Research Tools and the Expanding Nature of Nonfiction Research

waking up and writing, earlyOn my side of the keyboard, this is a busy research-and-write week. So, even though I haven’t had breakfast yet, I’m flying through another quick post.

(Btw, feedback about Facebook – and the number of people who prefer to hear from me via blog posts – has been surprising. Well, maybe. I kinda-sorta knew that a lot of friends were phasing out Facebook. The feedback confirmed it, big time.)

KDP Rocket or KDSpy?

First up: People are asking me whether they should buy KDSpy or KDP Rocket first.

It’s a coin flip, and if you haven’t written and published at least one to three books, I’d say: buy neither. You can manually research nearly everything those tools do.

(Yes, it will take you time. Yes, it will be tedious. It’s also what most of us did before this software was available. And, unless you can throw money around with wild abandon, you’ll do better to invest in editing, proofreading, or a good book cover. Once you have actual book income, you can dedicate some of it to time-saving tools.)

But anyway… I rely on both KDSpy and KDP Rocket. Both save me so many hours of market research, I can’t imagine being so productive without them.

But, I also understand a limited budget, even after your books start selling.

A lot of writing (and self-employment, in general) can have a feast-or-famine swing, at times. That’s especially true if some of your income is from seasonal books, or you’re paid by traditional publishers just twice a year. (That’s typical in trad publishing.)

So, my answer to the question is: It depends on what you spend the most time on.

If I’m looking for a new or better category for my existing (or planned) books, and I want a better understanding of the easiest markets, KDP Rocket wins, hands down. The new features in the software (updates are always included free, for all of Dave Chesson’s customers) are breathtakingly good.

See… I’d been holding onto old blog posts, planning to use them for some short, topic-specific books in one niche. But, that niche looked crazy-daunting saturated. There was no way I’d waste my time on related books.

Then the new features in KDP Rocket showed me an Amazon category where books (on the same topic as my old blog posts) are selling well, even in short reads, and I can compete, easily.

So, yeah… pretty cool. KDP Rocket just sprinted to the front of the pack, as my go-to tool for Amazon category research, as well as competition research.

But, in categories where I already have books – or, especially in fiction, where my category choices can be limited (sometimes) – KD Spy shows me the current market, the page count, the pricing, the keywords, and more, all in one go. It’s a great, fast trends-checker.

So, if you can only afford one tool at the moment, understand the differences between them. Especially when you’re a new indie author, only invest in what you really need.

Keyword Research

Speaking of keywords, here are a few free tools (and tricks) I absolutely love.

For keywords, I rely on Scientific Seller. Sign up for the free account for the best results.

I’m also dazzled by Answer the Public. It’s insanely good and it replaces several research tools/software I’d been using. Export the CSV file for future reference, and print the individual pages if you’re a visual learner.

And then there’s the manual approach, which – sometimes – can’t be avoided. Or shouldn’t be. (KDSpy will tell you the major keywords, automatically.)

Basically, you’ll identify the best-selling books that target your exact sub-genre or niche, and are selling to your exact target audience.

You’ll cut-and-paste their Amazon book blurbs into a word (or phrase) frequency counter. Here’s a free one: Word Frequency Counter.

Then, if you’re like me,  you’ll look for what I call “duh!” words and phrases. They’re usually obvious ones I’d omitted.

You’ll also look for outliers – odd phrases that may or may not make sense to you – and consider why they’re being used. (It may just be bad copywriting.)

Compare the results with book titles & subtitles that are selling well. Decide if you should incorporate those words & phrases into your book titles, subtitles, descriptions, or advertising.

Easy-peasy, but time consuming. And it could be one of those make-or-break points in your indie publishing career.

Crazy, Expanding Nonfiction Research

This week (and probably next), I’m blasting through a couple of trending, pop culture books.

They’re the fast, trend-grabbing books I explain in my book, How to Write Fast Books…, which is now available through Kindle Unlimited. Ahem.

The book I’m researching now (or should be, but I’m writing this instead) has a lot of related, “everyone knows” material. But, as a fanatical, thorough researcher, I started double-checking a bunch of those “everyone knows” facts.

I figured most of it would be confirmed with one or two clicks, right…?

Wrong. (I’m sitting here, doing flashing-light hands and making the “bwwaaahhh” buzzer sound with my voice. Because, even at my keyboard, I feel like I’m still talking to you, the same as I would in real life.)

That’s why the two hours’ research I’d planned for those facts, have now expanded into two frustrating days.

Because those “facts” were fiction. And I have to rule out every possible, obscure resource, before I debunk those “everyone knows” items in my book/s.

So, I learned to allow about 10x as much research time for topics where fact-checking might be a rabbit hole.

But… the cool part of this story is: my readers will have new information they can be utterly snotty about, as they talk with friends and preen as authorities.

Because my books help people do that. And that’s one of the big reasons many of my fans buy (or at least read) every book I publish.

So anyway…

I just flew through a bunch of points that I think are important. And, since I haven’t had breakfast yet, and this is a rush-rush article, I hope you’ll overlook the typos. Or, if I’ve said anything utterly appalling, post a comment (or reply, if you’re reading this in email) to tell me about it.

And, oh yes, I hope you have great fun (and success) with your writing & publishing. Being an indie can be the best career choice!

Advice for a First-Time Indie Author

Curious George toy

The following is edited from PMs I’d exchanged with a first-time fiction writer. Much of this probably isn’t new for anyone regularly reading my blog, but it may provide others with some fresh insights.

Here’s the backstory: Earlier this week, I’d read a friend’s wife’s historical novel. She’d published it in Kindle herself. I was impressed by her writing skills.

As we swapped messages, she asked if I write outlines for my books.

I replied:

Yes, I do outline. I work with a few things, starting with a page of notes (on yellow, lined paper), then I use the “middle school” outline: https://katherinekingauthor.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/but-and-so-your-way-to-plot-summary-the-middle-school-approach-to-plot/

After that, I fill in Larry Brooks’ old tent-style story structure form, to figure the story beats: http://www.realmofsavage.com/download/writing/8-5x11_TentBeatSheet.pdf (Explained here: http://storyfix.com/two-more-killer-visual-story-development-tools )

And then, I write my outline. If it’s a romance, I use Katherine King’s “Love Plot” but a lot of friends like Gwen Hayes’ “Romancing the Beat.” There are other options, as well.

Then, seeing her Amazon rank (and what it meant, in sales), I suggested a few marketing tips that might improve her visibility and sales.

Here’s what I recommended:

1. Use the Hemingway Editor on the first five or so pages, to make the “look inside” easier (meaning: simpler phrasing) to read.

After readers have read more of your book, and they’re used to your writing “voice,” readability and sentence lengths are less important.

However, for marketing, your text needs to be super-simple for readers to get into. Even on the Amazon sales page, you want readers to be caught up in the story from the very start.

I have the Hemingway Editor on my desktop, but you can use it, free, at the website. http://www.hemingwayapp.com/ <— Just highlight their sample text, remove it, and paste in part of your opening. (The software was originally called the “Hemingway App,” and a lot of long-time writers — including me — still call it that.)

2. [She had published using her real name.] Add a co-author name — one you make up — that will be your future pen name, and republish your book.

So, at Amazon (etc.), the authors (two names on the cover) will be your real name, with a second, co-author name you choose, as well.

(I like to find interesting names in my family tree, from the era I’m writing in, and select one as my pen name. Sometimes, book sales will improve with a pen name that’s related to the genre or time period you’re writing about.)

That way, people who know you (in real life) can find this book, but your fans will start following your pen name… and you keep most of your privacy.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of setting up boundaries, early, to protect your privacy and your family’s. Trust me on this. Please. Fans can be a little overzealous. Sometimes in scary ways.

3. Add a subtitle, saying what the book is about. Tell people the time period, and what the genre is. For example, I’m working on Regency romances right now, so my titles (with subtitles) will be something like “The Dangerous Duke – A Regency Romance.”

4. If you can, hire someone to design a professional-looking book cover. The right book cover will pay for itself, quickly.

I recommend going to Fiverr.com and hiring vikncharlie. (That’s her username.) https://www.fiverr.com/vikncharlie/design-you-an-awesome-book-cover

You can hire her at the lowest price and get something pretty good, but I give her about $35 and she creates something amazing for me. In addition, I can use the cover on my Kindle (etc.) books, as well as my printed (CreateSpace) books.

And, any graphics she uses… you can be certain they’re legal to use. (I can’t say that about all Fiverr cover designers.)

Those are the basics, as far as I’m concerned. You can follow-up with more professional marketing, including help from Fiverr book marketer, bknights, and some well-targeted Facebook ads.

A good book deserves the best marketing you can give it. Of course, your marketing efforts shouldn’t compromise your time (or budget) for actually producing books.

Nevertheless, if you’re publishing books at all, they should be good books and have enough marketing to be discovered by hungry readers in your sub-genre.

photo courtesy freeimages.com and J Aaron Farr

ARCs, ‘Reviews-for-Free-Books’ Sites, and How to Find Them

girl reading an ARC
photo courtesy ryan day and freeimages.com

Would you like to offer ARCs (Advance Reader Copies, or Advance Review Copies) to people who will post honest book reviews at Amazon and other booksellers’ sites?

In this article, I’ll share my insights and top resources.

However, I apologize in advance. I’m writing this article, stream-of-consciousness style, because I’m radically revising my priorities and schedule… but I want you to have this information, quickly.  So, I may ramble and this may include typos.

Let’s start with Amazon itself.

Contact people who review at Amazon

Sure, everyone talks about searching Amazon for reviewers (in your category) who have contact info on their profiles.

The standard advice is to limit your search to reviewers ranked in the top 1000 (or so) reviewers, and send them a form letter offering a free digital copy of your book in return for an honest review.

As an Amazon reviewer often ranked closed to #1,000 at Amazon, I can tell you what happens:

  • I receive cookie-cutter form letters — usually with at least one typo — offering me a free book in return for an honest review.
  • In most cases, that author read just one of my reviews, and hasn’t a clue what the real scope of my interests is. (They also hint — heavily — that they’d like a five-star review or none at all. Clearly, they haven’t noticed that I usually post four-star reviews, unless a book or product is exceptionally good.)
  • And, in most cases, I delete that email. I accept less than 1% of the requests I receive.

Flip side of that coin: in a book marketing webinar I attended this week, Bryan Cohen suggested that, even with a well-written letter to prospective reviewers at Amazon, authors should expect about a 10% response. (If you want three reviews, send out 30 requests.)

So, the “contact Amazon reviewers” practice can work, but be sure you’re contacting the best possible reviewers for your books, and your emails are personal and compelling.

Alternate ways to find reviewers, at Amazon and elsewhere

Authors can use online resources — not at Amazon — to get books into the hands of Amazon reviewers.

A few people have been selling expensive reports that describe this tactic. Please don’t waste your money. You can find this information online, free.

The basic concept is:

  1. You give people free copies of your books.
  2. They talk about your book at their (popular) websites.
  3. Or they write a review (usually at Amazon.com).
  4. Or both.

A good review at a website (blog) can be even more useful than an Amazon review.

Why give books to bloggers?

If a review website (blog) is especially popular, you can quote it in an “editorial reviews” blurb on your book sales page.

Here are some guidelines Amazon provides at Author Central, as of April 2016:

  • Reviews should consist of transcribed text from reputable sources. The name of the source should be credited after the quotation. For example, “A fantastic read.” –The New York Times
  • Quotes from outside reviews should follow “fair use” copyright guidelines and be limited to 1-2 sentences.
  • We recommend you limit your Reviews to 3000 characters. Customers may miss out critical information if your reviews are too long.

With permission from the reviewer, you can also use an excerpt of the review on your book cover.

This can be especially convincing as “social proof,” particularly if your printed books are sold through brick-and-mortar bookstores, or if you sell your books from a table or book in a store, at a conference, or even at a flea market.

Even if just to get more buzz, I think it’s a good idea to offer review copies to book bloggers, as well as authors in your field who’ll provide useful (but honest) cover blurbs.

Why give books for Amazon (etc.) book reviews?

Traditional publishers still send out free review copies, expecting reviews at Amazon (etc.), but they know how to do this.

Many indies have made career-damaging mistakes trying to achieve the same goal.

The problem: If you rush things, those great, honest reviews could backfire, badly. Amazon shoppers are becoming wary of reviews that could be shills.

For a glaring example of this in a non-book category, see http://www.amazon.com/BRI-Nutrition-5-HTP-Relaxation-Increases/dp/B00X89O5B0/

That product description has many spelling and punctuation errors, plus a nightmarish level of keyword stuffing.

(“Keyword stuffing” is finding any excuse to add myriad words & phrases that people might search for, at Amazon, hoping to land that product or book in the search results.)

Most reviews for that product are five-stars, from a time between late July and early September, and include a line about receiving a discounted or free product in exchange for the review.

Everything on that sales page looks so shady, I’d never buy the product.

My advice for beginners…? If you’re going to offer review copies to your fans, or through a service, keep the numbers low and try to space them over more than a few weeks. (It’s ideal to see them peppered throughout a larger collection of non-ARC reviews.)

Do I need to say this? Only honest, unpaid Amazon reviews

Read and closely watch Amazon’s Terms of Service, to understand the differences between a “paid review” and the very normal publishing tactic of sending out review copies (also called “ARCs“).

In 2015, Amazon brought a halt to any kind of payment (for reviews) when they said, “We don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion and if we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we’ll remove it.” [Emphasis added.]

In addition, I’ve seen a few authors recommend “giveaways.” In those, the reviewer not only receives a free copy of the book, he or she is also entered in a drawing for a prize, if the person posts an honest review at Amazon.

The prizes may be cash, a Kindle reader, or something else of value.

I may be too cautious, but as I understand Amazon’s rules, offering anything of value — even an entry in a contest — is considered a “paid” review.

So, I wouldn’t do that.

Follow traditional models

Instead, follow the practice widely used by traditional publishers: Send out free, review copies to selected, eager readers — on a precise schedule — as well as to publications like your local newspaper, topic-related magazines (e.g., Romantic Times), and so on.

When you send review copies to magazines, particularly print magazines, it’s smart to send them all at once, as early as possible. Due to editorial & printing schedules, those reviews may appear over a period of months… but there’s nothing wrong with them all showing up at the same time. These kinds of reviews are considered “social proof.”

Where to start

As an indie author, you have several choices:

  • Build a “street team” to review your books, sometimes by giving each person a free copy of your latest book, even before it’s available to the public.
  • Find will-blog-for-books bloggers, on your own. (You can search at Google for them, post at forums they frequent, etc.)
  • Use a paid service to offer your books to their professional bloggers/reviewers. (The reviewers aren’t paid. They simple receive a free book with a request for an honest review.)

The best choice is to get your own readers to be part of your “street team” or “advanced readers team.”

You’ll give them free books to your fans while asking them for an honest review. (Your phrasing must be clear: The book is free. You’re not giving them the book with an expectation of a favorable review.)

However, if you don’t have a mailing list yet, or you’re uneasy asking your readers for reviews, you can find reviewers at free and commercial websites.

But first, that Amazon-ish warning, in more detail

In addition to avoiding anything that looks like payment for a review, remain current about the phrasing your readers (of free books) should use in their reviews. And then, be sure your reviewers know the exact phrases they must include.

Here’s one author’s experience from March 2014: http://fabulosityreads.blogspot.com/2014/03/amazons-new-book-review-policy.html but, just to make things confusing, here’s someone else’s post on this same topic (in March 2014), also quoting Amazon: http://digiscrapping.net/blog/amazon-did-not-change-their-policy-on-arc-book-reviews/

Not sure what’s okay and what could put your indie publishing business at risk? Call or email Amazon’s support team. Really. They’re very nice people and their information will be better and more current than anything I can tell you.

And — as always — check others’ reviews and insights about any service that charges a fee. I haven’t personally used any paid services to get reviews — aside from hiring a few bloggers (not Amazon reviewers) at Fiverr.

Tip: If you’re hiring a book blogger at Fiverr, be sure to tell them not to review your book at Amazon. Some of them — meaning well — add a “bonus” review at Amazon.

I always say, “Please do not review this book at Amazon, only at your blog.”

Professional resources for reviews

Interested in professionally-managed review resources?

Here are a few — info & distribution sites — to get you started: BookLook BloggersNetGalley  Both of those seem to be widely recommended.

I have less information about Online Book Club, which doesn’t look as polished. (If you’ve used them, successfully, be sure to let me know.)

This next site seems informal, but fairly straightforward about what they offer: https://www.thekindlebookreview.net/book-reviews/

Here’s a list — written for people who want ARCs — that includes traditional publishers as well as resources used by indies: http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-get-arcs-step-by-step-guide.html

Want to know what traditional publishers look for, when accepting people to their “street teams”? See this article: https://www.nosegraze.com/how-to-receive-physical-arcs-info-good-practices/

In addition, you can search for sites that offer a variety of free & discounted products (not just books), in exchange for honest Amazon reviews. Here’s one list: http://vonbeau.com/offer/get-free-and-discounted-products-to-review-on-amazon.htm (Verify each site’s practices and reputation, carefully, before participating.)

A few people have asked me about getting reviews through Amazon Vine. It isn’t quite as accessible for indies on a limited budget. Here’s one summary: http://www.anamardoll.com/2011/03/arcs-for-free-amazon-vine-and-vine.html

For more lists and information like this, use any search engine and start with sites that explain how to receive ARCs (as a reviewer). Generally, those articles list the largest numbers of resources.

Then, see what indies say — at their own sites and in forums — about those resources. And, of course, be sure those posts are current.

For Wildly Successful Marketing: Evoke Emotions

buy nowRecently, I’ve attended several webinars about book marketing. Most of them were snooze-worthy, repeating things I’d heard before.

I’m not always sure where this kind of information originates, but when I do know, I tell you about it.

Meanwhile, by the time it’s diluted four or five times — in the Internet Marketing version of “post office” — it’s lost a lot of its impact… as well as some key points for success.

For those with deep pockets, I know that Nick Stephenson’s book marketing training is superb.

Much of what I hear & see, online, is a watered-down version of what he recommends. And, sadly, those watered-down versions often omit key points Nick (and no one else) shared, but authors really need to know.

Don’t despair. If your favorite price tag says “free” on it, you’re in luck. Nick also provides free training, Your First 10k Readers. (I’ve raved about it, before, and still do.)

Follow his advice before investing in any “budget priced” book marketing courses. Nick’s course may be all you need to catapult your book sales into a far higher range.

One topic repeated in several webinars is the use of emotions — words and images — in book marketing.

Here are some of my notes.

Use power words in book descriptions, landing pages, etc.

For the best words to use, I’ve heard phrases like “emotionally charged” and “semantically charged” words.

The latter phrase tends to show up most often in NLP discussions. Here’s one: http://www.nlpisfun.com/2012/09/nlp-semantically-charged-words.html 

  • If you’re an absolute geek, you may appreciate details of the McKenna & Sharma study, but it’s not for most people. And it’s not about marketing, per se. http://file.scirp.org/pdf/PSYCH20120700004_72377156.pdf )
  • Also, this isn’t the same thing as “selling the feeling.” From my viewpoint, that’s a very different kind of marketing, better suited to selling cars and other high-ticket items.

Indie authors may glean useful tips from articles like How to Evoke Emotions in Your Landing Pages (from Hubspot), and the original words list they mention, List of Feeling Words.

Using the latter list, plus a handy thesaurus (like Thesaurus.com), can bring extra impact to your book sales.

My thoughts…? If emotionally charged words are good enough for Jamie Oliver’s marketing, they’re good enough for me.

Make your book descriptions richer with words that match the tone of your book… amplified, slightly.

However, a too-gushy sales page will send readers running in the other direction.

My simplest advice: Add two or three obviously powerful words in your first sentence (or in the first 20-or-so words, if you’re not writing lengthy sentences). But that’s a generalization; your results may vary.

If you’re still blinking and wondering just how to use words like those — when, where, and how many — I recommend Bill Platt’s Hypnotic Book Descriptions.

In that report (selling for around $21, at the time I wrote this), Bill goes into excruciating detail about what works and why.

Much of his 51-page report is loaded (maybe overloaded) with the kinds of stories and phrases to use in your book descriptions, sales letters, and emails to readers.

And, he includes a 33-page bonus of already researched and categorized word lists related to specific emotions you might want to generate in your potential book buyer. For me, that was a real time-saver.

The main report…? I’m condensing his important points — and his (very useful) book description templates — to about two pages, to keep as a reference in my marketing notebook.

However, that’s my reaction. I’ve been involved in marketing since forever, so a lot of what Bill said wasn’t news for me. I just needed his report’s nudge to get me to use what I know. That nudge was worth the money.

At the moment, adding emotionally charged words to your marketing seems to be a very hot topic. The free resources I’ve linked to should get you started.

If you need more insights, Bill’s information is very good.

Other than that…? So far, after watching far too many book marketing webinars, I can’t recommend anything new in the $17 – $297 price range. (And, to me, it looks like a lot of people who used to sell $37 reports and courses have marked them — and new, similar training products — up to $197 and higher, without adding more value.)

Best freebies I’ve found, recently: Nick’s “First 10k Readers” training, and the articles at Dave Chesson’s Kindlepreneur site.

And now, I’m getting back to my books.

If you’ve found some good marketing freebies, or have insights about emotionally charged words, I hope you’ll share them in comments, below.

Small Changes, Bigger Profits

First of all: In the next few days (today, Friday, or Monday), I’ll move this website to new hosting. While the site is in-transit, if you visit eibhlin.com/writing, you’ll see a blank page or error message… and the next day, it will be back.

Next, here’s something I posted at G+ (in Ryan Leonard’s “Kindle Publishing Re-Imagined” community) that may be helpful:

upward trending graphIt’s stat day for me. I check my numbers every Thursday, based on the previous (Thurs > Wed) week.

That means I can sit down and analyze the numbers on Friday, see what I’d changed and what may still need some tweaks, and plan my upcoming week. (It’s probably a hyper-organized Virgo thing.)

So, that’s what I’ll do tomorrow morning: Analyze my numbers, in depth.

But, one thing leaps off my income graphs today: A very nice surge in my KDP sales.  In fact, my KDP sales income increased 50%.

Sure, my numbers always increase slightly in the second week of most months.

Here’s why: People pay their rents on the first of the month, and tighten their belts a little during the week (or so) that follows. So, my per-title sales often slump, slightly.

And then, the next week (second week of the month)… people go back to buying books.

This week’s surge in KDP numbers was far more than the usual uptick.Since we were moving — something that’s taken up much of my past two or three weeks — I didn’t complete new books, or change book covers or descriptions.

And since I’m not doing any real marketing until I’m deeper into Nick Stephenson’s course, I can’t say anything changed in my marketing; there was none.

I did change two (and a half) things, on about half of my books in KDP:

1) I adjusted my prices so they’re at — or more in line with — the prices recommended by the beta KDP Pricing Support software. (That’s on the pricing page for your book, at your KDP dashboard.)

For me, that usually means increasing my prices. I often start with a low price (and an eye-catching cover) that’s almost irresistible, to get some buzz going.

2) I went through my keywords and removed any words that were already in the title of the book. Then, I reached a little further into names of related sub-genres and themes, and added those words.

When in doubt, go through your reviews — and reviews of competing books — and look for words that stand out.

3) The half-change was to restore every book I’d retired when it came out as part of a box set. And, I increased the related boxed set price so it matched (or was close to) the price recommended by KDP Pricing Support.

(Until then, I’d figured the individual books weren’t really selling any more, so I took them out of circulation. And, it appears that bargain-pricing my boxed sets wasn’t a red-hot idea.)

I’m not sure if that helps anyone… but there it is. I may find additional reasons for my KDP sales surge, when I analyze the numbers more closely. However, I’m about 99% sure those two-and-a-half changes are what led to this week’s 50% increase in KDP income.

–illustration courtesy of Krzysztof Baranski at freeimages.com

Another Keyword Research Tool for Book Descriptions

building blocksKeywords — the words and phrases people use when they’re searching, online — can make a big difference if you use them well in your book descriptions (such as your sales pages at sites like Amazon).

I’ve mentioned this in my article, Supercharging Book Descriptions.

Since improving the keywords in my book descriptions, I’ve been selling more books, increasing my Kindle income by about 25%.

This morning, I tested a free (in beta) keyword search tool. It does several things that my paid tools do.

Start here: Seo Chat’s Google Keyword Suggest Tool. (It shows Amazon and Bing results, in addition to Google suggestions.)

Step One – Collect Words & Phrases

In the search form, enter a word or two that describes your book. Keep it as simple as possible. Then, click the Search button.

The first page of results (Part 1) will show you lots of related words and phrases, but even those can be helpful. Select only the best matches for the contents of your book.

Then, as you progress through Part 2 & 3, the software may present different, more focused keywords & phrases.

Tip #1: If you want to save all the words for future reference, copy the lists (and paste into your word processor) as you go along. Backing up is slow and doesn’t always work.

Why copy-and-paste instead of using the Export Results button?  Well… at Part 1 (the first set of results) and Part 2, exporting the list (with the site’s Export Results button) posts them as a long stream — no breaks except spaces between words — into a TXT file. Not very useful, as far as I’m concerned. (Copying to a word processor isn’t much better, but it’s a slight improvement.)

Tip #2: If you decide to save lists from Parts 1 and 2, go through the copied-and-pasted lists immediately, selecting phrases that are the best matches. Bold, italicize, highlight, or otherwise separate those phrases so they stand out on the page. (Otherwise, it’s a sea of words. It will be even more confusing a week from now, if you revisit that page for more phrase ideas.)

The good news: Part 3 exports (“Export Results”) the refined & filtered list as an easy-to-read spreadsheet. But, in the free version, you’re only allowed 100 words at Part 3. (That’s why you should copy-and-paste the earlier lists if you want to save all the words and phrases, and there are more than 100.)

Part 2 of the search will probably provide some different keywords and phrases. Select only those phrases that are ideal matches for your book.

Part 3 will refine them.

  • CPC (cost per click) indicates how much advertisers pay Google to target those keywords with AdWords advertising. The listings will be organized with the highest cost at the top of the list. (If companies are paying for Google AdWords ads, it means that audience spends money, and may buy books on the topic, too.)
  • Search Volume tells you how many people search for that exact phrase, each month.
  • Click on the Search Volume number and SEMRush.com will open. That page will show you trends, other popular keywords related to that phrase, and more. You can check results by country: US, UK, Germany, and France.

Step Two – Use Those Words and Phrases

First, be sure each word or phrase is an exact match for your book.

  • Use the best (in terms of popularity and how well it matches your book) among the seven (or so) keywords in the KDP keywords section.
  • Consider adding the very best to your title, subtitle, or series name.
  • Include good, accurate words and phrases in your book description. Make sure your sentences flow conversationally. After you’ve written it, read the description out loud. If you stumble over a word or the sentence sounds stilted, re-write it. (Important: Prospective readers must enjoy reading your book description. They’ll assume your book is written in the same style.)
  • Think like a journalist: Assume many readers won’t read all the way to the end of your Amazon listing. Place the best keywords near the top of your description.

Optional – Is That Word or Phrase Worthwhile?

Some, many, or most of those words & phrases may be useful in your book description. Avoid looking spammy. Don’t try to use all of them.

Prioritize the words and phrases you want to use, and fit them gracefully into your description.

To prioritize them, check Amazon. (That’s where the money is.) Enter the word or phrase as if you’re a customer searching for a related book. (I recommend searching the exact competition. If you’re publishing a Kindle book, search only in Kindle listings.)

See how many genuinely relevant books are competing for that phrase, and whether or not your book stands a chance.

Evaluate potential keywords on a case-by-case basis: Book title, description, page count, price, cover appeal, etc.

If the top 20 competing books are gorgeous and published by one of the top NY publishers, and all books are at least 300+ pages long (but yours is a 100-page book), move on. (Still, it won’t hurt to include that phrase in your description if it’s an exact match for your book and flows naturally in your book description.)

If Amazon returns a list of books that include lots of vampire books or erotic short stories (they can turn up for the most unlikely keywords), that can be good. Your book — which is a genuine match for the phrase — can rank better, or at least sell better to readers who scroll down until they find what they’re looking for.

The perfect competition includes:

  • The #1 book on the list has an Amazon rank of #20,000 or less.
  • The #20 book on the list has a rank of #100,000 or higher. (Meaning fewer sales. Lower numbers are better. #1 is Amazon’s #1 best-selling book, #2 is the second best-selling book, and so on.)
  • At least some indie books (not published by big NY publishers) on the first page.
  • Some books with ugly covers.
  • Books that are far afield of the keywords you used. (If there aren’t enough exact matches for a keyword, Amazon fills in with suggestions from your viewing or purchase history, or books that are bought by people shopping for that keywords, as well.)

Tip: Log out of Amazon before checking the competition. If you’re still logged in, Amazon’s results will be based on your past shopping interests. It’s important to see what Amazon will show to a random customer, not just you.

Be Selective

  • Use only words and phrases that genuinely match the content of your book.
  • Use only words and phrases that flow naturally in your book description. If the phrase is awkward, remember that many searches ignore commas and periods. (If the phrase is “cookies easy brownies,” you can say, “My cookbook includes recipes for cookies, easy brownies, and other quick treats.”)

Caveat: Throwing everything but the kitchen sink into your book description makes you look like a spammer. (Throwing random, confusing words into your title, subtitle, or series name may actually drive people away.)

Paid alternatives

As I said, the SEOchat.com tool provides the same kind of information that my paid tools do. Is it worth buying those tools? Only if you can afford them, and you’re publishing enough books (or doing enough research) that it’s important to save time.

Tools I currently use for this kind of research (each is a little different):

  • MicroNiche Finder (provides extensive Google search results) – currently in revision.
  • eBook Niche Explorer (provides Amazon search results and analyzes competition) – currently around $100. (I didn’t pay even close to that.)
  • Kindle Samurai (provides specific keywords and competition info, only in Kindle) – currently $17 if you click to leave the page, but then select “Stay on page” in the pop-up screen. (Otherwise, it’s $27 or $37.)

You probably don’t need those kinds of paid tools. Plus that, I generally bought them when they first launched and cost less… sometimes much less.

How Much Can Keywords Help?

In January, when I first started adding popular keywords to my book descriptions, my Kindle income increased 14%.

In February, my book income dropped 20%. I’m not sure why. (Maybe it was a bad month in general, with people reeling from their first post-holiday credit card bills, and — for the next several weeks — spending less on books.)

My early March 2015 numbers show a 30% increase compared with February. Looking at the bigger picture, this puts my income about 7% higher than January, and on a nice rising trend, more than 25% higher than before I started tweaking my book descriptions.

Have my improved (with keywords) book descriptions helped…? I haven’t a clue, but I’d guess they have.

While I did write and publish new books during that time, most were very experimental* books. Only one is actually selling consistently, and its sales/borrows are only about one per day… and it’s a 99-cent book.

So, my new, experimental books don’t explain the sales increase. And, the biggest increases come from books with improved (with keywords) book descriptions.

I recommend using keyword tools (such as the free SEOchat.com tool) to improve your book descriptions with the words & phrases readers are looking for.

*I may talk about my experimental book system later. It’s kind of quirky and the process is fairly complex. For now, I’m still testing it to see if it’s worth recommending to others.

2014 Smashwords Survey

This is very new survey is worth paying attention to, if you’re building a career as an author.

checkbox-greenFor me, key, interesting points include:

  • The $3.99 price point and 100k+ words, per book. Neither guarantee success, but while my success has been built on shorter books (in nonfiction), the longer length is something to think about. Maybe. The price point is more iffy, because a lot of authors are doing well with $2.99 – $3.99. Others are doing fine in $4.99+ territory. In general, I’d avoid the 99-cent price, unless your audience eats up books in that range… or they borrow them. (The vast majority of “borrows” among books I’ve published are for 99-cent books. Weird, but there it is.)
  • The importance of a free first book in a series. I’m thinking very seriously about that.
  • Increasing each book in a series to above 50k words. It could be worthwhile. I was about to test books in the 40k range, but now I’m going to expand them to 50k. The extra 10k words is not a big deal, once I’m in that higher range anyway. In my current sub-genres, the 50k range has been pretty solid for decades. I definitely would not exceed 75k unless I was absolutely certain my readers’ attention span would continue that long.
  • I’m taking another look at the convenience of Smashwords, as well as the pre-orders concept. I haven’t used either, but it may be time to do so, soon.
  • The nonfiction results are equally surprising. I’m considering expanding some of my nonfiction books so I’m more comfortable with a higher price. Then, I’ll see what happens.

Read more detailed analyses: http://blog.smashwords.com/2014/07/2014-smashwords-survey-reveals-new.html

Watch the slide show below (the real info starts around page 18), or see it at http://www.slideshare.net/Smashwords/2014-smashwords-survey-how-to-sell-more-ebooks

Worst Media Advice. Ever.

First, go read this: Always Be Branding. It’s hilarious. (Really, the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek sarcasm.)

This is a free clipart divider.

2016 – What I’m doing now:

I still rely on a few bloggers at Fiverr who write brilliant articles about my books. They’re real blogs read by real people. (Twitter and FB announcements no longer work for me. I’m not sure they work for anyone except established authors with rabid fans.)

I’m testing the combination of Facebook fan pages (that I’ve created) and “boosted” posts to focused audiences.

I’m also starting to use brief, perma-free books to introduce people to story series and nonfiction series.

So far, so good.

This is a free clipart divider.

What I said when I first wrote this article (As of 2016, this information is outdated and — in some cases — wrong. But, for all I know, it’ll be smart advice in 2018. Or never again. It’s anyone’s guess.)

The #1 question people ask me right now is always “How much time should I spend on marketing?”

My answer is always the same:

“Until you have a strong backlist of really good books…? Slim to none. Write books. Then write more, even better books. Keep writing books.

“When you need a break between books, tell people about your books. Or hire someone at Fiverr to tell people about your books. Or both. I’ve used a variety of Fiverr marketing assistants.

I don’t hire Josh [as of 2016, not open to new orders] for all of my books, but I’ve used his gigs regularly and like his work.

In the past, when I’ve hired him to market others’ books or sent friends to him, they’ve often seen results, too. For $5…? Worth taking a chance unless you’re in hard-core budgeting mode. (If you are, just keep writing. Once you hit 10 books, magic seems to happen and — out of the blue — someone discovers one of your books and tells everyone to buy it.)

busy-woman-2phonesSome people rave about Twitter, G+, and Facebook pages, etc. I don’t.  Some people have had success (often past tense), but Facebook is making it more & more difficult to rely on them for free publicity. Of the three, I think Twitter reaches the most fans with the least work. I think G+ reaches the most innovators and early adopters in terms of the Diffusion of Innovations curve. (<– Scroll down to “Adopter categories” at that link, to see what I’m talking about.)

“Automate your social media announcements with HootSuite (free). Make sure you use Feedburner (as I do, in the right column on my websites) so your friends receive your latest news via email. I’ve liked that a lot better than using traditional mailing lists, for keeping in touch.

“Free Kindle days still work in some niches and genres, but not all. Maybe not even most. When I use free days, I focus on the free marketing tool at Author Marketing Club.

“If you love the media, check HARO when you’re between books or if you see a tie-in with something in the news. If your books are (or could be) related to a season/holiday, start early, like about two to three months before that holiday or season. (For Halloween, I start checking HARO daily around early August.)

“Other than that, having lots of good books in the same niche or genre under the same pen name… that’s your best marketing. People who buy one book and like it will buy more.

“Once you’re more successful, you can look at other marketing and publicity efforts. You can do that work yourself or hire others. I’m talking about things like paid ads, guest blog posts, interviews, book signings, convention appearances, and so on.  When you’re starting, check sites like GalleyCat for ideas.

“Mostly, write books. Lots of books. Learn your craft and write better books. That’s your very best marketing.”

I hope that’s helpful. And, if you didn’t already browse the hilariously awful advice at Always Be Branding, go there now… and don’t do anything they tell you to.

Quick Workbook Creating (Nonfiction)

Need a workbook to go along with your nonfiction book? Want to make it a bonus for your readers?

Here’s how to create one.

drawing pad and pencil1. Open your book text — the book you’ve written — in Scrivener, or your word processing program.

2. Go through it, using the “find” function for all action verbs, especially “do,” “write,” and so on.

3. Each time you find one that’s a step you’ve recommended, make a note of it in a separate document.

4. Then, make each of those a workbook step. It could be part of a checklist, or something with fill-in-the-blank lines, or an area to sketch in, a basic mindmap to complete, or even a small graph paper area. Keep the directions for each step very simple. (I’ll get back to that in a minute.)

5, Create the workbook as a PDF and make it a hidden file (include the bonus URL in your book) at your website. (I use Amazon S3 — plus the free CloudBerry Explorer — to upload and store files like those.)

Your readers will like this. You may also get more book buyers if a reader shares the URL with others.

So, avoid explaining too much in the workbook. If someone downloads the free workbook, they’ll want to buy your actual book to fully understand each step, and see how the steps fit together to accomplish whatever-it-is.

So, in the workbook, be sure to link to your Amazon, B&N, Kobo, or other sales pages, so they find your book and buy it.

It’s a nice bonus for your readers, and it can be a good marketing tool for you, as well.

Press Releases for Book Marketing

reading newsPress releases can be useful for book marketing.  However, they should be good press releases sent through respected channels.

If you’re writing your own press releases, make sure you know what you’re doing.   Don’t trust software to write your press releases.  The necessary personalization and energy — the zing you need — won’t be there. Also, MadLibs/prefab press releases become easy to spot… and quick to delete, if they even make it past spam filters.

If you’re on a shoestring budget, some free resources can be useful.

Bill Stoller (Publicity Insider) offers a free newsletter that’s packed with good information. Scroll past his sales pitch to get to the juicy stuff: Bill Stoller’s Free Publicity.

He’s giving away additional free, valuable information at his website, too. Study (and print) his Press Release Template. You’ll also want to read his Ultimate PR & Publicity Secret. (If you think press releases are more complex than that, think again. It really is that simple.)

I think you’ll be impressed. He’s giving away information that others are charging for.  Of course, he’s also selling his own publicity newsletter, but for about $100/year, it could be worth many times that… if you actually put his advice to use.

As of 2013, as I’m writing this: his hand-picked links list isn’t current, and many of those are paid services, not free.

For example, Harrison’s Guide is no longer offered. They’re giving away five (maybe useful) leads to get on national TV talk & interview shows… but the headline on their page begins “Who Else Wants…”

Wow. The “who else wants” sales page line is old and overused. When I see it, I know I’m either looking at an amateur, or a really outdated sales page… or both.

Still, plenty of marketing tips are universal and evergreen, whether you find them online, in a book, or in someone’s newsletter.

When you sign up to get a freebie like the Harrison’s Guide one, use a throwaway email address to avoid future spam.  (Hushmail.com is one of many services that automatically expires your free email address after a few weeks.)

Entrepreneur Magazine offers some generic press release information.  Most of it repeats what Mr. Stoller said, but in a different way.  That can be helpful if you’re new to press releases.  While Entrepreneur is generally writing for business owners, most of the information will apply to your press releases, too.  After all, you’re a business owner; your “business” is your books.  Link: How to Write a Press Release That Gets Noticed.

Huffington Post also shares tried-and-true press release advice in Zach Cutler’s 8 Tips for Writing a Great Press Release.

(Daniel Tan, an Internet marketing consultant, also created a pretty good list, 8 Tips for Writing an Effective Press Release. I’m very uneasy when I compare the two articles, but even if Mr. Tan was “inspired” by Mr. Cutler’s earlier article, Tan says a few things differently. His style may appeal to you more. That’s the only reason I’ve included Tan’s link… which may not stay online very long.)

Everyone is saying pretty much the same things, but… well, that’s the point. Press releases aren’t rocket science.  I’d never trust software to write a press release for me, but the rules are so simple, you’ll quickly gain confidence as you write your own.  They don’t even take very long.

Also, go to your public library and see what books they have about press releases, publicity, and book marketing.  Start with Public Relations Kit for Dummies.  If your public library doesn’t own a copy, you may find a copy at a thrift store like Goodwill, or you can probably buy a copy at Amazon for under $5, including shipping.

You may wonder why my first recommendation is an outdated book published way back in 2001.  Well, one of the co-authors is “Bob Bly.”  He’s also known as Robert Bly, and he’s an author himself.  So, while the 2001 public relations book may have a lot of obsolete advice in it, it’s also going to include a lot of time-honored information that will work for an author.

Another author to look for is Bob Baker. While he focuses on marketing for musicians, he also has some material for authors and book publishers as well.  He’s been online as long as I have (which means a l-o-n-g time) and — as a result — he knows how to find “hidden” resources, and he’s less likely to jump on trendy bandwagons, but recommend tried-and-true methods.  Bob Baker’s Free Report on Book Publishing.

Also from the 20th century, look for The Unabashed Self-Promoter’s Guide by Jeffrey Lant.  It’s out of print and used copies are expensive, so look for it at your public library, or see if you can get a copy on inter-library loan.  I bought the book when it was new (and expensive, even then), and there’s no way I’d even loan my copy to anyone.  I value it that much.  While a lot of that books’ information is really dated, the rest is still incredibly useful.

(Things like: Don’t eat carrots within a few hours of doing a talk show of any kind. Carrots can dry your throat and lodge there, and you won’t even notice it until you try to talk for more than five minutes at a time.  I read that advice after doing a TV talk show with watery eyes, trying to stop coughing, and sipping water frantically.  Yes, I’d had a nice, light salad about an hour before I went on the air… and it included shredded carrots.)

Jeffrey Lant is still in business, with his Worldprofit Home Business Packages. However, I’m seeing links to banner exchange programs (frowned on by Google, years ago) and traffic exchanges (ditto), so I’m not sure his current information is… well, current.

If you’re hiring a service to distribute your press releases, avoid free services. Really. Most of them are regarded as spammers, and the press releases they send out are never even seen.

Instead, use something like PRweb.  Or, choose the media you want to promote to, and send your press releases yourself.

Press Release Alternatives

I’ve already talked about HARO for book marketing.  Use it.

Here are more ways to get your articles (and press releases) copied and posted at websites, and in newspapers, magazines, and zines.

  • Use a free article service.  EzineArticles.com is still one of the biggest, and a lot of their articles can be rubbish. I still think they’re worth using for PR. On the other hand, EzineArticles isn’t the only free article distribution option.  (That’s just one list of links. Some are better than others.  Also, avoid spamming — or using any service that spams — 20 or more sites with the same articles, or spun versions of those articles.)
  • Make sure you post your info or links at social media that offers “share” among the options.  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and G+ are among the main choices, currently, but social marketing is always changing.
  • If you participate in forums, post your latest info there.  (Warning: Don’t join forums just to promote yourself and your books. Bad idea. Fast way to get banned, and people will remember your name… with a sneer.)
  • Publish your article on your own website (even a Blogger.com blog) and add a Creative Commons license.  I not only license a lot of my articles for free use by others (even commercial use), but I rely on the Creative Commons search when I need some free materials (illustrations and articles), as well.
  • Use document sharing sites.  Scribd.com is one of the biggest, but you’ll find plenty more if you search for them.  (Just be sure you’re posting a document that’s worth sharing.  Often, reputable sites don’t allow anything that’s just a press release.)
  • If you’re a good writer (as an author, you’re probably better than most), throw a few articles onto paid article sites like Constant Content.  Price your articles low (“usage” rights), and more people will buy and publish your work.  When someone is paying for your articles, they’re probably publishing something that has real readers.  That’s a big plus. I wrote for Constant Content about 10 years ago, when they were new and awkward, and I still receive payments from them every few months.
  • I have mixed feelings about using Fiverr.com to blast articles or press releases. Frankly, you don’t know how good they are, and whether you’ll look like a spammer if you use their services.
  • Consider alternative ways to get news to your prospective audience: Podcasts (your own or others’), YouTube videos (create a PowerPoint-type presentation in free LibreOffice, then record it with Microsoft’s free Movie Maker software), and call-in radio shows related to your topic.  (Note: If it’s blatantly commercial, rethink your approach.  Even your most ardent fans will tire if everything you say — outside your books — is an advertisement.)

Press releases and related self-promotion can be easy. The rules are fairly basic, and this doesn’t have to cost you a cent.

Remember that the personal touch — the positive, unique energy — of your announcements is the essential ingredient.  Avoid anything that’s cookie-cutter or automated, and make sure you don’t slide into by-the-numbers marketing, yourself.