Friday, November 26, 2010

CreateSpace Now Offers ISBN Service Options

Up until recently an author who wished to use CreateSpace for self-publishing had one of two options for obtaining an ISBN. A CreateSpace assigned ISBN could be had for free. The string attached was CreateSpace would be both the Imprint and the Distributor if this option was selected. 

The second option was for the author to provide an ISBN purchased from Bowker. This option allowed the author to name the imprint and select the distributor.

CreateSpace now has two additional options. The author may purchase a custom ISBN for $10 and name the imprint but must use CreateSpace as the distributor.

The author may also purchase a "custom universal ISBN" for $99. This option allows the author to both name the imprint and the distributor.

Depending on the ISBN option selected there may be limits to the options available for the Expanded Distribution Service.

The following is from the CreateSpace website:

CreateSpace-Assigned ISBN

  • CreateSpace is your book's imprint of record. If you select as a distribution channel, then this will be included on your book's detail page.
  • You can sell your book through, an eStore, and all Expanded Distribution Channel sales outlets.
  • You cannot use the ISBN with another publisher.
  • Your book's ISBN information will be registered with®

Custom ISBN* - $10

  • You choose your book's imprint of record. If you select as a distribution channel, then this will be included on your book's detail page.
  • You can sell your book through, an eStore, and some† Expanded Distribution Channel sales outlets.
  • You cannot use the ISBN with another publisher.
  • Your book's ISBN information will be registered with®

Custom Universal ISBN* - $99

  • You can use this ISBN with any publisher.
  • You choose your book's imprint of record. If you select as a distribution channel, then this will be included on your book's detail page.
  • You can sell your book through, an eStore, and some† Expanded Distribution Channel sales outlets.
  • Your book's ISBN information will be registered with®

Provide Your Own ISBN

  • You can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker or through your local ISBN agency.
  • If you are reprinting your book, the title, author name, and binding type must remain the same. A new edition requires a new ISBN.
  • Your book's imprint must match what's on file with your ISBN.
  • You can sell your book through, an eStore, and some† Expanded Distribution Channel sales outlets.

Amazon Kindle Customer Reviews - Self-publishing Authors Pay Attention

It would appear from a quick glance Kindle readers are much harsher critics than the average Amazon reader of traditional paper and hardback books.  The graphic below comes from the home page of Amazon when you simply ask the Amazon search engine to pull up the book department page. Negative 1-star reviews outnumber the positive 4-star & up reviews by 18%. As dismal as this number is for traditional print authors, it is worse for Kindle authors.

Avg. Customer Review*

Compare the numbers below from the Kindle Book store home page. The negative 1-star reviews outnumber the positive 4-star & up reviews by 21%.

Avg. Customer Review

Some quick math tells more about Kindle books and traditional paper books. Amazon reviewers have written 8.5 times more customer reviews of paper books than readers of Kindle books (5,319,948 reviews for paper books and 616,441 reviews for Kindle books). Given the short life span of the Kindle reader though the total number of reviews already posted is impressive.

A three percent difference in the total number of negative 1-star reviews may not seem like a big deal, but given the fact a 1-star customer review can be a sales killer for a title, it is something authors hope to avoid unless a large number of 4-star and up reviews have been posted to counterbalance the sales destroying impact of the negative review.

Are there that many more bad books being published on Kindle? Some might argue  this is the case given the ease with which Kindle books can be brought to market. Others would argue there is something else going on because of the large number of classic works available on Kindle and other time tested public domain works available.

For the sake of discussion, let's say the percentage of bad books for both Kindle and traditional paper books is the same. What could explain the difference in the numbers of bad customer reviews? I would argue pricing and a more hostile attitude on the part of Kindle users towards the publishing industry is the cause.

Price point seems to be a big issue with Kindle readers. Kindle readers understand a paper book must cost more to purchase, even if the book is published using print-on-demand technology. A paper book is a physical object, it has to be physically printed, assembled and shipped to the customer. All of these stages incur costs that have to be paid for.

A Kindle book on the other hand consists of electrons that fly through the air to the Kindle reader. The actual book exists only as a computer file somewhere on a server belonging to Amazon. Other than the cost of the use of the wireless network and storage space on the server, the book has not production and almost no shipping cost.

Kindle readers probably don't object to the author making money for the time and creative effort required to create the book. Rather, it is what Kindle users view as an attempt to price gouge the customer by the publishing companies. A hard argument to disagree with from a certain perspective. If the cost of producing the actual book is so much lower, why is the price not lower by a commensurate percentage?

Much has been written about so-called Kindle price police who will post 1-star reviews to punish companies for pricing deemed to high or some other perceived offense. Eric Engleman writes a blog about Amazon and published a blog piece about how Kindle readers will punish publishers for perceived offenses.

Given the importance of customer reviews in the entire Amazon sales process, self-publishing authors need to be aware of trends among reviewers. Price point, always an important consideration for self-published authors, truly needs to be carefully thought out when dealing with Kindle sales.  Too low a price point and the author cannot make any money. To high a price point may result in bad customer reviews which can be a sales killer.

How big a factor are the 1-star reviews from the Kindle price police? I don't know. Many customers are smart enough to see one of these reviews for what it is and if the book contains information the reader needs or wants or the reviews for a work of fiction not based on price are positive, the customer may go ahead and purchase the book. Still, how many 1-star reviews does it take to kill a book's sales?

Update: There is an excellent post on Brandon Simpson's self-publishing blog Small Town Press about the value of negative customer reviews on Amazon.

*data for November 26, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

52 Great Blogs for Self-Publishers

I was delighted The Self-Publisher's Notebook made the list of 52 Great Blogs for Self-Publishers, a list of blogs about self-publishing and publishing by Joel Friedlander, of The Book Designer.

Joel's site is a good one to visit regularly and this list of blogs is a great resource as well. I am sure this was quite a task and took up a good bit of Joel's time to assemble.

In addition to having a list of 52 informative self-publishing blog sites in one handy location, Joel has managed to create a list that covers a wide range of viewpoints and information sources about the self-publishing industry.

CreateSpace, Kindle Conversion and Amazon - Part II

I promised an update on my experience with using CreateSpace for converting one of my titles to a Kindle e-book. For $69 I believe I received a fair and adequate service for my money. When opened the file looks identical to the paper book.  I cannot say the same for my own first effort in converting the book to a Kindle ready conversion file. The cover art turned out well as well. So far so good.

I uploaded the files to the Digital Text Platform at Amazon and everything went well at that stage of the process.  I received a notice from Amazon that the book would not be available for purchase for another 24 hours. I have my fingers crossed and hope the final product looks like it should.

I have decided to introduce the book for the price of $2.99 to drive some early sales of the book. I will probably leave it at that price for the month of December and then raise it during January.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Amazon Associates - Make a bit more money by Aiming at Amazon!

Aaron Shepard advocates in his book Aiming at Amazon, and I agree, directing all sales to Amazon in the long term will increase the total number of book sales for a self-publishing author. The more the book sells, the more the long tail of Amazon will engage and promote the book.

In addition to increased sales over time, as I mentioned in an earlier post, directing sales to Amazon benefits the self-publishing author as Amazon will: 
  • handle order fulfillment through the authors POD service (usually CreateSpace or Lightning Source)
  • collect the funds from the sale
  • handle the collection and payment of any state sales taxes
  • handle all shipping
  • provide the author with increased exposure for the book
If this is not enough to make you consider directing your sales to Amazon, consider the additional income that can be earned by becoming an Amazon Associate and earning commissions of up to 15% on the sale of your own book or other merchandise sold on Amazon. Of course that 15% commission is only on high ticket items, but my Associate sales for my books earn me 4% per sale and that number increases to 6% if two or more items are purchased. It might not sound like a lot, but it pays for the cost of my e-newsletter each month and as they say, every little bit helps!

Amazon will provide its Associates with product links or widgets to insert into a blog or website. Customers click on the link and are taken directly to the product page for the item. If the customer continues shopping on Amazon without leaving, the Associate is credited with a percentage of all the sales from that customer.

Shown below is an example of one of the links from the Associate program. Clicking on the link will take you directly to my second book on self-publishing, 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why does a book sell? Or not sell? Reader participation requested!

This is of course the million dollar question for all self-published authors and I strongly encourage the readers of this blog to weigh in with their comments as we could all possibly benefit from exchanging ideas.

For the purpose of the discussion there will be two givens. The first is the book, a non-fiction book, is well written, well edited, well designed and for its niche market is a positive, valuable library addition to someone who is interested in that topic.  The second given is the book, like most of our books, is going to be sold mainly through the gateway of Amazon. Finally, we will operate on Aaron Shepard's premise that it takes a calendar year for a book to reach its sales potential on Amazon.

The author can invest the time in engaging in all of the ethical marketing and promotional tools available, both on Amazon and off-Amazon to promote the book. These efforts will be centered around all the tools on Amazon and a reasonably well done author platform that consists of a content driven website, a blog and let's say a eNewsletter with a reasonable, for the niche, subscription list.

Sounds like the author in the example has done everything right to produce a quality book, promote the book and create a group of individuals who might be interested in purchasing the book to read. The author has done his or her homework and all of the marketing and promotional work has been well targeted.

Why do some books succeed (success being defined as being purchased in reasonable numbers) and others fail if the author has "done things right?" It could be too much competition for sales in a specific niche market or other such factors like pricing.

This leads to the question of the day. What makes a customer buy a book? Why does a customer pass on purchasing the book in the above mythical example? Why does another customer purchase our book?

Part of me thinks it is an issue of trust. Can the customer trust the author to deliver the information promised by the title of the book and all of the marketing and promotional information? The customer, and rightly so, wants to feel like the exchange of money for information will be a fair exchange.

How do we, as self-publishing authors, overcome this "trust hurdle" so the customer will help us achieve our goal of selling a copy of our book? How do we do this on a broad enough basis that we are able to sell good numbers of our book?

Are there factors other than trust involved? How can these factors best be resolved?

For those who post comments, I want to proactively thank you for participating in the discussion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Competition, Character, Ethics and Self-Publishing

My "real job" is that of high school history teacher and basketball coach. It would be an accurate assessment to say I have a competitive personality. I spend a lot of time thinking about competition, the nature of competition and the value of competition. I have also seen a lot of the negative aspects of competition during my career as a player and coach.

One of my favorite adages is about competition and simply states, "Competition does not build character. Competition reveals it." How does this truism fit with competitive interscholastic athletics and the so-called value of sports in schools? If an individual does not know his or her true character, how can the individual recognize, admit and correct character flaws? Quite simply, competition is a filter that can help us remove the undesirable and unwanted aspects of our character.

One of the best "tools" I was taught as a player and shared with all of my players is the simple idea of making the right choice before you are confronted with the need to make a decision. It is much easier to say "no" to a bad choice under pressure if the choice to say "no" has already been made. If you are aware of a character flaw that will make you susceptible to making the wrong choice, it is very helpful to be aware of that flaw. It now becomes more important to make the correct choice in advance and is often easier to do so as a result of foreknowledge of the character flaw.

What does the aforementioned have to do with self-publishing? I spend a great deal of my time trying to learn as much as possible about self-publishing, how the industry works, the technical aspects of the industry, who the leaders are and how to make my tiny self-publishing empire profitable. Another of the truisms I was taught by my college coach is if you have a gift or knowledge, if you keep it to yourself, you will lose it. If you share it or give it away, you will have it forever. Thus, the desire on my part to write this blog and share what I learn to others who have a similar desire to learn about self-publishing.

One of the things I have learned, and truly wish there was more information available, is a code of ethics exists in the field of self-publishing. Copyright laws are a legal basis for much of what is acceptable in publishing. You cannot steal the work of others, nor can you commit libel,  not  pay your bills, cheat customers or not honor contracts.

I don't confuse legality with ethics though. Ethics, in my world view, has more to do with making morally correct choices than the law can or ever will. Competition, the desire to have your book do well, to make more money, to garner more recognition than other books or to surpass a standard you have set for yourself, can reveal a character flaw.

What has prompted this essay today? I was rereading old e-mails while cleaning out my inbox and I came across a series of e-mails between industry leader Aaron Shepard and myself. The topic was over marketing practices and what was ethical and unethical in utilizing the many features available on Amazon for authors to market and promote books. As a neophyte in the industry, I discovered to my horror I had engaged in a marketing practice that was questionable. I had done so at the "advice" of another individual who has status as an expert in Amazon book marketing. In my desire to get my fledgling self-publishing empire off the ground, I had made a questionable decision.

After spending hours of deleting even more hours of work on my part, I am still not sure if I have completely cleaned up my error. Simply put, I had written book reviews of the many history and coaching books I had read and collected over the years and inserted a product link back to one of my books. 

Competition it would seem, had revealed a flaw in my young character as a self-publisher. I tried to rectify it and I certainly have not engaged in the questionable practice since discovering the error of my ways.

Since the helpful e-mail discussion between the two of us, Mr. Shepard has since included a section on this very topic in his updated version of Aiming at Amazon. Mr. Shepard points out, and correctly so, that many otherwise ethical people will do things on the internet they would never do otherwise.

Since public credibility is important to every self-publisher in the industry, it is incumbent on each author to engage in the highest level of ethical decision making possible. The more ethical as a group we all behave as we compete with one another in the industry, the more trust we will have in the eyes of our readers, who are after all, also our customers. Trust is one of the key factors in a customers decision to make a purchase.

I am certainly not pointing fingers at anyone and certainly do not claim to be perfect, but I have written this blog post in hopes that whoever reads it will stop and think a bit about the entire process of ethical decision making. None of us are perfect, nor can we hope to be, but we can do our best to make the right decisions, in advance and when confronted with a choice.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Publishing Maven: The Indie Book Reviewer Guide is a Hit!

The Publishing Maven: The Indie Book Reviewer Guide is a Hit!

Hats off to Christy Pinherio! She spent a great deal of her valuable time assembling a resource for self-publishing and Indie authors by producing an ebook titled The Official Indie Book Reviewer List: A Handy Reference Guide for Self-Published Authors and Small Publishers. The following is from her blog, The Publishing Maven:

"So, finally, after months of work and many, many, many hours of corrections, contacts, emails, etc, the Indie Book Reviewer "yellow pages" is finally active. I decided to charge 99 cents for it, because I did pay for professional editing, so I hope to at least recover my investment. I didn't do it to make money-- I did it to help other self-published and small press authors who need free publicity and don't know where to start. I've had a very good year and this is my labor of love.

All of the reviewers in the guide accept small press books, and all of them review books for free. The guide lists their likes, dislikes, contact information, website information, pet peeves, etc. Like I said, it's taken me a very long time to put this monster together.

I hope that it will grow, and in January, I'll do another update and maybe even put out a dirt-cheap POD edition for those die-hard paper lovers."
This will prove to be an invaluable tool for self-publishing authors and small presses. Again, hats of to Christy for providing this service to her fellow authors!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts On Tracking Sales With Amazon Sales Rankings and Other Ideas

Amazon must have hired a behavioral psychologist to consult when they dreamed up the idea of Amazon Sales Rankings. Authors become conditioned to monitor sales rankings like Pavlov's dogs. At times it seems to me the folks at Amazon are having a good laugh at our expense.

Precisely what purpose do the Amazon Sales Rankings serve? I am not sure if the rankings actually mean anything to non-Amazon employees nor am I sure exactly what purpose the rankings serve for Amazon other than the rankings appear to be one of the variables used in the search process when a customer does a search for a given topic or genre using the Amazon search engine. If this is true, then rankings are in fact very important to a book in terms of sales as the better the ranking the more the long tail effect of Amazon will be engaged.

Amazon Sales Rankings can be fun too if your book is selling. It is neat to see a high ranking for one of your books. While not quite the same, it is akin to having a child do well in a history fair or have a great game in a sports contest. You created the book and nurtured it along through the publishing process and if it is selling, you have probably invested a good bit of time into marketing and promoting the book.

How accurate Amazon Sales Rankings are for estimating sales? I am not good enough at either math or statistics to determine to any degree of accuracy a co-relation between sales and rankings. Morris Rosenthal on the other hand has invested a good bit of time and effort into this and has posted several times on his website about this specific topic including a recent posting about the impact of Kindle book sales on sales rankings.

My interest in the rankings is twofold. I want my books to come up as high in the search lists as possible, preferably on the first page of books listed in the search. This means more exposure and more sales which of course means better rankings and I believe a continued preferential listing in the search results. The other is part of my ongoing attempts to better understand what marketing efforts on my part are the most effective. 

While I still continue to monitor Amazon Sales Rankings, I know spend more time monitoring my actual reported sales via my Member Dashboard at CreateSpace and LSI. Even with regular updating by both CreateSpace and LSI, it is very hard to measure the impact of marketing efforts for a single promotion or marketing strategy.

Amazon seems to regularly place orders for multiple copies of several of my titles at once in order to maintain a limited stock on hand to promptly fill orders. This practice does not reflect an increase in sales ranking. Also complicating matters is a sale could take place by a third party vendor selling a used copy. 

To make matters even more complicated, two of my titles with CreateSpace have started selling reasonably well on Barnes & Noble, or at least I think so as these sales are reported as Expanded Distribution sales by CreateSpace.

If only there was some software capable of making sense of it all and providing the author with a weekly e-mail informing you which of your marketing efforts was working and producing the largest impact on book sales as well as additional helpful feedback such as this marketing effort does not produce direct sales but is building a base of potential customers and when combined with this effort, results in an excellent number of sales. Since no such software exists, I continue to do the best I can and work to build as broad an author platform as I can.

I have learned a great deal the hard way and while I continue to make mistakes, I am still enjoying this thing called self-publishing and enjoy sharing what I have learned with other authors. Perhaps someone will weigh-in on this topic and share some information with the other readers of this blog.

In the mean time, I will still be checking my sales rankings once a day and comparing the information to the data from my updated sales information. I even check my RankTracer report that does its best to predict sales based on sales rankings from Amazon (it just doesn't include my expanded distribution sales). I guess this has something to do with my love of dogs and Prof. Pavlov.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Aiming sales at Amazon versus selling direct yourself

Anyone familiar at all with the industry of self-publishing is likely to have heard of, if not read, Aiming at Amazon by Aaron Shepard. This book covers in great detail the Aaron's business model for making a profit as a self-publishing author by selling books on Amazon (I also strongly suggest reading Aaron's latest book on self-publishing, POD for Profit, which focuses on using Lightning Source (LSI) as a POD printer and the business model of using a short discount).

Without giving away the contents of Aiming at Amazon, Aaron's business model points out several advantages of directing all book sales to Amazon. The most important of these advantages is what is known as the "long tail" of Amazon. The more a book sells on Amazon, the better its sales ranking, the higher it comes up in the search listings and the more the book sells. Pretty neat!

There are other advantages and they might not seem as important as engaging the virtuous cycle of the long tail of Amazon, these additional advantages are important in terms of profitability. Amazon handles the overhead of distributing, collecting payment, sales taxes and shipping the book to the buyer. For a self-publishing author, these services performed by Amazon means a significant savings in time and money, neither of which are in great supply for authors.

The author who uses LSI has the advantage of being able to set a short discount on the wholesale price, as low as 25%. Author's who use CreateSpace, the POD company owned by Amazon, must grant Amazon a 40% discount. I use CreateSpace for my POD printer because the price per copy is lower and I sell books at speaking opportunities. 

I also sell books directly from my website, but not for much longer. By the time I factor in my time and expenses for packaging a book, invoicing, depositing the funds in my business account and going to the post office, the difference in profit earned from selling direct instead of through Amazon has vanished and in some instances the profit is even less.

The store on my website is undergoing a redesign. Using direct links obtained from the Amazon Associates page, potential customers will be directed to the product page for the book on Amazon. If the customer purchases the book, not only will I have sold a book, but I will receive an additional commission of about 6% from Amazon for directing the sale to Amazon.  

This approach eliminates time and expense yet still allows me to use my website as a means to sell my books. Visitors to my website are not looking for books, but rather the content I provide for free on the site. Many of them visit the store while on my website, confirmed by Google Analytics, and some purchase books. The amount of sales generated is lower than those generated by speaking and Amazon sales but still important. Directing all sales to Amazon will further engage the long tail of Amazon and reduce expenses and free time to be spent on other tasks such as finishing the next book.

If you sell books directly to readers, it might be worth the time to calculate the savings if you converted the store on your website into an Amazon outlet and as Aaron Shepard would say, "aimed your sales at Amazon."


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Great blog article on the current state of flux in the publishing industry

I spend a fair amount of time trying to keep up with the mind-numbing changes to both the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries. It can be overwhelming at times.

This blog post by Jonathan Fields is very thought provoking and informative about the current state of the publishing world and the challenges and opportunities this chaos presents to the industry.

I found some of his ideas intriguing and plan on posting comments here after I have had some time to mull over his ideas.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A big day for self-publishers on Amazon, for one day at least

I am not a fan of a lot of the marketing plans advocated by vanity presses or author services companies that require the author to pay a large fee to have the contracted company send out a mass e-mail trying to get individuals to all purchase a copy of the author's book from Amazon on a specific day to cause a peek in Amazon sales. All this in a effort to be able to claim Amazon Bestseller status will cost a lot of money and the resulting atmospheric Amazon Sales Ranking can vanish just as quickly as it was created.

Having said that, you might want to visit this blog. It tells the story of how a self-published book hit #2 on Amazon for a day with a variation on this approach that was NOT about achieving a specific Amazon sales rank status. Instead it was about energizing the potential fans of this book about being excited to purchase a copy! A unique and different approach with the reader in mind. Something to think about.

CreateSpace continues to add new services

CreateSpace has not been content to sit idly and make money with the current market share it has claimed. Evidently Amazon wants its self-publishing division to become the dominant player in the industry as is evidenced by the continued additions of new services and improvements to existing services.

CreateSpace has expanded its cover creator to function for DVD and CD cover creation as well.  In addition to this expanded service, CreateSpace now offers an extensive gallery of photographs for authors to use in creating covers.

The information below is from the CreateSpace website. Click on this link to go directly to CreateSpace.

Cover Creator for DVD and CD

Our acclaimed online cover creation tool now allows you to build professional cover and disc face artwork for your CD or DVD.

Image Gallery for Cover Creator

Gain access to an extensive free image gallery to use with Cover Creator. You can choose from a wide variety of ready-to-use professional photos.

Friday, November 5, 2010

CreateSpace versus Ligthening Source Revisited

Currently I have three book projects underway. One is a simple experiment in converting an existing book into a Kindle book using the new CreateSpace conversion service. The next two projects won't be finished until the spring of 2011 at the earliest. Just as I am experimenting with the CreateSpace Kindle conversion, one of the two as yet completed titles will be published with Lightning Source.

The title I published using Dog Ear Publishing, Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball,  is printed using LSI's POD and sold on Amazon. Dog Ear's staff did a wonderful job in the design of the book and editing and LSI does a great job printing the book. However, the up front cost for me to continue to rapidly introduce books was prohibitive in developing a back list. This was one of the reasons I invested the time to learn how to do much of the work myself, hired an editor and used CreateSpace to publish the bulk of my titles.

CreateSpace has continued to improve the ease with which authors can self-publish using CreateSpace's services. I am still working my way through getting my account opened with LSI.

The advantages of using CreateSpace now, are largely the same as when I started using CreateSpace and I believe a few additional advantages have been created since that time. They include:
  • ease of use
  • automatic listing on Amazon
  • low cost to publish a book (Free or $39 for the Pro Plan - Pay the $39 for the Pro Plan - it is worth it).
  • low cost per copy to print
  • hourly sales updates on the author's member dashboard
  • monthly payment - payment is 30 days after the previous month's sales. In other words, at the end of October you are paid for September's sales.
  • author services are now available for those who wish to take advantage of these services.
  • expanded distribution to other retailers
The disadvantages:
  • required 40% discount for all Amazon sales
  • an even higher discount for sales through the Expanded Distribution network
The advantages of using LSI:
  • authors are allowed to use the short discount business model (this is a really big advantage in terms of profitability!)
  • automatic listing with Ingram
The disadvantages of using LSI:
  • not as easy to start using to self-publish
  • higher cost per copy
  • quarterly instead of monthly payment
For many, the main issue is one of profitability. An author can make more money per sale on Amazon using LSI than CreateSpace. CreateSpace is easier to use, offers lower cost per copy, but has the disadvantage of a higher required discount.

For authors new to self-publishing and who desire to learn more about the industry, you may want to consider my newest book, 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing, available from Amazon. If you are interested in learning more about using CreateSpace, you might check out my book Self-Publishing With Amazon's CreateSpace, also available from Amazon.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Marketing, Amazon, Your Author Platform, and Other Means

Books don't sell themselves. It takes work and for the self-published author, that means the author does the marketing work. For most of us, this means driving sales to an on-line retailer such as Amazon, B&N or one of the e-book retailers. Some of us sell directly to the customer from our websites or at face-to-face sales opportunities such as speaking engagements.

Given the limited number of hours in a day and the need to maximize effort and be efficient, it is essential to have an organized plan for how books are to be marketed and sold. Much has been made of the idea of creating an author platform, a means to create interest in an author's work amongst potential readers/customers. 

For many their author platform is a website where excerpts from books are available, information about the author, characters or factual information is shared if the author writes non-fiction. Included on the website is some means to purchase books, either directly from the author or the customer is steered to a retail site where the book can be purchased.

In the case of the on-line author platform, the king sites are those providing content. The visitors want content and not much else. Fancy sites can be a distraction for the visitor who wants specific information on the history of American railroading or wants to read the latest adventure of a favorite character.

Amazon is, or should be, a major component of a marketing/sales plan for self-publishers. Amazon is the great equalizer for self-publishers, allowing access to millions of potential customers while offering a means to market books, collect revenue, handle order fulfillment and a host of other tasks. Much has been written about book marketing on Amazon and I recommend you read Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon for the specifics on how to ethically market your book on Amazon.

Is a website and marketing through Amazon enough? I believe it is a great start. One of the frustrating things about marketing is the difficulty of determining what strategy produced the best results. A speaking engagement results in zero sales but a follow-up e-newsletter to the individuals in attendance creates a spike in Amazon sales. Are the sales a delayed reaction from the speaking engagement, a result of a good sales pitch in the e-newsletter or a combination of both?

Branding a product requires multiple contacts with the potential customer and the likelihood of a sale increases with each contact with a potential customer. This requires multiple contacts through multiple means. Repeat business requires continued multiple contacts.

The most effective part of my author's platform is my weekly e-newsletter to the basketball coaches who have subscribed. Within several days of the newsletter being e-mailed, there will be a spike in sales on Amazon (usually). If a specific book is promoted, there is usually a spike in sales for that book.

The key to the success of this approach is content, content, content. In order for the coaches who receive the newsletter to open it, I have to provide content that will be useful immediately. I have two objectives in each  edition of the newsletter; to provide useful information about the profession of coaching for each coach on the list and to build a level of trust between myself and my readers. 

It is this combination of providing needed and useful information and building trust that leads to sales. I have provided information a coach has used successfully three or four times, convincing the coach I know what I am talking about. The coach needs to improve the three-point shooting of his or her team and recalls I have a book dedicated to just that subject. A quick trip to Amazon and the coach purchases the book.

The real point of this blog post is to encourage self-publishing authors to look at ways to effectively build their author platform beyond just a website and working the magic of Amazon. Provide readers with content they want (for free) and build a relationship. In my case, the two best methods have been speaking at clinics and my newsletter. I drive coaches to my website to obtain additional free content AND I have an Amazon store on my site to allow coaches to purchase my book while they are in a "researching" mood.  

Understand it takes multiple approaches to successfully market a book, all of which center round content.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

CreateSpace has made improvements to its website!

I took a leap today and have engaged CreateSpace to convert one of my books to Kindle format in order to make the title available both as a paperback and a Kindle book. While on my Dashboard I decided to make a few changes to distribution for one particular title and discovered CreateSpace has made its title management system easier to use.

I attempted to post a view of what the new management system looks like to readers can see how easy to use the new format is. Unfortunately I was not able to transfer the image exactly as it appears on the website. Please take my word the new format is more user friendly or actually visit the CreateSpace site and view for yourself.

In a day and age where customer service is not something many companies are noted for, even if it is still a challenge at times to contact a human at CreateSpace, the company does deserve credit for making its computer interface for customers easier to use.

Self-Education for Self-Publishing Authors

My real job is being a high school basketball coach and a history teacher. One of the traits of many great historical figures is the seemingly universal practice of lifelong self-education. These individuals never stopped trying to learn. I still have a keen interest in learning and while it might take a little longer than in the past to inculcate (SAT word for pound in) new information, I find learning more enjoyable and beneficial than ever before.

I strongly encourage self-publishing authors to learn as much about the industry as possible and hope some of the readers of this blog have learned something of value from the content of this blog. With the rapid changes taking place in the industry, largely due to new technologies such as print-on-demand publishing and e-books, times have never been better for self-publishing authors.

Amazon has certainly helped to level the playing field through its willingness to allow self-published books to be sold on an equal footing with traditionally published books. Indeed, the marketing, collection of payment and distribution of books to customers by Amazon makes self-publishing more viable than ever before.

Not to be lost in the wave of changes though is the need for authors to continue to learn more about what the topics or genres they write about. Technology is changing everything and for non-fiction authors this impacts many of the topics we write about and for the topics it does not impact, the contrast between the technology of the old and the technology of today may provide a new topic to write about, at least for those of us interested in history and how people do things.

Fiction writers need to be aware of the changes in the world in order to be able to reflect those changes in the stories they tell, regardless of the time period, or world, the story may be set in. For science fiction writers in particular what was once fiction may very well have now become fact.

The lesson? If you are a writer, you must always be learning!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Amazon's CreateSpace to offer Kindle conversion for $69!

I have been searching for a service to convert some of my books to Kindle format. After seeing if I could do it myself, the results were terrible, I began my search. Since most of my books are published with CreateSpace, I am delighted to learn of this new service being offered by CreateSpace! The price for the service is $69 per book unless the book has complex diagrams, etc, in the body. Note, in order to obtain the $69 price, the book to be converted must already be in the POD system with CreateSpace.

I will keep all of the readers here posted as I work through the process of having at least one of my books converted to Kindle by CreateSpace. I will be sure to comment on the quality of the work and if I am pleased with the final product.

It  makes good business sense for CreateSpace to offer this service to its authors since it is owned by Amazon. This move should help Amazon quickly increase the size of its Kindle library and could potentially increase its share of the ebook market.

From CreateSpace:

Kindle-Ready File Conversion

Broaden your readership by making your book available through the Amazon Kindle. eBooks are widely popular, especially since the launch of the Kindle. Our Kindle-Ready File Conversion service converts your trade paperback book into an eBook for the Amazon Kindle.
Price: $69.00*

* Books with complex formatting may require additional fees (e.g. mathematical formulas, tables, and heavy graphics). In rare cases we may be unable to convert your book. 
Bring Your Book to the Digital Age
  • Reach a whole new audience of readers
  • Gain access to a new revenue stream
  • Ensure your book retains its professional appearance
CreateSpace will convert your trade paperback book* into an eBook format that maintains the formatting and design elements used in your trade paperback book. You will also receive a JPEG thumbnail of your book’s cover.

Both files are ready for you to upload to Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) for distribution in the Kindle store. DTP also accepts html, Word .doc, .pdf, ePub, plain text, and MobiPocket files for free.

* You must have a print-ready book in our system.

More excerpts from 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing

For those who are interested, here are another pair of short excerpts from my latest book on self-publishing, 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing.

60. Why do I need an author platform?
Self-published authors need an author platform in order to reach the buying public. For example, if you are a non-fiction author, it is the tool you will use to convey your expertise. 

An author platform can also be used to generate other streams of revenue and income and as a means to obtain feedback from readers and either keep your book in front of the buying public, gather information to up date your book or obtain ideas for another book in the future.
61. What are some examples of how to build an author platform?
The internet has provided several easy methods of developing an author platform in recent years. A few examples of internet based tools are blogs, websites, podcasts and video book trailers.

If you have already developed a speaking platform, you have a ready made author platform and a book will go a long way to enhance your existing speaking platform.
The new social networking sites on the internet are tools many authors are using to develop a following with readers and to communicate with fans and readers seeking information. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are currently the most popular social networking sites.

A newsletter, particularly an eNewsletter, is an excellent way to build interest in a book, communicate with readers and for non-fiction authors share valuable information with readers.
62. Do I need to have a blog?
It is not required but it would probably help. Blogs can be a valuable part of an author platform and there are a variety of free blogging sites allowing authors to start a blog for no cost. Blogs can be a great way to generate interest in a book or build a credible reputation for the author as an expert.
63. Why is the cover of my book so important?
You only get one chance to make a first impression and the cover of your book is often how that impression will be made. A poorly designed book cover will fail to draw the interest of a customer whether in a bookstore, specialty store or an online book retailer. A search on the site of an online book retailer will take a customer to the product page, but a poor cover design can turn off a potential buyer.
64. Should the cover of a book sold in a bookstore be different from a book sold only on the internet?
According to the ultimate authority on selling books on the internet, Aaron Shepard, a book that will be sold primarily on the internet must have a cover design that is simple, crisp, clear and bold in order to look good on a small internet image of the book cover. Books sold in venues where the customer can physically hold a copy of the book may need a different cover design to attract a buyer’s attention. A more elaborate design with more information included in the cover scribing is the traditional approach to designing covers.
65. What is cover scribing?
Cover scribing is the advertising or promotional copy on the cover of a book meant to attract potential customers and create interest in the book immediately so the customer will purchase the book.
66. Why is it so important?
Again, you only get one chance to make a first impression and the cover of your book is often how that impression will be made. Cover scribing tells the customer something about the book, creates interest in the story or information in the book and serves to help convince the customer the book will either entertain the customer or provide valuable information the customer wants or needs.
67. What is a blurb?
Blurbs are short promotional statements or phrases often found on the front cover, back cover or first few interior pages of a book. Blurbs are also used in promotional and advertising material.
68. How do I obtain blurbs?
Ask for them. Research respected authors and critics in your genre if you write fiction, send them a proof copy, either a physical copy or an electronic copy, and ask them to please provide you with a blurb. Most will be happy to do so because it is flattering to be asked but it also promotes them as well because blurbs identify who the author of the blurb is and what the blurb author is noted for. 

For authors of non-fiction, the same approach should be utilized except experts in the field you have written about should be the individuals who receive the request for a blurb along with the complimentary copy of your book.

Here is the second and final excerpt:
254. What is Amazon Sales Rank?
This is a number Amazon calculates and posts for each book listed. It is not a calculation of how many copies a specific title has sold. It is a measure of how many copies of that specific book has sold in relation to other books sold on Amazon. Amazon revises sales ranks for every book listed every hour.
255. Why is it important?
Amazon Sales Rankings have little value in determining sales totals for a specific book. The rankings do have value as a means of researching how a specific book is fairing against books of the same genre or a similar subject if the book is non-fiction. The rankings also can provide an author a way to determine which titles will the most successful and are likely competition for sales for the author’s book.
256. How can I track my Amazon Sales Ranking?
One way is to actually visit your book’s Amazon product page, scroll down to where the Amazon Sales Ranking is listed and check it visually. This approach is time consuming.
There are online companies who have developed software that allows an author to track Amazon Sales Rankings for specific titles. is one such service and as of the time this book was published, the service is free. To use it the author, or individual, must create an account and then create a list of books for Titlez to track. The information provided includes current Amazon Sales Ranking, a 7-day average, a 90-day average and a lifetime average. Also included in the information is the book’s highest and lowest Amazon Sales Ranking.

Another means of tracking Amazon Sales Rankings for free is to use the site provided by Amazon marketing expert Aaron Shepard, This free service also allows the author to research the top ten book pairings Amazon uses for that book to create its “Also Bought” listings.
257. How can I track my actual sales?
Amazon’s Sales Ranking software is proprietary and evidently always evolving. Despite this, several companies have designed software that can estimate with reasonable accuracy the number of sales a book has made based on its Amazon Sales Ranking.
Other means of tracking sales depend on how your books are printed and distributed as well as the company providing these services for the author. For example, CreateSpace allows an author to have up-to-date sales figures on how many copies of a title have been sold on Amazon or other points of sale.