The recent Smashwords promotion was good. Personally, I picked up at least a dozen free eBooks ranging from nutrition to mystery. I’ve also “sold” a dozen or so copies of my own eBooks, thanks to the free promotion. For those authors that aren’t quite selling at top levels, take a good look at these tips.
The following is advice from Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords.com, a leading Indie eBook distributor. Mr. Coker, himself a successful author, provides these tips for writers with less than expected sales numbers. While his suggestions are no guarantee of success, one must consider the significance of the source! Further, if your book isn’t moving, does it hurt to try something else?
Makeover Tip #1 – Look at your reviews at Smashwords, Apple, B&N and Amazon. Ignore the reviews from friends and family, they don’t count. Average them up. How many stars are you getting out of five? Readers are a picky bunch and some will naturally complain or give bad reviews. Don’t be put off by this. Anything published for public view is subject to opinions from all, good or bad. The aggregate rating is what to look for.
Makeover Tip #2 – Redo your Cover Image. If your book’s reviews are averaging over four stars, yet the book isn’t selling, your cover is probably the problem. This was the case last year for Smashwords author R.L. Mathewson. She was earning fabulous “WOW” reviews from readers, yet she was only selling a few copies a day (even still, a few copies a day is way above average for most authors). Read the interview with R.L. here.
When she upgraded her cover images, her books immediately took off and hit the N.Y. Times bestseller list. Great reviews plus a great cover can make all the difference. A great cover image makes a promise to the reader. A poor cover image chases potential readers away. Does your cover make a promise?
Here’s a quick test, and a challenge: If you were to strip away the title and author name, does the image tell the reader, “this is the book you’re looking for to experience [the feeling of first love for romance; fear for horror; edge of your seat suspense for thrillers; knowledge for a non-fiction how-to; an inspiring story of personal journey for a memoir, etc].”
Makeover Tip #3 – Is your book priced too high? When a book is priced too high, it makes the book less affordable to the reader. If you’re an unknown author, it makes the reader less willing to take a chance on you. For readers who could afford it, the high price can makes the book less desirable when there are alternative books of equal quality at less cost. Last year, when we conducted a comprehensive study of the impact of price on unit downloads and gross sales, we found that lower prices moved more unit sales than higher prices (no surprise there). We found $1.99 and below underperformed in terms of gross sales (unit sales * price). We found books priced at $2.99 earned slightly more than books priced over $10.00, yet enjoyed six times as many unit sales.
Makeover tip #4 – Look at your sampling to sales conversion ratio. The Smashwords store has a little-known feature I think is entirely unique in the ebook retailing world: We tell you how many partial samples were downloaded. If you click to your Dashboard, you’ll see a column for book sales and a column for downloads. The download count is a crude metric, but if you understand how it works, you’ll be able to use it as a relatively good tool. This data is only for sales and downloads in the Smashwords store.
Makeover Tip 5 – Are you targeting the right audience? As a writer, you’re never going to satisfy every reader. That’s okay. Don’t try. Readers who love horror novels may not love romance. Know your target audience, and then make sure your title, book cover, book description, categorization and marketing are all aligned to target that audience with fine-tuned precision. If you send the wrong messages, you’ll fail to attract the right readers. Instead, you’ll attract the wrong reader, and the wrong reader will give you poor reviews. Again, I’ll use my own novel as an example (since I’m not afraid to illustrate my mistakes!). Early in our novel, a dead body is discovered, so there’s a bit of a mystery about who did it. It’s a minor plot point, and the book isn’t categorized as mystery. However, at one time in 2011, our book description played up the mystery surrounding the murder. For at least one reader, after she read the description she downloaded the book thinking it was a murder mystery. It’s not. It’s a book about the dark side of Hollywood celebrity.
Tip 5 – Pride goes before the fall. It’s tough being a writer. You pour your heart and soul into your words, and then lay your words bare before the world to judge. It takes bravery and confidence to publish. Speaking from personal experience, it’s heartbreaking to receive your first one-star review. We all get them.
To press forward as a writer, we have to decide what we can learn from, and what we can ignore. Find your strength from your five-star reviews (we have those too!), and carefully find your inspiration about where you might improve from the negative reviews. I try to learn something from every review, even if I don’t agree with it. Some writers, after receiving such scathing criticism, might feel inclined to curl up in a fetal position, unpublish their books, and give up. Never give up!
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