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These set-and-forget marketing tricks help make books more discoverable
By Mark Coker | Originally published in Publishers Weekly on Nov 17, 2017
Marketing is critically important to a book’s success, yet time spent on marketing means less time for writing. Here, I share 10 set-and-forget tips to put an e-book’s most important marketing on autopilot. These tricks work 24 hours a day to make an author’s books more discoverable to readers.
1. Add These Three Sections to Your Back Matter
These sections drive sales and build an author’s social media following:
2. Add a Discussion Guide
It’s great to sell one book to one reader, but if the reader’s a member of a reading group, that could mean even bigger sales. If they see a reading group discussion guide at the end of the book, they’re more likely to recommend the book as for the group’s next read.
3. Add Sample Chapters from Other Books
The reader just finished the book, they loved it, and now they’re ready to read more. Let them jump into other e-books by offering generous samples of other titles.
4. Do a Sample-Chapter Swap with Another Author
Many indie authors have friends who also write in their genres or categories. Offer to swap sample chapters. Each author places the other author’s sample chapter in the back matter of their books. Be selective. Only swap with quality writers who target the same readership.
5. Add Enhanced Navigation to E-books
E-books support a hyperlinked table of contents. If the author adds the enhanced back matter recommended above, they can advertise and link to those sections in the table of contents.
6. Make at Least One Book Free
Free e-books get about 30 times more downloads on average than books that cost money, which means that more readers are exposed to the enhanced back matter. Nothing hooks a reader like a free first book, especially for series. Authors who write standalone books should consider running free promotions of priced titles to help introduce first-time readers to their bodies of work.
7. Editing Turbocharges Word of Mouth
Good books aren’t good enough anymore. An author only gets one chance to wow a new reader with a five-star reading experience. It’s the five-star read that leads to the ultimate form of autopilot marketing: reader word-of-mouth. To maximize reader satisfaction, hire a professional editor, preferably one with experience editing other books that became bestsellers in the same genre or category. There are multiple types of editing:
developmental editing, copy editing, and proofing. Each is critically important, and none can be skipped. Developmental editing is the most expensive but will have the biggest impact on reader satisfaction.
8. Work with Beta Readers
Beta readers are test readers. They read the author’s book prior to publication and provide feedback to help guide the final revision. A properly managed beta round could provide feedback similar to that offered by a developmental editor. To learn how to run a beta reader round, check out my December 2016 column, “Making the Most of Beta Readers,” or listen to Episode 5 of the Smart Author Podcast.
9. Occupy Multiple Price Points
Readers harbor pricing bias. One reader’s bias will be different from another’s. Some readers will only try a new author if the book is free, while others will only try the author if the book is priced under $3.99. Other readers will avoid low-cost e-books altogether for fear that lower prices indicate poor quality. By occupying multiple price points, the author can accommodate a wider range of pricing biases so that more readers will give the work a chance. Once the author earns the reader’s trust with one book, price is less of a factor.
10. Always Release with a Preorder
Books released as preorders sell more copies because preorders enable more effective book marketing. Much of this benefit is on autopilot. Indie authors can get their books listed for preorder up to 12 months in advance of release. During this entire preorder period, these upcoming titles are merchandised alongside the author’s other books at retailers. It means more months of selling time.
Mark Coker is founder of Smashwords and the host of the new podcast Smart Author.
• January 25, 2016
• by Chloe of Written Word Media
The past few weeks have seen some great articles published on what to expect in the publishing world in 2016. If you haven’t had a chance to read Mark Coker’s, founder of Smashwords, or Jane Friedman of Publisher’s Weekly’s forecasts and predications for the coming year, fear not. We have read all of the articles written by industry professionals and top indie authors so you don’t have to. Below we have compiled a list of the trends that will impact indie authors the most, with specific takeaways on how you can best navigate them.
1. Indie authors will continue to take up a growing percentage of the market
Mark Coker from Smashwords discussed the growth of indie authored books, which are estimated to compose up to 20% of the book market. Indie books are continuing to take share from traditional publishers due to their consumer friendly pricing – indie titles retail at an average price of $2.99 to $3.99 while traditionally published books retail between $7.99 and $14.99. Readers are factoring price more and more into their purchasing decision and opting for high-quality, lower-priced (usually indie) titles over the more expensive titles put out by traditional publishers. The ability of indie authors to offer their books free, either for a limited time or as an intro to a series, is another advantage indies have over traditional publishers. Free is a very powerful discovery tool and one that readers are using more and more. Traditional publishers rarely offer their books for free, so all new titles and authors that are discovered through free promotions will be indies. All this combines for a growing market share for indies.
What this means for you: Continue to put out quality content at consumer friendly prices. Continue to leverage free promotions to spur discovery and lure readers away from pricey, traditionally published titles. Increasingly your competition won’t be traditionally published authors, but other indies.
2. Amazon cracks down on quality of content
As of February 3rd all eBooks offered for Amazon Kindle that have been reported to include typos, formatting issues, or other mistakes that lead to a poor reader experience will be removed from Amazon until the mistakes in question have been fixed. Readers attempting to purchase a title that has been reported to contain errors will be confronted with a message stating “Item Under Review”, and you will not be able to purchase the title.
What this means for you: Finding a great editor and formatter for your eBook just became even more important. There are a variety of repercussions here, including the failure of a marketing plan if your book is taken down in the middle of a paid promotion. Here are our 5 tips to make sure you comply with Amazon’s new guidelines.
3. Mobile internet usage continues to grow
Joanna Penn and Jane Friedman chatted about the global shift in internet usage to mobile devices, weighing in on the importance of websites and content that can be read easily on a mobile device. Between 2010 and 2014 smartphone internet usage was up 392%, and that percentage is only going to continue to rise.
What this means for you: Make sure your author website is mobile friendly. If your website is not mobile friendly it will be hard to navigate for up to 60% of your visitors.
4. Amazon borrows grow at the expense of sales
More readers are accessing books for “free” through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL) and Kindle Unlimited (KU) than ever before. Fortune reports that Amazon Prime is now in 38% of American Households. Prime membership grew by 40 million members in December alone to reach an estimated 80 million people. One of the benefits of Prime membership is access to the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library that allows Amazon Prime members who read through a Kindle to choose one book from the library every month to read free. Similarly, Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service open to both Prime and non-Prime members. When you enroll in KDP Select, your books are automatically included in both Kindle Unlimited and The Owner’s Lending Library. What this means is that as more readers join Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited more and more books are being “borrowed” by readers instead of being bought. If you are not enrolled in KDP Select your book sales may suffer too as Amazon tends to give merchandising priority to books enrolled in KDP Select.
What this means for you: If your book is enrolled in KDP Select, you may see borrows going up at the expense of book sales. We are hearing from KDP Select authors that running a Bargain Booksy promotion has resulted in sales AND an increasing number of borrows, lending credence to this trend. If you are not enrolled in KDP Select, you will need to do all the legwork in promoting your book to readers, since Amazon won’t surface your books for you. You will have to leverage your reader community, social media and deal sites to push your book up the Amazon charts so readers on Amazon have the ability to discover your books.
5. Free works as a marketing technique- especially for series
A Smashwords survey found that series, consisting of at least three books, in which the first book is perma-free sold more copies overall. This year we interviewed Mark LeFebvre from Kobo Writer’s Life and he shared that 45%-55% of readers who download a book while it was free and read it, go on to purchase more titles by that author. These readers go on to become some of your biggest fans and paying customers.
What this means for you: If you are publishing a series or multiple series, make the first book in the series permanently free.
6. Email marketing is proving to be the most efficient way to drive sales
Traditional publishers and indie authors alike plan to invest time and money on reaching readers directly through email marketing in 2016. This is the most effective way to drive sales of your new titles, since you can control the message and know that you are hitting an audience that cares about your work. There are two email marketing tactics that publishing professionals will deploy in 2016: newsletters and book promotion services. You can only send a newsletter if you have a mailing list, which is why both indies and traditional publishers are investing in building their lists. In addition to growing personal lists, publishers and indies will continue to utilize ebook promotion services that have large lists to drive book sales and revenue growth. BookBub is the largest player in the book promotion space followed by companies like ours (Bargain Booksy, Freebooksy) who are continuing to invest in and grow their lists.
What this means for you: Look up the best promotion sites for your genre and come up with a promotional plan. Stack and stagger promotions to keep those sales rolling in. You should also start growing your own email list. Mailchimp is free until your reach 2000 subscribers, so they are a great place to start managing a list.
7. Physical book sales are on the rise
Physical books sales were up in 2015, proving that readers still like the feel of a book in their hands. Many of these books are purchased on Amazon, making offering your book available through print on demand services such as CreateSpace prudent. Additionally, one segment of the reader market that remains difficult for indie authors is placement in brick and mortar stores. We recommend designing and formatting your books for eBook and print, then contacting your local book stores to see if they would like to host an author event and stock your books.
What this means for you: Design your books for ebook and print and list them through CreateSpace in order to reach additional readers who don’t read ebooks. Order copies of your book and bring them around to local book stores; Indie Bookstores are sometimes willing to work with Indie Authors as well.
8. The International eBook market continues to grow
The international audience for eBooks is growing. The United States and Canada beat the rest of the world into the eBook trend with almost 30% of readers consuming eBooks. The United Kingdom has long been third on the list of eReading nations, but France, Germany, Italy, and Russia are seeing growth in the percentage of readers who enjoy eBooks.
What this means for you: One way to increase sales this year is to expand your distribution to include countries other than the United States and Canada. Most platforms (Kindle Direct Publishing, iTunes, Kobo) make it easy for you to distribute your book worldwide with a few clicks of your mouse. It’s time to make sure your books are available around the world.
9. Readers Cry: “More coloring books and bad boys!”:
Hey, it’s a fact of life that everybody likes to feel good, and what better ways are there to feel good than to sit down with a nice relaxation coloring book or particularly enticing erotic novel? Adult coloring books and erotic romances continue to be popular.
What this means for you: If you’re writing erotic romance, you’re going to see another good year as your genre continues to be very popular. If you’re already publishing coloring books you’re well-positioned to continue cashing in on this trend. If you’re thinking of entering the adult coloring book market, beware, as it is quickly becoming saturated with new players.
10. The world is starting to understand Indie Authorship as a choice
For years readers and the press assumed that the indie author was only publishing their works themselves because they couldn’t land a deal with a publishing house. They didn’t seem to understand that many authors were making the choice to stay indie, choosing to laud those who managed to “make it” into a traditional publishing deal. As the publishing industry continues to be watched by the masses, the truth behind the numbers is coming out and readers are starting to understand that being an indie author is often the most lucrative choice. Now we just need to convince the press to pay indie authors their due. Publisher’s Weekly believes that it will take a major news outlet like the New York Times Book Review consistently reviewing indie titles for a full industry shift to occur. Will 2016 be that year?
What this means for you: Keep writing and reach out to local press in your community to review your book.
By John Maher, with reporting by Rachel Deahl and Claire Kirch | Nov 03, 2017
Bestseller lists have long been powerful marketing tools for the industry. In short, they sell books. But they have proliferated, with more lists that group books according to different metrics, and industry insiders are wondering whether they wield as much power as they used to. When nearly any title can be called a bestseller, does becoming a bestseller still matter?
Though insiders we spoke with agreed unanimously that the term “bestseller” still means something to readers, they disagreed on how lists affect the market and what actually defines a bestseller.
Historically, bestseller lists were broken down along two major lines: format and category. The largest groupings were nonfiction and fiction. Those groups were then broken down by the three major print formats: hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback. The introduction of the fourth format—e-books—disrupted the way bestseller lists are compiled, as it did many other parts of the industry. Because e-books are predominantly sold online and not in stores, their sales can’t be tracked in the same way that print sales are: by collecting data from physical retailers.
Further complicating the bestseller list landscape was Amazon’s introduction of multiple bestseller lists. The e-tailer, which tracks sales of its titles in real time, publishes a wealth of lists, broken down by format and also by multiple subcategories. There are “overall” print and Kindle bestsellers on the site, but also numerous subcategories like “Crafts, Hobbies & Home,” “Humor & Entertainment,” and “Law.”
The sources of the data on which the lists are based also complicate their interpretation. The New York Times famously pulls data for its lists from a select and secret sample of retailers, and Amazon, while reporting its print sales, does not, for the most part, disclose sales of e-books. The lists that are arguably the most transparent, like PW’s, rely on NPD BookScan’s point-of-sale data, which tracks 80%–85% of print sales in the country but doesn’t include data on e-book sales. Other news outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, run their own lists, and organizations like the American Booksellers Association produces multiple lists, including an overall list of bestsellers in ABA bookstores and regional lists.
The sheer number of lists and Amazon’s decision not to widely share its e-book sales figures (despite the fact that BookScan has for years asked the company to take part in its sales aggregation program) means that there is not a true national bestseller list that can definitively identify what the top-selling books are across all formats in a particular week. As a result, there’s some confusion about what the designation “bestseller” really means. “Even when it comes to ‘national bestseller,’ it seems that we don’t have a consensus [about the meaning of the term],” said one agent, who asked to remain anonymous. “Not that long ago, it meant a lot if you said a book was a bestseller. Why? Because a select number of books earned that accolade, and we all understood and agreed what it meant.” Now, he said, he worries that the multiplicity of lists has “watered down” the designation.
“Every publisher must make a decision on when to refer to a book as a bestseller,” said Bill Wolfsthal, executive v-p of sales and marketing at Skyhorse Publishing. “Was it a bestseller on Amazon for a day? Is it a bestseller if it makes a bestseller list for independent bookstores? In those decisions, good judgement and common sense rules the day. No publisher wants to mislead a reader, but we are all fighting to get attention for our books.” Whether the bestseller tag even really drums up attention is also a point of debate. “As long as it has an XYZ in front of it—as in New York Times bestseller, USA Today bestseller, or Wall Street Journal bestseller, I do think it carries weight with the reader,” agent Kristen Nelson said. “If it just says ‘bestselling author,’ I do think readers tend to perceive the moniker with some skepticism.”
Ironically for booksellers, titles dubbed bestsellers aren’t necessarily popular with customers. Vivien Jennings, who owns Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., said that bestseller lists “draw attention” to books, but that attention doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. Anmiryan Budner, a bookseller at Main Point Books in Wayne, Pa., said the real sales boosters are good reviews; coverage in high-profile media such as NPR, 60 Minutes, and morning TV shows; and word-of-mouth.
The Times list, for its part, has been the subject of some controversy in the industry. Historically it has been seen as the list with the most caché. But the secrecy of the formula the paper uses to compile its list has long created frustrations in the industry, with complaints over the years that it does not offer an accurate picture of what’s actually selling. About half of those we spoke to referred to the Times’ list as the “premier” list, the “gold standard,” and the “crown jewel.” Others said it was not the kingmaker it once was.
“I would say that the Times in general, like any media outlet in digital, print, and broadcast, does not have the same impact in terms of driving book sales that it once did,” said Knopf’s Paul Bogaards. Nonetheless, he said, publishers still rely heavily on the name: “Clearly, publishers still believe in visibly branding their books with ‘New York Times’ or ‘national bestseller.’ Have a look at the covers of some titles in the marketplace right now. [Many] are festooned with the bestseller copy.”
Carol Fitzgerald, president of the Book Report Network, admitted that she still believes “everybody wants the Times list more than anything else.” Despite this, she prefers “lists that are actually based in sales; no algorithms, just sales.” She added: “That’s really what a bestseller is, isn’t it? How it’s sold.”
While the proliferation of bestseller lists is a worry for some, reducing the number does not seem to be the preferred response. Many of the sources we contacted said they are upset that the Times cut a number of category bestseller lists. “Eliminating a bestseller list in a strong and previously established category—as happened for YA and graphic novels, for example—feels like a step in the wrong direction,” agent Laura Rennert said. A fellow agent, Barbara Poelle, said: “I feel like there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t lament, curse, howl over the loss of the mass market and YA e-book lists in the New York Times.”
To Karen Auerbach of Kensington, the Times’ decision to cut those lists was more than a slight: she sees it as a serious business error. “I think the Times removing their lists has created an opportunity for the other bestseller lists to fill that vacuum,” she said. “It creates a challenging environment without those [category] lists, which were important to the community. Without [those lists at] the New York Times, it makes the USA Today and PW lists more important. Because now there is a gap that PW and USA Today are filling.” A version of this article appeared in the 11/06/2017 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Does Anybody Know What a Bestseller Is?