Pose for the paparazzi. Autograph your books.
Write like a dream, promote like a rock star.
Fame and fortune are yours!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Pinterest board: cover art sells books

The cover for my book "Sensual Celibacy" by Gretchen Achilles perfectly captured the idea that just because you're not having sex, doesn't mean you're not sexy. This was such a radical idea at the time (late '90s) that even Playboy did a tongue-in-cheek review.

When it comes to book sales and, really, overall artistry of your book, nothing beats a fantastic cover. I've been having a lot of fun letting my imagination go wild on my "Book Cover Ideas" Pinterest board. Take a look. You'll see a multitude of artistic styles that could express all types of literary genres, from horror to romance to the surreal, and nonfiction books, too.

When I first got the idea to do this board, something surprising happened. I started noticing my gut reactions to certain pieces of art. Really provocative book covers not only make a beautiful statement, they stir the emotions. Sometimes those emotions are disturbing, sometimes humorous. That means the art is doing its job. It has captured your attention, and a book sale may be in the works.

How often have you bought a book solely based on the cover art? I know I have, only to be disappointed when the content didn't live up to the cover! 

Another surprising thing has happened as I work with this board. I'm finding that I can't help but come up with story ideas, nonfiction titles, characterizations, and dialogue as I let the works of art do their thing. Art is a great way to obliterate writer's block. This is the best thing for writers since God invented red pencils! Try creating your own Pinterest art board, and share your links in the comments section below.

Donna Marie

Visit The Celebrity Editor on Pinterest!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How a novelist reclaimed her rights, self-published, sold 120,000+ copies

Writing stars, prepared to be amazed!

I've been busy investigating how to reclaim the publishing rights for my books and have been delighted to discover that many authors have already walked the path and found gold in their backlist titles. Yay! 

When self-publishing began to dominate the publishing landscape, authors who had been neglected by the BPs (Big Pimps/Big Publishers, take your pick) began to take back their rights and self-publish books that had long been out of print or were dying slowly.

One inspiring story comes from now self-published author Donna Fasano. Traditionally published in the romance genre, she decided to take her publishing destiny into her own hands. Donna has just released her latest self-published romance, Reclaim My Heart. As John Kremer would say, please hug an author and buy Donna's book today! In the meantime, read her story and if you're going through a similar experience, post a comment. We'd love to hear about it.

Going Indie: from OOP to self-pub bestseller
by Donna Fasano

I spent nearly 20 years writing for a big name publisher. My 32 published romance novels won awards and sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide. I am forever indebted to the editors who helped hone my craft, and the royalties I earned put both my sons through college, paid for an unforgettable family trip to England, and garnered me some bling. With all of that said, working for a publisher wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Although I signed my contracts with eyes wide open, I had no idea just how paltry those 2-6% royalties were, and I didn’t receive a single raise in all the years I wrote for them.

Let’s jump forward a decade and a half. Four years ago my father was diagnosed with cancer and I became his primary caregiver. Watching a loved one slowly become sicker isn’t conducive to writing happily-ever-after fiction; however, at the same time I desperately needed the diversion of work whenever I could get it. I read about authors who were acquiring the publishing rights to their backlist titles and self-publishing those books, and, even better news, they were finding readers and making money. I immediately became interested in the idea. I requested the reversion of rights (more on that later) to my first 11 books and my publisher complied, so I have spent the past couple of years updating, editing, and expanding those manuscripts, and I’ve succeeded in self-publishing nine of those backlist titles as well as one never-before-published novel. I’ve become an Independent Author—an ‘indie’—and I haven’t looked back!

How has the title Indie Author altered my life? There are good changes and not-so-good ones. Some of the best:

Freedom. I can write whatever I want.

Money. I earn 35-70% royalties (compared to 2-6% that I’d been paid before).

Developing new talents. I’ve taken a self-taught crash course in book formatting, marketing, blogging, and social media; and I’ve discovered that I’ve got quite a knack.

Some of the worst changes:

No deadlines. No boss. I don’t have anyone telling me I can’t go shopping. Self-discipline has become an absolute necessity.

Doing it all. As exciting as being an Indie Author is, doing it all—writing, finding editors and beta readers, overseeing cover design, formatting, marketing and advertising, blogging, seeking out book reviewers, socializing with readers, etc.—is extremely difficult.

I don’t regret my years as a traditionally published author; to the contrary, I feel blessed by my success. But I am having a blast at this stage in my career, and I’m proud to call myself an Indie Author. At the risk of sounding clich├ęd, I’m a firm believer that the destination is much less important than the journey…and I’m determined to enjoy every second of this wild and amazing adventure.

A Chart About Reversion of Rights
Every publishing contract contains a Reversion of Rights clause, which defines the criteria under which a book is deemed ‘out of print’—in other words, when the licensing term expires and all rights revert to the author. The clause also outlines what actions must be taken in order to have the rights reverted. Years ago, authors rarely requested reversion because the chances of finding a publisher willing to accept a previously published book were slim. However, in this digital age and with the boon of self-publishing growing by the hour, that has drastically changed.

If the contract language is confusing, I recommend hiring an expert to lead you through deciphering the often convoluted terms found in publishing contracts. I hired Literary Attorney David P. Vandagriff and found him extremely knowledgeable. He treated me with honesty and fairness. You might know David from his popular blog, The Passive Voice.

Once you have discovered that one of your books has been deemed Out of Print, immediately follow the terms set forth in the clause. Usually, this means sending your publisher a letter of request. Here’s a sample:
JP Wiseman
Fabulous But Fictitious Publishing
123 Main Street
New York, NY45678-9000
September 23, 2012
Dear Ms Wiseman:
I am writing to request reversion of rights to my book, [Title], which I wrote for FbF Publishing in 1998. I believe this novel is out of print.
Please include the original certificate of copyright for this book when you acknowledge that reversion has been granted.
Thank you for your swift attention to this matter.
[Author's name]
Sending the letter ‘return receipt requested’ will best protect your rights. Hopefully, the publisher will act in a professional manner and you won’t need to use this legal-in-a-court-of-law evidence.

Upon receiving a request, the publisher probably has the right to reissue the book within a certain time frame. If this happens, the reversion clock (be it 5 years, 7 years, etc) will be set to zero, but if your book isn’t reissued, then all rights should revert to you.

Every author should fully understand the Reversion of Rights clause. I urge you to pull out those old contracts and begin charting those out-of-print dates. I can attest that the effort will pay off. You see, I have sold over 120,000 copies of my self-published otherwise “out of print” books – at a royalty rate far beyond my wildest dreams as a traditionally published author – however following this path will be impossible until you successfully reclaim the publishing rights to your work. Get going! The effort in reading the legalese will be worth it.

Donna Fasano sold her first manuscript in 1989, and since then has become a bestselling, award-winning author of over thirty novels and four audio books. She writes under her own name, Donna Fasano, as well as under the pen name Donna Clayton.

In  addition to Donna's newly released Reclaim My Heart, other titles include:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Writers, grip the net

"In this system that I have invented, it is necessary for the machine to get a grip of the earth, otherwise it cannot shake the earth. It has to have a grip... so that the whole of this globe can quiver." 

Promotional illustration for Tesla's "World System"
Around the turn of the 20th century, genius inventor Nikola Tesla proposed to build a global system of wireless communications. I don't know if he thought about something like the Internet, but possibly the Internet is the result of that kind of thinking. As a large community of users of the net, we writers owe a debt of gratitude to the chain of thinking and tinkering that has led to this moment in time when publishing our ideas is so easy and inexpensive to do.

In this spirit, I'd like to take the liberty of tinkering with Tesla's quote.

"In this system, it is necessary for WRITERS to get a grip of the Internet, otherwise we cannot shake the earth. We have to have a grip... so that the whole of this globe can quiver."

The Internet is a showcase of human life, the good and not so good. Underlying it all, making sense of it all, is content. That's where we come in.

Since my first blog in 2007, I have attempted to grip this thing that feels like the wild wild west of new technologies being constantly released. I have no gifts when it comes to creating technology (I wish), but I do know how to use it. Or better put, I know how to learn how to use it. I've learned how to make the technologies serve my writing.

Every day our in-boxes are spammed with some new software or process or system or strategy that promises to help us sell more, be more popular, build our lists, make more money, but we writers should never lose sight of our purpose—to grip the net so that we can shake the earth and make the whole of this globe quiver.

I want to make life for my children and theirs much better than what we're seeing now. Genesis 1 talks about God speaking, with words, the world into existence. John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 

Writing stars, that's our power and our responsibility—to be a force for positive creation and good in the world with our words, and to put technology in service to that purpose.

Donna Marie

Check out The Celebrity Editor on Pinterest! here

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dan Brown puts me to shame

Dan Brown's latest book is now out, and he's making the media rounds and talking Dante. I bought the audio version, but what interests me more is this writer's phenomenal work habits. He puts me to shame, which, to be honest, isn't all that hard to do.

"At the keyboard every day by 4 a.m., writing until midday, seven days a week, even on Christmas; throwing away 10 pages for every one he keeps" (Daily Beast).

I've got to do better. Consistency, and unrelenting marketing, are the keys to success in this business. 

Writing stars, are you with me?

Donna Marie

 Check out The Celebrity Editor on Pinterest! here

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shooting with my pen from Violence City

Why do I love being a writer? Here's why: I get to shoot with my pen. Forgive me, writing stars, but today I'm taking a break from the writing biz to shout about one of the most violent cities on earth.

Years ago, The Wall Street Journal called Chicago "Beirut on the Lake" because of our notorious political reputation. Today I'm calling Chicago "Syria on the Lake" because of the relentless violence. This may be an exaggeration, but it's how I'm feeling today.

Reporting the ongoing parade of weekend murders and attempted murders has become a gruesome ritual among local news outlets. If it bleeds it leads? Well, we have enough blood to fill volumes.

The mass murders tend to get all the attention, understandably, but the drip drip drip of a murder here, a few murders there in my city is just as heartbreaking, but it can make you numb.

That is, until it happens to you.

Sunday morning, some teens shot at some other teens on my block. In fact, it happened directly in front of my house. I heard the one shot, but I'm ashamed to say I didn't investigate. I didn't hear sirens so I assumed I didn't hear what I heard.

Turns out, my car got in the way of the bullet, and two of my windows were shattered.

The good news is that my car probably saved the lives of the intended two male teens who are basically decent, just jobless like the perpetrators no doubt are. Warm weather, no school, guns, teen testosterone, and nothing to do is a formula for danger and disaster.

To make a bad situation worse, when I called the police to file the report, I was told that despite the shooting, no one would be investigating. All I'd get was a report to file with insurance, and I'd have to wait two weeks for that. Death is the only way to get the attention of the police in my city. The bullet, that one solitary bullet, is probably in my neighbor's front lawn somewhere, and no one's coming to investigate. Just wow.

Where are the fathers? Who's in charge? Why aren't there any jobs in my community? I could go on and on with the questions, but really, it comes down to me. What can I do?

As I was sweeping up the glass on the street by the car, I was approached by a young woman. I had a funny feeling about her. She said, "I'm really sorry this happened." She did seem sorry.

I looked at her long and hard. Finally I asked, "Did you see what happened?" 

She lowered her eyes, apparently ashamed, and said, "Yeah. I didn't want to say nothing, but they were shooting at guys I know. They wanted them in their gang. My friends didn't want to be in the gang, so..." I knew how this story ended. The windows of my beautiful car, an innocent bystander, were shattered to pieces.

"Well," I said philosophically, "I'd prefer the car get shot than your friends." I meant it, but I was still sorry about my car. When I first got her, a 2001 Volvo S60, I named her Behold!, with an exclamation point. Her purchase had marked a positive turning point in my life. We've had a lot of good times together.

I then asked the young woman, a senior in high school, about her hopes and dreams for the future. She wants to be a doctor.

I pray for our young people, the ones trying to make a good life and the ones who have nothing better to do than shoot. 

This rant is not about gun control, but about the problems in our society that create such a violent mindset.

By the way, my mechanic called a few minutes ago. It's going to cost around $500 $400 to get the windows repaired. 

Donna Marie

Check out The Celebrity Editor on Pinterest!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The writer as publishing consultant

I got a call the other day from a young man who wants to do a book about a topic he's very passionate about. I immediately went into consulting mode and got quiet. I did more listening than talking.

Given the explosion of self-published books over the past few years, good writers and editors can provide a real service to folks who are not necessarily writers but who need to produce books.

Working with indie authors has paid well over the years, and I'm always grateful when I get referrals. I have a decent reputation as a developmental editor and ghostwriter not only because of my skills but because I bring no ego to the relationship. It's all about the author—his story, his opinions, his passions, his voice, his publishing needs. Even if you disagree with him philosophically, it's all about the author. That's not to say that you don't editorially challenge the writing, but ultimately, as the producer of the book, the client has final say.

I wasn't always good at this type of work, probably because I sometimes made the common mistake of inserting too much of myself into the process. Too much ego. I've found that my success as a publishing consultant is directly tied to the degree of humility I'm able to muster.

I've worked a couple of consulting jobs in my corporate career, and the lessons learned there are perfectly applicable to working with indie authors. If you're thinking about adding consulting to your writing income streams, you'll benefit from the following wisdoms I've picked up along the way.

1. Be a good listener. Do more listening than talking.

2. Briefly share your credentials. In fact, script out a 20 second elevator speech about how your services will benefit the author. Potential clients want to talk about their projects. I've found they're only minimally interested in your bio. Offer to send it via email. Also send your brochure that details your services, benefits of working with you, testimonials, etc.

2. Don't negatively judge the author's subject matter (no matter how tempting). You never know what the market will bear.

3. Ask lots of questions. For example:
  • How will your book differ from similar ones on the market?
  • Do you want to self-publish or attempt the traditional route? (Explain pros and cons of each.)
  • If you want to self-publish, do you have a budget for production, printing, and marketing?
  • If self-publishing, do you need a writer, an editor, someone to manage the production process for you, or all of the above?
  • What's your desired deadline?
  • What's your sales and marketing plan?

4. Always add value. Be generous with your knowledge (even if you're not getting paid yet).

5. Be smart about your time. Don't allow the conversation to go on for hours and hours. No more than, say, 30 minutes for the first discussion.

6. Explain your approach to working with authors.

7. When/if you're asked about fees, don't commit to anything yet except to provide the broad strokes (e.g., hourly, by the project, etc.). If you're not asked about fees, still bring up the subject. Potential clients need to understand the value you bring to the process.

Of course you'll need to review the manuscript if one has been written. Charge a minimal, nonrefundable reading fee that can be applied to the final balance. You'll get a general idea of how long the project will take to complete. You'll get a sense of the author's voice (or lack thereof) and organization of ideas. Basically, you'll know if a major gut or a simple touch up is needed.

Donna Marie

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fantasy offices for writers

Writing stars, does your office space inspire you? Mine doesn't, I'm ashamed to admit. It's a disaster. It's as if some evil spirit came in last night and threw up papers all over the place. I can't even take a photo of it to show you, I'm so embarrassed. 

Even though I don't believe in needing inspiration to write, it would be nice. I would feel much more inspired to write if I had a lovely office to come to everyday. 

I don't need it, but it would be nice.

At the very least I could clean up and get organized. I shudder to think what this says about my mental state yikes!

In the meantime, I've posted some fantasy office pictures on my Pinterest board (Offices for Writing Stars). Visit often because this board will definitely grow. I enjoy looking at pretty pictures more than I actually like cleaning up!

Oh, and please send your favorite office pictures, either your own office or pics from around the net. We would love to see, plan, and fantasize!

Donna Marie

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

TGIF writers inspiration

Every now and then even the most prolific writers suffer from a touch of writer's block. Professionals trudge through it, even when they know the writing will be horrible. 

Writing stars, I've developed a Pinterest board (Writing Prompts) strictly for those of you who are suffering from this debilitating psychic malaise. Today's idea is based on Steve Harvey's book/movie, Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man.

Check it out and let me know if it helps!

Donna Marie

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pinterest for writers

Have you ever had an addiction? One so compelling you couldn't stop?

One word: Pinterest. Yes, writing stars, I've caught the Pinterest bug. Simply, you set up topic-oriented bulletin boards and then post pictures and videos with brief sub-captions. Visitors to your boards can follow you, make comments, like specific images, and re-pin to their boards.

I love how I can let images, vs. words, do the communicating for me. It's a relief from writing, to tell the truth, which can be challenging sometimes.

Here are a few ways Pinterest can be useful for writers:

Creative process – use images to:
  • Get out book ideas that have been swirling around in your head
  • Cure, or at least take the edge off, writer's block
  • Work through characterization
  • Storyboard plot ideas
  • Test out illustration styles for children's books
You can make your boards public or private, which ever you choose. If you're not ready to reveal your innermost thoughts to the world, make them private.

The social media analytics firm Simply Measured found that 69 of the world’s top 100 brands now have Pinterest accounts. Pinterest drives more traffic to sites than Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, or YouTube. Writing stars, you need to be on Pinterest.
  • Build your marketing platform
  • Generate excitement for a soon-to-be-released book or information product
  • Link to your website or blog
  • Link to your sales page(s)
  • Build a community of readers
  • Tell the story of your brand
  • Allow followers and visitors to get a glimpse into the real you
  • Build your all-important email list
  • Get immediate feedback for title ideas, book covers, price points, illustration styles, etc.
  • Conduct special promotions
"Out of the heart, the mouth speaks," says the Good Book. This could be the motto for Pinterest, because the pictures and videos you choose say a lot about the authentic you, your unique voice, your brand.

If you're not sure what your personal brand is, Pinterest can help you figure it out. As you post, you'll begin to see themes emerge. You'll smile and your heart will quicken as your page grows with beloved images. But I encourage you to be true to the process. Don't post images that you think will sell books. Post images that are near and dear to your heart, no matter how demented and twisted. :) (However, I believe Pinterest has morality laws, so beware.)

Pinterest and The Celebrity Editor
Using images to tell a story is nothing new, but using them to cure writer's block may be. I'm evolving a board just for that purpose, to help writers stir up their creative juices: bookmark this board ( here ) and check in from time to time. Too often, writing prompts are too complicated or too cerebral. My approach is to go for the gut. Let me know if they help! Send ideas!

I've also created a board that compliments The Celebrity Editor blog. Bookmark this board ( here ) and check in from time to time.

Visit my boards, follow, re-pin, and comment – and when you've created your boards, come back here and let us know so we can do the same!

Donna Marie

p.s.: great Pinterest articles

Pinterest Users are Sales-Ready: Why Every Business Should Be On Pinterest 

A Brief Guide to Pinterest Marketing

Pinterest Secrets for Writers

Cool Pinterest boards:

Writer's Relief

a few self-publishing boards



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ammunition you need to sell your ebooks

Writing stars, the power is in your hands to publish books. When I first started in the publishing biz, authors were totally beholden to the publishing establishment. No longer! One of the movers and shakers in self-publishing who has helped make tremendous changes in the publishing landscape for authors, speakers, and entrepreneurs is Mark Coker, founder and CEO of the popular self-publishing platform, Smashwords. He has graciously given permission to reprint the following survey that will give you the ammunition to sell your books and information products. It's a long article, but well worth the read.

New Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More eBooks

by Mark Coker

Last year at the 2012 RT Booklovers in Chicago, I released a first-of-its-kind study that analyzed indie ebook sales data.  Our goal was to identify potential factors that could help authors sell more ebooks.

Last week at the 2013 RT Booklovers convention in Kansas City, I shared new, updated data in a session titled, Money, Money, Money — Facts & Figures for Financial Payoff.  Now I'm sharing this data and my findings with you.

Some of the results were surprising, some were silly, and some I expect will inform smarter pricing and publishing decisions in the year ahead.

For the study this year, we analyzed over $12 million in sales for a collection of 120,000 Smashwords ebooks from May 1, 2012 through March 31, 2013.  We aggregated our sales data from across our retail distribution network, which includes the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and Amazon (only about 200 of our 200,000 titles are at Amazon).  As the world's largest indie ebook distributor, I think our study represents the most comprehensive analysis ever of how ebooks from self-published authors and small independent presses are behaving in the marketplace.

As I mention in my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, its helpful to imagine dozens of levers and dials attached to your book that you can twist, turn and tweak.  When you get everything just right, your book's sales will increase through viral through word-of-mouth.  In my Secrets book, I refer to these tweakable things as Viral Catalysts.  A Viral Catalyst is anything that makes your book more available, accessible, discoverable, desirable or enjoyable to readers.

This survey attempts to identify Viral Catalysts by analyzing the common characteristics of bestselling (and poor-selling) Smashwords ebooks.

We posed a series of questions to our data - including several new ones - to reveal answers that might help authors reach more readers.

The questions included:
  • Do frequent price changes help authors sell more books?
  • Do longer or shorter book titles sell more books?
  • Do longer or shorter book descriptions sell more books?
  • How do sales develop over time at a retailer, and what factors might spark a breakout?
  • Do longer or shorter books sell better?
  • What's the average word count for the 60 bestselling Smashwords romance books?
  • What does the sales distribution curve look like, and how many books sell well?
  • How many words are the bestselling authors selling for a penny?
  • What are the most common price points for indie ebooks, and what changed since last year? 
  • How many more downloads do FREE ebooks get compared to priced ebooks?
  • How have Smashwords sales grown at the Apple iBookstore in three years?
  • How does price impact unit sales volume?
  • What price points yield the greatest overall earnings for authors and publishers?
  • What does the Yield Graph portend for the future of publishing?


1.  Ebook Sales Conform to a Power Curve
Most books don't sell well, but those that do sell well sell really well.  This finding wasn't a surprise.  Just as in traditional publishing, very few books become bestsellers.

Click to view larger image.  If you like it, please
right-mouse click on the image, save it to your desktop, and
then share it on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter!

However, the underlying dynamic of the power curve is extremely significant, especially when you consider it as a framework for evaluating the survey's findings.  As a title moves up in sales rank, its sales grow exponentially.  We see this in our sales results all the time.  On any given day, a #1 bestseller in an ebook store might be selling twice the number copies as the #5-ranked title on that day, and triple or quadruple the number of copies as the #10 bestseller.  In our data over this 11-month period, the #1 Smashwords bestseller, measured in dollars, sold 37 times more than the book ranked #500, and #500's sales would put a smile on most authors' faces.

The opportunity for every Smashwords author and publisher is to make decisions that cause their books to move up in sales rank.   This is power of my Viral Catalyst concept.  When you consider that there are potentially dozens if not hundreds of factors that can make your book more (or less) discoverable, desirable and enjoyable, then you realize that you - the author/publisher - have more control over your book's destiny than previously thought.  Your opportunity is to make dozens of correct decisions - big and small - while avoiding the poor decisions that will undermine your success.

The next finding, when viewed through the lens of the power curve, is especially significant.

2.  Viva Long Form Reading:  Longer Books Sell Better
For the second year running, we found definitive evidence that ebook readers - voting with their Dollars, Euros, Pounds, Krone, Krona and Koruna - overwhelmingly prefer longer books over shorter books.

Click to view larger image.  If you like it, please
right-mouse click on the image, save it to your desktop, and
then share it on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter!

The top 100 bestselling Smashwords books averaged 115,000 words.  When we examined the word counts of books in other sales rank bands, we found the lower the word count, the lower the sales.

Now consider how authors can use this finding, combined with the knowledge of the power curve, to make smarter publishing decisions, and to avoid poor decisions.  Often, we'll see an authors with a single full-length novel break the novel into chunks to create a series of novellas, or worse - they'll try to serialize it as dozens of short pieces.  When you consider that readers overwhelmingly prefer longer works, and you consider that bestselling titles sell exponentially more copies, reach more readers and earn more money than the non-bestsellers, you can understand how some authors might be undermining their book's true potential.

Like every finding from this survey, you should use this information as one data point.  There will always be exceptions to any rule.   If your story deserves 50,000 words - nothing more and nothing less - because this is the length packs the biggest pleasure punch for readers, then by all means don't bloat your perfect story with extra words just because the data shows that longer books, on average, sell more.  Do what's right for your story because that's what's right for your reader.

3.  Shorter Book Titles Appear to Have Slight Sales Advantage

This year we asked our data if bestselling books had shorter or longer titles.  We looked at character count, which indicated slight advantage for shorter titles, and then we looked at word count, where the advantage appeared to be more pronounced.

Click to view larger image.  If you like it, please
right-mouse click on the image, save it to your desktop, and
then share it on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter!

The top 100 bestselling Smashwords books averaged 4.2 words in their book title.

For titles ranked #1,000-#2,000, the average word count was 5.7, or about 36% more words than the top 100.

Books ranked #100,000-#101,000 (not a sales rank any author wants!), the book title word count was 6.0 words.

Why might shorter book titles have an advantage?  I can only speculate.  Maybe shorter titles catch the reader's eye and attention more effectively.  After all, reading requires mental energy, so maybe the additional mental energy to read and comprehend a longer title creates friction that causes some readers to click away?  Or maybe some retailers' inability to list super-long book titles on the merchandising page reduces effectiveness?

My advice:  Think less about word count and more about choosing a title that, like good writing, is concise, clear and intriguing.

4.  How Indie Authors are Pricing Their Books:  $2.99 is the Most Common Price Point

Click to view larger image.  If you like it, please
right-mouse click on the image, save it to your desktop, and
then share it on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter!

At Smashwords, our authors and publishers set the prices.

The most popular price points are FREE through 2.99.

They chose $2.99 more frequently than any other price point. In last year's survey, $.99 was a more common price point than $2.99.  In this year's survey, $2.99 was about 60% more often.

$.99 remains a popular price point.

$5.00 and up has lost favor with indie authors and publishers compared to the same data a year ago.

5.   How Price Impacts Unit Sales Volume:  Lower Priced Books (usually) Sell More Copies

How does your choice of price impact the number of books you sell?  It's an important question, because as an author or publisher, you want your words to touch the eyes of readers.

Click to view larger image.  If you like it, please
right-mouse click on the image, save it to your desktop, and
then share it on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter!

As you might expect, we found there's a definite relation between price and unit sales volume.  Lower prices generally sell more copies than higher prices.  But not always.

We normalized the data so we could understand how the average book priced at a given price would perfom compared to a book priced over $10.00+.  We set $10.00+ as equal to "x."

So, for example you'll see in the chart that $.99 is 3.9x.  This means that a $.99 book will on average sell 3.9 times as many books as a book priced over $10.00.  A $2.99 book sells about 4 times as many units.

Note how books priced between $1.00 and $1.99 significantly underperform books priced at $2.99 and $3.99.   $1.99 appears to be a black hole.

What price moves the most units?  The answer is FREE.  Although not shown in the chart, my presentation includes an analysis I performed of our sales at the Apple iBookstore over the last 12 months.  FREE books, on average, earned 92 times more downloads than books at any price. If you've written several books, consider pricing at least one of the books at free.  If you write series, consider pricing the series starter at FREE.  Nothing attracts reader interest like FREE.  But remember, it's one thing to get the reader to download your book.  It's an entirely different challenge to get them to read it, finish it and love it.

Smashwords can get your book priced at FREE at every retailer. 

6.  The Yield Graph:  Is $3.99 the New $2.99?

It goes without saying that a $.99 book will usually sell more units than a $10+ book.  But will the $.99 book make up in volume what the $10+ book earns in margin?

That's the question answered by the Yield Graph.  We computed book earnings for all the books in each price band, and then divided the results by the number of books in that band to determine the average yield of for a book priced in each band.

Click to view larger image.  If you like it, please
right-mouse click on the image, save it to your desktop, and
then share it on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter!

We labeled each bar with a percentage so you know how the yields of each book in that band, on average, compare against against the overall average of all the bands.

So, for example, books priced at $3.99 will earn about 55% more than the average book at any price.  Books priced at $1.99 are likely to earn 67% less than the average.

One surprising finding is that, on average, $3.99 books sold more units than $2.99 books, and more units than any other price except FREE.  I didn't expect this.  Although the general pattern holds that lower priced books tend to sell more units than higher priced books, $3.99 was the rule-breaker.  According to our Yield Graph, $3.99 earned authors total income that was 55% above the average compared to all price points.

The finding runs counter to the meme that ebook prices will only drop lower.  I think it offers encouraging news for authors and publishers alike. It also tells me that some authors who are pricing between $.99 and $2.99 might actually be underpricing.

What might account for the magic of the $3.99 price point?  First, I think it means readers will pay for quality books.  You don't become a bestseller at any price - including FREE - if you haven't written a great, reader-pleasing book.  Next, it might indicate that some percent of the readers are shying away from the ultra-low price points.  Anecdotally, I've hear multiple reports from authors where they raised prices and unit sales increased.  While I do believe some of this is happening, I don't think all readers operate the same mindset.

As much as we all would like to discover that one magic secret for success, reader behavior is much more nuanced and diverse.  Diversity of behavior was certainly the primary high-level finding in my ebook discovery survey in September, 2011.  We found that different readers have different methods of discovering books.  Some readers will be attracted to low-priced books, and other readers will be repulsed.  Viva diversity!

Other highlights from the Yield Graph:  Books priced between $.99 and $1.99 continue to underperform when we look at the book's total earnings.  $1.99 performs especially poorly.  It's a black hole.  I'd avoid that price point if you can.  Price the book instead at $2.99 and you'll probably earn more, AND sell more units if your book performs near the average.

7.  A Closer Look at the Yield Graph Reveals Why Indie Ebook Authors Have a Competitive Advantage over Traditionally Published Authors

I think the most important findings of the entire study are found in these last two charts above about how price impacts unit sales, and in the Yield Graph, where I examine how price combined with unit sales impacts author earnings.

The Yield Graph reveals why indie authors are gaining significant advantage over traditionally published authors.

When an author sells a book, they receive two primary benefits.  1.  They earn the royalty from the sale. 2.  They earn a reader, and a reader is a potential fan, and fan is a potential super-fan who will rush to buy anything you publish, and who will evangelize your book to everyone they know.

I'd argue that readership - the key to building your author brand and fan base, is more important to your long term success than a dollar in your pocket today.

Indie ebook authors are earning royalty percentages that are 3-5 times higher than what traditionally published authors earn.  Publishers are overpricing their books relative to indie ebook alternatives.  This means that indie authors can reach more readers AND earn more money selling lower priced books at higher unit volumes all the while earning more per book sold than traditionally published authors at higher prices.  The significance of these economic dynamics cannot be overstated.

Allow me to break it down this way.  An indie ebook author earns about $2.00 from the sale of a $2.99 book.  That book, on average, will sell four times as many units as a book priced over $10.00.  In order for a traditionally published author to earn $2.00 on an ebook sale, the book must be priced at  $11.42 (if the publisher has agency terms, as Smashwords does) or $16.00 (if it's a wholesale publisher).  Remember, traditionally published authors earn only 25% of the net, whereas Smashwords authors earn 85% net.  If your book is traditionally published, and your publisher sells under the wholesale pricing model, you earn only about $1.25 for a book priced at $9.99, whereas an indie ebook author would earn $6.00-$8.00 at that price.

If a reader has the choice to purchase one of two books of equal quality, and one is priced at $2.99 and the other is priced at $12.99, which will they choose? 

If the publisher prices at $2.99 to be competitive, and they have agency terms with the retailer, their author earns only 52 cents (25% net of the 70% list received by the publisher), compared to the indie author's take of $2.00.

These economic dynamics will not play out well for large publishers or their authors.  If ebook sales continue to increase as a percentage of overall book sales, and if print continues to decline as a format, and especially if brick-and-mortar bookstore closers continue or accelerate, it'll become increasingly difficult for publishers to hold on to their best authors.

Publishers need to pray that print remains a strong-selling format, and that the physical bookstores stop closing.  For now, print distribution - a benefit available only to traditionally published authors - is a strong selling point in favor of publishers.

Even with the continued importance of print, I'm seeing signs that some bestselling indie authors are beginning to hold on to their ebook rights and do print-only deals with the publishers.  Recent examples include Bella Andre with her Sullivans series, Hugh Howey with Wool, and Colleen Hoover with Hopeless.

In a future world dominated by ebooks, publishers need to find a way to lower prices while increasing per-unit earnings for the author.  It'll be difficult because the cost structure of traditional publishing is so high.  Publishers aren't feeling the pain yet because the bulk of their sales are still coming from print.  However, look at any ebook bestseller list and you'll see indie ebook authors are taking sales from the bigger traditionally published authors.

I predict that within three years, over 50% of the New York Times bestselling ebooks will be self-published ebooks.  It's possible I'm being too conservative. 

Indie ebook authors can publish faster and less expensively, publish globally, enjoy greater creative freedom, earn higher royalties, and have greater flexibility and control.  It's not as difficult to successfully self-publish as some people think.  The bestselling traditionally published authors already know how to write a super-awesome book.  That's the most difficult task of publishing because the best books market themselves on reader word-of-mouth.

Already, many successful indies, borrowing from the playbook of publishers, are assembling freelance teams of editors, cover designers, formatters and distributors.  Tell me again, what can a publisher do for the ebook author that the author already do for themselves faster, cheaper and more profitability?

As an indie ebook author, your e-rights are valuable.  Don't give them up easily.  Your indie ebook is immortal.  It'll never go out of print.   Your e-rights are an asset - much like an annuity - which will earn income for years to come.  If you write fiction, great stories are timeless.  Your book could earn an annuity stream of income for you and your heirs for many decades to come.  In the presentation, I show charts of how books can sell over time.  For great books, the sales continue long after the pub date.

This doesn't mean that publishers will become relegated to the dustbin of history.  Many authors - including many bestsellers - will continue to want the support of a publisher partner so the author can focus on writing books rather than assuming all the responsibilities of a great publisher like the editing, proofing, packaging, sales, marketing, distribution, foreign rights and backoffice.

I think the percentage who go indie will continue to increase. What do you think?

How to Make Use of the Findings

Our study drew upon an enormous data set, and the findings are distilled down to averages.  We also included both fiction and non-fiction in the survey, and didn't differentiate between the two.  The vast majority of our titles and sales are fiction, so please consider that as you evaluate our findings.

Your book is unique and may not conform to averages.  Although some of our findings will help you make more informed publishing decisions, I urge you to use caution.

Think of some of the Viral Catalyst ideas that came out of this study as the opportunity to fine-tune your publishing. Consider each finding as a single data point.  Consider it as an option for possible experimentation.

Data-driven decision-making can give you an edge, but the edge is worthless if you don't start with the foundation of a super-fabulous book.  If you want to reach a lot of readers, write a book your fans market for you through their word of mouth and positive reviews.

Don't let data-driven decision-making cause you to make stupid decisions.  If the data shows (and it does) that shorter book titles might give you a slight sales advantage, don't change your title to two words if the absolute best and necessary title is seven words.   If the data shows that books over 100,000 words sell the best (and it does), but you think your story works better at 70,000 words, don't bloat your story.  Use common sense and do what's right for you book, and do what's right for your reader, and what's right for your personal ambitions as an author.

Also consider that this survey, like last year's survey, will be read by thousands of other authors and publishers, and may influence their decision-making.  Last year's presentation on Slideshare has already been viewed over 75,000 times (wow, that blows me away!).  Today,  $3.99 price point appears to be an underutilized opportunity because there are fewer titles than $2.99 and readers respond favorably to $3.99.  However, if thousands of authors shift their pricing to $3.99 tomorrow, would the edge diminish?  I don't know the  answer to that.

Please Share This Survey with Your Friends

Thanks for reading.  If you found this information useful, please share it with your friends.  If you like the charts and what they represent, please post them to Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and then link back to here so writers can benefit from the full survey.

Our mission at Smashwords is to empower all writers with the tools they need to become successful authors.  We provide the free ebook printing press, the distribution to major retailers and libraries, and the best-practices knowledge that helps self-published authors publish more professionally.  This survey fulfills one element of the best-practices piece.  I hope it helps all authors and publishers, even those who don't use Smashwords.

If you're not yet using Smashwords, I invite you click here to learn how to publish and distribute with us.