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Just a quick note to say that I’ve launched a fancy new website at DavidGaughran.com which is going to house this here blog. In fact, all existing posts (and comments!) have already been successfully ported across so all that remains to do – aside from a few kinks to iron out at the new home – is to move all YOU across.

You shouldn’t need to update any links as everything will be redirected from here when I pull down the shutters in a day or two, but blog subscribers are a different matter. If you subscribed by email, you should be ported across in a day or so, but you might wish to follow the process below to be 100% sure you will be subscribed to the new blog as Here Be Gremlins.

If you subscribed via WordPress you will need to resubscribe. This affects several thousand of you, so you should follow this steps.

1. Go to my new blog at DavidGaughran.com/blog
2. Enter your email in that fetching pink box in the top right and hit SUBSCRIBE.
3. Finally, scurry over to your Inbox and click confirm.

That’s it! Oh, unless you are on of those RSS types, in which case look for the fetching green box a little further down that right-hand side bar. I’ll recommence blogging over there in a few days so you’ll get to confirm it works.

Feel free to poke around the new site in the meantime. You might wonder where all my fiction has gone, but that will be housed at DavidGaughranBooks.com – and the eagle-eyed among you will notice there are very few links between those two sites (two halves of the same site technically). Anyone following my posts on Also Boughts can guess why.

But I’ll dig into the site’s design and features, all the nifty stuff going on under the hood,  the very special custom WordPress theme I’m using, and the genius behind it all in a future post… at the new site! The blog here will disappear soon, but all that really will disappear for good is this exact post. So feel free to ask any questions in the comments, just be aware that those comments (this post only!) will also vanish in a couple of days.

I should probably say a few words about how I started this blog to settle an argument back in 2011 and it ended up taking my career in a very weird and wonderful direction, and that without all the people who made it a place worth visiting by participating so much in the comments, this blog wouldn’t have had the impact it did on writers and libel lawyers across th—

But who has the time! Besides, sentimentality is for the whiskey bar and I appear to be drinking water. Alas. See you on the other side!

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There’s an article doing the rounds at the moment from the Washington Post suggesting that the Amazon is undergoing some kind of fake review crisis. There are problems with Amazon reviews, of course, but this article is based on some pretty flawed data. At least in how it pertains to the world of books, which is what I know, and what I’ll focus on here. I can’t speak to the world of diet supplements or fake tan or giant tubs of lube – alas.

The article’s claims are largely based on a flaky site called ReviewMeta, which seems far better at getting publicity for itself than correctly analyzing the trustworthiness of reviews, which is a pity as it would be a wonderful tool if it was in any way accurate.

I first heard about ReviewMeta back in 2016 and was very excited to test it out. Naturally, I started with my own books, as I can be pretty sure there are no fake reviews there, being the author, publisher, and marketer of all these titles, and someone who is fastidious about the rules as my name is literally my brand.

However, ReviewMeta seems to call into question a large number of my reviews and reviewers. And by extension me, I guess. And all of you too, because many of the random selection of books I checked had similar issues.

The ReviewMeta site helpfully gives explanations for why its system made these determinations, and you can actually break down each component and get a further explanation. This transparency is hugely commendable.

Digging into this data, though, shows the extreme limitations of the site and the way it calculates the trustworthiness of reviews – at least how it pertains to the world of books. Perhaps it is more accurate for jellybeans or computer peripherals, I really can’t say. But when it comes to books, it makes a number of pejorative assumptions about what is legitimate reader behavior, such as reviewing Book 2 of a series after reviewing Book 1 or mentioning the title of the book in the review, and these routine reader actions cause ReviewMeta to flag these reviews as questionable or suspicious.

This then casts aspersions on the integrity of the authors of these books – who are self-employed people working in an industry where reputation and integrity are critically important, not huge faceless brands… if that matters. Worse still, the site has been aware of these issues for two years, and not only have they not corrected them, they reacted in a hostile way when presented with this information.

Let’s take a look at some concrete examples. Once again, I’m happy to be the guinea pig here, and have all of you (and ReviewMeta) poke and prod my reviews and check the authenticity of same, because I have 100% confidence that they are all genuine.

Here is ReviewMeta’s take on “David Gaughran” the brand and how trustworthy it is (that’s me, btw).

Okay, this doesn’t look good. And if you look down the page it shows each of the products they have assessed that led to this overall brand trustworthiness score. You can see many of my books have “failed” in the eyes of ReviewMeta and “Unnatural reviews detected” has been appended to several of my books. Crikey.

You can click on each product and see how it came to that determination, and the supposed evidence for each component of that decision. Again, I stress, this transparency is truly commendable.

But this breakdown also reveals the faulty assumptions that led to these incorrect determinations about my reviews. And it’s not just my reviews, of course. These simplistic calculations affect most authors. (You can search for your own books here.)

Of course a reviewer of Book 1 and 2 is likely to review the third book in a trilogy. If you don’t take account for that wholly natural behavior when analyzing book reviews, then all your results will be skewed. Mentioning the title of the book is another pretty common thing that (genuine) book reviewers do, but ReviewMeta views with extreme suspicion.

I pointed all this out in a series of tweets to ReviewMeta back in 2016, and they responded with a pissy blog post, which was very selective in the use of my comments to try and paint them as badly as possible. (You can view the entire dialog here instead.)

You can see in these tweets that I raised all these issues, and more. I made a number of suggestions how they could improve the site to take account of the way that reviewers review books – both to miss all the false positives they seem to be generating, and also take account of suspicious patterns in book reviews they were missing.

But none of these issues have been addressed by ReviewMeta in the last two years. Instead they seem exclusively focused on publicity. Here is founder Tommy Noonan talking to Techspot in November 2016, then CNET a few months later in February 2017, and there have been similar pieces over the last couple of years which I couldn’t be bothered linking to in Forbes, NYMag, Scientific American, Quartz, PBS NewsHour, BuzzFeed, ZDNet, Business Insider, and many, many more. In all that time of furious self-promotion, I haven’t seen ReviewMeta improve the accuracy of its site.

The sad thing about all of this is that Amazon does have a fake review problem, one which is compounded by Amazon deploying a fake review detection algorithm that seems about as accurate as the one from ReviewMeta, perhaps for similar reasons too. Which means that authors innocent of any wrongdoing get genuine, organic reviews from bona fide reviewers removed every day and the scammers and cheaters with fake reviews keep getting away with it. Sites like ReviewMeta aren’t helping with this problem, they are making it worse.

But the worst part of all, perhaps, is the complete misunderstanding of how Amazon algorithms work. Reviews don’t cause success, they are a symptom of it. Yes, a lot of overwhelmingly positive reviews will sway an on the fence-purchaser, but they don’t automatically lead to sales – not in the world of books, at least. Maybe if I’m looking for a phone charger and they are all more-or-less fungible, then reviews become the tie-breaker for a lot of people. Not with novels. I don’t care how many reviews the Da Vinci Code has, I’m never going to read it.

The continued media focus on “fake” reviews – driven in part by ReviewMeta’s relentless publicity drive – is taking attention away from much more serious issues that the media have not covered in any depth, such as clickfarming, bookstuffing, incentivized purchasing, and mass gifting.

Manipulation of rank and payouts, rather than reviews, is the truly serious issue here.

That’s not to say that ReviewMeta couldn’t serve a useful purpose, or something like ReviewMeta. Unfortunately, ReviewMeta itself don’t seem interested in challenging the flawed assumptions underlying their product, and trying to make it more accurate. Which is such a shame.

I tried to engage with them once more in 2016. I left a comment under that prickly blog post responding to my series of tweets on ReviewMeta.

In the most ironic twist since it rained on Alanis Morissette’s wedding day, that comment was deleted. It seems ReviewMeta doesn’t like being reviewed…

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A new organization is being formed which is aiming to give a voice to indies – the Indie Author Support Network. The idea was proposed by indie author Marie Force, and it’s still at the very earliest stages, but what I’ve heard so far is very promising indeed – particularly that it will be exclusively focused on high-level advocacy and interfacing with retailers on issues which concern indies.

I’m not a member of any writer organization. I joined one here in Ireland when I first returned home, but didn’t renew after they wouldn’t even take the most basic stand against a local publisher who wasn’t paying his authors.

I know people join organizations for lots of different reasons, whether that’s continuing education or competitions or even just the social/networking aspects at conferences, which are desperately needed in such a solitary profession, and I think those needs are pretty well met with the various genre-focused organizations out there, and NINC too. However, advocacy has always been of most importance to me and I think there is a critical need right now for a very focused group which specifically speaks to the rather curious set of issues that indies are dealing with in 2018.

And most of these issues stem from, or are exacerbated by, a lack of representation. We are a huge chunk of the market now, but we don’t have a seat at the table or a voice in the room.

While I’m a huge respecter of the work Victoria Strauss and the rest of the Writer Beware team have done on behalf of all writers (and the SFWA in setting that up and its partner orgs in helping with logistical support), as well as the work that the Alliance of Independent Authors has done in building an all-encompassing indie writers’ organization, I think there is a very specific gap right now for a group exclusively focused on high-level advocacy for indies, one where institutional energy is all directed towards that one task.

Over the last couple of days, Marie Force has been gathering expressions of interest to form just such a group, one that would interface directly with retailers. She has already spoken with KDP about dealing directly with the group on issues of common concern, and they seemed very positive about the idea.

Interesting: @MarieForce is putting together an advocacy group of indies to deal directly with Amazon (& others) on a range of issues of common concern. The right idea, at the right time.

I'm in. https://t.co/zeA4DylFzZ

— David Gaughran (@DavidGaughran) April 21, 2018

Despite some rumors flying around, there is no specific agenda in place yet – the organization is still being formed and that conversation is yet to be had. That said, there are a whole bunch of issues right now that such a group could conceivably tackle.

(These are my own personal opinions/priorities/preferences, of course.)

A lot of the issues today stem from Kindle Unlimited. I’m not pro- or anti- KU personally. My books are wide, but I manage marketing for someone else who is all-in with KU (and does very well out of it too). But there’s no doubt that KU has had a dramatic impact on the market and raised issues which need to be addressed.

There is a chronic lack of transparency in the program – leading to issues like authors getting page reads retroactively reduced, with Amazon refusing to furnish any kind of reasonable explanation for same.

The compensation system at the center of KU is a relatively new model in publishing, and it has had many unpleasant side effects such as making the Kindle Store a giant target for various scammers, and Amazon’s response seems to vary between doing nothing and allowing things to spiral out of control, to nuking from space and hitting a lot of innocents.

Amazon’s TOS also needs to be a whole lot clearer on a range of things, so authors have absolute clarity about what is permitted and what isn’t. And there needs to be some kind of proportionality in any sanctions handed out – right now we have the crazy situation where an author who openly admitted to clickfarming his way to #1 gets the same sanction as an author who did nothing wrong but was targeted by a third-party.

The one-size-fits-all punishment of rank-stripping seems too onerous for the latter and too light for the former (IMO, YMMV).

On a personal level, I feel like many of these issues were flagged by the author community when KU first launched, and if we had a voice in the room back then, perhaps many of them could have been avoided too.

There are a lot of organizations out there already doing great work in various fields, but this feels like the right idea at the right time, something that isn’t necessarily in competition with the likes of NINC or RWA or anyone else, but a really focused group exclusively dealing with indie author advocacy.

And if you are interested too you can join Marie Force’s Facebook Group – the Author Support Network – or express your interest at IndieAuthorSupportNetwork.com. Marie Force is looking to gather expressions of interest from 1,000 indie authors before April 30 to see if this idea has legs (and she was halfway there after just 12 hours).

I’m excited to see where this goes.

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One area where the bar has been raised over the last few years is that of branding. The savviest authors know that branding doesn’t just make you look more professional – although that is important too – but also something which acts as a bat-signal to your specific target audience. This book is for YOU.

I said in Strangers to Superfans — releasing in just six days on 25 April! — “If pacing is the secret sauce inside most bestsellers, branding is the equivalent outside of the book.”

As part of my research, I spoke to one author who is expert at it: Kit Rocha. She shared her view that, “branding is an extension of worldbuilding. My covers and my graphics and all of it combine to present an image that enhances what I want to say about my series.”

This is an area where I had to do a lot of catch-up, personally. One thing that helped hugely was discovering Canva, which I wrote about previously in this post: This Free Tool Could Slightly Change Your Life.

Canva is a free online tool which allows anyone, even those with little artistic sense and no design skills, to create professional looking graphics with some practice. And today, I’m going to try to give you some pointers on how to create effective promo graphics in Canva.

Two important things first:

  1. If you are going to be spending money on Facebook ads or BookBub ads I highly recommend commissioning professional ad assets. They will convert much better. Over the long run this will save you money, rather than costing you. I cannot stress this enough. Plus it’s pretty cheap anyway.
  2. However, it’s great to know how to put together something serviceable so you can make whatever ancillary graphics you might need – like an email header or website header or Facebook Page cover photo, or the million other things that tend to crop up around launch time. You might want to make a tweak to something you had designed already, to split test a variation or amend a price. It’s so bloody handy to know this stuff that I think every author should get to grips with the basics, unless you can afford to have a pro designer on call 24/7. (But even then…)

Like anything, the only way to get better with Canva is practice. But that’s hardly a chore as it’s such fun to play around with.

I’m not going to talk about what the core principles makes an ad which converts – that’s a topic all on it’s own, and one I covered with my mailing list last week. (You can take a peek at that post here if you want to see what you are missing, or sign up here so you don’t miss those weekly tips in the future!)

Rather than the principles behind an effective graphic, I’m going to talk today about how to actually build one in Canva. First I’ll mention a kind of cheat, where anyone with the ability to drag and drop stuff can make something really cool. Then I’ll show you how to build something serviceable from scratch if that kind of cheat isn’t an option. And I’ll wrap up with some tips on how to pretty up those basic efforts to improve results.

The Cheat

If you look at the images on the right you will see two ads with a marked contrast in quality.

The top one was one of the first things I built in Canva and it’s awful! Even leaving aside the fact that the amount of text means it won’t work as a Facebook ad, it’s a decidedly amateur composition.

Below it is a more recent ad I used for the launch of Digital 3, one which is worlds better. What happened in the intervening 12 months? Did I secretly take a course in graphic design?

No, I just asked a professional to make me Facebook graphics — and he bundled them with the cover for a nominal cost, as many designers do.

But that’s not the cheat. I knew that I would also want to make my own ad graphics and other promo assets so I asked him to give me the various elements too separately: background art, transparent PNGs, and 3D book images. Which means that by uploading those into Canva I can easily drag-and-drop and create my own pro-looking ad graphics — ones which actually convert! I can test minute iterations to my heart’s content, without bothering my designer.

I’m also to build other promo graphics to fill whatever sudden needs might might crop up, like the header on this site which took less than five minutes to pull together. This amazes me still! It’s a total cheat, because I genuinely have no artistic sense at all — I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

I’ll get into this cheat in more detail below. First, the basics.

Designing From Scratch

What if you can’t hire a pro? What if all you have is the book cover and you need to make a quick BookBub ad image? Let’s go through it step-by-step, and hopefully the process will help you skip some of the early, ugly steps I made in Canva. You’ll still need to practice though!

To prove how easy this is, I’ve just plucked the first novel I saw in the charts, and I’m going to pretend it’s on a free promo today — but this is purely for illustrative purposes and no such deal exists, Baldacci fans. (I also hope the designer doesn’t mind me inexpertly butchering their nice cover in the name of design education…).

As I explained to my mailing list last Friday, I disagree with what seems to be a growing consensus to avoid using the book cover in ads. I always do, and my testing clearly shows that approach is more effective. In fact, I go further than that and often try to use the cover art as background, as well as having the cover itself in the foreground — a trick I pinched from Ernie Dempsey.

I’m absolutely convinced that having the ad match the landing page (your product page on Amazon in this case) helps with conversion. I think a mismatch causes readers to hesitate, and once they do that there is a chance of losing them — especially these days with over 200 other titles advertised on our pages and innumerable other ways for readers to click away.

Obviously, I don’t have the original cover art for this book, and only a very low-res cover to play with, so this is going to be a little rough, but you’ll get the idea.

I’m going to make a very simple BookBub ad using Canva, at this exact moment, as I write this post, to show that you can do it too.

The approach is pretty basic: I’ll zoom in on a section of the cover art, use that as background, and then drop a copy of the cover in the foreground. Then I’ll add a simple and eye-catching call-to-action in the form of a button, which endless testing proves is very effective on BookBub.

Here’s the step-by-step in Canva:

  1. Choose the size (for BookBub Ads that’s 300 x 250).
  2. Click “Uploads” in the left-hand navbar and upload your cover.
  3. Drag it onto your canvas and zoom right the way in until none of that lettering is visible. (The image will blur a little unless you are using a hi-res cover, or, ideally, the original cover art before the designer added letting.)
  4. Drag another copy of the cover across and place it to one side leaving room for a button or some other form of call-to-action or price offer.
  5. Click “Elements” in the left-hand navbar. Then select “Shapes” and pick the very first one you see, that big white square. The white square will now be covering your ad image. Click on it and drag the edges inwards until you have a rectangular button and move it beside your cover. Change the color to something eye-catching like red or yellow… if that fits with your palette.
  6. Click “Text” in the left-hand navbar and fiddle with fonts and sizes (top menu) until you have something you are happy with which fits nicely on your button.

That’s it! The whole process took me less than 2 minutes. Seriously. I even had time to make a simple gif of the process.

I recommend you spend a little longer to make it pretty, of course, and with the proper file for the cover it will look much sharper and more professional. I’m just showing you something quick and rudimentary to convince you how easy it is to manipulate any book cover into a serviceable ad graphic in Canva.

Prettying Up

It’s much better if you have hi res files, of course, as well as a 3D version of your book cover — which your designer can mock-up for you very quickly (again, ask them to bundle these assets with your cover design, but it’s also extremely cheap to get done separately).

For the latest version of Digital, I asked my designer to provide me with the cover art without lettering, and a 3D version of the cover, and I was able to mock up these very effective BookBub graphics in about twenty minutes using the same steps above, just with a little more fiddling.

Social Media Branding

You can also get your designer to provide you with any ancillary promo graphics you might want, like email headers or Twitter cards or Facebook graphics, but once you have the basic building blocks like background art or icons or 3D covers, you can also build all these yourself – a very handy skill to have as you can’t always predict your needs, or what changes you might require.

Or when you might suddenly got roped into one of these:

Or when I realized that I needed a good graphic for my clickable reader magnet offer inside Digital at the very last-minute, just as I was about to upload and the clock was ticking! As a said, a handy skill to have…

Dealing With Tricky Backgrounds

Sometimes, however, your cover art just isn’t that suitable to use as background, and you’ll have to source something else, like stock art perhaps.

In the case below, that red cover was just bleeding into the red background, and getting lost, and the eye was being drawn to all the wrong places. To provide a little contrast, I used the map I had commissioned for that book instead.

Don’t get too frustrated with your first efforts – but also don’t settle for something mediocre. Ad venues like BookBub can be unforgiving and the images have to be top quality.

And test everything with small-budget ads first! Even the smallest tweak can sometimes turn a losing ad into a winner — something I learned from Phoenix Sullivan.

I talk about all this stuff in much greater detail with my mailing list each Friday. If you want to learn more about BookBub Ads, and get all sorts of free marketing tips (as well as a complimentary copy of Amazon Decoded) make sure to sign up to my weekly newsletter.

It will get a little salesy next week of course, with the launch of Superfans, but most weeks it’s just practical stuff like this:

ICYMI, I send out a newsletter packed with tips for self-publishers every Friday, and you get a free book as a sign up bonus too. Stuff you have missed recently: https://t.co/utJufx2E3Y pic.twitter.com/DOEpHWxxO2

— David Gaughran (@DavidGaughran) February 18, 2018

See you on the other side!

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Christina Garner needs our help. She has been fighting a court case over the last year and is running an appeal for donations so that she can continue the fight.

If you haven’t been following this case, it is against a notorious author/box set promoter/marketer/”mastermind” teacher who goes by the name of Rebecca Hamilton – and also runs other author businesses like OTOH Books (formerly GenreCrave).

The name of Rebecca Hamilton may be familiar to you – and if it’s not, ask around. Because of the various suits and countersuits also involve claims of defamation, I can’t go into detail on what happened, but you can read Christina Garner’s eye-opening account on her GoFundMe page.

The most recent legal developments are as follows: as you can read on Christina’s page, Rebecca Hamilton lost her Motion to Quash this lawsuit. Rebecca Hamilton then filed a crazy countersuit against Christina Garner for half a million dollars. She then also tried to sue multiple other authors who had done nothing more than donate to Christina’s case and pledge support.

Obviously the judge saw through all this bullshit and threw out those countersuits against those other authors, viewing them as completely without merit. No surprise there, but these legal tactics have delayed the main case going to trial against Rebecca Hamilton, and Christina still faces that ridiculous countersuit – which is why she needs our help again.

I’d like nothing more than to detail my full distaste for Rebecca Hamilton’s business practices, and what she has done to several authors I know, but the defamation angles in these cases make it impossible. Suffice to say that I trust Christina Garner implicitly, her account of events is wholly believeable to me, and I wouldn’t recommend Rebecca Hamilton’s services to my worst enemy.

And if my word isn’t enough, then consider this little fact so you know who you are dealing with: Rebecca Hamilton had her Amazon KDP account terminated for repeated breaches of the exclusivity agreement (meaning she was enrolled in KDP Select and publishing that same content elsewhere).

Considering what Amazon does let fly these days, that’s quite remarkable. I can also confirm that I personally witnessed breaches of exclusivity too. With my own eyes, as it was happening, in case there is any doubt whatsoever.

Rebecca Hamilton has quite the reputation in the author community – read Christina’s account for more, or this thread on Kboards. Usually if you ask two writers something you’ll get at least three opinions. I’ve never seen the self-publishing community come together in such agreement on anything before, so that should tell you something too.

If you can spare a few dollars to support this court case, you would be supporting not just Christina, but anyone who thinks ethics and fairness is important, and that the worst people shouldn’t get to do whatever they wish.

Christina Garner has had to go back to her day job to fund this case, working 60-80 weeks to pay her legal bills. The author community has been great in stepping up and supporting her but she needs our help again. I’ve been really happy to donate previously and I’ve just done so again. Please consider doing the same – it’s so important.

Unfortunately, because this is a case involving defamation I have to take the unusual step of closing comments – I trust you understand. I’m not a lawyer and don’t have the legal expertise to moderate discussion on this matter. I would, however, appreciate you sharing either this post or Christina’s GoFundMe Page as widely as possible, and encouraging your fellow authors to support the fight.

Sometimes a line in the sand has to be drawn and we have to stand up for what is right. This is most definitely one of those times.

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You can now order your copy of Strangers to Superfans: A Marketing Guide to the Readers’ Journey. I know many of you have been waiting for this one so I’ll just give you the links:

AMAZON | AMAZON UK | NOOK | APPLE | KOBO | GOOGLE

I’m excited to be gearing up for this release, as I’ve been working on the concepts behind it for a year. Here’s the blurb:

* * *

From the author of Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible comes the book that will change how you think about marketing forever.

Strangers to Superfans puts you in the shoes of your Ideal Reader, allowing you to view your marketing from her perspective. You will:

  • Learn the 5 stages in The Readers’ Journey.
  • Identify failure points quickly to manage backlist efficiently.
  • Optimize each stage to increase conversions.
  • Boost sales by making the overall process frictionless.
  • Build a legion of passionate, engaged readers who do the selling for you.

The Readers’ Journey is the new marketing paradigm you need to transform strangers into superfans. It releases on March 26. Order your copy now:

AMAZON | AMAZON UK | NOOK | APPLE | KOBO | GOOGLE

* * *

There are lots of new people checking out my books – hello! – so here’s where the other two fit into the overall picture:

Let’s Get Digital is the third edition of my bestselling self-publishing guide. It was only released last month and is probably the most comprehensive book on the topic. Certainly the most up to date.

It also has some quite excellent reviews – thank you, guys – and you can read about what has changed in this blog post (short version: almost everything).

Amazon Decoded cracks the code of the world’s biggest retailer. If you want to learn what “visibility marketing” is and how factoring Amazon’s bookselling philosophy into your promotions can boost sales, this is your book.

Be warned though: this one is strictly an exclusive for my mailing list peeps and can’t be purchased anywhere.

That’s it! Three book launches in 2018 and it’s only February. Time for a nap…

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Let’s Get Digital 3 has been out for a week and has sold around 3,500 copies. How did that happen? Let’s take a look…

The Book

I released Digital 2 in September 2014 and it was maybe 60% new content, but the changes were largely superficial in the sense that it was an updating of the text rather than any kind of re-imagining. I decided early on that Digital 3 would be more revolution than evolution. As I detailed in this interview with Forbes earlier this week, a lot has changed in the last few years.

The whole text was rewritten from scratch – bar the odd sentence fragment here or there I couldn’t bear to part with – the only section that was spared a radical overhaul was the success stories at the back.

The structure changed noticeably too. The ten steps to self-publishing success are now at the very front of the book, and the deeper ruminations on the business landscape and so on are further back in the text. This wasn’t just a case of moving things around, it also signaled a shift in emphases from the why to the how. The chapters on finding editors and cover designers are much meatier now, delving into ancillary matters like writing to market and how to brief a cover designer effectively.

Lots of topics were severely truncated or just ditched – it’s simply less relevant today what’s going on with agents or in short story markets. Writers need less convincing to self-publish and more tools to do it effectively, and all of those deletions freed up a huge amount of space to devote a lot more time to marketing, things like Kindle Unlimited, or how to find your first readers.

And to communicate all that in two seconds to a casual browser, I had a plan…

The Look

I had the same little production team since I started in 2011… until they were all simultaneously unavailable. I’ll admit to some fretting. But pushing yourself out of a comfort zone can be very rewarding too!

The timing wasn’t as bad as it first seemed. I needed a complete rebrand for Digital 3 for two important reasons. First, to transmit the new, fresh approach to readers. Second, because I did the audiobook of Digital 2 via ACX, that edition would have to remain on Amazon for another few years. Together with stray paperback editions that tend to float around, there was a real possibility of reader confusion. I would particularly hate for a reader to shell out for an expensive audiobook thinking it was the latest edition.

There was a more fundamental reason for a complete overhaul though – the logic behind the original design no longer applied. In 2011, we were on the cusp of a revolution. Self-publishing was very much the upstart. It was romantic. It had a whiff of cordite too. The design very much reflected that, embodying the idea of samizdat, like a well-worn pamphlet handed around between underground revolutionaries.

But the landscape is very different in 2018. Self-publishing hasn’t just arrived, it has taken over. I wanted the cover to reflect that status, that confidence, that brashness, if you like. And I had an idea of the palette I wanted to show a clean break with the past editions, most definitely inspired by this alternative poster for Drive by a designer called Signalnoise (pictured right).

(Side note: alternative posters for Drive seems to be a whole amazing sub-genre.)

I needed a new designer for this project and Alex from 187Designz did a wonderful job. He listened to the ideas I was floating and took them to the next level, transforming the half-baked concept into something really beautiful. I remember gasping when he sent the final.

The Cook

I wanted a different approach for the launch too. After the problems that bedeviled the release of Digital 2, I decided early on that this would be a fresh book on a new ASIN, and that decision naturally led to a few others: I would do a pre-order, and launch at 99¢. Was that leaving money on the table? No doubt, but it also allowed any of the old purchasers to “upgrade” their edition for the minimum possible cost, and perhaps those sales would translate into a rank which brought me enough new readers to compensate.

The first two editions had sold around 30,000 copies. I’d given away another 65,000 ebooks. There is no way to accurately estimate how many free PDFs I gave out back in 2011 in a kind of experimental “try before you guy” scheme, but it was a lot. I think it’s safe to say there were 100,000 people who had either the first or the second edition in one form or another. I wanted to incentivize as many of them as possible to pick up the new edition, and 99¢ is pretty frictionless. That part seems to have worked, at least.

But was a pre-order the optimal move? That’s a question we can’t quite answer yet, despite the stellar result. First, the logic.

Digital 2 had accumulated a large number of excellent reviews and I was loath to lose them. I asked Amazon to copy them across to the new edition, but also had a Plan B up my sleeve just in case.

I gave out 250 ARCs of Digital 3 via BookFunnel. And I had the paperback edition go live as soon as the pre-order went up, so that ARC people could potentially post reviews on the pre-order (the only way that is possible absent being a big dog with an Amazon rep who switches that on for you). In the end, none of that was strictly necessary as Amazon copied the reviews across, but it probably helped create some buzz, and it was reassuring to know I had a fallback option.

It’s impossible to know what exactly was driving the most sales as I had stuff going on every single day during the 10-day pre-order period: podcasts, guests posts, email sends, newsletter swaps, Facebook campaigns, webinars, BookBub CPM ads, culminating in some reader site ads once the book actually dropped. I even gave three workshops at a conference somewhere there in the middle.

Organizing all that was about as crazy-making as you imagine, worse actually. Because my editor came up with a last-minute plan to both boost my new mailing list and reinvigorate my old one. A book-shaped plan. Argh.

You might remember a competition I ran back in October for a spot on Mailing List Expert – one of Tammi Labrecque’s new courses. I liked the sound of the course so much that I bought a spot for myself and gave away another to one of my readers. Anyway, I took the course in December and it was even better than I had hoped. I’ll write a proper review at some point, but suffice to say that I’ve completely changed my whole approach to email (and my open/click rates have soared and my list has more than doubled in a month).

Well, when I missed my editor in December, and my original editor couldn’t take the job, Tammi stepped into the breach as she is also an editor. I had been planning to unpublish Let’s Get Visible and perhaps use it as a reader magnet. I was worried about how out of date it was though.

Tammi pointed out that if I really wanted to re-energize my old list, and boost new sign-ups, I’d have to write a brand new reader magnet, and Amazon Decoded was born.

I don’t know how exactly – I still get caffeine jitters when I think about it – but somehow Amazon Decoded written, edited, covered, and published in three days. Okay, okay, it’s only 60 pages. But still. And then I posted it to my blog and got 2,000 sign-ups. THANKS TAMMI, I guess.

(Huge thanks also to Michelle for the late-night editing rescue mission, and Alex for rushing the cover and still doing a fabulous job.)

Soooooo, why is it still an open question whether a pre-order was the smart move? The answer lies in the mysterious and tricksy Popularity List, which some bearded war criminal spoke about at length in this Facebook Live video.

I had a solid and consistent rank all through the pre-order and launch period. I was aiming for a roughly even amount of juice each day, and if rank started to head north of 1,000, I just dropped a little BookBub CPM action to nudge it back towards 500. I did notice though that rank was falling faster than I’d like when I had nothing directly pushing the book, and when I checked the Popularity list, I could see it was way off where it should be.

Ed Robertson reminded me of what he had discovered in 2014: that new releases are suppressed on the Pop List for a brief period. This effect seemed a little stronger though, and after checking pre-orders from high-profile authors with huge fanbases like Bella Andre, I could see that they too were way off where they should be on the Pop List (important because it feeds into all sorts of reader recommendations).

Reassuringly, Ed told me that he expected them to snap back into position shortly after release, and so it proved. About a week after the release, Digital 3 jumped up to its “rightful” position.

Hopefully, that will now trigger some form of algo-love, as that sticky position of #1000 at 99¢ has turned into a more slippery #5000 at $4.99. Would it have been better to do no pre-order and sell 2,000 copies instead of 3,500, and keep the push going until the Pop List placement and associated recommendations kicked in? That’s an open question. Something to mull over, for sure, while watching how things go over the next week or so.

Pretty good result though, whichever way it shakes out. And I really am so grateful for all the sharing by you guys. We lit up Facebook and Twitter. #sorrynotsorry

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Let’s Get Digital 3 is out. Hooray! Pre-orderers will have already received their copies, but  for those who prefer to wait until a book is live (I’m totally like this) you can still get it at the promotional price of 99¢. Don’t delay, as the price will rise tomorrow to $4.99. Them links:

AMAZON | AMAZON UK | NOOK | APPLE | KOBO | GOOGLE | PAPERBACK

I really hope you get a lot out of it, your support during the pre-order period was phenomenal – 2,500 writers have bought the new edition already. I hope I can repay that support with valuable information you can use to build your readership.

I’m sending out valuable tips every Friday to my newsletter – part of my new approach to email which has added a huge number of subscribers over the last week. If you want to see the kind of tricks you’re missing out on, check this example. And if that wasn’t enough, you also get a free copy of Amazon Decoded. Sign up here to get yours.

If you were on the internet over the last week, you may have heard me making a little noise. I had a guest post on the Kobo Writing Life blog about briefing cover designers, and another at the Writers’ Workshop about optimizing keywords and categories.

I even did a Facebook Live webinar with Reedsy on the topic of Amazon’s Secret Popularity Contest which I recommend you check out, even if my lighting set-up + beard combo makes me look like what a friend described as, “a war criminal on trial at The Hague.” Bwahahaha.

That’s it! Now I need to lie down for like four months…

Hasta la próxima, amigos!

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Let’s Get Digital 3 was announced this week and it is going very well indeed, with 1,000 copies pre-ordered already. The amount of sharing and recommending and tweeting has been spectacular – I’m very grateful to you all.

In fact, I have a gift for you.

Amazon Decoded: A Marketing Guide to the Kindle Store is now available. And it’s FREE. All you need to do is sign up to my mailing list to get a copy. That’s it. And you can unsubscribe right after if you wish, I don’t mind at all! Really.

If you need more convincing, here’s the blurb:

The author of Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible is back to reveal the inner machinations of the biggest bookstore in the world. By reading Amazon Decoded: A Marketing Guide To The Kindle Store, you will:

  • learn what “visibility marketing” is and how factoring Amazon’s bookselling philosophy into your promotions can boost your sales;
  • discover what goes into Sales Rank and dispel some remarkably common myths in the process;
  • understand the critical differences between the Best Seller list and the Popularity list, and why that is important for marketing strategy.

And you will get practical, actionable advice, turning all this new knowledge into marketing plans you can implement right away.

Amazon Decoded is exclusively available as a free bonus to my mailing list subscribers. Which means you can’t get it anywhere else. 

>>>SIGN UP HERE<<<

If you’re thinking “this sounds like an updated version of Let’s Get Visible” you’re right.

It’s essentially Let’s Get Visible Redux—a tight, 50-page book which covers how all the various parts of the Kindle Store work in 2018, and, crucially, how that must affect your marketing plans, with advice based on if you are wide vs. in Kindle Unlimited.

The TOC is on the right, if you want to take a gander. Just click to enlarge.

I’ll be discussing a key aspect of Amazon Decoded in a FREE live webinar organized by Reedsy next week.

The webinar is titled Winning Amazon’s Secret Popularity Contest and it will delve into the Popularity list and related algorithms, and then explain how all that affects promo plans.

It kicks off at 3pm EST/8pm GMT on Wednesday January 24. Register here to guarantee your spot.

And if you’re curious why I moved away from such a successful and well-known brand like Let’s Get Visible I’m happy to discuss that in the comments, along with any other aspect of Amazon Decoded or Let’s Get Digital 3 and the associated launch-circus.

Finally, don’t forget to pre-order Let’s Get Digital 3 if you haven’t done so already! The book will drop onto your ereader next Thursday, so you don’t have long to wait, and the price will jump up to $4.99 shortly after that…

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