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Episode 3:  16 Bestseller Secrets

Learn 16 secrets of the bestselling ebook authors. This episode explores the most important best practices for successful ebook publishing. Learn how to make your book more discoverable and more desirable to more readers. Mark examines pricing strategy, cover design, metadata (what it is, and how it makes your book more discoverable), piracy, selling to libraries, top retailers, distribution, social media.  He provides a brief introduction to preorders, which leads into Episode 4 which is dedicated to preorder strategy.

Supplemental links for items and topics mentioned in this episode:

The Power Law Graph - View below, embedded in the edited transcript.

Smashwords blog interview with Jonathan Maberry, talking about how authors should conduct themselves online.

The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success - Mark Coker's free ebook on best practices.  Learn over 30 best practices of the bestselling ebook authors:
Smashwords | iBooks | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Smashwords Book Marketing Guide - Mark Coker's free ebook offering over 40 free book marketing ideas. 
Smashwords | iBooks | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Download the 2017 Smashwords Survey - 2017 Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More Books

 

Edited Transcript

Welcome to the Smart Author Podcast where you'll learn to publish the ebooks with greater pride, professionalism and success. I’m your host, Mark Coker. Let's get started.

In this episode, I’ll share 16 best practices of the bestselling indie authors. As I mentioned in the series opener, best practices are the secret sauce that separate poor sellers from bestsellers.  Even if you're already a successful indie author, the tips I'm about to share will help you take your success to the next level.

Let's start with some good news. There's never been a better time to self-publish an e-book. At this very moment, millions of readers around the world are looking to discover their next great ebook.

As you learned in the last episode, you now have access to the tools, the distribution and the knowledge you need to reach this market in a matter of hours or days.

But now the bad news, everything gets tougher from here. Although the ebook market has grown dramatically over the last 10 years, we talked about how 10 years ago ebooks accounted for less than 1% of the overall publishing market and today it's around 25%. So despite this dramatic growth, after 2012, the market went flat. There are multiple factors contributing to the slowdown. Let's review four of them.

Number one; early adopters have adopted. Most of the readers who wanted to transition from print reading to screen reading have already done so. This means we've reached an equilibrium of sorts in the market between the print reading format and the e-book format.

Number two; they equilibrium means that the growth of the e-book market going forward will track the growth of the overall book market and I'm using the word growth liberally here. Adjusted for inflation, the book market has been mostly flat for the last 20 years.

Number three; books face competition from multiple media forms and this competition is increasing. So what are these media forms? I'm talking about social media, television, games, thousands of YouTube channels. Anything that takes the attention away from books.

And then finally number four; there's a glut of high quality ebooks on the market today. And let's look at this a little bit closer because it's really interesting. Back in the old days of print publishing when publishers were entirely dependent upon physical sales in physical bookstores, retailers could only give the new releases a short window of time before they had to pack up those books and ship them back to their publisher for a full refund.

This is because the shelf space was limited and it was expensive. They had to make room for the next new releases from the publishers. So this forced a lot of great books out of print before these books had a chance to reach the readership. It also caused the publishers to artificially constrain the number of new books that they released each year which also restricted them from taking chances on more authors. They could only publish so many books and so many authors in a given year due to this lack of shelf space. But with the advent of ebooks and the shift to online retailing, everything changed. Now every ebook from the large publishers can forever occupy that virtual shelf.

This means that there are more books competing for the same readers every day. Further contributing to this glut is the rise of ebook self-publishing. Now that every writer and their cat can self-publish an ebook, it's bringing even more supply of books to a market that's already oversupplied. Some critics say self-publishing has lead to a tsunami of dreck that clogs retailers’ shelves. They use a word other than dreck but I won't use that word. These critics argue that self-published books make it difficult to find the good books. My answer to this is, "hogwash!" Yes, indie authors are publishing a lot of books and yes some of these books are of lesser quality, but the real issue is that indie authors are contributing to a tsunami of awesome.

Ebook self-publishing has enabled indie authors to unleash upon the market an amazing diversity of high quality low cost ebooks. So today, all authors and all publishers face a common challenge, the supply of high quality ebooks is growing faster than the supply of readers. Like cobwebs of stainless steel, these ebooks are immortal, they will never go out of print, they will forever occupy the virtual shelves of retailers. Immortal ebooks are a mixed blessing, it means that as an indie author, your book will be forever discoverable and forever purchasable. That's great, but it also means every day from this day forward, there will be more books fighting for the attention of readers.

So how does an author survive and thrive in this new slow growth oversupplied hyper competitive environment? That's the question we'll answer in this episode.

In the last episode, episode two, you learned how ebook publishing platforms like Smashwords make publishing and distribution fast, free and easy.  But reaching readers is difficult. Most books don't sell well, the secret to reaching readers, the secret to rising above the crowd is of course best practices.

And here's more encouraging news for you. Although the indie author community has become more and more professional and more and more sophisticated each year, the vast majority of indie authors still fail to take full advantage of best practices. And the same could be said for traditional publishers as well.

In this episode, I'm going to teach you many best practices that large publishers can't take advantage of.  You’ll learn best practices that most Indie authors aren't taking advantage of. Herein lies your opportunity. Authors who implement best practices will be the ones who gain incremental advantage in the marketplace. Always take every incremental advantage you can get.

It's important to recognize there are no short cuts in this business. There's no single silver bullet that will catapult your book to bestsellerdom. Your opportunity is to implement multiple best practices and then iterate these best practices over time.  Each best practice works synergistically with the other best practices to make your books even more discoverable and more desirable to readers.

Best practices are how you become a bestseller.

What it means to be a bestseller:  Let's spend some time talking about what it means to be a bestseller. We all want to become a bestseller but what exactly does that mean? At a high level, a bestseller is a book that sells better than the other books.  But the label’s a broad one. It's possible to be a national bestseller ranked against all other books on the market like if you're a New York Times bestseller or a USA Today bestseller. It's also possible to be a national bestseller in certain categories like young adult fiction or hardcover nonfiction. In addition to the well-known national bestseller lists, each retailer maintains their own bestseller lists, such as the store-wide bestsellers or genre or category bestsellers.

Underlying bestseller rank is something called sales rank. For example, the number one bestseller in a retailer sold more books than the number two bestseller and number two sold more than number three and three more than number four. For retailer bestseller lists as well as for national bestseller lists, titles are ranked based on sales over some period of time. For a bestseller list like the New York Times or USA Today, they're looking at aggregated sales across multiple retailers for a short period of time such as one week but when you visit a retailer and you look at their bestseller lists, those sales are based on shorter term sales results.  They're usually based on unit sales.  Unit sales over the last few hours and last few days are counted more heavily than unit sales from a week ago or a month ago or a year ago.

The exact formula for sales rank at each retailer is a closely guarded secret. As a general rule, the more recent the sale, the more heavily it's weighted. We've all seen retailer bestseller lists but you've probably wondered, "what are the numbers behind some of those lists?"  Like how many more books did number one sell in relation to number two or how many more did it sell in relation to number 100?

Retailers keep those numbers as closely guarded secrets as well but since I work at Smashwords and Smashwords is a distributor to many of these retailers, there have been times in the past where we've been lucky enough to have multiple books hitting different spots on a retailer's top 10 bestsellers list, and from those numbers we can see what the actual numbers look like.

The relative sales levels of bestsellers are best explained with a graph. The graph is called The Power Law Graph. It's also called the Power Curve. Since we're on a podcast, all describe the shape of the graph with words but you can also head over to the show notes at Smashwords.com/podcast and I'll post a picture of the Power Law Graph. The Power Law Graph offers an extremely important conceptual framework that helps explain the relative performance of bestsellers. And once you understand this graph and the shape of the graph, it also explains how you can leverage best practices to climb the power curve to achieve even greater sales.



So let's describe what the curve looks like. It looks a lot like a steep Alpine mountain top. A mountain that slopes off into a long valley. On the far left of the curve, imagine the top of that steep mountain and at the top, is the number one bestseller. So the higher the altitude, the higher the sales. Next to it on the right is the number two bestseller and so the altitude is lower and then number three is even lower than that and number four is lower than that. So it drops off quite steeply at the very beginning there. There’s this large variance between the number of titles that the number one bestseller sells and number 10.

Let's look at that a little bit more closely. It's possible that the number one bestseller at a retailer might have sold 10,000 copies in the last 24 hours and maybe number two sold 8,000 copies, number three 5,000 and number 10 may be only 1,000 and these numbers vary every single day depending on the retailer and how other titles in the store are selling.  But the point is, sales drop off really quickly as you fall down that hill.

Now let's look at another aspect of the curve.

Another way to look at this chart is to recognize what happens when a book moves up in sales rank. If your book is number 10 and it moves up to number nine, that one incremental step in the sales rank represents a significant increase in sales.  Or imagine you are the number 500 bestseller and you're able to rise up to number 100.

How is it that the Power Law Curve explains the relative sales performance of different books? Possibly this is because the Power Law Curve tends to work as a universal truth for most consumer goods. Consumer behavior tends to flock around what's popular and then what's popular tends to become more popular.

Readers use bestseller lists for book discovery. Appearance on a bestseller list serves as an endorsement of sorts. To a reader, a bestseller list represents a ranked list of what their fellow readers are reading. As a book rises in sales rank, it appears higher and higher in the bestseller list which therefore makes the book more visible and more desirable to other readers. The top sellers are more visible because readers tend to read lists from number one downward and because the higher the sales rank, the greater the implied endorsement from your fellow readers.

Another reason is that retailers tend to focus their promotion on the bestseller. Nothing gives a retailer greater confidence to promote a title than to see that their customers are already responding well to that title through their purchases.

I mentioned earlier that there are multiple bestseller lists. Your novel could be the number 10 bestselling ebook on a store-wide basis or it could be the number 10 bestselling book for your genre or category. So although your chance of hitting the top 10 in the store-wide bestseller list is a challenge, your chances of hitting a high rank in your genre list is much more achievable. Let's tie this back into the Power Law Curve one more time.

Each best practice that you implement will make your book more discoverable and more desirable to readers, which will lead to more sales. Which will lead you to have a higher sales rank.  That higher sales rank then increases the visibility and desirability of your book so that it can lead to even more sales. Of course as your book achieves that increased visibility, it must please the readers if it wants to continue up that steep walk.  Poor reviews and poor word of mouth act like gravity to drag you back down the hill. Typically when you see books that are climbing up that power curve organically, it means those new readers are driving strong reader word of mouth and leaving strong reviews.

16 Best Practices:  Now that you've got a solid understanding of how the Power Law Curve can work for you, let's turn our attention to the 16 best practices that can help you make your book more visible, more desirable and more enjoyable to readers.

Some of the best practices I'm about to share will already be familiar to you. Either because we touched on them already in the podcast or because you're a smart author and some of these are common sense. Even if some of these are already familiar, I’ll help you view these best practices in a new light.

I'll refer to each of the best practices as a secret. Several of the best practices I'm about to share are covered in greater detail in my free ebook which is titled, The Secrets To Ebook Publishing Success.  I published this ebook a few years ago.  It identifies about 30 best practices of the bestselling indie authors.  Today in this episode we're going to cover 16 of them. Though we''ll cover a lot of updated information that isn't even in the book yet. So here we go.

Secret one; Write a super awesome book.

We talked about this in the last episode but this secret deserves repeating. As you think about all of the best practices, this is the most important one. Good isn't good enough anymore.  Your book needs to take the reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme. You need to touch the reader's soul. It doesn't matter if you're writing a thriller, a mystery, a romance or a nonfiction book on real estate investing, your book needs to make the reader go WOW!!

If your book’s already on the market, and you're earning three, three and a half, four stars, it means that your book's not good enough yet. It means there's an opportunity for you to take your book up to the next level. You want five star reviews.

Take a look at any bestseller on the market today, look at the reviews and you will see five star reviews and you'll see the readers using words like, “Wow, I couldn't put it down. I stayed up all night reading it. That's the kind of book you want to write. You need to be fanatical about quality. Most bestsellers I know are obsessive about quality. They're obsessive about every single word choice, every sentence, every paragraph, everything.

Most of us write good books but how do we get to super awesome? It's not easy. You need to study the craft, read books about writing. Attend writers' conferences and hear other successful authors share their tips on craft.

Join a local writer's group or join a local critique group so you can get your writing exposed to more readers and receive feedback and ideas. You need to write, write, write and then write some more. The more you write, the better the writer you'll become.  Once you've written what you've written, you need to revise, revise, revise. Your first draft will need multiple revisions before you can show it to anyone and before you can publish. With each revision you'll be amazed at how much better your book becomes.

You should take advantage of beta readers and then revise again. I'll dedicate an entire episode, episode five to beta readers. That will be a fun one. And as I advised in the last episode, you should hire a professional editor if you can afford it. A great editor is also a great mentor. They'll help you improve your craft.

Secret two; longer books sell better. Back in 2008 when I started Smashwords, I was certain that shorter ebooks would sell better than longer ebooks. I assumed that people reading ebooks screens would all be assaulted by a cacophony of digital distractions around them and that it would be difficult for them to read longer books because of all of this distraction. I was completely wrong. In the years since we found conclusive evidence that ebook customers prefer longer books. Most of our bestsellers at Smashwords are consistently over 100,000 words. By the norms of conventional publishing, I'm giving you some unconventional advice here.

If you tried to sell a 150,000 word romance novel to a publisher, that publisher would probably tell you that you're off your rocker. They’ll tell you your book is too long and it should be cut.  But that outdated notion isn't based on what readers want, it's based on what was economically feasible for print publishers. Longer books require more paper and more ink, more glue, more weight, and more expense.  These expensive heavy books had to be boxed, shipped and stocked. But digital books don't have these same physical logistical limitations. eBooks are just composed of digital bits and bytes. These digital bits and bytes are cheap and lightweight and easy to move around. And the fact that readers prefer longer books is really interesting.  We wouldn't have known this if it weren't for the rise of ebooks which gave readers the opportunity to vote with their dollars and eyeballs.

It's one of the many examples of how ebooks have helped expose reader desires in a way that print never could.

I have a few theories on why longer books sell better and so I'll share them with you. Number one is trust building. When a new reader reads you for the first time, your challenge is to earn their trust, to earn their admiration. This starts with the very first sentence and then is reinforced (or squandered) with every sentence and every chapter that follows. As they spend more time with your writing, they become more comfortable and familiar with your style. You draw them deeper and deeper into your story. They have more time to appreciate your writing, to learn to appreciate your talent, and bask in the glow of your intricately woven words.

If the reader’s first exposure to your writing is in the form of a short 15,000-word novella, there's not as much opportunity for trust building. They'll feel less gravitational pull to come back to you again. Yet if they spend 100,000 words with you, it's a different experience. They're more invested in you, there's more pull.

I think the number two reason longer books sell better is value for the money. Longer books deliver more hours of reading pleasure per Dollar, Pound or Peso. Consumers are hardwired to gravitate toward value.

And then number three, if we love something, we want more of it. We don't want the pleasure to end. Most people feel this way about a great book, a great meal or even a great kiss. We're hard wired to seek things that bring us pleasure. If longer books please readers more, then it makes perfect sense that longer books should sell better and better sales then kick off that virtuous fly wheel where more sales equals higher sales rank equals greater visibility, which equals more sales. And then if we tie this back into the Power Law Graph, it helps us understand how every incremental rise in sales rank leads to even more sales.

And from this, we can draw a couple conclusions that can help you make smarter publishing decisions.

Let's say your book is 120,000 words and someone tells you that 120,000 words is too long and that readers in your genre prefer books that are 80,000 words so you should cut the book. With this knowledge you know that you can ignore those voices. If your book deserves 120,000 words, give it 120,000 words, your readers will appreciate it.

Or you might have someone in the industry tell you to split your 120,000 word novel into two books of 60,000 each so you've got two books to sell instead of one. Is that really the best thing that you can do? Possibly not, because readers may not get the same level of joy from that 60,000 word book as they would from a 120,000 word book and if you tie that back into the Power Law Graph, you can see that you want to take every incremental advantage you can get to move higher in sales rank.  If a 60,000 word book is going to disadvantage you and put you further out on the curve, into the flatter part of the curve over on the far right, then it may not be possible for you to make up the sales even if you've got two books.

No matter what you do though, write to the length your book requires. Don't cut words or add bloat simply because you're trying to hit a certain length. If your story requires 200,000 words and no less, then publish it at 200,000 words. If your story requires only 20,000 words and not a word more, then publish it 20,000.

Secret three; write for the right reasons. I'm often asked by writers which genres they should write for, which genres are the hottest, the most lucrative, where are the sales the best? Implied in this question, is that the author's primary desire is to follow the money. Here's my advice. If the only reason you're writing is to make money, you're probably going to fail and quit. Most authors don't sell well, especially in their early days. Most authors don't sell as many books as they feel like they should. All of us authors feel like we should sell millions copies because our writing is so wonderful, but only a few authors reach that pinnacle of success.

Even most of the bestsellers that we admire today toiled away in obscurity for years before they finally broke out. So if you want a sure fire way to make money, you're probably better off getting a job at McDonalds.

Write what you have passion for. This is where you'll do your best writing, this is how you write five star books instead of three and four star books. A writer who writes for their passion will nourish their soul with every word they write. A writer who writes their passion will have the perseverance to persist for the long haul, long after the quick buck writers have given up.

If your passion is writing, let's say Victorian era paranormal fantasy featuring time travelling Eskimos, then write that. Don't allow yourself to be influenced by what some agent or publisher tells you is hot right now. Don't chase what's hot because what's hot today will be cold tomorrow.  Write what you love.

Secret four; let's talk about the elements of great cover design. In the last episode, I talked about how you should hire a professional cover designer. So for this secret, secret four, let's dig deeper. Your book cover is the first impression on the reader's path to discovery. Your cover needs to look professional, it needs to look as good or better than what the big New York publishers are putting out. You need to arrest the reader with a thumbnail-sized image of your cover. Unlike a large print book, ebook covers appear in the store about the size of a postage stamp, sometimes smaller. So that can influence the design of your cover.

Your cover needs to resonate with your target audience. In order for it to resonate with your target audience, you need to understand who your target audience is with my micro precision. If you write romance, I'll bet your audience is not all romance readers. If you write paranormal romance, you want to target paranormal romance readers. Target your market with micro precision. Who is that reader more than any other reader in the world that will derive more pleasure from your book? Your cover needs to make an honest promise to the target reader.

Words as symbols for meaning, images as symbols for meaning.  So here's an important concept to share. We've all heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It's true. If you think about it, words convey meaning and images convey meaning. An image can be much more information-dense than a word. This means you can tell the reader a lot more about your book with an image than you can with words. The reader is going to see the image before they even see your author name or see the title of your book when they're looking at the cover of your book. And here's another important concept. Our brains process the meaning of images faster than the meaning of words. It's all about eye candy. 13 milliseconds is how long it takes our brain to process the information in an image, 13 milliseconds.  It takes our brains 200 milliseconds to process the symbolism, the meaning behind a word.

In the last episode I mentioned how book marketing is all about helping the reader recognize that your book has the ability to satisfy their aspirations. The reader is visiting a bookstore and they have in mind the type of book that appeals to them or the type of reading experience that they seek right now. They're going to look at a page featuring 20, 30, 40 different book covers. The book cover the jumps off of that page is the book cover that has the image that conveys a promise, a promise that this book is the book you're looking for. This is the book that will satisfy your reading aspirations.

Smart cover design is your opportunity to form the quickest possible path between the reader's desire and your book's ability to satisfy that desire. So ask yourself what are the trigger symbols that describe the aspirations of your target reader or that help your target reader self-identify as the target reader for this book? Let's talk through some examples. So one popular category in fiction is steampunk, which is set in the Victorian era back when the state of the art technology was airships and steam and gears and wheels.

So in the steam punk genre, there are symbols that are synonymous with steampunk such as aviator goggles, airships, Victorian clothing, clocks and gears and steam pipes. So if you write steam punk, you want to make sure that your cover image contains some of these visual elements because that will make that cover jump off the page whereas all the other covers become invisible to the reader.

How about if you write romance? I find incredible inspiration from romance authors. Romance authors are probably the most sophisticated authors when it comes to micro-targeting their target readership through book cover imagery. There are lots of different subcategories of romance. There's contemporary, erotic, romantic suspense, paranormal, different heat levels of romance, and books that combine multiple elements.

All of this can be conveyed on the cover image. So if you're writing a sweet romance, you'll want an image where you've got a couple that's involved maybe in a tender caring loving embrace, and they're probably going to be fully clothed. You want the image to promise something about the relationship, the sweet relationship or maybe the feelings of first love if this is a sweet romance or if your target reader might be a younger reader. If you're writing a sexy interracial romance then there might be a little more skin on the cover. There might be some chest, there might be some curves. There's so much information that you can pack into that cover image that tells the reader about your story.


Examples above:
Second Hearts by G.J. Walker-Smith | The Vengeance of Ender Smith by Tony Masero | Hidden Dragons by Bianca D'Arc | The Alloy Heart by Quinn & Bo Loftis | Redfish on the Fly by Capt. John Kumiski |

One of my favorite covers at Smashwords is a paranormal romance that features an interracial couple and you can see that on the image and there's a dragon on the image that instantly conveys that it's paranormal romance and interracial and it's just packed with information [CORRECTION: in the podcast, in my recollection of a favorite cover I mistakenly combined the characters of two favorite covers into one.  The cover above for Hidden Dragons conveys paranormal with the dragon, and the woman at the center is the object of desire of two men. The interracial romance cover I also love is Locked with Him by Ellen Dominick. Click the link to view it because it's another example of great cover design]. Over at Smashwords.com/podcast, I’ll post some examples of covers so you can get an idea of the different elements that you can put to use.

Let's say you've written a nonfiction book about fishing. How to catch I don't know largemouth bass. So for your target reader, their aspiration is to be able to catch that big beautiful fish. So front and center on that cover should be the big beautiful fish that the reader aspires to catch and maybe it shows a person with a big smile on their face showing this big fish that they caught. That will instantly appeal to the target reader. [The inspriation for this example was Redfish on the Fly, above].

Let's say that you've written a book about how to grow tomatoes. Your target reader aspires to grow tomatoes. So you could have tomatoes on the cover and you could have a gardener showing their big basket full of bountiful big red firm tomatoes because that is eye candy to the target reader who's looking to achieve that aspiration.

Let's consider some other examples of imagery that convey the content of the book. If it's a science fiction book, obviously you might want spaceships, and if there's a lot of action you want to show explosions. If it's a murder mystery, maybe a knife and blood. If it's a horror novel, something scary, if it's a Western, maybe a cowboy hat and a six-shooter and a sun worn face front and center on the cover. Those are some examples.

I do want to share with you a quick case study. One of the neat things about self-published ebooks is that your book is a dynamic living creature. You can evolve it over time if you decide that your ebook cover isn't making an appropriate promise to your target reader, then you can just click over to Smashwords, upload a new cover and then we'll get that cover out to all the new retailers. In a lot of the presentations that I do at writer's conferences when I talk about the subject of best practices, I present a case study of a Smashwords author. Her name R.L Mathewson.

This is several years back, she had a early version of a cover of one of her romance novels. It was just text and she upgraded the image to an image that showed a young couple in sexy embrace.  Within days of her uploading this new cover, her book started shooting up in all the retailer bestseller lists and a couple of weeks later she hit the New York Times list. The lesson learned from this, is that R.L Mathewson is a super awesome writer. She is an excellent romance writer but the prior cover that she used was turning readers off. It wasn't making the appropriate promise that readers wanted to hear who were looking for a romance novel.

And that new cover which made the appropriate promise to the reader, then helped the book start rising up in sales rank and because she's a super awesome author and she usually gets almost all five star reviews, as she rose in visibility and more readers reacted to the book and started talking about the book and reviewing the book, her sales rank and sales just grew organically and eventually she hit the New York Times list. And this was for a book that had already been on the market for about six months. I've seen many examples where just simply a cover change can help breathe new life into your sales.

Secret five. Secret five is publish another great book. The bestselling authors at Smashwords offer deep backlists. Every single new book you publish gives you an opportunity to cross promote your other titles. It gives you more promotional flexibility as well.  Every opportunity that the reader has to read your writing is an opportunity for you to build trust with the reader and build your brand

Secret six; build a platform that you control. A platform is your ability to reach readers and your ability to cultivate fans. A platform gives you control, it gives you leverage. So how do you reach your fans? You want to build a platform that makes it easy for your fans to connect with you however they want to connect. So on social media, you should be on Facebook and Twitter. If you write nonfiction, you might consider LinkedIn. Google Plus is a good platform to be on because Google shows some preference in their search engine for posts on Google Plus. Consider writing a Blog, and creating a website.  You should have a private mailing list. So these are all platform building tools, opportunities for you to cultivate your following, build your following and then communicate with your following.

Of all of these tools, your private mailing list is probably one of the most powerful because the private mailing list you control completely. A big criticism that a lot of authors have with Facebook, even though Facebook is totally wonderful, is that Facebook holds a lot of your audience hostage. Not all of the people who are following you on Facebook get to see all of your posts in their feed. Facebook wants to sell you advertising so you can boost the visibility of your posts to your own followers.

You want to have a presence on multiple social media platforms, make it easy for the fans to connect with you how and where they want to connect. Some fans will only want to connect on Facebook, some only on Twitter, some will want to subscribe to your blog or your mailing list or whatever. Check out the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide for guidance on how to build your social media following.

Secret seven. I’m going to share another big platform building tip. A lot of authors end their books with a period and then nothing else. That's a lost opportunity.

Put yourself in the shoes of readers. They just discovered and read you for the first time, they just finished your book and they're crying happy tears, they love you, you are their new favorite author. This is your chance to hook the reader and guide them. So secret seven, add these three sections to the end of your book. By the way you can add these in any order.

The first section is About the Author.

Provide a short bio. Just a few sentences.  Tell the readers something human about you so that they can appreciate you, not just as a writer but as a person.

The second section to add; Other Books by this Author, though use your name, like Other books by Jane Smith.   Just list all of your other books because they love you now and they want to read everything you've written, so show them what they should read next.

And then the third thing to add is Connect with Author Name - Connect with Jane Smith. This is a powerful platform building secret and a lot of authors don't do this. Put a little section there, Connect with Jane Smith, and then list your social media coordinates, so your Facebook address, your Twitter address, your website address, your blog address, a link to your private mailing list so they can subscribe. If you're on Smashwords, provide a link to your Smashwords author page where they can follow you and favorite you and receive automated alerts of your new releases.

Add direct hyperlinks to each of these social media platforms so that with a single click, your reader can start following you on social media. Go do it. Oh, and before I go on to secret eight, I should say that there are other sections you can add in your end matter as well, such as sample chapters of other books, or reading group guides. So check out the Smashwords Book marketing Guide for more ideas on that.

Secret eight; implement smart pricing strategy to maximize readership and earnings. In the last episode, Episode 2, I discussed how as an indie author you set the price and I shared some of the pricing sweet spots for self-published ebooks. In this episode, we're going to dig deeper into pricing strategy, quite a bit deeper.

Pricing strategy is integral to building readership and growing your earnings.  It's a balancing act. If you price too high, readers won't buy; if you price too low, you're going to leave money on the table. Pricing strategy needs to be informed by your objective. What is your objective? Is your objective to build readership, to build sales or both?

There are some indie authors who've written books, maybe let's say about their spiritual awakening, and they don't care about making money, they just want to share their knowledge, their vision with the world, with as many readers as possible. So for those authors, they can price their book at free and they'll reach the maximum number of readers. But most authors want to earn some money and that's where the pricing strategy comes more into play. Each time you sell a book, you derive two benefits, number one, you earn your royalty and number two you gain a reader.

If you're looking to build a long term career, I would argue that gaining that reader is your highest priority, especially in the short run because a reader is a potential fan and a fan as a potential super fan. A super fan is a reader who loves you immensely and they will propel your career forward for years to come. A super fan will buy everything that you write, a super fan is less price sensitive, because they love you and they trust you. They'll become your biggest evangelist, super fans become your word of mouth marketing team.

Now I already mentioned that the fastest way to grow your readership is to price it free. Each year at Smashwords, I publish the Smashwords Survey.  We look at aggregated sales of Smashwords authors across all the retailers that we distribute to and all the libraries that we distribute to and we analyze the data to identify which price points maximize readership and which price points maximize author earnings. And it's always a great read. The 2017 survey was our sixth annual survey and I would encourage you to go check it out. In fact, later in this Smart Author podcast series, I’ll dedicate an entire episode, Episode 7, to the Smashwords Survey for 2017.

In the 2017 survey, we found that on average a free book will get 33 times more downloads than a book at any other price. So if you want to grow your readership, you can grow it on average 33 times faster with a free ebook. But to earn money which most authors want to do, you've got to choose a price. So then the next question is, at what prices can you maximize readership and earnings?  I’ve got some answers for you here; so let's take a closer look at the data. And as a reminder, I’ll put some of these charts up in the show notes at Smashwords.com/podcast so you can take a look at the charts. And I’ll also put links to the Smashwords Survey so you can download the entire research report.

Which price points get the most downloads? On average, for indie authors and I should say that our data is heavily weighted toward fiction, the sweet spots for maximizing downloads, so maximizing unit sales, sweet spots are 99 cents, 2.99, 3.99 and 4.99. And then as you would expect, as the price increases beyond that, unit sales decline, and that makes sense because as a book becomes more expensive, it becomes less affordable and less desirable to customers.


Source:  Smashwords Survey 2017.  Download at 2017 Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More Books

So the next question is, at what price will you are in the most money? Like for example, should you price your book at 99 cents to get all those extra downloads, can you make more money selling at 99 cents or the better prices. And the answer is really interesting, we found in the 2017 survey that the sweet spots for full length fiction for indie authors were 3.99 and 4.99. And then we had some indie authors that also did really well at 9.99, but those authors are probably more the exception than the rule. Generally, most self-published authors will do best to 2.99, 3.99, 4.99.

It's interesting to look at this data how and see how it's changed compared to prior years.  In prior years, $2.99 and $3.99 were the two sweet spots. In 2017, we saw evidence that a lot of our bestselling authors are increasing their prices and they're able to command these higher prices (without sacrificing too much in unit sales) because they've built up an established readership that trusts them. So this was the first year that for $4.99 came in at number one as the highest earnings price point. Let's talk about some other price points on this chart though; 99 cents did horribly if you want to earn money with 99 cents. It earned about 75% below the average. Another price point that you should avoid, in fact, you should avoid this price point always and forever, is $1.99.  $1.99 is a black hole.

At a $1.99 you'll get fewer unit downloads and you’ll earn a lot less.  I don't know why readers hate the $1.99 price point, but just trust me. If you write full length fiction and your book’s currently at $1.99, I'll bet if you increase the price to $2.99 or $3.99 you will sell more units. If you write nonfiction, you should be pricing closer to $9.99. Nonfiction readers typically expect higher prices.

So let me give you some caveats attached to this data. The data I'm sharing is based on averages, but your book is unique. Your book may not adhere to the averages; so your book might behave differently. Also keep in mind that these books that are earning the most money it's not necessarily because of the price point, the price point might be one factor, but the reason these authors are earning the most money is because they are offering super awesome books; these are the bestselling authors. They've earned their spot, they've earned their readers trust and loyalty and so to some extent these prices that I'm sharing with you also represent what the bestselling authors expect from their books.

These are the prices that bestselling authors are setting for their books. So assuming that your book is super awesome, the data does provide some important clues for you potential signposts to help guide your pricing strategy.

Let's talk a little bit about consumer behavior. It's common sense that as most products increase in price, they become less affordable and less desirable for customers. And we can see that behavior in the charts to some extent. But reader behavior is more complex than just what you might think from price. Reader behavior is more nuanced, it's not always so logical. I've witnessed many examples where indie authors increase the price of their book and unit sales increased. I've just given you an example; if you write full length fiction at $1.99, there's a good chance if you increase the price to $2.99, you’re going to sell a lot more units.

I’ve seen many examples where writers went from $2.99 to $3.99 and increase their unit sales. So that's somewhat counterintuitive that you increase the price and your product becomes more desirable. I've also seen unit sales decline with a price increase. 

In nonfiction, we've seen instances where as they raise the price of the nonfiction, they sold more units.

Pricing bias.  This pricing bias that goes on, let’s talk a little bit about the pricing bias; it's important, because even if you're already a New York Times bestseller, the vast majority of your potential readers don't know who you are yet. They've never heard of you and therefore they don't trust you.

So you're in the same boat as the vast majority of self-published authors.  There are millions of readers who haven't yet discovered you, don't know you, don't trust you.  How can we use our understanding of pricing biases to make our books more accessible and more desirable to them? Just as book covers contain symbolism that conveys a message to readers, price conveys a message to the readers as well. Every reader has their own pricing bias, which means that the message one reader receives from your price will be different than the message that another reader receives from that same price.

Some readers if they don't know you, if they don't trust you, if you're a new author to them, some readers will only try your book if it's free.  By offering them a free book they're not taking any financial risk. Many of those same readers after you've earned their trust, they will happily go out and pay for your other books that carry a price. There are other readers who will only pay $2.99 cents or less for a book that looks compelling but comes from a new untrusted author.  And then once you earn their trust, they'll pay more, but not all of them. And then there are other readers, if they see a book priced at $2.99 or $1.99 or $99 cents or free, they might assume that it's a poor quality book and it's not worth their time.

So there are readers who won't touch a book that's priced that low. There are some readers who will only buy a book if it's $3.99 or more or $5.99 or more. It's counterintuitive, but this is the way readers operate.

How can we take this knowledge of pricing bias and put it to use? The simple answer is if you publish multiple books and you should, try to occupy multiple price points. By occupying multiple price points, you make it easier to accommodate every reader's bias so you can draw as many readers as possible into your books. And then once they try you, once they learn that they love you, then price is no longer as big of a factor to them.

In the next tip, secret nine, I'll talk about how to earn more income using free books. So secret nine, earn more with free. I've been advocating free books for almost 10 years now, and I've had a lot of authors tell me I'm absolutely crazy, how dare I suggest that they give away their valuable, intellectual property for free? Well, free works. Free helps you make more money. Free helps you reach more readers. Let's talk about how you can leverage free to make it work for you so that you can make more money. Some authors worry that free will devalue their work or devalue their author brand. The opposite is actually true. If you use free properly, it can improve your brand value.

So let's talk about that for a second. If most readers have never heard of you, then your brand is worthless to them; your brand is unknown, it's invisible. You are interested and undesired. Most authors live in that constant state of obscurity. You can build your brand by earning reader awareness and trust, but you can't earn reader awareness and trust if they've never read you, if they've never heard of you. Free is not a radical idea. Grocery stores pass out free food samples, but that doesn't devalue food. Let's say you like cheese, and they're passing out samples of some cheese that you've never tried. If you try that cheese and you like it, suddenly you're aware of that cheese. If you like it, you're more likely to buy it. With ebooks, you want to give the reader a sample, but you want to give them a sample in the form of a complete book.

A partial sample of your story is inadequate because they can't appreciate your writing talent unless they've read the complete book. So with a full book, the reader can spend hours getting to know you, hours coming to admire you and with every minute and every word that they read, that admiration and trust will just grow stronger and stronger as well their desire to read more from you. So even if you're already a New York Times bestseller, remember there are millions of readers out there who don't know you and don't trust you. You should be taking advantage of free as well. And if you publish multiple books, offer at least one full length book for free at all times if you can. Make it easier for readers to take a chance on you, an unknown, untrusted author.

I already mentioned how free books on average get 33 times more downloads. Let's talk about some other opportunities to use free. How can you turn that to your advantage? Well, let's say that you're a new author and your books out on the market, it's got a price and you don't have any reviews of the major retailers. You could do a temporary price promotion with free. You could make your book free for two months, three months. That will generate a lot more readership at all the different retailers and it can help you get your first reviews at the retailers. And then once you've got those reviews, you can change the price back to a price.

I talked about in Secret #7 how you can use enhanced back matter to drive your social media platform building. Imagine a book that's priced at free getting 33 times more downloads than a book at any other price, if you've got that enhanced back matter in place, you can drive your platform building with free, by exposing your social media coordinates, exposing and promoting your other titles.  If you've got a book on preorder, you can drive orders into that preorder. Free can also help you attract the attention of merchandising managers. I've seen this many times, an author will have a free book that's generating a lot of downloads at a retailer, the retailer is going to look at that book and think, “Oh, wow, this author is a great author, do they have any books that have a price that we can promote?” It's a great way to attract the attention of the merchandising managers at retailers.

If you write series, you should price the series starter at free. Free turbo charges series.  We've got actual data on this from the Smashwords Survey. We looked at the top 100 bestselling series that have a free series starter, and then we looked at the top 100 bestselling series that don't have a free series starter. And we found on average the group with the free series starter; those series earned 50% more money than the group without the free series starter. Looked at it another way, we found that free series starters are strongly correlated with bestselling series. We looked at our top 10,000 bestselling series.  I should say that you don't want to be the 10,000th bestselling series author at Smashwords because you're probably not selling very much of anything.  You want to be in the top 1,000 and top 2,000.

We found that half of the top 1,000 bestselling series at Smashwords had a free series starter. When we look at the lowest thousand producing series, those that are ranked 9,000 to 10,000, only 22% had a free series starter. So definitely strong correlation here between free series starters and sales; you'll find more data in the 2017 Smashwords Survey on the impact of free with series.

Secret 10, patience is a virtue. We talked about how in the dark ages of publishing, when it was a print-centric world, that traditional publishers would do a big print run, they would distribute your book out to all these physical bookstores, it was a day of celebration and then the depression would set in within weeks. If your book didn't start selling well, the retailers would pack up your books and ship them back to the publisher for a full refund and it essentially forced your book out of print. eBooks develop differently, with ebooks, your sales can start off slow, they can start off non-existent and then develop over time. Also with ebooks, since your book is immortal, you can look forward to earning an annuity stream of income for many years to come. Especially if you're writing fiction, fiction tends to be more evergreen.

Because these ebooks are immortal, they’ll never go out of print, you should never unpublish your book. You should get it out into the retailers, out into distribution and leave it there forever. When your book lands at a retailer, think of it as a seedling; you need to nourish it, you need to water it, you need to let it grow its own platform at that retailer, you need to let it, give it time to generate reviews, to generate readership, to generate sales rank. When we look at the daily sales charts of some of our bestselling authors, it's not at all uncommon that some of these authors sold almost nothing for months and then they would see spikes and then their sales levels would settle in at slightly higher rate, and then they'd see another spike and then another spike. And sometimes it goes up and down and up and down and up and down.

Each time there's that spike, it's like lightning has struck somewhere. Maybe it's a reviewer giving you a positive review or maybe an influential reader on Twitter or Good Reads gives you a good review and it draws, it's like lightning striking, it's your lucky break, a bunch of readers converge on your book and if your book pleases the readers, if it gives them a five star reading experience, then your book starts rising in sales rank and becomes more visible to more readers and can have an organic exponential sales spurt for some period of time. And so that's how books can develop over time.

You'll also find that different books break out at different retailers at different times, and we've got some examples of this.  In the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, I've got an example in there for Smashwords author Ruth Ann Nordin, she writes romance. She had a book that was on the market for many months.  It was performing well at a small retailer before it broke out in a big way and became one of the top performers at a large retailer. For a full year in advance of her breakout, she had already been occupying the top 20, top 30 bestseller list of Kobo, of a smaller retailer before it broke out at iBooks.  The lesson learned here is that different books break out at different times at different retailers. That means that your sales can start off slow and then pick up later.

The big mistake that we see from a lot of authors is they'll publish their book and if the book doesn't start selling in two, three, four weeks, the author will get upset and remove their book from distribution.  That's kind of like shooting yourself in the foot, and that's sad. You never know when lightning is going to strike.  If your book's not available to all the different retailers, you're not going to be there to capture lightning in the bottle when that lucky break happens.

Secret 11, avoid exclusivity. Earlier in this podcast, I mentioned how retail distribution was so critically important to print books and how retailers returned the poor selling books to the publisher and how that forced print books out of print. So distribution has always been incredibly important to print books. It's equally important to ebooks as well.

Your choice of an ebook retailer should not be like your choice of your favorite sports team, your favorite political party or your favorite religion. In the case of sports, politics and religion, we tend to pick one team. With ebooks, you want to play the field. You want to work with all of the different retailers; all of the major retailers want to carry your books. They all want to invest millions of dollars to draw readers to self-published books, so take advantage of that.

There's only one retailer out there on the market today that aggressively pushes exclusivity and that's Amazon. Amazon offers two ebook publishing options for self-published authors. The first is the regular KDP program and I think everybody should be in that option. The second option that they offer is an opt in option called KDP Select. If you enroll your book in KDP Select, Amazon requires you to remove your book from all other distribution. You can't even sell your own book on your own website. Amazon tries to entice you, and some might call it trick, they try to entice you to go exclusive in exchange for some perks that they offer you.

So for example, if you want to earn 70% list at emerging markets like Mexico, Brazil and India, then you need to enroll your book in KDP Select, but never mind that if you're an English language author, you're going to sell virtually nothing in these markets, these are small markets. But they dangle that as a carrot to get you to go exclusive. If you go exclusive with them, they give you the ability to price your book at free for up to five days every three months. But never mind, every other retailer lets you price it free without limitation, without exclusivity. So this is kind of an artificial constraint that Amazon has added. If you're enrolled in KDP Select they require you to sell your book in Kindle Unlimited which is their subscription service, where you'll be paid only about one half of one cent per page read.

So I would advise against KDP Select. Get your books at Amazon, get them into the regular KDP and then distribute everywhere else. If you do decide to go exclusive with Amazon, understand that there are some risks. Exclusivity is risky; there's upside but there's also downside. It's like putting all of your eggs in one basket. If you were to go to an investment advisor and ask them, “Should, I put my $100,000 in retirement savings into a single internet stock?” They would tell you, “No, you should diversify." I think you should approach your books the same way. Your books are valuable assets, a valuable asset to you and a valuable asset to your heirs and you have an obligation to maximize the outcome of that asset.

You should diversify your distribution portfolio so that you have multiple retailers. You don't want to become entirely dependent upon a single sales channel. If you're getting all of your income from a single sales channel, there's a high probability that you wake up one morning and your sales have evaporated, because all it takes is for that single sales channel to change their policies, change their discovery algorithms and suddenly a book that was selling great yesterday is selling nothing today. Any time that you make all your books exclusive to a single retailer, it obviously kills your readership and your growth opportunity at the other retailers. Exclusivity can anger your readers when they want to purchase your book at their favorite retailer and their favorite retailer happens to be some other retailer. There are millions of readers who prefer to shop at retailers other than Amazon.

Then a final consideration is that every time you remove your books from these other retailers, it harms those other retailers, because you're denying them the ability to serve their customers with your book. The more sensible option is to create a diversified retailing portfolio and have your books available in multiple sales channels. You'll find that if you're fortunate enough to sell well, that your sales are going to fluctuate wildly from one retailer to the next. You’re going to have great months and bad months, great months and bad months. And if you have a diversified retailer portfolio, a diversified distribution portfolio, then it will help even out some of those rises and falls, so you can get a steadier flow of income coming in.

That's enough on exclusivity.

Secret 12, publish box sets. An ebook box set is when multiple books are combined into a single ebook bundle. There are different types of box sets, so let’s talk about the different types. There's a single author value bundle, so let's say you've written a series with 10 books in it, you could do a bundle, a value price bundle for your 10 books. Maybe those 10 books individually purchased might cost $30, you could do a value price bundle for $20. The next type of box set is the multi-author box set. So a multi-author box set is when multiple authors get together and collaborate. Multiple authors contribute a full length book each into this book bundle and the power of the multi-author box set comes in the marketing collaboration.

Let's say you are in a multi-author box set, let's say you write paranormal romance, you get together with 10 other paranormal romance authors, you each contribute a book into this box set. Every single one of those authors is going to go out there and promote that box set to their readership, to their platforms. This type of collaborative marketing effort amplifies your reach and helps put you, your author brand and your writing in front of all of the fans of those other 10 authors. So those other 10 authors in the course of promoting their own books in this multi-author box set are also promoting your books, and you are also promoting all those other authors. So that's the collaborative power of a multi-author box set.

If you want to maximize the readership of a multi-author box set, either price the box set at free or price it at 99 cents, unless you're doing like a charity box set and you're trying to make money for a charity. It can be a difficult and arduous task to have to divide up royalties between 10 different authors, so this is why a lot of authors will either make it a charity box set or price it free. The primary goal of a multi-author box set is to grow your readership and turn on those new readers to your other books.

Secret 13.  Okay, secret 13 is a radical idea:  Be a nice person. In the Indie Author Manifesto I wrote that indie does not mean alone. Publishing is a relationship business, it takes a village to successfully publish, distribute and market your book. In the course of your writing career, you're going to meet hundreds of people in this industry. You’re going to meet authors, publishers, cover designers, book editors, book marketers, distributors, retailers, media, book reviewers and a lot of readers. All of these people that you meet have the power to open doors for you. And people like to support other people who reciprocate the kindness and respect. So your fellow authors, the service providers, the business partners that you use on this grand publishing adventure, you want to be nice to them and this shouldn't be rocket science. So develop relationships with everybody.

Contribute to the success of others in the publishing industry; contribute to the success of your fellow authors. As you discover secrets that work for you, as you discover best practice secrets as you're discovering in this episode today, share these secrets with your fellow authors. Do what you can to open doors for your fellow authors; they'll open doors for you. Remember that positivity trumps negativity.  These relationships are going to give you an upper hand. I'm sure we've all seen examples where there are authors, maybe they're drunk with the power of their large marketing platforms, I don't know what it is, but you'll see authors who kind of adopt this attitude of, “I complain therefore I am.”

If you've got 20,000 people following you on Twitter, don't complain to them that the cable company just kept you on hold for an hour. Don't complain to them that you were just stuck on the tarmac at JFK for an hour. Your readers don't care about that, they don't need that negativity, they don't want to hear you complaining about stuff like that, avoid all negativity on social media because these Internet rants are permanent. They will be forever archived on Google.  These rants are just divisive, they turn off readers, they turn off potential partners. People might fear you, but they're not going to respect you, they're not going to want to help you.

About five years ago, we interviewed New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry on the Smashwords blog. We asked him for his advice on how authors should conduct themselves online on social media. And I'm going to quote him because it's just a brilliant, brilliant quote.

So here's his quote, he says,

“So, what do you put out there? Think about a party, if there's someone who is bitching and moaning and someone else who's getting folks to laugh and loosen up, which way do you drift?  If a kid in a playground is constantly bitching about the quality of the toys and another kid has turned a cardboard box into a side show funhouse, who's getting more attention? Who's going to be remembered in a positive way? And even if you are a naturally cranky, snarky, sour tempered pain in the ass, for God's sake, share that with your therapist or priest. When you go online and promote yourself and therefore your products, try not to actually scare people off your lawn.”

So I really like that and I always try to remember that myself.

Secret 14, practice ethical marketing; protect your brand. Ethics and honesty are essential to successful book marketing. If you cut corners, you will sully your author brand. Without ethics and honesty, it's impossible to build reader trust. We've all seen or read authors who promised one thing, but delivered another. We remember these authors for the wrong reasons. We've all heard stories of authors who cut ethical corners like paying shills to give them [fake] glowing reviews. We've even heard of horrible authors who've carpet bombed the reviews of other authors books by giving them one star reviews. Don't be vile. If a reader reads your book and feels your marketing misled them, the reader will seek their revenge in the form of a scathing review. As a smart author, you have the opportunity to be different.

Be the author who earns and deserves admiration and trust. It's not difficult, just be honest. Don't make promises you can't keep. I'm sure there will be some skeptics out there who think that my approach to ethics and truth telling is naïve. They might argue that if other people are out there lying and cheating, you should too. But here's a promise I can make to you; karma will reap its revenge on those who cut ethical corners, so don't.

Secret 15, pinch your pennies.  This is a phrase that means nothing to authors outside the United States, so I’ll clarify. This American phrase "pinch your pennies" -  it means be frugal. Remember that most books don't sell well, remember that you are running a business; you are running a publishing business as a self-published author. The life blood of any business is profitability and the formula for profit equals your sales minus your expenses. Even if you implement all of the best practices that I'm recommending here, there's no guarantee that you will get good sales. It's difficult to control sales. But you can control your expenses. So minimize your expenses, especially if you're first getting started in publishing. Never borrow money to publish a book, never spend money or invest money on your book that you need for food or for shelter. Try to do as much as you can on your own and then reinvest as you start achieving sales success.

I want you to succeed. I want you to be a long term success in this industry. For most of us, writing is like the dream job. If we could write full time, if we could be in our heads, in our imaginary worlds writing full time as a career, it's got to be one of the most awesome jobs in the world. And if that's your dream, I want to help you get there. But to get there, you need to operate a successful business, you need to minimize your expenses, maximize your profits. So do everything you can on your own, as much as you can on your own, with the exception of course of your own cover. Do as much as you can on your own, and then as the money starts coming in, you can start reinvesting it.

Secret 16, launch every book as a preorder. Preorders are one of the most powerful yet least understood book marketing tools. In my annual Smashwords Survey for 2017, I analyzed over 50,000 new book releases over a one year period from indie authors. I found that only 12% of these book releases were released as preorders, yet of that small fraction of books that were released as preorders they accounted for the majority of our bestsellers. Over 60% of our top one 1,000 bestselling books during the survey period we're born as a preorder. If you release your next book as a preorder, you will sell more books than you would otherwise.

Preorder usage rates vary across different categories. indie romance authors for example, they're often the first to adopt new best practices. The indie romance authors released 25% of their new books during this period as preorders, so they were releasing preorders at twice the average adoption rate. But here's the shocker, we looked at all of the romance books released during this period, and those 25% of romance titles accounted for fully 75% of all the sales that went to the new releases in the romance category. So what you see here is that books born as preorders take an outsize share of the market. Preorders are a sales magnet.

Why are preorders so powerful and how can you leverage preorders for your benefit?  I’ll answer those questions in the next episode, Episode 4. I’m dedicating the entire next episode to preorder strategy.

So that wraps the 16 best practices. Obviously, there are many more best practices that we couldn't cover today for you to learn about and to optimize, and if you want to learn more, I’ll refer you to two of my books.  Check out the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide where you'll find 60 marketing tips, all of which you can implement for free. And then also check out The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. You can read about over 30 best practices of the best selling indie authors. Both of these books are available at all the retailers and both are available for free download as an ebook, so you can go check them out. I'll have links to them in the podcast show notes.

Let's summarize some of the key takeaways for this episode.

Amid a crowded market, the books and authors that stand out are those that implement best practices and the best practices that you learned today. Each best practice, well implemented, moves you up and to the left of the Power Law Graph. Most self-published authors fail to take full advantage of these best practices. This means that to the extent you do take advantage of these best practices, your book will become more visible, more desirable and more enjoyable than the rest. You will sell better than the rest.

There's no single silver bullet to bestsellerdom. There are no short cuts. You need to take an incremental approach. Immortal ebooks enable this iteration, this incremental approach. It means you can experiment.  Experiment with better covers, better pricing, better everything as you work to fine tune how readers perceive, discover and enjoy your book.

So that concludes episode three on bestseller secrets. As always, you'll find supplemental show notes and links at Smashwords.com/podcast. Coming up in the next episode, I present you a deep dive into my favorite topic, preorders. I'll share proven techniques to plan and promote your preorder.

Before I close out this episode, I want to thank you again for allowing me to join you on your ebook publishing journey. As a fellow author, I appreciate your passion and your dedication. I trust that by now you've learned some new ideas that can help take your book to the next level, that can help make your book more discoverable, more desirable and more enjoyable to readers. Stay tuned, we've got a lot more to share in the episodes to come.

If you're enjoying the Smart Author Podcast series, please do me a favor and leave a review or rating. It really helps me get the word out and please tell a friend. Until next time, keep writing I'm Mark Coker.