Reprinted with permission from The Greatest Escapist.

I’m a proud Clevelander, an incurable writer, an unabashed liberal, a neurotic Jew, & a chronic, unapologetic oversharer. I’ve been sharing my stories here since 2007.”

I love when people think that writing is my full-time job, but alas, it isn’t. I work a 9-to-5 (OK, more like a 10-to-6) at a nonprofit organization, where I’m responsible for writing & editing, yes, but also for lots & lots of social media management. My background is in journalism, but social media was just gaining traction during my college years, & as a communications major, I fell into it naturally. You could say social media & I have grown up together – or at least grown together. We’ve both come a long way!

I’ve done a little bit of social media consulting on the side, but mostly I just like to engage in on-the-fly conversations with friends & small business owners who have one-off questions or just want quick tips for building their social media presence. I know, I know, don’t give away your expertise for free – but I like it.

Here are the seven most common quick tips I like to share with folks who are struggling to get a grasp on their social media presence. Please consider forwarding it to someone you know who’s having a hard time Internetting!

1. Make time. 

Especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you, set aside a little time each day – on your clock or calendar! – to devote to social media scheduling, engagement, etc.

2. Use scheduling tools. 

No one wants to spend all damn day online, social media professionals included (& perhaps especially!) I love Hootsuite, Sprout Social, & Facebook’s native engagement tool for setting it & forgetting it while remaining consistent in posting.

3. Engage with others!

If a tree falls in the forest & no one is there to hear it… same with social media. Retweet, share, praise, ask questions, etc. Your social media voice shouldn’t exist in a vacuum.

4. Vary your content from platform to platform.

Switch it up, rather than cross-posting the same thing over & over on all of them (& for goodness sake, don’t set up auto-crossposting!). These platforms are different for a reason, & different presentations work best for each of them. You’ll see the most engagement & have the most success if your messaging is tailored for the medium.

5. Post different kinds of content. 

Sometimes, post a teaser link, other times a photo or a branded graphic, or a retweet-with-comment, or a direct share, or a video, or a Spotifty playlist, etc. See what works best for your audience & which kinds of posts give you the greatest levels of engagements.

6. Google is your BFF. 

Have a social media question? Someone has definitely already answered it online. Stick with reliable sources, a la Mashable, Hubspot, & other industry professionals.

7. Ask a pro. 

Still not sure you’re doing it right or want direct feedback? Hire a professional to help you sort out your social media presence & get on the right track. Lots of folks with full-time marketing/writing gigs do social media consulting on the side (like me, or Brittany from According to Brittany), so you should be able to find someone at a reasonable price, whatever your range.

Reprinted with permission. http://www.greatestescapist.com/2017/10/7-tips-from-social-media-strategist.html?m=1


Interview with Australian Author/Novelist Sara Ridley

   Sara Ridley

CW: Tell us about yourself.

SR: My name is Sara Ridley and I live in a small outback town in remote Australia. I have self-published four novels and own a blog, Life Of A Storyteller (http://www.lifeofastoryteller.com/), dedicated to helping aspiring authors write, publish and market their novels. When I am not typing away at my computer, I have my head in a book or am trying to come up with new theories for Game of Thrones.

CW: When and why did you start writing?

SR: Since the age of 12, I always knew I wanted to become a writer. It wasn’t until I asked my Grandmother if I could write her life story did that become a reality. I started researching her life in 2013, and two years later self-published her story for the world to read. As a sufferer of onset dementia, I wanted her to always be able to remember the life she lived. That is why I wrote the novel.

CW: Give us an overview of your books. Which one is your favorite? Why?

SR: Since 2015, I have self-published four novels. The first is a memoir centered on the life of my Grandmother during WWll called ‘Unspoken Words.’ The second is a coming of age romance novel centered on real life aspects and people called ‘Boy.Girl.You.’ The last two are informational and teaching novels at Life Of A Storyteller called ‘How to Write a Strong Novel: The 9 Key Pillars to Focus on’ and ‘The Novel Planning Blueprint: An Every Day Planner for Writers.’

My favourite novel out of the four is ‘Unspoken Words.’ It was such an incredible experience to work alongside my Grandmother and discover her life story and be able to tell that story to her friends, family, and those who are interested in reading the novel. 

CW: Who/what was your biggest inspiration?

SR: There have been many people who have influenced my writing career since it begun. My main inspiration for writing comes from my Mum. Growing up in a remote outback town leaves you with limited opportunities to spread your wings. A lot of people believed I was simply a dreamer, that becoming a writer was unrealistic.

It was my Mum who inspired me and told me that I could be anything I want. That society’s expectations of who I had to become shouldn’t hold me back. I took her advice, and if I hadn’t listened to her all those years ago I wouldn’t be where I am today.

CW: Who are your favorite authors? Why?

SR: I am a fantasy geek, so naturally speaking my favourite authors are those who write in the fantasy genre. Each author for me brings something special to the table. My favourite authors include George R.R. Martin for his use of dialogue and character building, J. R.R. Tolkien for his world building, Patrick Rothfuss for his unbelievable descriptive writing, and J.K. Rowling for her storytelling.

CW: Do you have a favorite genre? If so, what do you enjoy most about it?

SR: My favourite genre is fantasy. What I enjoy the most about this genre is that it has the ability to transport you from your reality into a fictitious world of pure imagination. A world, whether good or bad, that creates magic.

CW: What has been your greatest challenge?

SR: My greatest challenge as a writer has been acceptance. I come from a small mining town that can place certain expectations on what you are to become once you leave school, such as a nurse or a hairdresser. I was never one to follow the rules of society and realized that I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than my dreams.

When I told people I was writing a novel, some were supportive or interested. However, the majority didn’t understand why I would waste my time on something that wouldn’t be a lifelong job. Building myself as a respected writer and gaining that acceptance has been challenging, yet rewarding. I didn’t cheat my way around the bend, I earned their acceptance.

CW: What kind of characters do you create? Why?

SR: I have always believed that the best type of characters are those that the reader can relate to. Characters should be flawed, have both strengths and weaknesses, contain real life aspects, have internal struggles, afflictions, and so on. In life, we are not perfect. Your characters shouldn’t be either, and that is the sort of character I like to write in all of my novels.

CW: Do you write from an outline, or do you simply write whatever enters your mind?

SR: I have always found that when I have a basic blueprint in front of me it is easier to write the story. It acts as a roadmap that guides my writing, characters, and plot. Another thing I like to do before sitting down to write my story is to create an outline for each of my main and secondary characters. A lot of the time writers tend to focus more on their plot than their characters. Every time I read a story it is the characters I connect with, and that is why I believe it is important to focus on them as well.

CW: What do you most want readers to take from your book(s)?

SR: With each novel that I write, there is an underlying message within them. Each message is symbolic to that novel, however, I believe in each of my novels I try to inspire hope. Fear is such a strong emotion us humans have in us, whether it be a fear of moving forward in our lives, fear of falling in love, fear of writing a novel, for instance. As President Snow states in the Hunger Games, ‘the only thing stronger than fear is hope.’ With a little hope, I believe we can move mountains.

CW: Are you actively trying to have your books made into a play or a movie?

SR: Currently, I have no plans on turning my published novels into a play or movie. Does that mean I don’t think about what it would be like to see my novels on the big screen or what actors would play my characters? Not at all. One day I would like to see my novels on the big screen but for now, I appreciate them in the format of a novel.

CW: Do you have an agent? If so, describe your agent’s value.

SR: I do not have an agent. When self-publishing my first novel I contemplated on getting an agent or someone that could help me along the way. I chose not to, however, because it was something I felt I needed to do myself. Writing my first novel was such a personal journey of discovery that I felt I had to be the one to step over the finish line. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t seek help, but it was something I wanted to learn for myself so I could, in turn, help others just like me. That is why I started Life Of A Storyteller.

CW: What’s next for you as an author?

SR: As they say, the world is our oyster! I am currently working on a fantasy series that has been in the works for almost two years. I have no plans on releasing that anytime soon as I am still in the world building stage, however, would like to see it traditionally published in the coming years. I do, however, plan on helping as many writers as I can publish their novels, whether that be self-publishing or traditional publishing.

CW: How did you pick a publisher or decide to self-publish? Do you have an agent?

SR: At first, I did try to get my first novel, ‘Unspoken Words’ traditionally published but had no luck. I received rejection letter after rejection letter. I was, of course, discouraged by this as any author would be. It was then that I decided to take matters into my own hands and try self-publishing. It has honestly been the best thing I have ever done. Not only did I get my novel out there to the world, but I had complete control over it. Because of this, I decided to self-publish my next three novels. I would, however, eventually like to see one of my novels get traditionally published and see what that side of the industry has to offer.

CW: Do you have suggestions to other writers about the writing process or being published?

SR: Writing a novel isn’t an easy task. It can be extremely overwhelming and lonely. My advice to you is, during both the writing and publishing process, join writing communities that can encourage and support you along your journey. Not only will you create friends, but you will be able to gain help, advice, and resources from your fellow writers. Another bit of advice I have for you is to just have fun. Don’t think about how many copies you will sell or how much money you will make. Think about the people you are inspiring through your words, and the lives you will impact.

CW: How do you market yourself and your books?  What works well? What doesn’t?

SR: I market myself and my books through my blog, Life Of A Storyteller. I recommend that every author should have a platform where they can market their novels, talk about themselves and the writing process, and update their community of readers on what is happening with you next.

By having a blog, it is a lot easier to control your marketing process as well. You can link your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, etc up to your blog and drive your readers to the one place. For me, this has resulted in more sales and a tighter reading community. At Life Of A Storyteller, I also offer insight into how to start up a blog, manage it, and promote it to the online world.

CW: Where can someone buy your books?

SR: If you are interested in checking out my novels, you can find more information about them and where to purchase at this link: http://www.lifeofastoryteller.com/shop/

CW: What would you like your Writer’s Epitaph to say?

SR: ‘Never give up searching for your dreams, because one day they can become your reality.’

Book Publishing Blunders of First Time Authors

Author, book publishing expert, and coach Judith Briles (AKA The Book Shepherd) joined our February #BBchat Twitter Chat to discuss book publishing blunders of first-time authors.

Judith Briles is an innovative and creative writing coach, book coach, and how-to-get-published expert who can assist you with your book and publishing project. As The Book Shepherd, she has mentored up-and-coming authors and publishers for years and dedicated untold hours to educating others to the pitfalls, and joys, of the publishing world. In 2009, she created AuthorU(niversity), a membership organization designed for serious authors who want to be seriously successful.

If you’d like to be notified about future BookBaby Twitter chats, subscribe to our Facebook events. To view the entire chat transcript, visit this link. Below is a reformatted version of our discussion.

In your coaching experience, what kinds of writers typically need the most help with crafting a professional manuscript?

Authors need to let their egos step aside. I’m here to help make their work even better. I want “your voice” intact, so editing – getting the right one for your book will be at the top of the list – then design comes into play. Finding the right editor is key: understand that if I gave the same 10 pages to 20 different editors, they will all have different suggestions and takes. Ask for a sample, give him/her a chapter to see what they do and if it “feels” right (their suggestions are good and make sense). There are children’s editors, YA editors, nonfiction, fiction – then there are subs. But the real editor question is, do you need content/development or just copy editing? Then after the book is laid out, it should get what I call a “cold eye” edit.

Every book needs a plan – how do you find and set reasonable goals and deadlines?

Plans are essential. Yours should start with exactly WHO are you writing for. Authors need to know their target market, but few do. You need to know their fears, hopes, concerns, and what are their problems – this is for both fiction and nonfiction. Plans contain what social media will be used and what marketing will be focused on. And book marketing should start pre-publishing.

Are there any common essentials every first-time author should include in their book to reach success?

As The Book Shepherd, I act as the project manager. I do do content editing, but I also bring in the cover and interior designer and I start brainstorming covers and branding. I coordinate eBook, audiobook, and the game plan for marketing. In some cases, I help with setting up Amazon, social media, and working with the author’s website. In other words, launching the author and the book.

What design elements should writers incorporate into their book to keep readers engaged?

I love book design, for both fiction and nonfiction. Make the interior interesting and engaging; use a piece or theme from the cover and drop it in. It’s a nice set-up for the reader. Book interiors need white “space” and maybe an illustration to engage the reader. In the interior, customize. Create pullouts/callouts. Open your chapters with your quotes, maybe an “aha!” moment from the chapter. I think it’s important for all authors to understand that book publishing is a business.

When planning a book launch, how far out should you start marketing before the release date?

Launch date time plans can start months in advance. Get ready, build the audience, offer goodies, create a contest, etc. Think of your book launch and marketing in waves. Create a spreadsheet of activities/events that you can do to support and build up

Should writers spend more of their time building a social media following or growing their email list?

Social media and emails go hand-in-hand. Let’s start with email. You must have a website. Create an “opt-in” to gather email addresses. Websites do three things: build trust with visitor, deliver content, and gather names/emails. With an opt-in, you get the emails. On my website, TheBookShepherd.com, I give a 24-page PDF on eight publishing essentials – free. The first time I posted it, I got 1,800 new names. I like Twitter best, it’s fast and punchy, which fits my style. Find your style. On of the best ways to build fans/followers is to create quotes – why not yours? – or share others. Use Canva or PicMonkey to gussy them up. They get shared plenty and you build your author platform at the same time.

Do you recommend any tools or resources for staying on track to first-time authors?

One of my personal keepers to stay on track: DON’T do what I have no business doing. Think about it. The other is: If I never say NO, my YESES become worthless. We authors get pulled in multiple directions. We have to say no sometimes. Also use a social media management tool. I use Hootsuite, and there are others. The goal is to multi-task here, otherwise, social media is a time suck.

Guest questions

So, Judith, what is THE WORST mistake?
Oh my… let me count the ways. Let’s start with bypassing editing. People actually do that? Too many authors think they can do a DYI or have their mom, sister, or a school teacher do it. NO.

What is a reasonable amount of time for editing your book?
Editing time depends. In content/development, it may take a few months; if its 100,000 words, it’s going take more time (in most cases). Get an estimate from the editor. My cold eye editing is less than a week; I plan on two weeks for most nonfiction; fiction takes longer as a rule; children’s book are quite fast.

Once you have your book edited and cover designed, how do you develop a marketing plan?
Ideally, marketing plans should start early. They start with knowing your competitors in the genre and knowing your target market. Determine which social media platforms are right and set one or two up, then build from there.

What about marketing low-tech? There are some who don’t do social media, Kindle, want only hard copy books, etc.
It takes time now, start with baby steps here. With that said, use your mouth to sell books. Start speaking. My personal record after a talk was 566 books in three hours.

Are there good templates for marketing plans? Something I could edit to my needs?
There are “common” things, but most marketing should have two parts: 1) What are author/book competitors doing? 2) What social media are they doing? Then mimic the best, don’t reinvent the wheel. If the competing author is using Twitter, for example, then follow him/her, THEN start following followers. You will build fast. The best question to ask is, “How long do you want book sales?” Then you know how long you have to market your books. What’s good about the self-publishing/indie markets is that you can repurpose books and relaunch them. Don’t roll print, eBook, and audio at same time. Come back to the party and do another announcement and support each separately.

What’s the best way to get people to review your book?
It’s always good to have someone outside of friends and family do a review. Here’s my #1: have readers of your genre review your book.

What are other common mistakes?
Too many authors rush to publish. Breathe and learn the biz. Commit to consistent updates.

Can you speak to e-publishing short stories / novellas / novelettes? (Kindle Direct). What’s the price point there?
Shorts are hot. Short books and stories are the new black. Do them and for all, think “repurpose” of existing books.

What marketing mistakes should authors avoid making?
Getting sucked into elaborate plans that cost lots of money. Again, who is your target market? Where do they hang out? What social media are they on? Then focus there. If you are a speaker, or plan to be, DRILL into the industry that’s your expertise and claim it. Problems are your BEST friends, because you have answers and solutions. It’s how I sold over one million books in healthcare.

Can you use your blog to promote or does it need to be a separate website?
You should absolutely use your blog to promote, and you should keep on your website. With each new post, blast it out on your social media channels.

Is it worth the investment to create an audiobook version of a print book – do you see authors getting an ROI?
Audiobooks are HOT. I say yes indeed, and there are ways to spend lots of $$$ and ways to do it for little. Richard Rieman’s The Author’s Guide to Audiobook Creation is a great info/how-to guide. (Disclaimer, I was his book shepherd.)

Thank you ALL! I do free coaching every MONDAY at 12 ET. Info on TheBookShepherd.com.


How to Become Trade-Published as a Novice Fiction Author

Being published as an unknown author is not terribly difficult if you write non-fiction and you are a known subject matter expert. Your fame represents your non-fiction author platform. For non-fiction, you might not have much trouble selling plenty of copies on your own as a self-published or POD author. You hire a good editor, pay for printed copies and sell them by yourself as the expert. If you are really famous, an agent and publisher can handle it all.

No such road is available for unknown fiction authors. Unless you are a celebrity, and mostly likely no one reading this is, you’ll need to create a viable author platform. Without one, you’ll have a great deal of trouble acquiring a talented and well-connected literary agent or one of the big publishing houses that will make you famous. You can count on your digits the number of famous self-published fiction authors, and most of them used traditional publishers to become famous.

Big publishing houses only work with trusted agents. Yet, it can be more difficult for an unknown fiction author to acquire a good agent than it is to find your own small publishing company. At least that’s what happened to me. The novice fiction writer should begin by finding a small traditional publisher. It’s attainable.

There is a way to create some fame for yourself with fiction. The trouble is, it will cost some hard-earned cash. Large publishing houses only accept proposals from trusted literary agents. The way to break into traditional publishing for fiction is to work with a small traditional publisher. In some cases, that small publisher will not charge the author a dime. Traditionally, that was the definition. But today, with small publishers squeezed financially, some will ask you to share in the cost.

I most certainly do not mean subsidy (vanity) publishing. Subsidy publishers earn their money from authors willing to pay up front to have their book printed and bound. Such “publishers” are disparaged by the greater publishing industry. They perform no significant editing. They are more like printers than publishers; as the author must pay the entire cost, plus the subsidy’s margin. One they have your money, they will do nothing at all to distribute, market, promote or sell your book. In most cases, after paying a few thousand dollars, you’ll have nothing more than a handsome book suitable for coffee table impressions, plus your book will be displayed on a web site that attracts almost no one. The public will not know that the book exists, or that you are a published author; and no one will lift a finger to distribute and sell that book. Nor can you impress readers, agents and publishers by throwing out the name of your subsidy publisher. In fact, once known, that information will damage your reputation as an author. I recommend subsidy publishers for only one type of author; the person who wishes to write a memoir for progeny, but has no interest in sales.

As publishers are increasingly squeezed financially, they have taken to asking unknown authors for a contract in which the author pays the expenses, or at least share in the cost of editing, printing, binding, ISBN numbers and distribution. Virtually all authors today must market their own books, even with a large publishing house. But if you are willing to throw some cash into it, a small traditional publisher might be your best answer.

Think globally. There are thousands of small publishers today all over the world. It doesn’t matter if your small publisher is two miles from home or on the other side of the world. I live in Ohio. The traditional publisher of my first book was a large textbook publishing company in the US. But the publisher of my debut novel was a small publishing house in Israel. After I acquired an agent, she sold it to Texas Tech University to be republished. Telling the world that you have been published by a university for fiction is a powerful addition to your author platform. Global commerce related to publishing has become much more fragmented in recent years. A trade publisher is a trade publisher, whether they are in New York, Paris, Mumbai or Tokyo.

Why should you pay a small traditional publishing house to create and distribute your book? It might be the only way as an unknown author to impress agents, publishers and readers with your talent. Unlike subsidy publishers, small traditional publishers have a good reputation. And because they earn their profit from sold copies, they have a vested interest in effective promotion and marketing. Every time you tell people about it, engage in marketing, post a book landing page or Facebook fan page, you’ll be proud to tell the world that you are under contract with a real, bonafied trade (traditional) publisher. It instantly elevates your fiction author platform in a way that self-publishing and subsidy publishing cannot accomplish. After that, you will find it much easier to distribute and sell copies, as well as attract agents and big publishers.

Why should you pay to become trade-published and then share the profit with your publisher? To an unknown fiction author, platform is more important than royalty income. The more famous you become, the better your platform, the easier it will be later to acquire an agent and through that agent, become published by one of the big houses; which makes your platform even more enticing to big publishers. All of your future books stand a much greater chance of success when a team of experts is in charge of editing, printing, distribution, marketing and sales.

When a prospective agent, publisher or reader decides to Google your name, you’ll want many pages of positive articles and publicity to appear. Note I said “many pages” of positive items – not many items. That’s your goal. And to reach it, you must either hire a good publicist, which can cost thousands of dollars, or you can learn how to be your own publicist. Again, the Internet will be a huge help. After being published by the big houses a few times, you will no longer be an unknown fiction author. When you acquire a large fan base, you can then consider whether you should self-publish and keep all of the net profit from future books.

How does an unknown fiction author contract with a small traditional publishing house? First you must locate them. I devoted months to that task when my debut novel was completed. It’s painstaking work. Fortunately, almost every publisher, small or large, has a web site. Let Internet searches do the hard work. Some small publishers specialize in one or two genres. You can have Google troll the Internet on various search terms.

There are also many agencies and associations that list small publishers and literary agencies, along with contact information. Try to send proposals out to at least 10-15 small publishers per day. I had to contact over 100 small publishers in order to generate four contract offers (excluding subsidy publishers). The more you contact, the sooner you’ll have options. I’ll deal with proposal writing in a later post. You can also review some of my older posts here for proposal writing information. Believe me, creating a winning publishing proposal is very hard work. Never underestimate its importance.

In conclusion, novice fiction authors can become famous, acquire agents and land big publishing house contracts. It takes time, determination and hard work. But it can happen, if you have talent and marketable books. This is the only way to get your book into bookstores and chain store retailers, where more than half of all books are still sold. Want your book sold at Walmart and Target, in addition to Amazon and Barnes & Noble? Don’t self-publish. Find a small trade publisher. Nor can you obtain a review from any of the biggest and best review organization if you self-publish. As a long-time reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, I’m well aware of that issue. Publishers will promote your books at international book fairs, conventions and conferences, with top industry leaders; how many self-published authors can pay for that? So as a novice fiction author, there is a way to become successful. It’s with small traditional publishers. If you must pay some of the costs, it could be well worth it. Go for it!






Announcing the New “Jacob’s Courage,” Republished by Texas Tech University Press

In 1939, seventeen-year-old Austrians Jacob Silverman and Rachael Goldberg are bright, talented, and deeply in love. Because they are Jews, their families lose everything: their jobs, possessions, money, contact with loved ones, and finally their liberty. Jacob and Rachael and their families are removed from their comfortable Austrian homes into a decrepit ghetto where they are forced to live in squalor. From there, the families are sent to the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt, where Rachael and Jacob secretly become man and wife. Revel in their excitement as they escape through a harrowing tunnel and join local partisans to fight the Nazis. Ride the fetid train to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where only slavery, sickness, brutality, and death await. Stung by the death of loved ones, enslaved and starved, the young lovers have nothing to count on but faith, love, and courage. 

Jacob’s Courage is available in print at Amazon with Texas Tech University Press here.  It’s also available as an e-book ($4.95) at Amazon. It’s also available as an e-book with Smashwords and many other fine e-book retailers, including Apple (iTunes), Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, Scrollmotion and many other retailers.

How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders

Reprinted with permission from Smashwords:

If you’re planning to publish a book in the next 12 months, this post will teach you how to use ebook preorders to reach more readers.  You’ll learn why an ebook preorder is an ESSENTIAL component of every successful book launch.

Two years ago Smashwords announced preorder distribution to Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. At the time, I promised that ebook preorders would help our authors sell more books.  This has proven true.

Books born as preorders sell significantly more copies than books that are simply uploaded the day of release.

I recently analyzed 12 months of Smashwords sales data in preparation for the upcoming release of my annual 2015 Smashwords Survey.  Here’s a quick sneak peek preview of what we found:

  • 7 of our top 10 bestsellers were born as preorders
  • 67% of our top 200 bestsellers were born as preorders
  • Of our top 200 bestselling preorders, 81% were supplied by romance authors
  • Books born as preorders represented only 9.8% of the books released at Smashwords during this 12-month Survey period

So there you have it.  A small fraction of our titles were released as preorders, yet those titles absolutely dominated the bestseller lists.

The good news is that preorders work like magic.  Preorders are the single most powerful book launch tool today.  The bad news is that most authors aren’t doing preorders yet.  Let’s fix that starting today.  I’ll teach you how to make preorders work for your next book release.

I think the reason most Smashwords authors haven’t done preorders in the past is that prior to today (June 17, 2015), we required the author to upload the full and final manuscript to establish the preorder. That put authors in the tough position of having to weigh the benefits of immediate release against the benefits of releasing the book later as a preorder.

Earlier today we announced a solution to this quandary – the assetless preorder.  With today’s assetless preorder announcement, authors can establish preorders up to 12 months in advance without the book.  You simply provide us the metadata (title, release date, price, book description and categorization) and then we’ll get the listing established at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

In this post, I’ll explain how preorders work, how indie authors and publishers can integrate preorders into their next book launch, and I’ll share proven and effective strategies to maximize the results of your preorder.

What’s an eBook Preorder?

An ebook preorder is an advance book listing at the ebook retailer.  Preorders allow readers to place an advance reservation for your book.  Their credit card is not charged until the book is released to them when it officially goes on sale.  iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo all list assetless preorders delivered via Smashwords.

The Six Biggest Benefits of Ebook Preorders

Ebook preorders give you incremental advantage in the battle for reader eyeballs.  Here’s why incremental advantages are so important:  Ebook sales are characterized by the power curve phenomena, where each incremental increase in sales rank earns the author an exponential increase in sales.  A book ranked #1 in a store might sell triple the number of copies of a book ranked #10, and a book ranked #10 might sell double or triple the number of titles as the #20 bestseller.

The more best practices you implement well, the more your sales rank will shift to the left of the curve (learn the most important best practices in my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success).

Most indie authors are already well-versed in the necessary best practices of great writing, great editing, great cover design, great distribution and a fair price.  It’s time that every author add ebook preorders to their repertoire of the most important best practices .

Preorders are like the difference between driving in gridlocked traffic or skipping over to the commuter lane.  Preorders are a fast track to greater visibility, discoverability and sales.

Let’s examine the six benefits of ebook preorders:

1.  Preorders enable more effective advance book marketing – Most authors, as they’re writing their next book, communicate their progress to fans on their blog, Facebook, Twitter and private mailing lists.  Preorders allow you to capture the reader’s order at the moment you have their greatest attention and interest.  Without a preorder link, a reader who’s ready to purchase today may forget about your book by the time it comes out, or they might lose interest between now and then.  Capture the order!

2.  Preorders enable advance buzz-building – It’s human nature that things coming in the future are often more interesting that what’s out already.  You can’t get any newer than a book that’s not out yet.  Preorders allow you to build reader anticipation leading up to your official release.  The anticipation will be greatest in the minds of your superfans – those readers who already love your writing.

3.  Fast track to bestseller lists – This is the ultimate magic of preorders.  All major retailer bestseller lists rank books on unit sales.  Their sales rank algorithms weigh sales made in the most recent 12-24 hours more heavily than sales made two days ago or two weeks ago.  At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, all of your accumulated orders credit to your book’s sales rank the day your book officially goes on sale.  This causes your book to spike in the charts.  Since customers use bestseller lists to find their next read, higher-ranked books become more visible and more desirable to readers.  This sparks a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of more sales leading to more sales.  Preorders also help maximize your odds of appearing in major national bestseller lists by concentrating a greater number of sales into a shorter period of time.  There’s strong evidence a well-timed preorder will maximize your odds of hitting the NY Times and USA Today lists.  A strong preorder also increases your odds of appearing in the monthly Smashwords/Publishers Weekly Bestseller list because you can concentrate multiple months of accumulated sales into a single sales month.

4.  Same-day availability at multiple retailers – By delivering your book in advance to multiple retailers, your book will go onsale the same day at each retailers.  The reason:  The advance delivery of your ebook to retailers gives them more time to receive, process and load your book.  At or near the stroke of midnight on release day (some retailers release at different times depending on time zone), the book is automatically released to customers.

5.  Better reviews – Since your fans and superfans are the most likely to place preorders (because they already trust that everything you write is super-awesome), they’ll be the first to receive your book when it goes onsale, the first to read it and the first to review it.  You want your superfans to be the first to review your book, because strong reviews out of the gate attract more sales.

6.  Increased merchandising opportunities – If your book is available for preorder, you enjoy more merchandising opportunities. There are two types of merchandising – automated and human-curated.  Automated:  When readers are viewing any of your books, the store will display your preorder alongside your other titles.  If the preorder is part of a series, it’ll appear alongside your other series titles (Smashwords authors: Make sure you’re taking advantage of the Smashwords Series Manager tool because retailers use this information to link your preorder to your other series titles).   Human-curated:  A strong-performing preorder increases the odds that the store’s merchandising team will feature your book because it gives them confidence to know that your book is highly anticipated by readers.  At Smashwords, we actively promote our best-performing preorders to the merchandising managers at our retail partners.

Planning Your Preorder

Think of a runway.  Jet aircraft need long runways so they can build up enough speed to take flight.  Preorders work the same way.  The more time your book is listed as a preorder, the more time you have to accumulate orders for that all-important first-day pop in the charts.

Look at your publishing schedule for the next 12 months and get everything up on preorder today.  The longer the runway the better.  But even if you only have one week of runway, it still gives you an incremental advantage.  Every accumulated order counts!

To understand the critical importance of a long runway, let’s look at how accumulated orders can add up.

If your book is available for preorder for three months (90 days), and you average one order a day at a given retailer you’ll have 90 orders by the time your book goes onsale.  At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, 90 orders will probably land you in the top 100 bestseller list for your genre or category.  Five orders per day would get you 450 orders, enough to land you in the top 10 for your genre or category at some retailers.  Ten orders a day would get you almost 1,000 accumulated orders, enough to land you in the top 10 store-wide lists at many retailers, and possibly even #1 in some stores.  These numbers aren’t hard and fast.  It really depends on the competition of what else is being released on the same day.  Many of our authors have released with thousands of  accumulated orders on day one.

Timing Your Preorder

What day of the week is best for a book release?  I can share some considerations to help you make a more informed decision. As you’ll see, there are potential pros and cons on different days.

You face more competition on Tuesdays – Most major NY publishers release their books on Tuesdays.  Because most big publishers are using preorders as part of their book launches (another reason you should too!), this means you’re likely to face more competition on Tuesdays for the top spots in the bestseller charts.

Saturday and Sunday are the biggest ebook buying days – Weekends are typically the biggest ebook-buying days at the retailers.  If you time your preorder to release on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll face less competition from traditional publishers, and you’ll chart higher on day when more readers are searching the bestseller lists for their weekend read.

Sit-down holidays can be slow, but post-holidays are great – Avoiding major sit-down family-gathering holidays for release dates.  For example, Thanksgiving and Christmas day, many readers will be occupied with family gatherings.  However, the days after holidays are some of the biggest book-buying days of the year.  December 26 through around January 7 is typically the year’s best ebook sales period based on our past experience.  Keep in mind, however, that some ebook stores go into lock-down mode and don’t list new titles during certain holiday days.  At Smashwords, we’ll usually start listing these blackout dates at Smashwords Site Updates around mid November so you can plan accordingly.

Sundays and Mondays are good for NY Times and USA Today Lists – Consider releasing on a Sunday or Monday if you want to maximize your odds of hitting a major list such as New York Times and USA Today.  I’ve heard these two start their sales reporting weeks starting Sunday and Monday.  I’ll state up front that it’s tough to find reliable information on how these bestseller lists are compiled, and which retailers report sales to which lists (for example, I know iBooks reports to USA Today and Kobo has stated they report to the New York Times).  You should assume that all retailers report to the major lists, so if your books aren’t in every store you might harm your chances of hitting a national list.

For the Smashwords/Publishers Weekly bestseller list, early in the month is better – To maximize your odds of making the monthly Smashwords/Publishers Weekly bestseller list, release the first few days of the new month so you can concentrate the prior weeks’ preorders and the following week’s sales into a single month.  When I look at the SW/PW Top 25 bestseller list for the month of April 2015 for example, most of the new releases that made the list started life as a preorder.

Four Tips to Market and Promote Your Preorder

Simply by releasing your book as a preorder, it’s no guarantee of success.  To maximize your preorder’s results, it’s important to take steps to drive readers to it!

Here are four marketing and promotion tips:

1.  Plan an aggressive, multi-week, multi-part marketing campaign – If you’re planning a multi-week preorder period, plan a different buzz-building promotion for each week.  Do contests, chapter reveals, giveaways, and blog tours.  Basically, anything you would do for a book launch, start doing it as soon as your preorder is listed.  And thanks to your preorder, you can capture reader orders at the moment each campaign element hits.  Be sure to promote direct hyperlinks to your preorder pages for each retailer in all your promotions.  This makes it easier for fans to click once and then order with another click.  If you distribute through Smashwords, this means you’ll want to link to preorder pages at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.  Since the preorder listing will go live on different days at each retailer (iBooks is the fastest, often same-day of upload to Smashwords, though B&N and Kobo are pretty quick too), you can make each appearance a cause for celebration and promotion.

2.  Mobilize your fans as your street team – As you think about fun promotion ideas, do things that incentivize your fans to spread the word.  Here are some potential ideas you might consider, and after reading these ideas you can probably think of a dozen more of your own:  1.  Offer a free Smashwords Coupon code to another of your books to any fan who emails you their preorder receipt.  2.  Offer a coupon code to any fan who takes action to spread the word about your upcoming release, such as a Facebook post linking to your preorder, or a Facebook share, or a Twitter tweet, or a blog post.  3.  Create a “Street Team Acknowledgements” section in the backmatter of your book, and let your fans know you’ll include the names of the first 50 or 100 people who take an action (such as sending you a preorder receipt, writing a blog post or Facebook post, etc).  Set a deadline for fans to show and report their support at least two weeks before the onsale date so you have plenty of time to update your backmatter with the Acknowledgements section and upload the update to Smashwords.

3.  Offer special pricing on your preorder – Let’s say your next novel will be priced at $3.99.  As a reward for your loyal readers who place a preorder, price the preorder at $2.99, and then promise to return the book to its normal price soon after it’s released.  This gives readers strong incentive to take action now rather than later.  Remember, you want to get as many orders from your most enthusiastic readers concentrated on day one as possible.  A reader who purchases your book two weeks after it goes on sale won’t move the needle on sales rank.

4.  Leverage your other books to promote your preorder – If you’ve got other books out, leverage them to drive readers to your preorder. Once your new preorder is listed at iBooks, B&N and Kobo, update the backmatter of all your other titles so they mention the upcoming preorder.  At the end of every book, add a paragraph that tells readers, “{Title Name} is coming {Month Year}.  On preorder now at select retailers. Reserve your copy today!”  Update your book’s navigation so your navigation has a link to section titled, “Upcoming Releases, ”or “Sneak Peek at {Title A}, coming June 2016!” or something similar so your Table of Contents is marketing your preorder.  Here’s a blog post and video on how to add navigation to your Smashwords ebook.  If you have a sample of your preorder book, like the first few chapters, put that in the backmatter of all your other books (or if you’re releasing book #3 in a series, place the sample at the end of book #2 as soon as the sample is ready.   Also consider doing some aggressive price promotions of your other books, including FREE promotions.   FREE books get about 40 times more downloads than books with a price, so they’re a great method of driving readers to the preorder, even if the book you’re making FREE is a standalone book, unrelated to your next book.  If you’re doing a preorder for a new book in a series, definitely consider making the series starter FREE so you can drive readers into the series and into the preorder (when I release the 2015 Smashwords Survey, I’ll share surprising numbers that prove that series with free series starters earn more than series without a free series starter).

Uploading Your Preorder

From a single upload page, Smashwords makes it easy to set up your preorder at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It’s easier than publishing a book.

Book not finished yet?  No problem!  Select “I will upload my
final formatted manuscript later” to get your preorder up today.

Click to the Smashwords Publish page.  As shown in the screen shot at left, in Step 1 of the publish process, simply click “Make it a preorder.”

If your final manuscript is ready for upload now, you’ll upload it as usual.

If your book’s not finished yet, no problem.  Simply take advantage of our new feature for assetless preorders (aka “Metadata-only” preorders) by selecting the “I will upload my final formatted manuscript later” option.  Your final manuscript will be due to Smashwords at least ten days in advance of your on sale date.

You’ll enter a projected word count for the book and then you’ll see several check boxes to mark “I agree.” These check box items remind you of delivery obligations.  Next, you’ll select the release date from the calendar.

Do Amazon Preorders Make Sense?

Amazon treats preorders differently than other retailers.  Unlike iBooks, B&N and Kobo which credit your accumulated orders toward your first day’s sale rank, Amazon does not.  This means that a preorder at Amazon will cannibalize your first day’s orders and therefore undermine your first day’s sales rank.  For this reason, many indie authors who upload direct to Amazon decide to skip the preorder at Amazon and simply upload to Amazon the day of release.  By uploading the day of release to Amazon, they can concentrate their sales on the first day to achieve a higher sales rank.

Although Amazon doesn’t provide accumulated credit on day one for a preorder, an Amazon preorder can still land in the charts if your daily accumulation rates warrant chart placement.  The other retailers also allow preorders to chart based on daily order accumulation rates.  And since preorders anywhere enable more effective advance marketing and buzz-building, Amazon preorders still have this benefit.

Amazon allows a three-month preorder runway, so not as much as the other retailers, and they require you to upload either a draft or final version of your book.  If you fail to deliver the final manuscript to Amazon by 11 days before your release date, on day 10 they will cancel your preorder and revoke your preorder privileges for one year.  It should go without saying that we don’t believe in such draconian punishment at Smashwords – after thousands of preorders we haven’t banned a single author when deadlines have been missed.  We understand that unanticipated delays can happen so we’ve built safety nets to support you, the retailer and your readers.

It’s your call if you do a preorder at Amazon.  It’s by no means a black and white decision.  If you’re a veritable marketing machine, for example, the benefit of marketing your book for three months in advance at Amazon might outweigh the downside of a lesser sales rank on day one.

Final Thoughts on Ebook Preorders

Ebook preorders are the most exciting new book launch tool to come along in the last seven years.  A well-executed preorder strategy will increase the visibility, desirability and sales of your book.

Despite its amazing advantages, the preorder alone is not a panacea.  Behind every successful preorder is a well-planned and well-executed preorder and a passionate author promoting a super-awesome book.

Your objective with each preorder is to make your next book launch more successful than your last.  Platform-building is all about incremental steps, building on each success as you go.  Whether each new preorder helps you grow your readership by five readers or 5,000, each increase in readership is a stepping stone to the next level.  Some of your new readers will become super fans, and super fans will buy everything you publish in the future and will evangelize your literary brilliance to other readers.

To maximize the benefit of preorders, you should always try to have at least one preorder working for you at all times.  Of course, if your next release is further out than 12 months, then wait until it’s 12 months out before you establish your preorder.

If you’re a new author, even a small number of preorders will help accelerate your ability to build readership.  Only five accumulated orders on day one could make the difference between debuting at #100 in your category or at #1,000.  Every bit of increased sales rank helps build visibility in the stores.

If you’re an established indie author with multiple books and strong ongoing sales, you’ll have even more flexibility to leverage preorders to the max.


Novice authors are often desperate to sell their books. Desperation leads to mistakes.

Assessing your talent as an author before you have been published is a very subjective experience. Inexperienced authors tend to believe that the quality of their writing is far better than it actually is. When an alleged agent or publisher tells us that our book is wonderful and that it deserves to be published, our unbounded joy may easily obscure our need for clear logic. We become our own worst enemy.

There may be more predators lurking in the dark corners of the writing and publishing world than there are in any other industry. No required education or certification process separates outstanding professional editors, agents and publishers from villains. Either you find the villain before you sign a contract, or they make easy money from you in return for… nothing.

Here’s the bottom line. Do not take compliments too highly from someone calling themselves a successful agent. The predators’ sugary sweetness is designed to convince you to play by their rules because they “will make you a famous, wealthy author.” Alleged agents may tell you who to pay to have your book properly edited. They will convince you that they will sell your book to the very best publishing houses – as they do with many new authors. They may even ask you to pay them for some kind of service before you have a publishing contract. A few hours of sincere research will uncover all types of fraudulent agents and scam agencies.

Editors are paid by you after you vet them, hire them and you are satisfied with their work. Publishers and literary agents will charge you NOTHING – EVER. The publisher will take a share from the book’s sales and pay you a royalty. Thus the motivation to sell is highest with the publisher, as sold books constitute their only opportunity to earn back your advance and gain a profit.

Agents earn money after you have signed the publishing contract by taking a share of your advance or royalty payments. If an agent asks you for money up-front, the little hairs on the back of your neck should stick up. Stay in control. Don’t be fooled by false promises or misled by agents who shower you with false glory – “if you will only pay my standard pre-publication fee.” They will mislead you by saying that they need a little money up front to conduct research, to pay for editing, or to pay a “reading fee” to a publisher’s acquisition editor. None of this is true.

YOU are responsible for fact-checking every alleged editor, agent and publisher. Never discuss an agency contract until after you have completed and evaluated a long and thorough investigation. The same process applies to researching editors. How can a novice author conduct such an investigation? Read on.

The two iconic resources for all things related to professional services in editing, agency representation and publishing are: WRITER BEWARE (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) and PREDATORS & EDITORS (http://pred-ed.com/). Bookmark the URLs. Use them regularly. You’ll be amazed with the volume and quality of their information, especially if you are a new author. If an editor, agent or publisher is on a “bad” list with either of those sites – BEWARE; approach with sincere caution.

You might or might not be the next Stephen King. But you can make sure that you’re not the next victim of predators masquerading as editors, agents or publishers.