step-by-step examples for how to solve similar problems. I added tables to explain the symbols and units relevant to each chapter.

This took much time, but I believe it has made my physics workbooks much more useful.

Many of my physics students have remarked that I can make difficult concepts seem clear, and that I can make the math seem easy.

So I worked hard to try to incorporate this into my physics workbooks.

On top of this, I decided to do more than simply tabulate the answers to the problems at the back of the book.

First, I put the final answer to each problem on the same page as the problem. This way, students don’t have to hunt for answers in the back. They can check if their solution is right or wrong immediately. I want students to gain confidence by solving problems correctly, but if their solution is wrong, I want them to know it so they can seek help.

In the back of the book, I typed up numerous hints to every part of every problem, and give intermediate answers to help students see where they went wrong.

The “hints and intermediate answers” section practically walks the student through the entire solution.

Again, it was much more work than I had originally planned, but I believe it has made my workbooks much better.

Just in case that wasn’t enough, I also typed up full solutions to every problem with explanations, creating three new books.

They aren’t really intended to be solutions manuals, even though they are. These are presented as fully solved examples.

Some students prefer to have fully solved examples to read, while other students prefer to have a workbook to help them practice solving problems.

Then I have two versions of every book, one that includes calculus and one that doesn’t (I call those trig-based).

I finally completed the physics series a few months back, and now I’m finishing up my formatting book.

Sometime early in 2018, I will be able to pursue something new.

It won’t be a book monster. I need a little break from mammoth book projects. I’m looking forward to working on a project that’s more focused.

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online BooksellersVolume 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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Hope, Fear, and… Shopping for Books at Amazon

SHOPPING AT AMAZON

When browsing for a book (or other product) at Amazon, it’s amazing how much hope, fear, and other emotions factor into the shopping experience.

Whether you’re a customer, an author, or an Amazon seller, it may be worthwhile to take a moment to try to understand the psychology of Amazon sales.

Imagine yourself staring at a book detail page at Amazon.com, considering a book that caught your attention.

There are two types of criteria that may influence whether or not you purchase the book:

  • You may apply logical reasoning.
  • You may be influenced by your emotions.

For most customers, both aspects may factor into the purchase decision. Some customers generally rely much more on one aspect than the other.

It may not even be a conscious decision. Many people are influenced by emotional responses without even realizing it. Sometimes the emotional aspect is subtle. Sometimes it may impact us on a subconscious level.

Also, note that logical reasoning can’t decide everything. Sometimes, after a person who relies heavily on logic applies logic as far as he (or she) can take it, the person still isn’t sure. In that case, the person might use some emotional aspect to break the tie (or flip a coin).

If you’re a customer, you might learn to make wiser buying decisions by trying to understand how various aspects of the product page may influence you emotionally.

If you’re an author or an Amazon seller, you may wish to better understand how sales psychology may benefit you both short-term and long-term. (Note that what benefits you in the short-term may hurt in the long-term. They don’t always go hand in hand.)

A LITTLE SALES PSYCHOLOGY

Let’s break down an Amazon product page, considering how each element may influence a customer’s buying decision.

  • Book cover (or product photo). This may send a strong visual signal, but may also suggest subtle emotional responses. You might think that the main message should be “Look at me,” but it’s actually better for the signal to be “Wow, that looks appealing.” An effective image does more than this: the subtler messages can carry influence. A picture can send a “positive” signal, inspiring the customer be in a better emotional state. A picture can have a “professional” tone. It can strive to earn “trust.” It can say “I look like the type of product you’re looking for.”
  • Reviews. Many reviews (both good and bad) carry marketing influence. Good reviews play on customers’ hopes, while critical reviews play on customers’ fears. Most of the time, it isn’t intentional, but of course there are both good and bad reviews that have been written with the intent of playing on hopes or fears. As a customer, it’s a challenge to glean helpful information from reviews without being influenced on an emotional level. As an author or Amazon seller, you must consider that many customers are skeptical to some extent about customer reviews. One possible fear is that the seller recruited reviews, so if the first 20 reviews are all glowing and the last 10 reviews are mostly bad, that by itself may act to “confirm” a customer’s fear that the seller recruited good reviews for a not-so-good product. In addition to customer reviews, there may be quotes from editorial reviews, and there may be review quotes in the description or Look Inside. There is another important aspect of reviews: If a product page plays on customer hopes by making a product seem better than it actually is, customer reviews help to offset this marketing tactic. Reviews are a strong reason that all authors and sellers should focus on long-term success (writing a great book or delivering a great product helps to get favorable reviews in the long run).
  • Description. Marketing copy is one of the most challenging forms of writing—and the proof of its effectiveness isn’t when several people tell you how impressed they are with what you wrote, but in what percentage of customers who read it proceed to purchase the product. An effective product description must be concise because most customers won’t read a long description in full (and if the description is long, most customers won’t even bother to click the Read More link to see the remainder of it). The few sentences that customers can see before the Read More link appears is valuable real estate: There is so much an author or seller needs to accomplish with a minimum of words. In terms of marketing influence, sellers want to create “customer engagement,” “arouse curiosity,” “inspire interest,” and perhaps even “create a sense of urgency” (but you’re not supposed to mention limited-time offers or pricing here). But the description also needs to provide valuable information about what to expect from the book (or other product). It may also need to create a sense of professionalism and trust. It needs to help create appeal. On top of that, the words need to flow well, be a good fit for expectations, and avoid spelling and grammar mistakes. There is one thing that a description shouldn’t do: It shouldn’t give the story away.
  • Title. Even the title can carry emotional influence. Have you ever read a title that had a little jingle that you got a kick out of, maybe put you in a good mood? The title needs to reinforce the visual message that the book cover (or product phot) sends. With fiction books, very short titles tend to be more effective (1 to 3 words). That’s partly because the eye is drawn to a short title in search results, and partly because many customers just look at the first few words when looking at search results. A title can help to create appeal (or just the opposite). Appeal is an important criteria, since appeal helps to put the customer in a happier state when making a purchase decision.
  • Look Inside. This can be the most valuable real estate on the product page. The customer must already be interested in order to be looking inside. This means that every other aspect of the product page has done its job: Now it’s up to the Look Inside to close the deal. The Look Inside has one important job to do: It just needs to send the message, “This book is everything you hoped it would be—based on the cover, description, title, and reviews—and MORE.” If it sends that message, the customer will almost certainly Buy Now. (But again, if the rest of the book doesn’t live up to the expectations created by the Look Inside, this will be exposed in customer reviews, and fewer customers will Look Inside in the future.) The Look Inside contains visual elements and writing, both of which need to help deliver the right messages. As with the description, the Look Inside must engage the customer and arouse curiosity (but without giving the story away), and like the book cover, the Look Inside needs to send the right visual signals.
  • Bio. A biography (or about me) section is a chance to demonstrate expertise or knowledgeability, but it’s also a chance to show humanity, individuality, and professionalism. For authors, if you can write an interesting biography, that bodes well for having written an interesting story (since very often readers aren’t interested in biographies). A picture that accompanies the biography offers another opportunity to send the right visual message.
  • Colors. There is even a psychology for interpreting colors. For example, a good cover designer selects a color scheme that is appropriate for the subject matter or story. Certain colors are better for attracting males or females, some colors work better for romance while others work better for mystery, some colors suggest professionalism, and some colors convey emotions (like happy or sad). Amazon uses color in text labels, prices, stars, buttons, and other elements of a product page. The prices are in red, which not only stands out well against a white background but may aid in creating a buying impulse (many stores use red for one of these two reasons: let’s assume they are using it for contrast and to catch attention, and if it happens to help a little to create a buying impulse, it’s just a happy bonus for the store).

We humans don’t always make the best decisions. Even humans who spend their lives solving very difficult problems quite skillfully can be prone to making a stupid everyday decision.

If humans tended to be better decision-makers, a lot of successful talk-show hosts would be out of business!

So when you’re shopping for a product, try to think about how you might make a wiser purchase decision. Try to think of which factors may be trying to influence you emotionally. Try to force yourself to rely somewhat more on logical reasoning and somewhat less on emotions.

Or forget it… just act impulsively and enjoy the splurge. You know you want to. 😉

If you’re an author or Amazon seller, try to think about how your Amazon product pages might influence customers emotionally. Don’t try to think of ways that you might take advantage of this in the short run because such ploys tend to backfire in the long run (killing sales later): For example, if the product page plays on the customer’s hope that it’s the most amazing product ever, disappointed customers will post critical reviews (which will play on future customers’ fears) and will return the product (and Amazon uses customer satisfaction metrics in its algorithms).

So you don’t want to oversell a product, making it seem way better than it is. But you do want to make it sound as good as it is. If it does deliver on customer hopes, the product page should show this.

You can also think about how your product page delivers both visually and in words important messages, such as “professional,” “positive,” “trust,” “expertise,” “creative,” or a particular subject matter or topic (like “romance” or “country”).

What is your customer hoping to get from your product? Among these hopes, what does your product actually deliver? You want to show the customer that your product delivers on the right hopes, and you want to disclose when it doesn’t deliver on other hopes.

What does your customer fear he or she may get from your product? You need to apply a similar reasoning here.

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)

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

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.

Self-Publishing Education & Textbooks on Kindle via Amazon KDP

Pattern Puzzles

KINDLE FOR EDUCATION & TEXTBOOK AUTHORS

Amazon recently added a quote from me to their KDP website for Education & Textbooks. Check it out here:

https://kdp.amazon.com/edu

(Thank you, Amazon.)

I started out self-publishing print books with CreateSpace in 2008. Back then, Kindle wasn’t a very good fit for most textbooks.

Textbooks tend to have many pictures, equations, bullet points, and other kinds of rich formatting, which makes the transition from print to Kindle a challenge.

Amazon’s solution to this problem is the Kindle Textbook Creator.

The main benefit of the Kindle Textbook Creator is convenience. It’s actually PDF friendly, and preserves the layout of your print book.

It’s good for textbooks and other books with many images or rich formatting. (It’s not good for a novel.)

The trade-off for convenience is that since one printed page fits on the Kindle screen, and since many customers have a fairly small screen, the e-book is designed to work with pinch-and-zoom, and it won’t be available on all devices.

There are other factors to consider, too. For example, using the Kindle Textbook Creator allows you to embed audio or video, which is great for educational books (but these features will only be available to customers who read your book on a third-generation or newer Kindle Fire device).

I have a free article on using the Kindle Textbook Creator:

https://chrismcmullen.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/how-to-use-amazons-new-kindle-textbook-creator-tutorial/

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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Indie Author Earnings: Should You Be Worried?

Background image from ShutterStock.

Background image from ShutterStock.

INDIE AUTHOR EARNINGS (3rd Quarter, 2016)

The October, 2016 edition of the Author Earnings Report is out, and the surprising activity has sparked much speculation and debate.

Whereas the indie share of the e-book market has steadily climbed in the past, this last quarter of 2016 has shown a marked drop.

As a physicist, when I look at this data, what I see are several data points of continued growth, and a single point of decline. Thinking statistically, one data point isn’t significant.

These data points are a little different, though, when you consider that each “data point” consists of 3 months of data (it’s a quarterly report, roughly).

So the combined sales for three consecutive months show indie author earnings losing a significant share of the e-book market.

Three months is a long time in the e-book publishing industry.

And we’re heading into the big fourth quarter.

So if we could learn anything from the data, or if we could uncover a reason behind the drop, we might be able to use that information to make smarter publishing and marketing decisions this coming quarter.

Still, it’s a big IF, and the information begins with one data point. It’s not much to go on. But it’s the reason for ample speculation and debate on the topic.

ANY IDEAS?

If you simply read the comments on the Indie Author Report, or read any of the many articles that have been written on the topic, you’ll encounter possible explanations.

When I looked at the first graph of the Author Earnings Report, what instantly caught my eye was significant growth in the earnings of Amazon published e-books. Amazon actually has its own imprints (which are by invitation only, last time I checked). For indie authors, you can publish with Amazon if you land a deal with Kindle Scout.

The Indie Author Earnings Report actually discusses this very point. According to the report, KindleFirst had several bestsellers during the quarter, and there appears to be improvement among most of the Amazon published e-books (on average). (By Amazon published, I don’t mean KDP, I mean Amazon’s imprints, Kindle Scout, etc.)

Personally, I think it’s good for Amazon’s imprints to be doing well. I’ve read some of their e-books myself, and so I know that there are good books in there.

Amazon seems to think long-term, and this why Amazon seems to place a premium on customer satisfaction. If Amazon published e-books take a larger share of the e-book market and if this improves overall customer satisfaction, then it would help Amazon maintain (perhaps even grow) its large customer base. Presently, Amazon published books are in limited supply, so you shouldn’t run for the hills worried that they will suddenly saturate and dominate the marketplace. Amazon published e-books have shown a more up-and-down behavior (compared to previous steady growth of the indie share) in the past, too, so we really need more data to see if this will simply drop back down or if it’s really a new trend.

Another thing I see is Kindle Unlimited. Over the past three months, Amazon paid out $45 million in royalties for pages read of KDP Select books. (That’s in addition to royalties for sales, it’s on top of whatever Amazon pays for Harry Potter and other traditionally published books in Select, and it’s in addition to the All-Star bonuses. The $45 million is for KDP Select books, which Harry Potter is not part of, and Amazon published books might also be separate from it, though this last point I’ve never inquired about or considered until recently.)

That $45 million (it was paid as $15 million per month) over the past quarter is significant, and it’s separate from royalties for sales. There are significant indie royalties in the KDP Select Global Fund.

And guess what: Amazon published e-books are part of Kindle Unlimited. So if Amazon published e-books start pulling in more customers, this is good for Kindle Unlimited (which has shown continued growth, with the Global Fund rising from $10 to $15 million per month over the past year or more, and with the payout holding fairly steady just under half a penny per page read).

BEST SELLERS

One thing to remember is that bestsellers hold a significant share of the marketplace. As bestselling e-books switch from indie to traditional to small publisher to Amazon imprints, each share of the e-book marketplace can show a big swing.

For the millions of e-books that aren’t bestsellers, or aren’t even close to being bestsellers (and I’m talking overall bestsellers, or major category bestsellers, not subcategories), what’s true of the e-book market on average is less likely to be directly related to your own sales.

Another thing I know from interacting with authors regularly over the years is that EVERY SINGLE MONTH there is a large group of indie authors loudly complaining about how sales or borrows have suddenly dropped off in dramatic fashion. No doubt you’ll hear the stories from such a group this month, too, only now it will be natural to try to tie it to the latest author earnings report.

If you happen to be seeing a drop this month, it could be completely unrelated to whatever else is going on in the e-book marketplace. It’s very common for sales to drop off after 30 days, after 90 days, or on one random month where the algorithm throws in one of its change-ups that suddenly affects your books.

The best thing is to keep writing, keep marketing, learn new ways to market, thing long-term, and try your best to stay positive and productive (which will be your advantage over anyone who doesn’t).

AMAZON IS ACTIVELY PROMOTING INDIES. YES, RIGHT NOW.

I can offer some proof of this point.

Visit www.amazon.com/poweredbyindie. This dedicated Amazon page (at least for October, 2016) says Powered By Indies at the top.

Amazon is sponsoring #PoweredByIndie and has invited indie authors to participate this October. (I received an email about this from Amazon, and if you subscribe to KDP announcements, you probably did, too.)

Over the past years, Amazon has regularly highlighted stories of successful indie authors.

It appears to me that Amazon wants many indie authors to succeed, and no doubt many indie books have benefited from Amazon’s internal marketing and Amazon’s algorithm. Amazon tweaks their internal marketing (like customers-also-bought lists) and their algorithm periodically (the latter is usually intended to improve customer satisfaction in various ways, and is sometimes responsive to attempts to manipulate the algorithm). Even if Kindle sales are down for indie authors overall this last quarter, I still see Amazon as being very indie-friendly (compared to the much of the publishing industry, Amazon is rolling out the red carpet to indies).

Again, this is just a single data point. I’ll wait for more data, and I’ll continue to focus on writing and marketing, which will serve me well regardless of the future of the e-book market.

Good luck!

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)

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Kindle Unlimited vs. the Naysayers #PoweredByIndie

Images from ShutterStock

Images from ShutterStock

KINDLE UNLIMITED: CURRENT STATUS

Back in January, Kindle Unlimited had taken a little dip (which happens every holiday season), and the naysayer propaganda was in full force.

It’s now October. For the year 2016, Kindle Unlimited has beaten the propaganda.

  • Paying $0.00497 per KENP page read for September, Kindle Unlimited has been amazingly stable since February.  That’s 8 months strong.
  • Presently at a relative high of nearly half a penny per Kindle page read, the payout hasn’t suffered the continual drop that had been predicted. There have been some pleasant jumps, and not just with the September payout.
  • Here’s another cool fact: There are now 1.4 million books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. There were 860,000 books enrolled in February, 2015.  That’s an increase of over half a million books in 1.5 years (a 60% increase). Remember all the stories about indie authors running for the hills? The data shows otherwise.
  • My favorite number is $15.9 million. That’s the KDP Select Global Fund for September, 2016, another of many record highs. Amazon continues to pay more and more money in Kindle Unlimited royalties. Amazon will pay close to $200,000,000 in royalties for Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime borrows for the year 2016 (that’s aside from the royalties for the sales of those books; we’re just talking borrows), and that’s in addition to what they pay for All-Star bonuses (that’s right, the All-Star bonus isn’t taken out of the Global Fund, it’s paid in addition to it; I asked KDP about this specific point).

$200 million in royalties for Kindle Unlimited pages read in one year: That’s a significant share of the e-book market, and a rather indie-friendly share, too.

The continued rise in the KDP Select Global Fund and a fairly stable payout of just under a half-penny per page (though it will probably take its usual dip in December and January, and then likely return next February) suggest that the Kindle Unlimited customer base continues to grow. A great sign.

With 1.4 million books to choose from, with nearly 50,000 added just in the last 30 days, there is also growing competition for this customer base. The way to deal with the increased competition is to keep writing, try to write better, and try to improve your marketing skills. Competition is a good sign. It helps to bring in more customers, and it shows that this market is worth competing for. Good writing and marketable ideas help to provide good long-term prospects.

Celebrate Great Indie Writing with the #PoweredByIndie Hashtag in October, 2016

You can find some great indie writing in Kindle Unlimited, for example.

Many of those 1.4 million books were self-published. There are 100,000 or so traditionally published books in the mix, too; it’s not exclusive to self-publishing. But indie authors have really helped to make Kindle Unlimited strong enough to attract and grow a significant customer base.

Kindle Unlimited, in a strong way, really is #PoweredByIndie. But we must also give credit to Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Amazon’s imprints, and other great titles, too, to help attract customers. It’s great writing that attracts customers, regardless of how it is published.

Strive for great writing and good things are bound to happen.

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)

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Celebrate Great Indie Writing #PoweredByIndie

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CELEBRATE GREAT INDIE BOOKS

Indie authors often support one another.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a giant company with huge marketing power took a month to highlight many wonderful indie authors?

We all know that Amazon gave indie authors a chance when they opened the self-publishing door. And Amazon occasionally highlights indie author success stories.

But now Amazon is actually celebrating great indie books for the month of October.

Check out Amazon’s Powered By Indie page:

  • Visit www.amazon.com/poweredbyindie.
  • Note the image text: Celebrating great writing.
  • There are 4905 Kindle e-books listed, including 154 new releases (and 5 coming soon).
  • Only about 1/3 are in Kindle Unlimited.

YOU, too, can celebrate great indie writing:

  • Use the #PoweredByIndie hashtag when you post related tweets (select stories will be shared).
  • This is a great time to post a list of indie books that you’ve enjoyed.
  • Or post what you love about being an indie author.
  • Share Amazon’s Powered By Indie webpage with other authors (and readers).
  • Read, read, read. 🙂

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)

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Write Selflessly… to Sell More Books #WriteWithCare

Selfless

SELFLESS WRITING

By selfless, I don’t mean giving away your books for free.

I mean a distinction between selfless versus selfish in how you go about the writing, publishing, and marketing.

Really, there aren’t two extremes: one who goes about this 100% selflessly or 100% selfishly. Everyone is apt to fall somewhere in between overall.

But let’s look at one possible extreme. Let’s label this as completely selfish (even though from some perspective, one might not agree with this label—don’t worry, we’ll explore this perspective, too):

  • Write whatever comes to mind.
  • Don’t write for a specific audience.
  • Write however you feel like writing.
  • Focus entirely on writing, if possible.
  • Give as little attention to formatting, cover design, marketing, etc. as possible.
  • Avoid interacting with readers or potential readers.

One way this might seem selfish is that you would be writing for you, not necessarily for the benefit of any particular reader. Will any readers actually appreciate what you’ve written?

Another way is that this ultra extreme example doesn’t entail learning or at least exploring the craft of writing itself, such as the elements of storytelling or characterization or making the writing flow.

Finally, this extreme is selfish in not wanting to meet or interact with readers, not to take a vested interest in marketing, not to add a personal touch to the reading experience, not to be willing to get out of one’s comfort zone with marketing, or to not want to take a more authoritative role in cover design, formatting, or the blurb.

Let’s compare with the other extreme, completely selfless (in a sense):

  • Considering your abilities, knowledge, experience, creativity, etc. and how to harness these to match up with real readers.
  • Thinking of ways to attract, engage, and please (or perhaps better, to wow) your audience from the front cover (the moment the reader lays eyes on your book) to the ending (that fulfilling climax and beyond). (Oh, yes! The writing and selling process is a romance, even if the book isn’t.)
  • Researching, learning, and exploring ways to apply elements of effective storytelling, characterization, communication, etc. with a style that suits your writing.
  • Looking beyond the writing itself, appreciating the challenge of trying to hook the reader with the cover and blurb, taking an interest in how the design of the book can supplement the feel of the story, and feeling motivated to share your passion with readers through marketing.
  • Wanting very much to meet readers and potential readers, and to interact with them.

To be fair, there is another perspective to consider.

If you write so much for the readers that you lose yourself… you sacrifice your own style… you write about topics that don’t strongly interest you… your writing goes against some of your own beliefs… you write in ways that you hear are best, but you don’t really believe in them… your motivation becomes to sell as many books as possible, whatever it takes… or worse, you engage in unscrupulous behavior to reach more readers… then you are apt to feel like you’ve sold out.

But somewhere in between is a happy medium, where the author retains a strong sense of identity, but where the author writes more selflessly, trying to put the author’s talents, experience, knowledge, background, style, etc. to effective use to please actual readers.

C.A.R.E.

  • C-are
  • A-bout
  • R-eaders’
  • E-xpectations

Back to the romance analogy with writing, publishing, and marketing, you don’t want a one-night stand. You’re looking for readers to commit to your book. Your series. So you need to commit to your readers. It’s mutual.

Think about how much you C.A.R.E. and how showing this impacts sales, not just now, but in the long run.

  • C.A.R.E. enough to make it easy for your audience to tell what kind of book you’ve written from a glance at your cover.
  • C.A.R.E. to dress your book up in an attractive cover, one that tells readers, “Hey! This author C.A.R.E.s.”
  • C.A.R.E. to stimulate the reader’s interest in the blurb, to not ruin the story for the reader by giving too much away, to show what kind of book the reader should expect.
  • C.A.R.E. to learn and perfect the craft of writing to become an effective storyteller, to create strong characters, to communicate clearly, etc.
  • C.A.R.E. to put the best possible book on the market, one that you will be proud of, one that readers will feel was well worth the money and time spent.
  • C.A.R.E. to find out what readers think, to meet readers, to interact with potential readers, to let your passion show, to get out of your comfort zone and help readers discover your book.
  • C.A.R.E. to think about how readers shop, how they will discover your book, what will pull the reader to your product page, what will make the reader take a chance on your book, how the beginning of the story will hook the reader, whether or not your story will engage the reader throughout, and whether your story is powerful enough to make the reader crave more.
  • C.A.R.E. to make your book so good that it leads to word-of-mouth recommendations.
  • Just C.A.R.E.

This works beyond writing books. How selfless do you write for social media? How selfless or selfish is your blog, for example? Is it meeting the needs of actual readers?

#WriteWithCare

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)

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How Much Did Kindle Unlimited Pay per Page Read in April, 2016? (Good News)

Image from ShutterStock.

Image from ShutterStock.

KINDLE UNLIMITED PAGES READ: APRIL, 2016

The Kindle Unlimited per-page rate improved nearly 4% up to $0.00495663 for April, 2016. (Compare this to $0.00477885 for March, 2016.)

This is up 21% over January’s rate of $0.00411. A nice trend.

The KDP Select Global Fund held steady at $14.9M for April, 2016 (identical to March).

The improved per-page rate and steady global fund are positive indicators. The nearly $15M per month global fund is a huge amount paid out in royalties to indie authors (and that’s on top of royalties for sales). The per-page rate has almost returned to half a penny per page. When many critics have predicted a drop below $0.004 to come fast, the payment has nearly returned to $0.005.

These trends are consistent with seasonal effects of the original Kindle Unlimited version as well as the original Prime KOLL borrows back before Kindle Unlimited was introduced. The payments for borrows were always lower during the holidays and increased significantly afterward.

In other countries:

  • United Kingdom: £0.00315 per page (British pounds).
  • Germany: €0.00333 per page (Euro).
  • Canada: $0.00487 per page (Canadian dollars).
  • India: ₹0.108 per page (Indian rupees).
  • Brazil: R$0.0114 per page (Brazilian Real).

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)

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Countdown Deals and KDP Select Free Promos: What’s the Current Status?

Image from ShutterStock.

Image from ShutterStock.

COUNTDOWN DEALS & KDP SELECT FREE PROMOS

WHAT’S THE VALUE IN 2016?

The effectiveness of Kindle Countdown Deals and free promos for e-books enrolled in KDP Select has changed over time.

In the beginning, when KDP Select free promos were first introduced, they were highly effective, often being grabbed by the thousands without any effort on the part of the author. But the success of unadvertised free promos dwindled quickly, as more and more authors began giving away their e-books away for free and as the perceived value diminished from the customer’s perspective. For a couple of years, free promos seemed to have a bad rap.

When the Kindle Countdown Deal came along, many authors who had previously used the KDP Select free promos switched to Countdown Deals. This actually helped in a couple of ways:

  • There were fewer free e-books on the market, since you can’t run a free promo during the same 90-day enrollment period in which you run a Countdown Deal.
  • Many authors raised their prices, so there were also fewer e-books priced at 99 cents and $1.99. You need a higher price point in order to take advantage of a Countdown Deal.

One consequence is that the KDP Select free promo became somewhat more effective. Fewer authors were complaining about free e-books, with fewer freebies on the market, and fewer customers were stockpiling more freebies than they could possibly read.

The free promo has never returned to its original effectiveness. In most cases, it’s not even close. But it has rebounded somewhat, and can be used effectively.

Neither the KDP Select free promo nor the Kindle Countdown Deal are likely to provide desirable results if unadvertised:

  • It can help greatly to get external promotion from BookBub, E-reader News Today, or one of the top e-book promotion sites. (BookBub is the one site where paying a hefty fee has reasonable potential. For other sites, I recommend free or very low cost, and doing research off-site before any investing.)
  • It can also help to gain free exposure from bloggers, fellow authors, or websites that share an audience similar to yours. (Here, I recommend free and organic.)

But you can find more value than just immediate sales.

For example, here are a couple of things that you can learn from running a Countdown Deal:

  • Are you considering a lower price point? Run an unadvertised Countdown Deal to test the waters. If you don’t earn more royalties during the period of the promotional price than you normally would, then you know that lowering the price isn’t the solution to your sales woes.
  • Does an Amazon Giveaway (now available to e-books from US product pages) or does AMS advertising help with short-term sales during a Countdown Deal? If you have data for a Countdown Deal where you didn’t run a giveaway or advertisement, this gives you the basis for comparison.

Sometimes, a KDP Select free promo or Countdown Deal might be geared toward branding your image as author or helping to build an initial fan base to the extent that you may be okay with a short-term loss, with your sights set toward long-term gains. (But you want to minimize any short-term losses, and you want to have effective long-term marketing in place, such a content-rich website that can generate hundreds of visitors per day after about 12 months. Otherwise, you may never recover your loss.)

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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