Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Part 4 – The Sample

See Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series.

If you’ve got the browser to your page, drew them in with your description, and managed to hang on to them through your reviews, the next thing they’re going to do is check out your sample.

  • If you’re lucky, this step is a formality.  They’ve already decided to buy and just want to make sure that your writing isn’t complete dribble before making that final commitment.
  • Most of the time, this step is crucial; it’s where the go/no go decision is actually made.


  • Typos are an almost unavoidable part of writing.  Even traditionally published books usually contain a couple.  Do your best to get rid of them, but one here or there probably isn’t a deal killer.  In the sample, however, a single tiny mistake can make a potential buyer click away.  You must go over the first chapters of your book more thoroughly than any other portion.
  • The start of your book must draw in the reader.  Pages of exposition aren’t going to cut it.  You need to introduce a character and a significant situation immediately.
  • Try to end your sample with a hook.  There are a lot of readers who simply must have a mystery answered.  Use that trait to your advantage.

Do you have any suggestions about making the sample draw in the reader?

Tune in next Wednesday for Part 5 to learn about the price of failure.

Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Part 3 – Reviews

In Part 1 of this series, I examined how book buyers find your page.  In Part 2, I wrote about the first thing they look at on your page.

At this point, the potential customer has found your book and, after reading the description, is intrigued.  You’re home free, right?  Wrong.

Next comes the dreaded reading of the reviews.  Some browsers will read a bunch of comments; other only a few.  You can be sure, though, that they’ll all look at the top rated one for the “Most Helpful Customer Reviews” and that they’re all looking for the following:

  • Assurance that someone out there has actually bought and read your book.
  • Assurance that the book isn’t total crap.
  • Highly individual criteria.

We can’t control that a potential buyer might read something innocuous in a review that makes him click away.  There’s no accounting for taste, and you have to write the book you want.  The fact is that you’re not going to convert every browser into a buyer.   There are, however, some things that you can do:

  • Make sure you have reviews for the potential buyer to read
  • Make sure that these reviews say positive things
  • Make sure that the top Most Helpful Customer Review is awesome

I can hear you shouting at the computer: “I will not write fake reviews!  I have no control over the reviews!  I can’t even get reviews!”  Calm down.  First of all, I can’t really hear you, so screaming doesn’t really accomplish anything other than making your coworkers look at you funny.  Second, give me a chance to explain:

  • You can get reviews.  It takes a lot of time and work, but it can be done.  Pick a goal of how many reviews you want.  Send 10 emails a day to Amazon reviewers, book bloggers, people on forums, and anyone who has ever “liked” your blog until you get commitments for the number you want plus at least 25% (some of those “commitments” will fall through).  With luck, one out of every ten emails might result in a “yes.”
  • You do have some control over the reviews.  If you want them to say your book is good, WRITE A GOOD BOOK!  Most reviewers, especially ones you’ve contacted personally, don’t want to say bad things about your work.  If you give them half a chance, they’ll mostly concentrate on the positive.  Make sure there are positive things for them to say.  If you’re getting only bad reviews, consider the possibility that your book wasn’t ready for publication.
  • I agree that it’s unethical to post fake reviews.  I do not plan to use that method, and I do not advocate you doing it either.  On the other hand, I don’t mind gaming the system a little.  If you get enough reviews, you’ll hopefully find one that you really like.  It will be detailed, say fantastic things about the book and about your writing ability, and mention some minor negatives.  Once you get that review, tell all your friends, family, and fans to click “Yes” to the question, “Was this review helpful to you?”  That will move the review to the top of the list, and enough votes will keep it there.

Final thoughts on reviews:

  • You’re going to get some bad reviews.  Don’t sweat them too much.  Not everyone has the same tastes as you, and that’s okay.
  • The best reviews tell potential buyers both what the reviewer liked and disliked about the book.
  • A five-star review that says, “This book is AWSUM!!!” and a one-star review that says, “I hated the title so I didn’t read it.” or “This bok sux!” aren’t going to impact your sales or reputation much.

Tune in next Wednesday for Part 4 – Your Sample Is Crucial.

Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Pt 2 – Reading Your Description

Last Thursday, I examined Step 1 of the Book Buyers’ Process – Finding Your Book.  Now that you’ve got them at your book page, you’re done.  Right?

Wrong.  Your job has only just begun.  You’ve got three opportunities for these potential customers to walk out the virtual door never to return.

Step 2 of the Book Buyers’ Process – Reading the Description

The first thing the book buyer is going to do on your book page is look at the description.  If they like it, they’ll continue on in their research process.  If not, it’s on to the next author.


  • If they’ve made it this far in the process, they’re rooting for you to convert them into a customer.  They’d much rather find a book now than to have to continue on.
  • This stage is only Step 2 of 5.  You cannot get them to click buy from your description alone.
  • You can get them to click “back,” however, if you make a mistake.
  • Your potential buyer doesn’t want to spend a lot of time on this stage.  They want to quickly find out what your book is about.

Advice on Crafting Your Description:

  • Don’t screw up!  Any typos or errors = automatic fail.
  • Remember that the thing that interests a reader in your writing is the same thing that’s going to draw them in with the description – a character.  As research for this post, I spent more than an hour reading book descriptions.  By far, the ones that interested me the most focused on a character and how that character reacted to the plot.
  • The shorter you make this section, the better.  Give the potential customer just enough information to whet their appetite and have some idea of what the book is about.
  • In contrast to the point just above, you want to use all the space that Amazon gives you.  I suggest starting with your actual description and use the rest of the space to help the buyer justify their purchase.  List any awards that the book has won.  Failing that, endorsements from other authors are a good idea.  Work in SEO words if you can (but do not just list phrases!).

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about how to better craft descriptions to draw in the buyer?

Tune in later this week for Part 3 of this series about the next stage in the book buyers’ process – Reviews.

Analyzing Behavior of Book Buyers Part 1 – Finding Your Book

My research indicates that the vast majority of self published authors sell few books.  Some, however, do become successful, and I think that the major difference between the two groups is that the ones who do well treat it as a business.

I’m no marketing guru, but I think the first step in selling your product is to understand your customer.  An author needs to know how people find his book and how those people choose their purchases.  I haven’t conducted surveys on the subject, but, in this two part series, I’ll share what my experience, logic, and research tells me.

How Buyers Find Books:

  1. Recommendations – Readers tend to associate with other readers, and a personal recommendation is, by far, the best way for someone to be introduced to your book.  It may not be the most common method of finding a book, but the conversion rate from browser to buyer is off the chart.
  2. Lists – You’d be surprised at the places readers may encounter lists like “Best Fantasy Books of All Time” or “Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of.”  As a reader, I’m always on the lookout for a good book, and I’ll browse through the posts and make a note of any that sound interesting.  I purchased and read the Codex Alera series based on such an entry on
  3. Blogs – I think that blogs are really coming into their own as places to discover new reading material.  Beyond someone getting to know you and personally picking out a book that meets your interest, the best thing is to find someone whose tastes match your own and go by their recommendations.  Book blogs allow you to do just that.
  4. Browsing – Readers actively seek out new books.  Just this past weekend, I went to Vroman’s in Pasadena and browsed the shelves.  Online, this behavior equates to going through category listings.
  5. Searches – We live in the Google age.  Entering a query for whatever piece of information we’re seeking into a search box has become a no-brainer, though I think that Search Engine Optimization is much more important for those selling nonfiction than fiction.

What This Behavior Means to Those Trying to Sell Books:

  1. By far, the best way to attract someone to your book is through word of mouth.  Your first step in the process is to develop a product that is buzz-worthy.
  2. Note that advertisements weren’t mentioned above.  I can’t remember the last time I bought a book based on seeing an ad.
  3. The more people who know about your book, the more opportunity you have for them to tell others about it.  This is the reason that giveaways are so important.
  4. The best way to get word about your book out there is for the people who read it to tell others.  The best way to get your readers to spread the word is simply to ask them to do it.

Does the behavior outlined above jive with how you find books?  Any takeaways that I missed that you’d like to share?  Please let me know in the comments.

Tune in Monday for Part 2 of this series: How Browsers Become Buyers.

Links about Marketing Books

Today, I have some links from around the web that give some insight on marketing books.

  • This one discusses gaming Amazon’s system.  Be sure to follow the links for Best Practices and Maximizing Sales.  Good stuff.
  • This one discusses SEO optimization.
  • Okay, this guy makes his advice sound a little sketchy with the way he presents it, but there are some kernels of good ideas buried if you’re willing to dig.
  • This one discusses whether fiction authors should try to understand SEO techniques in a traditional sense to try to drive traffic to their platforms.
  • A story from a guy who found a lot of success.

Let me know if any of them help you.

Choosing Amazon Categories for my Fiction Novel

I’ve read a few places that properly choosing your book’s two categories on Amazon can be a key factor in its success.  The theory is that you want to make a big push when you release your book in order to get it in the top ten of its categories.  Just by virtue of the book appearing there, you’re going to get additional sales that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Your category needs to meet the following criteria:

  1. It needs to fit your book.
  2. The tenth book in the category needs to be ranked low enough in overall sales that it’s possible for your book to supplant it.
  3. The tenth book in the category needs to be ranked high enough in overall sales that supplanting it is worth the effort.

This is the methodology I used to determine my categories:

On the top left side of the Amazon home page, I chose Books -> Books.  This brought up “Browse Books” and, under it, “Book Categories.”

Power of the Mages is first and foremost a fantasy novel, so I investigated “Science Fiction & Fantasy” -> “Fantasy.”  This brought up the following categories:

  • Alternate History
  • Anthologies
  • Arthurian
  • Contemporary
  • Epic
  • Historical
  • History & Criticism
  • Magic & Wizards

Out of those, “Epic” and “Magic & Wizards” had the most relevance, so, for each of them, I looked at the sales rank of the tenth book.  To do so, I clicked on the category and on the tenth book.  Then I scrolled down to the “Product Details.”  “Amazon Best Sellers Rank” is the last item listed.

For “Epic,” the tenth book is 354 overall versus 1927 for “Magic & Wizards.”

Make a Killing on Kindle contains a chart that shows you daily sales versus sales rank.  I believe the chart to be out of date, but it at least gives me an idea.  1927 means that the book is selling in the neighborhood of 120 books a day.  354 means a whopping 350.

I don’t think I have a big shot at even 120, but I know there’s no chance of 350.

The great thing about fiction, however, is that a book can have many themes.  Power of the Mages has a strong romantic subplot and features young protagonists.  I also explored:

Romance – Fantasy and Futuristic (#10 is 2988 overall)

Teens – SciFi and Fantasy – Fantasy (#10 is 237 overall)

Teens – Love and Romance (#10 is 1400 overall)

Literature and Fiction – Genre Fiction – Coming of Age (#10 is 2515)

From these results, I’d say my two best chances are:

  • Romance – Fantasy and Futuristic ~ 60/day
  • Literature and Fiction – Genre Fiction – Coming of Age ~ 70/day

Of course, my book fits much better in Magic & Wizards Fantasy than Coming of Age, and the difference between the sales numbers in those two isn’t huge. 

Note that I will not be choosing the two categories that best seem to fit the book (Epic Fantasy and Teen Fantasy) as those are way out of my potential sales range.

 I’m not counting on these choices to propel my work onto best sellers list, but, for me, marketing is all about giving my books the best opportunity to succeed.







My Preliminary Marketing Plan for My To-Be Self Published Fiction Book

I’m an engineer, not a marketing guy.  That being said, I understand that, as a future self-published author, I am responsible for my success and that marketing is a huge part of the equation to becoming a professional writer.  I’m treating my first release as an experiment. 

The following is my preliminary marketing plan.  I welcome critiques and comments.

Things to do continuously:

Write – The most important thing I can do to become successful is to continue to roll out new products.  Each release will sell backlist and give me a new revenue stream.

Produce quality product – I think some high profile successes prove that a quality product isn’t necessarily crucial for success.  I do think that an emotionally engaging story is a necessity, but good technique is no surefire path to stardom.  That being said, I can’t stomach the thought of putting complete dreck out there.  I will also hire professional editing services and a graphic artist.

Things to do far in advance of my release date:

Develop my platform – I’m targeting a June 1, 2013 release date.  Sometime near the end of February, I plan to covert my blog ( into a better platform that just links to the blog.  I do not intend to do much else.  I’m just not sure that Twitter is worth the effort.  I’m still on the fence about Facebook.  On one hand, I don’t think it will be that successful in generating new sales.  On the other, I think there’s an expectation that a professional writer has a Facebook page.  I can see someone who buys my book looking to Facebook as a way to follow future releases.

Research categoriesPower of the Mages belongs in epic fantasy.  Epic fantasy is dominated by the big names in fantasy.  Does it make sense, then, for me to put my book in that category if I have no chance of getting a decently high ranking?  I haven’t researched this yet, but my understanding is that fantasy has few subcategories and that all those are somewhat clogged by heavy weights.  Does there exist non-fantasy categories where my book might fit?  I think it’s worth at least investigating.

SEO – I will research phrases readers might use to search for my book.  I’ll then incorporate those phrases into my Amazon book page in the hopes of making my book appear high on the list when that phrase is typed into the Amazon search box.

Publish my novelette – My plan is to make Abuse of Power available for free on my website and encourage anyone downloading it to sign up for my newsletter.  I want to explore the effectiveness of Craigslist ads by using postings in 10 test markets.  If I can’t get people to download a free book, I’ll know it’s not worth the time advertising my real book there.  I also plan to contact book bloggers to try to get them to post a link to it.  If nothing else, it will be a start in building my master blog list for future marketing.

Things to do in the month before release:

Contact 250 bloggers and Amazon reviewers – It’s tough to get reviews nowadays.  Your only shot is a) quantity and b) a professional yet personal approach.

Get 20 commitments from select friends and fellow authors for reviews – I’m going to use the personal connections I’ve made to try to get 20 people to post reviews on my Amazon book page on May 31, 2013.  The hope is that at least half will follow through.

Things to do near the release date:

Send personal emails or Facebook messages to all my friends – Let’s face it, most of the initial surge that a book a first time author releases is due to friends and family buying it.  A Facebook post simply is not guaranteed to reach all of them.  Personal emails will.  In the email, I’ll list all the ways they can help me: buy the book, tell friends, like the Amazon book page, like good reviews of the book on Amazon, and post a review (with guidelines) on Amazon.

Ad Blitz – The more books you sell, the more books Amazon helps you sell.  I want to take advantage of the initial surge from friends and family by using paid advertisements on Adwords and Goodreads, in targeted ezines, etc.

Announce the release on internet forums – There are several forums where I contribute regularly.  It shouldn’t hurt to do a quick announcement on them.

Press releases – I’m not sure of the effectiveness.  It can’t hurt, though, and shouldn’t take a lot of time.

Things to do after release:

Keep contacting book bloggers – A few emails sent a day isn’t going to eat too much into my productivity, and volume is the only way to ensure a lot of exposure.

Experiment with paid advertisements – Once my sales level out, I’ll post an ad with a site and measure the response.  It will be good information for the future.