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.

Agent Queries and Publisher Proposals – Why You Should Use Links, Not Attachments


By Charles S. Weinblatt

Copyright © 2014

Abstract: Agents and publishers do not accept unsolicited letters, proposals or manuscripts from a novice author. Nor will they open an e-mail attachment from an author unknown to them. A well-connected literary agent is your access to major publishers and major publishers can shower you with a hefty advance and place the efforts of the best editors, graphic artists, printers, marketers and publicists at your doorstep, to make your book a market success. So, how do we, as unknown (or little known) authors, get agents and publishers to deliver contract offers?

This series of articles will help new or unknown authors understand how to create desired proposals and what literary agents and publishers will accept or reject. It offers a structural framework for distributing vast amounts of positive author information (platform) in a safe and protected manner that agents and publishers will feel good about opening without a malevolent result. Using a variety of embedded live Internet links, your author’s platform will be instantly available and with significant depth of data. This includes opportunities to sample different kinds of writing, writing awards, major newspaper, magazine and journal articles, TV, radio and broadcast news about you and reviews for your books from the most compelling and persuasive review organizations. This method will deliver the greatest amount of positive platform data in the most benign and viable manner.

Would you open an e-mail attachment from someone you’ve never heard of, who lacks any connection with you personally or by way of business? When someone you’ve never known sends you a poorly-worded e-mail informing you of their desire to share $20 million that their poor dead father left in some obscure bank account in Ghana just for you, do you give them your personal information? If a stranger via e-mail offers a free roof on your house if you will only open the attachment, do you open it? Well guess what? Neither will agents or publishers open your attachment. They don’t know you and now that you’ve contacted them in this manner, they never want to know you.

First, read the submission rules on each and every agent and publisher web site. Some agencies and publishers are closed to submissions or proposals. Sometimes this is only temporary, or for one or two genres. Those that will accept a proposal typically have solid rules for submission. Sometimes they even embed a strange or unusual rule, just to make sure that applicants are obeying. They own the game. Disobey their submission rules at your own risk. But remember, unless you’re a very well-known celebrity, you need them much more than they need you.

Never send a literary agent or a publisher an e-mail proposal in which the most important information has been added as an ATTACHMENT. This might sound like something everyone should already know, but then you might be surprised with the number of neophyte authors who don’t comprehend or who or won’t obey the rules. A number of small publishers and literary agents have regaled me with stories about how rookie authors ignore both submission rules and common sense.

In the past, we wrote manuscripts upon metal typewriters or by hand, paid to have it professionally edited and then we mailed the entire manuscript on paper to a literary agent or a SMALL independent publisher. Major publishers rarely opened or responded to unsolicited proposals then, let alone now.

Today, agents and publishers do NOT want to read your manuscript. Nor do they want your snail mail. If they desire you to hear from you at all, it must be in an e-mail with a brief description of who you are, why you have contacted them and why they should have any interest in your writing. All platform data should be in links, not attachments. If your platform measures up and if the topic is of any remote interest, then they will want to know more about your talent. And they will not open an attachment, period. If you send one anyway, your wonderfully-crafted e-mail and its attachment will be unceremoniously dumped into the e-trash pile.

Nor does an agent or publisher want to read a ten page electronic document that explains in great detail who you are and why you are making this contact. They desire your platform, but only in an electronic format that allows then to pick and choose which aspects to access in detail, with no attachment to open. Think about how Wikipedia encodes a vast amount of information about a person through a combination of headings, narrative and links. This is what you need to accomplish, but in an even more concise manner, via your e-mail message and embedded links. Your goal in submission should be three or four paragraphs, filled with LINKS and NO attachments.

That’s a lot about what not to do when contacting an agent or a publisher. So, how does a novice author win this contest?

First, and most obviously, you must have talent. No dashing protagonist or wondrous topic can make up for a lack of writing talent. Second, you must have a marketable book. James Michener could not have sold a book about how to drink a glass of water, regardless of how eloquent the prose or how deep the characters. Finally, you must be willing to spend a great deal of time marketing, show that you understand how to effectively promote books and demonstrate that you have already done so with other published books. All of this is part of your author platform. You can and must be able to prove that you have done this with other books. If you simply haven’t had the time to write a number of books and have then trade-published, then consider that your best years are ahead. You won’t be making the same mistakes as others. But there is no substitute for the time it takes to write, read, write some more and gradually use the learned aspects for future platform enhancement. The more you read, the more you’ll incorporate the best aspects of those author’s talents into your new books. I’m sorry if this does not coincide with our society’s value for instant success. The best authors spend decades reading the best authors and incorporating their winning attributes into their own books. If you are unwilling or unable to devote years toward learning how to be a great writer, then SP or vanity publish and best of luck to you.

For the rest of us, the answer lies in creating a relatively short (three to four paragraph) e-mail narrative that contains all of your platform and writing qualifications opened with LINKS, not attachments. While almost no one will open an attachment from a stranger, most of us will open a link. Why? They’re safer. Your computer might be wide open to attack if you expose a dangerous attachment; but chances are your browser will detect a threatening link and stop it before it opens. Add to that the protection derived from your firewall and anti-virus programs. Attachments are DANGEROUS, while links are much more benign. This article is about how to pass along positive aspects and details of your author platform via links that are live and safe, rather than via potentially-dangerous attachments.

Since your only real shot at an agent or publisher lies in placing all of your critical platform information in links, you will obviously need to put the data on commonly-used formats, such as You Tube, Facebook, Goodreads, book landing pages, major Internet interview sites, publisher sites and retailers, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. I love using two major free frameworks. One is BlogSpot. The other is WordPress. Both platforms are easy to use and are globally recognized. An important criteria in this decision is how well you can understand and use analytics. Analytics provide the reason for the season. They show us who is paying attention, where they discovered us and how much of our message is received.

Contacting an agent or a publisher is not simple or free of risk. As your author platform constitutes everything positive about you as an author, the way you deliver that platform is absolutely critical. In essence, you have a few sentences to sell yourself. The paragraph below elicits how I might contact an agent or a publisher.

I was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1952. I am a retired university administrator. I’m also the author of published fiction and non-fiction. My biography appears in Wikipedia,the Marquis Who’s Who in America, and I am a long-time reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. I write novels, short stories and articles. I’ve received many positive reviews for my recently published novel Jacob’s Courage, including by Jewish Book World and The Association of Jewish Libraries, which you can review here.  Additional information is available on LinkedIn, Goodreads and a Facebook fan page for my novel.

This one paragraph opens almost every aspect of my author platform. The Wikipedia page alone reveals most of my recent writing achievements. But it goes one important step further. It reveals my ability and my desire to heavily market and promote my books. Today, virtually all authors must market – self-published, subsidy-published and trade-published. If agents and authors do not see proof that you are willing and able to market, they are going to be less interested in you. But if they see you working very hard to market, they will give your book and talent a closer look.

When I decided to find a publisher for my debut novel, I understood nothing of how unknown authors are published or how to acquire a literary agent. As the years passed, I read a great deal more about the process. More recently, I’ve interviewed dozens of writers, agents and publishers. I gradually made fewer mistakes. While I remain a relatively unknown author, I have a decent author platform, my recent books have been trade-published, I have a well-connected literary agent and a major university will be publishing me for fiction later this year. That’s not a career in writing; nor do I desire one. But I’m happy to share what has worked and what industry leaders accept as the bare necessity of acquiring an agent or publisher.

Technology marches on and the publishing industry continues to adapt. This serves the interest of both sides. Authors can waste far less time on proposal and query generation. Agents and publishers can access multiple layers of information about an unknown or poorly-known writer electronically. The deeper they want to delve, the more links they decide to open.

NEXT: What to put into your literary agent query and your small publisher proposal.

 

THE ROAD TO BEING PUBLISHED


Virtually all of you reading this want to have a best-selling book with a major global publisher on your resume. I’m also guessing that most, if not all of you, consider your writing talent appropriate for this level of success. Of course, accomplishing this is another story altogether. So this article is about how to go from hell to HarperCollins as a novice author.

As a young or novice author, when should we self-publish? When should we use a trade publisher? And when should we use a subsidy publisher?

Having been self-published and having been trade published several times, I’ve been immersed in the issue of which way to publish for the past eighteen years. Having a literary agent makes an enormous difference. Yet, it can be even more difficult to find an agent as it is for a publisher.

Before I continue, know this… if a person, company or alleged-publisher asks you for money, beware. Be very, very careful. Sometimes this can be a terrific opportunity; or, you’ll become another scam victim. Real publishers never ask an author for money, or attempt to extort money from you, “if you will only be willing to pay to have your writing ability measured,” or any number of other scams that make victims out of novice authors.

I recommend that ALMOST NO ONE subsidy-publish (also called, “vanity” publishing), unless you really don’t care if anyone buys your book. That’s because almost no one will know it exists, much less purchase and read it. Subsidy/Vanity publishers earn a profit from the author, from you. The moment they have your money, they are done helping you. They might post your book on their own web site, along with other books by novice authors left unread and unsold. Why should they lift a finger for you, once they have your money? They earn nothing from sales. Remember, they already have your money. Oh they might post an interview with you, if you ply them with additional cash. Sadly, almost no one will read that interview either, because subsidy publishers don’t care if anyone reads their web site. And while some vanity publishers deliver exactly what they promise, others are scam artists and they propagate fraud upon well-meaning authors who failed to conduct due diligence. These so-called publishers jump from state to state, just ahead of the attorney general. I recommend a subsidy publisher ONLY when the author does not care if anyone will read it.

Recognize a scam (subsidy) publisher by their greed and pitfalls. They charge you for each and every production cost, while they retain all major attributes, including the ISBN and all major sales opportunities and legal rights. They require you to sell a certain number of books or to pay for all unsold copies. They offer no royalty or a very insignificant royalty, and/or demand that you pay for an “evaluation of your writing ability,” or that you hire the company’s staff for a variety of existing or imagined services, including graphic design and printing. Before you sign a contract and pay one of these so-called subsidy publishers, research them carefully. Look for current and past lawsuits litigated by disenfranchised authors. Contact authors who have gone this route and ask them about satisfaction and sales. Order a few of these books and judge the quality. You’ll find that in most cases, you would rather have your finger and toenails pulled out before associating your literary reputation with scammers and authors devoid of talent.

Self-publishing is often a viable option for an unknown author. I’m including POD in this category. You’ll still need to pay for most production and promotional costs. You’ll need to find a way to post your book with the web sites of dozens of major book distributors and retailers. You’ll need to attract newspaper, journal and magazine articles about you and your book. You must obtain Internet interviews with the biggest and most widely-read blogs and web sites. You will need to arrange for book tours, bookstore signings, public speaking events and submissions for major book awards. It will be up to you to pay for a winning book trailer and then to market it with hundreds of the best blogs frequented by readers in your book’s genre. There are dozens of other ways that you must promote and market your self-published book. I’ve elicited many of them here in this blog, including this post: https://cweinblatt.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/book-marketing-101-2/.

The differences between self-publishing and subsidy publishing are very real and very dangerous. With self-publishing, you own the ISBN. You retain the copyright. You own all major privileges. And you are in control over every aspect of pre and post-production events. With self-publishing, the author should retain all major opportunities for screenplay and movie rights, translation rights, cover and interior design, typesetting, printing, marketing, distribution, etc. If a “publisher” retains these rights in a contract, flee.

If you write non-fiction and you are a subject matter expert, self-publishing is a very attractive opportunity. Many years ago, while recovering from spine surgery, I wrote a non-fiction “how to” book about job seeking skills. A major textbook publisher offered a contract with an attractive advance. In the early 1980s no one was discussing self-publishing. But if I had it to do over again, I would have turned down the contract and self-published. Why? Because I could sell almost as many copies as I desired through my consulting practice, with regional companies who were closing or laying off workers; and because I saw to it that my book became required reading for graduate students at my university. Why share the profit if you don’t have to? This is a perfect example of why a novice author should self-publish.

Many of us write fiction, as I do almost exclusively now. In that case, your professional expertise means little and your success is accomplished via reputation and significant book sales. As is the case with most aspects of success, authors earn it one book at a time. With each successful book, we demonstrate incremental improvements in talent, distribution, promotion, sales and marketing. Before you can successfully sign a contract with a well-connected literary agent, you’ll need to demonstrate a string of increasingly successful books and reputational enhancement. This takes a lot of time, research, practice and effort. If you expect to become a best-selling author on your first or second try, dream on. It won’t happen and you’ll just become more frustrated. Be patient, produce one book after another, read voraciously (especially in your preferred genre) and learn from the best authors.

Many small publishers today ask the author to pay some or all of the publishing production costs. At first blush, this seems outrageous. The publisher acquires almost no risks and the author must dig into her or his bank account, often to the tune of several thousand dollars or even more. Plus the author must accept responsibility for marketing and promotion (and associated costs) – but with one major exception.

Almost all publishers attend a variety of global book fairs, conferences and conventions each year. There, they listen, learn and, they promote their books and authors to the entire world. This is one major reason to use a trade-publisher, even if you must front the cost of production. Attendees include large publishers, well-known and admired screenplay artists, movie producers and a variety of additional marketing opportunities. Although you might despise paying several thousand dollars to put your book into print (and an e-book), you would probably spend even more on travel costs to reach all of these global book fairs, conventions and conferences. Consider this investment a loss lead. If you really believe in your book’s quality and marketability, go for it with a small publisher who regularly attends the world’s biggest and best conferences and conventions. It’s a question worth asking before you sign a contract. In fact, you have every reason to add it to the contract before signing it.

When you can acquire a well-connected literary agent, then you have a real chance to become a noted author and attract millions of readers. Of course, agents only take a chance on obvious talent. With that in mind, you may need to produce several moderately-successful books before an agent will have the confidence to acquire you on contract. That seems unfair and very time-consuming. However, put yourself in the agent’s shoes. What would it take to put your reputation on the line with major publishers? Remember, the only way for an agent to be successful is to develop a trusting and mutually rewarding relationship with acquisition editors at the biggest and best publishers in the world. If the agent lets the big publishing house down by promoting a poorly-written book, then you and the agent are in trouble.

I do not consider myself to be a very talented author. At the same time, I believe that I can write interesting books. By the time I had completed my first full-length novel, I had produced two other books in different genres and I was well on my way to completing two more. My agent liked my writing and I trusted the agency to promote my books globally, where it would be cost-prohibitive for me to do it. After I had a few successfully-published books under my belt, that literary agent began to take me seriously. That’s time and effort… before a contract for success. There are very few free rides in acquiring a talented and well-connected agent.

The difference in having an agent was like night and day. Where I had struggled for years to convince small, insignificant publishers to examine my offerings, my agent suddenly had acquisitions editors reading my manuscripts at HarperCollins, Penguin, Prometheus, and many other famous publishing houses. This almost NEVER occurs when authors contact a major publisher on our own.

Here lies our conundrum. Almost all best-selling authors have a wonderful and pervasive author platform and publish through the biggest and best publishing houses. But, before we can attract major publishing houses, we must devote years to creating books that demonstrate our aptitude and insure that the marketability of our efforts is obvious. Only after that can we hope to attract the most well-connected and talented literary agents in our genres. Sometimes, we must pay to have our books published (subsidy or vanity publishing) in order to start this process. More often, we decide to self-publish, in a way that allows us to control all major aspects of the publishing process. Either way, the road to becoming a best-selling author is filled with potholes.

The more we learn about being published, the more reachable will be our success. This is why I blog and how I hope to provide some insight in this blog. For more information about fraud in publishing, as well as the differences between real publishers and scam artists, see Writer Beware (http://www.sfwa.org/) and Predators & Editors ( ). My writing and publishing web site is here: https://cweinblatt.wordpress.com

Everything You Need to Know to Create a Bestselling Book by Ryan Holiday


“I love books. Probably too much for my own good. I’ve written three, edited several others and also had my fair share of success helping turn books into bestsellers (cumulatively, the books I’ve worked on or advised have sold well over five million copies).

I know how hard authors work on their books and how far out of their element many are when it comes to doing the sales and marketing. So when I see someone doing it wrong, and giving bad advice, I do my best to help–even when they’re not my clients.

As authors, we’re all trying to fight against obscurity and outside distractions, but it’s a tough battle. Watching well-meaning authors follow in the footsteps of someone going in the wrong direction breaks my heart.

I’ll give you a specific example: Jose Casanova recently wrote an article on Medium explaining how he “growth hacked” his book (about growth hacking), mainly by drafting off the success of my most recent book (about growth hacking). I don’t fault him for doing this, in theory this is actually a pretty smart technique.

The problem is that he happens to be wrong. Jose Casanova has internalized a lot of bad advice about book writing and book marketing and then attempted to pass it along to others. I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to explain how this happens, and the lessons to take away from it, because authors who take him at his word are going to be led astray. I hope he won’t take offense, but I am going to use his book as example to explain everything I think authors–particularly self-published authors–need to know about marketing a book.

Bear with me because this isn’t a short post, but I think it’s important. As I said, there is a lot of bad advice out there and it takes time to knock it all down. The last thing I am doing is laughing at or criticizing what Jose has accomplished with his book–I’m happy for it. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that listening to someone whose self-published book that has 11 reviews on Amazon might be a mistake.

I’m picking Jose because I happen to have written a book about the same topic so I can use that campaign for contrast. Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising has now been the #1 marketing bestseller on Amazon for several weeks in a row. It has already earned back its advance from my publisher, Penguin/Portfolio. It’s been written about or featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Huffington Post, Betabeat, BoingBoing, Mashable, Marketwatch, Shopify, Thought Catalog, and Medium, was the most viewed presentation on Slideshare, and translated in four languages and brought out as an audio book. I still want more for it, but it is doing well enough to learn from.

Now, let’s get into how to market a book and how not to market a book.

Writing IS Marketing

For starters, this quote from the first paragraph of Jose’s article reveals a really dangerous assumption of book publishing. He writes: “Did I do much marketing for it? Not at all.”

The most common error I see authors make is they think of marketing as a separate and distinct animal from writing. They go into a cave for two years and write their book and only begin to think about marketing when they emerge. You have to understand that as an author you’re competing for attention with so much other media, you can’t afford to just sit on your ass and pray. Book marketing is such an essential part of the process Seth Godin–and this might be an extreme view, I understand–says you should start marketing your book THREE YEARS before it comes out.

The most important marketing phase of a book actually comes while you’re writing it. If you don’t realize that now, it’s a big missed opportunity.

Write Something Good

Also, Jose seems to gloss over, well, writing the actual book: “Once the content of the book was completed, so [sic] our next step was design.” Whoa there, buddy. Books take time. The single best marketing decision you will make is to take the time to write an amazing book. Don’t worry about beating someone to market–think about owning the market by creating an indispensable book. Like Paul Graham says, “Make something people want.”

By doing that you create the only marketing that matters: word of mouth. And the great thing about ebooks is you can see if your writing resonates with people very easily by what they highlight on Kindle. People apparently love GHM. Writing in a clear, concise and helpful way–a way that elicits the reaction “Oh, that’s great I need to highlight that so I remember”–is a marketing choice. You can tell just by looking at a book’s Kindle page whether the author accomplished that. Sadly, they often fail.

Writers should write books because they have something they have to say. Ideally, they should be the only person who can say it in their unique voice. Jose admitted that he decided to write his book because “growth hacking” was showing a surge in traffic on Google Trends (That’s almost as bad as people who write about stuff because it’s trending on Twitter, for SEO reasons or because other blogs are writing about it.) Books last because they have a unique voice, solve a common problem, and stand the test of time, not because of something as ephemeral as a trending topic.

By “unique voice” I mean: what is the book that only you are qualified to write? Initially my publisher wanted me to do a complete guide to growth hacking. Midway through my research it struck me that this would not be an honest or authentic thing for me to do. I am not a born “growth hacker”–my background is in traditional marketing. I did some hard thinking and realized that the best and most marketable book I could write would be about the transition from traditional marketing to growth hacking. So I sat down and wrote a book about my journey, rather than pretending to be something I wasn’t.

Write Something New

Do yourself a favor and choose to write a book with a totally new and unexpected hook. This bakes marketing and word of mouth into the content and sets you up for a perennial seller. The first place to start is the thesis or overarching idea of your book. Especially for nonfiction books, your thesis has to be a simple, spreadable, articulable idea to generate word of mouth. If your thesis is confusing or unclear it makes it very difficult to market. An unclear thesis also makes it hard for your readers to talk about it and recommend it to other people, which is the main thing that drives book sales.

For example my first book, Trust Me, I’m Lying, isn’t just another social media or marketing book. Its a part-expose, part-confessional about our current media system and the role I played in it. But the material in the book could have easily been framed differently to make it like any other marketing book. You can even bake marketing into the cover of your book like when Greg Smith used an eerily similar font to Goldman Sachs’ for his expose Why I Left Goldman Sachs. Ask yourself: What’s exciting about what I am saying? What will make people share my insights with their friends? How can I use that to get more attention? When I’m writing I come back to these types of questions over and over because its essential to understanding marketing. Baking marketing into your content helps create word of mouth, the only marketing that matters.

But there are limits to this. Seeing a book pop up on Amazon and quickly writing something just to beat it to market? This kind of short-term thinking dooms many writers who cut corners in essential areas…like you know, writing a good book or not.

Write Something Well

My guess is that Jose didn’t hire a professional to edit his book or even proofread it himself, because it’s riddled with needless grammatical errors. Professional editing is essential for self-published authors because it’s the easiest way to separate the professionals from the amateurs. Take it from the pros: “Without strong editors, writers are like cars with accelerators but no brakes.” The distinction in the publishing industry today isn’t published vs. self-published, it’s professional publishing vs. unprofessional publishing. If your book looks amateur and doesn’t read well, it doesn’t matter how well you “growth hack” your book, it’ll be dead on arrival.

A great example of an author putting in the effort to professionally self-publish a book is James Altucher’s Choose Yourself. In contrast with some of his previous efforts, James hired professionals to edit his book ruthlessly and design it from cover to cover. The results? Choose Yourself debuted on the WSJ bestseller list and sold over 40,000 copies the first month. There is still a stigma around self-publishing because readers think your book wasn’t good enough to get published. Self-published authors have to clear this hurdle and the best way to do it is to make your book look like it was done by a big publisher and get social proof from credible people that the book is worth reading. You might not be able to get the CEO of Twitter to write the foreword to your book, but you have to form relationships with other successful people in your space. (Nils Parker is who I recommend for editing.)

Packaging & Positioning

Every content decision you make as an author has marketing implications. It was encouraging to see Jose understand this in regards to book cover design, “You can’t skimp on design! Why would you spend all this time writing a book, and then get a shitty cover design?” That’s the exact right approach.

So while it seems like Jose understands how important design is, I think the takeaway here is how important execution is. I would not let one of my clients, and certainly not one of my own books, see the light of day with a cover like this. Why? It’s boring, but still busy, which is a major design flaw. Perhaps worst of all, it does not catch your eye as an Amazon thumbnail (the primary point of sale for this book). The problem is that wanting good design, and getting good design, aren’t the same thing.

In addition to a book’s cover, the title is an essential aspect of book marketing. Bestselling authors like Tim Ferriss and Eric Ries relentlessly test the titles and subtitles of their books to ensure that their audience will respond to it once its on the shelves. By contrast, Growth Hacking: A How To Guide On Becoming a Growth Hacker is a less than ideal book title. Perhaps fatally so. A subtitle is supposed to contextualize the main title, telling the reading what the books central promise is. More importantly, it should be active. (No “becoming,” at the very least it is “How to Become”.)

This doesn’t only apply to self-published authors, publishers–like any committee–have a tendency to screw these things up too. (This is my favorite example of a publisher killing an awesome title, and worse still the author doesn’t even realize what a mistake it was.) For the title of my book, I looked to include every marketing keyword I could naturally squeeze in without sacrificing the authenticity of the work. I have “marketing,” “growth hacking,” “advertising,” and “PR”–or every possible reading audience I could want. This has helped with with search traffic in a major way–and better, signaled to many different prospective readers that the book has something it it for them. “Growth hackers” are a small crowd. Marketers are a much bigger audience.

Distribution & Partnerships

Amazon as a distribution platform is pretty great, but most self-published authors like Jose think once their book is on Amazon their work is done. In today’s digital marketplace you have to get your book in multiple channels to generate sales.

Think about the results of the BitTorrent package I put together for the launch of Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Chef:

2 million downloads

1,261,152 page visits

880,009 Amazon impressions

327,555 Tim Ferriss website impressions

293,936 book trailer impressions

Using BitTorrent as a distribution platform opened up Tim’s book to a whole new audience and allowed them to share his content, which created viral attention.

Partnering with BitTorrent may seem out of reach, but something as simple as tapping into a friend’s email list can help drive impressive sales for your book. For Choose Yourself, James Altucher partnered with Porter Stansberry’s email newsletter and sold 20,000 copies through it. The point is to partner with other people in your space and give them incentive to work with you. For example, James did a 50/50 profit split with Porter, making it a no brainer for him. For GHM, I sent out an email to my own email list of 10,000 people to announce my book, which I built by just recommending books over the years.

It’s also important that you reach out and incorporate other people’s platforms in your book. I went out of my way–even though I probably could have gotten some of the information elsewhere–to interview every single major growth hacker I could reach. Why? Because they were my potential audience and I wanted to make sure my book was great. But also, I knew that by interviewing them they would be more likely to support and recommend the book to their friends, followers and fans. Indeed they did, I got tweets from basically every major, influential growth hacker in the book which certainly helped sales.

When writing your book look for influencers in your space that have a deep, passionate following. Working with them will drive way more sales than getting a review in the New York Times. Ramit Sethi, author of the bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, agrees: “The Holy Grail is a single-author blog with a large audience that is highly focused, and the author loves your stuff. If you can make friends with them and show them that your stuff is great and relevant to their audience, that can really propel you from one level to the next.” Build relationships as you’re writing your book and provide value to others in your space you can partner with them and their assets when it comes time to launch your book.

Promotion & Marketing

Thinking short term and rushing your book to market also prevents you from coordinating a good launch. Velocity is crucial when your book hits the market, so you have to concentrate your sales push to the first week because this helps you get hit bestsellers lists (not just the New York Times but on Amazon and Goodreads), which drives even more attention. Because of the velocity I was able to generate with my launch GHM was #1 marketing bestseller on Amazon, which at one point put me at #1 on Amazon’s Author Rank in Business and Investing, above authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Sheryl Sandberg. I was then able to put a banner on my book cover with the #1 marketing bestseller designation, giving my book even more social proof.

Being a #1 bestseller is good and all, but using Amazon rankings as your metric for success obscures some of the more valuable goals to work toward when launching a book. In Jose’s article he bragged that his book reached #21 in the marketing category on Amazon. Weeks later, how is that accomplishment helping his brand or business or even book sales? Authors should measure success by the assets they’ve accumulated via the platform they’ve built. This means emails collected, partnerships made with influencers in your space, speaking gigs, evergreen content placements on blogs, etc.

The question you have to ask yourself before starting a book project is: for what purpose am I writing this book? Is to grab some quick book sales with a subpar book, or to build a brand or business around it? I’d choose the latter.

Today, books are used as a tool for first-time authors to build a platform. It’s not enough to just write a book that sells some copies. In GHM, I put a page at the end that gave a bonus to all the readers who made it that far–transcripts of all my interviews with growth hackers, plus the first chapter of my other book. The result? Nearly 1,000 people signed up for my email list in case I ever do a sequel or a physical print version. (I also did a similar version of this in my first book and that list now more than 10,000 people).

Build Your Brand

If you read Jose’s book, he purports to be a “seasoned digital executive, entrepreneur, author, leader, and strategist,” but you’d never know this by looking at his book’s Amazon page because he failed to even write a bio for himself, missing a tremendous opportunity to build his brand. Authors should not make this mistake. Your bio and your Amazon page are like business cards. Brand yourself, reinvent yourself, whatever. Just don’t waste the opportunity. You will be shocked at how often these self-descriptions are borrowed and repeated in the media until they become true.

Perhaps he was busy or perhaps he felt that as a first time author he could not get them but for some reason there aren’t any blurbs about the book on its Amazon page. You’d think blurbs would matter less in 2013 but in fact they matter more. There were 400,000 self-published books released in 2012. So how do you differentiate yourself from the crowd? With social proof. One way to do this is with blurbs from established, respected individuals. Blurbs say: someone who’s time is valuable read this book before you and liked it. This is why I gave up a significant portion of the 2,000 characters Amazon allows to give space to blurbs from Tim Ferriss and even the guy who invented the phrase that my book borrows its title from.

Another big mistake I see plenty of authors make is they leave the job of writing the cover copy (the book description section on Amazon) for their book to their publisher or don’t put in the effort and do a crappy job, but this is critical to the success of your book. Amazon only gives you 2,000 characters to sell ebooks, so you better make sure every one of them count because it’s your sales page. For this I recommend doing the classic copy writing exercise of one page, one paragraph, one sentence to describe your book. Or even better, use Amazon’s “working backwards” approach, where product development people have to write the press release for the product BEFORE Amazon approves the project. This crystallizes your value proposition to the reader and helps you make decisions throughout the book marketing process.

Remember as a first time author, discovery is your big hurdle. An eternity in obscurity is the fate for most authors. Why should people give you their cash? Why should they give you their time? It’s crucial that your pricing makes your book accessible, especially early on. Do not discourage people from taking a chance on you. So while it was smart for Jose to initially make his book free on Amazon, I think it was a huge mistake to price his ebook $9.99 and then have paperback at $12.99. Most ebooks are priced at $2.99 because you get a 70% royalty from Amazon instead of 35%. For Jose to sell his book for more than triple that puts it at a price point that will prevent people from buying his book. And while there’s a lot to be said for pricing based on value, when taken to an extreme you end up hurting sales. Lower prices brings more revenue, more new readers, and a better sales ranking. Since ebooks cost you nothing to distribute, price them lower to encourage discovery. Physical books can be sold at a premium because they people who have to have it will gladly pay.

There is a reason that Growth Hacker Marketing is $3. I learned this lesson with my first book. I asked the publisher why, after my marketing campaign had made the book the most talked about marketing book of the year, sales did not explode (they did well, but they weren’t explosive)? They admitted that they’d probably priced it too high. Jose’s book, as a first-time author, is a $9.99 ebook…and $12.99 paperback. James Altucher’s last book–which was also self-published and debuted on the WSJ bestseller list–picked a better ratio with a $2.99 ebook version and a $9.96 paperback.

PR & Media Stunts

When an author signs with a traditional publisher, they think that their publisher will handle the marketing for them. Bad news: that’s still on you. Even if you hire a publicist, the creative part of the marketing efforts are your responsibility.

But that’s fine because the media is a SELLER’s market. It isn’t hard to get legitimate coverage. Blogs can publish an infinite number of articles and want good stories. In other words, when Business Insider writes about you, you are doing them a favor. You don’t have to orchestrate publicity stunts that I talk about below. But, what you pitch bloggers has to be interesting and provocative, because they are incentivized by pageviews. The “Unknown Author Writes First Book” pitch will never work. So, find out what’s interesting or relevant in your book and pitch it.

But as a starting point, you have to understand how your marketing efforts affect sales. Jose seems to have confused correlation with causation when he writes, “Once we finished the book, we launched it using the KDP program that Kindle offers. This helped rocket the book to #1 of all (free) Kindle books for 3-5 days. This enabled us to get ranked on Hacker News and Reddit /r/ startups.”

First off, getting on Reddit isn’t hard, all it requires is submitting a link to your work. Places like r/startups love great content and if you provide it, they’re happy to have you. But he’s right it is good marketing–I did a Reddit AMA for my launch. However, putting your book up for free on Amazon does not cause you to get attention on Reddit, its the other way around, an important distinction.

Also, book publishing isn’t a zero sum game so I agree with Jose when he writes, “I didn’t see Ryan Holiday’s book as competition but opportunity. Why? The Amazon description showed that Ryan’s book was only about ~60 pages, this gave me the opportunity to provide a longer and more comprehensive book for readers that wanted more.” No author should look at other authors as adversaries–books complement each other rather than compete. In fact, I tell a lot of my clients that they should look for recent books like theirs and pitch them to the media together. To a reporter, one book is an anomaly. Two or three is a trend piece.

Creating controversy–provoking a reaction–is only one way create a discussion around your book, and often its counterproductive. It only works with some books when the material calls for it. In his own way, Jose did this well by writing his Medium post. It motivated me to write a response–so I respect his hustle there. Otherwise I would have had no reason to ever write about him. For GHM, I deliberately positioned my book as an attack on traditional marketing. This helped drive attention to my book and created a media narrative that gave that attention some staying power.

For TMIL I created numerous media stunts for two important reasons. The first is the obvious one: to get attention and media coverage for my book. The second reason was to prove the concept of my book in real time as my book came out. For example, long before my book was to come up I had begun a controversial experiment: signing up for Help A Reporter Out, a service connecting journalists with sources, I was able to get quotes into numerous publications, even the New York Times, about subjects I had not idea about. I proved that the “experts” you see quoted in the news are often not really experts at all. When the story broke on Forbes it became their most popular story that week and I was able to stay in the news cycle for weeks with responses from both sides. (Thanks Peter Shankman, you did me a huge favor.)

In my book I also called out Irin Carmon for the role she played in creating controversy about women employees on The Daily Show, among other things, which generated a response from her in Salon and got even more attention for my book. Or the stunts I’ve done for my clients, like the Planned Parenthood stunt with Tucker Max that dominated the news for a week, or the Twitter stunt I created for the release of his last book. If you want to be in the news sometimes you have to create news yourself.

You may not think can pull off a big media stunt as a self-published author, but you don’t have to. You can what this author did and turn your book release party into a game where fans take sides from characters from your book. Or turn your book into a dress and have an impromptu photo shoot like this author. You can even make waves by demanding that readers not buy your book on Amazon.

Whatever works for you–go for it!

None of Jose’s mistakes are stupid or malicious. In fact, they’re all very common. But make no mistake, they were mistakes and he made a lot of them unnecessarily. I get it, no one–least of all publishers–teaches authors how to market books, and the fact is, almost all the information out there about book marketing is either misleading, ineffective, wrong, or worse, counterproductive. It’s a tough gig and this lack of accurate information forces people to take wild guesses at what works. But we’ve got a lot on the line with our points–our life’s work in some cases–and we want them to succeed.

That’s why I wrote this piece, to try to help tip the scales towards better information. When you’re thinking about writing a book, you have to think about marketing it in tandem. As we have just seen, the content and design decisions you make in the beginning of the process fundamentally shapes what you are able to do with your book down the line. The focus should be on concentrating your forces for the first week to create some velocity–to literally launch your book. Its also important not to make short-sighted decisions when marketing your book. You want to build a platform, not just get ranked on Amazon. Its about building assets that you can use for years to build a legitimate business.

Hopefully I helped shed some light on the aspects of marketing a book people don’t talk about and we won’t make these kinds of mistakes in the future.”

Ryan Holiday is a bestselling author of Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator and Growth Hacker Marketing and is an adviser to many brands and bestselling authors. His company is Brass Check Marketing.

 Follow Ryan Holiday on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ryanholiday

The Best Way to Publish Fiction


I have been trade-published and self-published several times. I now have a talented literary agent. Although I have self-published three books, I feel more comfortable publishing fiction with a traditional publisher, especially a large, distinguished publisher. I realize that this is not an author decision. Publishers require talent and a marketable book. If you have both, it can still take months or even years to obtain the best publishing offer. You need to know how to construct a winning publishing proposal and agent query; and you might need to submit well over a hundred proposals to obtain the best publishing contract. It’s true that the top level of publishers will only accept a proposal from a trusted agent. HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Simon & Shuster, etc. will not open your submission unless it comes from a well-connected literary agent. The good news is that there are now literally thousands of small, independent publishers. Many of them have learned how to be successful within one or two genres. They might be small, but they often have a talented and motivated staff. Plus they can be well-situated to garner reviews from the most compelling and persuasive sources – just like their full-size publishing kin.

A TP author does not need to worry about hiring the best editor, graphic designer, printer and promotion/marketing specialist. The publisher will do it for you, while they proffer a nice advance. Your publisher will also obtain powerful and compelling reviews from the best organizations in your genre, because they already have deep connections with those reviewers. It’s not likely that a novice author could obtain reviews of that caliber. Nor does the TP author need to worry about distribution, sales, stocking and restocking bookstores. We can devoted that time to producing new books.

I have never felt compelled by my publishers to accept editorial changes. I think that’s a myth – an urban legend. In each case, my publisher’s editing changes made perfect sense and enhanced marketing potential. But the decision to accept those changes has always been mine. My publishers have never told me what to write; nor does my agent.

That being said, there will always be a time and place to self-publish, especially when testing a new market, when you write non-fiction as a subject matter expert and when you have a large fan base to shift to your SP books. However, you can count best-selling self-published fiction authors on your fingers and toes. As of 2-3 years ago, the average SP author spent about $2K and sold a few dozen copies (could never recover expenses with sales), while the average TP author spent nothing and sold several hundred copies. Self-published books are almost never reviewed by the most compelling and persuasive review organizations. Maybe it’s not fair, but as a reviewer for two major review organizations, I know this is true. Nor do SP books appear on many retail store shelves. That is a huge sales market to give up, just to SP your book. Many retail and on-line stores are making money hand over fist with print books, including Walmart, Target, Amazon and B&N.

With an even distribution of my TP and SP books, I have a foot in each market. I’ve discovered that at least for fiction, I’m much happier with a major publisher or a small, independent publisher. I’m happy to let their team of professionals handle all aspects of editing, graphic design, printing, distribution, marketing, sales and stocking retailers and buyers. This gives me more time to write which is, of course, the fun part. For that, my publisher can reap most of the profits and my agent can acquire her 15%. Doing their job in a professional manner allows me to write, rather than publish, distribute and market.

Finally, if you’re serious about earning a living as an author, you’ll need an accomplished and impressive author profile. That means you’ll need to produce several books that have either been trade-published or SP with high sales volume. You will need to write published articles and appear on the best Internet interview sites and blogs. You will need newspaper and magazine articles supportive of your books. And when a publisher decides to Google your name, several pages of professional writing accomplishments must appear. Being trade-published is likely the best anchor for your platform, especially for fiction.