• David Frazier's memoir of Vietnam, "Drafted!", is multilayered - from the days of war in the 60s to return visits as a photography - and as complex as the place itself.
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About once a year and again in this season one or more writers will assertively inquire in the writer boards: Why do I need chapters in my eBook? Can I do without them? Why can’t I get rid of the Table of Contents—it seems like a lot of work to produce? Or why can’t I move it to the back of the eBook?

Ebooks seem to be so flexible as to handle almost every creative challenge we throw at them. But doing away with chapters, or front-of-book tables of contents, are a bad idea.

You will see arguments to the contrary.

A year ago author Kevin Lomas wrote on the Lulu self-publishing board, “Not everyone wants chapters. There are none in my print fiction books.” The idea of eliminating chapters or tables of contents seems limited mainly to works of fiction, and the discussion seems to be centered around eBooks rather than print.

On September 27 this year, author Lala Corriere sparked heavy discussion on the Murder Must Advertise board when “I would not print my softcover books without chapters. But I finally asked my readers. So far, NONE of them look at, need, or want a TOC in an eBook. As a READER, I agree. Who cares?”

The concept of experimental formats, at least, isn’t foreign to traditional book publishers. Book editor Erin Lale said four years ago that, “In modern times, not all books have chapters. Most nonfiction books which naturally have sections, such as different historical periods in a history textbook, do still have chapters. Most fiction novels also have chapters, although some comparatively recent books have a modernist deconstruction of chapters. There are books with one word chapters, and books that begin with a Chapter 1 label and have no further divisions. There are books with nonconsecutive chapter numbering, books with backwards chapter numbering, such as ‘God, A Users Guide’, and even chapter numbering systems that border on a parody of the form …” Variations on these ideas have only expanded since.

In contrast, the provenance of the chapter is ancient. A 2014 “New Yorker” article about the history of book chapters argued that, “The chapter is tied intimately to our notions of literacy … More than this, the chapter has become a way of looking at the world, a way of dividing time and, therefore, of dividing experience. Its origins date back to long before the printing press or even the bound codex, back to the emergence of prose in antiquity as both an expressive and an informational medium.”

The chapter may have been developed then, as it still serves now, to help divide masses of material into easier bites, just as paragraphs do. Imagine reading this article as one unbroken paragraph … or, better, don’t.

But there are still other compelling reasons for sticking with the normal approach, including the technical and commercial.

One of the Murder Must Advertise writers recently advised, “If you publish with Amazon exclusively, they require a ToC, and they want it up front. I just got a notice to change a ToC from the back to the front of my book.” MMA authors warned in the same conversation that books might be flagged (on their online sales page) as technically deficient, or even removed from sale, if these chapter and contents rules aren’t met.

Amazon includes this in its Kindle formatting directions: “A working table of contents allows your readers to jump directly to the chapter or section they want. This feature is so important to Kindle customers that Amazon requires all Kindle books with chapters or sections to have a working table of contents. You can build one using Microsoft Word.” That same page includes detailed instructions for setting up a table of contents.

Other eBook providers have imposed similar requirements. Production requirements for Ingram-Spark eBooks reference requirements for the table of contents as well.

On top of all that, authors who try to skip the use of chapters may be bypassing a useful commercial tool.

Many fiction authors title chapters only by number. (That’s one of the reasons some authors disdain tables of contents for those books.) But effective chapter names can help you sell your book – even your fiction book.

In my first article for BookWorks, I wrote about chapter titles: “The cover and the title will persuade someone to peruse your book – but if you’ve titled the chapters, they can help turn a browser into a reader. A table of contents tells a prospective reader what to expect from the reading ahead.” It described a list of compelling chapter names as a series of hooks to help pull the reader into the book.

There was the example of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, which used only chapter numbers. One online editor suggested chapter titles, such as “Chapter 1—The Truth of the Green Light,” “Chapter 2—Among the Ash Heaps,” “Chapter 3—The Host.” “Chapter 4—The Pursued, the Pursuing, the Busy and the Tired” and “Chapter 5—Ghostly Heart.”

My reaction: “Had those chapters been so named when I first considered reading it (at that time, and for some years, I passed), they might have drawn me in sooner.”

I still think so.

Chapters may be the traditional approach, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost any of their usefulness, or necessity.

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Before you send your masterpiece out to the world, consider publishing a sub-masterpiece first.

I’m talking about an additional book, smaller, not lesser in quality, just in size and scope. It should be a good piece of work containing most of the attractive elements of the mothership, in a smaller package you can deliver quickly and promote in advance of the big book. This smaller book would be made available for free, as a promotional product. A number of authors, and marketers, call these “funnel books”—books that send readers through a marketing funnel to their main and for-sale product.

It’s an old concept, and not limited to publishing. You see it at your grocery store where companies offer free tastes of food and other products. (The shampoo I’ve used for many years first came to me as a free sample.) One web site on general marketing ideas said, “When companies introduce a new product to the market, whether it’s a perfume or a pizza, they often give away free samples. They hand out product to consumers and send free coupons in the mail. They offer free coupons to people who ‘like’ the product on Facebook. While people may be hesitant to try something new if they have to pay for it—if they’re disappointed, they’ll have wasted their money—many people will try anything once if it’s free. If the product is good, they’ll want another pizza or more perfume.”

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The advantages of free have been suggested over and over by authors and marketers. No marketing tactic has an airtight success record, but the results on this one are strong. The reason is simple: Free attracts people easily, and if they see strong quality—what they’re looking for—in the freebie or cheap piece, they’re far more likely to invest actual cash in your writings next time.

This can work especially well in fiction, if you offer a series or a group of otherwise similar books. Many authors offer the first full book in a series for free, finding that satisfied readers will be highly likely to pay for the second, third and beyond.

The idea is to create a “funnel book” that is shorter than a full-priced book but still provides most of the same reader experiences: The same major recurring characters, similar setting and atmosphere (if these are consistent), and the same kind of emotional charge. If you have a series in mind or have started one and you have a story or novel idea that isn’t quite complete, isn’t enough to sustain a full-scale book, this may be the place to use it.

The novella, long thought to be an outlier in commercial fiction, has found a whole new use in this area.

Author Nick Stephenson is among the writers using this approach as a standard method. He first creates a funnel book designed to bring in readers and ease them to the next step; the funnel can be an already-existing book set permanently for free, or a new short book also set for free; sometimes he gives readers two free books in a series before charging for one. In addition to earning the trust of the reader—that you will deliver an enjoyable or useful book—you can set up the delivery system to capture the reader’s e-mail as well. (You could send the free book to the reader by an email autoresponder.) That way, you can let your reader base know about new releases.

Stephenson said he pulled in a thousand new readers after first embracing this approach, and over several years has developed an estimated 15,000 new e-mail addresses.

Sean Platt and Johnny Truant, hosts of the Self Publishing Podcast, report that, “the most frequently visited topic [on their podcast] is how to build funnels.”

Another thing you can do with funnel samplers, if you’re still planning and developing your series, is to test your options. Some authors send out several sampler funnel books, all drawn from the same prospective series but varying in key respects: Pacing, the number of characters, locations and atmosphere, or other variables. If you can write three or four brief funnel books and send them all out to the world, you can see which generate the best reception.

Writer Derek Murphy tried this with four short titles. “All are pretty similar, in pretty similar categories, with similar covers, [but] only one has really taken off,” he wrote.

Murphy reflected, “I could have done the normal thing and wrote a series, then another series, then another series … I might spend 5 years before I wrote a popular series that could actually make money. Instead I wrote four 50K half novels, as a market test, to see which of my ideas was most marketable. Obviously, I have my answer.”

One of the authors I work with tried the funnel book approach on a small scale for a local non-fiction book about how a city park was created. I suggested he develop a smaller free book, providing a tour of the park area, that could be promoted in advance, develop a readership base and link him to the subject of the park system. When time came to release the main book, his audience seemed to be a little more ready for the full book than it otherwise might have been.

You can release free funnel books in eBook rather than print format; the out of pocket costs for doing it this way are minor. You will need to create and obtain the eBook files for your books (mobi files for Kindle, for example) so that they’re easily obtained by readers. Bear in mind that even though they’re free, your funnel books still need promotion so readers will know they’re there. Follow your usual book marketing approaches for doing this.

Distribution of free books is generally easy through most eBook channels. Kindle has several categories that can distribute at low cost (usually meaning 99 cents), and it will distribute free in special days in the KDP program. An alternative, or an addition, is to work through Smashwords, which actively encourages use of free samples as part of their distribution program.

If you want to keep track of exactly who is ordering your free book—and this is helpful for building e-mail and other lists—you can store the books on Google Drive or Dropbox, or a similar service.

Another approach, which comes with a small fee (starting at $20 a year), is a third-party distribution service like Instafreebie or Bookfunnel, which stores the books and simplifies downloading, through a single click, for readers. Because they can handle significant volumes more easily than an author website usually could, some large-selling authors use them. (I spotted a new Janet Evanovich title on Instafreebie this month.) For new authors, however, the issue of handling big volume generally won’t be a big consideration.

Some authors dive into the marketplace with full-sized novels and find success. But a softer entry, with the chance to review what works and what doesn’t, may be the surer route to success.

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A Bookworks member has asked about targeted advertising strategies: what works (or doesn’t)?

Here’s the first in a series of posts we hope will help answer that question.

Targeted Advertising Strategies

Advertising of some kind or another is all around us, and many people develop strategies for tuning out much of it.  At least one web browser, Firefox, has a one-button tool allowing readers to crop out everything but the main core of text on a web page: Great for reading news stories, not so good for the advertisers who pay for space there.  In many ways, this is becoming a more challenging age for advertising.

Should indie authors nevertheless look seriously into advertising?

They should, although that doesn’t mean throwing money at whatever mass medium comes your way.  A great deal of advertising is wasted, but very carefully targeted advertising can help you sell your books.  Sometimes good ideas can come in unexpected places.

I’ve pondered, for example, the idea of using a billboard to sell a book – a very specific book that doesn’t yet exist.billboard

I live about an hour inland from Oregon’s highly popular ocean beaches.  Two highways leading there bear almost all the heavy traffic from the east, sometimes enough to create jams, as people head to the coast in search of something to do.

Suppose you had published a travel guide to the Oregon coast, and made it available on eBooks as well as print.  Now suppose you rented a billboard along one of those two highways advertising that book, offering an inexpensive, coast guide eBook available by wireless download to travelers right now, minutes in advance of arriving at the coast?  Might that sell enough copies to make a profit?

It might, because that billboard would be precisely targeting the exact audience of that particular book, at a moment when the subject is of great interest, and in a way that would allow immediate purchase.

One of the most important points about advertising (for books, but not only books) is to reach your specific audience, without wasting money reaching the masses of other people who aren’t and never will be your readers.

It can be done.

Facebook, for Example

Selection_412Indie novelist Mark Dawson, who is estimated to have sold more than 300,000 books, has done it.  He uses a number of marketing approaches but has doubled down especially on advertising in Facebook.  An article in Forbes reports that he spends substantial amounts daily on Facebook advertising for his books.  His advertising is so carefully targeted that he more than makes the money back while building a long-term reader base.  The precision of his advertising is the key: He has worked out in detail what his readers have in common, and sends his message to those people.

Dawson expanded his reach by using a feature in Facebook called “look-alike audiences.”  This allows him to submit an audience list to Facebook, which will find a second base of people whose attributes closely match those of the first.  It’s almost like replicating a highly responsive audience. The potential sizes of these audiences that Facebook can provide ranges up to the millions.  (As they get larger, of course, they also get more expensive.)

He has used that advertising strategy to help create a growing fan base, with which he keeps in close contact.

To use some of these advanced Facebook features, you first need to create a Facebook business account, which is separate from your individual account.  If you want to set up an author page, choose “Artist, Band or Public Figure” and if you want to set up a page for your book, select “Entertainment”.  From your account page, click “create ad” which takes you to an “ad manager” page.  The Facebook ads creation tools, also let you target (and test) your intended audience by location, interests, behaviors and demographics.  However, people who have used these features point out that either a considerable time or money, or both, is often needed to get good results.  Extensive market testing is equally important.  This may not be a form of advertising practical to newcomers, but is worth bearing in mind (and exploring further) for future possibilities, since Facebook is a vast potential pool of readers.

Other Places for Advertising

Not every form of useful and highly targeted advertising is as well-known or high tech.

One writer remarked in an online forum that, “I actually like placing ads in conference program books like Sleuthfest, Bouchercon, RavenCon (I write cross-genre so try to mix it up), horror conferences, etc.  Sometimes it’s difficult to determine the outcome since sales sometimes aren’t always the day or week the ad comes out, but for the nominal fee I think it’s worth it.  By nominal I’m talking under $250.”

Targeted advertising works differently for different kinds of books, of course.  I’ll be back soon with more on targeted advertising strategies for fiction and nonfiction books in Part Two of this series.

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Writing a book is hard enough. Getting book reviews can drive an author to distraction.

One of our members, C.M. Huddleston, brought our attention to a frustration many authors share: “I have spent two days trying to market my books and get reviews. So far I feel my time has been wasted. Any ideas out there?” One of her books has been out for three months, the other for more than a year. The concern is practical, obtaining good reviews is one of the best ways to generate book sales.

There are pathways through the thicket.  I wrote about some good indie review sites, and some well-established reviewers as well, my October 30 post.  But there’s much more to cover in the area of reviews, and starting with this post, members of the BookWorks team will be talking about some of the ways and places for you to go after them.

HOW TO GET THOSE ELUSIVE BOOK REVIEWS

I’d like to start with Goodreads book reviews, which in some ways are simpler and more useful for authors than those at its corporate mothership, Amazon.com.

Goodreads reviews lack proximity to the actual “buy” pages that you get on Amazon, but Goodreads reviews are well worth the effort for other reasons.

It’s an enormous system, hosting more than 10 million reviews of an estimated 700,000 titles.  Those reviews are not limited in use to Goodreads, either.  They also are syndicated and referenced and show up at Google books, USA Today, the Los Angeles Public Library, WorldCat, Better World Books and other locations.

You can also display them on your own site, too.  Once you have a book in the Goodreads system, you can take advantage of the reviews in another unusual way, slapping a review widget on your website, or your book’s landing page.  Goodreads lets you designate a book (by its ISBN number), provide a header text for it (an example on their site provides “Goodreads reviews for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”), specify the size, and then post the Goodreads reviews – even new reviews as they come in, in real time.

Goodreads book reviews by Randy Stapilus for Bookworks.com
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Goodreads said on its site, “With our community of avid readers, Goodreads can deliver quality reviews on a scale that no individual bookstore or service can match.  By providing added content on nearly every book page, your site becomes more engaging, entertaining and informative, guaranteeing your customers will stay on each page longer.”

Writer Michael Kozlowski in August listed GoodReads as one of the best book review places on the web, saying,  “There are millions of reviews and people buzzing about new books coming out.  It has a strong social media vibe, with some books generating thousands and thousands of comments.  GoodReads is basically the Facebook of books.”

GOODREADS BOOK REVIEWS vs. AMAZON BOOK REVIEWS

As on Amazon, the more reviews you get, the more visibility you get.  And, as on Amazon, there are “top reviewers” on Goodreads who can be worth contacting directly, and pitching your book for review, if you find one who matches with your subject area.

But the whole subject of getting reviews on Goodreads is a lot different than Amazon – in most ways simpler and with a lower bar to entry.

Goodreads links itself where it can to Facebook, and there’s some encouragement for cross-linkages through the two systems.  The site Appadvice notes that, “Once you have set up an account and connected your Facebook account to Goodreads, you can see which of your friends use the app.  You can also invite friends who you think would love the app as well.  This can be done with Facebook friends or even contacts you have stored on your device.  Your friends can easily find you too and send you requests to be added to your friend network.”

Goodreads’ policies on who is allowed to review a given book appear to be less restrictive than Amazon’s.  Even authors are allowed to post reviews of their own book (though many wisely pass on that).  You may encounter fewer review take-downs at Goodreads than at Amazon.

There are limits, which do help with reader credibility.  Goodread’s guidelines on reviews say, “Commercial reviews are not allowed and will be deleted.  If you received a free copy of the book, you are required to disclose that in your review in compliance with federal law.”

Amazon and Goodreads have distinctly different review results, maybe in part because of the ways the two are structured.  An academic study at McGill University released earlier this year found “Amazon reviews have characteristics indicating that review writers are trying to ‘sell’ the book, while Goodreads reviews tend to reflect the content-orientation of the platform.  The vocabulary of Goodreads reviews favors words that highlight attributes of books, or of the experience of reading; reviews tend to be shorter and more journalistic.”

On balance, Amazon reviews were reported to be a bit more effective in selling (or discouraging purchases) of books, but that may vary according to the type of buyer reading the review.

A wise author may seek out reviews in both places – and we’ll be back shortly with suggestions for getting reviews on Amazon.

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If you think of Amazon’s book categories – all books on Amazon.com are placed into subject categories – as either crowded or lightly populated, where would you prefer your book to be?  The answer may not be as obvious as you think.  You’ll find more customers in the fast lane, which is where the highest-ranked (for popularity) books can be found, but your book may be lost in the crowd there.  The reverse is also true: there are fewer readers in the less-populated categories, but your book is more likely to stand out there.  If you’re not an established author, standing out is probably essential to selling your book.

stand+out+from+the+crowd+illuminatedMany readers scan the categories as they search for books to buy, and Amazon helps them by listing the 100 top selling (or, at least, ranking) books in each category.  The books toward the top of those lists get the most attention.  That also means getting your book toward the top of one of those lists is a brilliant marketing move.

If you can get your book to number one on a list, you can use that as a promotional talking point, describing your book as “number one on Amazon” (explaining somewhere that this was a category record).  You may gain sales simply by hitting the upper reaches of a category.

The most and least popular categories should come as little surprise if you’ve examined the books on offer at a bookstore or even a supermarket.

The top popular category, persistently (the rankings change a little over time), is Romance ->Contemporary.  Most of the rest of the top ten are romance categories too, and moving down the list you find mystery, fantasy, young adult, science fiction and, after a while, general literary fiction.  This is partly because there are fewer fiction categories than nonfiction, but it also reflects fiction’s popularity.
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The least popular categories tend to be technical and scientific, and nonfiction.  When TCK Publishing.com earlier this year put together a list of the most competitive and least-competitive categories, it said this was the least competitive of all: “Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy.”

You can find opportunity here if you discover which categories relevant to your book are more or less popular, and then get your book placed in those which give it the most visibility.

How can you easily tell which categories are more popular?  Look at the entry for the book which is number 1 in the category and scroll down to find its “Amazon Best Sellers Rank,” which is its ranking among all Amazon books.  If you compare that ranking for the books most popular in various categories, you can easily see how competitive the category is – and how easy or difficult it may be to rise toward the top in that category.

Amazon automatically assigns categories to books, but you may be able to change those selections.  If you want to change your category – which is often possible – you may be able to improve your rank, even if you’re not selling more books.  And simply changing your ranking (through getting into a less-competitive category) may make your book more visible, which in turn could lead to selling more books.  Moving your book to a category that doesn’t match it would be a bad move, whatever the statistics.  But more than one category may reasonably match your book.

What if you’re writing fiction, where so many of the categories are crowded?  Look into the subcategories, and consider aiming for a place two or three levels down from the top.books cropIf the available categories don’t include the one you want, pick Non-Classifiable and look at the bottom of the page for the Contact Us link.  There, you can advise Amazon which category you think is best for the book.  Amazon will not add a category to accommodate you, but generally it will shift books between existing categories upon receiving a (reasonable) request.

Anthony Wessel, who published a 30-page book about his father, shared online a part-amusing, part-inspiring story about the power of categories.

“Recently I took this book (not really a book – sold one copy – to myself) and went through the process of putting it into categories. I contacted Amazon and told them how I wanted my book categorized. They responded twice within 6 hours each time. ‘One Minute Washington D.C. Travel Stories’ is now an Amazon Bestseller – in a very small category. I used 2 of my KDP select free days. Promoted it on our The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List. Gave away 251 copies. Initial rank was 756,256. After my free days it reached an overall rank of 244,849.”

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Authors find few pieces of marketing advice repeated more often than this: Get thee to a website!

But once you have a website, what do you do with it?

The primary purpose of your website is to promote yourself and your book. Part of the process of selling your book is in connecting with your reader, and a good author website offers many ways to do that.

The basic components of your website should be:
1. Contact information (if you don’t want to provide an email address, then include a message form)
2. Your social media contact information (to Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads or any others you use)
3. Information about your books
4. Biographical information – all about you, your professional background, why you decided to write this book
5. News about your books
6. Events where you will be appearing

Aside from a good photo (a professional shot is recommended), include some memoir material. Kate McMillan, a web designer for many books and authors for more than a decade, advised in a 2012 web article, “frame the content around what led you to writing, and why you write the kinds of books that you do and what you love about it. If you’re also promoting yourself for speaking engagements, or if your book is one aspect of your larger professional career, consider making your photo larger or putting it in a more prominent position on the page.”

This is good, basic advice but not enough to pull lots of people to your site. To do that, remember what the cable television channel AMC does when it promotes the web pages attached to its programs. It points out specific files, video material, games, links of all kinds available only through the website, and uses the tag line, “there’s always more on AMC.com.” It’s an approach worth keeping in mind as you design your site. The more extra information you post, the more traffic you’re likely to get. So as you post it, use the social media to let people know it’s there.

R.C. Butler of Bulldog Press, advised, “The key to a good website or blog, however, is not the information about you or your book. It is the alternative information you post that adds value to the visitor. It is this information that will keep your readers returning to your site which will help to increase your SEO scores, incoming links, and overall presence in the market.”

McMillan suggested that “Depending on the kinds of books you write, you might include a slideshow of photographs, or an audio file, or a YouTube video, or a quiz, or myriad other things that tie into the content of your books. Some authors are experts in their field and their books are an extension of a larger career – this is a great opportunity to include something interesting from the larger context of your career, such as a discount code for signing up for a related service.”

One article from USA Today (January 15, 2015) suggests more possibilities: “leaving their more compelling content on the site longer; creating clutter-free website designs to make it easier to find the best material; posting more quizzes; using prominent “embeds” of videos, links and tweets in stories; assigning long-form articles; creating never-ending pages that just scroll on with more content loads; showcasing photo galleries that stay on one long page rather than flipped pages.”

Dropping by the websites of some of your favorite writers could help too. Observe how bestselling writers, indie and traditional both, use their web space. The site for novelist E.L. James (www.eljames.com) includes soundtracks and wine lists – all background material for her novels. The site for Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), www.paulahawkinsbooks.com has excerpts and useful material for readers’ groups. Blake Crouch (www.blakecrouch.com), of the Wayward Pines series, posts videos and a regular weekly show to keep in touch with his readers.

Blogging – if it’s done regularly – can keep the site fresh. Writer and marketer Joanna Penn strongly endorses blogging: “Starting a blog changed my life – seriously. It has freed my writing style up completely, and given me the confidence to get into fiction. Without the millions of words I’ve written on my blog, I would never have been able to write Desecration, my latest crime novel.”

A couple of other points to keep in mind as you pull together material for the site.

Make sure your site is “responsive,” which means smartphones, tablets and other devices will be able to read it easily. That’s a good idea generally, but Google has started to give “responsive” sites an extra push, saying that “non-responsive” websites will be downgraded in search lists. Early in 2015 I threw out a web theme I’d had in place on my site for years and replaced it with another one which, unlike the old one, is fully responsive. Fortunately, the fix for this probably won’t be especially difficult if your website is relatively small and simple: It may only involve changing the design on the web site, which often is just a matter of pushing a few buttons.

Be sure also to incorporate keywords and tags that will make the site more visible to searchers.

Visibility and two-way communication are, after all, the key to any successful wevsite.

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