How to Market your Self-published Book––Twelve Points that Really Matter (Well, Fifteen Points)

I sat down this morning to write an article about how to obtain testimonials and endorsements and how they can help sell your book. That led me to think about what does sell your book. Are testimonials all that count? Not by a long shot. Here’s my list of things that sell your book, in order of importance:

  1. Your name. If you’re a top-selling author with a huge following, all you need to do to sell books is put your name on a blank cover. (Some of Cormac McCarty’s covers bear this out.) In the online age, authors who are well-known on the Internet have the same advantage. Up your recognition and fan base, and sell! Repeat customers are the best customers. Check out John Locke’s phenomenal rise.
  2. What people say about you.  I think this is the most important criteria in getting people to buy your book, assuming you aren’t one of the big names noted in #1 above. In looking at what influences me to buy a book, my friends’ recommendations count more than any ad,  any review, any anything. A real, flesh and blood friend, talking to me face to face and recommending a book, will get me to buy. On-line chatter about books also matters, both ways. A few bad-mouthings on-line and a book’s sales can be dead.
  3. Your book’s name. Here we get into the craft of book creation and selling. Your book’s title matters really, really a lot. A book buyer may see the title and nothing else  on a list in a directory or catalog or just its spine in a book store. Your title has to have emotional appeal. If you can make it funny, charming or terrifying, depending on your genre, bring it on.
  4. Your book’s cover. Buyers make up their minds in seconds. Maybe nanoseconds. Your cover is a tool of seduction, be it physical, mental emotional, or spiritual. The cover needs to grab and hold on. Here’s an article about award-winning book covers.
  5. Your book’s copy.  Copy is the most important writing in the book. Once you’ve gotten the buyer to look at your book, the words on the cover take over. Copy––the book’s title, rear cover text, book jacket flap text, “about the author,” and “about the book”––is what sells the book. This writing is not a summary, introduction, or display of your verbal talents. Its sole function is to SELL THE BOOK. Copy should have more hooks than a bait shop. People who are good writers tend to be lousy copy writers. Writing copy is more like writing poetry than prose, but prose intended to sell. The new version of this is your book’s sale page wherever it’s sold on-line. The words you put on your sale page are of utmost importance if you’re writing eBooks only. The book’s description is most important part of the sale page. I used to put all the awards each book had won with some reviews and testimonials at the top of my sale page. An old-timer in the book biz said, “No way. Put the description first. People just want to know what the book’s about. And make sure your page is clean and proofread. What you put there matters.” Another problem: some book retail sites jam your book description into an undifferentiated block of words. Not good for selling. You need to have good words, displayed so the buyer can read them.
  6. Testimonials. On the back of the book, the testimonials can be used as copy. How many times have you seen a book where the back cover is nothing but testimonials? That’s because they’re powerfully persuasive. If some famous person or institution says you or your book are great, buyers may take a chance. You can also plaster testimonials all over your website, social media outlets, and advertising materials. I’ll write about testimonials in another article.
  7. Reviews. Do they count as much as testimonials? I think so. A testimonial may move a potential reader to buy a book, but its reviews may, also. Reviews sites are all over: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Amazon UK, Shelfari, and Goodreads, to name a few. All sorts of personal blogs review books. Be aware of your star ratings and keep them high––as much as you can. How? I think the most important thing an author can do is watch to whom you send those initial review copies.  Make sure they like your genre and writing style. How? Ask reviewers who liked your first book to review the next one, if you have more than one. The other thing you can do is look at a reviewer’s other reviews on a site such as Amazon. What do they like? What kinds of reviews and star ratings to they give? Of course, these considerations only work for the review copies. The minute the book is out on the market and being bought by whomever it attracts, it’s on its own. You’ll get all sorts of reviews. People will pick on things you never imagined. Then the problem is developing a thick skin.
  8. Book awards. I have twenty-one national awards for my four books. I have no idea how these have affected my sales. I know that they have brought me other things. Like a wonderful literary agent, a distributor for one of my books in France, and  guest spots on radio shows. My awards also attracted a major scammer for a TV program who wanted to charge me thousands of dollars for a five minute slot in a live show on the opposite side of the country. It would have had no impact on my sales; I know from doing advertising in other fields.  So, the jury’s out about book awards. But, better to have awards to flaunt than not have them at all.
  9. Distribution. If you don’t have a good distribution network, your book will go nowhere. That’s not that hard for eBooks. Try smashwords or Kindle. It’s also not that hard for print books. Try Lightning Source or CreateSpace.
  10. Marketing plan and actualization of that plan. Same as Distribution. No show, no go. What marketing means is knowing your target market–– the people who like your kind of book, knowing who they are, where they are, and how to contact them. Then you have to contact them and follow through skillfully. See John Locke’s marketing plan for some really good ideas.
  11. Advertising. We used to own a furniture store. During that period, we did all sorts of advertising, from print ads in newspapers, the yellow pages and glossy magazines, to my husband talking about being the “Robin Hood of the furniture industry” on the radio. All of it did absolutely nothing that we could measure for our sales. Despite my rotten experience with paid ads, I am going to try some advertising on the “reader friendly blog sites” with my two new books for one reason: Darcie Chan, author of The Mill River Recluse. Ms. Chan parlayed her self-published eBook into a national bestseller. This article from the Wall Street Journal sets out her process.  Here’s what she did in her own words on Facebook. This article could be a marketer’s Bible. She advertised on some of the sites catering to readers of indie-produced eBooks. If Darcie did it, I’m gonna do it, too.
  12. Your book. Notice where I place this item on my list. Analysts usually put this item # 1. I place it where I do because I’ve seen books become major bestsellers that would make the professor who ran my writing group vomit. I’ve seen books succeed like crazy that would make people in MFA in writing programs gag. I’ve seen lots of books like this. It’s a mystery why people buy books about werewolves, zombies, vampires, mayhem, mawkish drivel, and semi or not-so-semi porn. But they do. All a book needs to to to succeed is hook something in a significant number of readers. It doesn’t have to be their higher Self or even a decent part of their character.  The “hookie” subject needs a fast moving story around it and a good editing and proofreading job.

Well that’s it . . .

  1. PRICE! OMG! How could a former economist forget price?  This very important item could go anywhere after #1. If you’re really famous and people line up for your books in bookstore parking lots before they come out, you (or your publisher) can probably charge pretty much whatever you want. That’s called price inelasticity. The change in the quantity sold doesn’t vary much as price is changed. Everyone who’s not in the magic circle of authors has to worry about  price elasticity. That means how much the sales of a book fluctuate with its price. I just had a personal wake-up about this. I price my eBooks at 99 cents. Yes, that a ridiculous amount to charge given what I put into the books, but it’s a price that sells. I was given some marketing advice by someone I admire highly, a pro in the book biz. “You should charge more. The 99 cent books are the junk books. You deserve more.” I raised the price of one of my Kindle books to $2.99. It went from struggling along to absolutely tanking. Its rankings dropped like a plummeting stone. That’s price elasticity. My books’ sales are highly price elastic. Why? Because I’m an emerging writer. I think I’m about 200 yards underground and digging out. I should emerge later this year.
  2. GETTING RICH SELLING BOOKS AND THE 99 CENT BOOK: Are 99 cent books junk books? John Locke and Darcie Chan, both tremendously successful self-published authors, charge 99 cents for their books. There’s no shame in that price. Yes, I’d rather have the 70% return that Amazon gives for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, but I’d rather get 35% of something than 70% of nothing.
  3. ANOTHER THING: An on-line friend said the two greatest words in marketing are FREE and NEW. Amazon is running a new KDP program in which, if you sell through Amazon exclusively for 90 days, you’re given 5 days in which you can offer your book for free. People are jumping for this. Facebook, Twitter and the blogs are ringing with people crowing about how many thousands of books they downloaded on their free days. This is very cool, except that all it measures is how well known an author is. The very Internet-savvy authors with huge numbers of Facebook “friends” and lots of readers are going to have thousands of people download their books. The others are likely to have a bunch of people download their books, but maybe not many. How does this translate in terms of longer term, paid sales? Write to me, regular authors, and tell my how FREE worked for you. (All the big name authors are already blogging about their spectacular results) How about the word NEW? Is it as big a selling draw as FREE? I’ve got two new books coming out very shortly and a third in the birthing process I’ll find out.

Sandy Nathan is the winner of twenty-one national awards, in categories from memoir, to visionary fiction, to children’s nonfiction. And more.

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link to the left for more information. All links below go to Kindle sale pages.)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice

Two sequels to The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy are in production with early 2012 publication dates. If you liked  The Angel you’ll love Lady Grace and Sam & Emily.


The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy Wins a 2011 IPPY Award Gold Medal!

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

A future world only heartbeats from our own

Author Sandy Nathan has just won the the 2011 IPPY (Independent Publisher) GOLD MEDAL FOR VISIONARY FICTION for her sci-fi /fantasy / visionary fiction novel, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy. The IPPY Award Contest is one of the largest and oldest competitions for independent presses––in fact, it may be the oldest and largest.

Sandy says, “Winning this award feels very good. It marks almost four years of work by myself and my publishing team at Vilasa Press. I want to thank my content editor, Melanie Rigney; my book designer, Lewis Agell; Kathy Grow for copy editing and proofreading assistance; and Kathryn Agrell for writing the cover copy. Many thanks also to my husband, Barry Nathan for keeping Vilasa Press organized and moving forward.”

This is the fourteenth national award Sandy Nathan has won with her four books. She has won two Silver Nautilus Awards, and a Bronze and Silver IPPY Award in previous contests. She was a Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist, and has won several Indie Excellence and Best Book (USA Book News) Awards. “It feels good every time. A pat on the back for work well done.”

The Angel is the first book of Tales from Earth’s End, a series of books about people literally at the end of the earth. In the case of The Angel, that “end” was a nuclear holocaust coming the next day. Later books explore new definitions for earth’s extremity.

The award came at a particularly difficult time. The day before being notified of her win, Ms. Nathan’s horse, Tecolote, had to be euthanized. “I have been grieving deeply the last few weeks. My horse’s heart was failing and  the veterinarians couldn’t stop it. When I lost that beautiful buckskin horse, I thought my heart would fail. Here’s his story, Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. Teco’s story has already won a the 2011 Silver Nautilus Award for Children’s Nonfiction (grades 1-6) in its own right.

“The day after we put him down, I won a national award! I guess that God’s just telling me that it’s not over until it’s over. And that happiness and sadness can exist together.

“If you haven’t read The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, I invite you to do so. It’s available in a number of formats.”

Trade Paperback
Kindle 99 cents. Such a deal!

Trade Paperback
Nook Book 99 cents. Such a deal!

I’m told by my distributor that the book is available, but I couldn’t find it. Please keep checking. It should be 99 cents.

iBook store for the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad  99 cents. Yet another great deal for an award-winning book!

Here’s some information about The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, if the book is new to you:

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is Sandy Nathan’s new science fiction/fantasy novel. Of the special genre of books and films that include 1984, A Brave New World, and The Prisoner Series,  The Angel takes the reader to a dark future world that’s not so different from our own. In the late 22nd century, people are continually watched, disappearing off the streets and from their homes. A shadowy but all-powerful government calls the shots; war rages while the authorities proclaim the Great Peace.

All is not bad in this fictional realm, for the angelic extraterrestrial, Eliana, appears on the streets on New York City on a mission to save her planet.  As radiant and pure as the world around her is tarnished, Eliana must find the Golden Boy. He turns out to be Jeremy Edgarton, a tech genius on a planet where technology is outlawed, a revolutionary, and the FBI’s most wanted. They find themselves caught up in an explosive adventure when Jeremy decodes new transmissions and discovers that a nuclear holocaust will take place the next morning.

The themes of The Angel read like pure sci-fi, but author Sandy Nathan explains, “I’m a former economist. While the love story between Jeremy and Eliana enchants, the back-story––the hideous world around them––is the product of my economist’s mind interacting with current events. We’re in the worst economic melt-down since the 1930’s, with no end in sight. Some events in  The Angel are based directly upon history. For instance, Germany’s economic distress during the Great Depression is one factor contributing to the rise of Adolf Hitler. Could a totalitarian government arise from our current conditions? Maybe.  The Angel’s world is just a heartbeat from our own. In writing  The Angel, I wanted to entertain my readers and challenge them to discover solutions.”

So the book has a vision, a powerful vision, and a dark vision. And it’s also got a love story that will melt your heart. The sequel is well into production. Something to look forward to.

All the best,
Sandy Nathan



Ridin’ high!

Worth Every Penny: Why Pay for Proofreading and Copyediting? by Kathy K. Grow

Kathy K. Grow

Kathy K. Grow

“She’s the best proofreader I’ve ever seen.” A prominent editor recommended Kathy K. Grow to me with those words. I followed the editor’s recommendation and ended up agreeing with her assessment. Kathy proofread and copyedited my book, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, and I’m exceptionally pleased with the result. I’m delighted to welcome Kathy K. Grow as a guest blogger on Your Shelf Life. When Kathy’s finished imparting her wisdom, I’ll give you an example of how true it is from my life.
Sandy Nathan, Your Shelf Life


Proofreading—correction of typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors

Copyediting—correction of typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors, and basic style (not content)

The much-in-demand executive leadership coach with impressive and impeccable references—let’s call her Diana—wanted to put some of her wisdom down on paper. She hoped not only to bring in additional dollars, but also (her real goal) to help clients and other readers benefit from the tough life lessons she had learned.

So, Diana wrote a book, a good one. She was an excellent storyteller, able to pull persuasive and universal messages out of her experiences.

She began with an epigraph, a quotation from a major writer with whom, for many reasons, a person in her position should have been very familiar.

And Diana misspelled that writer’s name.

Fortunately, she had decided to spend the money to have her book proofread before sending it on to a publisher. When I returned the manuscript, her reaction was immediate: “Just your catching the misspelling of that name was worth every penny.”

But . . .

Are you saying, but I can spell? And I don’t make grammatical errors? And by the time I’ve finished reading my manuscript for the hundredth time, I’ll have spotted any typos?

If so, I (self-servingly, you may think) respond: Ha!

That’s what I thought, too, until I wrote a 125,000-word regional history. After six other people—a mixture of friends, family, subject-matter experts, and one real live copyeditor—read it thoroughly and marked every problem and correction, I was humbled.

I was also so sick of reading my own words that I couldn’t see them anymore. What I perceived at that point in the process was what I knew I meant, not necessarily what I had written or what someone else might understand from reading those same words.

By the time I sent my masterpiece to the printer, I was profoundly grateful for the help of those proofreaders and editors, and the one I had to pay was—yes—worth every penny.


But, but . . . what if I’m just self-publishing a back-of-room book to sell to people attending my presentations? Or what if I’m getting a manuscript ready to send off to publishers who will have their own editors? Or what if my book’s only audience will be family and friends? Do I really need a proofreader or copyeditor?

Self-Publishing for Back-of-Room Sales: Do you want to follow a bang-up presentation with a take-home full of factual, typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors? What do you want your listeners to say about you and your services and products when they talk to others?

Manuscript for Publishers: Over-the-transom discoveries happen less and less often; authors have to send in books that stick out, that grab the attention of those in a position to make them succeed. But they must stick out and grab attention by being beautifully, imaginatively written, full of truth and useful information—not for reading like bad high school term papers. You want to delight professional readers, not irritate them.

Book for Sale to Family/Friends: Okay, this depends entirely on your real purpose and your resources. After all, most readers of such works already have a vested interest in the story being told, and will wade through whatever is there to read it. However, some works originally distributed only to a narrow audience have later been picked up by major publishers. More important, wouldn’t you feel better about a book that is the best it can be, for those you care most about?

And right there is the real reason to scrape up those pennies: because writing a book—no matter what kind—is hard work. If you didn’t care about your subject matter or your story, you wouldn’t have spent all that time and energy, would you? You wouldn’t have made all those sacrifices.

After all that, don’t you want the finished product to be excellent? To be done right?

Yes, Really

If I’ve encouraged you to think of the writing you are doing as worth proofreading or copyediting, then I’ve accomplished my goal.

And, yes, I’ll admit that goal serves my purposes as well as yours!

But I wouldn’t be doing what I do for a living if I didn’t believe I really was providing a service not only to authors, but also to readers. (In fact, I actually think editors are working for readers; it’s just that authors pay the original bill! But that’s a topic for another day.)

I care about words . . . I love books . . . I want to help others make their words and their books communicate as clearly and engagingly as possible.

The written word should be apt, appealing, and accurate, and professional copyeditors and proofreaders can help that be true of your written word.

Even if they catch only that one, potentially humiliating error.

Believe Diana, the great writer I told you about earlier—getting every word of your book right is worth every penny!



Here’s a true story from my publication history. I once “saved money” by not having the advanced reading copy (ARC) edition of my novel, Numenon, professionally proofread. After all, the book had been edited to death and I’d read it a dozen times.

We had 100 copies printed at very high cost. When I got the ARCs, I breezed through a few pages, then pretty near fell over. The book was riddled with errors no one had picked up before.

Well, okay, it was an advanced reading copy and not the final book. It was intended just to be sent to reviewers.

JUST to reviewers? Who would choose to review it (or not), based on its professional presentation? When would clean copy matter more?

Bottom line––we still have most of those 100 copies. I could have paid a half-dozen proofreaders for what that print run cost. Ouch.
The experience shook me so much that I had Numenon professionally proofread twice before its final publication and public release. Double ouch.

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