Thursday, December 31, 2009

Are marketing services worth what you pay?

There are things I can do as an author and things I cannot do. It is essential to know what you can and cannot do. It is also essential for a self-publishing author, like any business, to control costs. CreateSpace has recently added a host of new author services including marketing services.

Cover design, interior design and editing are all worthwhile services to pay for and I would not criticize any author who made the decision to pay for those services.  I have paid for them myself and the money was well spent.  With that in mind, I encourage authors who are going to self-publish to think long and hard before they spend their hard earned and limited dollars on marketing services.

As big an advocate as I am of CreateSpace, I am not an advocate of marketing services offered by most self-publishing companies, or author services companies if you prefer, including CreateSpace. Let me say right now if you feel absolutely overwhelmed by the idea of marketing your book and budgeted for marketing services in your business plan, do not let me stop you from using these services.

I do ask you to stop and add at least two weeks to your publishing schedule and use that time to do some research before you invest your money in marketing services.  The first thing you need to do is to either go the library and obtain the books I am about to suggest or simply log on to and purchase them. You can do so from the links in the widget on the right hand side of this blog.  The five books are as follows: Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon, Steve Weber's Plug Your Book, Carolyn Howard-Johson's The Frugal Book Promoter, Dawn Josephson's Putting it on Paper: The Ground Rules for Creating Promotional Pieces that Sell Books and The 2009 (or most recent) Edition of the Writer Watchdog Self-publishing Directory by Deanna Riddle. My own book Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for the Author Considering Self-Publishing will be listed as well, of course!

Take the time to read each of these books.  I have and the information contained in these books has helped me considerably. The only money I have spent for promotion and marketing of my books has been the price of review copies and the postage to send them to the individuals who reviewed them.  In several instances, I did not even send physical copies of the books, but at the request of the reviewer simply sent a PDF copy of the book via e-mail.  The reviews of the books on blogs helped to spur early sales of my coaching books as has my free e-newsletter, coaching blog and my website for basketball coaches.

I strongly suggest you visit Aaron Shepard's blog on self-publishing as well as Morris Rosenthal's blog on self-publishing as well as many others.  The Writer Watchdog site is worth bookmarking as well. Just as you learned the craft of writing and made the decision to self-publish, you can learn to market your own books. In fact, if you want your book to sell, you will have to market it yourself even if you pay for the marketing services of self-publishing company, be it CreateSpace or another company.

Let's take a look at a common marketing service offered by a self-publishing company, the targeted press release. Who provides the information used to compose the press release? You do. Who will provide the "targets" for the targeted press release? Well, you will provide a good number and the rest the marketing service will provide.

The marketing service will e-mail your press release to news agencies that specialize in sending out information of this nature. They will send it to some general news and publishing agencies. You could do the same thing yourself, for free. The specialized targets you will have to provide.

Let's use my first book for basketball coaches as an example, Game Strategies and Tactics for Basketball. How many individuals in the author services industry double as basketball coaches for a living? What are the odds that the individual I would deal with if I paid for marketing services would be a basketball coach? I hope you would not bet on those odds as I certainly am not. The same list of coaching magazines and coaching blogs that I dealt with directly myself, and for free, would have made up the list of targets I would have had to provide to the author services company.

If you read the language of a lot of the different self-publishing companies you will see language similar to this, "a targeted press release will be sent by e-mail to up to 500 individuals and news media outlets!" You, the excited potential customer read "500 individuals and news media outlets" and think "wow, they have lots of contacts!" Notice the key phrase, "up to." Remember who will be providing most of those 500 contacts as well! You can see why I encourage you to think long and hard about spending your money for these types of services. 

Another typical offering that self-publishing companies offer is custom business cards, post cards, etc. These are useful in many situations but you can obtain these items at a lower price by shopping around.  I have had excellent service from a company called Please shop for these items and compare pricing before you purchase these items from a self-publishing company.  Keep in mind that the self-publishing company does not do the actual printing but is acting as a middle man.  A middle man means a price increase will be added on the price the real printing company charges. There is nothing wrong with this mind you, the self-publishing company made the sale for the printing company and should get paid for its efforts.  But why have a middle man in the transaction - deal with a printing company directly yourself!

Then there is the granddaddy of them all,! Self-publishing companies all advertise they will help you set up your book's product page on Amazon! Some will even charge you to do so! Here is one direct advantage of using CreateSpace comes in handy! Since CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, when you self-publish with CreateSpace, your book will automatically be registered on Amazon and you are able to provide the details for your book's product page!  When it comes to marketing and promoting your book on Amazon, start your research with Aaron Shepard's book Aiming at Amazon.

I realize marketing your book seems like a task someone else should do or it seems to overwhelming you need an expert to do the marketing and promoting for you. Understand this, even the giants of the industry market and promote their own books. Nobody knows your book as well as you do and nobody wants your book to succeed as much as you do. Who possibly could do a better job, in the long run, than you when it comes to marketing your own book?

If you do feel the need to hire a marketing professional, and I will readily admit there are reasons to pay for marketing services, hire a freelancer! The self-publishing companies make money even if your book does not sell well. The freelancer who cannot successfully help an author market and promote his or her book will soon be in a new line of work! So, if you are going to pay, I suggest hiring a well motivated freelancer, who if the individual is a professional, will be happy to provide references.  A good place to start looking for a freelancer to help you with your marketing efforts will be the Writer Watchdog Directory.

Roll up your sleeves and do some more homework. Learn what is involved, if for no other reason than to be able to monitor the services you purchased to have your book marketed and make certain that the services you paid for are in fact provided.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Writer Watchdog 2009 Edition

Every once in awhile you run across an item that you use constantly and it is a great resource to you.  For those of you have purchased my book on self-publishing, Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for Authors Considering Self-Publishing, I hope you feel that way.

I have lots of well worn books that I constantly refer to in my efforts to learn more about self-publishing and to guide me as I work on my next book.  One of the books, with a corresponding website that I use regularly is the Writer Watchdog 2009 Edition and the accompanying website:

This is a good source of information and the site is constantly adding new information.  I suggest you go to the site and sign-up for the blog newsletter.

Also, sign-up for the free contests.  Yes, they actually do have winners.  I won the free cover design contest and my next book will feature the cover that I won from Writer Watchdog.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Self-publishing and the BBB

I have self-published a number of books and will have a new one published hopefully by March. All but one of have been published through CreateSpace.  The odd book out was published by Dog Ear Publishing. I had a positive experience using Dog Ear.  It was my first book and I learned a great deal about the entire process of self-publishing. Since then, all of my books have been published using CreateSpace.

Lately I have been reading some horror stories about companies like Dog Ear and after reading enough of these horror tales started to worry a bit that perhaps I had made a poor choice of companies with whom to get my first book in print.

Despite all of the time and energy I had put into researching companies it had never occurred to me to simply log on to the Better Business Bureau website and look up the rating of Dog Ear.  I promptly did so and to my relief found that the company has an A- rating.  An A+ rating would have been better but the rating was much higher than a couple of companies I had considered using, making me feel that I had made the wisest choice possible at the time. I took a quick look at the number of complaints that had been filed with the BBB concerning Dog Ear and noted that all of the complaints had been resolved by Dog Ear.

The point of this post is not to criticize Dog Ear or sing the praises of Dog Ear but instead let the readers of this blog know just how easy it is to check a self-publishing company out. Relying on a company's self-promotional literature is not an option to validate service and integrity and relying on complaints posted by authors on the internet is not reliable either.  A bad book is a bad book and there is nothing one of these author services can do about that. Nor can these companies sell books that the author won't promote. An author who had visions of grandeur and then did nothing to promote and sell the book and then took out his or her frustration on the publishing company would not be doing anything new in terms of human behavior.

So it made sense to simply check out Dog Ear with the BBB.  I wish I had done so before using the company's services. My primary source of information that led me to select Dog Ear  came from Mark Levine's The Fine Print of Self-publishing. Based on what I learned in that book combined with information that I found on the BBB website, I am glad I made the choice of using Dog Ear and neither of the two companies that I had first considered. Learn from my experience and use both Levine's book and the BBB as part of your research when selecting a author services or self-publishing company.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tracking sales on Amazon - more alternatives and methods to gather and interpret data on Amazon sales rankings

In an earlier post I commented on one of the positive features of using CreateSpace, the fact that by logging in on your Member Dashboard you are able to get reasonably up to the hour figures on sales for each title you have published with CreateSpace.

Besides just wanting to know how many books you have sold, for self-publishing authors who must market their own books, being able to track fluctuations in sales and then be able to match that data with marketing efforts is important, particularly over an extended period of time.  Simply watching the sales rank of  your book(s) go up and down on Amazon is not really helpful and if you are like me, setting up some type of reasonably accurate method of determining what Amazon's numbers mean in real sales requires more math skills than I possess.

There are fortunately individuals who do have the math skills, the time and the motivation to share their methodology with us through the internet.  I have already mentioned which charges a minimal fee for their service but does give you a two month free trial.  This site tracks sales based on Amazon's numbers and among its features you can ask for reports for a single day, a week, a month or for the duration of the time you have been tracking the book with RankTracer.  It has other features that I have not yet investigated and may be more than what I need at the moment. is another service accessible on the internet.  At the moment Titlez does not charge for its service but it states that its software is still underdevelopment and when the bugs are all worked out it will probably become a fee based service. Until then, the service is free to use.  This site does not estimate sales but rather tracks Amazon sales rankings.  After creating an account you are able to select books and track their rankings.  Titlez keeps data on a books best Amazon ranking, worst ranking, current ranking and the books ranking over a 7-day, 30-day and 90-day period.  You can track books that are not your own, allowing you to compare your own titles against other popular competing titles which I find useful and interesting.

A visitor to this blog was kind enough to tip me off to another site and it is also worth investigating for those of you who want to track Amazon sales rankings. This site is  You simply create an account and enter books you want to track and save them to your collection.  I have just started tracking a couple of my books with this service and will provide more information about it as I learn more by using it.  Thanks to Mark, the gentleman who shared the existence of this site with me.

Aaron Shepard, author of Aiming at Amazon, has his own sales ranking site and it is simple to use.  You simply enter the required information and hit enter and you will get your recent sales ranking.  His site is called and is free to use.

For those of you who are interested in the math involved in this process you simply have to visit Morris Rosenthal's site and blog.  One of his blog posts is about interpreting Amazon sales rankings and how to estimate sales based on data collected over a period of time.  To find the blog post, go to and click on the link to the Self-publishing Blog.  On the left hand side of the blog you will see the link to the archived post on interpreting Amazon sales rankings.

I hope this information is helpful and saves you some time, at least before you spend the time you saved constantly checking your Amazon rankings and trying to determine how many books you have sold!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

CreateSpace's New Expanded Distribution Channel Information Update

One of my most recent posts was about CreateSpace offering a new distribution service called the Expanded Distribution Channel.  Initially I was pretty excited because any opportunity that helps self-publishing authors expand their distribution opportunities is, I think, a good thing.  I still think the Expanded Distribution Channel (EDC) might be a good opportunity for some self-publishing authors but I am not as excited about the opportunity as I was initially.

In order to use the EDC the author must sign-up for the Pro Plan and pay the additional $39 fee.  This is a no-brainer as the Pro Plan dramatically lowers the cost per copy for the author.  If the book meets certain requirements, it can be entered in the EDC program.  This means that the book can now be sold through three outlets that include: CreateSpace direct sales to retailers, bookstores and online retailers and libraries and academic institutions.

The direct sales to retailers allows retailers to purchase books directly from CreateSpace.  I am not a fan of this and won't be using this service for most of my titles.  I write books for basketball coaches and sell them through three avenues: my own website, Sysko's Sports (a retailer for coaching books and DVDs) and Amazon.  While I make the most money from books sold through my website, that is not where my main marketing efforts are directed.  The website is meant to be a source of information about coaching basketball, the coaching clinics I host and where coaches can sign-up for my e-newsletter.  I do have a store, but also offer links to purchase my books from Amazon and I also mention Sykso's as often as possible.

Amazon reaches customers I can never hope to reach.  Sysko's Sports is a well known entity in the coaching profession and has both its own website and a print catalog it direct mails to nearly every coach in the United States.  I cannot hope to match the exposure these two entities can provide through my website.

Why not let Sysko's purchase the copies of my books directly from CreateSpace? Because the discount Sysko's requires to carry my book is less than the 60% CreateSpace will be pocketing for the EDC service. Why should I make less money per order just for the convenience of not sending Sysko's a bill for the books?

In order to use the EDC service for libraries and academic institutions, it must have an ISBN assigned by CreateSpace, making CreateSpace the publisher of record. If this is not an issue for you, then it is not a big deal.  But if you are truly self-publishing your own book and are planning to use your own ISBN, then this is something you must consider.

The third channel of sales offered through the EDC is for bookstores and online retailers.  I won't be using the first two distribution channels offered through the EDC for certain but will have to think about this third option.  Most of my books are very specialized and I just don't see a bookstore stocking any of these books. My next book on basketball is different and might be of interest to some bookstores.  The red flag though is that nasty 60% discount that CreateSpace will be taking for itself.

Selling books on Amazon through CreateSpace already means that Amazon/CreateSpace are taking a 40% discount.  For example, my book CreateSpace Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for the Author Considering Self-Publishing lists at $12.95. The book contains 162 pages when the final page count is done. The cost to purchase a single copy directly myself is $2.80. After deducting the cost of producing the book and adding in Amazon's 40% discount, I earn $4.98 for each book sold. At the 60% discount I earn $2.39 for each book sold. Advocates of short discounting and self-publishing would argue that I would be better off dealing directly with Lightning Source and setting a short discount of 35-25% (more later).

I have no complaints about the 40% Amazon takes for its share in the sales of this book.  Without Amazon and Createspace, this book would not be in print nor would it be selling the number of copies per month that it is. If I dealt directly with Lightning Source and set a lower discount I would make more per copy for each book that was sold.  But I would have to overcome the "penalties" built into the Amazon software that reflect the bias against books with short discounts.  If you want to read more about this, I strongly urge you to obtain a copy of Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon if you have not already done so and read his explanation of this.  Morris Rosenthal also addresses this in his blog and book Print-on-Demand.

These two authors can set a short discount and not have it impact their sales on Amazon. They are masters of book marketing, particularly via Amazon.  I have learned a great deal, but do not put myself in their league. Nor do I have the "expert status" that these two authors so rightly deserve (I am working hard on it though) that creates demand for their books regardless of Amazon's ranking software.

When the amount jumps up to 60% though, I feel the need to balk and think this through carefully.  The standard discount for retail stores is 55%.  I don't feel bad about the 40% I give Amazon.  Amazon provides me a great deal for that 40%.  It markets my book on a global internet platform.  It allows me to compete directly with brick and mortar bookstores that would never carry most of my books.  It allows me to work at marketing my books through the features it provides and does not charge me each time I access these features to work at marketing.  It fulfills all of the sales of books ordered for me, keeps records, and pays me once a month.  This is a second job for me, I am not a best selling author nor do I ever expect to be.

What I will spend my time thinking about is how will utilizing the EDC impact, if at all, my bottom line? I plan to use it with my next basketball book to experiment and collect some information over time.  Will the sales that I garner through the EDC impact my bottom line in a positive or negative manner? If it costs me sales on Amazon I lose money.  If it generates additional sales that I would not have had otherwise, it will earn money for me.

It is something to think about. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Version 2.0 of Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace almost ready!

A lot has changed since Version 1.0 of my book Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for Authors Considering Self-Publishing was first released.  I have learned a lot more and felt a need to update the book almost as soon as it became available on Then CreateSpace began offering Author Services and it was immediately evident to me that an updated version of the book had to be produced and made available.

Fortunately, with POD technology, this did not mean that I had to toss a couple of thousand books from a traditional off-set press run that were sitting in my garage in the recycle bin.  It did mean that I had to get busy and update the book!  Fortunately, my next book on basketball was finished so I was able to do some hands on research again in using CreateSpace.

Version 2.0 has a slightly different cover, on the back, and the interior has been changed somewhat.  What has really changed is the amount of information included.  An overview of the new author services is included, but I still say do you homework yourself! Also, the lists of websites and blogs has been expanded in the Appendix section of the book and hopefully this will make the book more useful as a source of information.  Several books I have recently discovered that I found helpful for me have been added to the suggested reading list as well.

I plan on updating my publishing files with CreateSpace right before Christmas so the time lag should not be that long before Version 2.0 is the version being sold on Amazon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tracking book sales with Amazon's CreateSpace

If you are a self-published author, you probably sell your book(s) on Amazon. If you are like me, Amazon is your primary source of sales.  Making sense of sales figures based on Amazon's Sales Rankings can make you pull your hair out!  Just what do those rankings mean in terms of actual copies of a title being sold?

I used Dog Ear Publishing to get one of my books into print and have been very pleased with everything Dog Ear has done except in one area - providing me information about sales.  Dog Ear pays me the quarter after the quarter the sales took place in.  For example, royalties for sales in the fourth quarter are paid at the end of the first quarter of the following year.  I don't really have a problem with that but I do have a problem not finding out how many books I have sold until three months after the fact.

Successful self-publishing authors, as well as authors who publish the traditional way, are responsible to promote and market their own titles.  Without reasonably current figures on the number of copies sold, how can an author measure to determine if the marketing concepts being used are effective?  Six months is a long time to continue to use an ineffective marketing strategy and it could spell doom for the book.  From my perspective, it is not an unreasonable request on the part of the author to have up-to-date numbers on how a book is selling.

In an earlier blog I mentioned that I use RankTracer to track the sales of my book published by Dog Ear, Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball. RankTracer provided me with a free two month trial to test the company's service and I have been pleased with the results.  I will sign up for the service to continue to track the estimated, and that is what RankTracer does, estimate sales, of that particular book.  TitleZ also offers a means to track Amazon Sales Rankings, but again, it does not provide hard numbers on the number of copies a book has sold.

CreateSpace on the other hand provides exact numbers of books sold on a month by month basis.  At any time of the day, I can log on to my Member Dashboard and see exactly how many copies of a given title I have sold up to that date for that particular month.  The totals are accurate to within several hours and that is reasonable enough for me.

Marketing efforts can now be measured a bit more effectively.  Information such as which day of the week does the title sell the best, which week of the month does the title sell the best, etc, can now be tracked and used to advantage to better market the book.  Special campaigns such as an e-newsletter might have an impact, or not, on sales.  Seeing as close to immediate as possible updates on sales figures for a given title can help the author determine the effectiveness of the promotion.

To me, this is one more advantage to using CreateSpace over other author services or means of self-publishing.  There are other ways to track sales figures with reasonable accuracy on Amazon.  Setting up your own imprint and dealing directly with Lightning Source will allow you to gain access to Ingram's distribution numbers for your title.

CreateSpace also provides some information on how the copies were sold as well.  For example, if you purchase copies for resale to a retailer, CreateSpace keeps track of the number of copies purchased by the author in a different area on the website.  You use the link for sales totals to keep track of the total number of copies sold.  Information is provided to show if how many copies were sold on Amazon, to the author, etc.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Making Sense Out of Amazon Sales Rankings! Use RankTracer!

Authors in general, regardless of how their books are published, tend to be interested, if not obsessed with Amazon sales rankings. Like much of the software used by Amazon, it is proprietary and few outside of the software engineering staff of Amazon can determine how it works.  Even harder is to determine in any meaningful way what the sales rankings actually mean.

Brent Sampson in his book Sell Your Book on Amazon notes that Amazon Sales Rankings are not meant to be meaningful, but rather just interesting. I find tracking my books on Amazon interesting, but I want to know what the sales rankings MEAN in terms of book sales!

Morris Rosenthal has a reasonably good explanation of how to interpret Amazon Sales Rankings on his blog about self-publishing. To read the blog post use this link to go directly to the information.

As interesting and helpful as Rosenthal's graph and blog article are, I still wanted something I could check and have an actual number that told me with reasonable accuracy. In searching the internet I came across RankTracer, is a subscription based service that will track sales on Amazon. It provides a range of ways to measure sales ranging from books sold in a day or a week.  Graphic charts are available to depict sales activity over a range of dates and time periods.  If you are interested in learning more about RankTracer visit the site at:

RankTracer has been interesting to me and provided useful information concerning marketing efforts. As time passes and I am able to collect more data about my books and their sales, I am confident I will learn even more about RankTracer and the capability the site has to offer.

Self-published books can now be distributed to bookstores?

Since I am in the process of updating my book on self-publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace, I have been examining the new services offered by the company.  The most noticeable additions are the author services such as editing, lay-out, cover-design, etc.  But the most interesting one is the expanded distribution service offered by CreateSpace that allows authors the opportunity to self-publish and have their book sold in a bookstore.

Conventional wisdom in the self-publishing industry has been that self-published books are nearly impossible to get bookstores to stock and that the long tail of Amazon has been the equalizer that allows self-publishing authors, particularly those who use POD, to sell their books.  The big advantage of using CreateSpace was its direct connection to Amazon, who owns CreateSpace, allowing authors to have the advantage of POD and access to Amazon.

While this opportunity sounds really interesting, and for some self-publishing authors it is certainly going to create some opportunities that did not exist before, I am wondering if this is more of a marketing ploy on the part of Amazon to draw more authors away from competing self-publishing/author services companies, than it is a real effort on Amazon to push its way into the brick and mortar bookstore business.

To take advantage of this new opportunity, the author must pay the $39 fee to use the Pro Plan, which is very reasonable for the many benefits this option provides, the most important of which is an outstanding price per copy for the author. If the author updates the book files and is using the Expanded Distribution Channel program, there is a $25 fee, which again is reasonable for the service provided.

The key to having this service be meaningful is the marketability of the book.  Bookstores will have to be convinced that sales opportunities are available and the book will make the owner a profit. If the book does not meet these requirements, a bookstore is not going to carry the book.

If an author decides to take advantage of the new EDC program, CreateSpace has even added an online royalties calculator, allowing the author to learn the royalties that each of the three CreateSpace distribution programs pay for each copy of a book sold.

In all of the information I have seen, the lone question that CreateSpace has not answered is there a returns option for the bookstore and how will this impact the royalties for the author.

This is an interesting development and how it will impact the self-publishing industry is not for me to predict.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Self-publishing With Amazon's CreateSpace undergoing revision!

My book, Self-publishing With Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for the Author Considering Self-publishing, is undergoing its first revision since it was first published.  Version 2.0 will hopefully be available on Amazon in late January or early February.

As with any book, there are always things that the author would like to see changed and improved in a book, but this is not the reason for the additions and revisions to the book. CreateSpace has added a wide range of author services and added more opportunities for distribution for authors who self-publish using CreateSpace.

My next book on basketball coaching, The Game of Basketball: The Basketball Fundamentals, Intangibles and Finer Points of the Game for Players, Coaches and Fans, will be published using some of CreateSpace's expanded services. I plan to base much of the revisions and additions to Self-Publishing With Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for the Author Considering Self-publishing on my experiences in publishing The Game of Basketball.

One of the new distribution options I am interested in learning more about but am not completely convinced I will use is CreateSpace's new distribution for sales in book stores.  Even though I think my books are better suited for sale on Amazon and not book stores, I do think this is an opportunity that may be of value to some authors who self-publish and use print-on-demand.

As I learn more about this new distribution option, I will feature updates here on The Self-publisher's Notebook.