Why is Our Money Book #1 in Two Amazon Categories?

Our personal finance book, Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It, and Give It, today ranks #1 in Real Estate and Careers and #3 in Investments. And that’s over four years after its original publication. Why? Well, it certainly doesn’t stay at the top. It sells pretty steadily, but typically ranks nowhere near the top. In brief, I did a three day giveaway of the Kindle version on Amazon, which ended Saturday. Today (Tuesday), it’s experiencing a surge of sales as a result. Here are some observations:

1 – Giveaways can work repeatedly over time. I did giveaways of this book a few times over the last 6 months, which yielded similar results. I believe the rankings and sales continued for about six weeks after my first giveaway a year ago, which represented a significant amount of sales.

2 – It cost me nothing. Zilch.

3 – It took about 5 minutes to set up the giveaway, then it was totally passive on my part.

4 – It doesn’t work for all my books. I assume it has to do with the categories my books are in. If a giveaway doesn’t get them to the top of a significant category, then it doesn’t generate significant sales.

5 – Although about 2,500 people downloaded it free, I don’t see that it negatively impacts my sales over time.

6 – Kindle allows me to do a giveaway of 5 total days every 3 months. I don’t know the optimum number of days for a giveaway. My object is simply to bump the book up toward the top of these categories. At this point, I plan to do a three-day giveaway once a quarter. Thursday through Saturday worked for this one. Again, I don’t know if certain days are better than others. I’m just theorizing that some may be looking for a weekend read.

7 – Offering it for $3.99 may make it easier to keep high in a category than by making it more expensive.

8 – Surely it helps that it’s been published long enough to get lots of good reviews. People might not download a book, even if it’s free, if it’s not getting good reviews.

What an exciting, painless way to get our books out there and to sell more books!

Have any of you had good or bad experiences with giveaways that could help the rest of us?


My Writing Office

Until recent years, I had no office. With Cherie and I, plus seven boys in our blended family, we had no extra rooms, plus I felt that I needed to inhabit some sort of command center to keep an eye on what the children were up to. So I set up a desk between the dining room and living room and proceeded to write in the midst of chaos.

Finally, some children began moving out and David decided to move downstairs (the first step toward independence). I told him I thought it was a good idea and tried not to act too excited; but after he left for school I threw all his stuff out in the hall and began transforming the room into a functional and inspirational writer’s retreat. Over the past couple of years, I’ve written several books and many articles here. I love it! It works for me and I thought it might give my fellow writers an idea or two.

Desk on the Cheap

I’m a writer. Think starving artist. So I live beneath my means by doing things cheaply. I found the filing cabinets in my favorite online store – Craig’s List. I think they were about $80 for all seven of them. (Two additional files are outside the picture area.) They didn’t have a top, so I bought a couple of 4×8 sanded plywood boards from Home Depot, cut them to fit, stained and Polyurethaned (how fun to create a verb!) them. I love having all that space to spread out projects, since I do a ton of research. So where are all the stacks of papers? Well, that’s what files are for. A cluttered desk breeds a cluttered mind. More on that later.

The Writer’s Muse

Ever since the Muse strike of 2007 and the subsequent formation of the Muse Union, Muses are out of reach for low-profile writers. I had to settle for a Mews. Problems was, my Mews wandered aimlessly about my desk, wreaking havoc with my papers and coffee. One morning, he pawed my keyboard and reformatted an entire document. That’s when I constructed a “Cat Trap.” Cats can’t resist a cardboard box, which has effectively isolated my Mews in a safer location. Tip: Contrary to the laws of physics, cats can fit into boxes of any size. I’m considering saving space by using a match box.

Access to Books

When researching and writing, I often need quick access to 20 or so books. Rather than cluttering up my desk, I created “invisible shelves” behind my monitor. Choose a couple of hardback books you no longer need, fit them each with an L-Bracket (c. $2.50 each), screw them into the wall and you’ve got instant access without clutter. Here are the instructions I used.

On the far right of my desk, I keep general reference books (Chicago Manual of Style, Elements of Style, thesaurus, dictionary) To the far left, I keep recent reading.

Along two walls, just beneath my ceiling, I keep books I’ve read and indexed for illustrations and facts. Hundreds of other such books grace the walls of other rooms. I keep traditional shelves high up, to preserve living space. I’ll show how I build them if enough are interested.

Why all the paper books in a digital age? I know you can underline, highlight, and add notes to e-books. But the way I do it, it’s much easier to mark up and later access paper books. They’re also typically cheaper, since we often get copies for a penny or a few dollars plus shipping. If a fire sweeps through, I’ll have to get a real job.

Pinup Board

I pin memos I want to keep in front of me, like my 14 book ideas, 30 article ideas, useful tips on losing weight. The rest of my ideas are in computer files, but I like to keep a few lists in front of me. It’s the problem with out of sight, out of mind. Others may prefer keeping all this on their computers.

Large Wall Calendar

I’m old school here. Since I seldom travel (I care for my 107-year-old granny four times a day next door), I don’t need to have my calendar on an iphone. I like having it at arms reach on the wall.

Inspirational Framed Pictures

That’s J.R.R. Tolkien on the left and C.S. Lewis on the right. Both academics, both writers, both serious about their spirituality. Love those guys! Below each of them is a collage visual from Lord of the Rings and Narnia. Inspires my creativity.

But Where’s the Clutter?

As one of my organizational mentors preached, “a place for everything and for everything a place.” You’ve simply got to have files for paper, shelves for books, drawers for paperclips and stationary.

OK, I’ll come clean. I’ve never managed to keep a clean desk for more than a day or two. Somehow, I never win the paper war. If my desk extended infinitely, I’d come up with an equally infinite number of notebooks and papers to clutter it up. To make these pics, I threw all my papers into the hallway. There, don’t you feel better about yourself?

Would love to hear what works for you, plus links to other great ideas!

Social Media for Low-Profile Entrepreneurs

Harnessing Social Media’s Power
Without Wasting Your Time

Presented by J. Steve Miller at Socon 2013

Introductory Exercise: Help this Blogger – http://dannykofke.blogspot.comDiscuss: what authors are typically told.

Part 1
When “Building a Following” on Social Networking Probably Won’t Work
(Answering “No” Indicates Challenges)

Yes/No 1. Are you selling high profit books, or products that people buy repeatedly? ( Whole Foods )

Yes/No 2. Do you (or your team) have all three of these characteristics: the necessary knowledge (a legitimate authority in your field) and skills (in social media and writing) and enjoy social networking?

Yes/No 3. Are you already a recognized authority? ( Michael Hyatt )

Yes/No 4. Are you willing and able to become a legitimate thought leader/expert on your subject?

Yes/No 5. Do you have the time necessary to research, write posts, study blogging, and market your blog?  (Or, do you have the money to pay a competent person to do these tasks?) (CreateSpace , Lightning Source, www.character-education.info, Pet Peeves)

Yes/No 6. Does your industry/genre/topic lend itself to building a social media following?

a. Does your topic have few raving fans and many discontents? ( www.facebook.com – Search “Wachovia Sucks” vs.  Pepsi’s Facebook page )
b. Do people in your target group want regular news and wisdom on your topic? ( Rubbermaid blog posts )
c. Does your topic lend itself to repeat customers (Peace, Love and Pizza)?
d. Is your target group too busy to follow you?
e. Does your target audience tend to follow blogs?

Yes/No 7. Do your books exhibit continuity? ( www.wisdomcreekpress.com )

Yes/No 8. Will most of your social media followers likely be your target group for book sales?

Yes/No 9. Have you found a unique niche within your genre/topic?

Yes/No 10. Is there enough relevant, interesting, practical information to write on your topic for years on end? (The puppy)

Yes/No 12. If time is limited, is blogging/tweeting likely to be more effective at selling your products/services than other marketing initiatives?

Part 2
Relevant Research to Guide Our Social Media Marketing

1. Gallup found very few people responding positively to companies trying to sell their own products directly via social media. (http://gmj.gallup.com/content/148694/social-media-three-big-myths.aspx
2. The same study found people buying products based upon recommendations of people they either have a close relationship with or trust, like family, friends (real friends as opposed to Facebook “friends”), and experts.
3. The study further suggests that the most effective use of social media is to allow fans of our products to spread the word on their networks.
4. Malcomb Gladwell accumulated studies showing that harnessing the power of influencers such as connectors and mavens and salesmen is key to successful marketing. http://gmj.gallup.com/content/26770/Power-Social-Networks.aspx#2.)
5. Harnessing the power of influencers requires first locating these influencers. (Social Media Marketing for Dummies, p. 160)
6. Research by Razorfish found 61 percent of responders relying on user reviews, compared with 15.41 percent relying on editorial reviews.
7. A Nielson Online study found 81 percent of online shoppers reading online customer reviews.
8. According to the (above) Gallup survey, “Your best bet to acquire new customers is to engage your existing customers, then align your strategy with the wants and needs that encourage them to engage their social networks on your behalf.”
9. People should seek out marketing methods that maximize their unique strengths and interests. (See Marcus Buckingham in First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths.)
10. 39% of people surveyed unfriend people on Facebook who try to sell them something. http://www.nmincite.com/?p=6051

Part 3
Social Media Principles, Tips and Tricks beyond “Building a Following”

Social Media Principle #1: The Optimal Recommender Principle
“Let others praise you, rather than praise yourself.”

1. Use existing forums and listservs to get early input and to jumpstart product reviews. (My strategy and results for Near-Death Experiences launch – attractive product, findable title, great reviews, optimized Amazon landing page, strategically give away copies, price it right, pray or cross fingers – Random House -  “Out of every eight books, one is very profitable, one is very unprofitable, and six either break even or lose money.” Why one of my eight is selling very well -  http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/paperback-nonfiction/list.html .)
2. Continue to seek reviews after your product launch. ( Amazon page for Sell More Books )
3. Create an online press page to collect your reviews, interviews, etc. ( press page for Enjoy Your Money )
4. Keep finding reviewers on forums, listservs, and wherever your niche gathers.  (Contra expert on Fox 5)
5. Monitor your Amazon pages and other places people buy. ( conversing with reviewers )

Social Media Principle #2: The Optimal Setting Principle
“Go where people already gather, rather than gather a crowd around yourself.”

1. Get reviews on top blogs. ( See list of reviews on bottom of press page. ) (On finding blogs)
2. Hang out at popular forums, rather than starting your own forum.
3. Help Journalists with HARO. (Note: The emphasis on HELPING rather than self promotion.)

Social Media Principle #3: The Optimal Recipients Principle
“Address the interested, rather than interrupt the disinterested.”
Note: Don’t bother people!

1. “Listen in on” conversations and news with Google Alerts.
2. There are ways to use Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., in legitimate ways.  (Karen O’Tool’s Facebook Page)
3. Provide great content and optimize your landing pages with Search Engine Optimization. ( www.character-education.info )
4. Related to #3, on your blog, strive for occasional, quality “anchor posts” that people continue to comment on and find over time.

Social Media Principle #4: The Optimal Marketer Principle
“Consider your strengths and passions,
rather than assuming you can replicate any marketing scheme.”

Marguerita McManus’ YouTube videos on quilting.  Tip: Your best marketing may NOT be social networking. Long arm….


Social Media Principle #5: Have a Place for People to Connect

Author Blog/Site, Facebook, a Blog, a Facebook “Page”, LinkedIn, A Press Kit

Connect with Us!

J. Steve Miller is president of Legacy Educational Resources ( www.character-education.info ) providing web based resources for those teaching character and life skills in public schools and through service agencies. He and his wife Cherie also write and market their books on various subjects, including their award-winning Sell More Books! Book Marketing and Publishing for Low Profile and Debut Authors, Rethinking Book Publicity after the Digital Revolutions , and Social Media Frenzy: Why Time Consuming Facebook, Twitter & Blogging Strategies May NOT Work for Your Business – Consider These Alternative Social Networking Initiatives Connect with Steve at www.enjoyyourwriting.com (leave a comment or question, even if it has nothing to do with the post), www.jstevemiller.com (author site), www.sellmorebooks.org , Facebook, LinkedIn, and various other blogs and sites and forums. If you have suggestions for updates and revisions, or need a speaker, e-mail me at jstevemiller@gmail.com.

Amazon’s Print Sales Increased in 2012

Publisher’s Weekly titled their report:

“E-books Soar, Print Crawls at Amazon”

emphasizing that e-book sales were up 70% at Amazon. But their title reinforces the myth that print books are phasing out. Some authors may wrongly conclude, “Why even publish in print if it’s on the way out. I’ll just publish in digital.” But it’s instructive that Amazon isn’t thinking that way. If Amazon felt that print was on the way out, why did they pour tons of money into building 20 new distribution centers last year? You don’t need distribution centers to distribute e-books.

Actually, according to the article, Amazon’s print sales INCREASED 5% in 2012. It’s just that they didn’t increase as much as digital sales. Even if paper sales decrease somewhat in the future due to the e-book revolution, I see no evidence that paper books are disappearing.

Think of it this way – paper sales increased 5%, plus digital sales increased 70%. Bottom line – keep producing digital AND print books. Both are doing great! This is wonderful news for authors!

Any other considerations on digital versus print?

Writing Tips from James Patterson Coauthor

An author in his own right, Mark Sullivan picked up some significant tips when he co-wrote some books with James Patterson. Many snub Patterson’s  short chapters and lack of literary finesse. Yet, there’s a method behind his simplicity – he understands how people read. And achieving this simplicity is neither easy nor intuitive to most writers.

Typical readers are are all about the story. They bore quickly if the story doesn’t move forward quickly. So why spend a page describing a building or meadow or person, unless it’s vital to the story line? Readers have imaginations, so why feel the need to fully describe a character? Hit three of the main characteristics and move on. Readers will fill in the blanks.

I think authors of both fiction and nonfiction can glean something from this article.


Lessons from Big Publishers

I’ve read a lot about writing and and getting published, but it occurred to me that as a small author/publisher, I could likely learn a lot from the big publishers. This New York Magazine article on Random House gives insights that may apply to authors everywhere.


1) “Every week, the country’s biggest trade publisher releases 67 new books, but it’s the the 33,000-book backlist (Ian McEwan’s Atonement, for example) that supplies 80 percent of its profit.”


a) Write books that could sell for decades, or can be easily updated.

b) Publish for the long-haul – you don’t build up a backlist over night. Since publishers don’t tend to market their backlist, this means that these books are likely selling passively. Thus, building up a backlist of publications could work for having a passive income for retirement.

2. “Out of every eight books, one is very profitable, one is very unprofitable, and six either break even or lose money.”


a) Not even the experts can determine how well a book will sell. Authors will likely need to write many books to have some sell well. Don’t expect to strike gold on your first book.

b) Typically, if published wisely, self-publishers don’t have to worry about losing much money, seemingly giving them an advantage over large publishers, since our cost of publication is so inexpensive. I don’t have the huge risk of paying out $5,000 advances or printing 5,000 copies on spec. If some books sell only one copy per week, but sell for decades, they could still be profitable for a self-publisher, who invested little more than his/her time.

3) “Two thirds of Random House’s income comes from paperbacks, which retail for about $10. Of that, $5 goes to the retailer; $2 covers Random House buildings and staff; $1.50 goes to author payments; $1 goes to paper, printing, and binding; 50 cents is profit.”

a) As a self-publisher, I’m lean. Thus, the money that Random House pays out for buildings and staff, I essentially keep. As both author and publisher, I keep both of those categories as well. If I pay $200 for an editor to do a final run through after me, friends and family have relentlessly edited, then pay a professional designer $250 to do a cover, I’ve got $450 upfront investment to earn back. I may also later spend $200 submitting to contests and $200 giving away copies to potential reviewers, but by then my book is typically generating sales. That’s $850 total that I’ve got into it, with no yearly fees to keep it in publication.

After publication, I’m making 70% of each Kindle sale on Amazon and 25% or so (depending on how I price it) of each paper sale. That’s a ton more per book profit than the 50 cent per book profit made by Random House.

That’s not to say that self-publishing is typically a great way to make money for authors. Like any entrepreneurial exercise, there are many ways to lose money or never make a profit. Since I’ve been published traditionally and have self-published as well, I see the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Choosing Your Title? Think Searchable.

Titles have always been a challenge. Typically, a great title should be intriguing, unforgettable, and consistent with your content. Yet, with the advent of online sales and bookstore search engines, I let “findable” trump the other characteristics. Here’s why.

Today, my book Near-Death Experiences as Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven  lands #2 in an Amazon search for “near-death experiences.” It’s selling very well for a book by a low-profile author. But why does it come ahead of a book on the same subject that’s a current New York Times bestseller? The other book obviously ranks much higher than mine in sales.

I must assume that Amazon prioritizes helping people search for titles over finding the most popular book for the subject. This is why I prioritized using the phrase “Near-Death Experiences” in my title. The other book didn’t. Thus, people find my book first when they use that search term. If they click on the book they’ll find reviews by readers who deemed my book worthy to recommend to others. Thus, those who find it are likely to purchase it.

But just remember, if your target term is searched too much (like “money”) there will be way too many titles to compete with. Put several phrases that describe your book’s topic into Google’s Keyword Tool to find phrases that are searched enough to make a difference, but are not so popular as to bury you in a search for other titles containing the same key words. I talk more about searchability in my book Sell More Books, but felt this was a great example of how it works.

Do you have other suggestions concerning titles?



Social Media for Authors (Outline of Seminar)

Mark Coker, Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success – More Takeaways

This post takes over where my last one ended.

Cover for 'The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success'3. Utilize the Power of Free

This is counter intuitive to many authors. I’ve heard many say, “I worked hard on this book! There’s no way I’m gonna devalue it by giving it away!”

But done right, giving books away can be one of your most effective ways of selling more books. As Coker state from his vast experience with ebooks at Smashwords:

Free is one of the most misunderstood and underutilized book marketing tactics. It’s one of the best-kept secrets for the best-selling authors at Smashwords.

So how are successful authors using the power of free?

  • Give away the first book in a series to hook people on your writing and characters.
  • Give away one of your books to acquaint them with you as an author. Of course, the bigger your backlist (books published in the past), the more you have the potential to sell.
  • Offer a book free for a limited time, just to get word of mouth started.
  • I like to set up a discount code in Smashwords so that I can offer my book free of charge for a limited time to members of niche forums. Example: I’ve offered some of my books that target authors to members of writing/publishing forums, free of charge, so that they can give me reviews. From my experience, a very small percentage of readers review books, so it helps to give some away, asking them that in return, if they like it, would they write a review.

Free can be powerful for several reasons.

1. You get your book into many hands. If they read it and like it, word of mouth may take off, which is your ultimate goal. John Kremer used to recommend sending out 400 or so books for review. I believe the publishers of The Da Vinci Code gave away 5,000 or so paper copies. Hey, if you have a book that a million or more people might like to read, why hesitate to give away thousands of copies, particularly now when it costs you nothing to give away ebooks.

2. When you sell lots of books in a short length of time, the algorithms of Amazon and other retailers start kicking in to recommend your books to others. Your book will start coming up when people browse related books, saying “People who bought this book also bought this one.” They recommend your book because so many people have been downloading it.

Have you experimented with offering free books? How has it worked or not worked for you?

Mark Coker, Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success – My Takeaways

With Mark Coker’s vast experience with ebooks at Smashwords and his background and interest in marketing, I’m eager to listen to his advice on producing and distributing ebooks. In this and a couple of follow-up posts, I’ll discuss my main takeaways from his hot-off-the-press ebook: Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success: How to Reach More Readers.

Cover for 'The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success'I’d recommend downloading it yourself, especially since it’s free! In it, he gives advice based on the best successes he’s seen with ebooks published through Smashwords. I’m all about learning from successful authors, so here’s what I want to remember. If you have experience or thoughts concerning this advice, let’s discuss it below.

1 – Write a great book.

Coker keeps coming back to this point, and rightly so, since the goal of marketing is to get my books into readers’ hands so that word of mouth will hopefully start an unstoppable chain of recommendations. But if your novel is neither endearing nor riveting; if your nonfiction offers nothing new or is less than compelling, no amount of marketing can save you. “Be fanatical about quality,” says Coker. Amen and Amen.

But can you really know, prior to publication, that your book’s good enough? Although I do solid research and self-edit relentlessly, I don’t trust my own judgment about my manuscripts. I get them into lots of readers’ hands (typical readers in my target group) to get their candid feedback before publication. Typically, as a result of their input, I make significant changes, which saves me from the embarrassment of having my weaknesses paraded before the world on Amazon reviews after publication.

2. Write Another Book

I’ve heard perennial best-seller James Patterson say that his best marketing was to write his next book. I thought this would work for someone who’s already a bestseller, but questioned that advice for the low profile author who’s yet to hit it big.

But especially in the new world of publishing, writing more books gives distinct advantages to all writers.

  • First, you begin to establish a brand. Many people look for other books by authors they love.
  • Second, each book allows you free advertising space for your other books. In an ebook, the referral can hyperlink them to other books so that readers can purchase the next book immediately.
  • Third, you can take full advantage of the marketing power of free, by, for example, giving away the first book in a series to hook readers who may pay for the rest of the series. (More about “free” later.)

According to Coker, “series writers are among the most successful.”

But don’t artificially break up your novel into several chunks to make it into a series, unless each resulting book is complete in itself.  Ebooks that sell best are 70,000 words or more. The top 20 bestsellers on Smashwords are over 80,000 words.

I’ll continue this discussion over the next week or so, but do these recommendations ring true with your thoughts and experiences? Why or why not?