Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amazon Versus Barnes & Noble From The Author's Viewpoint

Authors and consumers alike have discovered  This is old news. Amazon might well be the Wal-mart of the book industry, driving competitors out of business and gaining an ever larger share of the market.  I sell my books on Amazon.  I buy books from Amazon, mainly when I can get the book I am looking for used and at a low price.

Nothing beats going to Barnes & Noble though to just "shop" for a book or two.  It is an inviting atmosphere where you feel comfortable just sitting down and thumbing through a book or two or browsing the shelves.  My wife likes to get coffee and look and as silly as it might sound, a trip to Barnes & Noble has often been a date night for us.

A trip via the internet to will find you viewing a handsome homepage.  But why has Barnes and Noble not been able to at least put up a decent fight against the Amazon juggernaut? I personally like the way the Barnes and Noble site looks better than Amazon. But my favoritism towards the Barnes and Noble site ends with appearances.
Amazon's search engine is much better.  The books it pulls up for me to view are largely within the scope of the topic I am searching for. The same cannot be said for the search engine of the Barnes and Noble site. Amazon's search engine is designed to be tailored to the customer as well, another reason it is more effective than the Barnes and Noble search engine.

My main complaint though is not as a customer but as an author.  Amazon has created tools for the author to use to help promote his or her book and to provide information about the book readers and the search engine will both find helpful in matching the right book to the right customer. The tools available are limited to submitting basic product information and correcting errors. These are valuable features but do not provide authors a means to have their book presented to readers in as wide a range of opportunities as possible.  Simply put, while Amazon's many features might not individually amount to a large number of sales, when combined together Amazon's features increase a books exposure to a customer interested in its topic or genre. Repeated exposure of a title increases the likelihood it will be purchased.

In a day and age when things are becoming more and more internet based, if I worked at Barnes and Noble in the online division, I would be thinking long and hard about how to make things easier for authors to promote their book on our site in an effort to carve out a share of Amazon's business.  For Barnes and Noble to survive years from now in competition with, the time is now to make these improvements.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Amazon's CreateSpace Compared To Lightning Source As A POD Printer - Updated May 18, 2011!

Amazon owns CreateSpace and has merged its author services company, BookSurge, with CreateSpace.  You can use CreateSpace as a POD printer to self-publish by purchasing your own ISBN, uploading your interior and cover files after opening an account, paying your $39 Pro Plan fee (optional but the benefits of paying the fee are so large it is silly not to) ordering and approving your proof copy and viola, your book will appear on or you can order copies for yourself. CreateSpace also acts as a book distributor in a limited sense for self-publishers with distribution to online retailers and Barnes & and for those who take advantage of the Expanded Distribution Service, bookstores.

Many authors have become self-publishers by purchasing their own ISBN, preparing the files for their book and using Lightning Source Incorporated, a POD printer owned by the book distributor Ingram, to print and distribute their books. The fee to take advantage of LSI's services is $70 plus a $30 proof copy fee.

Which company is better to use for an author who desires to self-publish? The answer to that question is it depends.  Both companies have similar advantages such as distribution, POD printing and access to Amazon and other online retailers. Both allow the author to be the publisher and keep more of the profit from each book sold than in a traditional trade publishing business model.
Setting aside the initial cost to set up the book title, the difference between the two companies lies in cost. The cost per copy for a book printed by CreateSpace is lower than that of a book printed by LSI. The difference in cost is not great but at about .20 to .30 cents a book for a book over 200 pages in length, this fairly small difference can add up if the book sells.

LSI has two different levels of pricing, one for books sold wholesale for distribution and a slightly higher price for copies sold to the author for resale.  This becomes an issue of the primary source of sales of the book is direct sales by the author as the author's costs per copy are higher with LSI than with CreateSpace.

LSI's advantage is it allows the author to set the discount, the amount of the price taken off the list price that the retailer must have in order to make a profit. The normal discount is 55% to 40%.  LSI allows authors to "short discount," setting a discount as low as 25%, allowing the publisher to keep a significantly greater portion of the profits from the sale of the book.

CreateSpace does not allow authors to determine the discount granted to the retailers.  Authors who use CreateSpace must grant the retailer, almost always Amazon, a 40% discount.  For authors who take advantage of the Expanded Distribution Service, the discount is even higher for books sold in book stores.

Both companies have advantages and disadvantages.  The key for the author is to determine in advance where the majority of the sales will come from.  If most of the sales of the book will come from Amazon or other online retailers, it makes sense to use LSI.  If the bulk of the sales will be direct or through a variety of means that involve the author purchasing copies and then reselling the books, CreateSpace is probably a better choice.

UPDATE! For authors considering using either CreateSpace or Lightning Source and struggling to decide which company best meets their publishing needs, I have a new concise book comparing the two companies.  As much pertinent information as I could gather has been collected and organized to help authors planning to use print-on-demand for printing and distribution to select of the two companies.

The title of the book is Selecting a Print-on-Demand Company: Comparing CreateSpace and Lightning Source for POD Self-Publishing. It is available now as a print book on Amazon for $6.95.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Do Author Services Companies Have A Place?

Outskirts Press and a few other "self-publishing" companies have been getting hammered lately on the blogosphere by bloggers who write about the field and world of self-publishing. The nasty old pejorative adjective of "vanity press" has been bandied about when discussing these companies. A much nicer term might be "author services companies."

The main objection to most of these companies is their method of generating revenue is not through selling the books of their customers, authors, but rather in selling services, editing, interior design and lay-out, marketing, etc, to their customers.  The results often are shoddy and leave the author frustrated and with little hope of ever recouping the money invested in their book.  I know I would object to being mislead and having my book ruined by such a company.

But are all author services bad? Do all of them deserve the title of vanity press? What possible positive reason could their be for the existence of these companies?

An author who truly self-publishes his or her book will own the ISBN, have the book edited, have a professional create a cover and possibly have the interior created by yet another professional. Often the author has hired freelancers to do this work and a wise author does just that.  Even a budget conscious author can wind up spending a tidy sum paying freelancers to do the work and the time required to find and contract these freelancers can be considerable.

Reputable author services companies can provide all of these services under one roof and often the collective cost will be less than if the author purchased these services separately.

Then why don't all self-publishing authors use this approach? There are several drawbacks that must be considered.  The first is the time line involved in getting the book ready for market.  Freelancers will work on a deadline that is imposed, after negotiation, by the author.  The author services company usually works through its books in the order in which they were submitted.

The company itself might be reputable, but in order to offer competitive pricing with other author services companies, some of the editors and other individuals who do the work of transforming the manuscript into a book might not be as capable as freelancers that the author individually selects to complete the work.

Invariably, many of the author services companies add a surcharge to the cost per copy for author copies, driving costs up if the author counts on direct sales as part of the business plan for this particular book.

How can one find a reputable author services company? Word of mouth is one way.  Simply post a question asking for help in finding one such company on one of the many self-publishing groups on the internet.  Mark Levine's book about Self-Publishing companies and their contracts is another good starting point.  I also suggest checking the company's BBB rating as well.

For the author who is about to self-publish his or her first book, this might be the way to go about doing it.  There is so much to learn about publishing that it can be overwhelming initially. 

Regardless of how you choose to go about self-publishing your book, ALWAYS do your homework first.  Buyer be ware!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Promoting Your Book On Amazon - Giving Away Content

Self-published authors are interested in ways to increase their sales on After all, Amazon allows self-published authors something most book stores will not, access to customers who might want to purchase the author's book!

Just how does a self-published author promote his or her book on Amazon? A great deal has been written about that topic and unfortunately, some of it is not helpful or ethical. One example of this type of book is Sell Your Book On Amazon.  An excellent book that deals with promoting your book on Amazon is Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon, a must purchase for any author considering promoting and selling books on Amazon. Other sources of information on this topic can be found by searching through internet message groups, blogs and other sources of information about self-publishing and book marketing.

It may seem counter intuitive, but one of the best ways to generate interest in a book is to five away parts of the the book's contents. Think of your book as a preview to a movie.  The potential reader sees the preview (the portion of your book you have given away for free) and decides to see the movie (purchase your book) as a result.

The first question an author should consider is what part of the book should be provided for free? The temptation for a non-fiction book will be to not provide any useful or important information. For fiction the temptation might be to not reveal an exciting portion of the plot. This impulse needs to be ignored in both cases.

If the segment of information from the non-fiction book is important and valuable, it shows the potential reader the book has considerable value.  If the section given away is well written and has valuable content, then the rest of the book must be equally valuable, or at least that is the conclusion you hope the potential reader comes to. For fiction, if the passage is exciting and interesting, then perhaps the book is a page turner and is a great read!

How much content should be given away in terms of volume? Enough to show value and peak the reader's interest and not much more.  If you give away too much of the book, why should the reader purchase the book?

How can this content be made available to potential readers? One way is by providing it on Amazon in the form of Amazon shorts, which can be downloaded after the fee has been paid.  Another is to provide the information in Amazon's Kindle format and sell the passage for .01 or give it away.

Make certain readers know that the free information or story is just part of a larger work that is or will be available for sale on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lightning Source Update Round Three

I am now one step closer to being a Lightning Source client.  After completing the initial phase of the application process, I received an e-mail from LSI informing me I could now move on to the middle phase of the application process. Before you start this phase of the application process you will need to have your business, bank and tax records with you as all of this information will be needed.

This is the stage where you are setting up your financial transaction process with LSI.  Do you want to be paid by direct deposit or by check via postal service? What is your tax situation? Do you have to pay sales tax or are you tax exempt? What type of business are you? Are you set up as  LLC, corporation or sole proprietorship? What is your federal tax number?

This step in the process took me a good bit longer than the initial phase, in part because I did not have all of my information at hand to enter in the computer.  When completed you will be sent an e-mail with PDF versions of the contract and other documents you must complete and then send to LSI by fax or postal mail.

At this stage of the process, CreateSpace is ahead of the game for ease of registration.  LSI requires a good deal more information from the customer and a fair amount of time is required to enter the information in the computer.  None of it is rocket science, just time consuming.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Be a Joiner - The Value of Professional Organizations

When I was young and really dumb, I thought I knew everything. Boy, have I ever learned otherwise. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize just how little I know.  As I get older I have learned to save time, effort and energy by learning from individuals who have more experience and knowledge about what it is I want or need to learn about.

In my other life, my real job is that of teacher and basketball coach. I have attended my share of conventions and professional gatherings.  Some were an absolute waste of my time and others were invaluable.  Over the years, I have learned which are worth attending and those that are not.  When an opportunity to attend a conference of convention arises, I don't just sign-up to attend, I investigate the organization hosting the event and the individuals who will be presenting.

Some of the professional organizations I belong to have poor conferences and conventions for their members but offer great liability insurance for coaches, have excellent and valuable newsletters and offer great networking opportunities. I particularly value the latter because I can seek out and meet individuals who can serve as mentors for me.

Now that I have entered the world of publishing and in the not to distant future can declare myself both author and publisher, I have been considering joining a professional association in order to further my professional education as an author and self-publisher.

There are several existing associations that would serve the purposes I seek from such organizations and one brand new one.  The first of these groups is the Independent Book Publishers Association or IBPA. Two other groups are the Small Publishers Association of North America or SPAN and the Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network or SPAWN. The newest professional association I have found is the Independent Self-Publishers Alliance or ISPA.

I will provide a brief overview of each of these organizations in future blog posts.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Becoming a self-publisher

I have written a total of 14 books.  I used Dog Ear Publishing, an author services company for one of those books.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, Dog Ear did a good job and the only complaint I have is the length of time it takes for me to find out directly from Dog Ear exactly how many copies of Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball have sold. The other 13 books, including Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace, have been published by CreateSpace.  I did all the work for those books but because I used the free ISBN provided by CreateSpace, I am not the publisher of record.

That will all change this March if all goes well.  My next coaching book, The Game of Basketball: Basketball Fundamentals, Intangibles and the Finer Points of the Game for Coaches, Players and Fans, is already listed on Barnes & since I own the ISBN for this book.  The book will be printed using POD printing by either CreateSpace or Lightning Source depending on the outcome of my application to become a client of LSI.

Regardless of which company prints the book, when it finally becomes available for sale, I will be able to call myself a self-published author in the truest sense of the word.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lightning Source Update

I removed my earlier, and negative or critical post about my attempting to deal with registering with Lightning Space.  I guess I am an old dog who just does not like new tricks.  After telling myself I have a responsibility to the family to at least attempt to earn more per copy of each book sold I sat down and worked my way through the process of at least registering as a new LSI client.

To my surprise, I was done in less than 10 minutes, my computer did not crash, I did  not feel a sudden need to smash something and I was in a calm state.  This is not my normal computer experience when attempting something of this nature.

Once I completed the process my screen posted a notice that my application to become a LSI client would be reviewed and I would be informed within two working days if it had been accepted.  So, I guess I will know soon enough if I will be able to use LSI or will have to continue to use CreateSpace exclusively.

So, for those who read the earlier post, please disregard it.  After round one of actually dealing with LSI's computer registration system, I feel pretty positive about being able to work with LSI.  I will admit that having already done this with CreateSpace has made me confident about being able to use the LSI site.

Lightning has tutorials that go with its different functions.  Having worked through the CreateSpace upload process helped me understand what LSI was trying to explain.  Had I never done this sort of thing before these tutorials would have left a little bit to be desired, but I would have been able to figure out the process.

So far so good.  The next step, pending approval of my client application, is to upload my files for my next book.  Once I have taken that step, I will update everyone on how things went.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Amazon's Listmania and Appropriate Author Behavior

Once again I find the need to revisit bad advice from the author of Sell Your Book On Amazon. The author encourages readers of his book to create as many Listmania lists as possible and always include your own book. While I have created a fairly large number of Listmania lists, they are about diverse topics that interest me. For example, I have Listmania lists about coaching basketball, self-publishing, Classic Rock, Great Live Rock Albums and the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band, The Rolling Stones. I created other Listmania lists about other topics that interest me.

My book Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball is on the coaching basketball list.  Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace is on the self-publishing list.  I see no ethical problem with including my own books on one list.

The problem of ethics raises its head when you create 10-12 lists that are essentially the same. Aaron Shepard describes this as Listmania spam. We all hate getting spam in our inbox and it is in fact against the law to purposely create and send spam via e-mail.  While the same is not true about creating Listmania, we should certainly treat our potential customers with respect and not "spam" them with a multitude of Listmania lists.

Steve Weber, the author of ebook, Plug Your Book and other books about selling and promoting books on Amazon and through the internet, gives good advice on how to get Amazon to consistently display your Listmania to potential customers. Weber states when creating a Listmania to make it long by including at least 25 titles that are relevant to the list topic, current and good sellers. The long tail of Amazon's computers will see to it that the Listmania is displayed on a regular basis if these criteria are met.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Amazon Settles Lawsuit with Booklocker - Good News for POD Publishers?!

If you have been following the field of self-publishing and POD printing for long, you have probably heard the stories and rumors about Amazon trying to corner the market on the self-publishing and POD market by forcing small POD publishers and self-publishing authors to use Booksurge.  The story was first broken and made public in Writer's Weekly.

The owners of Booklocker confronted Amazon about the rumors and upon finding them to be true, filed a lawsuit against Amazon.  Amazon and Booklocker have announced that a settlement has been reached. 

This is good news for self-publishing authors in general as Amazon is one of the main, if not the primary points of sale for our books.  Even though I am an advocate of using CreateSpace, many authors use Lightning Source as their POD printer and take advantage of Ingram distribution by doing so. Using CreateSpace has both advantages and disadvantages in terms of distribution.  The primary advantage is the direct link to Amazon and the speed with which your book is listed.  The disadvantage is the mandatory 40% discount that must be given to Amazon.

Competition is good for all of us and while Amazon has been a big help to all of us who self-publish, if Amazon had succeeded in cornering the market and achieving a monopoly on POD self-publishing, how long would it be before the 40% discount climbed to a higher number? Hopefully Amazon will stay the course and not try this approach a second time.

While pure speculation on my part, one has to wonder if the settlement is part of what led Amazon to diversify the services provided to authors by CreateSpace? If Amazon could not corner the market by bullying everyone to BookSurge or CreateSpace, have they decided to do it the old fashioned way by offering a better product, improved service or new services?

This is why competition is good. Amazon now has an agreement of sorts with Lightning who will in fact print some of Amazon POD books in certain situations. By expanding the services that CreateSpace offers and still using LSI when needed, Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet to other self-publishing/author services companies.  They will have to improve and maintain competitive pricing in order to compete with Amazon.

If you would like to learn more about the entire Writer's Weekly has a summary of events posted.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Before you self-publish - have a business plan!

I am very fortunate that my wife is a good businesswoman. Once I had made the decision to self-publish my book Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball I was like the proverbial bull in a china closet.  I was raring to go and money was no object. Fortunately for our family budget my wife's response was a firm no.  She gave the go ahead to self-publish but only after I had done my homework and really thought about what it was I planned to do and how it would make money, in time, for the family.

So with the same enthusiasm I set about learning as much as possible as quickly as possible about self-publishing.  I made some mistakes in planning that cost us some money, but so far so good.  I am still learning as I go and trying to share what I learn to help other authors who have decided to self-publish learn from my mistakes and to shorten the learning curve for them.

My formal education is in history, education and sport psychology, not business.  I had a lot to learn and would not be surprised if I was not different from many first time authors, particularly self-publishing authors.

The first point I would like to make is that if you decide to self-publish, you are no longer just an author.  You are the publisher, the publicist, the marketing department, the accounting department, etc. In other words, you just became a business.

There are five books that I strongly suggest you purchase. Four of them are in print and the fifth will be in print soon. You can visit the product page of the four in print from the Amazon widget on the right hand side of this blog.

The first essential book is Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books book on the business of self-publishing, Print-on-Demand Self-Publishing.  This excellent book gives a great overview of the self-publishing industry and will help you start developing your business plan.

The second essential book is Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon. This book describes in detail a business model utilizing POD publishing and targeting all sales at Aaron has his own blog and web site that is worth visiting regularly.

The third book is yet to make its way into print but will be available shortly. This is Aaron Shepard's new book on self-publishing, POD for Profit. This book describes in detail the process of self-publishing through Lightning Source, the POD printer owned by Ingram. I was fortunate to obtain an advanced proof and will be purchasing a hard copy as soon as it is available on Amazon.

The fourth book is Deana Riddle's Writer Watchdog 2009 Edition.  This book is a collection of information that will help any author desiring to self-publish.  In addition to the information in the book, the names and web addresses of numerous freelance editors, book designers, etc. are available in the book.

If you are considering using Amazon's own CreateSpace instead of using Lightning Source, my own book Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for the Author Considering Self-Publishing is a good step-by-step guide through the process of using CreateSpace and contains information that will be quite useful to the reader.

In a future post I will talk about other aspects of developing a plan when considering the move to self-publishing.

Author Platform and Selling Books via Amazon and Other Ways

Before I started on the adventure of self-publishing and learning what is entailed, I viewed book publishing like most people do.  You write a manuscript, find a publisher and the book magically appears in the bookstore and of course, because you wrote it, it becomes a best seller, or at least sells enough that you can make some money.

That view is laughable to me now, particularly since I have learned that it is largely up to the author to market the book, most manuscripts are never accepted for publication and self-published books seldom are sold in stores. One of the things I have learned, is that some manuscripts are picked up by trade publishers because the author has what is known as an "author platform."

What this means is the author has created a means to communicate with a fairly large number of potential buyers of the book and to create buzz for the book before it is even on the market. The author platform is equally important as a means to build support for the book when it is in print and available for sale.

How does an author create a platform? Is there only one way to go about building a platform? The answer is there are numerous ways to build author platforms.  Blogs and the internet have obviously changed the game for authors who self-publish, allowing them to share information and stories to potential readers and by-pass the old mechanism that shut out most authors who self-published.

For non-fiction authors, content based blogs and websites are a good platform. Potential customers of the book will come to the site looking for needed or desired information and discover the author's book is available.  Several visits to the site with constant exposure to the fact the book is for sale often results in the potential customer becoming an actual customer by purchasing the book.

E-newsletter created from an opt-in mailing list are another great way to share information with potential readers and customers. The social networking craze with Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are changing the game in both the music and publishing industries.

The Long Tail of Amazon enters into the picture by means of the widgets and product item buttons Amazon allows authors to insert into their blogs or on their websites. Blogs and websites, by using the Amazon buttons or widgets combined with content worded to encourage shoppers to do so, can steer customers to Amazon. The more sales a book has on Amazon, the higher the book is ranked and the more often it will appear in product searches by other Amazon shoppers, engaging the Long Tail.

For niche market books, an author platform is essential and a great way to communicate with other individuals interested in that information niche. Sharing bits of information or excerpts from an upcoming book with readers who share similar interests can be a great way to promote a book and create word of mouth for the book. Belonging to Yahoo or Google groups is a good way to obtain and share information and depending on the group rules, to encourage members to visit the author's website or blog.

Speaking to groups is an excellent piece of an author platform.  It identifies the author as an expert giving credibility to the author's book.  Being an author also gives the author credibility as an expert. Speaking in public to groups, if you are good at it, is a great way to create buzz both about yourself as an expert and author and about your book.

Regardless of the method you choose to build your author platform, be aware that it takes time. Creating a following or an audience does not happen overnight.  Patience, diligence and hard work over time are all part and parcel to have a successful platform.

Whether an author is self-published or trade published, an author platform is a necessary piece of any marketing plan for a book in this day and age.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ethics and Amazon Best Seller Campaigns

I recently learned much to my chagrin that certain practices encouraged by the owner of Outskirts Press in his book Sell Your Book On Amazon are considered unethical. This has forced me to try to clean up the mess I created for myself with considerable time wasted in the process.  I had listened to the author's advice and written reviews on books that were similar to my own and then signed both my name and used the Amazon insert product link to create a link to my book's product page.

I never wrote any negative reviews, I have put too much work into my own books to trash another author's book, and own the books I reviewed. It simply never occurred to me that using the insert product link was an abuse of customer trust.  After learning this practice was frowned upon, I have been going back and deleting the link to my book's product page on each of the reviews I wrote.  I have left my name on the reviews with no information concerning the fact that I have authored several books. I feel like leaving a pseudonym is not fair, whether the review is positive or negative, people should know who the real author of the review is.

This has led me to think about the different Amazon features available to authors in a different light than before. Aaron Shepard talks about ethics and Amazon in version 2.0 of his book Aiming at Amazon. One of the recurring themes in these passages is honoring the trust of the customer. He is absolutely right on many different levels in this regard, making me just grimace over the fact that I had not thought things out more carefully before I engaged in what I now know to be unethical conduct.  Shame on me.

This has led me to consider the so-called Amazon Best Seller Campaigns.  I am very happy to say that I never engaged in that particular activity, both because I could not afford it financially and because it seemed like a scam.  It is and in more ways than one. The consultants who charge an author to put on such a campaign is essentially just taking money from the author. Once the campaign is over, the book will fall in sales rankings drastically and it is doubtful the author, if self-published, will ever sell enough books to recoup the money spent.

More importantly though, the author has scammed potential customers. Trust is key.  The customer is going to part with his or her hard earned money and in return for that money, the customer wants to be able to trust the transaction is what the author, or seller, claims it is. I have never purchased a book because of its Amazon Sales Ranking and don't know anyone who has.  But the title of "Amazon Best Seller" has gotten my attention about some books that I might not have otherwise considered. I know I don't want to be deceived and should treat all of my potential and actual customers the same as I would want to be treated.

Better late than never to realize these considerations must be part of how I do business on Amazon. I did not deliberately deceive anyone and am taking steps to clean up the "mess" I made for myself - it will take time - I wrote a lot of reviews.

I encourage other self-publishing authors to consider thinking about the ethics of how they use Amazon's many features and not make the same mistake I did. I also want to thank Aaron Shepard for taking the time to share his thoughts on ethical practices in using Amazon and for publishing them in his latest version of Aiming at Amazon.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book Marketing, Amazon Sales Rankings and Tracking Book Sales

Why are authors, particularly self-published authors, so concerned with the Amazon Sales Ranking of their book? What is the connection with Amazon Sales Ranking and book marketing? Last of all, why are authors, and publishers, so concerned with tracking book sales and trying to determine what Amazon Sales Rankings mean in this big equation?

Unless you published your book just to see a copy of it in print, you want it to sell. If your motive is not to make money, but rather for your book to be read by as wide an audience as possible, it still needs to sell in order to reach the intended reader audience.

Amazon Sales Rankings are not meant to be an accurate reflection of the total number of copies a given book has sold.  They are meant to be a reflection of the books ranking in Amazon's total sales at that given moment, nothing more.

I do not want to address methods of book marketing that involve using Amazon and its features.  If you are interested in learning more about those methods of book marketing, and POD self-publishing, just click on the Amazon links on the right side of this blog for Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon and Morris Rosenthal's POD Self-Publishing.  I want to address other methods of book marketing and attempting to measure the impact of those efforts on Amazon sales.

My primary book business is selling coaching books on basketball.  I have a web site and e-newsletter that are important parts of my marketing efforts.  I was professionally trained coach with my graduate degree focusing on sport psychology. Marketing is a brand new area of learning for me with a great deal of trial and error being involved.

When I try a particular soft sell approach in the e-newsletter, I need to be able to measure its impact on sales to determine if it is successful or not. The books I published through CreateSpace allow me to learn of sales within hours and thereby measure the effectiveness of my most recent marketing efforts. My book that is published through Dog Ear Publishing is printed by LSI and I do not get sales figures until AFTER the quarter in which the book was sold.  Three to six months delay in gathering information is not productive in allowing me to learn anything of value from my marketing efforts. Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball is my best seller and the one I have the least amount of information on in terms of sales and marketing.

This is why tracking sales, for me at least, through Amazon Sales Rankings is so important for this particular book. If I see a positive move in one of my books Amazon Sales Rankings that is sustained over a period of time, I know that my marketing efforts are paying off.  If nothing happens I have also learned something of value.

For self-published authors, we aren't just authors, we are also the publisher. This means we are also responsible for marketing our book(s). Spending large amounts of time and possibly money on marketing strategies that are not working is detrimental.  Self-publishing authors must track their sales, perhaps not as closely as some of us do, but none-the-less they must track sales and compare this data to marketing efforts to determine the effectiveness of those efforts.

It can be time consuming to look up each individual book's Amazon Sales Ranking. There are ways to track not only a single book's ranking, but to track multiple books at once.  Title Z, which is a free service at this moment, is one means Amazon Sales Rankings can be tracked.  RankTracer, which is a for pay service that is very economically priced, is another means of tracking sales rankings. Metric Junkie, a service that I have not tried, is also free. Finally, there is Aaron Shepard's Sales Rank Express that can be used to quickly track a books Amazon Sales Ranking.

Amazon Sales Rankings Explained Again and RankTracer revisited

In my constant search for information to help understand Amazon Sales Rankings and what these mysterious numbers mean in terms of actual sales, I came across this reasonable and well thought out explanation.  The numbers the author proposes on this blog post seem to co-relate to my experience and to be reasonable, although I still believe that only Amazon truly knows what their sales ranking numbers really mean.

The article/blog post can be found at the Nimble Books site at this link:

While this is a reasonable explanation of what Amazon Sales Rankings mean, I still like the service provided by RankTracer which provides you a real number to allow you to track your sales.  By a real number I mean that RankTracer takes the feed from Amazon and translates the information into estimated sales for the item you are tracking on Amazon. RankTracer also provides estimates on the number of books sold per day and you can have charts created that show how many books have been sold and the Amazon Rankings over a variety of time periods which can be for a single day, a week or longer.  RankTracer is not free but will give you a two month trial and the price per item tracked is very reasonable.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

CreateSpace versus Lightning Source and other options - Updated May 18, 2011!

(Visit my most recent post on this topic. To read more...)

Thus far in my career as an author my books have been published through Dog Ear Publishing, an Author's Services company (one book) and the rest through Amazon's CreateSpace (eighteen total books).

The very first book I wrote, Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball, was published through Dog Ear Publishing.  For the most part, I have been very pleased with Dog Ear. They did a great job with the book in its design, editing and cover.  I only get paid quarterly and have to wait until the end of the next quarter to both get paid and find out the total number of books sold.  As I addressed in an earlier post, it is hard to tell if a marketing strategy has worked when you have to wait three to six months to find out the results.

CreateSpace allows you to see the results immediately of sales on Amazon which is great.  You are paid for the previous months sales at the end of the next month.  In other words, you get paid for your July sales at the end of August, but at least you know the total number of books and the exact amount you will earn.

The disadvantage of using CreateSpace is that up until recently, you had to do all of the production work yourself.  Print ready files had to be submitted in order to publish with CreateSpace.  Amazon appears to be moving aggressively into the POD self-publishing market as it has expanded the services offered by CreateSpace by now offering a complete range of author services.

So what are the advantage and disadvantages of using an author services company like Dog Ear or going with CreateSpace. In short, you have to pay for the services that Dog Ear provides, and no, don't call them a vanity press. You are also stuck with a 40% discount if you sell your book on Amazon. I do want to state clearly that the author price to purchase copies of your own book from Dog Ear for resale is one of the best prices that you will find with an author services company. The advantages are Dog Ear does a great job of designing and producing your book.

CreateSpace requires, unless you want to pay for the work to be done by professionals, that you submit ready to print files. CreateSpace has great pricing for author copies if you purchase the pro plan.  You also get a direct conduit for sales on Amazon, but you are stuck once again with the 40% discount.

With a company like Dog Ear, your book is printed by Lightning Source, the largest POD printer in North America, and can be sold anywhere, including bookstores.  Up until recently, your CreateSpace book could only be sold on Amazon, but CreateSpace now has an expanded distribution network option, but you have to grant a large discount in order to take advantage of that option.

I do want to make it clear that I am happy with the results I have gotten by using both companies.  So why am I considering not using either for my next book? I can make more money by truly self-publishing my own book through Lightning Source than I can any other way.  By using Lightning Source, I control the discount that is offered to Amazon and other retailers.  I can set it as low as 20%.

In order to do this, I will have to have ready to print files for Lightning Source and I will have to obtain my own ISBN which is easy to do.  I have already learned how to do both through my experience in using CreateSpace.  I have done a lot of homework and thought about this a great deal.

So, for my next book I am going to take the plunge and truly self-publish the book using Lightning Source as my POD printer.  I will still target the bulk of my sales at Amazon with the rest coming through coaching product retailers that sell to basketball coaches.

If you want to learn more about the POD business model of self-publishing I strongly urge you to obtain Morris Rosenthal's POD Publishing and Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon and his forth coming book, POD for Profit which specifically details how to use Lightning Source.  If you are interested in learning more about using CreateSpace my own book Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace is a good source of information. You can go to all of these books product pages on Amazon by using the widget on the right hand side of this blog.

I will be posting the details of my experience using Lightning Source in comparison to Dog Ear and CreateSpace as I move through the publishing process with my next book about coaching and playing basketball.

UPDATE! For authors considering using either CreateSpace or Lightning Source and struggling to decide which company best meets their publishing needs, I have a new concise book comparing the two companies.  As much pertinent information as I could gather has been collected and organized to help authors planning to use print-on-demand for printing and distribution to select of the two companies.

The title of the book is Selecting a Print-on-Demand Company: Comparing CreateSpace and Lightning Source for POD Self-Publishing. It is available now as a print book on Amazon for $6.95.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Self-publishing With Amazon's CreateSpace is available again from!

After undergoing revision and adding content concerning the addition of author services by CreateSpace, Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace is once again available from  The book has fallen considerably in Amazon Sales Rankings during the three weeks it was unavailable which has created the problem of rebuilding its rank in the Amazon search engine process.

The book had been selling reasonably well, at least it was exceeding my goals for it, but now it has dropped far enough in the sales rankings that it no longer shows up in the books on self-publishing under that search.  It does however show up when you search for self-publishing on Amazon or self-publishing with CreateSpace.

Since this is the first of my books that has undergone a revision and subsequently was off the market for three weeks - through no fault of my own - and I will have to rebuild its sales ranking, I hope it will serve as a valuable learning experience in marketing my books on Amazon (if I am able to rebuild it ranking).  I will share my experiences, fail or succeed, with the visitors of this blog.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Who will buy your book?

This important question should be asked, and answered, by all authors before starting to write a book. At least, if the book is meant to be sold to anyone outside of the author's immediate family. Is the book meant to be sold to a niche market, a regional or local market? Is the book meant to be a tool to create business for a larger business?

Authors who self-publish need to consider the business aspect of selling books.  If there is no potential readership for the book, there will be no market for it. This means no sales of the book and the author will not only lose the investment made, but be discouraged about any future efforts at writing and publishing.

Authors who self-publish must not only determine who will be interested in reading the book, and therefore purchasing a copy, but how the book will be retailed to the potential customer base.  The opportunities for sales can include Amazon, retailers who specialize in the topic of the book, non-traditional retail outlets (hunting books in a hunting store or automotive repair books in an automotive parts store) or at speaking engagements at conventions.  The potential for possible sales outlets is long and not the point of this blog.

As always, authors who self-publish must do their homework.  In this case, the homework is determining if there is a market or demand for the book, how the book will be distributed and where the point of sale will be.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Opportunity to obtain a FREE book from Aaron Shepard for a limited time!

Aaron Shepard, the author of Aiming at Amazon and Perfect Pages, has made his latest book available for free on his website for a brief time.  The book is available for download as a PDF and Aaron would like for the readers who take advantage of this opportunity to offer him feedback on the book before he takes it to press.

The book POD for Profit, is a detailed examination of self-publishing through Lightening Source as a business model for an author who self-publishes.  This book, which I have taken the time to skim through quickly, is filled with a tremendous amount of information that will benefit not only an author who self-publishes with LSI, but by any other method of publishing. The book examines all the steps and procedures of utilizing POD through LSI and examines the skills needed prior to taking the plunge.

Mr. Shepard also covers items such as establishing your own publishing company, publishing imprint, how to obtain ISBNs and other pertinent information.

If you take advantage of Mr. Shepard's brief offer to download the book, please extend him the courtesy of providing him some feedback on his work.  To download the book go to: