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Business Archives - In 30 Minutes Guides

Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension: Why we’re turning it off

By | Blog | No Comments

We recently set up e-commerce capabilities on in30minutes.com to make it easier for our customers to purchase In 30 Minutes guides, our line of technology cheat sheets, and EasyGenie genealogy forms. It wasn’t easy. Besides dealing with the WooCommerce settings in WordPress, there was additional work required to get an SSL certificate for the site (to protect our customers’ information and enable secure transactions), set up Stripe for credit card payments, load items into the store, and test the workflow.

Besides Stripe, I also enabled PayPal for transactions. That was straightforward, and afterwards the PayPal button appeared below the Stripe/credit card options on our shopping cart. So when I saw that Amazon offered similar functionality via the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension (available via the WooCommerce site), and it allowed merchants to access the customer information (a big deal for shipping and other forms of contact) I was enthusiastic. A significant number of Americans (between 24% and half of households) have Amazon Prime accounts. If adding the Amazon Pay button makes it easier for customers to buy our products on our own store, that was great. I created my Amazon Merchant Account, installed the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension, and followed the integration instructions.

The first thing I did was test the shopping cart. I was not happy with what I saw:

amazon pay woocommerce extension

Instead of the Amazon Pay button appearing with the Stripe and PayPal options (blue arrow), the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension forces the button to the top of the screen (red arrow) with a giant prompt asking customers whether they had an Amazon account. It’s the first thing customers will see, even before the products they have ordered. Ideally, the Amazon Pay button should appear next to the Stripe and PayPal options, not at the top of the page with a giant banner screaming for people to use it. Neither PayPal nor Stripe demand such behavior from their merchant partners, so why should Amazon?

I am not the only person to have problems with the setup of the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension screen options. And they apparently cannot be changed, short of messing around with custom PHP work.

So, the choice is simple. We’re deactivating the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension. Maybe they’ll add an option to remove the banner and relocate the button to the bottom of the page where it belongs. Until then, visitors to our store are welcome to use PayPal or a credit card to make purchases. Our products are also for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other locations.

My lean publishing advice to a prospective guidebook author

By | Blog

The essence of lean media is eliminating waste, focusing creativity, and bringing audiences closer to creators. So when a prospective guidebook author queried me about setting up a publishing company to publish a series of guides about state parks in his region, here’s what I advised:

If the demand is there, I would definitely consider doing such a series. I would first try to determine what the demand is, based on things like state park attendance (which is probably publicly available somewhere) and the competition … and creating a test book (as yourself, not through a company) to see how people react.

If there is already a popular book or state park brochure series that covers the state parks, and it is cheap, that would be something you would have to address as you will be competing with them. Maybe your book series could offer better maps or some other information that the competition doesn’t have. In other words, offer a premium feature (for a premium price).

On the other hand, if the competition is expensive and stands tall on quality, you will have to position yourself differently. Say the competition is a big photo book about state parks. Maybe you could price your series lower, or you could try sizing the paperbacks to be able to fit in someone’s pocket, which is a selling point the photo book can’t match.

Keep in mind that setting up a company comes with real costs … I pay $1500 a year to my accountant to maintain my books, plus $500 to the state government as a corporation fee, not to mention various legal costs (trademarks, agreements, copyright applications) which usually run a few thousand per year. My sales are able to support those costs, but if my series was struggling it would probably be better just to sell them on my own or as a “DBA” entity (doing business as) or sole proprietor.

Because of the potential for higher costs, running a test to see if the demand is there is a good idea. If you get some steady sales and reviews you could then start up a publishing company to take things to the next level.

Note that determining audience demand through a test edition and some other market-sizing activities (such as evaluating state park attendance) is a critical first step. Otherwise, there is a real risk of spending a lot of time, money, and effort on something that not enough people are interested in.

Dropbox In 30 MinutesThis is in fact how I started the IN 30 MINUTES series, with a DIY first edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes back in 2012. It started selling a few copies per day, as did the next book in the series, Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. Once I knew the demand was there, I went ahead and created the corporate entity in early 2013. Now we sell thousands of copies every year of our most popular titles!

The other element that I touched upon in my reply was Positioning. I have blogged about the concept of positioning in the past after reading the book Positioning. It’s a really helpful way to think about creating and marketing products in a crowded marketplace.  According to the lead author of the book Positioning (Al Ries), it makes sense to work with what customers already know. Marketing strategy for a new product should be built from the perspective of the “prospect”, rather than the perspective of the company (and the ego of company executives). Often, this involves finding the hole that the market leaders have neglected or don’t serve well. Hence, my advice to the guidebook author to do his book in a different way than the existing competition.

Q&A with Ian Lamont, i30 Media founder and publisher

By | Blog

Ian Lamont is the founder of i30 Media. In this Q&A, Lamont discusses some of the issues independent publishers face in a rapidly evolving industry. 

For the first question of the Q&A, please tell us about i30 Media and In 30 Minutes guides.

i30 Media was established in 2013, and our main product is the In 30 Minutes series of guides. Some of the titles I have written myself, but there are a half-dozen other authors including Angela Rose, who wrote the second edition of LinkedIn In 30 Minutes.

What percentage of your company’s income is generated from digital versus traditional print sales? How did this percentage evolve?

About 20%. It’s gone down in the last three years from about 30%, as digital sales have stagnated on most platforms while paperback sales have grown. However, I am constantly interested in expanding into new digital platforms and leveraging the strengths of the In 30 Minutes brand. The latest example of this is the Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes video class, which was recently launched on Udemy and Gumroad.

For your company, what are the benefits of e-publishing?

Easy to make changes, production costs (design, copy editing, etc.) are all up front. We can launch a new product very quickly into distribution.

For your company, what are the challenges of e-publishing?

Dealing with Amazon’s monopolistic tendencies, which aim to squeeze publishers of all sizes through restrictive pricing rules and platform dominance. Another challenge: The inability of other platforms — chiefly Apple and Google — to get their respective acts together and provide effective competition to Amazon. To give you an example, Apple has an excellent hardware platform (iPad) but the software used for purchasing and managing ebooks (iTunes/iBookstore/iTunes Connect/iTunes Producer) is in desperate need of streamlining. Instead of updating this infrastructure, Apple has devoted development resources to creating a superb closed-garden authoring tool (iBooks Author) which has done little for sales in the iBookstore and makes it impossible to export ebooks to any non-Apple channel. Google Play Books has its own set of problems: unilaterally applying major discounts to publisher pricing, providing a substandard reporting tool, and shutting out new publishers for the past 9 months while it deals with a pirated content problem.

For your company, which e-publishing methods and strategies yield the best results?

Avoiding platforms that demand exclusivity, such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. This is not just a pitfall of digital publishing, I have heard it exists in some retail channels as well. It restricts your customer base and puts you at the mercy of the platform. What if they decide to cut your payments, or cut you loose?

Working with a designer, Rick Soldin of http://book-comp.com, who can design great print and ebook interiors using the same master, has been a huge help on the production side. It makes managing new releases and coordinating changes much easier, because I don’t have to coordinate with multiple designers. He is a total pro and a great pleasure to work with.

In addition to (or in lieu of) e-books, what sorts of materials—and in what formats—does your company e-publish?

We publish how-to guides in ebook and paperback formats. PDF editions of the guides have sold surprisingly well, too. Last year we split off some of the book content into “cheat sheets” containing instructions, examples, and keyboard shortcuts (for instance, the Excel 2016 Cheat Sheet and the Google Drive Cheat Sheet) which we sell as printed 4-sheet pamphlets on high-quality card stock. A recent content experiment is video content, including a video tutorial based on one of our top-selling ebook/paperback titles, Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. We sell the video through Gumroad and Teachable.com and will shortly be launching on Udemy.com

When choosing the best digital format(s) for content delivery, which factors do you consider?

I think a better question is: When choosing the best platforms for content delivery, what factors do I consider? The number one question I ask when I evaluate any content delivery platform is whether we are treated fairly by a prospective partner. I have said “no” to platforms that treat independent publishers as second-class citizens, or give low payout rates to content providers. Some subscription-based services are particularly bad, and I am not just talking about Kindle Unlimited. One service that targets corporate clients made us an offer based on a shared “royalty pool” of just 20% of subscription revenue. Models that are designed to benefit only customers and the platform owners at the expense of authors and publishers represent a threat to our industry, and we only need to look at what’s happening in the music publishing world with Spotify and other services to get an idea of what a subscription-based world looks like.

What should independent authors do about Kindle Unlimited and other predatory platforms?

By | Blog, Industry

This post originally started out as a comment on Mark Coker’s blog post about the demise of Oyster, but it has actually been brewing for a long time, since the launch of the Scribd and Oyster ebook subscription services and the appearance of Amazon’s predatory Kindle Unlimited subscription plan. I’ve decided to expand my thoughts on the In 30 Minutes blog and seek feedback from writers.

I have long thought that in the battle of the platform marketplaces and their business plans, the content creators — whether they be musicians, filmmakers, or authors — seldom get a seat at the table. We have seen this happen with Spotify, where artists get scraps while the platform owners and investors (including the big music publishers) grab money and control. Following the launch of the Oyster and Scribd ebook subscription plans, I wrote:

“As for the venture-funded book subscription services, I’ve taken a look at Scribd and read some of the recent news about Oyster, too. I find it very telling that Scribd.com heavily promotes unlimited books for readers, and offers resources for publishers and partners, yet there isn’t a single page in their support section that explains to authors what they will be getting from the service. Clearly, authors are not a priority.”

Amazon Kindle Unlimited buffet - Depolo_cc_2-0_attribution_flickrAlthough Coker was eventually able to get a reasonable rate from Scribd and Oyster for authors participating in his Smashwords distribution service, it was overshadowed once Amazon decided to jump in with the Kindle Unlimited subscription plan. It’s cheap, fully integrated with the Kindle, and absolutely terrible for most participating authors. Just like the $10 buffet at the local Chinese restaurant, the cheap, all-you-can-eat subscription plan that Amazon launched requires cheap stuff in order to work. It’s great for readers, it’s great for Amazon, but for the authors and content creators? Not so great. Authors who participate (via Amazon’s KDP Select self-publishing service) are getting crumbs in the form of a per-page reading rate that is the same for all ebooks. In the long run KU is terrible for authors, except for a tiny minority who can achieve scale. This will reduce the size of the pie and leave a lot of talented authors struggling or even giving up.

I think it’s time for indie authors to look at the music and film industries to not only see where things are headed, but what can be done to preserve or strengthen our collective power. Withholding the best content from marketplaces (as HBO has done with Netflix and Amazon Prime, and some artists have done with Spotify) is one strategy, although it’s unclear how effective it can be unless lots of content is withheld and there are viable alternatives for audiences to turn to.

Sharing data and shining a light on the ugly reality of treatment of content creators is another, as artists have done for years with Spotify and Taylor Swift did most recently (i.e., Spotify’s claim it had paid out $2 million, vs. Swift’s revelation that it was 1/4 that figure).

However, one thing artists and filmmakers have been unable to do — in part because of the industry structure involving studios and publishers with misaligned interests — is band together to demand a seat at the table, and fight for their rights. In the publishing world, while some author organizations have taken a stance against Amazon, they represent relatively small numbers of authors. I think there is a huge opportunity to unite the population of indie authors (including self-publisher authors and professionals) who are not represented by these organizations, and are not beholden to the large publishing houses. With a strong voice, the ability to shine a light on the good and bad players in this industry, and the power to issue recommendations, it may be possible for independent authors and other content creators to finally get a seat at the table or take action when platforms behave badly.

What do you think? Is this an effort worth pursuing?

(Note: This post reflects my views only. I welcome dissenting views and discussion in the comments below, but please be respectful)

Image: Chinese Buffet, Steven Depolo/Flickr, used under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution license

Action plans for virtual offices

By | News

There are manyVirtual Office Action Plans people who would like to start working virtually, but can’t. Why not? Perhaps they work for a company that doesn’t encourage remote work. Or, if they’re considering striking out on their own, they’ve never freelanced before or started their own business.

Today, publisher i30 Media is releasing Virtual Office Action Plans, a supplemental report to The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes: Best practices, tools, and setup tips for your home office, coworking space, or mobile office. The new supplement can help employees, freelancers, entrepreneurs and businesses make the transition to virtual offices and telecommuting. The advice is particularly pertinent to current office workers who are considering telecommuting or starting a business — it’s a huge leap, and the default questions for many employees is “can I really do this?” followed by “what will my manager say?”

Action plans for managers

Speaking of managers, there is also a section of Virtual Office Action Plans devoted to managers who may have doubts about starting a program for telecommuters. Author Melanie Pinola writes:

“If you can’t trust your employees to get the job done without you looking over their shoulders or micromanaging their time, you’ve probably hired the wrong people and have got a bigger problem than figuring out how to transition to remote work.

Your ideal remote work candidates are self-motivated, take ownership of their work, are flexible and adaptive, and have excellent communication skills (especially writing skills, since that’s the main mode of communication when everyone’s in a different town). These are qualities you might already look for in any employee, on- or off-site, but even more critical to seek out in this scenario.”

You can find out more information about the supplement here.

A new guide to setting up a high-performance virtual office

By | Blog

Today i30 Media Corp., the publisher of In 30 Minutes guides, announces the release of a new book by award-winning author Melanie Pinola: The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes: Best practices, tools, and setup tips for your home office, coworking space, or mobile office.

Virtual Office setup guideThis quick guide is intended to help virtual workers of all stripes (telecommuters, freelancers, independent professionals, entrepreneurs, etc.) set up and maintain a high-performance virtual office. Just as Pinola’s first book, LinkedIn In 30 Minutes, helped people supercharge their LinkedIn profiles and network more effectively, her new book about virtual offices makes it easy for everyone from newbies to experienced telecommuters to leverage new technologies and ways of working to achieve more.

Pinola is a true expert when it comes to this mode of work. Not only has she been working virtually since the 1990s, she’s written about it for Lifehacker and serves as the Mobile Office Expert for About.com. Jessica Lipnack, the author of Virtual Teams and The Age of the Network, calls The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes a “thoroughly useful compendium of tips and tools” for working virtually.

“Once one virtual team member is remote, all members are,” Lipnack notes. “Very little work gets done today without virtual teaming, which means there’s a huge market for this helpful book.”

Why virtual offices are taking the world by storm

Virtual offices represent a huge shift in the way people get work done. If your job takes place in front of a computer screen, chances are you can work from practically anywhere, whether you’re on a beach in Bali, working out of a home office, or setting up shop in a downtown coworking space. According to one estimate published in the Journal of Labor Research, 65 percent of all jobs are amendable to at least part-time telework. In the United States alone, more than 30 million people are already working remotely on a part-time or full-time basis.

The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes addresses everything from the mindset of working remotely to the practical tools and services virtual workers can leverage. Topics include:

Finding the best place to work and creating an efficient workspace (Chapter 1)

  • Recommendations for setting up the ideal virtual office, based on the latest research.
  • How to use alternative offices such as coffee shops and libraries to get more done.
  • Four elements of a productive office.
  • Ergonomics, or how to stay healthy at your desk.
  • Essential supplies for your mobile office.

Learning strategies to help you work more effectively on your own and as a virtual team member (Chapters 2 & 3)

  • How to ward off roommates, spouses, children, pets, phone calls, and other daily distractions.
  • Crucial time-management tips to start and end your day.
  • How to establish a rapport with virtual team members.
  • Best practices for effective communication.
  • Dealing with coworkers who don’t appreciate virtual work.
  • How to cope with isolation.

Using technology to help you stay productive and connected (Chapter 4)

  • The best apps for real-time communication and collaboration.
  • Software to keep distractions at bay.
  • The most important products for securing your digital life.

Chapter 4 is titled “Top Tech Tools to help you work smarter, not harder,” and includes more than 30 software programs, apps, and special services that Pinola recommends. They include everything from 1Password, a tool that stores passwords in an encrypted database, to Zapier, an application that automates repetitive tasks. You can see the full list here or check out some of the tools that are described in more detail on the blog, including MindMeister (sponsored post).

One of the most interesting sections of The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes covers the social aspects of working remotely. It can be lonely and isolating. There are lots of online tools that can help with this. Pinola cites Slack, Webex, and LinkedIn Groups. Some remote workers and entrepreneurs turn to coworking spaces (the guide mentions Regus, WeWork, Desksnear.me, and a cool Wi-fi location app called Cubefree). But the author goes deep in her coverage of the social dynamic, with recommendations relating to family members, resentful colleagues, and managers of virtual teams.

The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes is available today in a variety of formats. Buy the Kindle and paperback edition on Amazon, the iBooks edition for the iPad and iPhone, the Google Play edition for Android devices, and the Nook book. There is also a PDF edition.

For more information, be sure to visit the official website for the virtual office guide, or email info@in30minutes.com.

What UK readers think of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes

By | Blog

Google Drive & Docs UK
Amazon in the United Kingdom has a separate set of reader reviews for In 30 Minutes titles. I was delighted to see 4-5 star reviews dominating the Amazon UK product page for Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. Here are a few samples:

Martin:

“A colleague and I had written a technical book that took us 5 years. We communicated by email with attachments that were limited in size. So any images that were too large for email were copied onto CD and posted.

Now four years later we are embarking on another technical book with another author who lives and works in the USA and Luxembourg.

So this time we are using the “Cloud” to collaborate and we all use Google, so “Google Drive” was our choice. So that we are all using the same sheet we needed a procedure to follow and “Google Drive & Docs in 30 Minutes” turned out to be just right for us. Chapters 2 and 6 covers every technique we will need. So I give it 5 stars for my review!”

Anne:

“This was very useful trying to get to grips with the way Google Docs works. I wanted to get rid of all connections with Office and Open Office and I was struggling. And not sure what could be done online and offline. Now I know.”

One of the most interesting Amazon UK reader reviews came from Andy_atGC, one of the top 100 reviewers on Amazon UK (#76 at the time of this writing). To attain this status, you have to have lots of reviews, and Andy has 1,500 and climbing. Here’s what he had to say:

“Google Drive is a multi-platform, free mini-office suite from Google. It has versions for the PC, iPads and iPhones, and Chromebooks (it is a major component of the Chrome OS) and there is a client for Android which allows Google documents created on one device or computer and in its Google Drive folder to be viewed on any other compatible platform. Google offer little or no written instructions on its use and this book is one of a very few to fill that need.

The component apps are undemanding, far less capable and complete than Microsoft Office and those such as LibreOffice or OpenOffice or any other similar package. However, for basic letter writing, inter-office reports, simple spreadsheets and presentations Google Docs will probably meet most people’s normal needs. One thing that it can do that the more complex products cannot do quite as readily or at all is to allow group contributions. One person can edit another’s work provided that they are members of the same network or have access to it via a provided link; instead of saving its files to a local hard drive, memory stick or some other device they are all in the Cloud. It will therefore allow remote contributions from many people, simultaneously or independently, to a magazine, book or other large publication.

The book is a short one, barely more than 100 pages, is easy to read even for those with minimal computing knowledge and is sufficient to cover most of the offered functions in some depth. However, not all options within a function are covered but there is more than enough to get you started. Thanks to its brevity and easy writing style, it should satisfy most of the package’s users.”

I appreciate honest reviews from any reader, no matter where they reside. Currently the Google Drive & Google Docs book is only available in English, but I have explored how they can be ported to other languages, either as a translation or a licensed title.

Does a free ebook download help extend a book’s longevity?

By | Industry

Higher Order PerlProgrammer and author Mark Jason Dominus has written a blog post about an unusual publishing arrangement he has with publisher Morgan Kaufmann. Ten years ago, Morgan Kaufmann published his book Higher Order Perl. The HOP book is still available as a new paperback on Amazon for $67, and as a Kindle download for $47. But Dominus also arranged to have the book available as a free ebook download from his website.

Many authors and publishers would question this arrangement, but it’s worked well for the author, who wanted to get his book out to as wide an audience as possible, as well as the publisher, who the author says has done quite well.

Dominus also talks about why the book has been in print for so long. Remember, this isn’t fiction — this is a technical book in a very fast-moving field. He points out that many computer books disappear after just six months, but his has been around for a decade. He says:

“Part of this is that it’s an unusually good book. But I think the longevity is partly because it is available as a free download. Imagine that person A asks a question on an Internet forum, and person B says that HOP has a section that could help with the question. If B wants to follow up, they now must find a copy of HOP. If the book is out of print, this can be difficult. It may not be in the library; it almost certainly isn’t in the bookstore. Used copies may be available, but you have to order them and have them shipped, and if you don’t like it once it arrives, you are stuck with it.”

The free ebook download certainly helps keep it relevant and alive. In my opinion, there are other factors at work. They include:

  1. A relatively high number of professional reviews and reviews from experts in the field
  2. A moderate number of great reader reviews, including many “Verified Purchases” on Amazon
  3. Availability of new copies of the book, which signals the content is probably still relevant/not obsolete and may also indicate it’s a classic/foundation title considering how long it’s been in print.
  4. A solid online presence, including the product website that Dominus created as well as a Wikipedia page.

Regarding the convenience issue that he brought up: These days, it’s possible to buy a new book online and return it or resell it later (as 63 other owners are doing right now on the Amazon U.S. site). It’s a pain to list it and handle the packing, but so is driving to a bookstore to bring back a return.

But I would also like to talk about the effectiveness of having a free book download. Free titles are indeed very convenient for those who are unable/unwilling to purchase the print edition, but in my experience they are less likely to be read. I currently have a free download on Amazon — Personal Finance for Beginners In 30 Minutes, Volume 1. It’s been downloaded thousands of times, but through various mechanisms (including reviews, follow-on sales of the 2nd volume, clicks to the website from the ebook edition, etc.) I have determined it’s seldom read. I think many free ebooks and PDFs end up on people’s devices and are never opened because of a lack of time and all of the other free content that’s available out there.

As an author or publisher, what’s your take on having a free ebook download? As a reader, do you read all of the free ebooks available on Amazon and elsewhere? Comments are welcome.

A textbook case of a broken sales funnel

By | Blog

So I am in the market for a large, expensive piece of office equipment. Someone tells me the name of a vendor, an established international brand. This person also sends a spec sheet from the vendor’s website, which includes telephone numbers for all of the regional offices. I assume that these are probably sales offices (which are usually divided into regions) or they can at least direct me to the right local office to get my order in the system.

At 5:30 pm, I call the nearest regional office. The phone rings for a long time, but no one answers. OK, it must be after hours. But it does seem a little strange that there’s not even a directory message (“dial 1 for x, 2 for y …”) or a short message apologizing that the office is closed, and to please call back during normal business office hours. I mean, new customers call this number. Shouldn’t the company try to help them, even if no one can take the call?

At 10:30 am the next day, I try the same number. Still no answer or phone directory options. Mind you, this number is for the East Coast office, and is on spec sheets that are probably downloaded hundreds or thousands of times per day. How many prospective customers call and can’t get through to the sales team?

Whatever. Maybe they want prospective customers to reach out via the website, and they’ll call back. I go to www.vendorname.com. They have more spec sheets, and I spend a while looking at some more products and comparing them. However, there is no online contact form, just a 1 800 number. The 1 800 number is actually not a number, but a phrase like “1 800 ACME YES”. There is no numberical equivalent below it, so I have to squint at the keypad to make sure I am dialing it right.

The phone rings. Someone answers. “What ZIP code are you dialing from?” he asks. I tell him, but he has trouble understanding — it’s a long distance call, maybe to a call center in another country, and he is not a native speaker. No worries, he gets it when I speak slowly and then asks if I have a pen. I tell him I do. “Then write this down: 1 617 439 XXXX”.

I have a meeting. When I come back, it’s just after noon. Someone has got to be in the office, even if it’s lunch. Especially the sales team. So I call the 617 number. This time, a robo operator answers with directory options: “Dial 1 for sales, 2 for service, 3 for …”

I press 1. Finally, I’ll be able to start the process of buying this piece of equipment! This will be the easiest sale they have to make today, because I have already made a purchasing decision and am ready to place the order.

But the phone rings. And rings. And rings. No one answers. There is no voicemail or operator option.

No sale will be made today. Maybe not ever, because at this point I am ready to try the competition.

This, my friends, is a textbook case of a broken sales funnel. Not only is the handoff from marketing to sales screwed up (e.g., no online contact form, an unresponsive regional number on a widely distributed spec sheet; a lack of basic automation to handle customer messaging and redirection) but the local sales team doesn’t even answer the damned phone.

If you sell products of any type, make sure your sales funnel works. Test it out yourself — call the sales numbers, use the phone tree, submit contact forms, etc. If some element is not responsive, make sure it is. If it feels bewildering, clarify as needed so your customers are reassured and are able to find the information they need to make a decision and place an order.

Marketing self-published books: There is no magic bullet

By | Blog, Industry

A Lifehacker reader commenting on my recent How to Self-Publish a Book article had an interesting question: How do you advertise self-published books?

I believe his/her question actually had more to do with the entire spectrum of marketing, rather than just advertising. It’s a valid question, considering it will be nearly impossible to attract readers to a self-published work without a marketing plan in place.

Facebook ads books

However, there is no magic bullet for marketing self-published books. I have experimented with low-cost advertising, such as Facebook ads and Google AdWords. The results have been poor. Relatively few people click on the ads, and still fewer actually end up making a purchase. As for traditional advertising, I would never throw away money on expensive broadcast or print advertising — it’s simply not worth it, considering my sales channels are restricted to Amazon and other online stores, and the results are so hard to quantify.

There are other marketing activities that do not involve paid advertising, including social media, community websites (such as Goodreads), blogging, and media/press appearances. None will instantly transform a new title into a breakaway hit, but they can help build awareness of the value offered by your book, which can lead to additional sales or other positive results, such as user reviews and recommendations.

My own marketing efforts center around the following activities:

  1. Ensuring that the online product pages for IN 30 MINUTES titles have attractive, compelling copy that lets people know what information the titles contain.
  2. Creating websites that not only make it easy for potential readers to buy the titles, but also provides helpful “how-to” information for free that demonstrates the expertise of the authors. This can lead to additional sales.
  3. Encouraging existing readers to buy other IN 30 MINUTES titles, and leave honest reviews online.

I don’t waste a lot of time on activities that fail to generate results. For instance, I could spend many hours per week searching out and participating in media opportunities — interviews, guest blog posts, podcasts, “expert” quotes, etc. However, I’ve found the success rate is low and not all media appearances, interviews, and mentions lead to sales.

A corollary: I don’t do things that risk alienating readers. For instance, I see way too many new authors stuffing their twitter feeds with non-stop plugs. This is low-value content that is not authentic, has the potential to scare away new followers as well as existing followers/readers, and at the end of the day doesn’t deliver much in the way of sales. While social media can certainly help a marketing effort for a new book, there has to be more than links to Amazon product pages.

What do you think about marketing for self-published books? What works, and what doesn’t? Leave your comments below.