How to Use Keywords for Book Promotion

Kindle and PaperbackEbooks and Tree Books: The Choice is Yours

More authors are turning to eBooks as a publishing medium rather than ‘tree’ books. It certainly has merits as a publishing channel. It’s cheap, fast, ecologically efficient, and relatively easy to use – from both the authors’ and readers’ perspectives. Kindle, of course, is the largest eReader in use today, and its sister company, Createspace, is probably the world’s largest self-publishing platform. Both subsidiaries of Amazon, the world’s largest book seller, WordPlay is happy to use them as the publishing conduit for authors using WordPlay Publishing’s assisted self-publishing program.

Traditionally-published or self-published: marketing is your responsibility

But once you’ve had your book published, how does it find readers? This is down to you, the author. And don’t think that being traditionally published removes this obligation from you. Increasingly the publisher is leaving marketing and publicity to the individual author.

There are, of course, many ways today to get the word about your book out there. The bad news is that they all take time and effort – well, no one ever said anything worth doing was going to be easy. The good news is that marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. Over the coming weeks we’ll be looking more closely at marketing, and how you can build an author platform for no cost. Yes, that’s right, no cost!

Your first port-of-call, though, and something you should bear in mind with all of your online efforts, is to use great keywords that will help attract potential buyers of your book.

What are the best keywords for book sellers?

A key word is simply a word (or phrase) that helps an online audience find you and your work. Think about when you search Google, looking for a map that shows you where Anywhere Street in Anywhere town is. You might key in ‘Anywhere Street’, ‘Anywhere Town’, and ‘Map’ in your effort to find what you are looking for. These are your search terms, and form the basis of keywords.

The keywords to use to sell your book

Let’s say you have authored and published a romantic comedy novel. Think about the words and phrases you might key in to search for that type of book. It’s not likely that you would enter words such as ‘murders in New York’ for example. You might, however, key in ‘romantic funny story’. Here are some tips on how to choose keywords and how to use them:

Think about keyword types to promote your book

How would you look for your book online? Think about the things that you want to read about, and how they relate to your book. Choose keywords that fit into these five categories:

  • Your book’s setting (London streets)
  • Your characters (divorced mum, ex-military)
  • Character types (timid male, retiring female, decisive male cop)
  • Plot (romantic comedy, detective thriller)
  • Story (exciting, misery, feel good)

Forget these as keyword choices to sell your book

There are some words that you really shouldn’t use. They waste space, and that is at a premium. Or they repeat what is already available. Here are a few examples:

  • Don’t use a common knowledge word. For example ‘book’: customers known it’s a book.
  • Don’t make claims that others might not agree with. Just because you think it’s the ‘best’ you can’t say that.
  • Temporary claims, such as ‘new’ and ‘recently published’ should also be avoided.
  • Don’t misrepresent your book. Don’t say ‘like Jane Austen’, for example.

Learn to use Google Keyword Planner

Google’s Keyword Planner is its new keyword tool. Learn to use it, run your ideas through it, and garner other keyword ideas. Then use these accordingly.

The key to using keywords to promote your book

  • Make your keywords relevant
  • Don’t use speech marks
  • Focus on the description of your book
  • Keep keywords consistent across all
  • Use keywords in a logical order
  • Experiment and think like a reader
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Ideas on Tracking Your Book Sales

book sales chartIt’s really hard to track your sales, either of tree books or eBooks, and perhaps the only really definitive way to tot them up is by referring to your publisher (or if you are self-published then by referring to the sales made through your printing and distribution channels – for example WordPlay Publishing Limited).

But for those that want to get and independent idea of sales, then here are a few ways you might do so:

Author Central

At Amazon’s Author Central you can click on the Sales Info tab to see graphs of your book’s ranking.

NovelRank

A free service for authors to track their Amazon Sales Rank through Amazon’s various stores around the world. Sales quantities are only estimates.

Metric Junkie

A free service that displays Amazon Sales data through charts and graphs. You can track sales and estimate product market share.

Sales Rank Express

Another free service. Sales Rank Express pulls together sales rankings from Amazon and NovelRank. A nice feature here is the ability to see “pairings”. Pairings reflect books that are bought most often by the same customers, and this information is presented by Amazon to customers in various ways to encourage additional purchases.

RankForest

A tracking service for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble stores. A free account will let you do some limited tracking on one book; however you will need to pay for more features or to track multiple books.

RankTracer

This service offers analytics and customized graphs from Amazon. It costs $3 to track a book at one Amazon store for 3 months, or $9 for a year.

Finally, although it can be a lot of fun watching your book’s sales rank – if it’s improving anyway – it is usually more productive for your writing career to spend less time watching your rank and more time working on your next book.

Frank Lampard’s Magic Ballpoint

Magic Frank: he shoots, he scores, he writes, he publishes

Frank LampardSo, I see that the celebrity book publishing machine is at it again. This time it’s a footballing luminary that is hitting the headlines with a series of children’s books.

Frank Lampard says that he used to make these stories up to tell his children at bedtime, and they enjoyed them so much that he decided to make the deal formal. It just so happened that an agent and publisher saw the potential and picked him up straight away. The books are about a football playing boy named, er, Frankie, who has… ooh, ah, Mrs… a magic ball.

Children make great editors

Clearly the player has a lot of free time, because in the last 5 months the first three books in the series have been published, though he did have some expert help with the editing: he told one of the celeb magazines my wife leaves laying around that his children had ‘done 80% of the editing’ needed.

A role model writes

His first three books have centred on an educational tack. With the publishers and certain critics saying how it’s great that such a role model should write for children, I thought I’d put together a few suggestions for further books, all with protagonists and their exploits that should be revered by today’s children:

  • Teflon Terry Bags Himself a Girlfriend
  • Roon the Loon Keeps Gran Happy
  • Shy Suarez Visits the Dentist
  • Loyal Ryan Helps his Brother
  • Balotelli has fun on Bonfire Night
  • Tevez the Tourist takes a Long Holiday
  • The Famous Five Footballers give a girl a Sunday Roast
  • Fearless Frank plays Away
  • Elegant England wins the World Cup

It shouldn’t be too difficult to bang out these in double quick time: only one of them is complete fiction.

What Books do You Have on Your Laptop?

word documentsPreparing for publication can be a real chore

This week I’ve been busy preparing other writer’s work for publication, taking manuscripts, organising the word documents, and then formatting, etc. There really is some great writing out there by unknown authors, and there are several of these at WordPlay. While I’ve been working for others, I’ve realised that there are several books sitting within the files of all the articles I’ve written for clients over the past year or so. The problem is that organising all of these files is a time consuming business. Fortunately I think I’ve found the answer.

Finding a file: a needle in a haystack

If you have been writing a book, or conducting research and saving to your computer, you’ll understand that often we save files without keeping a note of where they are. Then when we want to retrieve them, we have to spend valuable time hunting around. If only we were more organized, and kept a list of all our files, how much easier would life be?

Building a catalogue of files

I’ve had this project on the backburner, which is to list all my files and the details of where they sit on my computer. This means going into windows explorer, locating my files, and then manually typing all the details I need. That’s hard enough for a book project, where perhaps I’ve got 40 or 50 ‘chapters’, each in a separate file, and then another 20 or 30 research files saved on my hard disk. Just cataloguing these files would take around a couple of hours work. Now consider where I have over 2,000 documents and files to catalogue. That’s a whole week’s work, and more, and the reason I’ve been putting it off. But no longer: I’ve found a program that will allow me to do this in a fraction of the time.

A faster way to organize your working files

Now I open a folder, select all the files at once, and with a couple of clicks of my mouse button I’ve copied all my file names, and the ‘paths’ to them. I then paste this information into an excel spreadsheet and I can manipulate it into groups of files for separate book projects. With my hopes of publishing up to 10 books through the next 12 months, this program has saved me heaps of time and bought my goal much closer. If you have files and documents that you need to categorise, why not try http://www.extrabit.com/copyfilenames/ and create that list of your writing that will help your productivity? The best part is it’s free, though a word of warning: make sure you backup your files before you copy their names.

 

Writing Well and Fast is all about Practice

coffee writer

There’s no Mystery When it comes to Painless Penmanship

Living in Spain, I’m lucky to have the weather to get outside and walk. After years of not walking (“I didn’t learn to drive so I could walk everywhere”) I started strolling along the local canal every day, and soon was up to ten miles in less than three hours.

I didn’t start walking to get in shape, though my fitness did improve, but because I enjoyed it. I wasn’t even noticing how far I was walking. I’m now walking more than I have ever done, yet feeling it less. The mystery behind this improvement isn’t a mystery at all. Practice.

And it’s the same with my writing.

When I first started out as a freelancer, I could write around 300 words per hour, 400 at a pinch. Now 1200 words an hour is about my going rate, if I am writing about a subject that I’m familiar with. It’s the same when I’m writing fiction: once I’ve got into the story, then 1000 words plus each hour is no problem.

Wake up with a coffee and a pen

I swing my legs out of bed every day, and get straight to my desk with a coffee. Then I start writing. Of course, I have good days and bad days, but the point is that every time I write, I write that little bit quicker, that little bit more accurately, and that little bit more readable.

Whatever it is you want to do – play the piano, learn to speak a foreign language, grow world record onions – if you practice regularly and often you’ll get better. Finally you’ll get to where you want to be. As a writer, writing becomes a reflex reaction.

Smile as you write

Then, just when you think you’ve cracked it, someone else comes along and cultivates an onion bigger than any you’ve ever given the world. Do you worry about that? Do you give up? No, because by that time it’s in your bones.

Writing is a part of you. It’s your passion. It’s what makes you tick. And that is when it really becomes easy. And you’ll be writing every day with a smile on your face.

Practice will improve everything you do. It may not make it quite perfect, but it will make it a painless pleasure.

Never Has There Been a Better Time to be Short

Kindle singlesAmazon has done what traditional publishers have not been able to do, and bought the readers of the world books whose length makes sense with its Kindle Singles product. Think about the traditional choice for readers: less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000. With an adult’s average reading speed of 250 words per minute, traditional fiction has given readers a ‘pleasure time’ of less than 40 minutes or more than 3 hours. For many that’s too short to be fulfilling, yet too long to give a promise of time to – people’s plans are always being ruined by other demands this day and age.

Enter the world of Kindle Singles

A Kindle Single pitched at around 25,000 to 30,000 words will give the reader between 100 and 120 minutes of imagination grabbing action: about the same time as a feature film in a cinema. Perfect for a brief step into another world, and without the need to wait for ‘show-time’: fancy some mind blowing entertainment now – just pick up your Kindle, look under Kindle Singles, and select what you fancy.

Amazon seems to have pitched this product perfectly, to both writers and readers. I’m a great believer in a story taking as long as it should. So I find it hard to understand how the average length of a novel has risen from around 50,000 words 50 years ago to over 100,000 today, during a time which has seen free time constricted ever more harshly.

Kindle Singles – for all writers and readers

Not only does the length appear to be spot on, but also the target audience: everyone. You see, Kindle Singles isn’t confined to fiction, it also covers memoirs, reporting, history, essays and ideas, humour, science, art and entertainment, and more. In other words, whatever you want to write or read, here’s an outlet and a source of supply.

Entering the world of publishing

Amazon has been steadily eroding the power of the traditional publishing industry for around 6 or 7 years, since the introduction of the Kindle. It seems to me that Kindle Singles is the latest foray across enemy lines.

Amazon has pitched its Singles product firmly to ‘reach out to publishers and accomplished writers’, and there is a submission process to go through in order to have your book accepted as a Kindle Single. The great news for readers is that they are cheaper than the average length book, and for writers, no matter what price they are sold at, royalties of 70% are available (compare this to the requirement for a Kindle list price of at least $2.99 usually required for the 70% royalty rate).

Write a single

Writing a full length novel is hard work, all authors know that. Having to write 100,000 words could actually ruin your novel. I certainly felt Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol was 100 pages too long, packed and padded thicker than an elephant’s stomach. It could have been a great read 35,000 words shorter.

Writing a single is no less hard work, but the result is far quicker. It hones your writing and could easily be completed in 4 to 8 weeks, using a writing time management template like WordPlay’s. Getting it past the gatekeepers at Kindle Singles might be a little tougher, but if your idea is good, and your writing better, then you could become one of a growing number of writers turning to the growing needs of readers.

If you want to explore this possibility further, then visit Kindle Singles to view their submission policy, and don’t delay. Time for writing, like time for reading, is in short supply.

And if you are going on holiday, planning to spend lazy days on the beach reading, then why not turn to Kindle Singles? You could be in the middle of a crime wave in the morning, and transported to a shoulder shaking, but romantic, Paris in the afternoon.

Why not tell us about your favourite Kindle Single? I expect mine is going to be High Heat by Lee Child.

Agents facing the big squeeze in the middle

Having discussed the problems facing both bookshops and publishers, which I believe certainly means time being called on the former and the need for an innovative and progressive approach from the latter in order to survive, today I’m going to look at where that leaves the literary agents.

When considering this piece, I finally decided to open with a question, and one that all aspiring authors should most definitely ask themselves.

What does a literary agent do for you?

Authors used to be able to approach publishers direct. A century or more ago. But that changed when the agent came onto the scene. ‘You write away, I’ll sell your work.’ Some authors will tell you that their agent is like a best friend, without whom their writing career would never have taken off. An agent knows what sells and what doesn’t. Get picked up by an agent and you’re made.

The problem is, in order to get an agent in the first place, the likelihood is that you’ll need to approach dozens. That will take a couple of years. Agents know what the market likes? Do me a favour. Remind me how many agents snubbed their noses at JK Rowling before one finally said yes. They nearly passed over Stephanie Myer. They gave a resounding no to Amanda Hocking.

The fact is that agents choose what they like. Always have, always will.

An agent does one thing and one thing only: he passes his client’s work to editors at publishing houses. Okay, so there might be a couple of lunches, an agent/ publisher meeting to handle, but there is actually very little negotiation of contract and terms to be done – royalties are standard and up-front payments falling.

In 2012 at the RWA, Selene Grace Silver asked a successful agent exactly what it was that they offered the writer over and above this basic function. The room fell silent and the agent squirmed. The writer on the panel defended the agent, saying that an agent acts as a buffer between the editor and the writer, when the writer didn’t want to make editor suggested changes. That’s it? Do me a favour.

Do publishers need agents?

Publishers use agents as a sieve. Supposedly they sort the wheat from the chaff, bringing just the very best of new writers to the party. I’ve previously discussed how little time an agent will spend considering a submission: in my view there is no way an agent provides a properly considered view on every submission.

With the financial squeeze faced by publishers in the modern era, it’s even more important for the winners to be spotted. Yet many books sold to publishers just don’t cut it, and the potential of an increasing number are lost on agents.

Agents, like publishers, are therefore turning to representing only what they consider sure-fire winners: celebrities (even those who have been in adult entertainment all their life and decide to write children’s books), already bestselling authors, or mass murderers.

But publishers have finally realised there is a new agent out there, one far more valuable than any other.

The rise of the world’s best agent

The new agent is the public, and that has been made possible by the self-publishing phenomenon. Publishers now only have to look at the best-selling lists, pick out the self-published authors, and sign them up. No guesswork or reliance on a single person’s personal taste. And no middle man’s fees to pay.

This week, Apple has announced that four of its top 20 selling books are self-published. And there are other books in that list whose writer began life as a self–published author.

Tell me, who are you going to believe: Joe Blogg’s from Joe Blogg’s agency, who, for 15%, will tell you what he likes, what he really really likes, or 20,000 or more people that have bought a book and propelled it into the bestsellers’ list?

Authors turning their backs

Authors are finally questioning why they need an agent. Publishing the traditional route does not guarantee sales. It doesn’t guarantee royalties. It costs money and time. An increasing number of authors signed by publishers are signing authors direct, on the back of self-published sales.

Authors are deciding to have fun, and put their work out there for the world to see. Screw the agent, who needs an agent? You can publish quickly, test the market and see what it likes, and get better feedback than any agent will give.

May be a publisher will sign you, if you have record breaking sales. Even if you’re not signed, you’ll now be a published author, recouping some of the cost of publishing (which can be very little), getting feedback from readers who review your book, and be on the road to continual improvement.

Agents need to change

Agents have finally realised they have a limited shelf-life. Don’t believe me? Look at what was the biggest agent led market in the world, and see how it has been decimated by direct sales. Travel agents are almost a thing of the past. Even online agents are feeling the pinch, as people go direct. I recently booked a bunch of flights to take me around America. The best price I could get from all of the online ‘biggies’ was £4200 for tickets for my wife and I. I noted the airline, went direct and paid a total of £1200.

It’s the same in the book trade: why would an author or publisher want to give so much away to a middleman who does little?

What is being seen now is a changing face of agents:

  • They now offer writing courses with guaranteed professional feedback. For huge bucks.
  • They offer self-publishing options(often through third parties) with the possibility of being signed bona fide. For huge bucks.
  • They offer critiques of work, help with plot, even sessions with an editor to help you develop as a writer. All for big bucks.
  • I’ve even seen one that has run a paid for writing competition.
  • Some agents offer marketing services.

Agents are being squeezed, and beginning to rely on these other service offerings for their revenues. That means the one thing they are supposedly doing – sorting the wheat from the chaff – is falling by the wayside as it doesn’t matter what quality a book is or the writing: it is the service the agent sells.

Agents are in decline

It seems that both authors and publishers are questioning the need to use agents: publishers are finding new talent from the self-published pool, and authors don’t get value for money from agents.

Agents are battling this by offering extra services that will cut out publishers, such as self-publishing models, direct publishing companies, and anthology collections.

But that could pose problems of conflicts of interest – how does an agent represent a client to himself?

Authors, in the main, distrust agents. Stories of poor representation and badly written contracts are by no means rare.

I believe the future of the agent will be determined by both authors and publishers answering the question I posed at the beginning of this article:

What does a literary agent do for you?

Big Publishers Nearing the Final Chapter?

On Monday I wrote about all the problems facing bookshops and why I think they have a limited life, in a similar way that, with hindsight, it was obvious that record shops would all but disappear when digital downloading of singles and albums came to the market.

Today I’m looking at the second string of our industry and the difficulties and challenges publishers face. It is my belief that many publishing houses will soon be following bookshops and going out of business. Here’s why.

Complacency caused by industry dominance

publishers have had their heads in the sandPublishers have, for the most part, buried their heads in the sand when it comes to the evolving publishing industry. Along with agents (I’ll be looking at those on Friday), publishers have been complacent about the gathering storm, dismissing much of the new technology and entrants into the market as no more than mere upstarts, flies to be swatted away at will. Well, it hasn’t exactly turned out like that, has it?

I’ve said for years that the way for publishers (and agents, as it goes), is for them to alter their business models, be innovative, and come up with new ideas to enhance the author and reader experience. Not a single one has done so, until very recently. Closing the stable door once the horse has bolted.

The biggest problem for publishers has been their dominant market position, in which they dictated terms to authors. Without that writing talent, publishers would not exist, and yet they have dictated a miserly 15% maximum royalty for decades, and authors have been forced to go along with that because there was no other route to market for them.

So here are the problems that publishing houses have faced, and largely ignored:

Competition

Amazon was a game changer that publishing houses laughed at. Not a single one thought eBooks would take-off in the way they have. Not a single one thought that books were the ideal product to be sold online. Heads in sand. And when Amazon’s sales started to bite, when sales of eBook readers began to explode, the publishing industry was there, to a man, telling readers that the experience would not be the same. Readers wouldn’t get the same enjoyment from flicking through a book on Kindle as they do via the pages of a paperback.

It’s only recently that publishers have realised eBooks are the way forward. They are cheaper to produce, cheaper to buy. The problem for the big publishers is that authors are now able to self-publish, and demand up to 70% royalties. Well established authors like Stephen King, Stephen Leather, and even Jackie Collins, have begun to self-publish their books. Now these authors say that it’s because of the freedom and control that self-publishing gives them. Don’t make me laugh – money speaks, and 70% royalty is better than any mainstream publishing house is willing to give.

So the competition that the big publishers face is attacking them from all sides: self-publishing, eBooks, online direct sales, and even from their own signed authors.

Of course, another problem that traditional publishers have made for themselves is by chasing profits they have chosen to marginalise new up-and-coming authors. Only celebrities or mass murderers can get a book publishing deal now, it seems. And when a new author is taken on, the publishing house does very little publicity: it’s mostly left to the author. For 15%? Get real.

Margins

That brings me to margins in the publishing industry. Publishing houses exist to make money. The trouble is that the money they are able to make is going to take a battering. It might be true that as they transition from tree-books to ebooks, manufacturing costs will fall, but so, too, will the price of the book.

At the same time, publishers will have to raise the royalty amount they pay out to authors on ebook sales simply to keep that author on board; or face the prospect of authors ‘going it alone’ and pocketing the higher royalties. Before publishers cry foul, look at the recent history of bestselling authors and celebrities taking the self-publishing route on some of their work. Once the genie is out the bottle, he won’t go back in.

With bookshops disappearing, where are publishers going to sell to the public? Supermarket shelves? Multi-product stockists such as WH Smith? Direct online?

High street retailers are driving down the prices at which they are selling books, and that means driving down the price they pay publishers. Multi-product stockists are following suit. And selling direct online is a tough market, with the big gorilla called Amazon accepting margins of around 1% and able to control their patch.

Margins on tree books are going to fall at exactly the time sales are falling – which in itself will push up the per book cost of production. Overall manufacturing costs are falling, but only because of eBook sales, and, with authors attacking the royalty payments on those, publishers are coming under immense margin pressure.

And let’s not forget, the surest sign of an industry scared for its margins and profits is the one with a cartel in operation. The big publishers have recently been found guilty of fixing eBook prices – that’s going to cost them.

Some publishers will fall by the wayside as the industry continues to evolve.

Self-Publishers becoming more savvy

For years, traditional publishers have spouted their propaganda to all who would listen: self-published books are not valuable for readers because they are poor quality, and poor reading. They are published by authors who couldn’t get a book deal because their work is under-par.

This myth has finally been exploded. Sure, there are bad self-published books out there. Then again, I’ve read a lot of awful traditionally published books.

It used to be that self-publishing cost a fortune, and that itself was a barrier to publishing. Not now. In fact, it is possible to self-publish for nothing, with no mountains of books having to be purchased. And for those that are not technically minded, companies such as WordPlay Publishing offer self-publishing services at costs which could only have been dreamed of a few years ago (and they then give back to the author, too).

The real barrier for self-publishers is not the cost, but the ability to market. Publishers used to be able to claim that this is where they excelled, but again this is an argument being eroded. I know of self-published authors who are grossing $100,000’s each year.

Publishing houses are increasingly requiring their authors to conduct their own marketing campaigns. What then, is the benefit of being traditionally published?

The other thing is that unknowns are becoming increasingly adept at marketing and publicity. It’s getting easier to make a name in an ever more crowded market place. Authors now use social media, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, set up their own websites, conduct online virtual book tours, and engage with followers like never before.

I’ll be concluding this series of three posts on Friday, when I’ll try to dissect the dinosaur that is the agent.

Agents, Publishers, Bookstores Look Away Now: Authors Take Note

bookstoreThis weekend, I heard some news about Debrett’s, the high society publisher, that made my ears prick up and my nose begin to twitch. That news really says everything that Ian and I were talking about four years ago. It’s prompted me to sit and write a series of three posts about the industry we love and how it has to change, and will change.

If you’re a book retailer, a book publisher, or an agent, I suggest you don’t read this series of three blogs. If you’re an author, aspiring or bestselling, then you really do need to read them. I have to hasten to add that what you are about to read are my views. You may feel differently. Please feel free to join the conversation: I’d love to hear what you think.

Books shops are going the way of the Dodo

borders closedI’ve been saying it for the last five years: bookshops will all but have disappeared within five years.

Now you may be sitting there and thinking, ‘well, you’re wrong about that.’ But before you dismiss my belief altogether, I want you to think about a couple of things:

  • When was the last time you went into a book shop and actually bought a book?
  • At some point, my statement will be proven absolutely correct.

The problem is that the whole industry has been super complacent as it has been taken by storm by the likes of Amazon and Kindle. I used to think that bookshops might be able to survive by being nimble, offering other products and services. Perhaps becoming a coffee shop that sells books and encourages people to sit and read.

Now I believe the only bookshops that will survive will be the niche stores, catering to ‘tree book’ enthusiasts, local knowledge seekers, and antique collectors. The book shop is dead, because of product evolution, competition, and costs.

Product Evolution

Kindle and PaperbackIt’s no secret that I am a big fan of eBooks. They are easier to store, will never be lost or burnt away in a house fire or drowned by flood (on Kindle, for example, all your books are held centrally so you can download your entire library again and again), can be shared by multiple devices, and allow me to take my entire library on the plane with me.

They are environmentally friendly, cheaper, easier to shop for, more convenient, and can be interactive, allowing me to add notes, link to other content elsewhere etc.  And I have an automatic bookmark facility.

The downside is, I suppose, that my battery may run out – and it has on a couple of occasions. But that’s because I’ve simply been caught out by its longevity: I think I get something like 72 hours of reading on my Kindle.

And in my job, my Kindle is invaluable. I do a lot of research, some needed on the spur of the moment. Before eBooks I would have had to get in my car, drive to the local town, park up, hope that the library was open and it had the book I wanted, and then spend hours trawling through content, before making the return journey. My Kindle paid for itself on the first piece of research I used it for.

Some bookshops, like Waterstones, are now even selling Kindles: talk about keeping your enemy closest.

Competition

charity booksOkay, so let’s put eBooks to one side. Let’s look at other competitive pressures.

First, there are the supermarkets. They’ve already pretty much run newsagents, local convenience stores, and off licences into the ground. Pubs are becoming a thing of the past because of the cheap booze that supermarkets sell (and government taxes, if course). Supermarkets sell books at a fraction of the price of bookshops. True, they don’t have the range that bookshops do, but they do sell all the major titles.

Next, there are market stalls selling second hand books. Most of these will only sell books in good condition that have been looked after, often from leading authors bought from a bookshop or supermarket by someone who just couldn’t wait the extra couple of weeks to buy a copy on the market stall. Many of these stalls also have a ‘bring one back and get the next half price’ policy. Mint condition books for a couple of quid, and the next one for a pound? What bookshop can compete with that?

Then there is the convenience and low cost of buying online from Amazon. I( don’t think I have to expound on this argument any. The word Amazon says it all.

Finally, and perhaps most perilous to the bookshop, is the charity store. Second hand books – rows and rows of them – available at as low a price as 10p. This is the most unfair competition of the lot. Charity shops don’t have the enormous costs of bookshops.

Costs

Electricity, heating, alarm systems, cash registers, staff, window cleaning, store cleaning… the list goes on. But all these costs pail into insignificance when you consider the costs lumped on bookstores by landlords and local authorities.

One bookstore I was close to recently closed. It was the only real bookstore for miles around. It had seen sales drop off the cliff because of competitive pressures, but the real killer was the €5,000 rent. Each MONTH. Book selling is a low margin business. That single cost, never mind all the others and local business rates added into the mix, guaranteed the closure of the bookshop.

Figures don’t lie

book salesDon’t take my word for it: bookshops are dying. We’ve seen big names like Borders fall by the wayside. Waterstones are having problems with sales in its high street stores, and by many accounts its online sales process really doesn’t cut it.

But to see how rapidly book stores are going to fall out of the high street, look no further than official sales statistics in America. In the last five years in store sales have fallen by nearly 40%. Online sales have more than doubled. The overall numbers have remained static. Book buying habits have changed, and changed forever. The same things happened with record stores.

And before you rue the demise of the bookstore, ask yourself this question once more:

•           When was the last time I went into a book shop and actually bought a book?

On Wednesday I’ll be looking at publishers, and how they are being forced to change.

Michael is a freelance writer, and co-founder of WordPlay Writer’s Forum and runs WordPlay Publishing Limited.

Self-published? Time to rack-up those book reviews

book reviewsWell done on finishing your book

It’s one hell of a big thing to write a book, and for anyone that has then that’s a great achievement. Those long hours sweating over every chapter start and end, the plot and subplots, character and dialogue, finally come to an end when that last sentence is penned.

Time for the hard work of marketing and selling

If you’re an author who has recently finished your masterpiece, and have published your sweat, blood, and tears, then I’m afraid I’m about to burst your bubble. It’s now that the hard work begins. You’ll probably want to sell your book, so there’s marketing, book launches, signings, an author platform, maybe radio or television interviews… you’ll need to be out there doing it all to stand half a chance.

Unbiased reviews shouldn’t be expensive

Of course, it’s all very well for you to big-up your own book, but what you really could do with is a few unbiased reviews. Now you could pay for these, or get a few friends to write nice things about you and your book. But that really doesn’t cut it, does it. Apart from the fact that such reviews will probably be ‘seen through’, there is no ego boost to them. What you could really do with is a good, honest review by an impartial reviewer. Where to go for these is the question that needs answering. There have to be book lovers out there, willing to read and tell folk what they like – and don’t – about your work, and we think we may have found a couple of sources of free, unbiased, impartial, and honest reviews.

Free book review sites for self-published authors

Here are two sites that any self-published author might like to take a look at – and they are absolutely free, too.

A rapidly growing site is the Indie Reviewer List. This is a directory of reviewers who have registered with the site, and writers need only register, too. The reviewer mustn’t be affiliated with a publisher, review eBooks, and not charge for their reviews.

At the Book Blogger a writer can search for a reviewer by genre, so you can be sure of being reviewed by a reader who loves the type of story you’ve written.

Help your cause with these 4 tips when using book reviewers

It’s hard work to get your name out there, and a big part of that is getting your book read and reviewed. These two free services could prove a stepping stone on your sales path, as could others such as Goodreads.

There are a few things all writers should do when seeking reviews, online or offline:

  1. Be mindful that the reviewer is human: he or she has feelings and deserves to be treated with respect. Like my mum always said: “mind your p’s and q’s.”
  2. If the reviewer reads horror, don’t request a review for your romance/ chick-lit from them. Make sure the reviewer doesn’t just like your genre, but loves it.
  3. If you’re using an online reviewer, then make sure you follow their instructions of how to submit your work for review.
  4. One final word from us here at WordPlay: be careful when you’re sending your work to be reviewed. We’re pretty sure that all the reviewers are genuine, but the last thing you want is for your hard written work to appear on a free-to-download site. It might be worth making sure you gift the book via Kindle, or send a hard copy to an actual address.