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.

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25 Tips on How to Impress a Book Publisher by Cheryl Tardif


1. Understand that publishers are very busy people. We are juggling multiple authors and manuscripts, as well as promotions, events, and marketing. We have little time to spare, especially when swamped with hundreds of manuscripts, many of them sent when a publisher is closed for submissions. Showing a publisher that you understand they are busy and submitting during their open submissions time shows you respect their time.

2.Learn everything you can about the publishing company. Learn about the publisher, their authors, and the works they’ve published to ensure that you’d be a good fit. Connect with them on social networks. Share their posts and tweets. Buy some of their titles, especially in the genre in which you write.

3.Read and follow their submission guidelines. Most publishers post their guidelines on their websites. Read them carefully, and pay special attention to whether or not they have a specific time frame for submissions. Follow their guidelines! Give them exactly what they want. Be prepared to answer questions, especially regarding past sales.

4.Hook the publisher in the first sentence of your query. Just like a well-written book, your query should hook them in the first sentence. Read your first sentence, and ask yourself: “Would this make me want to know more if I were a publisher?” Ensure that you follow the Four Firsts for your manuscript.Don’t know what I’m talking about? Learn about the Four Firsts here.

5.Let your personality shine as a positive person. Don’t be afraid to show publishers who you are. Just be sure it’s someone publishers will like. Be humble, appreciative, and a team player. Don’t act like you know it all. You don’t.

6.Be open to learning. With the ever-changing landscape of publishing, successful authors must always be open to change—and to experimenting when new things come along. Show a willingness to learn and to evolve with the industry.

7.Be everywhere online! Recognize the importance of a website, blog, and social networks, and use them frequently. Even if you’re not yet published, you should have a website, a blog, and Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to your writing. Publishers will look for these.

8.Have an impressive platform in the SAME genre as the one you’re pitching. If you’ve been writing nonfiction and have a huge following there but are pitching a work of fiction, understand that the audience isn’t the same—unless there is a common theme. Example: Nonfiction books on dealing with autistic children have a specific audience of people looking for help with dealing with autistic children. A novel featuring an autistic child as the main character would then appeal to this audience.

9.Don’t rave about how awesome your book is and how it’s going to sell thousands of copies in the first week. Be humble and stick to the facts.

10.Show you understand your audience and that you know who your target audience is. Don’t pitch a book with a ten-year-old main character as a novel for adults. And don’t pitch an unpublished book as “for anyone, any age.” There are few titles that fit that description, but this is established by sales and time.

11.Don’t send the book until the publisher asks for it. Unless the publisher’s guidelines tell you to send it with the query, wait for them to ask for it.

12.Ensure your book is as error free as possible. Run a spell-check and grammar-check before sending it. And have at least one other person edit the entire work, preferably someone with actual editing skills who understands CMOS rules.

13.Know what CMOS is and understand the rules. Have a hard-cover edition on hand or sign up for the online edition. Show your knowledge of CMOS style rules in your manuscript. CMOS is the writer’s Bible.

14.Do not e-mail the publisher to ask if he/she has read your book yet. If the guidelines do not stress a time limit, ask for one when the publisher requests your manuscript.

15.Impress them with your publishing credits. If you have published other works in the same genre or type (fiction or nonfiction) as the book you want to submit, let the publisher know, and point them to your Amazon profile page.

16.Make sure you have an Amazon profile page if you have published works available on Amazon. If you have no profile page, you’ll look like someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

17.If you have won a prestigious award, mention it briefly. Ensure you know the difference between a “prestigious” award and one that means very little.

18.If you have published other works in the same genre, briefly summarize what you have done to promote them. Impress publishers with your marketing abilities and creativity.

19.Reviews are vital! Make sure you have a substantial amount of reviews on your published works, especially those in the same genre as the book your are hoping to submit. Don’t query a publisher or agent until you have 10+ reviews on the majority of your works, and an average rating of 3.5 or above stars.

20.Don’t pitch a publisher your manuscript while also pitching your services as a book cover designer, editor, marketing coach, formatter, etc. Query separately. Be professional.

21.Be editable. Your book isn’t perfect. Even if you’ve had it edited by someone else, the publisher will need to know that you’re open to being edited.

22.Don’t ask if you can supply the cover, cover description, or images for the cover. Publishers have their own creative designers.

23.Understand you have competition. Know who your competitors are and who has written works comparable to yours. Watch how they promote their works on social networks. Learn from those who are selling.

24.Make the publisher curious enough to want to ask you questions. Don’t tell them everything in your first e-mail.What you want is for the publisher to engage in conversation with you. You want to give them everything they ask for and hint at anything outside of that. For example, if a publisher doesn’t ask for sales data in their guidelines, you could mention you made a best-sellers list for two weeks in a row. Let them ask for more information. When they do, give them everything you can, including where the best-sellers list was published, what ranking you got, and total sales to date for that title.

25.Express gratitude. Be thankful for the publisher’s time and for any feedback or advice they give you. They don’t have to give you any feedback­—or their time.

Cheryl Tardif is the publisher at Imajin Books, a hybrid publishing company based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is also known as Cheryl Kaye Tardif, an award-winning, international bestselling author represented by Trident Media Group in New York. She is best known for Children of the Fog, Submerged, and Whale Song. Booklist raves: “Tardif, already a big hit in Canada . . . a name to reckon with south of the border.” Check out Cheryl’s website and Imajin Books website, and connect with her on Twitter (Cheryl and Imajin Books) and Facebook (Cheryl and Imajin Books).

http://www.imajinbooks.com
http://www.cherylktardif.com

Blog: http://www.livewritethrive.com/2014/09/29/25-tips-on-how-to-impress-a-book-publisher

8 Unexpected Lessons From Working with a Literary Agent by Brian Klems


With self-publishing becoming more widely accepted and Amazon waging wars with publishers, more and more I get the sense from aspiring authors that they don’t think landing an agent means as much as it used to.

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Writers’ Digest Guest post by Bethany Neal, who writes young-adult novels with a little dark side and a lot of kissing from her Ann Arbor, Michigan home. She graduated from Bowling Green State University and is obsessed with (but not limited to): nail polish, ginormous rings, pigs, pickles, and dessert.

“My Last Kiss” is her first novel. You can connect with her online at http://www.bethanyneal.com.
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They believe “traditional” publishing is going the way of VCRs and none of the old rites of passage apply anymore. That’s fine if you think that, but, in my experience, it simply isn’t true.

I signed on with my agent, Stacey Glick of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, in September of 2010 for my first (unpublished) young adult, suspense novel and it has solidified some valuable lessons.

Guest post by Bethany Neal, who writes young-adult novels with a little dark side and a lot of kissing from her Ann Arbor, Michigan home. She graduated from Bowling Green State University and is obsessed with (but not limited to): nail polish, ginormous rings, pigs, pickles, and dessert.

My Last Kiss is her first novel. You can connect with her online at http://www.bethanyneal.com.
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    Searching for an Agent

The beginning of this journey started with little more than a polished draft of my manuscript. I started simply by researching agents through Literary Marketplace, which is a massive tome that sits behind the reference counter at most public libraries.

Some of this research was review because I had previously queried a paranormal YA trilogy that ended in 32 rejections.

Having revived my search, I made a shortlist of reputable agencies looking for YA. I browsed their sites and found agents within each agency looking for my specific flavor of YA. I write a little on the dark side—somebody is almost always dead—and I write a lot of kissing. Not everyone wants to represent that, and that’s fine.

I think the most important part in the agent search is reading every agent’s bio and only querying those you feel a connection with and who are interested in not just your genre but also your style. My agent, for instance, at the time was looking for darker YA projects with a strong voice. That’s my writing in a nutshell.

Landing an Agent

I had two full manuscripts and one partial out with various interested agents when I got the email.

The email that said Stacey read my manuscript and wanted to set up a time to discuss it. I’d been rejected by 14 other agents already, so I wasn’t even sure what that meant. Then I got the call.

Thus began a string of very important lessons for my writing career.

1. Look before you leap.

My agent told me what she liked about my writing and the story and answered every single one of my questions.

I was so out of my mind excited that she wanted to represent me. So I told her I didn’t need to wait to hear back from the other two agents interested and I wanted—needed her as my agent.

This is my one regret in my agent search. I should have given myself a day to regain sanity and speak with the other two agents. I don’t regret signing with my agent because she’s been an enormous support throughout the years, but it’s something I know I should’ve done for peace of mind.

Take that day to pause before you jump on the first agent who smiles at your manuscript.

2. Prepare to move.

Almost immediately, my agent was requesting more information.

Stacey asked me to send her an author bio and a synopsis for the other novel I’d written, then emailed me an agency agreement that stated DGLM exclusively had the right to sell my novel for one year.

Right out of the gate there were deadlines. This one at least was a soft deadline, but it stoked a sense of urgency.

We went back and forth on revisions for a few months and ended up pushing back the submittal date so she could feature my novel in DGLM’s Upcoming Projects newsletter to generate interest with editors.

[Understanding Book Contracts: Learn what’s negotiable and what’s not.]

3. Anticipate nice, bad news.

After about a month being out on submittal, she sent me an email chocked full of the most positive, helpful, optimistic rejections I’ve ever gotten in my life. It was the best of a worst-case scenario I could have hope for.

I made revisions based on feedback and we made a round two submittal, but the basic consensus was to move on.

Luckily, I’d been writing away during all this waiting and close to finishing a draft of my new project that editors were eager to read because they remembered liking my first novel. That new project is titled MY LAST KISS and was published by FSG/Macmillan on June 10, 2014.

I didn’t expect to feel encouraged by rejections, but aligning with an agent allowed me to receive bad news in a way that turned out positive.

4. You’ll idolize your agent a bit.

It’s strange waiting with bated breath for someone’s email while also kind of loving and worshipping them even though you’ve never physically met them. I don’t think I could ever do online dating because it was weird. I’ve since met (and loved even more) Stacey in person.

I wasn’t anticipating, though, how many emotions I would wrap up in whether or not I heard from her.

5. You will hurry up and wait.

There is a lot going on, but the process from signing with an agent to publishing is a pretty drawn out experience.

I had no idea how long every step would take. It took us five months to get my first novel revised and ready to get out on submittal. It took another couple months worth of waiting to hear back from editors. And there’s more waiting once you get published. You can make good use of the time spent waiting though. For me it became an opportunity for uninterrupted writing time, which is invaluable.

[Learn important writing lessons from these first-time novelists.]

6. Expectations will drive you mad.

The biggest, dirtiest little secret about getting an agent (and being published) that no one tells you: Expectations, albeit mostly self-imposed, will drive you mad.

You start worrying about what will sell. Don’t. It will lead you down a dark, dark path—like Van Gogh, cut-your-ear-off dark.

Do yourself a favor and don’t go there because it’s extremely difficult to climb out of that pit of author-ly sorrow. You can’t predict the market and what will or won’t sell. The sooner you accept that, the saner you will be.

7. Agents breathe fresh life into your work.

An incredibly positive, unexpected bonus to finding my agent is how insightful and willing she is to collaborate on revisions.

Stacey will send me an email with literally one sentence asking something about my manuscript and it will enlighten me to the exact issue I’d been trying to fix for eight months. Having access to an expert with a keen eye is invaluable.

8. An agent is a partner in your journey.

On the warm and fuzzy side, how much she believes in me and my writing is something I couldn’t have anticipated.

Being an author still feels like this soap bubble that might burst at any moment. Even after having my first novel published, that insecurity hasn’t gone away. If I didn’t have my agent to give me pep talks and reassure me of my talent when the chips are down, I don’t know where I’d be.

Being a writer is hard work. Getting published is even harder work. Having an agent can give you a much needed hand. Just know that there are some surprising twists and turns along the way.

__________________________________________________________________________

Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

WHEN SHOULD WE SELF-PUBLISH? WHY? WHY NOT?


By Charles S. Weinblatt

My first book would have been a perfect poster book for self-publishing. It represents every solid reason why an author should self-publish. Forget the years of effort writing books and then devoting months or years attempting to contract with a small, independent publisher. Forget the years of writing, searching, struggling to gradually create an impressive author platform to attract literary agents. Forget depending upon someone you did not hire for editing, graphic design and printing. Forget waiting until a publisher is ready to schedule your book’s publication, and then the added time to distribute, promote, market and sell your book. When you self-publish, you make every decision on your own and on your own schedule.

Why was my first book such a perfect example of when to self-publish? First, it was not fiction. Fiction is harder to sell if it is self-published. It was a textbook on job seeking skills, something that I had honed for six years as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and then continued on my own in my private consulting practice. I taught it so frequently that I might have done it well in my sleep. And I knew that I was good at it. Thus, my textbook, Job Seeking Skills for Students (1986, Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company), would be viable. I could sell almost as many copies as I desired through my consulting practice and as required reading for graduate students in my university (The University of Toledo). Why share the profit if you don’t need to?

Of course, I wrote that book in 1985 and I understood nothing about self-publishing then. Along came Kendall-Hunt Publishing with a nice advance and I required no convincing. They could see that I would have little trouble marketing and maintaining regional sales. All they had to do was replicate it elsewhere. Given my complete lack of understanding that there was another option (self-publishing), I took the advance and gave my book to Kendall-Hunt. However, if I had the same decision to make today, I would self-publish it in a heartbeat.

Of course, with self-publishing comes serious responsibilities. The author must hire a talented editor, a gifted graphic artist with successful experience designing winning book covers and jackets, as well as a solid printer and an excellent publicist. The self-published author must purchase the ISBN, arrange distribution contracts on different continents and make sure that every retailer of value around the English-speaking world has copies to sell. This author must also handle promotion, marketing, sales, returns, stocking and restocking retailers, etc. Not rocket science – but very time consuming.

If it happened today, instead of 1985, I would also need to create the e-book version of Job Seeking Skills for Students and format it for each type of e-reader, tablet, computer and smart phone. Then, I would need to post it for sale at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Diesel, Apple (iTunes), Kobo, Sony, Scrollmotion, Baker & Taylor, etc. But it would have been worth the effort. These are books made for self-publishing. Bypass the annoying, laborious platform creation and go directly to sales, where you, not a publisher, keep most of the profit.

There is a time and a place for everything. And when it comes to self-publishing, there is a difference in the chance for success between fiction and non-fiction. If the author is a celebrity or a highly-recognized subject matter expert, self-publishing makes perfect sense. But if the author is unknown and writes fiction, all such bets are off.

You can count on your digits the number of best-selling self-published fiction authors who were not already made famous by celebrity or by traditional publishers. Today, many famous fiction authors are deciding to carry their readers along into the self-publishing world. In other words, this works in only one direction. You use small independent trade publishers to attract literary agents, who will attract major publishers to your books. After you’re a famous fiction author, you may then decide to self-publish and keep more of the profit.

There are some excellent self-published books. I’ve self-published three books. They’re probably not excellent; but through them I was able to comprehend the process. Here is the single most important factor. There is no talent entrance bar for self-publishing. No one evaluates your writing. No aptitude is necessary. You can literally make your cat a self-published author in a few hours. This fact degrades all self-publishing books in the eyes of readers, agents, publishers, distributors, publicists, reviewers and bookstore owners. Please note that I am not advocating this as a desired condition; only stating it as a fact. It is not good, bad, right or wrong. There is still a stigma attached to self-published books. Thankfully, the stigma is somewhat lower than in prior years. But it remains. Since anyone can become a self-published author, regardless of talent, all such books are stigmatized by those careless, inept, unskilled “authors.”

This lack of industry vetting might mean nothing to a non-fiction author who is already a celebrity or known subject matter expert. But it can mean everything to a novice fiction author. Tread here very carefully. The vast majority of self-published books are not well written. They contain a multitude of errors in spelling, grammar, character development and punctuation. Just sample a few self-published books.

Do not suspect that most readers won’t notice these “little mistakes.” Readers will most definitely notice and they will roast you in reviews because of the mistakes. If you’re not willing to take the time and spend the money to hire a talented and experienced editor, why publish? It will only be embarrassing after it’s been read.

Self-published fiction is almost never reviewed by the most respected, persuasive and compelling review organizations in any genre. I am a long-time reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. Believe me, the best review organizations will reject it. As none of the best reviewers will take on a self-published book (so far), the author is left promoting reviews from readers, family members, neighbors or workplace buddies. Such reviews might appear nice on the surface, but they are unconvincing to the public. You would not buy a car if it was rejected by every major automotive review organization. Why would you not feel the same way about a book?

Self-published fiction books rarely appear on the shelves of bookstores, where more than half of all books are still sold. I’m not arguing for or against this – only stating a fact. Yet, that’s an enormous market to just give up because you want to self-publish rather than go through the trouble to create a winning author platform and attract publishers.

Unlike the trade-published author, who typically receives an advance and pays nothing to be published, the self-published author typically invests several thousand dollars on editing, graphic design, printing, ISBN, distribution, publicist, video trailer designer, marketing, promotion and sales. In most cases, the self-published fiction author will not recoup those expenses, let alone earn a profit. Please understand… I’m not telling you not to self-publish. I’m telling you why your chances for self-published fiction success might be poor and why you most likely will never recoup those expenses.

 

Although all authors must market, the SP author is completely on her or his own. She must hire her own editor, graphic designer and publicist. Without prior experience, hiring this kind of talent successfully can be hit and miss at best. The author must then hire a talented and experienced video producer to create a quality video book trailer and then it must be distributed in literally dozens of the right places.

 

Publishers, especially major publishers, promote your books at key international book fairs, conferences and conventions, something that would cost the self-published author thousands of dollars each year. Yet these are the best places to reach film producers and studio executives, screenplay authors, directors, as well as opportunities for translation and foreign rights sales. So add the cost of trips to London, Paris, Jerusalem, Berlin, etc., to your book budget.

And while the self-published author is devoting at least 20-30 hours per week to distribution, promotion, marketing, sales, stocking, etc., the trade-published author has more time to write new books because their publisher handles some of this heavy lifting. Don’t take this too far. All authors must promote and market their books. It’s just somewhat easier and less time-consuming when you have a publisher helping out.

A novice fiction author requires a powerful author platform to attract an agent. Major publishing houses only accept proposals from trusted literary agents; and well-connected agents almost never take chances on their reputation.

When an agent decides to read your query, he or she will also Google your name. When that occurs, you’ll want the agent to read many pages of powerful author platform, including dozens of positive articles and references about your books and your author reputation. Platform also includes influential writing awards, especially with regional or national media recognition. Agents and publishers want to see a gradual increase in sales of prior trade-published books. National or international news articles about you and your books in newspapers, magazines and journals are prominent platform building blocks. Major radio, TV and Internet interviews with powerful agents are useful. Blogging successfully and guest blog appearances with the best and most well-liked blogs help.

All of this takes a lot of time – years – to accomplish. To a novice fiction author, platform means everything. The big advances and publicity are earned one trade-published book at a time.Of course, being trade-published for fiction is not a decision. You need talent, a marketable book, a high quality publishing proposal (see other articles on this site for information about how to fabricate a winning book publishing proposal) and the determination to contact dozens or even hundreds of small independent publishers. During this time, building your author platform is the single most important focus of your task. It’s more important than royalties or sales. Platform means everything to a fiction author, because generates success later. And it can attract one huge piece of the puzzle – a well-connected literary agent. More about that, plus book marketing ideas elsewhere 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

Proposal Power: What Publishers Desire in a Proposal


As resume writing is a path to a successful career, the publishing proposal is a gateway for being published, especially for fiction. Unfortunately, very few neophyte authors are experienced in publishing proposal writing. Novice authors are rarely considered by publishers. Why should a publisher spend several thousand dollars on an unknown, unproven author? Since very few rookie authors have a literary agent, it’s up to the author to design a proposal that not only meets their expectations, but sweeps editors off their feet. Non-fiction authors who are known subject matter experts should still design a proposal. But it is vastly more critical for unfamiliar fiction authors.

Before we go any farther, if you think that this article will enable your book to be published by HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House or any other major publisher – STOP READING. Only trusted, well-connected literary agents deliver author proposals into the hands of major publishers. If you don’t have such a literary agent, or a close friend or relative in the industry, you will NOT have a proposal read by a major publisher – PERIOD.

Many small independent publishers around the world specialize in one or two genres. However, you can have a proposal read by one of the many thousands of small independent publishers around the world; and that’s a good way to start an author platform and propel your nascent writing career.

Publishing proposal writing is a science and an art form. Your proposal must not only explain very succinctly the synopsis of your book, but also how it compares to similar successful books in the same genre. It must contain, at a minimum, one section each on: the author, a concise synopsis, a market analysis, a competitive analysis, promotional and marketing concepts, a chapter outline; and sample chapters. This cannot be thrown together and submitted carte blanche to any and every publisher. It should be re-worked and customized for each publisher. You must explain why you and your manuscript are a good fit with each publisher, based upon the publisher’s past experience, areas of success, author and genre predilections. You accomplish this by analyzing each small publisher and demonstrating why your manuscript will make sense given the publisher’s preferences.

The author is the easiest section to complete. Expand upon all of your accomplishments as a writer or as an author of fiction. This can go back as far as your high school newspaper. Include all writing competition awards, published articles, prior published books, media outlets that have accepted your work, positive reviews from persuasive review organizations, etc. Include all major media interviews via radio, television, cable, Internet and local newspapers, journals and magazines. This section tells the publisher that you have had successful writing responsibilities and that you have been rewarded and recognized for your talent. It explains what makes your writing and literary experience relevant to this topic and to the specific publisher.

The synopsis sounds easier than it is. In about 500 words or less, you must describe your target audience, why your book is exceptional and why it is a worthy expenditure for the publisher. Concisely describe the most compelling and persuasive aspects of your book. Lead with a powerful description. You must grab the editor’s attention immediately. Here is one example that led to a publishing contract for one of my novels about young Jewish lovers during the Holocaust:

“How would you feel if, at age seventeen, the government removed you from school, evicted you from your home, looted your bank account and took all of your family’s possessions, prevented your parents from working and then deported you and your loved ones to a prison camp run by brutal taskmasters? How would you feel if you suddenly lost contact with everyone that you know and love? How would you feel if you were sent to the most frightening place in history and then forced to perform unspeakable acts of horror in order to remain alive?”

If that doesn’t grab your heart, maybe you don’t have a pulse. It makes everything that follows easier from the publisher’s perspective. No, the paragraph above does not constitute the synopsis. It says nothing about the protagonists, the story line, scenery, character development, dialog or the ending. But, it’s a start that may be sufficiently emotional to grab the editor’s attention. Avoid creating a long-winded, detailed synopsis, which is a very common mistake. Your synopsis should be about one page. Keep editing it until it describes everything relevant in your manuscript within a page. You do not need to explain the ending. But you definitely must hook the publisher’s editor.

The market analysis is relevant and essential. It tells the publisher that you comprehend the market for such books and how your manuscript is consistent with market needs. In describing the potential for your book, you must compellingly submit how expansive that market is today and where your book fits into it. Describe which authors are doing well with which similar books within this genre and why. This is where you’ll explain who will purchase and read your book, how many readers enjoy such books, where they are and why they will pay for it. You’ll need to perform enough research to cite specific examples and statistics to back up your claims.

The competitive analysis is perhaps the most critical portion of the publishing proposal. Here you contrast and compare your book with at least three similar books that have achieved prodigious public success. Select these three similar books carefully. They certainly do not need to be contemporary. Feel free to select a book from the Eighteenth Century, if it is relevant. Explain why people by the millions purchased that book, which is very similar to yours. Then explain why your book adds to the success of that genre.

It is not appropriate to suggest that your book is the same or better than the best-selling books in your sample group. Nor is it a place to suggest that your writing is better than that of Edgar Allen Poe (it is not). It’s a place to analyze why those similar books were a best-seller and how your book has the same potential. Heavy use of statistics is appropriate here. When you compare your book with a famous best-seller in the same genre, use research to produce valid positive statistics. For example, what is the best-selling book’s current Amazon sales ranking? How many editions were created? Was it popular globally? How many copies have been sold? How many positive reviews from famous review organizations did it receive? What did some of them say? How many awards did it receive? Was it made into a screenplay? If so, how much did the film gross? What awards did it garner? You’ll need to do this at least three times with the most successful books in your genre.

At the same time, discuss how your book treats similar situations differently and why. NEVER try to convince a publisher that your book is “exactly like…” the famous book. It isn’t and you will be perceived as insincere or not to be trusted. As you compare and contrast your book with the big-time, well-known successful books, cite similarities and differences in plot, location, dialog, protagonists, narrative, descriptive scenery, etc. Your book can belong to the same genre, but it should always be sufficiently different and for good reasons. Compare your book to the best-selling books in its genre by listing the potential for millions of sales, Amazon sales rankings, number of customer reviews, academic credentials, reviews from the most compelling sources, etc. Facts and figures belong here, as well as why that book sold so many millions of copies and how your book has similar potential. Many editors and publishers view this section as the most critical part of the publishing proposal.

Promotional and marketing concepts is an equally critical section. Here you’ll demonstrate two things: 1) that you are willing to carry forward the bulk of responsibility for marketing and promotion, and 2) that you comprehend the various tasks, requirements, efforts and skills required to make promotion successful.

Today, even large well-known publishers require authors with a platform to take on much of the responsibility for marketing. Unless your name is King or Clancy, it will up to you to market your book. The days of an author delivering a manuscript to a publisher and then doing nothing are long gone. No matter who you are as an author, regardless of your platform success, marketing and promotion are YOUR job now. Show that you understand how to do this. If you are not willing to engage in repeated public speaking, bookstore signings and book tours, if you’re not willing to produce media interviews, if you won’t land newspaper, magazine and journal articles about your book, if you will not create and daily add to a Facebook fan page and a web landing page, if you won’t blog, write on others’ blogs and disseminate an excellent book video trailer, then no publisher, other than a subsidy publisher, will have an interest in your manuscript.

The chapter outline is extremely important. Here, the publisher anticipates that you will deliver a description of each chapter in several sentences (not paragraphs). The publisher wants to digest the content of each chapter within a few seconds. If your chapter descriptions are several paragraphs each, the proposal will go into the e-junk pile. I have worked very hard to reduce my chapter outlines and my agent continues to demand even more brevity. This is an exercise in being extremely concise.

The publisher will want to read a few sample chapters. This is often the first three chapters, because that’s where character development is born. But it need not be. If you believe that three later chapters will better sell the book, use them. However, be advised that if you use later chapters, and the publisher has no way to relate to your protagonist, the quality of your manuscript will be lost. If you decide that the first three chapters are too boring to use, consider that those first three chapters may need rewriting to incorporate more anticipation, expectation, character development and conflict.

Finally, when all is written, edited and re-written, create a table of contents and use page numbers to identify each section’s location. All publishers expect this.

You’ll never attract a publisher by suggesting that you’re a talented author. If you are a novice and have yet to win writing awards or obtain positive reviews from compelling review organizations, don’t worry. We all start in the same place. Instead, show that you understand the publishing industry and your marketing and promotion responsibilities. Explain how you are creating an author platform that will be increasingly valuable to that particular small publisher. If the publisher has some interest in your book, they will be more willing to finance its publication. And if the publisher believes that more of those high quality books in the same genre are on the way, they will be more likely to donate several thousand dollars to print your first book.

Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage. His recent published books can be observed at http://charlesweinblatt.wix.com/charles-s-weinblatt.

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.