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This is the first of two posts on the changing audiobook landscape.

No part of book publishing has grown faster in the last few years than audiobooks. The numbers of books published, of copies sold, and of audio formats, have been increasing dramatically, opening new opportunities for indie authors.

The growth in audio reflects changes both in how the books are produced and in how listeners use them. Audiobooks have become easier and more convenient for listeners to obtain and listen to, and at the same time have become easier to create.

Audiobook makers have their own trade association (the Audio Publishers Association), magazines and websites, sources and providers for reviews, and the Deyan Institute, “the world’s first school for teaching the art and technology of audiobook production.” There are even independent audiobook awards, the “audies.” Some of these have been around for a few years (the APA dates to 2001), but all have been growing.

The traditional publishers who long have produced audiobooks have begun to invest more fully in audio, which suggests indie authors should take a close look too.


Karen Commins, a veteran narrator active in the APA, recalled in a recent article how “In 2003, when I narrated my first commercial book, most audiobook productions occurred in pricey New York or Los Angeles studios. The finished products were packaged, shipped and sold on cassette or CD. Due to high production, warehousing and distribution costs, audiobooks were almost exclusively the domain of the biggest print publishers and reserved only for the bestselling authors and highest-profile titles. As a result, only about five percent of all books published were made into audiobooks.”

Special audiobook players were needed or recommended for many of these audiobooks, which often were produced in proprietary formats. You may remember the long-departed Sony Discman, which was designed for books on compact disc. There have been many others as well, including the Playaway and the Daisy Player.

Many of the old limitations are gone. Audio now can be recorded in a vast number of local studios (many narrators work at least partly from home studios), and equipment requirements for professional results are specific but not necessarily expensive. Professional narrators can be found around the country; audio work can be a form of telecommuting.

Audiobooks traditionally were recorded onto cassette tapes or compact discs (or before that, on phonograph records). Now most audiobooks are sold as audio files (often in the common MP3 format), which can be sent or downloaded online. They can be heard through a range of commonly-used devices, from laptop computers to phones to tablets.


The audiobook industry is objectively large: Worldwide, this year it has been estimated in value at about $2.8 billion. The APA said a July 2015 study showed audio sales in the year before “totaled more than $1.47 billion, up 13.5% over 2013. Unit sales were also up 19.5%, nearly five times the increase of the overall book trade industry.” In 2015, the APA said sales increased again by about 20%, to $1.77 billion.

Part of that increase was driven by the number of titles offered to buyers. In 2010, the APA said that 6,200 audiobook titles were published. Last year the comparable number reached 35,572, according to the APA.

That’s still far fewer than the hundreds of thousands of new print and eBooks being published each year, but a big increase from just a few years ago.

Some categories of books seem to fare better in audio. Research has shown that fiction accounts for more than three-fourths of all audio sales, and adult fiction overwhelmingly dominates audio sales and number of titles.

Downloaded files have become far more popular than other audio formats (such as tape or CD), and a bunch of apps for smartphones and other devices have been developed for listening to those files. Baker & Taylor’s Acoustik is one example of a widely-used app.

Audio seems to be one area of tech advancement in publishing that appeals more to an older rather than younger audience. Still, the APA said that 36% of its survey respondents reported listening to children’s or young adult audiobooks.

Abridged audio versions of a number of books are available, but unabridged versions heavily dominate sales, surveys indicated. New audio variations, with music, sound effects, multiple voices, non-music sound beds, are being tried, but their future is unclear.


How do readers find their audiobooks?

The book news and review site Bookriot in 2014 asked that question of its readers, and got some clear results.

Libraries, often in connection with the audio-providing service called Overdrive, accounted for 687 responses—much the largest group finding their books from one type of source, but split among a vast number of libraries.

Audible, the audiobook site, accounted for another 494, becoming the largest single-location go-to source. Audible is a subscription service ($14.95 a month) which lets people download audiobooks.

The next largest single category—53 responses—is brick and mortar bookstores, which still sell various formats of audiobooks. (Other responses covered everything from iTunes to YouTube to illegal downloads.)

Readers can find book descriptions in many of these places, but many readers also rely on reviewers, who discuss not only the text of the book but also the sound and narration quality and other factors. These audiobook reviews have been increasing in number as well. Audio reviews can be found on the AudioFile Magazine as well as many broader sites like Bookriot.

Readers can be approached in other creative ways. The site Tryaudiobooks approaches listeners according to what else they’re doing while absorbing a new book: “Do you listen to audiobooks during your commute? Or do you prefer listening while working out or crafting? Whatever your activity, we have the perfect listening suggestion for you. Audiobooks are a great companion for activities such as cooking, gardening, coloring, running, and many more! You choose your activity and we’ll provide the entertainment.”

Next: Is an audiobook right for you?

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New BookWorks post on the many mergers, acquisitions, agreements and more reshaping the environnment self-publishers work within.

It begins,

“On May 10, the R.R. Bowker Company, the main source in the United States for ISBN numbers and other services, said it plans to ally with two other publishing-related companies, FastPencil and Infinity Publishing, to offer a suite of services to help authors “write, edit, collaborate, format & publish your book.” It also indicated “distribution partners” would include Barnes & Noble, Amazon and others. Bowker said “this solution makes it easier to go from concept to manuscript to market.”

It’s the most recent example of many agreements, mergers, acquisitions and other connections in the book publishing environment. Headlines in the last few decades have pointed out the swallowing of one major national book publisher by another, but those are only the most visible instances. Indie publishers would be well served by maintaining awareness of other connections between companies with which they work. Sometimes these can help their interests—and sometimes not so much.

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The major organized programs for helping authors give away copies of their books – as a way to promote them – until now have limited their options to print books. Giveaways in the well-established Goodreads and Amazon programs have not allowed eBook giveaways, frustrating authors who write only in that format.

This is changing. As of this month, Goodreads is expanding their giveaway program to include eBook as well as print books.

Author Anna DeStefano has become one of the first to explore the new eBook giveaway option – and report success with it.

As author of a score of romance and supernatural novels, she has participated in several past print book giveaway programs, especially those run by the readers’ and writers’ site Goodreads. Like others, she has found the programs a useful way to gain more attention for her books, to gain more readers quickly and to drive sales.

But DeStefano told BookWorks, “My impression is that over the last few years print giveaways have had less and less overall effect, unless you advertise them heavily. So many authors are doing them now, it’s easy to get lost in the glut of content.”

In that context, the addition of eBooks to the giveaway programs may bring some fresh attention and interest to this piece of marketing.

Why or Why Not to Give Your Books Away

The whole approach may seem odd if you’re a writer who after all is trying to sell books, not simply disperse them.

Still, as a May 5 article in Publishers Weekly said, “Speaking to the power of giveaway programs, in a Goodreads case study, Kate Stark, marketing v-p at Riverhead Books, said that the Goodreads site as well as its giveaways promotions, “played a major role” in the success of bestselling novel Girl on the Train. (The house used multiple giveaways for Girl on the Train).”

Goodreads itself has noted “The primary benefit of running a giveaway on Goodreads is generating excitement for your book. Many giveaway winners review the books they win, meaning that you can build word-of-mouth buzz early in your book’s life. The ability to offer up to 100 copies of a book will greatly increase your chances of receiving a good number of reviews.”

The Old Rules for Giveaways

Since July 2015 has operated a print book giveaway promotion, in which authors pay for printing and shipping – tasks undertaken by Amazon – copies of their print books to randomly-chosen winners of a giveaway contest. That followed a longer-standing book giveaway program at Goodreads, which Amazon owns. The Goodreads contests are similar to Amazon’s but less costly to the author per book, because the author personally is directly responsible for supplying and shipping the books, and usually can keep those costs down.

Goodreads has not allowed giveaway of eBooks, however, until this spring, when it launched a “beta” – experimental – program allowing for digital giveaways. Initially it is limited to Amazon’s own new publishing imprints, but is expected to be opened more broadly soon. (Goodreads hasn’t disclosed exactly when.) The links to both Kindle and to Amazon’s own publishing operations provide ongoing evidence of a tightening relationship between Amazon and Goodreads, which was bought by Amazon in 2013.

The Goodreads Digital System

Under the new Goodreads system, authors can give away as many as 100 digital copies of their book, for a flat $119 fee. It is available for now only in the United States. Goodreads manages the listing and the delivery to the winners. “Prerelease books are listed for giveaway by publishers and authors, and members can enter to win. Winners are picked randomly at the end of the giveaway,” Goodreads says on its giveaway page.

Explaining the $119 fee, Goodreads said, “With a Kindle ebook giveaway, we give you the opportunity to offer a large number of free books, reaching even more readers. We also save you on both costs and hassle. No more printing books, hauling them down to the post office, filling out address labels, and paying to ship them off to winners (which can cost hundreds of dollars for a 100-copy giveaway). No more delays in getting your books in winners’ hands. The readers who win your Kindle ebook giveaway will get their Kindle ebook instantly and will be able to start reading right away, which means you can get readers talking about your title faster than ever.”

In other words, it’s a convenience fee.

The eight books in the current eBook giveaway roster all are fiction, though that may change as the roster expands.

The Results

As a new program, the digital giveaways may provide a new jolt to book promotion. After DeStefano tried it for her new novel, His Darling Bride (published on Amazon’s Montlake Romance imprint), she said “the early response for His Darling Bride’s digital giveaway has been very positive. Much more effective already (this contest was put up on May 5) than the entire print giveaway my publisher sponsored (for 20 books) which ran for a month.”

She was less certain why the response was strong, but speculated that since “there are fewer titles/releases available in the digital giveaway program at this time, GoodReads is promoting it as a new opportunity, and a smaller pool of contests are running for readers to participate in. “

So far the giveaways have generated significant activity. Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero, for example, will be giving away 50 copies (after May 26, when the giveaway ends), and 3,773 people as of May 9 had sent in requests. All of the other beta books for May also generated at least 1,000 requests.

Keep in mind that while the Goodreads and Amazon giveways are the big options, there are others, and some of these are lower in cost. Authors can run giveaways on their own web sites, possibly with the help of a technical provider like Rafflecopter. Twitter has the hashtag #bookgiveaway, where loads of giveaways directly from authors are listed.

Either way, the world of book giveaways and the world of digitals is coming together, and at least some writers are starting to take advantage of it.

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You’ve probably heard how most Indie authors now use something called “print on demand” that can make the printing process fast and inexpensive.

But how exactly does that work?   Let’s walk through it step by step.

Print on Demand Services

Many businesses—even some older, traditional printers—now offer digital (electronic) book printing, called  “print on demand” which allows as little as a single book to be printed to order.  Two companies dominate the field, partly because of their corporate connections.  CreateSpace is a subsidiary of, and working with Amazon through CreateSpace is not only seamless but has financial advantages.  IngramSpark is part of the Ingram Content Group, which among other things is the leading wholesaler for bookstores in the United States (more about IngramSpark here).  Both are customer-friendly and have good support services.  The distinctive advantages of CS and IS complement each other enough that I have sometimes used both to print a particular book title.

What follows is how an indie author can print a normal paperback book with a black and white interior.  As with most things, the details can become more complicated if you want extra features.  Here, I’ll mostly follow the basic CreateSpace process, but IngramSpark’s is similar.

The first thing you do at CreateSpace (or IngramSpark) is set up an account—you’ll see a tab suggesting this on the main page.  This setup is much like signing up with other web sites, from Facebook to PayPal, but you’ll need your credit card and shipping address information ready when you go there.  Later you’ll be ordering books and CS will need those instructions.

Before you do anything else at CreateSpace, get an ISBN number, probably from Bowker (though there are other options), and place it in your book on the verso page (after the title page) and on the back cover.

Then, when you think your book is ready to print—after it’s been edited and designed and other preliminary work is done—export your Word or other files into PDF files.  You’ll need one file for the book cover and a separate one for the interior.  These are what you’ll send to CreateSpace.

Data and Decisions

When you set up a CreateSpace account, you were given a “member dashboard,” which includes a list of “my projects”, which will be empty at first.  Next to it you’ll see a button saying “add new title,” and you begin the print-on-demand process by clicking it.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for

From this point, working through several pages of forms, you’ll mainly be asked to supply information or make decisions.  Allow an hour, maybe a little more, to do this.

You’ll type in the name of the project—the title of the book—and whether this “project” is a paperback book, an audio CD, a DVD or a video download.  (CreateSpace produces all of these.)  You can take the book setup speedily through either an “expert” or “guided” process.  The guided approach takes a little longer, but you’ll be less likely to make mistakes.

You provide the book title and subtitle (if there is one), a book description, the names of the author(s) or editor(s) (whether just one or more than one), and the publication language and date.  You’ll be asked the “trim size” of the book—that is, it’s height and width, such as 6 x 9, or 8.5 by 11 inches.  If your book is part of a series, even a planned series, you can note that too.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for

You’ll be asked for an ISBN number, which you should already have.  (Its validity will be checked.)  You’ll also have to set your book’s list price.

You will choose whether your interior book pages can “bleed”—that is, whether pictures or other items on a page can run all the way off the page, or whether everything must be contained within a margin.  (Most of the time, unless you have some expertise or special reasons, you’ll probably want a margin.)  You also can choose between a glossy or matte cover finish.

Then you’ll be asked to upload your cover and interior PDF files.  A button you click lets you find those files on your computer, and select them.  When they’re fully received by CreateSpace, they’ll get an immediate automated review for any basic errors that either would interfere with publication, or could cause printing issues.  Some of these errors must be corrected before the book can be printed.  Others are relatively minor and need not hold up the book.  I have from time to time, for example, run pictures of quality low enough that CS flagged them for warning, but they still printed well enough.

After the automated review of the cover and interior, actual humans also review the interior file of the book for any problem areas.  This can take a day or even longer, though usually I have gotten responses back more quickly.

If you’re told corrections are needed, you’ll need to go back to your cover or interior file and make the needed changes, then send a new (corrected) file to replace the old one, and go through the review process again.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for

Once CreateSpace has printable files from you, you’ll hit a page called “channels,” where you decide how your book will be distributed.  CreateSpace offers options including the Amazon store (automatically set up there through a one- button click), direct sales through CreateSpace (where you buy your own copies of the book at lower cost) and bookstore and library distribution.  IngramSpark has its own set of distribution options.

After that your book is live—available, at least within a few hours, to the world.

Does some of that walk-through the process raise brand new questions for you?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  Let me know what they are, and they might become the subject of another post here soon.

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Some book marketing tools reside in the shadows, little-observed and not heavily used by Indie authors who could easily take advantage of them.

Kindle Instant Previews belongs in that category.

Do You Know About Kindle Instant Previews?

Originally launched as Kindle for the Web (in beta) in September 2010, has since evolved and became available as a mobile app called “Kindle Instant Previews” in 2015, that allows readers to read and share (and hopefully, purchase) eBook samples on their own devices.  Although it appears on a vast number of pages on the site, only in recent weeks have I spotted any widespread discussion of the mobile tool in a number of writing and publishing web sites, along with considerable author surprise that it exists.

What is this tool?

It’s a lot like one you’ve almost certainly seen and used on most book pages.  Toward the upper left of the book’s page you’ll see the familiar “Look Inside” feature.  When you click there, you get a new preview window that offers a look at the first several pages pages inside the book, giving you a sense of what the book contains and how it is written.  Numerous studies have shown that books including the “Look Inside” feature, which is a free promotional tool for many of the books sold on Amazon, (authors have the choice of enabling it or not) sell better than those without it.

But that’s old news; you probably know “Look Inside” has been around on Amazon for many years.

What you may not know is that you can post a similar “Look Inside” for your book on your own website, or other relevant websites.

How to Post a Preview

Amazon does not discourage this.  It calls these features “Kindle Instant Previews,” and makes them easy to install. Here’s how they work:

On your book’s Amazon page (make sure that a Kindle version is offered), look on the right-hand side for the “share” social media icons: email, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  Next to those you should see a mysterious and unexplained bracketed link, “<Embed>”.   If you click on this, you’ll go to a page that lets you “share or embed a free Kindle book preview.”  (Be aware: It is highly browser-sensitive, and you may get an error message if you try opening it while using an older version of Explorer, Firefox, Chrome or another browser.  If you have trouble, try using a different browser, or refresh your browser and clear the cache and cookies.)kindle instant previews tool

When you do open that “embed” page, you can get a URL link to the preview, or generate an embeddable code, like the “Buy Now” website codes PayPal uses.  With that URL or code in hand, go back to the web page where you’d like to place them, and paste either the URL or the embed code there.

That will let you offer prospective readers an Amazon-like preview on your own site.

On its descriptive web page, Amazon noted: “Kindle Instant Previews can be embedded on the web or shared as a link via email, text and other favorite apps. Anyone can start reading the preview for free by clicking on the link.”

It cited benefits including, “Free content to keep traffic on your site; Free access to a sample of the book; Adjustable font sizes for the readers’ comfort; Direct link to book purchase from Amazon.”

If you’ve signed up with the Amazon Associates program, you may be able to make some additional money through it when people click on your preview.

I’ve tried it, and you can see the result yourself for the embedded code on one of my web pages.  After experimenting a bit, I concluded that the URL might be the more useful option for other books, but your preferences could differ.

I’ve looked but haven’t yet found a similar preview service from other online retailers.  Don’t be surprised, however, if one or more of them eventually turns up.

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Not so long ago, advertisers and viewers communicated mostly on three television networks and other mass media aimed at almost everybody.  We called it “broadcasting.”

Reach Your Target Audience Through Narrowcasting

To reach our target audience, we now need to narrowcast.  We choose among hundreds of communication options that connect with narrow audience segments.  The implications of narrowcasting are especially important for nonfiction indie authors advertising and promoting their books.

Narrowcasting is useful for an indie author with limited marketing funds.  It means you can forget about media that reach a wide range of people and focus on those interested in your specific niche.  The more narrowly you can define avenues for reaching the specific people most interested in your subject, the more effective your advertising can be.

In my last two posts on book advertising I wrote about paying for exposure through websites, email lists and sellers of price-discounted eBooks, and targeted advertising in social media such as Facebook.  Nonfiction authors can use these approaches, but still other narrowcasting alternatives may be just as useful.

Narrowcasting on Amazon

One of those, which may work better for nonfiction than for fiction and can be used most directly for eBooks, is advertising on  Because nonfiction books are placed in so many subject categories, you may be able to get your Amazon advertising in front of readers specifically interested in your topic.

Author Chris McMullen last year tried a new Amazon program which allows authors of Kindle books which are enrolled in their KDP Select program to advertise, using “bids” (somewhat like Facebook does in its advertising options) from two cents to $1.01 for each click they receive.  McMullen has posted a long article detailing the experience.  He concluded that the system has potential for some books if used carefully.

His central observation: “You really have to judge your target audience well to make the most of your targeting . . . It pays to spend extra time contemplating the probable habits and interests of much of your target audience (and it may take some trial and error).”

McMullen’s point about knowing the target audience also applies beyond Amazon and off-line.  In considering non-digital places to advertise, think about places, either physical or defined in some other way, where your audience and only your audience show up to converse and socialize.  Cost-effective advertising may be practical there.niche advertising to target audience

Advertising Where Your Niche Readers Are

Here’s an example.  I’m helping a writer who has drafted a book about how his city’s greenbelt was started and grew.  Because the greenbelt and the parks it runs through are public property, advertising options right there are limited.  However, if the parks department has any regular publications, there’s the possibility of getting a “sponsored” announcement or submitting a guest article or opinion piece.  A number of special events are held annually around the parks and greenbelt, and promotional giveaways of book copies are possible.  Another alternative is sponsored notices placed in the event materials.

A number of businesses provide services for greenbelt users, from renting boats and other equipment to drinks and snacks.  They might agree to post flyers about the book, maybe for a small fee, or help host a promotional event.  Recreation stores around town may catch the eye of other greenbelt users.

People interested in the history of the city may also have an affinity with the book, so the city’s historical museum – and its publications – may be a useful place to advertise.

This author’s city also has, as many cities do, popular websites which focus on local issues.  Those websites might be approached for carrying a guest post or other content, but also could be good prospects for advertising, since ad costs for many of those sites are low.

Outside the city, even outside the United States, people interested in park development and expansion may want to learn about a case study of how this particular park area was developed (from unpromising beginnings).  I’ve found several national associations, such as the City Parks Alliance, which regularly communicate with hundreds of public and private people and organizations interested in just that subject.  Advertising options in one or more of those organizations may be a good audience

Searching out these advertising prospects will send an author back to some of his original research sources, which may be a useful exercise.  You can think back to your original work on the book for answers.  What organizations did you contact?  What were your sources of information?  Where do the people interested in your subject congregate?  If you researched your subject thoroughly, you probably already have the answers to those questions.

Think about this carefully, and you may have a good idea where and how your advertising should be placed to reach your target audience.

Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.

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It’s no mistake that one of the top forums (on Yahoo) for mystery writers is called Murder Must Advertise.  Book advertising belongs in a fiction writer’s marketing toolbox.

You’ll see ads for fiction in the review pages of the New York Times and some national magazines, but purchasing those ads is a high-priced and broad-based way to promote a book.  Indie authors need something lower priced and more tightly focused.

Fiction Book Advertising on the Webadvertising

Advertising that works effectively for indie fiction writers, without breaking the bank, mostly falls into two categories: book promotional web sites and social media.

Among the book promotion sites (with their associated services), probably none comes more strongly touted among both indie and traditional authors than BookBub.   Each day it sends out targeted emails to thousands of readers (I’m one of them), listing book bargains with prices up to $2.99.  Many authors have reported big spikes in sales after their book appears in BookBub.

Authors can easily and without cost, submit their books for consideration there, but acceptance is a steep climb.  BookBub’s standards are stringent, and even many well-established traditional authors have seen repeated rejections from BookBub.  If your book is approved, be prepared to pay substantial fees, which vary by genre and by book price.  The most costly currently is “crime fiction,” with 3.3 million subscribers; a book in that category priced at “free” will cost $470 for placement, and a $2.99 book, $2,350.  (BookBub said that the average number of non-free books sold in that “crime fiction” category as a result of the listing is 3,930.)   The lowest ad rate is $40 for a “humor” book priced for free.bookbub

Many young adult and adult fiction authors reported good results with the popular Midlist, which operated in some ways like BookBub.  In October, the big publisher HarperCollins bought it, and Midlist, at least under its old name, apparently has vanished from the web.

The firm that sold it, Libboo, is still active, however, and now offers an innovative tool for free eBook giveaways called Instafreebie.  It integrates directly with the author’s email list . Basic service is free with more options available in plans for $40 or $50 per month.

Another popular book promotion service is Ereader News Today, which like BookBub charges varied rates (according to genre and book price) for a spot in its newsletter.  There’s also a more expensive, and higher visibility, book-of-the-month program.  That monthly program is popular enough that all spots available for the first quarter of 2016 have already sold out.

The Ereader Cafe, which also leans heavily toward fiction and has some similarities to the News Today, has a $35 program for book-of-the-day.

If the cost of book advertising on these sites seem roughly in your ballpark but not quite the right fit, there are plenty more to check out, including several that have yielded good responses from authors.  The Fussy Librarian (which matches people and books something like a dating service) lists eBooks only, and charges relatively low listing prices (but again, these vary by genre).  Robin Reads, which offers a $30 package, has loaded its site with statistical information about exactly what kinds of readers frequent it and what those readers look for.

These book promotion sites allow fiction writers to hone in on readers looking for books in their specific genres, which is helpful.  Social media, used carefully, can offer even more precise targeting.

Fiction Book Advertising on Social Media

“The best advertising is word-of-mouth, reader-to-reader, friend-to-friend,”  BookWorks contributor Carla King pointed out, and that is where social media shines.

Not only Facebook, but most other social media, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat, offer targeted advertising options.  They usually scale widely, and can be inexpensive at the low-entry level.

aer.ioA $99 investment in the socially-connected and mobile friendly Flyer service to deliver samples and run giveaways can really give your book a boost,” King said.  “The service is so good, it was recently purchased by Ingram as I mentioned in .”

I also like Facebook ads. They’re very inexpensive and you can target particular audiences. An IBPA (Independent Book Publishing Association) membership gives you access to their marketing programs, which will advertise your book in periodic theme- or target market-based IBPA Cooperative Catalogs for bookstore buyers, librarians, and book reviewers and IBPA Trade Show Exhibits for domestic and international trade show participation.” (Note that BookWorks offers a discount on IBPA membership to our premium subscribers).

When other forms of book promotion aren’t quite enough to generate strong sales for your book, carefully chosen advertising in book promotion sites and social media can help.

Next: Book advertising for nonfiction indie authors/self-publishers.

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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.


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,

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
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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.”


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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The age-old checklist of book marketing tactics always includes this: write a press release and send it to newspapers, broadcasters and others in your region and elsewhere.

But that may be the wrong approach.  I suggest you pitch a news story about your book to the press, rather than send out a conventional press release.

Press releases have long been a standard part of the book marketing process for good reasons.

They can be mass-delivered.  You can collect names and email addresses by scouting around the web – it’s practical, but it takes time – or you can shoot out broader blasts through a press release service.  Some of these services are inexpensive or even free, but others are quite costly.  BusinessWire, for example, considered one of the best in the business and used by many top corporations, will cost you: “US distribution begins as low as $415 for a 400-word press release.”  Many of the free services simply give you placement on the service’s web site, and an RSS feed from it, which may not generate much interest in newsrooms.

Most press releases are never even read by news organizations.  When I worked for newspapers and in television, I tossed out many more than I used, and the volume of releases has increased greatly since then, even as news space has diminished.

On occasion, though only on occasion, they are simply used as is or are slightly rewritten.  Don’t count on that happening.  If there’s much interest in your book, you’ll likely be contacted by someone who wants to write an actual story about it.  And if a release is used mostly as is, it probably will be chopped down to the length of a short news brief, which will do you little good.

If you do decide to write a release, focus on the subject matter of the book – not on the book itself.  The release should only be a single page and any specific references to the book should be made in the lower parts of the release.  News organizations dislike being put in the position of clearly promoting products, but interesting information is more welcome.  Lead with that interesting information about the subject of your book..

What’s the alternative to press releases?

Rather than focus on providing the raw materials for a news story, you might try to tell the news organization why it should take the time and effort to develop a story.  You need to pitch, in the form of a memo, the value of the story you tell in your book as something the news organization – and its audience – would find of interest.  That gets you away from being positioned as a barker for a product and into the role of someone with a newsworthy story.

The English book marketing firm PublishingPush, which reports having worked on 200 book marketing campaigns, strongly advises against press releases.  Instead, it suggests the author pitch them a good story, telling them what the contours of the story would be, what its news appeal is, what materials are available and how to access it (that is, provide contact information).

As PublishingPush put it, “Really dig deep about the newsworthy elements within your book.  What inspired you? What is your personal story?  Sell them on this.  We are all storytellers so sell them a story.”

How do you structure a story pitch?  Start, as you would in a press release, with the date and with contact information so the editor at the news organization can easily reach you.  If you have a web page devoted to your book, add a link to it.

Lead with the most compelling aspect of what your book has to offer, whether that’s a fiction story with an unusual hook, or your personal story, or a striking argument you’re making.  Get their attention with that – and give them, right up front, something they’re going to want to share with their audience.

Then provide more details supporting that first statement.  Tell them briefly how the book came about, and wrap up with a short description about what you can make available (yourself for an interview, video or pictures if you have them, or whatever else may be useful) and how the news organization can get access this information.  Keep it brief; edit your pitch ruthlessly.

What I’ve described is the subtle basis of a good news release anyway.  By converting it into a pitch, you hit the news organization closer to the center of their need for good new material.  And hitting the center of an audience’s needs is what good marketing is all about.

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