How EBook Readers Shop And The Importance Of Sampling

An author at a conference recently asked me for tips on publishing on the Kindle and then said that he didn’t actually read books on digital devices.

ebookreaderssamplingI was kind of gob-smacked because how else are you going to know if there are problems until you start getting 1 star reviews?

When you publish a print book, don’t you buy it immediately to test the process and the quality? So why not do the same for ebooks?

If you’re going to digitally publish, I believe you should own an e-reader, even if just to test how your book looks. They aren’t expensive anymore so there is no excuse.

It’s also important to understand how ebook readers shop, because they are the high-volume readers, the ones who will make up the bulk of your digital sales.

How do ebook readers shop for books?

I read around 95% digitally, on a Kindle Paperwhite and through the Kindle app on my iPhone. I don’t own every device but I certainly test the .mobi format on Kindle and the ePub format on my desktop reader and my iPad and iPhone. I am also a voracious reader, getting through 3-5 books per week, more on holidays. Not having a TV helps!

This is how I shop:

a) I hear about a book on twitter, or I see one at a physical bookstore, or see a review somewhere, or find something I like in the Amazon store Top rankings for categories I like. I surf for fun in the Last 30 Days area.

b) If the book is available as an ebook, I download the sample right away and put it into a collection marked Samples. If the book isn’t available as an ebook, 99% of the time I won’t buy it unless it is an author I am committed to. I have other Collections on my Kindle marked ‘To Read’ which are books I have bought but haven’t started yet, “Reading” for ones I am reading now and “Make Notes On / Review” for those I want to revisit to write notes on or review on Amazon & Goodreads.

c) In between books I am currently reading, I go through my samples. If I make it to the end of the sample, I will usually buy the book because I am hooked. If I don’t, I delete the sample. No sale. I usually give a book 3 clicks of my Kindle before I delete it. Harsh, maybe, but life is too short to read books that don’t call to you.

So your marketing efforts, your book cover, your book description and reviews have helped your book get this far, but it is the sample that leads me to buy. I probably delete 60-75% of my samples so I have a harsh approach, but I don’t think I am an untypical example of a high volume ebook reader (although if you are one also, I’d love to know what you think in the comments!)

Make sure your sample makes the reader want to buy

Your book has to start with something that hooks the reader.

This isn’t new advice – if you want an agent, the first page has to hook them, and readers of print in bookstores may browse the first page, but because there are so many ebooks available, readers are increasingly unforgiving if a book doesn’t fit what they are looking for.

Here’s some tips:

  • Get into the meat as soon as possible. Put all the acknowledgements and extra stuff at the back, not within the sample. I was severely annoyed recently to download an Angela Carter anthology of short stories to find that the entire sample was an essay about her work and the stories didn’t come until later. I looked for a better version.
  • During the editing process, make sure you pay particular attention to what will hook the reader. If non-fiction, what is the problem you’re solving. If fiction, why would the reader read on? What have you caught their attention with? What loops have you opened mentally that they must close?
  • Make sure the formatting is excellent and easy to read throughout. I have deleted samples straight away when they start with coding errors. It denotes a lack of respect for the reader. This is why you need to test and curiously this has happened with more traditionally published books than indie. Seriously, one book was entirely formatted in Bold. Did no-one even check it? (Make sure this doesn’t happen to you!)
  • If non-fiction, DO include the table of contents. If fiction, your chapters don’t really add anything so aren’t so necessary.

What other suggestions do you have for improving samples? How do you shop for ebooks? Please leave your comments in the notes below.

Ebook Publishing On Kobo With Mark Lefebvre

Amazon is not the only game in town when it comes to ebook publishing.

Yes, they may be the dominant partner in the US and the UK, but in global markets, ebook retailer Kobo is doing some brilliant things. In today’s interview, we get into what Kobo can offer you as an author.

In the intro, I talk about my trip to Hungary where I did some shooting and also some research on an ARKANE novella for next year. I’ve also been doing NaNoWriMo and working on a new crime series, as well as doing a lot of speaking and also launching a new online course – so it’s been a busy month!I reflect on the fact I have created one novel and 5 multimedia products this year – in 2013, I will be focusing much more on the fiction side!

mark lefebvreMark Lefebvre is Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at, as well as being an author and editor. You can listen above or watch the interview on YouTube here.

  • Mark started writing when he was 13 and still writes horror/ twilight zone fiction under the name Mark Leslie. He moved into bookselling as he’s passionate about books and publishing. He is traditionally published but also self-publishes his short story collections.

What is Kobo and how does it fit into the publishing ecosystem?

  • Kobo is an ebook seller, original spun off Canada’s largest print retailer, so it has a large use base in Canada. Three years ago the focus was short reads. Read freely is the philosophy. There’s a free app for all platforms and no DRM (digital rights management which locks down ebooks to a retailer). It uses ePub standard so you can read the books on any device that allows ePub.
  • Kobo was bought by Japanese based company Rakuten in early 2012 which gives Kobo an opportunity to expand even more globally. Kobo partners with retailers locally – WHSmith (a high street store), Chapters Indigo in Canada, Borders in the US and now the independent bookstores with the American Publishing Association. We talk about the global reach and ‘kobo speed’ as Kobo is available in over 200 countries. On the wall at Kobo, “if it seems like things are in control, you aren’t going fast enough” (Mario Andretti)
  • Everyone does want to make sure there’s more than one game in town. One overwhelmingly powerful company dominating the market is a bad idea. No one company should have that kind of power. There’s got to be a choice as a reader and an author.

For self-publishers – Kobo Writing Life

  • Kobo Writing Life is now available for self-publishers.  The best thing for me personally is getting paid in my own currency, GBP, electronically to my bank account. Whereas my Amazon USD income still comes by monthly checks which sometimes get lost.
  • The books that sell the best on Kobo are fiction – romance/erotica, thrillers, mysteries, sci-fi. But there’s also been an upsurge in short reads – or long-form articles e.g. a long journalism piece.
  • You used to have to go through Smashwords as an author to get to Kobo so it was an indirect process of publishing, but now it is direct so you can make price changes quickly with no significant wait, as per the Amazon KDP platform.
  • Selling more books on Kobo. Firstly, make sure there’s a link from your website. Many authors just list Amazon. Kobo wants to be a business partner with you as a publisher, a business-person. The Kobo dashboard contains information on where you sell in each market including a map of the world. Kobo is constantly working on their own search algorithm and refining it, as well as merchandising opportunities and lists. Ongoing, Kobo will be adding more possibilities to authors – they are constantly developing so watch this space!

espresso book machinePrinting with the Espresso Book Machine

  • Ebooks are exciting, but print on demand technologies continue to advance. The Espresso Book Machine is a large printer attached to a binder that prints a book in the time it takes to make an espresso. They do have self-publishing options now – very cool! It’s the meeting point between print and digital, and they are partnering with companies like Xerox, LightningSource, Google and ABA in order to expand.

kobo writing lifeYou can find Mark at

You can publish direct to Kobo at KoboWritingLife

If you have suggestions for Kobo, you can email:

Do you publish on Kobo? What are your tips for selling more on Kobo? or do you have any questions about this platform? Please do leave a comment below.

Publishing Ebooks For Dummies With Ali Luke

Today we are going beyond the basics of ebooks in my interview with Ali Luke, who is the author of Publishing Ebooks for Dummies as well as a fiction author, well-known blogger and internet entrepreneur.

Ali LukeWe talk about what people are still getting wrong, ebook pricing and why Ali went with a publisher instead of self-publishing.

In the intro, I mention how totally manic I am right now! I talk about my (attempted) prep for NaNoWriMo and how I am just finishing the latest Exodus edit before sending to beta readers. I’m also working on ‘Turn Ideas Into Cash’ and there’s still time to sign up for the free prelaunch video series and webinar if you want to expand your business in multimedia (mainly for non-fiction writers).

Today’s Podcast Sponsor: High Striker by G.T.Rigdon

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High Striker by G.T.Rigdon is available now on Amazon & free on Kindle 29/30 Oct 2012. Find out more at

Find out more re podcast sponsorship here.

Interview with Ali Luke

publishing ebooks for dummiesAli Luke is the author of Publishing Ebooks for Dummies with Wiley as well as Lycopolis, her indie published novel. Ali is a prolific blogger, featuring on some of the biggest blogs on the internet, like Copyblogger and Problogger as well at at her own site Ali has been on the show before, talking about her novel Lycopolis

  • ‘Publishing Ebooks for Dummies’ is about how to publish your own book without a publisher, but Ali did this with a traditional book deal with Wylie.

Self-publishing is a core part of Ali’s business but there is a kudos with a traditional publisher like Wiley which is great for reputation building, for speaking, or even guest posting. To the wider world, there is still cachet and the bookstore distribution is also great, as well as the spread of Ali’s own brand. She will reach people who don’t know her online. Wiley were great about including examples of her own work as well as links to her blog and twitter. The primary reason was not financial, even though there was an advance, plus Wiley pay on time and the process is swift – excellent compared to some publishers.

 What are people still getting wrong with ebooks?

  • There are some fairly basic errors crop up over and over again. (1) Use professional cover design. There’s no excuse for this when there are so many pro-cover designers online.
  • (2) Use pro editing. Ali mentions that  she went through 4 drafts of her novel Lycopolis before hiring a pro-editor who suggested cutting around 50,000 words and redesigning the book. This was really difficult but it is so important to get a professional to help you pick up on stuff other readers might have missed. Your sample is critical as an ebook, so the writing needs to be really tight. Life is too short to read a crappy book.
  • (3) Write another book. Don’t focus all your efforts into one book and promoting that book. The way to be successful is to write multiple books, so keep writing as well as marketing. Ali talks about the sequel to Lycopolis which she is currently writing and hopes to use NaNoWriMo to get that prioritized.

 On ebook pricing

  • No one really has a clue about pricing, but we discuss it anyway! Don’t be too dogmatic about pricing – there are strong arguments either way e.g. 99c is devaluing your work vs/ 99c is important to sell more books. There is no right answer, so be open to using different price points. Ali is using $2.99 for Lycopolis which gets her into the 70% royalties. With the sequel, she will make sure the first book is cheaper than the follow ups. We mention Lindsay Buroker and how she uses free for the first of her fantasy series. Free is definitely a valid pricing model and has its place, but generally when an author has multiple books. You can also package books together.
  • As an entrepreneur as well as a writer, Ali also sells Blogger’s Guides, PDF non-fiction material for $27. Using the description ‘guide’ is more appropriate than the label ‘ebook’ these days and this is a common model for online entrepreneurs to sell premium material. The audience for these guides hang out on blogs and twitter etc, and selling from your own site means you can price higher than the expected price on Amazon. Our language needs to be expanded somehow as there is some confusion about the word ‘ebook’ these days.

On working with a publisher

  • The Wiley For Dummies brand is very established and they have clear ways of working, formatting etc so the process was smooth and went from idea in Nov 2011 to printed book in Oct 2012. This is very fast for traditional publishing.
  • On being an entrepreneur and not having the freedom to be in control of the book. Ali likes a lot of control and self-publishing is amazing for this, but Ali enjoyed the support of the Wiley team for things like deciding on the table of contents which helped her plan. Ali said the process was “surprisingly enjoyable” as it took some of the choice away so things could move faster. She also had the confidence that Wiley knew what they were doing so Ali got on with the writing.

Marketing non-fiction vs fiction

  • Ali is pretty internet-famous for guest blogging, which is effective for non-fiction but not so much for fiction. It worked well for her blogger’s guides at $27 each, so she figured it would work for Lycopolis at $2.99 but people don’t seem willing to buy fiction off the back of guest blogging. But for non-fiction it works very well. Ali has been doing a lot of guest posts for this book, but won’t do it again for fiction.
  • Choose your target blog and read a lot of their posts, then write the post to fit their blog. Make sure the post is your best effort. Plan things in advance as right now this blog is 3 months backlogged. Getting a relationship with the blogger over time is also a great idea.
  • Ali talks about using book reviews for Lycopolis, and she basically hand-sells these to people who might enjoy it. This takes time and patience and a long-term approach.

How to become a bestseller

  • If you want to sell lots of copies, which isn’t everyone’s goal, then write in a genre that is popular. But you still have to read and enjoy this genre, don’t jump on the bandwagon. Be realistic – experimental literary fiction won’t sell as well as gritty crime thrillers which sell well right now.
  • Write a high quality book, regardless of what genre it is. Be respectful of your readers.

publishing ebooks fo rdummiesPublishing Ebooks for Dummies is available now on and other ebook and print stores. You can also find Lycopolis here.

You can find Ali at and on twitter @aliventures

The Secrets To Ebook Publishing Success. A Must-Read For Authors.

I’ve been a fan of Mark Coker and Smashwords for years now, and Mark continues to deliver value to authors through his distribution platform but also through sharing his vast knowledge of digital publishing.

Free ebook: The Secrets To Ebook Publishing Success

He has just released a free book ‘The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success” which contains a serious number of tips that will help you make your work better, as well as some amazing insights into successful authors who publish through Smashwords.

I learned heaps from the book. It really is well worth your time whether you are indie or traditionally published. Here are just some of things you will learn about.

  •  A great overview of the changes in the industry
  • Some financials around self-publishing, bootstrapping and resource allocation
  • Tips on ebook covers that work
  • Metadata magic and why it’s important as well as the algorithms that impact our book sales
  • Why writing more books and books over 70,000 words is critical for longer term success
  • How trust and brand loyalty work
  • Why distributing through one site is short-sighted, even if that site is the biggest bookseller in the world. [OK, so I was one of those authors who took my books off Smashwords in order to try Amazon KDP Select which requires exclusivity. However, next week I will be republishing my books on all platforms based on some of Mark's points in this well-written chapter - as well as how impressed I am with Kobo.]
  • Using strategic pricing as well as free
  • Why patience is important and the sales behavior of different books – the invisible book, the slow boil, slow builder and breakout book.
  • Why you shouldn’t fear piracy
  • On long term platform building and marketing
  • Word of mouth and how books go viral, or not
  • How readers find books and how to optimize your touch points
  • It’s not about book launches anymore, it’s an ongoing marketing approach
  • Think globally about your book and the expansion of ebook markets
  • How to behave as an indie – let’s be generous with each other – this is not a zero sum game

…and much more.

So what are you waiting for? Click here to go and download Mark’s ebook on Ebook Secrets and then spend an hour reading it – and take notes!

Related Resources on Ebook Publishing

* My interview with Mark Coker when we met live in Australia in 2010 – we get enthusiastic about the possibilities for authors

* Interview on Smashwords blog with Brian S Pratt who went from earning $7.82 in a quarter to $25,000 in a quarter, and $200,000 in a year from his books.

* Interview on Smashwords blog with Ruth Ann Nordin, romance writer who went from earning $0 to $75,000 on Smashwords

* Ruth Ann Nordin’s little ebook about marketing available on Smashwords (also free)

* The Smashwords Blog where Mark shares lots of great data


London Book Fair From An Author’s Perspective

I’ve just finished several marvelous days at the London Book Fair and wanted to share my perspective on this brilliant event.

It was definitely a publishing trade event but there were plenty of fantastic opportunities for authors to learn at workshops, through networking and finding out what’s going on in the industry. For independent authors who are entrepreneurially minded, there was also the potential for new markets, tools and relationships.

In the video below, I include some pictures from the event, interviews with authors and share my own perspective. You can also watch on YouTube here. There is a text post below the video if you prefer to read.

My Overall Impression

When I walked into Earls Court, I was immediately intimidated by the huge stands of the ‘Big 6′ publishers that were packed with billboard sized posters of authors and books. Of course, we would all like to be up there, but that’s not the reality for most authors these days.

Those stalls were also full of people having meetings and no appointment meant no chat. I did feel a sense of the scale of the large publishing houses. How many authors, how many books and how many people are involved. It’s no wonder an individual author can feel insignificant.

The 'altar' to JK Rowling

There were more interesting stands around the edges and towards the back, where smaller and more agile publishers had stalls. There was also a Digital space with a fantastic networking area where many of us had back to back meetings.

I heard a fantastic talk from Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn about the data behind the hype, and the Amazon KDP & Createspace stand was permanently busy.

Amazon publishing, including thriller imprint Thomas & Mercer, had a booth at the very back of the event. That physical placement seemed to be a deliberate act by the ‘powers that be’ as there was also a lot of anti-Amazon talk (from publishers) at the Fair. I went to talk to them about my own thrillers and had a great chat with the team there. More on that another time…

Amazon Publishing including Thomas & Mercer thriller imprint

There was a focus on China but I didn’t attend any of those events. I did talk to people about Portuguese translation for Brazil and also about other European markets, something I am definitely interested in pursuing. I enjoyed the seminars I went to and generally felt there was a good atmosphere. A lot of people are positive about the future of publishing, even with the tectonic changes currently happening (but then perhaps I only hear the glass-half-full side because that’s how I feel).

Here are some points from the sessions I attended, primarily the CEO Keynote. I tried to keep notes of verbatim speech but I acknowledge any errors are my own.

  • The whole point of publishing is how creativity gets to readers and winning the hearts and minds of the consumer
  • Ceiling at the China pavilion

    The book industry is sustainable, just not in its current form. Twice as many people read now as they did in the 1930s which is fantastic. But a quarter of books printed are destroyed, 1 book in 5 doesn’t earn back its advance. “The karma in publishing is bad.” But the interest in stories and ideas is very much alive.

  • Publishers want to embrace all things digital, but there is hesitancy because of the difficulty of predicting the future [Authors do this too!]
  • Publishing used to be based on alco-rhythms (booze and instinct) and is now based on algorithms – Richard Charkin, Bloomsbury
  • Print books are handled 24 times on average from manufacture to purchase. Planes take books to Australia and come back with the returns. Tescos buys 10,000 books and returns 9000. There is no business model that can sustain this. Things have to change.
  • All that really matters is the author and the reader. Everyone else is in the middle. Authors must realize that publishers can’t do everything for them. Neil Gaiman shifted thousands of his audiobooks with a tweet. We’re looking for more of that. Authors directly engaging with readers.
  • Publishers serve authors through editorial standard. They turn something into something better. [Agreed. Which is why serious indie authors hire professional editors, many of whom work for publishing firms already.]
  • “The advance is hush money” John Mitchinson, Unbound
  • Any kind of artist has to do everything. There is no such thing as sitting around dreaming. Performance is important.

Rights Workshop

This was a separate half day event that focused on what rights are, how they can be sold and the legalities behind it all. It was aimed at publishing professionals but I think all authors need an education in this. It could save you thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Seriously. Intellectual property rights are critical for us to understand so we know what we are selling and the possibilities that there are for us.

I learned how the author’s work is “exploited”, how different books work in different markets, the attention to detail needed in contractuals and tracking rights, about translations and the excitement of the Brazilian market. Highly recommended if you’re around next year.

Digital Minds Conference

This was at the same time as the Rights workshop above, but I attended virtually via the Twitter back-channel which was great. You can read a fantastic round-up of everything that went on at Publishing Talk’s Live Blog Roundup. Well worth a read.

Opportunities For Independent Authors

There were a lot of self-publishing companies around the Fair, as well as a large area for Digital and also Apps, which is where independent authors mostly hung out. The usual suspects were there, and there was a positive, happening vibe with speed networking going on.There were also a number of workshops for authors who want to look at self-publishing. They were a bit basic for you lot though, but interesting to see so many sessions at a Fair so dominated by traditional publishing.

The biggest event though was the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors, brainchild of the terrific Orna Ross. It is definitely time for such an Alliance and there was a great camaraderie in the room. The turn-out was brilliant, considering you had to pay to get into the Fair and it is a global organization so not everyone is London based. I chaired a panel with Amazon, Blurb & Kobo (video to come on that) and then there was one with some independent authors sharing their experiences.

The video below contains some of the reactions to the event – you can tell everyone is excited! Watch on YouTube here.

Featuring: Joanna Penn (me), Orna Ross, Joni Rodgers, Jon Reed, Linda Gillard, Ben Galley, Marion Croslydon, Lorna Fergusson, Karen Inglis, Leda Sammarco, Harriet Smart, Alison Baverstock.

In conclusion, a marvelous event and I am considering going to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, so may see some of you there!

[Update] Radio Litopia The Naked Book: Shiny, Happy, Publishing People

As a result of the launch, Orna Ross and I were invited onto the panel of Litopia’s The Naked Book, along with a panel of publishing industry professionals. We talked about the Book Fair, Amazon, self-publishing and more. You can listen to the recording here on Radio Litopia.

Did you go to the Book Fair? or have you attended Book Fairs or publishing industry events before? What are your impressions and have you found them useful? Please do leave a comment. Thank you!