5 Things Authors Can Learn From the 2015 Smashwords Survey

smashwordslogoSmashwords recently released the results of its annual survey. And the results are … well … interesting.

If you want to read the full report, you can check it out on the Smashwords blog. But here’s a summary of what you, as an author, can take from the 2015 Smashwords survey.

1. Offering things for free makes a difference. It’s kind of a no-brainer. If a store that sells accessories is offering a free handbag, you’re more likely to go to the store to take advantage of the free handbag… and then purchase a few other things you like there. The same is true with books. For the first time this year, Smashwords analyzed the difference in sales between series with free series starters and series without free series starters.  The results were clear: the free series starter group earned 66% more.  In addition, free books (not surprisingly) got 41 times more downloads than priced books. For many authors, that’s a good first step to building loyal readers. As they describe on Smashwords, “A free book allows a reader to try you risk free, and if you’re offering them a great full length book, that’s a lot of hours the reader has spent with your words in which you’re earning and deserving their continued readership. Free works!”

2. There’s a value to preordering. For the first time, Smashwords compared the percentage of books available for preorder with those simply uploaded the day of release, as well as the sales of each one. Interestingly, less than 10 percent of the books available through Smashwords were available for preorder … and yet, two thirds of their top 200 bestselling titles were able to be preordered.  That’s right: that small 10% of books made up 66% of the top sellers. Think about that for a minute. Then use that as motivation to allow people to preorder your book.

3. People still want traditional book-length books. There’s not a lot of detail in the report, but the stat is clear: longer books do better than some of today’s shorter e-books. Whether or not that trend will change as the industry changes is still to be determined.

4. $3.99 is the pricing sweet spot for e-books. Some interesting stats in here about the prices that help sell the most books. For the third year in a row, according to Smashwords, authors sold more units and earned more overall income with books priced at $3.99.  As they explain, “This is significant because it counters the concern of some authors that the glut of high-quality will lead to ever lower prices.  For great authors, readers are still willing to pay.” And the worst price point? That would be $1.99. “If you write full length fiction and you have books priced at $1.99, trying increasing the price to $2.99 or $3.99, and if your book performs as the aggregate does, you’ll probably sell more units.  Or if it’s short and $2.99+ is too high, try 99 cents instead because the data suggests you’ll earn more and reach about 65% more readers,” Smashwords recommends.

5. Successful authors have a blog and social media presence. Much like people wanting stuff that’s free, this is another no brainer. According to the latest Smashwords research, bestselling authors are more likely to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, as well as more likely to have a blog. If you’re interested in building an author website, blog or social media presence, we can certainly help you with that.

Keep in mind that all of this data is specific to Smashwords, which only publishes e-books, so do with it as you wish. But personally, I think there’s some really interesting stuff here about the current and future world of publishing.

November Round-Up: 5 Must Reads for Authors

thanksgivingCan you believe we’re into the month of December already? In case you missed it, here are five must reads for authors that came out while we were all gobble gobble-ing.

1. The Savvy Self-Publisher’s Guide to NetGalley
NetGalley — which enables authors and publishers to upload books and reviewers to request copies — can be pricey and competitive, so indie …
Publishers Weekly
November 2, 2015

2. Author Email List Lessons
A writer I know recently sent a message to his author email list using the subject line, “I’m cleaning up my list.” It caught my attention because I …
Build Book Buzz
November 11, 2015

3. Great Author Website Ideas, Poor Website Designs
These sites have some brilliant author website ideas … and a serious problem in presentation of execution.
Smart Author Sites
November 12, 2015

4. Want to Succeed in Self-Publishing? You’re Not Alone: Tips from an Indie Author
Beth Revis, author of the bestselling Across the Universe trilogy, urgesindie authors to become part of the self-publishing community and follow …
Publishers Weekly
November 16, 2015

5. 4 Ideas for Kick-Ass Author Website Content
The best way to drive new traffic (i.e. potential readers) to your site is to create some kick-ass author website content – content that gets socially …
Smart Author Sites
November 19, 2015

Keep on reading and writing!

5 Things You Should Know About the New Amazon Bookstore (and How This Will Impact Authors)

Photo: KING

Photo: KING

People used to hear the word “Amazon” and think of a rainforest. Then, the word was taken over by some new online bookstore. Boy, how times have changed. Now, the word Amazon is ingrained in our culture as a virtual megastore where you can order anything from food to electronics.

But Amazon continues to morph itself, recently opening its first physical bookstore across the street from the University of Washington.  So what is in this new Amazon bookstore? How can it compete with the online version? And will this change book shopping at all?

Here are five things you need to know…

  1. It’s a lot smaller than the mega-bookstores of the 90s. Expecting the Amazon store to be the next multi-level Barnes and Noble? It’s not. Here’s how Publishers Weekly describes it: “Amazon Books stocks far fewer titles than today’s bigger bookstores. Small and scaled back, Amazon Books is cleanly designed and easy-to-navigate.”
  2. Each book’s Amazon ratings and such are baked in. Actually, it’s not quite that simple. You actually need to download an Amazon app to use this feature (or ask a sales associate for help). But once you do, you can simply scan the custom label on each book to get access to its rating and reviews on the website.
  3. Only books with four stars or more are housed. Yup, you read that correctly. Unless your book has a least four stars on Amazon, it will not be carried in the Amazon store. Now that doesn’t mean the reverse; not ALL books with four stars make it in the store. But with less than four stars, your chance of being carried there is nil.
  4. Store prices are the same as online prices. Amazon proudly boasts that the price of a book in the bookstore is identical to that on the website. To that end, there are no printed prices on anything (the app lets you see that as well). And you can ignore the price on the back of the book cover. Book prices change frequently on Amazon, and the app allows it to simultaneously change in the bookstore as well.
  5. Amazon is, in many ways, sticking to what bookstores do best. Publishers Weekly reports that the store’s book selections are deepest in traditional bookstore strongholds: children’s/YA books, bestsellers and genre fiction. Graphic novels (a genre in which browsing is super-important) also has a respectable section.

So what does all this mean for authors? Well, it’s hard to make a proclamation on that very quickly. But it’s probably safe to say that this is not going to be the only Amazon brick and mortar store. The company isn’t saying much about what their plans for the future will be, but barring a huge failure in this location, there will likely be others popping up in the years to come.

Are they going to completely transform the idea of a bookstore? Will they reinvigorate the idea of physical bookstores? All of that is still to be determined. But we can deduce a few things from this information:

  • Your Amazon ratings and reviews are more important than ever before. If you have less than four stars, you’re not going to make much progress through Amazon marketing channels.
  • Getting a book carried in a bookstore will likely require new and different strategies. But much like a Google search algorithm, it may be a while before we understand the logic behind which books are picked up.
  • The world isn’t going all e-book just yet. There’s still a value to physical books that you can flip through and browse.

What do you think of the new Amazon bookstore? Will it help or hurt authors? Share your thoughts!

September Round-Up: 5 Must Reads for Authors

fall-photoOctober is here already, and fall is in full swing. With that in mind, here are five must reads for authors from the month of September. If you missed any of these the first time around, here’s your chance to catch up!

  1. An author reveals ten secrets to marketing your own book
    Scroll.in
    September 9, 2015
  2. 5 Things I Love About Haruki Murakami’s Author Website
    Smart Author Sites
    September 10, 2015
  3. What ‘Game of Thrones’ Author George R.R. Martin Can Teach You About Marketing
    Marketing Profs
    September 16, 2015
  4. Book Marketing 201
    Publishers Weekly
    September 25, 2015
  5. 3 Steps to More Social Media Followers
    Build Book Buzz
    September 30, 2015

Happy Fall! And happy writing!

Should I Self Publish? The Answer Seems to Be …

should i self publishBy pure coincidence, I came across three articles today that all, in different ways, conveyed the same message. Self-publishing is the way to go.

Why? Well, let’s go over what we can learn from each of these pieces…

1. In this infographic, we learn that self-published authors are now selling more books than the big five publishers, at least in the e-book universe. This is quite a change from even a few years ago.

2. Here’s a whole article explaining why traditional publishing will fail (and is, in fact, failing). Here’s my favorite segment from the piece.

A lot of traditional publishing companies are stuck in some pre-internet era purgatory. They spend an enormous amount of resources sifting through the sludge pile and investing all their time and money in a couple authors they hope will sell big. And sometimes they choose wrong.

The internet has changed things. Crowdsourcing quality work and letting audiences decide who succeeds is where publishing is headed.

And as the article points out, self-publishing companies have the opportunity to make 30% of a book’s profits, with little-to-no upfront cost in publishing the book. Why wouldn’t more entrepreneurs be jumping on that bandwagon?

3. Last by not least is this piece on book marketing. One of the takeaways? Being published doesn’t necessarily help an author.

In the article, the author, of book marketing firm Publishing Push, tells the story of meeting an author who went through a traditional publishing house … and ended up having to do all his own marketing after the fact. He compares that story to one of self-published authors he’s worked with who have had highly successful marketing efforts right off the bat.

In the latter cases, the self-published author got to choose his own marketing firm (and choose well), and the results were apparent. Less so when trusting the marketing department of a publishing house.

So for you self published authors … congratulations. Recent data is showing that you made a good choice. And if you are wondering, “Should I self publish?” The answer certainly seems to be “YES!”

August Round-Up: 5 Must Reads for Authors

august-must-readsAs hard as it is to believe, it’s Labor Day weekend already. August has come and gone. With that in mind, here’s a summary of the best links we found in the month of August. These are must reads for authors who want to take book marketing to the next level.

1. Creating a Social Media Hashtag Campaign to Promote Your Book
Smart Author Sites
August 6, 2015

2. Extending Your Social Media Reach: Working the Facebook Author Tag Feature
Huffington Post
August 8, 2015

3. Stop Grading an Author’s Social Media Presence
Digital Book World
August 12, 2015

4. “Keep a Small but Dedicated Street Team” — Interviewing Eliot Peper
Reedsy
August 21, 2015

5. One Author Social Media Campaign Gets Creative
Smart Author Sites
August 27, 2015

Happy September, everyone!

One Author Social Media Campaign Gets Creative

legacy-of-kings-twitter-campaignSocial media is an important key to an author’s success. That’s especially true for fiction authors, since most readers don’t find their next read by searching on Google; they find it after they’re exposed to it through their social circles. Hence, the need for an author social media campaign.

But one of the challenges many authors have is figuring out how to tie the theme of their book in to Facebook or Twitter. For example, what should the writer of a mystery/romance book tweet about to gain traction?

Well, here’s a creative idea, just launched by Harlequin Teen. It’s a Twitter campaign for Legacy of Kings, the first book in Eleanor Herman’s new YA series.

Here’s a blurb from Publishers Weekly about it.

Bryn Collier, digital marketing manager at the publisher, said she created the technology with a freelance developer over the course of a few weeks. The “bot,” as Collier referred to the oracle, will respond to the hashtag #asklegacyofkings with one of 100 statements. The idea, she said, is that readers can tweet a question to @HarlequinTeen with the hashtag—sent examples include “Will I achieve my goal of going to college abroad?” and “Will the guy I love ever love me back?”—to receive a “prediction” written by Herman.

The promotion, which launched on Monday, ties into the theme of the historical fantasy series, called Blood of Gods and Royals. One of the main characters in the books, Kat, is on a mission to kill the queen in order to avenge her mother, who was an oracle.

Herman, an adult author who is breaking into the YA space with the series, is also a historian. Collier said that the author relied on her knowledge of Greek history to create a digital oracle that “channels the [Greek] gods and goddesses” as well as “other prolific thinkers.” The responses therefore include tidbits like this one, credited to Athena: ‘It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.’ There is also this nugget, from Poseiden: ‘Journeys that start out rough often end in smooth sailing.’

In other words, this YA novel ties into Greek history. The twitter campaign takes advantage of a readers’ interest in sci-fi, Greek history, gods and goddesses, etc… to let them have their questions answered with wise words of wisdom. Brilliant!

So how can you do something similar? While you may not have the budget of a publisher to build a database like this, you can use this type of idea as a jumping off point. For example, if you’re a fiction writer, maybe the main character of your book series can answer questions about her life on twitter via a hashtag. Or if you’re a nonfiction writer, maybe you, the author, can respond to reader questions that tap into your expertise through a twitter chat?

This type of example is one all authors can follow — both those who are self-publishing and otherwise — to figure out what resonates with their readership and build a successful social networking campaign around it.

Happy Tweeting!

3 Ways E-Book Readers Are Changing How They Read (and Writers Write)

reading-on-the-beachI just read a fascinating article about how more people are becoming e-book readers on their phones (not even tablets or Kindles anymore!), and how that’s changing the whats and hows of their reading.

And, of course, when their reading habits change, then … well … an author’s writing needs to change as well. After all, it’s the law of supply and demand.

Here’s a summary of three types of changes in how people read, with quotes from the article on exactly how and why, along with a summary of how this will ultimately impact writers.

Reading change #1: People are skim reading more. 

We read webpages in an ‘F’ pattern: the top line, scroll down a bit, have another read, scroll down. Academics have reacted to the increased volume of digitally published papers by skim-reading them. As for books, both anecdotal and survey evidence suggests that English literature students are skim-reading set works by default.

Reading change #2: People have shorter attention spans and are often multitasking while reading.

[American linguist Naomi] Baron reports that a large percentage of young people read ebooks on their cellphones – dipping into them in the coffee queue or on public transport, but then checking their work email or their online love life, a thumbswipe away.

Reading change #3: People get less emotionally involved in the stories they’re reading.

…with the coming of ebooks, the world of the physical book, read so many times that your imagination can ‘inhabit’ individual pages, is dying. 

So how are writers and publishers reacting to these habitual changes? What does the future hold?

  • Publishers are experimenting with newer, shorter stories to cater to readers’ shorter attention spans.
  • Today’s novels have clearer plots and less twists and turns than their 20th century predecessors; this prevents readers from getting confused or lost when they check out of the book mid-chapter to browse Facebook.
  • Writers are using less complex prose and are doing less experimentation with fragmented perception. Skimming readers have more trouble absorbing sentences phrased that way.

Finally, here’s a quote from the end of the article on the general change in the role of novels in people’s lives today:

I remember reading novels because the life within them was more exciting, the characters more attractive, the freedom more exhilarating than anything in the reality around me, which seemed stultifying, parochial and enclosed.

To a kid reading Pynchon on a Galaxy 6 this summer, it has to compete with Snapchat and Tinder, plus movies, games and music.

Sad? Sort of … But in a business like writing and publishing, it’s something we’re all going to have to get used to.

Creating a Social Media Hashtag Campaign to Promote Your Book

hashtag_campaignHere’s an interesting idea for promotion of your book … tie a social media hashtag campaign to it.

How would you do that? Well, start by following the idea currently being executed by Random House Children’s Books in conjunction with the ASPCA as an offshoot of the new, bestselling Dr. Seuss book.

Here’s a summary of the campaign they’re running, courtesy of Publishers Weekly:

RHCB announced that it would be teaming with Dr. Seuss Enterprises on a social media campaign that will support the work of the ASPCA to help animals in need across the country. The campaign celebrates the author’s “love for animals,” the publisher wrote in a statement, and calls for all pet owners nationwide to share a photo of their pets, tagging it with the #whatpet campaign hashtag. For every photo shared on Twitter or Instagram with #whatpet, RHCB and Dr. Seuss Enterprises will donate one dollar to the ASPCA, up to the first 15,000 photos.

So what would it take to run your own social media hashtag campaign like this? Assuming you already have your own social media accounts on Facebook/Twitter (if not, consider that step 1), here are the simple steps to take.

  • Step 1: Decide on a theme. Think about what types of images/stories are a natural fit with your book. For example, let’s say your book is about reinventing your career; a good idea for a hashtag campaign around it might be asking that people share inspiring photos and/or short stories about their first day at their new job.
  • Step 2: Create a hashtag. Continuing on this example, you might decide on a hashtag like #NewCareer. Before running with it, make sure it isn’t being used on any other large campaigns.
  • Step 3: Set a timetable. Social campaigns like this can’t go on forever. So pick a start and end date for it. It could be tied to holidays, seasons, school years, or just the number of people involved (i.e. the first 15,000, as in the Dr. Seuss campaign).
  • Step 4: Come up with a hook. What would be someone’s motivation for participating in this campaign? Is it a donation (like the Dr. Seuss example)? Is it to enter a raffle? Is it for possible inclusion of their story in your next book? Will there be a winner for best photo/story? Make sure you offer some kind of benefit for someone taking the time to send their story or photo.
  • Step 4: Make sure your book gets the proper promotion through the campaign. How is someone who buys into the campaign (be it by uploading a photo/story or viewing other people’s photos/stories) going to learn about your book? Without a connection to the book, all this is for naught. So make sure that your book and/or your website gets fair promotion within the campaign through links, ads, etc…
  • Step 5: Launch the campaign. Now it’s time to spread the word! Share a brief, well-written, engaging blurb about the campaign via social media (and your website, too). Ask your friends and family to share as well. The more eyes it gets in front of, the more participants there will be.

Voila! Your social media hashtag campaign is underway! And if all goes smoothly, you’ll not only have a new set of followers and increased book sales as a result, you’ll also have some meaty material to include in your future writings. It’s a win-win.

Report: Author Website Copy That Sells

a-b-testingI stumbled across an absolutely fascinating report today. It was put together by BookBub and includes some interesting details on what they learned doing A/B testing of copy on author websites.

For those of you who don’t know, A/B testing refers to dividing site visitors into two random groups, each experiencing the site with one difference. For example, half of the people who arrive on a site would see the text in black (group A) and the other half would see it in red (group B). The testing then measures how the two groups behave differently, ultimately determining whether you get a better response from the group seeing the text in black or the one seeing the text in red. In the case of authors, a good response = a book sale.

This study focused primarily on what authors were featuring in the copy on their websites, how they worded book descriptions, how they included reviews and more.

This really is a must-read for authors. You can view the full report yourself here, but I’ve taken the liberty of including some key takeaways…

What Sells Books

  • When including reviews….
    • Mention authors, not publications. When the site quoted the actual author (not the publication) that gave the book a rave review, there was a 30.4 percent higher click-through rate.
    • Include the number of reviews. When a book had at least 150 five-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, mentioning the exact number of five-star reviews in the copy increased clicks an average of 14.1 percent.
  • When writing book promo copy…
    • Mention your genre up front. The example in the test compared “If you love thrillers, don’t miss this action-packed read!” to just “An action-packed read!” The one that clearly mentioned “thrillers” got 15.8 percent more clicks.
    • Cite the time period (when applicable). In the case of historical fiction, the site that clearly cited the time period had increased clicks at an average of 25.1 percent.
  • When promoting yourself…
    • Don’t forget awards! If you have won any writing awards in the past — either for this book or other writings — mentioning it would increase clicks an average of 6.7 percent.

What Doesn’t Sell Books

The report also includes a list of things included in author copy that made no difference at all in the A/B testing. Examples included:

  • Mentioning if the book is a bestseller (surprisingly, people didn’t care)
  • Writing the book promo as a question (i.e. “Will Sandy find her daughter?” vs. “Sandy searches for her daughter.”
  • Citing the ages of the characters in the book
  • Mentioning if it is a debut novel

The report goes on to explain various ways that you can try A/B testing on your own site to find out what is working best in terms of selling books.

I don’t know about you, but I find this information absolutely fascinating. It certainly is going to help me better guide authors that I work with on the dos and don’ts of author website copy going forward.