3 Questions to find your “value added”

Value-added describes the enhancement a company gives its product or service before offering the product to customers. Value-added applies to instances where a firm takes a product that may be considered a homogeneous product, with few differences (if any) from that of a competitor, and provides potential customers with a feature or add-on that gives it a greater sense of value….Investopedia.com

There you have it, folks – a clear definition of “value added,” a key concept in today’s marketing strategies. If you’re a hotel, your “value added” may be a free breakfast, or bonus loyalty points. If you’re a tire dealership, your “value added” may be a discounted  fourth tire after the purchase of three. If you’re a writer…..ah….if you’re a writer….what if you’re a writer?

I’ve been grappling for years with the idea of my “added value,” and I’ve finally come up with a few guidelines that might help you work on your own. As the definition above points out, we writers offer a fairly homogeneous product – writing – so our challenge is to distinguish ourselves from other writers by offering readers something in our work that makes it stand out as having more ‘value’ than other similar products of writing. To identify your “added value”, consider these questions:

  1. What do my readers want from me that they won’t get from someone else? In the case of my murder mysteries, I relied on detailed accurate information about birds to appeal to my readers, so that reading my novels was like a virtual birding trip. Readers often told me they knew the restaurants where my characters ate, or that they had actually visited the real locations named in my books. That familiarity made the books personal for readers, and even inspired a few vacations for readers who wanted to add bird sightings to their life lists. That’s added value.
  2. Do I provide unique extras along with my book? A common extra is a Reader’s Guide at the end of your book for book club discussion. If you are tech-savvy, you can even offer to “attend” book clubs via Skype or other online meeting platforms. That’s a valuable benefit for many readers! Other extras include links to online journaling or videos that supplement your text. Even questions for personal reflection (and the space to answer them) is a nice extra used by many nonfiction writers in their books.
  3. What does my reader need? Ultimately, “value added” is about giving your readers more of what they value. To do that, you have to know your audience and consider what they would regard as additional benefit from reading your work. When I wrote my memoir about overcoming anxiety thanks to our adopted rescue dog, I included endnotes to refer readers to research into depression and anxiety; I’d found those resources helpful in my own recovery and wanted to share that with readers. I also invited readers to email me about their own healing experiences with adopted pets to broaden the conversation about the therapeutic effects of animals (and three years after the book’s publication, I still get wonderful emails from readers about it).

Have you identified your “value added” yet?



Crafting Compelling Titles and Subtitles

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Great advice for human interactions. Less useful for actual books.

Not only do we judge books by their covers, but when we read a book’s title we decide in an instant whether the book is for us or not.

As you’re crafting a title for your own book, keep in mind this general rule of thumb:

1. The title communicates the book’s “premise.”

2. The subtitle communicates the book’s “promise.”

Now that I’ve put it out there, I’m sure you’re scrolling through all your favorite titles that break this rule. Fine, be that way.

What can be learned from the thumb-rule, is that the best titles communicate to a distracted book browser something of what is inside the book.

The title lets the reader know the general premise of the book:

And the subtitle lets the reader know what the book promises they’ll get from it:

So as you craft your title, you want to be sure that the reader knows what the book is about (premise) and what’s in it for them (promise.)

Of course there will be those bestsellers that no one can account for, like Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, but it’s more likely that you’ll serve your readers and your book if a reader who’s scrolling through titles on Amazon, or flipping through pages at Barnes & Noble, can know—in an instant—that your book is for her or him.

I learned this rule about titles and subtitles from my savvy friend Jonathan Merritt a few years ago…after I’d published a bunch of books.

Here are my titles (excluding collaborations/ghost writing). If the title is a win, credit goes to the publisher. If it’s a fail, probably mine. So judge me…

Which of my titles communicates what you’ll find inside and meets a need readers actually have? Too late to change ’em, so hit me with your best shot…

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

One Surprising Thing I Learned About Marketing

I recently participated in a marketing class taught by my former WordServe agent, Alice Crider. She gave us the tools needed to take control of our careers and the motivation to create opportunities.

Release Day

There was, however, one thing about the class that shocked me. In fact, if more writers knew about this before they got started, then they might have reconsidered their career choice. Here it is:

To sell your books, you need to be a likable character, and one of the requirements for becoming a likable character is to be polarizing.

Polarizing: to cause (people, opinions, etc.) to separate into opposing groups.

This means that if I am polarizing, then there will be people who don’t agree with me, or they could, gasp, even dislike me.

I hate conflict though. Can’t we all just be friends?

The problem with this wish is that as a writer, if I want anyone to stand with me, I have to first stand for something. I have to know who I am. I have to believe wholeheartedly in what I’m saying. And while this may push some people away, it’s going to draw those who agree with me even closer. They will become my true supporters.

For example, Jen Hatmaker recently claimed that gay marriage can be holy. You can’t get more polarizing than that in the church. She was attacked, and her books have since been banned from certain stores. But here’s the interesting part. She has endeared herself to her audience so completely that her latest book is now in the running for Goodreads Best Book of the Year.

Once I understood this, I decided to not only keep yoga in my next novel, but to use it in promotion. My editor was afraid some Christians would be offended, but I explained why I teach yoga and how it is both permissible and beneficial for me. She accepted with the stipulation that I write a reader letter for the beginning of the book.

beach yoga

I shared that letter yesterday online, and it was definitely polarizing. I received a personal message saying that I’ve been warned, and now they were going to wipe the dust from their feet and leave me behind. But I also got messages from people wanting to review the book. Besides that, one yogi reviewer told me Finding Love in Eureka is one of the best books she’s ever read. I’ve found my audience.

My point here isn’t to argue who is right or wrong. It’s to encourage writers to be strong. Of course, that’s going to include being knowledgeable and respectful. (You’re goal isn’t to tick people off but to say the hard things that you might not want to say for fear of ticking people off.)

You’re the expert. You’ve been given your passions and desires for a reason. Don’t let your message be watered down when trying to please people. You have something unique to offer that won’t resonate with everyone.

In fact, Jesus said, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” There’s probably never been a more polarizing man in all of history. And His book, you know, is a number one best-seller.


4 Things You Can’t Not Know Before You Self-Publish

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Whenever I have a client who’s self-publishing, especially those who are just dipping their toe into the world of publishing for the first time, there is a host of information I want them to know. I can’t communicate all of it, but here’s what you can’t not know:

  1. Editing Process

When a contracted manuscript is submitted to a traditional publisher, the process will typically involve:

  • One or two rounds of developmental editing
  • A round of copy editing
  • Several meticulous rounds of proofreading, looking for the tiniest errors: an extra space after a period, a “zero” that’s really a capital “O,” or a “there” instead of a “their.”

Readers have been trained to expect an error-free product, and even a few errors can cause the reader to lose confidence in the book, and set it down. While this rigorous level of precision isn’t always possible when self-publishing, your readers will be best-served if you put this important work into your book up front.

  1. Book Cover

Whether readers will be browsing through a bookstore, scrolling through thumbnail images on Amazon, or buying from a merch table, the cover matters. It both signals what’s inside and whether what’s inside has value for the reader. Even if you have the technical skills to create a cover using your photo editing software, don’t. Resist the urge. There are tried and true principles relating to images, colors, font styles, and font sizes that make for great covers. Let a professional design the cover of your book.

  1. Book Design

Have you ever noticed that the inside of a traditionally published book, all the pages of content, have been designed? Care and attention have been given to the precise measurements of margins, as well as the size and shape of fonts in the text, chapter titles, headers and subheads. None of this is accidental. Each choice was made to serve the book and serve the reader. Although certain independent publishing options might aid you with book design, it’s up to you to ensure that nothing about the design creates a barrier to a reader reading your book.

  1. Books Are Hard to Sell

Before you sink your own dollars into publishing a book, have a plan for how you will market and distribute the book to your target audience. Don’t just throw it up at Amazon with millions of other books and hope for the best. You’ve been warned.

The purpose of your book is to serve the reader, and a well-written book with a sharp design does that. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Amazon Book Sales Rankings Explained

The following guest post comes from Rob Eager of WildFire Marketing. It first appeared on his blog

Have you ever suffered from a bout of Amazon fever? It’s a strange condition that can take over an author’s brain and compel him or her to peek at the Amazon sales ranking for their book 10 – 20 times per day. Each time you look, you pray that the ranking will improve before you check it again in another hour. Authors who catch this fever might even get up in the middle of the night to see how their rankings fared after the sun went down. Going cold turkey and avoiding the rankings altogether is an option. But, freedom from the fever sometimes requires an intervention, which is why I wrote this article.

I’ve battled the fever myself, and many of my consulting clients struggle with the problem as well. It can be addictive to see how your books are performing on Amazon, where the vast majority of books are purchased. Besides, it’s easy to reason that authors need a quick way to gauge sales without having to call the publisher, check BookScan, or wait for a royalty check.

However, most people know that Amazon sales rankings must be taken with a grain of salt. The company guards their algorithm like gold in Fort Knox. No one knows how accurate the numbers really are. In fact, even the staff at Amazon has admitted their system isn’t completely precise. Thus, why even bother?

Actually, Amazon sales rankings can provide helpful clues about the performance of a book during a campaign. Plus, the rankings can help compare how similar titles are faring against each other. Since Amazon practically owns the book retail market, it’s easier for authors to judge immediate response to specific marketing activities by checking one website. In addition, the rankings give self-published authors a way to prove that their sales can be every bit as good as an established writer.

Yet, what do Amazon sales rankings really mean for a book and should you care? My answer is yes and no. I don’t mean to sound hypocritical, but the reality is that the rankings can only provide a ballpark idea on actual sales. Amazon updates the rankings every 60 – 90 minutes, so the numbers constantly fluctuate throughout the day. A book could have a good ranking in the morning and a worse ranking that same evening. Therefore, you never get numbers that are solid enough to make big decisions on its own. At best, the rankings can show real-time sales momentum or a lack of consumer interest. If you want to draw any real conclusions, it’s always best to include actual sales data from more reliable sources, such as BookScan. But, is it possible for Amazon rankings to give any reasonable insights? Here’s an example.

Earlier this year, I helped a New York Times bestselling author launch a new book. During the pre-order campaign, we found that the Amazon sales rankings provided a decent indication of sales momentum. That’s because my author client offered a series of special gifts to encourage pre-orders. In order for people to receive the pre-order gifts, they had to go to the author’s website, provide their retailer receipt number, and tell how many copies they purchased. I captured this customer information each day in a database, and then compared the data to the book’s daily Amazon ranking over time.

Before I discuss the results, let me emphasize that everything you see is purely a guess. There are no hard and fast rules. Do NOT quote these numbers or assume they will directly match your specific book sales. I simply conducted this exercise to prove a series of other important points, which I’ll mention in a minute. Here’s how the Amazon sales rankings translated into customer purchases according to one book that I tracked:

Amazon Sales Ranking = Copies Sold on Amazon:
2,500 = 30 – 75 per day
5,000 = 15 – 30 per day
7,500 = 5 – 15 per day

10,000 = 25 – 40 per week
100,000 = 5 – 10 per week
150,000 = 1 – 5 per week

300,000 = 5 per month
500,000 = 1 per month or less

Note: Numbers ONLY reflect book sales at Amazon. Other retailers are not included.

Why would I show you this information when it’s just a guess that cannot be trusted? For several important reasons:

1. As you can see, a good sales ranking of 7,500 or less doesn’t mean you’re actually selling that many books. Those numbers mean anywhere from 5 – 75 copies per day. That’s quite a wide range and doesn’t mean you’ll get rich anytime soon. Even if you maintained sales of 75 copies per day for a really long period of 30 consecutive days, you would only sell 2,250 total units.

Therefore, there is NO reason to brag to anyone about your Amazon sales ranking. In contrast, there is no reason to get depressed if your sales ranking is worse than other authors or books you see. The only authors selling a ton of books on Amazon are those with rankings less than 500 who maintain that level for multiple months. Those are the icons of the industry with major publishers and massive resources behind their campaigns.

As another example, I consulted on a backlist book that consistently maintained an Amazon sales ranking of less than 500, which is amazingly rare. But, it typically sold only 2,500 – 3,500 copies per week. Yes, that’s way above average, but no one is retiring to a private island on those numbers.

2. More importantly, if you tell people that your book is a #1 bestseller on Amazon, it means absolutely nothing. Any author who makes such a claim smacks of desperation and a lack of ethics. Here’s why:

a. First, any author can mount a marketing campaign that spikes their book to #1 for a brief period of time – maybe one day or two. But, that spike is a fleeting moment, which quickly drops off. If a book gets to #1, you could use my chart above and guess that it sold 100, 250, or even 1,000 copies in one day. That’s good, but it’s still not that many copies.

Then, what about the next day when the ranking quickly falls off to 500, 2,500, or 5,000? Sales are back to modest amounts of 50 – 100 per day. Therefore, a brief spike to #1 doesn’t mean a lot of books were actually sold. In order to hit the legitimate bestseller lists, such as the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, or Publishers Weekly, you’ve got to sell around 5,000 copies or more in a week. (Amazon now has their own official bestseller list called Amazon Charts.)

Telling people your book made it to #1 on Amazon is like telling someone you’re the fastest runner in your neighborhood. It’s doesn’t mean you actually sold many books, and it doesn’t mean you’re actually a fast runner. Your neighborhood could be full of slow people. Or, a faster neighbor might have been out of town the day you decided to race. You get my point. No one really knows if it’s true, and no one really cares. Authors who make ridiculous claims about being #1 on Amazon look foolish, because they take an unverifiable number and make a big deal out of it. However, the public doesn’t look very smart either when no one challenges these preposterous claims.

b. Second, there is an even more bizarre issue. Some authors now claim to be #1 on Amazon in a specific category, such as women’s issues, advertising books, or even “children’s pig books” (yes, that category actually exists). These arbitrary categories are a distant cousin of the main Amazon sales ranking list. And, if you know anything about distant cousins in real life, they’re usually out of touch with the main family.

I’m shocked by how many authors and publishers will go out of their way to display “#1 Amazon bestseller” on their websites, press releases, blogs, Facebook pages, and even back cover copy. Are we so desperate for accolades that we resort to making up random awards with no basis in fact or actual sales data?!

Just because a book is temporarily #1 in an arbitrary category on Amazon means nothing. For instance, at the time of writing this article, below are rankings for three book categories that I randomly selected:

  • The #1 book in “Mortgages and Real Estate” is #3,353 overall on Amazon.
  • The #1 book in “Advertising Graphic Design” is #13,771 overall on Amazon.
  • The #1 book in “Mice, Hamsters & Guinea Pigs” is #34,444 overall on Amazon.

As you can see, being #1 in a specific category is a far cry from being #1 on Amazon overall. Not many books are actually being sold. Plus, the rankings fluctuate by the hour. So, claiming to be top dog in a random Amazon category is like claiming to be the biggest Chihuahua at a dog park. It doesn’t make sense.

Here’s the real issue. When authors make unsubstantiated claims about their Amazon rankings, they tend to ignore solid principles that could actually help sell more books. If you want to be considered a real bestseller, earn it through legitimate marketing efforts that create results:

  • Learn to master the pre-order sales process
  • Build a large email list
  • Create joint partnerships with other successful authors
  • Secure more speaking engagements and media interviews
  • Spend more money on advertising

For instance, what if I touted myself as the “#1 Book Marketing Consultant in the World”? Who sets the standard and how would anyone know the difference? I could display that title on my website, but you’d probably think I was a little over the top and question your ability to trust me.

Writing and marketing a book requires hard work that can already make an author seem a little crazy. Why make things worse by creating silly claims about a book’s Amazon ranking? Being an author with a book on Amazon is a rare achievement by itself. We get the unique opportunity to educate, inspire, and entertain the world. There’s no need to work ourselves into a frenzy and manufacture false accolades. Take this article and use it as my prescription to forever avoid getting Amazon fever.


Rob Eagar is one of the most accomplished book marketing experts in America and a leading specialist in the field of direct-to-consumer sales. Rob’s consulting firm, Wildfire Marketing, has attracted numerous bestselling authors, including Dr. Gary Chapman, DeVon Franklin, Lysa TerKeurst, Wanda Brunstetter, and Dr. John Townsend. As an expert in direct-to-consumer marketing, Rob also helps companies and non-profits build Million Dollar Email Lists that create seven-figure revenue and donations. Rob is the author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire (published by Writers Digest), which is considered the bible of book marketing.

“Fever” image courtesy of David Dominici Castillo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net


How to make what’s old NEW again

Memo to every writer: even if your book is years old to you, it’s new to every reader who just now picked it up.

This is why your marketing role as an author is never over: as long as your book is available somewhere, it’s going to be new to someone, somewhere. In fact, as I take a break from writing new books, I’m finding more than enough marketing to do for my old books as I reach out to new audiences. Here are three of my favorite strategies for making those old books new again:

  1. Mine the treasure trove of content that exists in others’ reviews of your books. I make it a habit now to check every few months on each of my books’ reviews page on Amazon.com, because there are still new reviews popping up on even my oldest books. A new review means I have new content to share on my social networks about the book, and since my networks continue to grow, there are always some folks who’ve missed out on posts from earlier years/reviews. It’s a simple way to give my audience another nudge towards a specific book, and it just might be the nudge that leads a reader into new genres, as well. I know my reading tastes change with time; remembering that reminds me to continue to promote my books to both old and potential new readers, and it also leads to my second strategy…
  2. Find current events or posts or trends that you can link to the topics of your books. My Birder Murder Mystery series, for example, also deals with conservation issues, so whenever something such as wind farms or habitat destruction is in the news, I can develop and share content on the topic that points readers to my books. Likewise, when neuroscience is a trending topic, I try to post a few comments about the research that went into my science-and-faith thriller Heart and Soul and then include a link to the book page. By paying close attention to what other people are talking about, I can always find something to contribute to the conversation; if it catches the interest of someone, I’ve reached another reader.
  3. Review your reviews for new keywords. As you wrote your book, you probably had certain themes or angles that you emphasized. When you read what others thought of your book, however, you might find that they zeroed in on other facets of your work. As I wrote Saved by Gracie, my memoir of adopting our dog, I was intent on telling the story of how the dog helped me overcome my anxiety issues, but after a few book reviews came in, I realized that women were responding even more to the sense of shame we carry for being depressed. That discovery three years ago redirected my marketing efforts and continues to produce new readers today.

How do you make your old books NEW?

Connecting with People at Conventions

Happy businesswoman talking to colleague at lobby in convention center

Writers connect with people all the time through the written word. However, every so often, a writer might have the opportunity to connect with large groups of colleagues and potential readers at conventions. Think of conventions in the area of interest of your book, conventions of organizations to which you belong, and conventions attended by publishers and other writers. While each convention will vary in the number of attendees, the opportunities to exhibit books and materials, and the types of workshops offered, here are some ideas about connecting with people in three areas common to most conventions:

  1. Exhibit Hall Displays: In addition to being a great way to collect pens and small marketing freebies, exhibit halls offer the opportunity to learn about products related to your work and meet people in your field. Take the time to engage in conversation with people in display booths. If possible, take advantage of the chance to display your books and materials. Few writers will find it practical to pay for a separate display booth, but many writers can take advantage of shared display spaces. If your publisher has a booth at the convention you are attending, ask if you could have a time to greet people at the booth and sign books. If you are allotted a shared display space, prepare materials in advance that meet the set specifications for the space. In addition to your books, prepare small marketing materials that people can have for free that connect them to your business. Spend time manning your display space, but also set up the space to work for you when you are attending other events at the convention.
  2. Sessions and Workshops: The key to juggling time in the exhibit halls with attendance at the sessions and workshops offered at a convention is choosing the most relevant events to attend. If the convention involves voting during the organization’s business sessions, carve out time to make your voice heard by voting on the issues important to you and casting your vote for officers of your organization. If given the opportunity to present a workshop at the convention, prepare materials for participants and provide your social media and other contact information on the last slide of your presentation.
  3. Luncheons and Receptions: Luncheons, dinners, and receptions offer a more relaxed atmosphere to engage in conversations with people. Register in advance for the events where you will find people most interested in what you have to offer and  where you can connect with people that will help you grow in your career, business, or writing expertise. Remember that actively listening to other people is the key to making new connections. Talking to people from across the country or even around the world who have flown in to the attend the convention will expand your perspective and provide insights into the needs of the people you serve. Exchange business cards so you can carry on the conversation  long after the convention has ended.

How do you connect with people at the conventions you attend?