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Great Books with Bad Covers

I recently read Fear the Sky by Stephen Moss. I only read it because I’ve already read every science fiction book on the first 3-5 pages of Amazon Sci-Fi best sellers list so I was out of options. I wasn’t going to give it a shot because the cover looked amateurish. Fortunately, the writing was exceptional and the story line creative and very engaging.

So this bring me to my overriding gripe about self published authors. They don’t believe in themselves enough to pay for a good cover (or editing sometimes). If this book would have had a good cover, I would have read it in a heartbeat.

The other day I got a little bored so I whipped up something I thought was a little nicer. Granted, it only took a few hours, and could be better.

My point is that cover designers are important. People judge books by their covers. So suck it up and fork it out.

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SNRE Lab: Molecular DNA

Ebook Retailers Need to Build Cover Design A/B Testing ASAP

Book cover designs need A/B study capabilities. I’m a perpetually aspiring author and a designer. I can’t help watching the Amazon Kindle store become overwhelmed with TERRIBLE book covers by the unending wave of self published authors. People judge a book by it’s cover, and professional covers see a ~35% increase in sales.

Clearly covers are important, but retailers have yet to provide tools to optimize book cover design. There is no real way to experiment. Yes you could upload a different cover each week and see what happens, but even then you cannot see how many glance views your cover had and how many conversions resulted from it.

I’ve often heard that writing is a business and a book, the product. I would push that further and state emphatically that for new authors writing is a startup company and you must be able to experiment to know what your audience will respond to.

Today, I was thinking specifically about how to A/B test a book cover design. If you’re not familiar with A/B testing it’s a process were you put up two versions of something and measure which one results in the desired action more often. This shouldn’t be hard for a company like Amazon who already mercilessly A/B tests even the most minor change.

How to A/B test book cover design in a retail environment

  1. Let publishers/authors upload multiple book cover designs
  2. Provide publishers/authors with custom URLs for the different designs so they can market each one separately if they want to.
  3. The retailer should measure how many glance views/impressions each cover gets on search, similar books, best seller list and every other location available, but group locations by image size to keep the variables separate. It would be interesting to see if image size makes a difference, but also what attributes of a cover design work better across all books in each of the locations on a web site.
  4. Provide metrics to the publisher/author about which cover is doing best, or simply start using the more effective cover if the author selects an option to do so.
  5. Allow a new cover to be added and a percentage of all glance views/impressions to be directed to that cover for a limited period of time to see if it has a better conversion rate (for clarity a conversion rate is how often a desire action is being taken).

Much of the A/B testing process could be automated. Just allow for up to 6 cover designs (Facebook Ads anyone?) and then see which one performs well. There might even be a case for different aspect ratios on book covers in various locations to generate higher sales (mobile device horizontal view).

Better covers will probably lead to more sales, but it doesn’t necessarily mean better books. That’s a different topic altogether.

 

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Publishing my first book: No one Cares

I’m about to publish my first book and I’m so excited I care barely stand it—the problem is, no one cares. I’ve decided to write about my experience. Hopefully, It all ends it fame and fortune. However, it’s more likely to end in anonymity because no one will find or read the book. I’m writing this for a few reasons, first to get some perspective later and second, to remind myself that writing successful takes time, and lots of books.

The Funnel
I’ve read repeatedly that successful writers are those who just keep writing. Not only do they get better at writing, the have more books out and available for people to find. Why does this matter? Because if a reader likes one of your books they’re likely to go check out the other.  I mention this because Soul Less is my first book, it’s also being released in parts. So it’s the first part, of my first book. In total, 80 pages in length and roughly 25,000 words. It’s not much, but right now it’s in the review pipeline to go live on the Kindle Store and just thinking about it makes me really happy (and terribly anxious). So I say to myself STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT AND GET BACK TO WRITING.

The Craft of Writing
I probably suck at writing, BUT I LOVE WHAT I WRITE. Seriously. I think I am hilarious. I read my book repeatedly, and every time, it makes me life or it at least puts a smile on my face. That really matters long term. The book has to be something I can love, and I do. I’m exceptionally excited to see where the story goes. I’m also excited to ruin my characters lives, introduce conflict and generally make them miserable. It’s hilarious and fun. :)

This paragraph was supposed to be about the craft of writing though. What is that? I have no idea, it’s something writers throw around. I think it’s your ability to craft a good story and it requires a LOT OF WRITING. Shocker. You have to practice to get better.

How to turn eBooks into audiobooks in seconds

When you’re holding a baby, washing dishing, mowing the lawn or some other activity that involves your hands it’s hard to read a book. I’m also cheap frugal, which means I don’t want to pay for audio books. So when I got my first Kindle a few years ago and stumbled across the text-to-speech option I thrilled, it added another element to by already flourishing book addiction. I could start the book, drop the Kindle in my back pocket (I have big pockets, I’m a big buy) and listen to books while getting work done.

Tired of reading this crap? Jump down the page to how to listen to any audio book for free.

That’s a HUGE win. It means instead of ignoring my wife so I could read a book (which my wife says is bad O.o), I could do both—for free.

Heck. Yes.

Sure the audio quality sucked and it sounds like a robot. Who cares? I drove from Utah to Washington and listened to a book for 13 hours and wasn’t even tempted to nod off. It was AWESOME. This is also a great tool for recalcitrant children who don’t want to do their chores. And yes, I realize I just called myself a recalcitrant child.

Anyway, I got a smart phone, and now I read exclusively on it. I looked for the text-to-speech functionality on the Kindle app only to realize that it’s not there. Super fail Amazon. That is not doing what your customer wants, and it’s not accessible for blind people. Not providing the functionality is all about money and it’s one of the few cases where Amazon is absolutely not putting customers first. There are also many Kindle books that the publisher has disabled text-to-speech on the devices that have it available. Which is also a gigantic fail.

Anyway my wife and I planned another road trip for our family and I realized that I wouldn’t have a book, and there’s still no way I’m paying for audible. So I figured out how to turn any eBook into an audio book.

How to do it yourself

1. Get a better text to speech voice (engine) just because you can. (not required)
Amazon bought a company called Ivona a couple years ago and I hoped that they were planning on integrating it into Kindle so that all of us couple have free audio books. That clearly didn’t happen. Anyway, we recommend getting British English, Amy  or American English, Salli. They are the most natural sounding voices. You’ll need to install the app and then download and install the voice of your choice (2 steps). You may also need to set your devices default text to speech engine to be Ivona instead of the engine that comes with your device by default.

2. Download a reading app that supports text-to-speech
We looked around for a while, but settled on the Moon+ Reader. When we purchased the app it was $5, the free version didn’t have text-to-speech, but I would check first just to make sure. I’m sure there are others, but Moon+ Reader has worked really well for me.

3. Open the file in Moon+ Reader, or convert it to a file that can be opened.
Moon+ Reader and other readers cannot read Amazon’s proprietary eBook file format, that means you need to convert your eBook into the standard ePub format. To do this you’ll need the Kindle Reading Application for Mac or PC, Calibre Library and a DRM removal plugin for Calibre. Here’s a detailed Youtube video that provides all the instructions you will need.

After following those instruction you should now be able to listen to all of your eBooks, which is pretty awesome.

 

I bought a book, hated it, and finished it anyway

A few days ago I bought a book for $12. For me, that’s a big deal. I buy cheap books (and exclusively eBooks), typically from $2.99-$7.99. If it’s lower than that it usually has a high chance of being total crap and wasting my time even though there are some fantastic free or $0.99 cent books. If it’s more expensive then I think it’s just a money grubbing publisher trying to take advantage of people. So I VERY rarely buy a book for $12.

I bought two last week. The first was Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. I pretty much buy everything Brandon writes–because it’s incredibly inventive, relatively fast paced, and rarely contains content I would object to. It’s also like buying 3-4 books because its LONG (1088 pages), which makes me more OK with the price.

Words of Radiance was a good book. I highly recommend it.

Then Amazon recommended a second book because I had purchased Words of Radiance. It’s called The Emporer’s Blades and I wish I wouldn’t have finished it. Let me be clear, I detest George R.R. Martin’s books because I think the level of depravity and lack of morality are completely awful. The Emporer’s Blades is not quite as bad. It has a lot of swearing, innuendo and some very coarse situations. It also has a relatively tame plot and some mildly interesting story elements.

The quality of that book is not the point. The point is, I finished it when I knew early on that I wasn’t going to like the type of content. Not everyone is like me, I often feel compelled to finish something I paid for, food and books in particular. Why? I hate wasting money and that’s a perception that’s hard to shake so instead I just waste time (makes no sense I know).

So what? This is why I think Literrater is important, because I don’t want to waste money on something I’m not going to like. If you haven’t seen it already, Literrater lets people rate and review books based on the characteristics it has. Here’s an example for The Emporer’s Blades.

I think people should make educated choices and right now people can’t do that when it comes to books. Book ratings are broken. Here’s hoping Literrater can fix it.

 

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Traditional publishing is dead, long live self publishing

Publishing companies reject 99% of manuscripts they get from Literary agents. Literary agents reject 75% of query letters. You, want to get published. You can’t. And self publishing? It’s “a joke!”

By the way, Harry Potter was rejected by publishers 12 times, and only published because the 8 year old daughter of an Editor demanded to read the rest of the story. That Editor told J.K. Rowling that her book wouldn’t go anywhere, but published it anyway. Harry Potter is now a 15 billion dollar brand.

Tom Reynolds, who self published his 242 page novel Meta on November 1st, has sold 20,000 copies in the last 3 months. Selling a book for $2.99 on Amazon, he gets a 70% royalty. Let me help you with that math—$41,860, in three months. Hello nurse. Yes, self publishing is a total joke. Go Tom.

Where I began
In elementary, I read every classic story from people like Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare etc (presented in graphic novel format :)) in my 4th grade teachers box. When I was in middle school I read 15,000 pages to meet the “homework” requirement of 200. I read every Hardy Boys, Louis L’Amour, Goosebumps and Piers Anthony book I could find among many others. By the time high school rolled around I had completely lost myself in the world of fiction—for good or ill.

Stories have power, whatever their form. Good stories must be shared. What do I mean by that? Good stories are the ones that simply wont go away. They fill you with laughter, fear, sadness and love. The make it impossible not to talk about them. Those stories—the good ones—live in every moment of every day—we just have to look at things the right way and know the words to help people understand it.

Why I started writing
In 2008 I was sitting at work, staring out the 5th floor window of the office I worked in, wishing I was home with my wife and my daughter Brooklynn. I got lost in day dream.

A plea for help shattered the stillness. How I heard it didn’t matter. A terrible accident had happened and the life of the two most precious people in the world was slowly ebbing away, and my wife was powerless even to comfort Continue reading