How To Create A Book Cover That Actually Converts To Sales

How To Create A Book Cover That Actually Converts To Sales

When I give advice to authors about publishing, the most common issue I discover – and the one that I get the most push-back on – is their cover fails to do what a cover is supposed to do. In modern times, with the majority of book sales online, there are a ton of new considerations that seem to be lost on people. It is not a good idea to just create an aesthetically pleasing cover, otherwise a top 100 eBook list on Amazon would look like an art gallery. Allow me to explain why a good cover is not just a good looking cover, but what actually makes a cover effective – you might be a bit surprised!

Rule 1: A cover needs to reflect the contents of the book, lest you have a low sell-through rate, and get destroyed by Amazon's algorithm.

This is essentially the only rule, in the sense that, I have not seen a book defy this rule and be successful, unless enormous amounts are spent forcing it to the top of the charts. A cover transmits information to the potential reader, and if you are sending the wrong signal, you will reduce the amount of readers receptive to your book who pick it out, and you will increase the amount of people who pick out your book and put it right back, because it’s not what they were looking for.

Before, when all books were sold in physical bookstores, this was a bad result.

Now, in the era of algorithms, this is absolutely disastrous. When you publish a book on, say, Amazon, (Amazon is a market leader – if a store is not using algorithms such as Amazon’s yet, it will be in the future) it gets a certain amount of free promotion – it might not be much, but you will always get initial sales. Amazon uses these initial sales to figure out what kind of reader to serve this book to in the future, and also to determine if it is a book that will be popular with their readers. Every sale, including direct sales (someone purchasing after clicking a link in your mailing list, for example) or sales made after searching for a specific keyword on Amazon, is of course used to determine your books relevancy and ranking. But, that is only scratching the surface. Amazon measures all user behavior to see what kind of person wants your book, and with an “inaccurate” cover, you will be fighting an uphill battle.

Here are some examples:

Example 1.

Susan searches the Kindle Store for the search term “teen murder mystery” and scrolls through the results. On page five is your book, because you put the term “teen murder mystery” in your keywords and subtitle. She is looking for a dark murder mystery, perhaps in a highschool setting, because she is a fan of Riverdale. Your book, despite being a teen murder mystery, has a bright white cover and two adult detectives on the cover. She fails to notice that you made the “i” in the title look like a knife, or that it says teen murder mystery on the front, because she is casually scrolling, glancing at the cover and title separately as she scrolls. 

Repeat this a few times, and unless you have an enormous surge of sales, Amazon will not put your book back in the results for “teen murder mystery.” That is because they have constantly shifting, always working algorithms, and that algorithm can see you have a 0% click through for that term. 

Example 2.

You paid an artist to create a stunning, captivating & beautiful cover. Your main character’s name is River, and the fantasy story is about how the evil witch named Winter (the same name as your ex-wife, but we’re going to ignore that for now) will drain the land of all it’s magic, unless River can destroy the magical rock (which is totally not a metaphor for a wedding ring) that she uses to manipulate you- I mean, manipulate the magical realm. So your cover is an immaculate fantasy landscape, showing one half of the cover as summer and the other as winter, with a river flowing from the summer and freezing up completely as it approaches the winter. A great metaphor with real meaning, and readers will notice that the winter freezing the river represents Winter, the witch, taking over River’s life. This is a bad cover, because it only has meaning to you and people who have already read the book. If someone has already read your book, they don’t care about your cover – they care about how good of a book it was! This cover only has meaning to those who already read the book, and does little to signify anything about the book except that is a fantasy book. Do you know how many fantasy books are published every single day? You need to be displaying not just a general concept, but where your book fits in, you should be showing your sub-genre and even your sub-sub-genre. 

Countless people are intrigued by your nice cover, and they click to view more. They read the description, maybe read a bit of the preview, but since the cover was generic you cast a very wide net, and a lot of the fish aren’t biting. So, they click in, look around, and click out to continue their search. Now, you’ve destroyed your click-through rate – the percentage of people who buy your book, after checking it out. Now you’re not just hurting your book’s ranking for a specific search term as in example 1, but you’re hurting your ranking for EVERY search term. Amazon wants exactly what you want – to make sales. The algorithm might be difficult to decipher, but the goals of the algorithm are extremely simple – to serve customers books that they will buy. If your book gets 1 sale for every 100 clicks, and another book gets 10 sales for every 100 clicks, which one will the algorithm serve first? If your book has a high sell-through rate, then it’s worth it for Amazon to display your book in a wider set of keyword searches, so that they can keep your book in searches it’s often selected, and remove it from searches where it is not selected. There are way too many books on Amazon for them to just offer your book to customers even if it has a proven history of low sales. It’s not a charity. 

So you can see the issue – by casting a wider net, and getting more interested people to click on your book, you are hurting yourself. You should make sure that the right people are clicking on your book, and only when you’re sure you’ve done all you can in that regard, then and only then, should you be worrying about making it as attractive in general as you can.

Of course, if you have an enormous amount of money, you could drive so many sales and inspire so many searches for your novel that Amazon can rank your book for many search terms, but why create an uphill battle for yourself? If you have those kinds of resources, you are probably not designing your own cover anyway, and the experts you are paying should already understand this concept. I say should, because many small publishers seem to barely consider Amazon’s algorithm – if you are outsourcing your book launch, make sure you do your homework.

Rule 2: A cover should stand out, especially when thumbnail size, and against a white background. It also needs to look good in low resolution, thanks to Amazon's "Look Inside" feature.

While this might seem obvious, your cover will be seen by many more people when it is shrunk to a small size in the search results, than people will see it full size. Amazon does not release data on Amazon searches, but for paid Amazon ads, where advertisers are constantly doing all they can to get a high click through rate, an average click-through rate is about 0.4%, and that is with them cutting all even slightly irrelevant searches. Amazon will put your book in the back-pages of all kinds of searches, many more than any advertiser would think of, based on unknown (to us) user behavior, so we can probably imagine that the click through rate of a normal search would be at best the same, around 0.4%, or maybe even far lower, say 0.1%.

So, a lot of people will be seeing your cover in the above format – way more than will be seeing your cover in it’s full glory. 

Almost all booksellers, Amazon, Google Play, etc have white backgrounds.

So, designing a cover that doesn’t look good when shrunk down to a small size against a white background, is like cutting off your foot before a marathon. Here is an example of a cover that looks great in search display vs one that does not. 

A big, bold image that is still easily discernible. At a glance, this is clearly a fantasy book, and indeed it is rewarded for it's honesty by being the #1 search result when I search the Kindle Store for "fantasy." The name is big and bold, because of course Nora Roberts is insanely famous, but your average author might want to utilize more of the cover space.
This one is on page 18 when I search for "fantasy" which is still really good for such a massive search term. It has all 5 star reviews with a great description, fawning reviews, all of them verified purchases. It was also recently released by an established and popular author - so why is it already at >20k sales rank in the Kindle Store?

The former was crafted by a team of very experienced people at a Big 5 Publisher, and the latter appears purchased by an amateur or a small publisher. While the second book is doing OK, it is clearly due to the author’s amazing writing, as she doesn’t seem to have a single book under 5 stars, despite them all having many reviews. This pains me to see – someone succeeding, sure, but tied down and rate-limited by a quite easily fixed deficiency.  The cover is cramped, a bit jarring, and kind of corny. Sadly, it is not even improved when viewing it in full size – because Amazon displays books in very low resolution in the “Look Inside” feature. This cover has an enormous amount of extremely fine details, which viewed in low resolution, looks really bad. Here is how it looks on my monitor. 

I know that Amazon displays covers in low resolution - does the customer?

I can guarantee that this cover, as it was received by the author, was quite good. Yet, due to a lack of understanding about the lay of the land, this Ferrari failed where a Jeep would have excelled. So consider your novel as it will be displayed to the customer.

Rule 3: Don't Overpay

You are the one who knows your book the best. To accomplish Rule 1, you need to be the one to come up with the cover, and direct a graphic designer or illustrator to create it. As such, you are paying people for their talent, and not their creativity. As there are a plethora of people in countries where wages are much cheaper, that are extremely talented and reasonably priced, and you will buy this cover online, there is absolutely no reason for you to pay too much. I have heard people paying over $2,500 for a cover – I have never paid over 300, at the very most, and I have extremely high quality covers. Don’t get ripped off. Expensive does not mean good.

Expensive can even mean worse. Take as an example, people who contact a high profile graphic designer or their favorite artist, and commission a cover. They buy the most expensive cover they can possibly afford, and it comes back to them. There’s a quick revision needed, that would greatly improve the cover’s efficiency. Except, Mr. Snooty artist made it perfect, of course, so he’s not going to re-paint or re-draw the cover just to change one little detail. Besides, you commissioned one piece – he cannot change his work as easy as a laid back 26 year old graphic designer from Ukraine can, and his 14 page contract clearly stated that this payment was for one completed cover only, the revisions are $250 ea and totally optional on his end. He’s loaded and does not even appreciate the work or the high price you paid for it, and besides, he’s found some other prey in the meantime, and he wants to bang their illustrations out instead of doing your revision. Whereas many lower priced designers don’t even charge for revisions, they will keep revising it until you love it. Instead of making a rich person slightly richer, bless yourself and a hard-working designer.

Rule 4: Emulate the best.

A book should stand out, of course, but it should be eye-catching because it really nails the genre in a unique way. If you just make your book different, you’re essentially ignoring the readers – you’re saying that their opinion, and their sales, don’t matter, and you will not take any of the objective data about their preferences (such as Top 100 most popular lists, in your specific sub-genre) on board.

Browse your niche, see what books are doing well. These are the books that were elevated above the masses – what wisdom can you find in their covers? What trends do you notice, that you want to emulate – and what trends do you want to throw away, or alter, or even parody? You need to know your competition, and having a book that looks like it belongs in the race will make readers more likely to bet on it. Every single person buying your book is gambling, they’re taking the chance that your book will be the best option for them, vs the countless other options. Don’t be so arrogant and haughty that you believe they should all pick your book, just because it’s yours. They don’t know you, they don’t know that you are special and the universe has pre-ordained your book to be successful, because you really really care about it. They didn’t get the message, because nobody sent it.

Send the right message with your cover – nobody else will.

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Top 5 eBook Sales Trackers

Comparing The Top 5 eBook Sales Trackers

All book trackers are not created equal, that is for sure. Some are free, some are paid, and some are a combination. Yet, they all offer totally different functions, and what you need will depend on where you publish, how many books you have, and what features you need. To help you make up your mind, we’re going to objectively compare all these eBook Sales Trackers.

These can all be paperback book sales trackers, as well, if you have paperbacks.

We compare: GetBookReport vs BookCore vs BookTrakr vs AKReport vs KDPWizard

Simply click the title to visit the website.

Rating: 5/5
5/5

KDP Wizard is not primarily a sales tracker, but as it tracks your KDP, Google Play Publishing, Barnes & Noble (NookPress), Kobo and other bookstores sales, I think it’s as good a sales tracker as any other, even though it’s just one of the many free benefits of using KDP Wizard. What I really like about this one is the fact it displays your Amazon sales natively, not in a seperate section. You install the Chrome plugin, and it overlays the amount of sales each book has, next to the book itself on your bookshelf, as shown in the image on the right. As you can see by the image on the left, it displays your KDP sales by marketplace, the last 7 days, 30, and all time. You can also push this data to Airtables with one click, so you have easy to work with spreadsheets and backups. Other options available as well, as the dev is a great guy who adds new features almost every week. In addition to tracking your sales, it’s also an awesome tool that lets you fill in prices on KDP and other booksellers with a single click based on saved profiles, it allows you to save keyword profiles, search for categories, and all these features are overlaid exactly over the right spot on the native KDP interface. So the HTML formatting buttons are right above the description box, the category search is where the categories are, you get the idea. With this tool you don’t feel like you’re using a tool, you feel like Amazon and Google and other sellers finally started treating authors and publishers as good as they treat the customer, and added all the common sense features that should be there. There are literally hundreds of features for KDP Wizard so I won’t go over them here, you can read my full KDP Wizard Review if you want that. This is the option I personally recommend mostly because of the constant development, and the fact you never need to log into another website besides the websites you’re already using. The other features are amazing as well, but not the focus of this article. Check it out.

Rating: 4.5/5
4.5/5
The front page of BookCore when you log in, showing an overview.

Bookcore is a pure sales tracker, with no other functions, but it’s superb at what it does. As far as a single login to check all your sales data goes, BookCore is by far the best option. Right now you can grant them access to your various accounts, without giving them a password or having to trust them with any control besides your sales figures. This is in stark contrast to some of the other sales trackers, which either want your password (um, no way) or they want to be added as a co-owner of the account (yeah, no.)

Right now they support Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, and Smashwords. You can add multiple of each account, for example if you have two Google Play accounts, you can go ahead and add both. It displays your sales daily, with all the booksellers included, each one represented by a different color in a very easy to follow format. The information is very useful at a glance, and the data visualisation and seperate section for individual books make getting a birds eye view easy, and zooming in on a specific title easy. It can support limitless books, and is just a really awesome option.  

As mentioned in my BookCore review:

You grant access to KDP via a Chrome extension, and you’re not required to give them your password. You grant access to iBooks and Google Play and Smashwords via creating a user with limited permissions. The owners are public, Petr Hrachovec and his cousin Vaclav Hrachovec, so at least they’re not anonymous owners as many of these services have. Usually it’s a good sign when the website owner wants to attach their real identity to the project, and for what it’s worth the guy who owns it is very nice and personable, really responsive. 

 

Rating: 2/5
2/5

This one loses big points with me right off the bat for not having a free option. KDP Wizard & BookCore have paid options, but that’s on top of their free option which allows unlimited books, which is why those are my two recommended. I took off a star for that, and another star for requiring passwords. Yes, this super popular tracker that has a ton of great reviews (almost certainly a result of their generous affiliate profit sharing, and not their merits) actually requires all your passwords, despite there being many other ways to collect your sales data. This is really bad. I’m going to knock off yet another star for having a mediocre privacy policy, no identifiable owner and just being shady in general. Not a fan of this one, but if you overlook all the negatives, it is a decent sales tracker with probably the largest selection of booksellers to add, but that’s easy to do when you don’t need to build a tool or process for each bookseller, you only need to ask for passwords. If a blog recommends this tracker to you, it’s probably due to the big affiliate payout.

Rating: 3/5
3/5

A solid choice. No passwords required, but here’s the catch – just like the next option, BookReport, this option only is available for KDP Reports. This service used to be really good and quite needed, but now that KDP Reports BETA is out and you can get similar functions natively in the KDP Reports section, this is really only for those who sell enough on Amazon to justify paying a monthly fee just to enhance their reports a bit. Plays a cash register sound whenever you have a sale.

Rating: 3.5/5
3.5/5

This service is similar to AK Report, just a little bit more established and in my opinion a bit better. It has some better functions and data displays, and like AK Report it plays a sound when you get a sale. This one should only really be considered if you’re selling a lot on KDP only (not wide, it’s Amazon only) and you also monitor your sales all day. This is for full time authors who are exclusive with Amazon only. If that is your criteria, then this option is the best for you. This is the best KDP display, but only that.

If you aren't exclusive to Amazon, I strongly recommend KDP Wizard as a full service solution. It has a free option with unlimited books, so no harm trying it out.

Best Option

The Best Fake Name Generator By Far

The Best Fake Name Generator By Far

There are tons of fake name generators online, but the vast majority use a limited dataset, or multiple countries in one set. This leads to repeated names, and multiple people using the same fake name. Worse, it can lead to unrealistic sounding names, where a first name and a last name from seperate cultures are used in a suspicious way, for example “Tyrone Bernstein.” Some mix up male and female names… You get the idea. 

Luckily, there’s already a perfect fake name generator, it just goes under a different name. This pen name generator uses every name in the USA, and was built using real census data. Simply click Male or Female, and it will generate a totally unique combination. Since this generator uses thousands upon thousands of names, there are literally millions of combinations possible, virtually guaranteeing that you will be getting a realistic, authentic and unique fake name. 

The Ultimate 2020 eBook Industry Analysis

The Ultimate eBook Industry Analysis [2019-2020]

In this article we

Rank kindle categories from highest to lowest sales – Analyze eBook readers by age, device, and other factors – Compare paperbacks vs eBooks – Check out total revenues – Break down eBook sales by country – Much more

Quick facts:

Share of consumer spending on indie eBooks:

USA eBook Sales Revenue 2017-2018:

Share of libraries offering eBooks:

Percent of adults who have read an eBook in past month:

This analysis was written late 2019, for use in projecting your 2020 plans. The reason I decided to write this analysis are twofold – one, I think there is an enormous amount of misinformation as it relates to eBook data. The most popular source of eBook market share data comes from “Author Earnings Report” now known as “Bookstat.” This data is quoted all across the internet and by some of the most legitimate news sources in the world, but there’s one problem – the data itself is dodgy and seems totally unreliable, so dodgy I wrote an entire article about why you shouldn’t trust Author Earnings Report. The data out there besides the inaccurate data from AER seems just as esoteric, with countless info-graphs and forum posts backed up by no legitimate sources. So, since the purpose of this website is to help authors and publishers, and knowledge is power, I’m going to do my best here to give you some good information. This will be a really, really broad overview, a birds eye view of the entire eBook industry.

Since the market share of the various booksellers seems to be the most quoted aspect of the industry across the web, we’ll start there. What is the market share of Amazon vs all other eBook & paperback sellers, does it really make every other bookseller insignificant? What percentage of book sales are represented by iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, KDP, etc? 

To answer these questions, I’m going to share some subjective experiences and then do a deep dive for some objective facts. With well over a thousand books published, most of them wide (that is to say, not exclusive to Amazon) and many friends in the publishing industry, plus running a publishing website, and being the creator/top mod of a publishing forum with over 60k views per month, I have a very good grasp of which retailers actually get sales for authors, and in my experience most authors not enrolled in Kindle Unlimited have around 50% of their income coming in from Amazon, with the other 50% coming from other booksellers. After Amazon, it generally goes in order of Apple iBooks, Google Play Store, NookPress by Barnes & Noble, then smaller stores such as Kobo and Smashwords, and then finally the dozens of smaller retailers which you would usually only ever publish on via a book distributor that automatically submits and maintains your books for you, such as PublishDrive. (Check out my comparison of book & eBook distributors later)

Looking at the hard data, I was expecting to find most of it confirming my pre-existing expectations, but I was actually quite wrong in that respect. To my surprise Amazon really did seem to totally dominate in terms of eBook market share, and I think I realized why their sales are nearly all of the market yet most authors only get half their sales from Amazon. Knowing that most sales are through Amazon, most authors and publishers are likely to spend their advertising dollars to run promotions on Amazon only, because you get more bang for your buck with a higher sales rank leading to more visibility, and it’s easier to focus on the main bookseller vs 5 of them. So, those with books on all retailers find half of their “natural” sales from outside of Amazon, and those exclusive to Amazon get all of their sales from Amazon. The third group that have their books on all booksellers without being in KU are probably focusing more on money in their pocket than unit numbers, and if you have slim margins on Amazon (keep in mind it’s much harder to make a positive ROI on Amazon without your book being in Kindle Unlimited, as you’re losing what can often be the bulk of income there) then your percentage of income coming from Amazon might not be much better, or even worse if like many inexperienced authors you take a loss. I would speculate this explains the juxtaposition between Amazon being the vast majority of total sales, yet most authors with books on all platforms reporting diverse income streams, with the occasional author even making more on other individual booksellers than on Amazon. If Amazon has 80% of the market, so all the competition is dumping their ad dollars and marketing efforts there, and many publishers are in Kindle Unlimited and only on Amazon, you might be better off focusing on the 20% of the market that isn’t Amazon, especially if you’re going to be light on actual advertising. 

Are eBooks or paperbacks more popular?

According to the largest and most reliable survey on this topic, a survey done by PEW Research, paperbacks are still the most popular way to read with eBooks coming in second and audiobooks third. Note that this survey is about reading, not sales, and not every book read is a newly purchased book. Many are old purchases, library copies or re-reads, so this doesn’t tell us most sales are paperback.

In terms of actual sales, it’s hard to tell what the real lay of the land is, because most of the major booksellers, including Amazon which is the largest bookseller in over a dozen countries, do not share this information. According to the Association Of American Publishers, paperback and hardcover sales are both up from last year and are continuing a long term upwards trend, and eBook sales are declining. Their data comes with the massive caveat, however, that their data is collected from their members (1,100 publishers, of which a minority are trade publishers), who are mostly educational or journalistic publishers, which leaves out the massive self-publishing industry among others. This data is also American-centric, as it is an American organization. Still, it’s a pretty interesting insight – most people would be expecting a decline of physical sales year on year, not an increase. 

Paperbacks vs eBooks
PEW Survey
AAP data paperbacks vs eBooks
Association of American Publishers

Still, I think anyone who looks at the age gap between eBook readers and paperback readers will agree that the future belongs to eBooks. The ways to consume eBooks will always be increasing and the options will be higher and higher quality, as well. From Statista:

What book categories have the highest sales?

The aforementioned AAP data is the most reliable as it relates to traditional publishers, and the data has shown increases in the adult book category, in addition to increases in the young adult category and an incredible +8% increase in sales for religious presses. There were also declines in educational and scholarly presses, leaving their mostly-traditional publishers with an overall revenue decrease of 1.5% last year, compared to the year before. It’s interesting to note that there was an 8% increase in eBook sales in the young adult category in a single year. However, I find this data relatively useless. It’s too broad, it’s too biased, and even if it’s less than a year old that is still outdated. So I’m going to use a bit more old school method – Amazon is the largest bookseller in most English speaking countries, and although they never hand out their data, there is a special piece of information they include in every book listing – the book’s sales ranking, or it’s relative rank in the entire store. For example, a sales rank of 10,000 means it is the 10,000th most sold book in the store at that time. So by checking a book’s sales rankings, you can see how it performs over time. Amazon has great Top 100 categories for nearly every category and sub-category. You can see where I’m going with this – by comparing the sales ranks of the #1, #50 & #100 best-selling book in each category, you get an amazing snapshot of the relative popularity of each category, that will be almost by definition more accurate and up to date than any other method, because it’s based on real sales, right now. The only downside to this method is it doesn’t account for the varying “weight” of the top 100, or the percentage of sales that the top 100 has in each category, but since the sales ranks are storewide that doesn’t really diminish the data. I think this is a small sacrifice in accuracy compared to the only alternative, which is essentially polling a certain group of publishers and having your results extremely skewed and biased towards the group you’re monitoring. This method compares every bookseller on Amazon, that is to say, every bookseller in the English speaking world. I will focus on the major categories, and update the results below regularly. 

Fiction Sales Ranks

The #1, #50 & #100 sales ranks of the books in the top 100 most popular eBooks on Amazon, for each category. Click header to sort.
Category#1 Sales Rank#50 Sales Rank#100 Sales Rank
Arts & Photography18918,44621,505
Biographies & Memoirs791,3822,716
Business & Money291,993 4,805
Children's eBooks247842,004
Comics, Manga & Graphic Novels5567,75114,219
Computers & Technology12015,75724,065
Cookbooks, Food & Wine1496,56612,923
Crafts, Hobbies & Home90411,28618,961
Education & Teaching28014,48725,754
Engineering & Transportation652 27,00647,987
Foreign Languages63115,126 29,679
Health, Fitness & Dieting992,1844,472
History411,5442,693
Humor & Entertainment363,3056,273
Law9318,31537,303
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender eBooks752,2794,125
Literature & Fiction267151
Medical eBooks58210,45120,010
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense1161381
Nonfiction29434833
Parenting & Relationships3508,21214,185
Politics & Social Sciences411,9864,637
Reference1168,58914,792
Religion & Spirituality41 1,3842,008
Romance2112223
Science & Math413,7037,223
Science Fiction & Fantasy6356672
Self-Help292,6635,540
Sports & Outdoors9512,13220,870
Teen & Young Adult267451,644
Travel80514,06223,267
datatables_locale="en_US"

Non-Fiction Sales Ranks

The sales ranks for the #1, #50, and #100 books in each non-fiction categories Amazon Top 100 list. Click header to sort.
Category or Subcategory#1 Sales Rank#50 Sales Rank#100 Sales Rank
Arts & Photography22510,66021,243
Biographies & Memoirs761,4442,794
Business & Investing291,9064,472
Children's Nonfiction2576,05813,779
Computers & Technology13315,23624,169
Cooking, Food & Wine1846,56512,534
Crafts, Hobbies & Home95311,64519,880
Education & Reference29014,38424,865
Engineering & Transportation71226,97248,635
Health, Fitness & Dieting981,9054,324
History411,5442,693
Law9318,31537,303
Literary Criticism & Theory2,01238,81868,782
Medical eBooks58210,45120,010
Parenting & Relationships3508,21214,185
Politics & Social Sciences411,9864,637
Science413,7037,630
Self-Help292,6635,540
Sports9512,13223,254
Travel95312,77519,948
datatables_locale="en_US"

Now we’re actually getting somewhere. By sorting the tables you’ll get an amazing overview of sales in each kindle category, and to me the 100th book is actually the best indicator of the niche in general, although of course all the spots are useful to look at. Statista also has a graph of what they feel to be the most popular categories based on their research. Note they don’t include the time span as far as I can tell, but a google of ‘eBook statista’ shows all kinds of interesting information like this. They do charge a subscription fee. 

What countries read the most eBooks?

As with most new technology being adopted (and eBooks still are relatively new) the United States leads the pack by far in terms of total eBooks sold. A fairly wealthy country with a large amount of readers, the USA dwarves all others. I was surprised to find out Japan is the #2 country in terms of eBook sales, with China 3rd and the United Kingdom 4th. Below is a graph for 2018, again from Statista, showing eBook sales for most countries with the darker regions buying more and the lighter regions buying less eBooks. Here are some of the major countries, and their eBook sales.

CountrySales (millions)
Albania3
Algeria30
Angolia7
Argentina25
Australia89
Bangladesh20
Bolivia13
Brazil129
Cambodia4
Canada521
China1,209
Czechia19
France533
Germany294
Ghana7
Hungary7
India138
Indonesia97
Iran53
Italy128
Ivory Coast6
Japan1,483
Kenya7
Malaysia20
Morroco47
Myanmar7
New Zealand37
Norway36
Pakistan16
Poland49
Russia173
Saudia Arabia58
South Korea554
Spain135
Sweden52
Thailand35
Turkey42
United Kingdom (UK)820
United States (USA)5,487
Uzbekistan9

That’s it for now! I hope this article showed you the lay of the land so to speak, understanding data like this is the first step to being able to make good decisions in a competitive industry.

Please note: This article is fresh and I will be adding to it regularly over the next few months, until it is more accurate and fleshed out. Until then, I hope it was of use to you.

Leave a question or comment below.

My KDP Wizard Review :)

My KDP Wizard Review 🙂

With KDP being the largest publishing platform by far, and with most of the worlds self-published authors publishing through said platform, I’ve always been kind of confused by the lack of accompanying programs. I’ve been keeping an eye out for a tool that will actually do all the common sense functions you’d expect to be already invented for the largest bookselling platform on earth, and when I heard of KDP Wizard I was eager to try it, since it’s the first real attempt at building a suite of tools for publishers. This is my honest, unpaid, real review. 

KDP Wizard
Example of some of many options KDP Wizard adds to KDP & other websites.

So, what is KDP Wizard and what does it do?

KDP Wizard is a chrome app, that functions as a kind of full service software for people who are publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing, AND other stores. Really, this is for any publisher. Some highlights:

  • You can click to import all your books data to Airtable (you should make a free account there even if you don't use KDP Wizard, it's amazing) at once so you browse through and see all your books and their files, keywords, descriptions, all metadata, etc all in one awesome editable spreadsheet, perfect for file storage too.
  • A live display is overlaid over the KDP webpage itself, adding tons of new features that make uploading and managing data a breeze.
  • You can save keyword profiles just by entering a name and clicking save, and there's a live keyword count + more.
  • You can save price profiles with a single click, so you don't need to fill out the price section every time you upload a book. This is for Amazon and Google Play, + more.
  • A live HTML editor is overlaid over the description box, so instead of entering html manually you can click to add H1-H6, bold, italics, lists both numbered and bulleted, etc and most importantly you can save description profiles to autofill formatting.
  • You can copy and paste entire pages to Airtables or to another book listing, for example you can copy your eBook list to paperback.
  • You can, with a single click, export your KDP book to Google Play, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other retailers, more added regularly.
  • KDP Wizard makes the category selection searchable, so you just search and click your categories.
  • Your sales are automatically displayed next to the book itself, so as you browse your bookshelf you see each book's recent sales.
  • Save sales rank and customer reviews to your Airtable spreadsheet as well so all data is in one place
  • The fastest development schedule I have seen for any program, new features being added constantly, as of this review the program is only a couple months old and every week a useful new feature is added. I

CLICK HERE to sign up, or keep reading – This review is just getting started! Even if you don’t use KDP Wizard, you should sign up for a free Airtable account – it’s superb, so much better than excel or word.

What features does it have?

To begin with, there’s the data organization and visualization, particularly the Airtables export. This sounds simple but is actually a religious experience, or at least it was for me. Amazon data is messy – the bookshelf won’t let you ever actually delete a book, and hardly any information is contained in one place, let alone the information for all your books at a glance. With KDP Wizard you can export all your books data to AirTables with one click. It really does extract everything, and I’m going to include a list below of all the data that is listed for each book listing on the spreadsheet, all in one spot. This gives you better data visualisation and way way better search ability. The birds-eye view gives you the ability to spot a lot of patterns you never would of otherwise. One missing feature seems to be the ability to view eBook page counts – only paperback seems to display. I’ve messaged the team, and they’re adding that feature soon! The following is displayed for each book:

Title

Thumbnail

Type

Status

ASIN

Subtitle

Language

Language Name

Series Name

Series Number

Edition Number

Author

Contributors

Description

Length Description

Publishing Rights

Keywords All

KW1

KW2

KW3

KW4

KW5

KW6

KW7

Category 1

Category 2

Large Print

Adult Content

Print ISBN

ISBN 13

ISBN 10

Imprint

Publication Date

Cover

Paperback Cover File

eBook Cover File

Paperback Cover File Cloud Storage Link

eBook Cover File Cloud Storage Link

Interior

Paperback Interior File

eBook Interior File

Paperback Interior File Cloud Storage Link

eBook Interior File Cloud Storage Link

IncludesBarcode

InteriorPaperType

PageCount

CoverFinish

Trim SizeIn

Trim Size Cm

Bleed

Book Group ID

Product URL

Edit Details Page

Edit Content Page

Edit Pricing Page

Primary Marketplace

Primary Price

Primary Currency

Primary BSR

Primary No Of Reviews

Primary Avg Review Rating

PrimaryRating

Shared Sales With Identically Named Books

Last X Days Sales All Marketplaces

Sales US

Sales UK

Sales DE

Sales FR

Sales IT

Sales ES

Sales JP

Sales IN

Sales NL

Sales BR

Sales CA

Sales MX

Sales AU

Last Sales Update

Territories

Uploaded To

Expanded Distribution

Created Date Time

Last Modified Date Time

Notes

 

What else is there? Well, you can ONE CLICK EXPORT TO OTHER RETAILERS! This was a big one for me, because it actually provides a superb alternative to ebook distributors, that take 10% to send your book to all stores. This makes KDP Wizard a viable alternative to PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, Streetlib (read my warning before using, scratch that, just never use them) and every other major eBook distributor. Right now they only have one click import to Barnes & Noble NookPress, Rakuten Kobo & Google Play, but they’re working on more booksellers as we speak. So, they get thumbs up for this completely new (and in retrospect, blindingly obvious) feature, which could make re-uploading to other retailers even easier than updating a master copy for a distributor.

You can make eBook templates, by copying any book. This is awesome when you have most metadata required for one book the same as another book, for example a book in a similar category or perhaps an eBook version of a paperback, or vice versa. You can autofill prices, details, all of it. Screenshot below.

Copy Paste KDP Wizard

Another feature is that it’s secure, or at least claims to be so – the data is encrypted and sent to AirTable, and since you created and own your own AirTable account, theoretically there’s no way for them to access the data. Trust can only be gained after a long period of time where KDP Wizard shows that it is a trustworthy steward of our data, but for now, they’re doing everything right and on the surface at least, all appears above board.

Yet another detail, perhaps the one I am the most excited above, is the “profiles” feature for every section. So for example, you can save your keywords to a “profile” and next time you’re filling out similar keywords, you can pull up that profile. You can create profiles to auto-populate the description or any other element of the KDP data input process. You can do the same for pricing, descriptions, every aspect of submitting. 

It also has little details to help you perfect the book creation process. I LOVE that it shows the 50 character count on each keyword, so you know that you’re inputing the maximum amount of keywords allowed. 

KDP Wizard has a built in rich text editor, so that you can use bold, italics, and all other formatting directly in your KDP description box! I mean come on, how is this the first company to recognize the enormous need people have for these kind of tools! It’s late 2019, nearly 2020, and I’m over the moon over a rich text editor. This is the kind of software where when you get used to it, you can’t imagine it not being there, and when it’s not turned on the whole KDP Dashboard and bookshelf just seems so incredible archaic and web 1.0 style. The big features are amazing but the little features matter – please don’t think these are minor time savers – put together, they cut in half the amount of time I spend submitting per novel. The process being so streamlined means you don’t have a million opportunities to get distracted, you just do it.

I mean just look at the description box alone and tell me this isn’t night and day compared to the regular description box: 

KDP Wizard Description Box
The Amazon KDP Description box with KDP Wizard
Normal description box
WITHOUT KDP Wizard

But wait, there’s more! (OK, I will stop channeling my inner Billy Mayes here)

You can also store your reviews to AirTable, and scroll through and see all your reviews for all your books in one place. 

You can, on-page just like every other feature, search for categories on Amazon – no more click through to 100 categories to see if any are relevant. 

KDP Wizard also moonlights as a yet another program, this time a digital asset management system. When you synch the books to AirTable, you’re not just synching it’s data. You’re also synching its cover file, and its document file, so you also have all the latest copies of your cover and manuscript in one place in the cloud, although currently you need to manually upload all .epubs or .mobis yourself. You can add any other file manually as well, depending on your needs. AirTables has an amazing reputation and great 2FA options as well, so this is a secure digital asset manager as well as the most powerful analytical tool, data visualizer and data entry assistant that exists for KDP. 

Since it’s a browser extension, it adds options on all the relevant pages automatically (overlay style), and you can always, at any time, enter KDP Wizard by clicking it’s extension icon in the top right, and you can instantly search your entire book catalog right from your extension dropdown no matter what website you’re browsing, as well as other useful functions right at your fingertips, a single click away at all times. This is a screenshot of what you see when you click the extension icon in Chrome (the icon is top right.)

KDP Wizard browser extension view

It also makes the KDP dashboard look cleaner – this is subjective of course, but to me it’s much easier on the eyes and less clunky.

I will leave it at that for features, you should have a good overview by now. The team is also putting out new features right now, at a really rapid rate. I’ve been using this product for a few weeks (edit: now months) and they’ve added at least one feature a week, and not small ones.

As you might know if you are a regular reader of Publishing With Love, I’ve published thousands of books over the years, and Amazon is the largest retailer I work with by far. I have never, at any point in my career, used software this damn useful. It just works. I’m not sure who the creator is, but it’s obvious to me that he’s either an author or a publisher – this extension feels so intuitive. 

How Much Does KDP Wizard Cost?

Right now there are two pricing tiers. KDP Wizard is 100% free for the lowest tier “Apprentice.” This tier is amazing for a free product, and many people will be happy with this one, even though I upgraded ASAP, and consider it the best value in terms of bang-for-buck that I will ever get in the publishing world. If you’re a bit more advanced, you might want to upgrade to the Sorcerer tier, which includes the full feature set. 

KDP Wizard Pricing Tiers

So, do you recommend it?

I think you know by now, but yes, I really do personally recommend it, and I personally am using this extension every day.

Click to the big link below to visit. 🙂

My BookCore Review

My BookCore Review

I’m not exclusive with Amazon, and so I’ve been looking for a way to track all my sales on the various platforms for, I don’t know, 4 years? So when I heard about BookCore, I knew I needed to try it out, and honestly I’m very glad I did. I’m going to give the honest pros and cons here, this is not a paid ad or any type of sponsored post, just my pure honest opinion. OK, let’s dive in.

Bookcore

So what is BookCore? BookCore is a way to track, monitor and analyze your sales on multiple booksellers at once. You give them limited access to your account, and they show you your data. Pretty straightforward, and when you think about logging into Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Smashwords, etc and then adding together the sales data to get some sort of final figure you can imagine the kind of effort this services saves. Not just that but more importantly it gives you a better display of all aggregated data, so you can actually gain more insight into your sales than you would of been able to otherwise. Google Play’s default sales display, for example, is nonexistent and unless you’re going to build a custom display for the raw excel data they give you, you’re probably not going to draw any meaningful conclusions about what sells best on Google Play. So it’s not just the time saved, it’s also better data, because data that can’t be understood is worse than useless.

BookCore Screenshot

What kind of coverage does BookCore provide?

BookCore will automatically import sales data from Amazon KDP, Google Play, iBooks and Smashwords all at once, and you only ever need to grant them access once, for the data to automatically import from that point forward.

Does BookCore require your login, and is it safe?

No, BookCore doesn’t require any of your logins. You grant access to KDP via a Chrome extension, and you’re not required to give them your password. You grant access to iBooks and Google Play via creating a user in your account for BookCore with whatever limited permissions are needed, and as for Smashwords I don’t use them so I can’t comment on the process, but I asked the owner and he said that for all storefronts, the goal is to never have to require a users password, and they only ask for passwords when on-boarding a new store, kind of like a beta access. They used to require a password for Google Play, etc, but they don’t anymore. I would never use any service that required me to give them my login details! As for whether BookCore is safe, I guess it’s as safe as any small business online. That is to say, don’t give them any information that could be extremely damaging such as your passwords. The owners are public, Petr Hrachovec and his cousin Vaclav Hrachovec, so at least they’re not anonymous owners. Usually it’s a good sign when the website owner wants to attach their real identity to the project, and for what it’s worth the guy seems nice when I’ve asked him questions. 

Is BookCore Free or Paid?

It’s free and paid, but its free version does not feel limited or cramped in any way. I’m using it right now, and it’s great. I am planning on upgrading purely because I really enjoy the product, and I know that my hundreds of books would be using some serious server resources, but I would strongly recommend this even for someone who doesn’t ever want to upgrade. Virtually every free is available for free at least at the moment, the only features that you need to pay for are review monitoring (you get an email whenever there’s a new Amazon review on your book/s). As for whether it will continue to be free in the future, I don’t know. It’s in Beta, but it’s been in Beta for like a year apparently.

What are the data displays like?

Pretty good. The data displays aren’t too complicated, just all the useful information you need at a glance. The dashboard shows your top 5 books, and revenue, units, free units & KENPC for yesterday, this month so far, and last month total. I like how if you click the “this month so far” figure, it will compare it to the same time period for last month. So if it’s the 13th and you click it, it will compare it to the 1st-13th of last month, and give you a percentage increase or decrease. That’s just the dashboard, then there is a books section that lists all of your books, and I mean ALL of your books (some of these books have been deleted for 3 years and they still get the URL somehow) although one small issue is that it doesn’t seem to grab all the covers, only about half my books have their covers displayed there which is kind of annoying but not a big deal. Then there’s the actual data display part, and some of the options are shown in the screenshot above. I can’t show the data displays themselves for privacy reasons, but they are clean and concise. 

How often does the sales data update?

This is my only real issue with BookCore, but it’s one that the devs are saying they will fix. There’s no way to manually update the data, so you’re forced to wait about 10 hours for it to update all the linked storefront data. 99% of people won’t need instant data, but some people like myself are habitual refreshers and enjoy checking a few times a day. I think they should switch to either every hour updates, or they should update automatically when someone logs in, or keep it as is but allow one manual update per day for when you just really want to see how sales were over the past few hours.

Any other cool features besides data display and review notifications?

Wow, you’re picky aren’t you? Well, I guess there is also the ability to export all your data in CSV format, which is great so you can do your own data visualizations or analysis without having to merge together totally separate spreadsheets that have wildly different structures. The team is also REALLY active – I mean they update about once a week or so, and they’re planning on adding tons of cool new features. All in all, I give them a thumbs up.

Do you recommend BookCore?

Yes, I really do. I will update this article straight away if there’s any changes, but as it stands, I use this company myself and can really recommend them. 

5 Guidelines To Picking A Book Sub-Category

5 Guidelines To Picking A Book Sub-Category

Selecting a category and sub-category to write your novel in is similar to the process that you use to select a niche for your pen name, but quite a bit more specific. If you or your pen name write in a specific category as most authors do, you should be laser focused on that categories Top 100 list. It is your bible, because it is the perfect representation of what readers in that category want, and which covers/keywords/tropes/characters are popular with readers. There is so much information there that even experienced self-publishers ignore, to their enormous disadvantage.

First, think of what country you think you will sell the most books in, and switch over to the Amazon store for that country. The results are totally different in Sweden than in the UK, and if you’re writing a book set in the outskirts of Devon you might want to be studying your target audience specifically.

Since you’re focusing on one single category, it’s going to be smartest to spend a lot of time studying each individual book, as important pieces of information can jump out at you from even the slightest differences. To get you started, open each book up and take not of each of the following 10 differences.

1. Sub-category. If you are writing in the paranormal section, a sub-category would be vampires. Write down each sub-category you take note of in the top 100, it will make a great reference after you’re finished browsing.

2. Keywords. What keywords jump out at you? Is there more than one “Vampire Family,” then perhaps it is a popular trope to look into? You can also get real Amazon search data from our keyword search tool.

3. Date published. If the date published was over a year ago, there is some aspect of that book that is giving it enormous staying power. Find out what that is, and see if you can notice any common trends among books that are still on the Top 100 after a long time.

4. Characters. Do most main characters seem to be women? If so, perhaps your book should feature a female character. You might be tempted to write a man under the assumption that rarity determines value, but keep in mind that you’ll be choosing to stand out from the top books, not from all books. For all you know, more books were written with male characters than with female, but it’s the females dominating the top 100. You’re looking at the best books, trying to stand out by being different from them is not a winning strategy.

5. Price. Are books that are twice as long charging 4x the price and getting it? Is there no relation between length, category, characters, etc and price? It’s important to pay attention to the price because it’s not only an indicator of what a similar book can ask for and get, it’s also an indication of interest in that particular book and a thumbs up to emulate it. If most books in the niche are 0.99c and a book from an indie author is sailing high at 9.99, that means readers are willing to pay 10x more for that book. That is a massive indicator of interest, and this is a massive factor in picking what category to write a book in.

Although these 5 differences will show you a wealth of information when you compare books in your category to one another, there are some broader metrics to remember as well, such as:

Look at the ratings. Are they all 5 star, or are some of them 3-4 star and still ranking? If the latter, that usually indicates less competition, or there is some driving force besides quality of writing determining sales in that category. Think about what that could be. To use an obvious example, if you are in the autobiography section the sales are being driven by fame, why are you even there? Popularity can be driven by other factors, and if books are ranking high without good ratings you need to understand the driving factors to determine if you can emulate them or fit into a system.

Be very attentive to the amount of reviews. You will need to generate your own reviews, which is an incredibly time consuming and frustrating process. You will need to manage an ARC team, or beg family and friends for a review, or pay a service to send your book out to be honestly reviewed, and even after doing that you might not be happy with the reviews you get. So if they average 50 reviews on the front page, that means you’ll need 50 to compete. This is a catch 22, you need good reviews to get a person to buy your book, so they can enjoy it and leave a good review. So if it’s 300-400 reviews on average, well, think if you’re up to that.

Note – don’t “create a niche” which is where you lie to yourself to tell yourself that you can create your own niche. If you would totally go out and buy a book about dragons that fight in space, keep in mind that unless your book is a runaway hit you will never get sales, because it’s a category that doesn’t really exist. Medieval fantasy and space are your two personal loves that you would like combined, not the markets. With literally millions of authors out there and millions more readers, it’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of niches have been formed along the lines of what readers want, and if you ignore them to make your own book don’t expect to make a reliable profit out of it.

How To Select A Writing Niche

How To Select A Writing Niche

Before you publishing your first book, before you write that amazing novel you have kicking around in the back of your mind, before you even select a sub-category for your book you’re going to want to select a niche to write in. You or your pen name should pick a particular category of novels to focus on, so that you can build a brand. In some very rare cases – usually when the author is a celebrity or has become a celebrity through writing – an author can choose to publish books in all sorts of categories, and readers will dutifully buy their books wherever they go. For most of us mere mortals, we need to write our books in a single category, or at least a single category per pen name, so that we can build a loyal following and actually make a profit. If you have no special notability, your core fans will likely be people who have read your previous books and want to buy the new book you are putting out. This generally only works if those books are in the same category, as if a big fan of your previous non-fiction book on Ukranian politics is ALSO a lover of fantasy romance, it’s merely a coincidence, and a good businessperson never relies on luck. This is the first step of the writing process for the vast majority of new authors just starting out.

You’ve come to the right place. Not only do I run a publishing company with many pen names under it’s (invisible) banner, but I used to be a writer myself, writing shamelessly for profit in any niche I could, and have hopped around from niche to niche like a madman… If anyone is qualified to tell you how to identify a profitable niche, it’s myself, and the process is quite simple. Note: Simple does not mean easy, a 10 mile run is simple, not easy. Niche analysis is essential.

To begin with, you need to take a stroll through the various top 100 lists on Amazon, on the US website of course as that is where most of your sales will be unless writing a location dependent book. You will not need to be as laser focused as you will have to be when picking a more narrow niche, or subcategory, to write your actual book in. Your market research for your pen name’s niche and your book’s sub-niche are separate, and it’s much hard to switch your niche later for a pen name so really follow both your mind and your heart, and don’t settle on a random category or subcategory.

You can rule out any categories you would hate to write in, off the bat. In the ones you find acceptable, browse through every single top 100 list. Without exception. Would you want to find out two books into establishing your identity as an author that there is another niche you would love to write in with way less competition and just as many readers?

As you browse the eBooks and books, let your eyes linger on each book’s rating, amount of ratings, and price point. These are the three key metrics. Ignore the cover, the keywords, all that you would look at during research for a book niche. What price point are they? This tells you the average price per novel in the category. Some categories support much higher prices, whereas other categories support lower prices. This is the difference between ranking in the top 100 with a $7.99 book or a $0.99 book. If the vast majority of prices are 0.99, keep in mind many of them are priced that way to boost rankings, and they will make the real money in Kindle Unlimited reads. Think about whether you want to be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, because without that you will never be able to match their price points and still pay for advertising. A higher price point is better, but if there are no readers then it won’t help you much to be selling 10 copies of a book at $7.99 whereas your competition sells their book at $0.99c

Look at the ratings. Are they all 5 star, or are some of them 3-4 star and still ranking? If the latter, that usually indicates less competition, or there is some driving force besides quality of writing determining sales in that category. Think about what that could be. To use an obvious example, if you are in the autobiography section the sales are being driven by fame, why are you even there? Popularity can be driven by other factors, and if books are ranking high without good ratings you need to understand the driving factors to determine if you can emulate them or fit into a system.

Be very attentive to the amount of reviews. You will need to generate your own reviews, which is an incredibly time consuming and frustrating process. You will need to manage an ARC team, or beg family and friends for a review, or pay a service to send your book out to be honestly reviewed, and even after doing that you might not be happy with the reviews you get. So if they average 50 reviews on the front page, that means you’ll need 50 to compete. This is a catch 22, you need good reviews to get a person to buy your book, so they can enjoy it and leave a good review. So if it’s 300-400 reviews on average, well, think if you’re up to that.

Note – don’t “create a niche” which is where you lie to yourself to tell yourself that you can create your own niche. If you would totally go out and buy a book about dragons that fight in space, keep in mind that unless your book is a runaway hit you will never get sales, because it’s a category that doesn’t really exist. Medieval fantasy and space are your two personal loves that you would like combined, not the markets. With literally millions of authors out there and millions more readers, it’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of niches have been formed along the lines of what readers want, and if you ignore them to make your own book don’t expect to make a reliable profit out of it.

To get one more critical piece of information, check the rank of the last book on each categories top 100. This gives you a great idea of both what rank you will need to break into the top 100 and get visibility, and also tells you how well top books in that category sell, basically how popular is the niche. The more popular the niche, the more readers, the more money. Ranking is a sales rank, sales rank are your sales. Pretty simple. So don’t go too small or too big, pick a niche that will reflect the amount of time and effort you’re putting into writing. If you’re only writing part time, pick a smaller niche it would be more realistic for you to succeed in. If you’re dedicating your life to writing, perhaps a bigger niche is more worthy of your time.

Other considerations to make if you have more time – you can check the average book length (requires clicking on each book) to see what kind of length the niche will tolerate on average. Some can be much shorter than others. Another is to check the ages of the books on the top 100. Some categories, like Romance, are virtually all brand new bestsellers. Other niches you will find that some are 1 year, 2 year, 3 years old and this indicates much greater staying power, which represents a more long term return on the initial time and money expended.

Doing the same – browsing top 100 lists – on other websites might be a good idea as well, perhaps even on Goodreads. After studying each and every category, taking note of the above metrics, you have a really good sense of each niche’s sales potential, how hard it is to rank in the top 100, how many reviews you’ll need, the kind of prices your book will command in each category and after skimming 100 books in each category you’ll have a good sense of the type of content you will have to write.

So now it’s a good idea to write down each category onto a piece of paper, except for categories you would never consider. A simple elimination process begins – pick what you MUST HAVE. For example, perhaps it must be an easy subcategory to break into, because you can only devote an hour per day to writing and publishing and marketing, so you’re going to be spread very thin. Any category that is too large, cross it out. Rinse, repeat, until you have only a few options, let’s say 5 or less. Then, do a deep dive into each category. Search the internet for interviews of authors who write in the category, search forum posts on writers forums, check historical sales data for books that have been selling in that category for a while, the whole shebang. Out of that chaos you will hopefully find a winner.

 

The AlphaSmart 3000 – with Mechanical Keyboard Upgrades?

The AlphaSmart 3000 - with Mechanical Keyboard Upgrades?

The AlphaSmart 3000 is an incredibly unique piece of machinery, which has enjoyed a renewed interest amongst authors looking to simplify their life. I am no stranger to using outdated equipment to reduce distractions, as I have the attention span of a hyperactive 13 year old. I delight in carrying my old, boring phone and still listen to music on an iPod. That’s why I was shocked to find out that this product and others like it exists and I never even knew about it. So what is the AlphaSmart 3000? [Click images below to visit]

The AlphaSmart is a stand-alone word processor, with a full sized keyboard and a small display screen. This unit is old, with the first AlphaSmarts being released in 1993. There were quite a few versions, Pro, 2000, 3000, then the NEO 1 and NEO 2. I did some research on every unit available, and for my personal preferences the 3000 version was the best. It had a long battery life, simple features, was the one that seemed the most reliable based on reviews, and was generally just the one best for actually writing. The only limit was the keyboard, but a creative group from GeekHack (links above images) is modding out their AlphaSmarts with mechanical keyboard. If you’re like many authors and would love a stand alone unit to write, this is actually a perfect solution. I was so inspired by this brilliance I knew I had to tell people about it, so I put my money where my mouth is and did this comparison. The keyboard it comes with is subpar, so this upgrade will make it worthy of even a picky professional author.

AlphaSmart is cheap, around $20usd. This seems perfectly reasonable to me, considering it’s essentially a keyboard with an LCD. Don’t take this price for granted, though, since modern electronic word processors like the Freewrite are running around $550, and selling out. The modern ones, ranging on average from 300-600, tend to have features like cloud synch, more advanced spell check, and e-ink. Personally, I don’t get why you need any of that, and cloud synch to me is an anti-feature. Here’s a quick comparison of the most popular by far modern electronic typewriter, and the AlphaSmart 3000.

I bought one, although admittedly have only been using it for a few days now. This is my honest opinion about it, and you know that because AlphaSmart stopped producing these years ago and presumably wouldn’t be trying to market them.

I really, really like it. At $25 plus shipping, it’s a no-brainer. I write incredibly often, and the only complaint I have is that it can only hold 100 pages, so you can’t write a full novel on it, but at the same time with technology this old you would never leave an entire novel on it because if it fails, that’s all folks. So I consider it a reminder to back up. I use it at home, because I use a desktop computer for work and at 1.6 pounds it weighs about as much as a small paperback book. Since it’s $25 I also don’t need to worry about damaging it, like I would if I typed on a laptop. It’s very freeing, and the keyboard is full size so it’s exactly the same as typing on a computer. I thought I would be annoyed by the very small display screen, but surprising it’s no big deal and it can really let you focus on the section you’re writing, I believe my sentence structure has improved slightly due to only having 4 lines displayed at a time. For someone like me who is a habitual re-reader and obsessive scanner, it can also prevent me from scanning my work over and over – basically, it’s perfect for writing a rough draft, although you would never do editing on it unless you didn’t have another device handy. The Amazon link is here but it’s also available on E-Bay. I also hope that one day an enterprising individual will sell the modded units already created, but that’s beyond my skillset.

Not only does the AlphaSmart punch above it’s weight on features, it also has better specs, as you can see in it’s three year battery life. The AlphaSmart does around 700 hours of active use, and uses no battery when not in use. That’s about two years of an hour per day usage, less frequent use will make it last longer. It’s also supported by normal batteries, not rechargeable, which is great for people who travel frequently. As a cheap, durable password protected unit that needs no internet or recharging, it’s essentially perfect for a digital nomad or traveling author. So why would anyone buy any different electronic typewriter? Well for one, the AlphaSmart looks a bit clunky. It’s old, and that shows. Personally I think all the new e-typewriters are quite ugly as well, so this wasn’t a factor in my decision making. There are some downsides – it can only be bought used, so when purchasing one, you run the risk of sticky keys or defects you can’t notice until it’s actually in your hands. The file transfer is imperfect – in fact, when connecting it to your computer and importing, it actually re-types out the entire document into the receiving document. This takes only 30 seconds as it is not typing as a human does but populating as fast as the receiving program will let it, however it’s still a surprising and odd mechanism. There’s no direct support, although the manual and hundreds of posts online about it can solve most troubleshooting issues. Since it’s used, I suggest you manually reset it when you receive the unit.

To reset the AlphaSmart 3000 to factory defaults:

1)   Start with the device turned off.

2)   Press and hold the and keys.

3)   While holding the and keys, turn the unit on by pressing the <on/off> key.

4)   When the dialog “Are you sure you want to reset the AlphaSmart to factory defaults?” appears on the screen, press Y (for yes).

5)   Enter the factory reset password: tommy

Note: Sometimes multiple keystrokes can be registered while typing the reset password.  Make sure only one asterisk appears per letter typed.

6)   Press .

Note: If you performed the factory defaults reset correctly, you should see “Initializing AlphaSmart System…”.  If it was not done correctly, it will take you right back to the last file you were in and you will need to try it again.

It is also a good idea to enter [alt+cmd+K] and then disable sticky keys and slow marks, as they can interfere with other commands from the manual. By the way, if you did purchase this unit and want a copy of the manual, it’s here.


Why you should NEVER use Streetlib.com – A Review/Warning

Why you should NEVER use Streetlib.com - A Review/Warning

A supremely important choice (whether we realize it or not) is how and where to publish our books. Not all distributors are created equal, and the distributor you select will determine how easily you book is approved by the various outlets such as Amazon or Google Play, how well it will sell when it is listed there, and how often you’ll be paid. A good catalog, with a bad distributor, will sell badly. It’s a decision, just like your cover and formatting, that can make or break your title or catalog.

Streetlib is such a bad distributor, I feel they deserve their own article. Their behavior borders on the criminal, and is certainly as arrogant, annoying and blatantly corrupt as any company can get. To find the best distributors, see this article.

I will be telling my story of my time with Streetlib, and how they are still a problem well over a year after unpublishing my books on their platform. This is not just my story – writers forums and chatrooms are littered with similar experiences.  Streetlib tends to prey on those they see as unable to fight back, so as far as I can tell they have escaped any sort of litigation for their actions. The first person to do so will be mightily rewarded by a judge I’m sure, especially in New York. If you are reading this article because you have been ripped off by Streetlib, and you’re looking for others or for proof, feel free to send me a message and I will send you all the extensive documentation I have of my experience, and point you towards others who have experienced the same result.

Anyway, on to the story.

My first experience with streetlib was well over a year ago. Being younger and dumber, I thought all distributors were the same. I had noticed a few complaints about streetlib over the years, but Giac (who I assume is the owner or spokesperson) posted regularly in the forums I frequented, and always responded with a passionate defense of himself and his company. It was a weak trick but it worked on me, because I figured if there was any issues, hey, at least there’s a real person who will be able to help me.

I have a rather extensive catalog, which includes many short stories. When Amazon changed the KDP payouts to pay out based upon pages read, and not books read, KDP became worthless for short stories overnight, and I resolved to move them all to Streetlib. We’re talking around, at the time, 300 short stories, as I am a publisher not just an author.

Almost immediately, there were issues. The exact same books which were uploaded without issue to Amazon (a company extremely strict on their standards) were being rejected by Google Play, Kobo, and NookPress for a variety of technical (not listed on streetlib) and non-technical reasons. Streetlib is also very liberal at blocking titles, they have more restrictive standards than Amazon, Google Play and Ibooks so your book might not even reach them, and you’ll only find out on a manual check. Through enormous efforts I managed to get roughly half of them up over a couple of months, but there was more when it came time for first payout.

Being an American, who had searched google for distributors, I was operating under the assumption the vast majority of people have when clicking on a .com website that is written entirely in english, that said company is a US company.

Their website even proudly proclaimed to be “Streetlib New York.”

Their payout timing was really good – it said royalties were paid out within a month (so for example, the sales of Jan were paid out by the end of Feb), and international royalties were paid out 3 months later. As I was on a completely English, .com website that appeared to be in New York, I was confused when I didn’t get paid. It turns out they classify Amazon, Google Play, Ibooks, Kobo, NookPress – basically every conceivable book seller any English speaking person on planet earth would ever send their book too – as international titles, as they are headquartered in France. This struck me as incredibly misleading, and it took about a week of back and forth between us before I even knew their distinction, as they were rude and preferred to send me copied and pasted sections of their FAQ. By the way for anyone who is considering litigation, them using their US company as a shell company for their French company means the corporate veil could be pierced and you could also go after their French assets.

When trying to get answers, I was hit with what I can only describe as the most passive aggressive, condescending, and evil customer support I have ever experienced. They would move heaven and earth to avoid answering me, when simply answering the question would be 1000x less effort. Here is a verbatim copy of an average email chain we would send back and forth, where the support person would literally follow my online accounts (I never gave them to her) and tell me I got enough advice online, and never answer.

I am italics.

“I was underpaid for this month. I only received $81. It says I made much more than that. Please look into my account and sort out what the hell is going on. Don’t give me a cookie cutter answer or brush me off like you have in the past.”

“Hello

I know that Giacomo answered your question in the forum. If anything is not clear or you have questions, let us know please, we are here at your disposal.

Thank you very much,

Lucia Zitelli”

“He didn’t answer my question, check the graphs I posted on the forum if you’re following it. “

“Here I am as per your question (“I only received $81. It says I made much more than that.”), he did answer: Please, look at screenshot in attachment.

Let us know if anything is not clear. Thank you

Lucia Zitelli” (This is where she attached a screenshot of the forum post.)

 

“He didn’t answer my question, check the graphs I posted on the forum if you’re following it.”

 

“Hello

I know that Giacomo answered your question in the forum. If anything is not clear or you have questions, let us know please, we are here at your disposal.

Thank you very much,

Lucia Zitelli”

 

“My last reply is unanswered, if you can answer that satisfactorily that would be fantastic. Don’t attach a screenshot of a post I already replied to, it’s extremely insulting and you’re doing it on purpose. You saw I replied to his post already.”

 

After no reply

 

“So you can reply within 6 minutes to show me a screenshot of the post I already replied to but you can’t take a couple minutes to do the math and see what was claimed is mathematically impossible? “

 

Then she never replied until I emailed her again for a separate issue. You see what I mean, right? They are allergic to being helpful. I honestly thought, at this point, it was simple incompetence, but as time went on I realized it was an integral part of their companies mind state, which is simply to extract as much money from author’s as possible, “no matter what it takes.”

The next surprise was a few months later when the royalties finally came in. Again, I send an email, asking why I was underpaid. I knew how distributors worked, and had read their payment page very carefully. Why wasn’t I getting what I earned, minus their 10% cut? To my shock and surprise, Giac informed me (after a week or so of back and forth emailing, forum posts, etc) that Streetlib, unlike every other major distributor I have ever heard of, didn’t take 10% of MY revenue, they took 10% of total book revenue. What this means is, if you posted a book for $10, and Amazon pays you 70%, or $7, every time you have a sale, Streetlib takes 10% off the entire sale, including taking 10% of Amazon’s cut. What that means is, they don’t take 70c out of that $10 book, they take $1. This is contrary to every other distributor I know of, and common sense to boot. Some websites pay out a royalty as little as 30%, but they would still take 10% of your cut and the websites cut, leaving you paying 33.33% of your revenue to them.

Shortly after that, 136 of my books were marked as invalid due to a system update they did, and I only found out after logging in to see them all unpublished and my earnings low.

Shady, shady, shady. You’d think this is where I pull my books and go about my life, right?

Well, you are right – but like all bad groups, Streetlib had a way of not letting you leave.

Recently I was checking my emails, and I noticed two unusual emails, right next to each other. One was from Amazon, saying it had noticed unusual bot activity on my books, and that any detected manipulation would be removed from my KENCP sales. The other was an email from Streetlib (which I had not been using for over a year at this point) saying that their new system would display the books uploaded through their service in their portal, so people who use them can go click on the links to see their books uploaded on Amazon, etc

It displayed several hundreds of my books.

The only problem was – I had unpublished every book I had ever uploaded to them.

I quickly realized two horrifying truths. The first was, that on logging in, their bot crawler, or whatever they use to find their books on the various websites, had an “attempt log” which showed that they had accessed books with the same author and titles as the ones I uploaded to them automatically, some hundreds of times. One had 400 access attempts in two days – no wonder Amazon flagged my account for suspicious activity!

The second truth was even worse. I realized upon researching that all those books that I had “unpublished” from their platform, that were still, even as I checked right then, completely unpublished, with my sales over the past year showing 0 sales – those hundreds of books, were still uploaded through streetlib. It was just hidden from me when I logged in.

The books were still uploaded through streetlib without a single sale registered. Shocked, hurt, confused – I shot off an email to streetlib. I got a response that floored me.

YES! Streetlib admitted… Yes, we did have hundreds of your books for sale, for over a year, without paying you a single dime, and without showing you on your dashboard, and falsely displaying them all as unpublished. However, they said – and this is a beauty – HOWEVER! We did not pay you at all over the past year, because the hundreds of books of yours we kept selling, never made a single sale. The sales graph is accurate, you simply did not have a single sale over hundreds of titles, although we did leave them up. Never mind that those exact same titles before I “unpublished” them made like 4,000+ sales. Same distributor, same websites, but suddenly they didn’t make any sales over a year? Only an idiot would believe that – the truth is, they simply pocketed the royalties.

There are also many other people sharing similar experiences on various forums, but I don’t want to post their laundry publicly, as most of them are actually still on streetlib due to the big effort to move all their books to another distributor, and I would be opening them up to retaliation. I have personally seen at least a few posts about every issue posted here, including a couple about my last issue (keeping the books up, selling them, not paying authors) within the past week alone.

To recap: I have emailed them, and they have admitted in plain simple English to still having a few hundred of my books uploaded, despite my dashboard clearly saying unpublished on every book for over a year. They are claiming they had no sales, which is absolutely absurd. Their employees unpublished my books themselves after I emailed them (I had no option to, as my dashboard displayed “unpublished” for them all), and are saying they owe no royalties because I had no sales in over a year, despite the fact those same books had 4000+ sales in 7 months.

This is on the tail end of an enormous headache with them, so bad I went through the effort of removing every book from them before I even knew they were scammers, when I thought they were simply sleazy.

Readers should simply stop here, and visit Publishdrive, Draft2Digital, or Smashwords or any other legitimate distributor.