Summary of Part 1
We Indie Authors, unlike traditional publishers of DTBs (Dead Tree Books) have limited resources at our disposal, so when there are tools around which cost nothing but time and effort, we should use them. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is one of those tools. In fact, we have a half dozen or so sales tools for each our books and should apply SEO thought to each one of them. Here's the list of sales tools every book has, as I see it and in my order of priority:
- Cover art
- Tag line
- Short and/or Long Description (the "blurb" as we call it)
- Reader reviews
- Free Sample
- Magic Price Spot
5. Reader Reviews
This the most misunderstood tool so I'll spend most of today's post discussing it. A lot of Indie Authors debate the usefulness of reader reviews. A lot of Indie Authors debate their opinions about reader reviews. A lot of Indie Authors ask everyone they know to post a review even if they haven't read the book just to get reader reviews because they somehow think this is what you're supposed to do. That's not really what you do.
Reviews can be useful as a means of feedback, encouragement, direct information on what about the way they write is working and what isn't. That's great for a Writer. At least, it's great when the reviews are great. When they're bad, it can really cut a hole into an artist's soul. Writers, like painters and sculptors and dancers and musicians are just artists when you get down to it. We bleed for our art, at least metaphorically....unless we're sharpening pencils and erasers with a pocket knife.
Being a Writer is a little different than being an Author. The word "Author" implies the writing is being sold, money is changing hands, sales are being promoted, tracked and held up as a measurement of the writing's worth. This slight nuance to the word Author versus Writer makes feedback about the writing a little more important to the Author's career success than merely giving them an ego boost (or deflation in the case of a bad review).
So reader reviews can either be for the Writer--in which case asking all your friends to say the book is wonderful can work for you because all you want is the ego stroke--or reviews can be for the Author, as a sales tool. I think if you want to use them as a sales tool, you need to start thinking like a publisher and see your reviews as sent to the Author whether they were or not. Set your artiste aside for a moment, and search out the snippets of reader reviews you can use to help sell your book. If you have reviews in a place like Amazon, where books are sold, the opinions inevitably turn to discussing the price of your book, the worth of it as a purchase. Having words like "price" and "purchase" in a review don't help you.
What you want are reactions to the reading experience. How do you get them? Encourage your readers to post their reviews somewhere else, somewhere where you do NOT sell your books. Like on Goodreads. Why? Because they aren't there to discuss buying or worth, they're going to Goodreads to talk about the book. It's not a reaction to the shopping cart; it'll be a response to reaching "The End" of your book. Hopefully, you actually have the words "The End" in the end of your book, right?
After "The End," because it's an eBook, it will cost you ZERO extra to add a page or two about yourself and your other work, if you have any. Put in links to your Facebook, Twitter, Blog or if you'd like unlimited messages, email ^_^ If you have other books, definitely put in links to where they can be bought but consider excerpting them (3-5 pages each or about 1000-1500 words) as well. You can market yourself however you want. What I did for Dicky's Story was to put in a remark about where I'd prefer to receive reviews. I said please post a comment to the book page on Goodreads and then I linked to it.
I don't market Dicky's Story. I keep saying this. I don't like the cover and haven't gotten off my duff to actually send out press releases or requests to my target, niche audience to review and publicize the book. Once I do, however, my current reader reviews are going to be invaluable. I've gotten a lot of great reviews on Dicky's Story, more to the point, I've gotten a lot of really great quotable quotes on those reviews. My reviews have been essentially split between Goodreads and Smashwords, so I guess my words requesting the comments go on Goodreads have only been 50% effective. Given the reviews are all so glowing, I don't really mind.
What do the reader reviews do for you? Well, now that I've already admitted to my alter-ego, secret identity, Marjorie Baldwin, allow me to illustrate with what "she" is doing. She's currently got no books out but has chapters available as read-only-online at the Harper Collins web site Authonomy. She's gotten comments about the chapters. She's extracted those comments and turned them into press release material. Check out this Publicity Page I did (I mean, Marjorie did) for the upcoming series of books. It looks like there's something going on there, doesn't it? And yet it's just a framework for a book that's not even ready to sell yet. It's all in the presentation.
Yeah, okay, these readers are just people, but hey, they're people, they have opinons. In fact, their opinions matter more than those at Salon Magazine or Publishers Weekly, both of which review paper books that publishers pay them to read and review. I'm not paying anyone anything to say the stuff they do about my writing. They're just being honest--and I'm just being smart about how I quote them.
Let me go back to Dicky's Story and dissect my process for a review on Smashwords. I'll use the review posted by a new friend I met on Soldiers Angels (who turns out, knows my older brother--such a small world!) Julie Gonzalez wrote:
Overall, I really did enjoy it! It took me forever to finish between everything going on here at home and the beginning being a bit of science fiction. At first, it was confusing, but, I figured there must have been an apocalyptic, nuclear warfare disaster that destroyed most of earth. I couldn't visualize their living arrangements. Other than that, it was a beautiful love story and I was so happy with the ending. I was angry that Dicky was taken and the way he was raised. Even though he did grow up in a loving environment.At first glance, this might seem like an okay review but not glowing enough to use as a sales tool. Well, sure, not "as is" or more to the point, not "in toto." You have to excerpt, and excerpt wisely. This is similar to the sales editing activity of rewording your "description" to make it a "blurb." You're not looking to be "precise"; you're looking to sell your book. It's okay if you don't quote every little letter, so long as you don't make words up. Yes, that's taking things out of context, but if you identify where the entire review can be read, it's not lying. Don't twist things but do selectively quote. Here's what I would quote (have quoted on the Barnes & Noble book page where I have 5 reviews that rotate -- only 1 visible at a time -- at the end of the book's description) for Julie:
Overall, I really did enjoy it! [...] It was a beautiful love story and I was so happy with the ending.
That sounds a bit different than what she wrote, doesn't it? She had reservations about the beginning, but in the "The End" she really enjoyed the book. Does a new, potential reader need to know about her reservations? Sure, maybe they also don't like scifi. Will that help me sell the book or get them to click to the sales page? No. So I don't put that part in. I'm not lying, I'm moving the sale to the next stage--and they'll see as soon as they start reading that the beginning of the book feels "scifi-like." I'll get to that part in the sampling next up.
The other thing to notice is Julie wrote a whole paragraph. I'm only quoting two sentences--the parts that emphasize the most positive points. Here's another example. For quoting Deena Gordon (also on the Smashwords page) I'd go like this:
I enjoyed this from start to finish. [...] The reader can really care what happens to the characters.
If you look at the way I've extracted the most-positive highlights from the longer version, you'll start to see the pattern. It's not that I'm taking two sentences out of each paragraph. That's merely coincidence. It's that I'm gathering words which comprise a complete thought, one which emphasizes the position things each reader said.
Go ahead and click through to the Phoenician Series Publicity Page to see 3 more examples--one-liner examples. You can read the entire paragraph (or more) of commentary each of those 3 readers posted by logging into Authonomy. Oh and while you're there, leave me a comment of your own about that new book! (haha, you thought I wouldn't sales pitch you today. You're so easy!)
6. Free Sample
If you don't already have a free sample offered for your book, set one up. If you're not using Smashwords, I can't give you specific keystroke or window click directions, but every store offers the option of giving readers a free sample or not. Most even let you set the percentage of the book the sample will comprise. In the article on covers that I linked to in yesterday's post, the author talked about cover image files actually eating up a portion of your free sample. For instance, if you offer the first 20% and your image file is 500KB big, you're free sample might only be the first chapter and a half. If you make your cover image file (not the image, the file) smaller before uploading it, say to 80KB, you might suddenly be sampling the first four chapters. I'm not sure I've seen that kind of impact but I've had my JPGs sized down from the start so that's probably why.
Bottom line: don't waste free sample space by having a huge image file. There are ways to make the cover image smaller. Use them. Nuff said.
The sample needs to be killer because you want to hook the reader on the story and make them not want the sample to end. How do you have a killer sample? Have a killer book. This is another reason I haven't been pushing Dicky's Story on the marketing. I don't like my opening chapters for it. Once you get into the book, I feel Dicky's Story is a phenomenal read you won't want to put down, but a reader shouldn't have to "get into it" to get to the good stuff. It should be "good stuff" right from the opening screen. If it isn't, your sample's not going to sell your book.
So this really not "have a great sample" so much as "have a great opening chapter (or three)." That's a carry-over rule from DTB publishing, too, I'd note. The submission process to DTB publishers (and agents) is to send the first 3 chapters and an outline. That's what's called a "partial submission" and it's become the standard these days. If your first 3 chapters aren't killer, edit them until they are.
6. Magic Price Spot
This is another one of those debateable topics. There are as many opinions about price and pricing as there are Indie Authors. Or maybe more! The thing about Indie Publishing eBooks is that you can change your price anytime you want. You are in control of this and to be honest, it's the biggest downside to going with a traditional publisher. They control the price and never get around to paying out royalties. With Indie Publishing and eBook sales, you control the price and your royalties--if you're with Smashwords or using Amazon's KDP platform--are guaranteed going to show up as scheduled. The eBook market is all about the electronic transfers!
Pricing a book is like pricing any other product you might sell in the real world. You want the price to reflect what the product is really worth. Some argue that an Indie Author, especially just starting out, has no worth established and should lowball their prices to build readership. You can go that route, but personally, I'd rather give it away FREE to get readership.
I'm of the camp that believes lowballing your price actually devalues your product's worth. As an Indie Author, your product is you. Your name, the Author name, is what you're selling. In contradiction to this argument, I did participate in the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale this July and I did not make Dicky's Story totally free. I put it on 75% off on Smashwords (or $1 with the promo code on the site) which made it 99c on Amazon. I sold a few on Smashwords but none on Amazon. I've only sold full-price books on Amazon. I never ever link to it on Amazon, have you noticed? People who buy it on Amazon have actually found it all by themselves! It's amazing to me that it has sold at all on Amazon and yet it has.
Because Dicky's Story is such a long book (183,000 words) I wanted the price to be "more than rock bottom" but because I don't like the opening chapters, and because it's my first publication so I am an unknown name, I wanted the price to be "appropriate for a long book that is a good read." It's not a bad book, just a bad opening. I chose $3.99 and am still considering raising it to $4.99, which I just might do when I re-release with the new cover art. I don't believe I have the "name" to ask for more than $4.99 for it no matter what. Even if the opening were edited into greatness.
If one has a shorter book, say 50,000 to 80,000 words, then offering it for sale for 99c makes sense. It's a short book. The average paperback novel, in the 300 page range, is between 100,000 and 140,000 words long. Traditional DTB publishers play around with the fonts to make the pages work out to something they think can be made believeable at a given price. And an average paperback book costs $4.99 to $7.99 without any discounts. My long novel would have to go for $8.99 to $9.99 at least.
In fact, I calculated the costs of producting Dicky's Story as a paperback using Amazon's CreateSpace, but because of the per-page costs they charge an author to print a book, Dicky's Story would actually cost me money everytime it sold a copy!! The point at which printing a book stops being profitable and begins to cost the author money fell around the 150,000 word mark. What a coincidence! NOT.
I'm still not giving up the idea of finding a way to print Dicky's Story on paper but it's clear that when you price an eBook, you have totally different considerations than when you price a paper book. If Dicky's Story were shorter, I'd consider offering it at the $2.99 price which is the bottom of the 70% royalty rate on Amazon's Kindle Store.
And that is the final consideration an Indie Author has to make when setting a price. After length of the book and the "value" of your name at this moment in time, you should consider what kinds of royalties you'll earn based on how much you charge. If you go below $2.99 on Amazon, you only earn 35% royalties. That makes it as unprofitable to sell an eBook as it does for me to print Dicky's Story on paper. If you're not earning 70% at Amazon, and the maximium possible royalties at other sites (I get 80% for sales directly off Smashwords and only 60% from Barnes & Noble, forex), then your pricing needs to be re-examined. Never price yourself out of the profits. Just give the book away. You'll be better off that way. I'm serious, not joking or being melodramatic. Lowballing the price hurts your name more than giving it away free. When you give it away, you can always change your mind and charge for it later, saying it was a limited-time, introductory free offer. If you lowball the price, some readers feel ripped off when you raise it to make a profit. You have to always consider your ongoing relationship with your readers when setting price. Don't try to squeeze them for every cent right up front. Plan on having them come back to buy more--and give them a price they can recommend to their friends and neighbors!
That's it for today's Tuesday Tip and wraps up the question of SEO for Indie Authors. I'll be back a little later today with a few tools to recommend. Yes! My first Tuesday Tools.
There's no submissions thread for this week's Freebie Friday because I'm going to be featuring Indie Author, Danny Gillan, to help launch his latest release, Will You Love Me Tomorrow. The Freebie Friday blog shall return in full swing next week with 3 more freebies for your reading pleasure. Cya then!