What Are You Selling?

I’ve been working on some videos to promote my books. This current marketing adventure began when I read Rusch’s “Creating Your Author Brand.” I recommend it.

Authors, what are you selling?For me, it was filled with “ah-HA!” moments about continuity & quality… two points I’ve ignored with my “flash-in-the-pan” books. (They’re the ones I write in 10 days or less, and – short term – they can sell very well.)

But now, following Rusch’s tips, I’m working on an actual brand for my main pen names.

Her book was a superb start, but it’s more about the bedrock of branding than how-to of marketing, per se.

Initially, I followed popular advice: Sell my books with an “elevator speech.” Lead with the compelling things that make my books different… or, in genre romance, what makes them comfortable (even predictable) while telling a fresh, new story.

I fine-tuned my blurbs with great opening lines, bullet points to drive home why someone should buy my books (instead of competing books), and so on.

Then, I stumbled onto this TED Talk video.

After that, I found her free worksheet at Difference.is, and I bought her related book.

Within a few pages, I put the book down. I knew I needed to review the six videos I’m currently working on. Two of the four need to be revised, big time. When I recorded them, I was missing the point. 

Oh, I’d written good scripts for them, if I was only trying to persuade people to have an interest in my books.

But my message was dry. Boring. My videos were “just the facts, ma’am” more than “ooh, cool!”

(At the time, I thought I was writing my blurbs for busy people who just wanted the highlights, to give them an excuse to click that “buy now” button.)

Now I realize I was missing a key ingredient, and that ingredient is my readers’ interests, beliefs, and the things they consider valuable.

So, I’m back at my desk. I’m reworking the yawn-and-a-half video scripts. Re-recording will follow.

(I’m glad I have time to do this before a big radio interview next week. I want that audience to feel excited about me, my blog, and my upcoming books.)

Along the way, I’ve found other useful videos at TED Talks. Here they are, in case you want more to mull over.

First, Seth Godin’s advice is good… not great, but worth considering in this short presentation.

Then Malcolm Gladwell’s talk, which highlights something important: On a scale of 1-to-100 (from “meh” to “love it!”), you don’t have to score a perfect 100 with everything you do. (Being realistic: 60 is good, but 78 may be ideal, and kind of the “sweet spot” for those of us who tend to be a teensy bit to anxious about perfection.)

And finally, Simon Sinek’s talk. I’d heard him on TV, years ago, and he’d inspired me. Here’s that show (on BYU-TV), and it still inspires me. It’s a good place to start. https://www.byutv.org/player/41f10e4b-c66e-49b7-8a53-0d486bc1e286/fresh-take-start-with-why-with-simon-sinek

Today, I’m glad I had an excuse to revisit his advice as I’m reinventing my author branding. But, some of this video is very dated (and some of it is truly spooky), and less useful than other parts of it… for author/book branding, anyway.

I hope these tips are helpful. For me, this has been important, as I pause to reinvent my branding, my books, and how I look at my career, in general.


Recording Tips for Podcasts & Videos

Recording tips for podcasts & videosI’ve been publishing podcasts since forever. I wish I’d been more professional about them, from the start.

Today, I listen to some of my podcasts… and sigh. Some of them – more than I like to admit – weren’t very good.

In recent years, I’ve developed a system for recording podcasts. I also use it for my video soundtracks.

Note: Because I’m a privacy fanatic (due to some overzealous fans), I don’t appear on-camera. I use slideshows or videos (that don’t include my face), and I’m talking off-screen.

Here are the steps I follow, to record the soundtracks.

1) Mindmap the video idea, or otherwise create a list of things I want to talk about in the video.

2) Edit it, add talking points, etc., as needed.

3) Use Dragon to record what I expect to say in the video, so the script ends up in OpenOffice or Notepad.

4) Print that script and edit it.

5) Use the script to record in Audacity. Tweak the sound quality as needed.

6) Use that audio for my video soundtrack. (Or as part of it, anyway. I usually have a standard intro/outro, plus music that’s a segue for both segments.)

This process saves me a LOT of time. Hours, at least. Sometimes days.

By the time I’m recording in Audacity, I can usually get the soundtrack right the first time.

Also, for those who want to tweak sound quality in Audacity, I use this cheat sheet. (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1iA3GsOMXVh-xWKlarN-gqRUkAyrWQr9y )

Those settings came from a YouTube video I watched, explaining how to produce more professional soundtracks. (I don’t recall which video it was. If you recognize these settings, let me know the YouTube URL so I can give the guy credit for it.)

Generally, I don’t go through all the steps on the cheat sheet. The best results come from the first few steps. Test it yourself. You may see that some steps aren’t worth the extra time on a busy day.

Now, between a good script and a polished recording, I’m far happier with my audio results.

I hope these are helpful for your book marketing and podcasting, too.

TED-ish Talk Tips – and a question

Lately, I’ve been creating YouTube videos to promote my nonfiction books. Often, I share one or two tips from a book, and then point viewers to it at Amazon.

TED-ish Talk Tips for Video Book TrailersThat presents some slight problems.

First of all, there is no way I’m stepping in front of a camera. That’s a privacy issue.

So, my presentation has to be compelling.

The second issue is a quirky one. I’m kind of famous in one niche, and people know my voice from lots of radio shows, public appearances, podcasts, and so on.

(I was on the History Channel once, as well. It was less fun than I’d hoped.)

But this means I can’t sound like myself in videos under another pen name. Someone is sure to notice the voice and say, “Hey, wait… I know that voice! She’s [pen name]!”

So, my presentation has to say everything in text, usually in slides, right there on the screen.

(I use music for the backgrounds. If you’re doing this, I recommend getting the 7-day free trial membership at AudioBlocks.com. You can download 20 audios per day. It’ll save you money while you’re deciding whether you want to continue making videos.)


To keep my slides interesting, I’m studying TED Talks.

As a shortcut to understanding what works – and doesn’t – in related slide presentations, I like a book called How To Design Ted Worthy Presentation Slides, by Akash Karia.

If you don’t mind reading an older version of that book – it’s shorter by about 35 pages – you can find a PDF of it here: http://communicationskillstips.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/How-to-Design-TED-Wothy-Presentation-Slides.pdf

He links to some great resources.


Like many people, I’m stepping away from Facebook. Not entirely, because – for now – it’s still useful for connecting with fellow writers. And for advertising, maybe.

(Seeing how wrong Facebook got my interests, I’m not as enthusiastic about their “targeted” ads, now.)

I might just use HootSuite to post quick links at my Facebook page. It is a convenient way for people to see them.

Or, I’m considering doing that at a blog (maybe here), and people will see those posts if they’ve subscribed to my emails (in the right column on this page), or if they use an RSS reader. (Yeah. I know. That’s very old-school, but it’s something I may go back to, myself.)

So, I’m interested in your reactions. How would you feel about a mix of quick, short links-plus-blurbs here, in addition to my usual everything-but-the-kitchen-sink posts?

Or, should I set up a “just the links, ma’am” kind of blog, for those posts?

UPDATE: The response was almost immediate. Many of my readers made it clear that they prefer infrequent, personal, sometimes-long articles. So, I’ll be setting up a separate micro-posts blog for links, trivia, and the occasional/fleeting bright idea.

“Down the Rabbit Hole” Topics for Viral Books

How to find "rabbit hole" topics for fast, viral booksOkay, since Rob Howard’s appalling “easy, viral books” report came out, I’m reluctant to go anywhere near that phrase.

But… that phrase does describe a very broad niche in which I’ve been successful.

I’m talking about easy, viral books. The ones I describe in my own book about writing… well, viral books.

(That’s different from what Rob talks about. We just happen to use similar phrases, talking about books that can be written quickly, and sell well.)


I should be writing (as Mur Lafferty says), but I woke up realizing I should also share a couple of resources with you.

They’re strictly for topical, viral books. The kinds of books I write in a few days. Maybe a couple of weeks, max.

It all starts with an “ooh, shiny!” topic. Maybe it’s in the news. Maybe it’s evergreen. Maybe it’s both.

I research it, and share the juiciest, most interesting things I’ve learned. (Kind of like this article, I guess.)

Some of those books sell in the four-figures region for a couple of months, and then go flat. A few keep selling. And selling. And selling.

Of course, it helps if I re-energize them regularly, following the recommendations in Chris Fox’s superb book, Relaunch Your Novel. (Except, of course, my books are rarely novels. His principles apply to nonfiction, too.)


I find my book topics in the news. Usually, I’m browsing their “weird news” section, or – less often – skimming their strange opinion/editorial topics.

(The latter are the ones I blink at and wonder, “Who thought that was important – or even credible – right now?” But, clearly, someone did, and so did an editor with her – or his – finger on the pulse of a broad group of readers.)

Example: The Washington Post’s “wild card” option, in their digital editions. (I read it daily on my Kindle Fire. $1 for six months of daily news…? Lots of quirky, viral book ideas…? Ooh, yes!)

This morning, it was an article about taste buds and weight gain.  A book on that topic – and suggestions for dealing with it – could do very well. My goodness, it could even spawn a cookbook series featuring healthy, extra tasty foods.

That’s one of maybe half a dozen great, viral-ish topics I saw in the Washington Post in the past 24 hours.

The other resource is where I get more evergreen ideas: An American magazine that’s near every grocery store cash register. It’s called “First for Women.”

Every one of their magazine covers could provide at least two or three really good book ideas. Usually, more.

I have their December 4th (2017) issue next to me. Here are a few headlines and subtitles/blurbs. Any of them could be great, viral books. And each would be unique, because it would be based on your topical research and your angle on the subject.

  • “Reclaim your brain… bye-bye tired! / The heavy metal making women feel slow and tired & the natural compound that sweeps it away. Feel the fog lift in 24 hours!”
  • “Instant Confidence! / Double chin – Saggy butt – Belly rolls – Thigh jiggles…”
  • “Body Clock Cures / Insomnia – Anxiety – Slow metabolism – Winter sadness – Headaches – Cravings”

And that’s not even the main headline on the cover. (It’s about a thyroid detox. That’s a topic they feature at least once every few months.)

As I’m looking at this cover, and thinking about the endless winter this year – the storms that keep bringing snow and gloomy skies in the American northeast and across much of the UK – I’m thinking about “winter sadness” and SAD. A well-marketed book about that could do very well, this year.

So anyway, that was on my mind this morning. I hope this information is helpful. Now, I need to get my current book finished and in Kindle.

If you write one of these books in the near future, feel free to link to it in a comment at this article. I’d love to see your ideas for books like these!

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.