Thursday, February 20, 2014

Do We Major in Minors?

I was at a business seminar several years ago. There was a time management consultant speaking to the group. And he put forth the 80/20 rule. He said that in most businesses 80 percent of the time is spent producing 20 percent of the income. Meanwhile 20 percent of the work produced 80 percent of the.

There's been a lot of research about the 80/20 rule over the years and have found that it is true in many different types of organizations and activities. I would say that a similar situation exists among writers. However, I would go so far to say it's more like a 90/10 rule.

Let me ask you a silly question: generally speaking, where do people go when they want to buy a book for their Kindle? Do they check out social media sites? Do they go to a blog? Do they check twitter? Do they look through a bunch of bookmarks, brochures, and refrigerator magnets?

This is not a trick question. When people want to buy a book for their Kindle, they go to the website. So, why do authors spend hundreds of hours of month writing blogs, updating author pages on Facebook, Tweeting and pinning? Well, we had been told that that's what we need to do. Of course, none of those things are bad. They can produce some sales. However, they are not going to produce the bulk of your sales. Most of the books you sell will be sold by people who were looking for a similar type of book in the Kindle (or Nook or iBooks) website.

Yet, how much time do we actually spend per month trying to attract our share of the 75 million people who visit every 30 days? I would say that most writers spend very little time there.

This is a major mistake. If only one-tenth of one percent of the people visiting Amazon are looking  for a book in your category, that's 75,000 people. And not just any people. These are people who have their credit cards handy in an attitude to buy a book. Even if it is one-tenth of that number. That's still 7500. Few of us have social media networks with 7500 people interested in buy a book at the time they see our posts.

Unfortunately, in recent months I've allowed myself to get seduced into spending more of my marketing time away from Amazon than within the Kindle ecosystem.

This week, I went back to several of my books that I rushed through the process with and took more time identifying the most popular keywords, rewriting the descriptions embedding those key words at strategic points, adding book details and book extras, checking the categorization of the books and the keywords I listed when I originally uploaded the book. I reworked the whole sales page for each book. Within 24 hours I saw a jump in sales for those books.

I'm not going to kid you. It takes time. You have to write for the human being reading the blurbs, but also for the machine indexing them. Most people write their book description like they would a jacket cover. Certainly, it serves that function IF the person finds the book. However, when located way down in the search engine listings, they are not going to find your book in order to read your great description. The first job of that description is to help the search engine find the book. The second is to get people to read the sample and eventually buy the book. 

You also have to spend some time determining what are the best keywords/key phrases to use. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about how to determine this, but try typing in a possible keyword into the Amazon search box in the Kindle category and see what drops down. Those are all potential key phrases. Which ones are near the top that best describe your book? Repeat this process, but add the letter a after the category. For instance, fantasy a. See what drops down. Repeat for each letter of the alphabet.

Switch over the Author Center on Amazon and add the book details like editorial reviews, comments from the author and an author bio tailored to this book all integrating some of your keywords.

Then click on the link to add book extras from Shelfari. You can enter a TOC, quotes, cast of characters, one line premises and other items which can be accessed from your Amazon Sales Page.

This takes time. However, not any more time than writing a blog entry or posting several times to your author page each day. And, it's the sort of thing you only do once in a while. And, unlike those other activities you're not speaking to prospects. You're speaking to customers.

Of Fishing and the Self-Publishers Education

There is an old saying most of us know that goes, "Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." The idea is that what you are given (or even buy) only lasts for a day. But if you learn to produce that thing yourself, you have a lifetime supply.

So, what does this have to do with indie publishing? Simply this, indie writers can not simply be writers. They must learn many other skills as well. We need to learn editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, search engine optimization and others.

Many indie writers will object saying that they do not need to learn those skills. They will simply hire others to do those jobs for them. This is where our proverb comes into play. If you buy a service, you will get that service for one book. If you learn that process, you have it for all books. Some people spend up to $2000 or more per book. Yet, when I suggest that they simply learn how to do something
Picure by Photoloni
very simple like do their own ebook formatting or design their own book covers, they object that they don't know how to do that. Imagine if instead of spending $2000 dollars on outsourcing, you spent the same amount of money on editing courses, graphic design, books about the basics of marketing and search engine optimization, maybe went to a social media marketing convention. How much would you learn to do that would save you money not just on this book, but on every book you wrote.

However, even if you decide that you would prefer to outsource everything except writing, you still need to know the basics of all phases of publishing. You are no longer a writer only. You are also a publisher. Sure you can outsource a cover design, but do you know what a good cover needs in order to be visible in an online store or stand out as a thumbnail? Do you know how much time it likely took the artist to create that cover and whether the charge was appropriate to the work involved?

The same goes for editing. If you hired a content or developmental editor, did they preserve your voice and your vision or substitute their own? Were the changes they made consistent with your concepts of the character and plot? Did they understand the world of your story? If you outsourced proofreading, you will still need to read through your manuscript to evaluate how well the proofreader did his/her job.

If you learn something about formatting your own manuscript for ebook or print publishing, you may decide that it is so simple (especially ebook publishing ) that you don't need to outsource it. Or if you do, you will know how to not be overcharged and what to look for in the final product.

Whether you do it your self or your outsource the work, you will still need to learn a bit about every aspect of publishing. You may not become an overnight expert in all aspects, but if you do nothing more than learn enough to intelligently choose your service providers and to evaluate their work, the time spent "learning to fish" will last a lifetime.