This post covers Marketing and Distribution and Pipeline intelligence for Authors. It’s very potent stuff if you approach it with an open mind.
Amazon has nuked quite a few of the Free Kindle Book sites which were, in effect, helping Authors get exposure and also letting Authors use free as marketing. Authors are now in a situation that’s pretty bad – tens of millions of readers but just 100 spots in the Top 100 that get visibility.
The marketing intelligence in this post can help Authors improve their odds of success greatly.
Note: Please don’t make the mistake of taking the ones that ‘sound right’ to you, or the ones that you already know about. The real gems are the ones that make you think ‘that couldn’t be true’ or even make you feel ‘that’s just wrong’. Those are the ones that will be the difference makers for you personally.
The Concept of 1,000 True Customers
Haven’t read the book ‘1,000 True Fans’. Just read about this concept – someone gave some advice on this. I can’t find it now. It’s very true.
Your main aim should be to find your True Customers (don’t like the word fans).
Firstly, you might have 10 millions True Customers, and not just 1,000.
Secondly, these customers are the ONLY customers that matter.
Thirdly, if you can locate them and create a direct channel to them – then you don’t need ANYONE else.
The Stores and Publishers will ALWAYS try to marginalize you
What is the dream situation for a Publisher – When Authors feel the ONLY way to get success is to be Published.
What is the dream situation for a Store – When Authors and Publishers are desperate so they give the Store a big cut, and if possible, placement money too. If a Store sees the opportunity to take 75% of the price of books, and has the power to do so, it will 100% GUARANTEED do it.
How can an author avoid being marginalized – sidestep Stores and Publishers OR work on your own terms. Use them only as long as absolutely necessary. If you see signs of them grabbing too much of YOUR book rights and/or book profits, then cut the umbilical cord before they strangle you with it.
Quick Note: The less you need them the better Stores and Publishers will treat you. It’s quite funny actually – The minute you reach the stage where you can get by without Publishers and Retailers they will flock to you.
Remember, it’s divide and conquer that’s the most poisonous strategy Stores and Publishers use. If you collaborate with other authors you can become free sooner. It’s not a zero sum game. The book market is between $15 billion and $25 billion a year in the US alone. That can sustain a LOT of authors – provided they don’t have to subsidize inefficient middlemen.
Build Relationships with the Remaining Kindle Sites and with Other Authors
The people who are now left become very important. You should have a list of the 100 or so sites that will remain/survive in the free kindle book niche after 2-3 months. You should build relationships with all of them. Get a slot in each and measure performance (more on this later).
Treat them as partners because that’s what they are.
Treat them as IMPORTANT because together they have MUCH stronger reach than anyone, even Amazon.
Also, avoid ones that aren’t willing to give you HARD STATISTICS on Sales and Sales Rank Changes for past Authors who advertised with them.
Build your Own Blog, Site, Facebook Page, Twitter Account and Gather True Customers there
Firstly, those are people who LOVE your books. Why not provide them direct access to you?
Secondly, it’s FREE and POSSIBLE. Free means you don’t have to pay. Possible means you can reach them instantly. Without your own channels to customers you can’t even make them aware that your new book is out.
Build Direct Channels to Customers
Independent of everything else (social networks, stores) you MUST have Direct Channels to customers that you CONTROL 100%.
Email Lists are incredibly powerful.
A website that you own (not hosted on any provider) is quite powerful.
Any non-profit website service provider that will not change the rules and start asking you for money to reach your customers (like Facebook did) is very powerful. It MUST be non-profit or MUST have some proven profit source that means it won’t get desperate and try to throttle you.
If you’re big enough (over 10,000 True Customers) consider making apps for Apple and Kindle Fire. Which provide your website content and updates and let your True Customers have a strong and REAL connection with you.
Build Your Own Stores
Let’s say you have 5,000 True Customers.
And every day you’re adding 50 more.
They are your most valuable asset, and you can provide them the most value and the best value for money, if you have a DIRECT channel to them AND ALSO can sell directly to them.
There are lots of solutions coming up and it’s worth experimenting.
Update: If you have over 10,000 True Customers who regularly buy your books, it’s CRIMINAL to not have your own store. At minimum have a $1 novella you can sell to them DRM Free.
Assume Things Will Get Worse and Prepare Accordingly
How will you cope if Amazon stops free book promotions completely?
How will you cope if Amazon expands to 1,000 authors in its stable and they get ALL the Marketing in the Kindle Store? Note: This is pretty much what is happening if you keep an eye out for promotion trends.
How will you cope if Amazon becomes 90% of EBooks?
How will you cope if EBooks become 75% of the market?
How will you cope if Amazon & B&N start asking for a dime per free book downloaded?
How will you cope if Amazon and B&N only sell Big 6 Books and their self-published books?
How will you cope if Amazon and B&N make every book other than Big 6 Books and their self-published books invisible in search and store rankings? Note: This is also happening gradually.
Understand Pre-Sales, Marketing, Sales, Sales Strategies
Sales is an art in itself. It’s also something that will make your writing better.
If you are very good in one field, and then delve into another field and dig deep, two beautiful things happen –
- You discover that you can use a lot of skills from your field of expertise in the new field. A great writer? Then you can quickly learn to write great copy for ads. The examples are endless.
- You discover the reverse – You learn skills from this new area that you can leverage in your area of expertise. Learn how to hook viewers through an ad. Use that to get readers more invested in your story so they enjoy it more.
We’re selling ourselves every single day in multiple ways – whether we realize it or not.
A few days testing Ads and Click-through rates will convince EVERY indie author of the VITAL importance of beautiful book covers and a good title.
Break Down every part of the Pipeline and Understand it Deeply
You write the Book. The Editor edits it. The proofreader and formatting team polishes it and pretties it up. The Illustrator and Cover Designer provide graphics and the cover.
You have a finished product.
Now the product enters the pipeline. THIS is where the Magic Happens. The Pipeline is EVERYTHING.
Product -> Store Listing -> Store to Reader -> Reader Makes a Decision -> Reader Buys.
There are various parts of the pipeline –
- The Store.
- The Store Search Engine and other Search Engines.
- The Decisions Engines i.e. Review Sites, Book Recommendation Engines and Algorithms, Deal Sites, etc.
- The Store Listing Page.
- The Customer’s Decision Location.
- The Penultimate Step (Right before Purchase).
- The Purchase Location and the Purchase Step.
- The Reading Device and Location
How can you handle each better?
Which of these can you control and own?
Which of these can you make better for readers?
Think about it. If you have a mailing list of your 271,000 True Customers, then instead of them having to search for what to read next, you can just email them and they instantly have something good to read for their next read. You take away huge parts of the pipeline (Search Engines, Decision Engines, etc.).
Added Bonus: All those sales happen in the span of a few days. Putting you into the Top Sales Charts.
Direct Channel You Control = Better for readers, your True Customers, and better for you.
Think of Your Readers as Your Customers and Your Partners
How can you create a win-win situation?
How can you give them more value for money?
How can you do this while creating more value for yourself?
How do you avoid the temptation of abusing the trust your readers have in you?
How do you avoid letting some third party become a gatekeeper that PREVENTS a strong reader-author relationship?
Added Note: Don’t go from a situation where your customers could get your books for $1 to $3 to a situation where they have to pay $5 to $10. It’s YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to ensure you INCREASE Value for Money that your True Customers Experience. That’s why signing a deal with Publishers should exclude the ebook component.
If ebook buyers made you a star, then don’t punish them. They are your True Customers. You’d be NOTHING without them. So reward them. Don’t punish them.
There are lots of things we promise ourselves we’ll start tomorrow. The key is to start right now. If you don’t have social network accounts – set them up right now.
If you don’t have a website – set it up right now.
If you don’t have a way for readers to buy straight from you – set it up today.
If you want to free yourself of being a serf to Publishers and Stores – then start RIGHT NOW!
Trust in Readers
Number of Times I’ve seen or read Readers say they want to make sure Authors make good money: Hundreds.
Number of Times I’ve seen or read Readers say they want to make sure Amazon and/or B&N make good money: A handful of times.
Number of Times I’ve seen or read Readers say they want to make sure Publishers make good money: A few times.
That’s across 5 years.
It’s a super unscientific study. However, readers, by their very nature of reading and loving books, are very smart and forward-thinking people. They want to create win-win situations and they realize that Authors are far more important and far more deserving of their money than Middle-men.
Middlemen’s argument is now down to – we help polish and we help curate and we help you find what to read.
By ignoring ebook formatting and by ignoring book discoverability the middlemen have weakened their argument considerably.
Readers pretty much have to find good books themselves. Readers also mostly have to curate themselves. So that leaves 90% of the value provided coming straight from the Author.
Trust in Readers – A lot of them are WAY AHEAD of Authors in realizing what the new World of Books is going to be. However, we readers need authors to UNDERSTAND where things are going and get out of the SERF Mentality.
You are not indebted to stores or publishers. ALL the money was coming from readers. So focus on ‘what’s best for Readers’. Bonus: We aren’t asking you to be SERFs. Just to create a win-win situation.
Get Lessons from Other Digital Products – Movies, Music, Apps, Games
A lot of the things that are happening in other fields hold important lessons –
- In Apps and Games something called In-App Purchases are taking over. Is there a way to leverage something like that in books? By taking over I mean there are companies making $1 million A DAY from In-App Purchases. It’s a monetization method that is 50 to 75 times more effective than selling paid apps.
- Movies and Music have their own lessons. Indie musicians do some very interesting things.
- The whole video game industry re-invents itself every 20-30 years. Mostly due to necessity – technology changes so fast. The Publishing industry sees far fewer huge upheavals. What lessons from the transformations in the video game industry apply to books? Console Wars. Death of Atari. Rise of the Xbox. Nintendo’s Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall. Rise of Tablets. So many lessons on how to anticipate huge changes and how to adapt and evolve.
There are a lot of similar challenges and opportunities in ebooks – lower costs of transportation and storage and replication, users feeling ‘virtual’ goods aren’t ‘solid’ like books and CDs, users willing to pay to customize/enhance the experience, and so forth.
For example, the first Publishing company or author which comes out with an effective ‘Digital Hardcover’ concept will do everyone in the industry a HUGE favor. Let’s just hope they don’t patent it.
Most promising of all is In Book Purchases (the equivalent to In App Purchases in Apps). Imagine if someone can come up with In Book Purchases that are 50 to 75 times more profitable than selling paid books. Wouldn’t that be something.
Using Free as Marketing Channels
A lot of authors use free rather ineffectively.
What you ideally should consider is –
- How can that free book you give out be a living, breathing thing? How can it update the reader on EVERY new release you have? How can it update the reader when you have a deal?
- Does an App for YOU make more sense? The App includes – one main free book, perhaps every first book in your series for free, email list sign-up, Enhancements users can pay for (such as short stories on characters in your books), notifications to let users know when there are deals and offers, new release notification/email signups.
- How can your books cross-promote each other? How can you free books allow buying from within the book?
- How can that free book be a store. What is the In-App Purchase equivalent for Books?
- Are you getting an email address back? Even if you can get an email from 10% of people who download your free book, it’s priceless.
A lot of this goes back to your True Customers. How can you make it SUPER EASY for them to get your work (which they want)? How can you kick out all the middlemen?
Free should not be a means to feed the ‘free everything’ people. That defeats the purpose. It should be a way to – Firstly, gather up your True Customers. Secondly, convince the fence-sitters.
Note: In the grand scheme of things only True Customers matter. So you shouldn’t even think about fence-sitters.
Understand Different Types of Advertising and their Effectiveness
Things that either don’t work very well or are just pure rip-offs:
- Facebook Ads (unless you find one of the handful of magical people who can make Facebook stalkers click on and buy books). Note: If you’re big enough try a start-up called Trigg for marketing.
- Pay per Impression anywhere. Pay Per Impression = Pay in the Hope that people will notice your Ads.
- Banner Ads (unless they give you ‘click and conversion data’).
- Sites that are very small.
- Sites that run lots of ads. Those train users to ignore them.
- Sites that run ads outside of the blog i.e. banner ads, sidebar ads. These are simply not that effective.
Thing that work very well:
- Sites that have big email lists. Single most effective thing. Emails get checked very often and people click-through very, very often.
- Google Adwords. This is very very effective too. Especially since Google does such a great job of making the ads look exactly like search results.
- Note: The above two (Email Lists, Google Adwords) are THE most effective channels. If you do just these two properly, it’s enough.
- Sites that feature your post in a special post and it’s a content piece i.e. it includes a review or details.
- Facebook Mentions on Pages/Sites with lots of ‘Likes’. The downside is that Facebook has started throttling how many of these people see the actual notification. So make sure it’s either a ‘sponsored’ post or adjust accordingly. Note: Ads don’t work on Facebook but real people mentions do. Which is exactly why Facebook is trying to blur the line and put everything in the timeline.
- Going with Amazon as your publisher. If you get this offer and can convince Amazon to keep the ebook price below $3, then take it.
- Ads from Amazon – They are going to start selling them soon. I suspect that’s the real reason they went after Free Kindle Book sites. The only profitable part left is going to be Authors.
- Pinterest. I have no idea how to do it but it works.
- Lots of other things.
The problem is that the things that work very well are hardly ever available. So you have to plan in advance.
The Top 100 Charts are EVERYTHING
For the Top 100 Paid Bestsellers List – The difference between the first page (Top 20) and the second page is 3 times or more of sales. The difference between the Top 100 and #101 is 5 to 6 times the sales.
Not on any one given day – Over the course of months. What do I mean? If you can stay on the Top 100, then –
- Your chances of continuing in the Top 100 increase.
- Ten times more people see you. Because 50% to 75% of people ONLY look at the Top 100 lists.
- Your chances of rising higher go up.
- You gain a HUGE advantage over everyone outside the Top 100. Because authors and books outside the top 100 are practically invisible.
- Your probability of being in the Top 100 on Tuesday is 10 times higher if you were in the Top 100 on Monday.
The Genre Top 100 Lists are also important. However, it’s the main Top 100 Lists that are everything.
Most Important – Top 100 Paid.
2nd Most Important – Top 100 Free.
Also Important – Movers and Shakers List.
After that – Genre Lists.
It Doesn’t Matter How Good Your Book Is UNTIL PEOPLE CAN FIND IT
Quite simply, if you aren’t willing to learn marketing and presales and sales and distribution, then you aren’t going to be able to compete.
The Dream World where you sit back in your log cabin (or beach shack) and write and everything else magically happens – those days are gone (if they ever existed).
There’s no ‘My Book is Great and it DESERVES to be Found and Read’.
There are 1 million books from 1 million writers that all ‘Meet the Bar’ and ‘Deserve to be Read’. At least 10,000 of them are absolutely exceptional.
It doesn’t matter though. The 1,000 Authors out of these who will see great success will 95% be the ones who master Marketing and Sales. You can depend on ‘fortune’ and ignore marketing. Simply hope you are one of the 50 writers out of 1 million writers trying to get recognition and sales and readers who ‘luck into it’ or randomly find huge success.
Or you can be one of the 950 who CREATE that success. With 100% surety that all you have to do is market better than all the other Authors. Of course, out of those 1 million writers only 5,000 to 10,000 will actually do ANY EFFECTIVE MARKETING AT ALL.
So, all you have to do, provided you market, is have a good book and be among the Top 950 Authors out of the 10,000 who are actually trying.
1 in 10 are much better odds than depending on ‘blind fortune’ that 50 out of 1 million authors will be graced with.
Easier to get success if you do well in All or Most of the main areas
Let’s say there are 5 authors and they try the following strategies –
- Author 1 only focuses on writing and never does any promotion at all. Never even looks for an agent or publisher.
- Author 2 splits time between writing and looking for an agent and publisher.
- Author 3 splits time between writing and publishers and indie publishing.
- Author 4 splits time between writing and indie publishing.
- Author 5 only focuses on marketing and promotions and never writes at all.
Author 1 and Author 5 simply can’t succeed.
You have to write. Nothing happens without that. You have to promote and get the word out. Nothing happens without that.
Author 3 is the best placed because you never know where you find your marketing edge – Perhaps you work best as indie. Perhaps you work best with a Publisher. Try both (and any other channels) and then focus on the one that works for you.
Main takeaway is that you can’t ignore any of the core areas. The two most important being writing and promoting.
Separate Strategy from Ethics
If you don’t want to pursue a particular strategy for ethical reasons – that’s fine.
However, ethics in itself is strategy. So dissect every strategy you run across and see if you can use it within your ethical framework.
Let’s say you see an author write random posts (read: Spam) in a number of forums. You’d never do such a thing (or perhaps you would 😉 ). However, you see that it leads to this author gaining a significant sales bump. That it even leads to search engine results.
Then you should ask yourself – Is there a way I could use this strategy after moulding it to fit my own ethical framework. Yes, you probably could. You could start participating in the forum that led to the sales bump. Then instead of a one-time bump and a loss of reputation you’d get a steady flow of sales and a good reputation. You participate and enrich the forum. The forum rewards you in a variety of ways.
While a particular strategy might be ‘wrong’ in your ethical worldview, you should not let it kill you. Basically, find the ‘mirror’ good strategy that is as powerful or more powerful than the evil strategy (or vice versa).
Stay Off the Radar as long as you can
Let’s say you stumble across a vein of gold. A brilliant marketing strategy or a rich source of readers or a very useful resource.
Actively misrepresent the value of that vein of gold. Actively avoid drawing attention to your success.
The one thing I can guarantee you is that if you’re an indie author who finds an advantage and beats ‘the chosen few’ authors, then the powers that be will very soon find ways to ‘stunt’ your success.
Every year or two there are a group of indie authors that find a way to start winning the race. And within 3 to 9 months Publishers and Retailers find a way to kill off the avenues of success.
Let’s ponder a question – If an author is selling 100K books a month at $1 and taking up 2 of the Top 25 spots, how much does it cost publishers?
Answer: 100K * $9.99 in sales. That’s $1 million. That’s per month.
Publishers have one delicious option. Give that author an advance for $250K and reprice the books to $3 or $5 and let them fall out of the Top 100. That’s $11.75 million saved just in the first year. Sounds hard to believe? It is, isn’t it. Except that it’s EXACTLY what has been happening. Publishers might as well be buying up indie authors to clear up the charts for their $13.99 superstars.
Guess what the Publisher tells the Author – Instead of 100K books a month you could sell 500K. Instead of $1 per book you could sell at $7. All you need is our Magic Wand of Polish and Spit and Shine.
How many authors has it worked for? I can’t think of a SINGLE indie author who was getting consistent Top 10 and Top 20 spots who signed up with Publishers and now continues to. I’ll be ecstatic to be proven wrong.
Perhaps your Unique Selling Proposition is that you’re INDEPENDENT and you’re offering readers good reads for $1 or $3 or $5. Why risk that?
Even somewhat established authors aren’t being able to compete at $9. What makes you think you can switch from $1 to $7 and see the same amount of success as you did with $1?
Have a Core Group of Fellow Authors you can team up with
It’s the Mastermind concept. That if you take a group of people who share the same goal, and who pool resources, and who pursue the same knowledge and wisdom, then sooner or later they are going to greatly outpace everyone else.
All you need are 5 to 10 (or even less) very focused authors in your genre. Then cross-market, collaborate, share ideas and dominate your niche.
5 very good writers who cross-promote can easily eat up 5 of the Top 10 spots in ANY genre. Just three requirements – Collaborate 100%, Write really good books, Market them really well.
While every other author takes 4-5 years to figure out the 5-10 keys to winning in your genre, by pooling together resources you can do it in 1.5 to 2 years. By the time the 5 year mark arrives you won’t just know double what other authors know, you’ll know 10 times more. You’ll have access to strategies that a single author can’t even dream of.
Such as The Book Network strategy (discussed below).
Trust Publishers and Retailers as far as you can throw them
How far can you throw the CEO of a Big 6 Publisher? That’s exactly how far you can trust him. Or any other publishers or retailer.
This is a time of upheaval. What happens after revolutions?
Option 1: All the nobles get the chop.
Option 2: A ruler replaced by another ruler. Nothing changes for the serfs.
Option 3: Prolonged chaos and power struggles. Eventually ends in one of the above two.
We’re seeing Option 3. The nobles don’t want to get the chop (unless it’s a mutton-chop in wine sauce) so they will do whatever they can to safeguard themselves. The self-styled ‘new nobility’ are just as dangerous. They see an opportunity to become Kings and are willing to sacrifice authors. Remember: Most booksellers are allergic to profits. If they don’t have a track record of making profits for themselves, then how are they going to make profits for you?
You see extremes of this behavior. People who set up completely illegal and unethical sites that charge people $5 per month and then let them pirate books. However, those are the little fish. The big fish are the ones that will make that same arrangement seem ‘in your favor’ and ‘logical’.
The Only Profit Center Left is Going to Be Authors
This is painful if you’re an author. However, it’ll help you better understand why companies are making seemingly strange moves. And perhaps even avoid being sheared like sheep.
Let’s say we have 5 to 10 million people worldwide who actually manage to write a book and start promoting it.
Q1 How many of them are going to be really successful and makes lots of money?
Perhaps between 1,000 and 25,000.
Q2 How many of them are going to be able to make enough to live on writing?
Perhaps between 5,000 and 100,000.
Q3 How many of them are going to spend on services and marketing and other things?
Every single one of them. Some won’t spend much and some will spend a lot. However, each and every one of them will spend.
So, you end up with –
- 1,000 to 25,000 profit generators who make money for themselves and for stores and their Publishers. These will do very well. These will grab a big chunk of the existing Book Market of perhaps $25 billion to $45 billion a year (thought that market might go down by 30% to 50%).
- 5,000 to 100,000 who are in the break even category. They don’t get rich but can live from their earnings. These too will generate revenues.
- The remaining 4.9 to 9.9 million who’ll primarily spend money (and earn little or nothing). If each of these authors spends an average of $100 (pretty conservative), that’s $490 million to $990 million. If each spends $1,000 then it’s $4.9 billion to $9.9 billion.
What we’re getting at is – There are profits to be had from each and every person who writes a book.
Only 1,000 authors might be very successful, and only a further 10,000 to 50,000 might be able to earn a living from book writing, but each and every author will spend for services.
Here’s the twist: What if we’re wildly underestimating the numbers? After all, 70% of people claim ‘I want to write a book’. If we are wildly under-estimating numbers, then we’re talking about 50 to 100 million potential authors. And then the equation tilts completely in favor of providing services to authors.
At that point, companies start looking at Authors not as content creators but as ATMs. It’ll be a subtle shift. The smartest companies will harvest your vampire hunger to be read while pretending to help you get success. However, there will be a clear line between companies that want to help you sell a product to readers VERSUS companies that want to sell you services. And the latter couldn’t care less how many books you sell. In fact, for them the best scenario is authors struggling and paying more and more to try and get noticed.
Marketing is a Full-Time Job
And you have to pull it off while writing a book, polishing it, earning money for food and shelter, and all your other responsibilities.
What are the ways to not skimp on Marketing despite not having 8 hours a day for it?
I don’t know. If you figure it out leave a comment.
You’re Meant to Fill out the Shelves, Not take up the Main Display
Whether you are an indie author, or part of one of the ‘Select’ programs, it’s important to understand what the stores want you for –
- To be able to say ‘We have 1.256 million ebooks’.
- To be able to say ‘475K free books’ in our Special Program.
You are a statistic. They don’t want you to take up a Spot in the Top 100 (The Center Table/Center Display). They just want you to be filling out the shelves (and usually it’s the shelves in the backroom).
You’re the loss leader that’s supposed to get people in. Then they can’t find you and decide to go with the $13.99 book at #7 in the Top 100.
How do you bypass that?
Well, the first step is to understand the system and decide how much of it you want to be part of.
The second step is to understand how to use it. If you can be one of the 5,000 or so authors who understand what retailers and publishers are REALLY doing to game the system, then you can game what they have set up.
The Top 100 is Marketing for the Stores, and It can be Marketing for You
The Top 100 isn’t really ‘The Actual Deserving Top 100’.
Why Not? Because the stores have a ton of tools at their disposal i.e.
- Emails on Deals.
- The 100 Deals of the Month.
- Offers at Daily Deal Sites featuring books.
- Deal of the Day and Daily Find.
- Recommended Books.
- Customers who Bought this Also Bought.
- The Popularity List.
- Lots of other levers.
So, they don’t manipulate the Top 100. Oh No, that would be so wrong. They just control the levers that determine what books get into the Top 100.
Since the Top 100 is the absolute best Marketing Vehicle, the stores, in effect, control which books get Marketing and Exposure.
How can it be Marketing for You?
Well, use your imagination. If it’s all about getting into the Top 100 Paid Books List and the Top 100 Free Books List, then all you have to do is find a way to squeeze your sales into a short time period (a few days). And you’re set. It’s that simple – squeeze your sales into a short time period and you’re set.
Starting Points, Decision Points, Purchase Points
What’s a starting point? A Search Engine.
What’s a Decision Point? The Reviews. The Reviews on a Product Page.
What’s a Purchase Point? The ‘Buy Now’ button.
Please Note: These are just examples. There are lots and lots of starting points, decision points, and purchase points.
If you can optimize each of these, and/or control one or more of these, then you are set for life.
Have a Mystery book? Figure out how to get a good search engine ranking or become a starting point yourself. Figure out how to get mentioned or noticed at decision points. Figure out how to make the buying process smooth (the less steps the better – Why do you think Amazon came up with a patented 1-click purchase button?).
Create the Path of Least Resistance
If a reader wants to find a good romance novel to read, here are a few things you can do to make ‘buying your romance novel’ the path of least resistance –
- Be Easy to Find at the Starting Points.
- Have a beautiful and EASY TO USE site.
- Have a beautiful cover.
- Have reviews and references that reduce the friction.
- Make the buying process super simple.
- Offer a choice of options.
- Offer a free reward i.e. a free follow-on story or a box set.
- Make sure the reward is clear (great book, well reviewed, etc.).
- Make sure there is no room left for regret.
- Don’t do stupid things like delaying the ebook release 6 months.
- Don’t do stupid things like charging your best customers a premium.
Note: People are either reward-focused or regret-avoiding. So you have to account for both (or specialize for one).
While every other author (especially the Published type) is making it either hard or impossible to buy her/his books, you can make it EASY.
Understand the pipeline by analyzing strategies used in different places.
Example 1: The War between Amazon and Google
Why is Amazon upset with Google? Because it has to pay Google a LOT of money to get traffic. Traffic which in most cases wants to come to Amazon anyways.
Why is Google scared of Amazon? Because as more and more people become Amazon customers, Amazon won’t need Google. Even worse, it might try to supplant Google.
Google is the Starting Point (Search) and Amazon is the Purchase Point (Store) for a LOT of purchases.
It’s ALL about the Pipeline.
Whoever owns the starting point tries to squeeze out the people downstream. If they are weak or complacent (like newspapers and magazines) then they get killed.
Whoever owns the purchase point tries to kill everyone upstream. Why does Amazon have Kindle? Why does Amazon run Prime? Why does it have ‘sign up for email offers’ on EVERY kindle book page? Because it wants to make the users’ starting point something that is either owned by Amazon or neutral.
Think about YOUR Pipeline.
What’s your starting point? Who controls it? Do you have leverage and/or power over them or are you helpless?
What’s your decision point? Are they neutral or biased? Do they have some incentive to recommend your book? Do they have some monetary or other benefit they will receive?
What’s your purchase point? Why isn’t it with YOU? How much power does the purchase point wield over you?
Example 2: Look at how oil is distributed. The relationships between USA and Canada and USSR and Ukraine are very interesting. There they literally have to build pipelines and you can see the obvious tussles.
Think of your book the same way. You need a pipeline to deliver that oil to your customers. Do you have an army of allies helping you? Or do you have a bunch of indifferent companies that could care less whether you succeed or fail?
If you can’t see the obvious yet limited benefit for someone in a deal, stay away
The Internet is full of the absolute most dishonest people and companies. The detachment of the face to face interaction means all the usual rules of civility disappear. Not that business is very civil to begin with.
As a creator you should be painfully aware that most successful Internet companies were successful either from –
- Stealing content and offering it to people for free.
- Getting people to work for free or share personal information for free.
Think about it – all the big Internet Companies were built on the backs of people who never got paid their due share.
If you find yourself in a situation where a company or person is offering you help for free, then ask yourself –
- Does this result in my content getting monetized in a way that is sub-optimal and/or in a way that means the profits do not reach me?
- Does this result in me becoming one out of an infinite many while the pipeline and all the traffic gets controlled by this person?
- Does this result in a situation where I can only reach customers when this person/company allows me to?
Then it’s a trick.
You’ll end up paying very, very heavily for the ‘free lunch’ you’re eating joyously.
Equally importantly, if you can see the benefit for the person offering you a grand ‘free’ lunch – make sure there’s a natural limit to just how much the person could benefit. Don’t allow provisions that would let the person kick you out of the profits pipeline later.
If you want to make a living from writing, treat it as a Business
When we find ourselves doing something we love, we tend to get irrational. Instead of thinking profits and losses we start thinking dark chocolate and ice cream cake.
It’s a Business.
So there are a few levels to it –
- Can you sell books?
- Can you actually make money from selling books?
- Can you sell enough for it to become a significant source of income (whatever that is for you)?
- Can you sell enough for it to become your main job?
- Can you sell enough for it to make you rich (whatever your definition is)?
Now, add ‘How’ to each of those questions and write down the answers.
At the minimum, you’ll need to make enough money to cover your living expenses and add something to your rainy day fund.
To be most effective, you have to think of it as a business.
I see authors say the absolute stupidest things –
- I can’t afford $250 for a cover service.
- This Ad should make me at least as much on the one day it runs as I spend on it.
- I can’t afford an editor.
Those are all strange ways of thinking of things.
You’re creating a product and then you’re doing customer acquisition. Think of it the way a profitable, intelligent business would.
What will be the lifetime benefit of improving the product?
What would be the lifetime benefit of acquiring X number of customers (Perhaps 25% of the people who actually buy your book become lifetime customers, perhaps 5%)?
The problem a lot of us face is – we’re caught up in individual and instant gratification modes. We’re thinking of things the way a kid would think of $15 in his pocket in a Hotel Chocolat store.
Instead, think the way the owner of the chocolate store thinks.
Re-read every one of the above points you think is Stupid or Not Likely to Be Effective
If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.
So, if you want something better, then it means you have to let go of some of the beliefs that are holding you back. Out of this list, the 5 to 10 items that you find hard to believe/digest/execute on – Well, those are the ones that will benefit you the most.
Take The Pipeline. That concept alone can guarantee you success.
Without the pipeline you’re someone selling shoes out of a van in a shopping center parking lot. If you fully understand The Pipeline you can own a chain of shopping centers around the country. Because that’s what a starting point is.
Google doesn’t makes tens of billions of dollars of profit each year because it can sell software well or even make software well. It’s simply because it’s one of the biggest starting points on the Internet. It’s as simple as that.
Imagine if you could create the starting point (or even one of the starting points) for your genre. Perhaps even for all of books. You’d end up selling AS MANY of your own books as you want. You’d end up making incredible amounts of money from other people.
Social Proof and Preselection
Social Proof = People want something they have seen lots of other people use. It’s why every Apple presentation starts with ‘X amount of people bought Y’ and ‘Z amount of people bought Q’.
Preselection = People want what others have ‘preselected’ as good.
How can you use this with your books?
Mention sales. Mention Awards. Do it in a subtle way.
Monitor Reviews. Don’t fake reviews. However, it’s completely OK to sell FIRST to your 1,000 (or 100 million) True Customers since they are more likely to give good reviews.
It’s completely OK to add a page that says – If you didn’t like the book – please email me. If you liked the book – please review it at your store.
Position things carefully.
Saying ‘I won the Carrot Growing Association of Colorado’s ‘Most Promising Sparkling Vampire Knock-Off’ Award’ might backfire. Same for 2,367 sales in the last 3 years.
Go for things that sound impressive. #1 in X Category in Y Month.
100,000 sales in Z Month.
Reduce/Eliminate the Fear of Regret
A large portion of people are obsessed with avoiding regret.
For them it’s not that $1 is a big deal or even $10 is a big deal. They want to avoid the feeling of having wasted their time and money. They want to avoid regret. They want to avoid the feeling of having been cheaten.
It’s the feeling.
How can you avoid that?
How can you ensure that people are GUARANTEED to not wash up on the dreary shores of the Island of Regret?
Think of a time when you regretted some purchase. Do you really want your readers to feel that?
If you think of it from that perspective, then some things will become automatic –
- Proper formatting and editing.
- Reading over your book a few dozen times and polishing.
- A refund option.
- Targeting the right customers.
- Getting the description and genre absolutely right.
- Getting the cover right i.e. it should convey what type of book it is.
- Don’t sell erotica to romance readers without making it clear it’s erotica.
- Don’t sell religious books to mystery/romance readers without making it clear there are religious overtones.
- There are a lot of dimensions to it.
If you can GUARANTEE that readers won’t feel regret PLUS have easy recourse to their money back. Then you will 100% win and create legions of True Customers.
The Customer is NOT King
Your first responsibility should be to your Art. Your second responsibility should be to yourself and your family.
You don’t owe readers anything beyond a good book bought under a mutually beneficial agreement.
You’ll find three types of customers (three main types) –
- Your True Customers. These are perfect. Find as many of these as you can and focus on them.
- The In-Betweeners. These are the ones who’ll buy on your terms if you make it easy and reasonable. And if you make sure they can’t steal your stuff too easily.
- The Bad Customers. Actually, these aren’t even customers. These are the people who feel you should give them your books for free and then thank them. Basically, you’re proposing a social contract and these people are ignoring that and pretending that you’re a charity.
Are Your True Customers the King?
No. They should be treated well, but not at the expense of your art or yourself.
Are the In-Betweeners the King?
No. They aren’t even worth your time to be quite frank. Your aim should be to accrue enough true customers so that the in-betweeners don’t matter. Ironically, that’s when all of them will flock to buy your books.
Are the Bad Customers The King?
In their minds, yes. In truth you should kick out Bad Customers. Don’t even get into purchase agreements with them. Don’t visit forums and stores where they flock. You will be a LOT happier if you REJECT Bad Customers and ignore the In-Betweeners.
Treat your True Customers like Princesses and Princes. But the King is your Art and You.
You have to look out for yourself
Firstly, you should figure out EXACTLY WHAT you want out of writing –
- To be Read?
Figure out your 3-5 main motivators and rank them. Then figure out what you care most about and absolutely must have.
Now, the hard part.
NO ONE except YOU can get you these things.
At some level Publishers and Retailers are seen as ‘Shortcuts’. A wild spot of day dreaming. Publishers and Retailers aren’t good at creating success. They are just good at spotting the signs of probable success.
Think about it. Why would only a small fraction of published authors be wildly successful if Publishers were so good?
Truth is – The only person who can guarantee success is you.
NO ONE except YOU is looking out for your best interests.
This is even more critical. You can take a look at any author or sports person or businessman who made the mistake of thinking it’s OK to trust someone else with their money or career. It never ends well.
You’re the only person who’s looking out for your best interests. So you’re the only person who should manage your career and finances. Let family help. Perhaps even a friend or two. However, the minute you lose sight of your career’s direction or your money’s whereabouts – well, that’s the beginning of the end of your career and your money.
Define Success and Write it Down
Think of your career as a journey.
You have to get from Seattle to Florida. Making stops along the way.
Would you drive around without deciding where to go next? Would you proceed on the journey without finalizing that it’s Florida you want to get to?
Well, then why pretend you can get anywhere worthwhile without setting targets.
What is success for you?
Can you envision it?
Can you write it down?
Can you write it in detail?
Can you work backwards from it to create 1 year, 3 year, 5 year, and 10 year goals?
Is Success a destination or a second journey?
What are you going to do once you succeed?
If you have it written down, then it increases your chances of success from 5% to 50%. It’s that simple. The clearer the path, the likelier that the Universe will clear up all obstacles for you.
Have 100% Confidence in the Product you are Marketing & Selling
Not the delusional kind of confidence. Real Confidence. Based on the quality of the product.
Would you stake your life on your book?
Would you stake your reputation on your book? Well, you already are.
How confident are you that it’s going to be one of the best (and/or one of the most entertaining) books your customers have ever read? How confident are you that it will perfectly meet the needs of the market you are targeting it at?
If it isn’t at 99% then it’s not ready to be shipped to stores or to be sold.
How do you get to 100% confidence? By getting the book to 90% and reassessing. Then getting it to 95%. Then to 98%. Then to 99%. Then realizing it’s NEVER going to be at 100%. So you ship with 100% confidence that you’ve gotten it to 99% (or at least 98%) of where it needs to be.
If for the first release you need to ship at 95% it’s fine. However, anything below that is unacceptable. Because it’s 3 to 6 hours of a person’s life. You have an obligation to make sure that’s time well spent.
You Never Know What Strategy Will Work until it Starts Working!
You’ll come across a lot of strategies. So, perhaps, you find there are 10 strategies (these are just random) that are recommended for authors –
- Focus completely on book writing.
- Focus first on book writing and then completely on marketing.
- Get an Agent First. Then do everything else.
- Get a Publisher First. Then write more.
- Sell cheap and go for volume and build your customer base.
- Sell at high price and go for profits.
- Think of it as ‘My Book is Worth $10 and I can never sell it for less’.
- Think of it as ‘My Book is only valuable if it is being read’.
- Be very friendly and interact with readers.
- Do a Greta Garbo. Let your readers lust for any details about you.
The interesting reality is that different strategies are optimal for different people.
So you’ll have to figure out all the factors – What are your skills? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What things have worked for you in the past?
A lot of the time – You won’t know until you ACTUALLY DO IT. So it’s very important to try each of the strategies to some limited extent, or perhaps give 3-4 month stretches to each. Then figure out what works best for you.
This might seem counter-intuitive to a lot of the rest of the post. That’s because the rest of the post presumes –
- You aren’t restricting yourself to one strategy.
- You have already figured out the best 2-3 strategies for you.
And most important is to remember that –
- It should be the intersection of your aptitudes and passions. Just one alone isn’t enough.
- You should be doing things you LOVE as much as possible. 90% of your time. So it’s not just to do writing that you LOVE. It’s that within the writing, do things you LOVE 90% of the time.
- We are extremely bad at self-analysis. So your best strengths and the best strategy for you – is almost certainly not what you think it is. Look at the evidence and not some personal dream vision of who you think you are.
- The Market dictates everything. So you want to find a mix of doing what you LOVE and doing what goes with your strengths and doing what there is a Market for.
- A Strategy is separate from ethics and morals and beliefs and value judgements. Before you dismiss a strategy – figure out whether it works or not. Then consider the moral implications. This is the most critical. Don’t rule out something because you have some preconceived notion about it being good or evil.
The deeper you think about strategy, and the more honest you are about actually executing on and then evaluating each strategy, the higher your chances of success.
Your Book Network
Courtesy Trey Smith App Blog. Read every post on that blog if you can. All the stuff he talks about applies 100% to Books. I’ll bet you $10 you’ll be thanking me for introducing you to that site.
Guess what’s the best place to sell your books? Your existing books.
Guess who are the best people to sell your books to? Ones who’ve already bought your books.
So, you should think of each book you write as an addition to your Book Network (or your Book Empire).
- Each Book MUST link to your page and your other books on the 1st or 2nd page.
- Each Book MUST link to your page and your other books on the 1st page after the story ends.
- Each Book MUST have an excerpt for one or more of your other books.
- Each Book in a series MUST have excerpts for the next book in the series and links to it.
- Each Book MUST be treated as a marketing vehicle. Not marketing = leave a cliffhanger ending. That’s weak. Marketing = Make it SUPER EASY for readers who like your book to find other books from you – especially the remaining books in the series.
- [Most Important] Each book MUST have a signup link for your email list.
- Each book MUST have a link to a page where users can go see new releases from you.
Your Book Network is –
- An interconnection of each of your books with each other and with your site and with your product pages at Amazon and B&N.
- A living, breathing entity.
- The backbone for your Marketing Efforts.
- The engine for the growth of your email list.
- YOURS. Think about that for a minute. It’s yours – 100% yours. No having to pay anyone else. No having to follow anyone else’s rules.
Treat it the way you would treat an adorable little dragon you love dearly. One that, with the proper care and nurture, is going to turn into a ferocious monster that burns anything that stands in your way.
Does the Publisher say your work isn’t good enough? Well, your 1 million people email list disagrees.
Does Amazon think The Hangman’s Daughter should get all the publicity while your book lies undiscovered? Well, the 2.7 million people in your Book Network still know your book is available.
Does B&N think your Book isn’t good enough for their Nook First program? Who Cares. You have 250,000 people checking your site daily for your updates on the progress of your new book.
It’s all very possible. 1 million might seem like a big figure but it isn’t really. There are perhaps 15 to 30 million people worldwide who would be interested in your books if you are doing a great job of writing great books. Getting 1 to 5 million out of them into your Book Network and Email List and Site are very doable. Just remember to start with realistic goals for the first 6 to 12 months.
Product Market Fit
The ONLY thing that matters is Product Market Fit.
Is your product a good fit for the market? Is your product something users want? Is your product something users need?
You’re writing a book.
The first step is to determine where the Market for it lies? What Market do you want to target?
There are evergreen markets like Mystery and Romance.
There are hot markets like vampires and zombies and Fantasy and YA Fantasy. Though they are pretty much turning into evergreen markets at this point.
Don’t let competition scare you. It’s much better to be #3 in a HUGE Market than #1 in a Tiny Market.
Additionally, if you can figure out Product Market Fit and marketing then you can beat anyone. Sadly, even people who write much better than you.
Marketing is Just As Important as your Book.
As an artist you live in this exalted world where salesmen and sales are considered beneath you. However, your book is NOTHING if people don’t read it. And for that you have to master sales and marketing. There’s simply no other way. The sooner you embrace that reality the sooner you’ll find real success.
Most importantly, if you embrace marketing then you are one of the 10,000 or so authors fighting for the 950 golden spots of Real Author Success that are up for grabs. 1 in 10 are super good odds.