Monday, August 29, 2011

How buying books helps you sell books

What does this guy know about selling books, you’re probably thinking. The one book he is advertising isn’t even out yet. You’re definitely within your rights to be skeptical of me. I’m still sitting on the sidelines. Hell, I barely update my blog. Too busy working on that book that I’ve promised but not yet delivered. Also developing some other ideas I hope to lay on you sometime between THE CONGREGATION’s release and the start of 2012. But what I lack in experience as a proven bookseller, I more than make up for in my expertise as a buyer. That’s right. I’ll stake my buying reputation against J.A. Konrath, John Locke, and any other successful author making a name for themselves peddling ebooks. I buy ebooks like they’re going out of style—they’re not—and I’ve taken it upon myself to study these habits I exhibit in hopes of becoming a more successful writer. I encourage you to do the same as you build a marketing plan.

1. Use Twitter.

Jon F. Merz, God bless him, opened my eyes to the successful use of Twitter. If you haven’t read his ebook on the matter, you really should. He’ll have your follower count in the thousands in a matter of days. If you’re like me, you’re probably following the successful ebook authors online: Konrath, Locke, Scott Nicholson, Amanda Hocking, etc. Once you read Jon’s book, you’ll know why that matters when it comes to finding potential followers for your ebook. After you’ve built up a following, you’ll start to notice that many of your new friends are writers, too. Don’t worry. Writers and readers are often synonymous with one another. Even though they’re selling a product, they’re still open to buying yours and establishing relationships that are mutually beneficial. Accept these friendships and be glad you have them. But once you’re set up, make sure that you take the next step seriously, which is:

2. Get off Twitter as soon as humanly possible.

Twitter is great for establishing the connections that will make your career worthwhile, but it’s not the endgame for your newfound relationships. While you will want to spend time on the social networking site each day, you want to focus on taking your relationships from Twitter to the actual website of the follower. Build relationships by leaving comments on blogs. Start email relationships with these people that are genuine. Find a common thread that unites you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and talk about your work, but value their blogs and join in on the conversation. If you’re going to establish true marketing connections and friendships, you can’t stand at the door (Twitter); you’ve got to go in for a visit and a cup of coffee (blog/personal website). You’ll find that your new friends are open for doing the same, and for seeing what you have to sell. But that isn’t going to be enough to convince them to buy. For that, you’ve got to talk about your books and make them sound as interesting as possible. And that brings us to the hook.

3. Keep your hooks brief and compelling.

A hook is basically the back jacket copy of the paperback. It’s the spiel that a Hollywood pitchman uses to try and sell producers on his movie idea. It isn’t a 500-word description of the plot and sub-plots of your novel. I read so many “synopses” on iBooks and Kindle that aren’t synopses at all. They’re friggin’ chapters. And as a buyer, my eyes instantly cross together and I quickly lose interest before moving on to the next indie author, who understands the concept of enticement. So before you put yourself out there, go back to your website and your entries at the Kindle and iBooks and Smashwords stores, and make sure the book sounds something like this:


What if you looked exactly like a famous movie star, and one day decided, that along with their beautiful face, you wanted the life that came with it?

And not like this:


Sarah Roberts has a unique problem. Routine blackouts occur to her on a random basis. What’s different about her temporary unconsciousness is she wakes to various notes written by her own hand.

These notes are prophecies. Dark Visions. Future events with dire circumstances. Circumstances that she can avert, for Sarah is what they call an Automatic Writer.

The novel begins with Sarah perched under a bridge with no idea why she’s there, except what the note said;

Sit under the Elizabeth St. Bridge at 10:18am. Bring hammer.

There’s a car accident on the bridge, plunging a vehicle into the river below. If Sarah wasn’t there at the right time, with the hammer to force her way into the car, people would’ve died.

The novel’s intensity increases as more blackouts occur, causing her to note them down. Her next task is to avert a kidnapping. She’s done it before. Couldn’t be that hard. But on this one, the kidnappers recognize her and nab her instead of their intended victim.

People are killed. Witnesses place Sarah at the scene. The police find her notebook riddled with prophecies of accidents and crimes.

They want answers. They want to know how she has such information.

All this happens while the eighteen year old star in this first novel of a trilogy suffers from trichotillomania, which means she’s a puller.

Most of her hair is missing.

The story has numerous twists and turns and finally ends with a massive climax and a lead in to The Warning, which is Part Two of this trilogy.

Overall a great read, combining the likes of John Saul, and Dean Koontz.

Crouch distills his story to the main idea and presents the premise in the form of a question—always a good tactic, though unnecessary so long as the hook is a compelling one. This time, it wasn’t. I didn’t buy Crouch’s story, but his product description was succinct enough that I decided to explore more of his catalog and did end up purchasing SERIAL UNCUT. So I would say FAMOUS works as a good description.

On the other hand, I’m sure Mr. Saul is a fine writer, but I’ve never read a word he’s written. Why? Look at the length of that description. Too many ebooks are on the market today, and I’m going to need to know right away whether one is worth my time or not. If you can’t capture my interest in two to three sentences, then I doubt you will in as many paragraphs. Besides, he tells you the entire story in the description. Why should I even read it?

4. Be very clear about the genre you are working in.

Too many of my followers on Twitter simply say they are a writer. Not compelling enough to grab my attention. When I go shopping for indie fiction, I want to find someone, who I’m compatible with (mostly horror, suspense, and thriller authors). If you just say “writer” or “author” or “I tell stories,” then you’re not giving me the info that I need to take a chance on you. As of this writing, I’ve got about 1,200 followers. Not gonna dig through all of those to find someone, whose writing I may like. Tell me the kind of writing that you do, and don’t give me that, “Well, it really can’t be confined to one genre” crap. Maybe it can’t, but that’s for me to decide as a reader. Just tell me the genre it most fits in to. If you can’t, then I’m going to think that you have trouble determining theme and focus, and that your writing will likely be one confusing mess not worth my time and attention.

5. Go shopping.

How does spending money help you become a more successful writer? Think about it. By getting to know your own buying habits better, you are developing a closer understanding of what it means to be a buyer. You know what they are looking for, and you know how best to reach them. That’s why it’s important that you don’t just add books to a wish list, but you actually make the purchase. When it’s real money that you’re parting with, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt what it takes for sales conversion, because you’ve just responded to a successful marketing tactic. After you’ve bought the book, determine what it was, in particular, that compelled you to buy. Was it the description? The price? Or a combination of both? If you’re going to charge $3.99, $4.99, or even $9.99 for your ebook, then you’d better make damn sure there is a good reason for it. That means a professional looking cover, a succinct hook, and a reasonable price. If you’re selling a “book” of 11 pages for $2.99 and Michael Prescott is selling three novels for 99 cents, who do you think is going to win that little battle? I’ll pay $2.99 for your novel. Hell, I’ll even pay $4.99 if the hook intrigues me. But I’m not going one penny over $1.99 for a novella, nor one cent over 99 for a short. End of story.

Here’s the thing. I am desperate to give you my money. Dying to. I’m an eReader fan, who loves discovering new authors and getting a great deal on a book. I’m just waiting on you to give me a reason to purchase. Are you willing to do that for me?

What are you willing to pay for a short story, novella, and novel? What most intrigues you—cover, price, description, or a combination of the three? Share your thoughts below.


  1. It's great giving money for a book that you love. It's even better finding new authors to follow, people you want to read and look forward to seeing the work they are producing.

  2. You know, Michael, that's what I think a lot of people in legacy publishing fail to understand about the current indie writer movement. They're too busy mimicking the music and movie models of treating their customers like criminals. Piracy is out there for books. It's not going away. One day I'm sure I'll be pirated, and I'm probably not going to sell anything in the ballpark of a Stephen King when The Congregation launches in October, so it could hurt me more, but I don't think so. It won't because I believe people still like to pay for things they find valuable. It's the author's job to create that sense of value in his book.

    It's my opinion that a book/movie/song gets pirated because marketing has failed to build its value in the eyes of potential consumers. And a pirated product is not lost revenue. Many people I know who have pirated have ended up paying for what they liked. Essentially, pirates can be some of the best customers an artist could ask for because, I think, they are sampling the wares for free to determine whom they should give their money to in the future.

    Not true in every case, but true in a lot more than the mainstream cares to admit. Anyhow, that's enough for my soapbox. Thanks for stopping by. Your comments are much appreciated, and best of luck in all your endeavors :)!

  3. Well put.

    To add to your point on pirating (which I do and do so unashamed); there is so much media that in Maine I have little access on radio, tv, the cinema or bookstores, that experiencing something for free, test driving the quality, only makes sense. I won't buy something if I don't know the quality, just like I won't buy a car without driving it first.

    This sounds like an excuse, but really, if I find something I like, I seek more by the same people and gladly pay for the rest of their stuff. It seems fair to me to have some idea of what I'm purchasing and then, if I'm hooked, I'm hooked for life.

    Isn't that what we want, to hook someone for life, no matter how we are first discovered, even pirated?

    Anyway, looking forward to your your book launch and good luck.

  4. I'm the same way. If I "pirate" you and like you, you've got a customer for life.

    Now a word on pirating ebooks: I don't do it.

    But the reason I hold back isn't out of some sense of duty to my industry. It's because most books come with a free sample, and you can tell after about two pages - sometimes one - whether you're reading what I like to call an "invisible writer," who can suck you in to the story and make you forget about spelling and grammar, or whether you're dealing with the literary equivalent of Ed Wood. Many writers simply let go of their work too early, and you don't have to pirate them, because they serve as their own gatekeepers.