Optimizing an Ebook for Amazon Previews

Ebeling-RestoringFreedomAndProsperity-Faces3SmallWhat can you do to hook a potential customer who’s browsing through the preview of your ebook?

Our newest ebook, Austrian Economics and Public Policy by Richard Ebeling, has just hit the Amazon shelves.

Ebeling and the Future of Freedom Foundation (the publisher) have a solid following, and their 2015 release, Monetary Central Planning and the State, hit the #2 and #5 Amazon spots in its categories.

This time, in our quest to hit #1, I focused my attention on some details at the very beginning of the new book.

That’s because Amazon lets any potential customer read the first 10% or so of your book in two different ways: by sending them a Kindle “free sample,” and by letting them “look inside” the book right from a web browser.

Anybody who uses one of these options is curious about your book, but not yet a customer. Our job is to make them convert.

Put the Good Stuff First

Both Amazon preview methods show the first 10% of the book, regardless of what’s in it. This is not like leafing through a paper book in a physical bookstore, where the reader can zip through the whole volume to see if anything catches their eye. We need to put the most engaging material right up front.

For instance, it’s customary to put acknowledgments at the beginning of a book. But this time, I tucked them into the back matter. Acknowledgements are important, but they aren’t what a person previewing your book is really looking for.

This book has a neato Austrian School Family Tree showing the connections between the major Austrian scholars all the way from Menger to Horwitz. In a print book, that might conceivably go in an appendix. In this book, we put it right before chapter 1.

Also, Dr. Ebeling and I took a few extra edit passes together on the introduction to get his value proposition up front in the very first paragraph, which is the part of the book the previewers are most likely to see right away (because it’s the specified “start” location in the ebook files).

Scroll vs Swipe

One special quirk of Amazon’s web-browser “look inside” feature is that it shows the book in a single long panel that you scroll through top to bottom, not as a set of discrete “pages” or screens that you swipe through left to right like a Kindle book. That scrolling feature makes the repetition of a book title on the half-title and then the title page — which is completely normal and aesthetically pleasing in actual Kindle or print — look strange.

Check out this screenshot from the preview of Ryan Levesque’s book, Ask. Do you see how his title gets oddly repeated? That’s his half-title and title pages back-to-back in the scroll. Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 8.46.53 PM

So in this book I just got rid of the half-title altogether.

The first sales are already rolling in, and I look forward to seeing if this extra attention to the Amazon preview experience gives a boost to FFF, Dr. Ebeling, and their new book.

Update — We’re Number 1!
It’s the morning of September 1, approximately 48 hours after release. We just hit #1 in our category (Economic Theory).

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Finally: Scrivener for iOS

If you are a writer, LiteratureAndLatte.com has taken steps to ensure that you never have an excuse not to write again.

New Scrivener for iOS allows you to organize your thoughts, research, and write on your iPad and on your iPhone. And to share everything that you do between your devices — computer included — through Dropbox.

We are talking the power of Scrivener in your back pocket.

Wait, You’ve Never Heard of Scrivener?

This blog post is about the long-awaited iOS version of many writers’ favorite writing tool — Scrivener has existed for Mac and Windows for several years. If you already know Scrivener, you can skip down to “Life before Scrivener for iOS.” Otherwise, read on…

So what is Scrivener? It’s an app developed by a writer for writers. Keith Blount, the creator, forged Scrivener while writing his dissertation — he felt there had to be a better way to compose on a computer, and so he coded a better way for all writers. (To learn more about the Scrivener story and the people who built it and continue to improve it, check out literatureandlatte.com.)

Life before Scrivener

I still feel vaguely dizzy when I remember the multiple organizational systems I devised for my dissertation. Somewhere in storage there might still be a plastic box of index cards that meticulously outlined multiple chapters and their subsections (and sub-subsections…). I recently found a diskette (you know, that little square thing we used to anxiously slide into computers to save our hard work) with hundreds of pages of notes — copiously highlighted in different colors to label which part of my dissertation they applied to.

At one point, I also printed out a lot of those highlighted notes and put them in a binder with equally well color-coded stick-it notes so that I could quickly flip to what I needed when composing on my computer.

What if I had been able to have that magical binder with all its subsections neatly labeled on my computer screen, each item just a click or two away…

I won’t even get into the copying, cutting, and pasting between Word docs to move paragraphs to another chapter.

What if I’d had a huge virtual dining room table for my plethora of index cards so that I could easily move them around and rearrange the contents of my project directly in the master document — sans cutting and pasting.

CorkBoard2

This is me moving a card on my Scrivener corkboard — and moving that part of my blog post to a new position in the master document.

In other words, move an index card and that whole section moves to a new location in your draft. With just one drag of the mouse (see image to the left).

My dissertation would certainly have taken less time (and been that much more brilliant…).

This, my friends, is what the Scrivener app on your computer can do. It is all the pieces of your writing project in one place, arranged in whatever hierarchy you need, with an outline/table of contents called a “binder” and virtual corkboard for all the pieces you are working with.

Plus about 100 other things.

Life before Scrivener for iOS

I first started using Scrivener a couple of years ago on my aging laptop for NaNoWriMo. Six months later my computer let me know that it wanted to retire. I wasn’t in a position to buy a new laptop but did get an iPad mini for my creative projects. (I did all my Invisible Order work on a desktop—yep, still got one of those.)

However, to my disappointment (and to the detriment of the story brewing on my old laptop), Scrivener only existed for computer. I searched for an app to replace Scrivener for my iPad and found Index Card, which is a very descent app and did a lot for me (I love moving virtual index cards around). But what I needed was the Scrivener binder — that virtual, more flexible version of my magical dissertation binder.

TheBinder3

This is the binder! It has folders and everything!

A Binder in Your Pocket

The Scrivener binder serves as a table of contents for your project. For all parts of your project — even your research.

I find it incredibly helpful to have the binder right there on the screen at all times while I am composing. I can easily check my outline, click into another chapter, or go foraging in my research folders. And then just as quickly get back to the section I was working on.

This is ideal for the “plotter” (someone who meticulously outlines their project before and during the writing process). You can map out your project right there in the binder, through folders and pages, moving things around on the corkboard or directly in the binder.

The binder is also great for the “pantser” (who writes by the seat of her pants and doesn’t have a precise map) because you can organize the material as you go along.

Having this tool on a small device that you can easily carry around — and that will upload your material to Dropbox in order to share it with your other devices — allows for an amazing amount of flexibility. You just need to make sure the latest version of your project has backed up before you start working on it.

Imagine walking down the street and suddenly realizing that you are stuck in your story because, really, chapter 3 should start with what is now the beginning of chapter 5. You don’t have to wait until you get home to act on that flash of insight: just open the app on your iPhone and within a few swipes, your story has rebooted.

One of the Neat Tools in Scrivener for iOS

Scrivener for iOS offers a multitude of tools to help you get your project finished.

StuckAtTheBottom2One little tool I love (among many others) keeps me from being stuck writing at the bottom of the iPad screen. When I started using writing apps for iPad I kept having to scroll up the screen so that I could actually see what I was writing. Sometimes the apps would get stuck, and I would have to leave my document and come back in order to see what I had just written at the bottom of the screen.

Not so for Scrivener. Look at the top of the screenshot to the left. See the T in the circle? Activate that T (see below) and Scrivener will automatically keep you typing at the middle of the screen — moving the screen up with a little jolt that reminds some of us of that satisfying jump and click a typewriter would make when you progressed to the next line and the roll turned your piece of paper up. (The “T” stands for “typewriter scrolling.”)TypewriterMode2

You can also add footnotes.

You can also add comments.

You can also add videos to your research docs.

You can — just go check it out!

The “Downside”

I won’t go into details about what else Scrivener for iOS (and Mac and Windows, for that matter) has to offer. You can simply explore the Latte and Literature site or read one of the many other articles on the topic (just Google “Scrivener for iOS”). Or you can just get the app and start writing and discovering everything it can do for you.

There is only one downside to this app: you won’t need Facebook or Twitter or email to fill the empty moments of your day. Stuck in the subway? Waiting for a friend in a coffee shop? Time to pull out your iPhone or iPad and compose, review, or reorganize your project.

If you prefer the fantasy of the writing life to the sweat and tears of producing your next draft, then you won’t welcome Scrivener for iOS into your life: it eliminates your last excuse not to write.

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Your Child’s Asthma: A Guide for Parents

I am woefully behind in posting about some of the books we’ve worked on in the last 6 to 8 months, but as the spring allergy season wages war on the hills of Virginia, I think a lot about this great book by Dr John Hunt. (Though, of course, allergies may not be causing your child’s asthma!)

redo3Dr. Hunt has written a fantastic guide for parents with children with asthma, explaining what exactly could be going on in the asthmatic child’s body and how to help. He is a particularly good source of information because not only is he a pediatric pulmonologist and an allergist/immunologist, he also grew up with asthma and has children who have asthma.

In this book Dr. Hunt emphasizes that asthma is a symptom, not a disease, and he focuses on helping parents find out what is causing their child’s asthma — not all cases of asthma are the same and each patient should be treated as an individual.

Dr. Hunt’s book is available at Amazon (print and ebook editions), as well as at the iBooks Store and Barnes & Noble.

Invisible Order had the pleasure of working with Dr. Hunt through the editing, ebook conversion, typesetting, and publication stages of this book.

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Jeff Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition

Libertarian-tradition-creased-cover

Today, I finally get to reveal to you something I’ve been talking about in private meetings and then working on in secret solitude this year.

It’s Jeff Riggenbach’s glorious new ebook, The Libertarian Tradition.

Liberty.me members get it free. Everyone else can buy it on Amazon.com for $8.99.

Riggenbach, widely known as the voice of liberty, has been reading, researching and writing about the history of libertarianism for decades.

The Libertarian Tradition represents the culmination of this work — more than 90 essays by Riggenbach, each focusing on some intriguing person or persons who contributed in their own way to the idea that we humans should live peaceful and free with each other.

Every chapter sparkles with Riggenbach’s erudition, his wry humor, and his gift for storytelling.

He takes you from the rise of the libertarian idea in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, through innovative and playful adaptations by outsiders and novelists in the twentieth century, and right into the current debates in the dawning of the twenty-first.

Get your copy now and savor a piece of the libertarian tradition.

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Why Is Our New Book Already #2 in Its Amazon Category?

Ebeling Cover SmallThe Future of Freedom Foundation’s newest release is soaring through the Amazon charts. The book is Richard Ebeling’s Monetary Central Planning and the State, and we released it just yesterday.

How did we do this — again?

(The “we” here is FFF plus InvisibleOrder.com.)

Well, it helps that there are hundreds or maybe thousands of readers who have been thrilled by this book already in its first incarnation as a series of 40 articles in FFF’s Freedom Daily years ago. So right out of the gate, this book starts with a great reputation.

It also certainly helps that Ebeling is a venerable figure, who has built a mighty following with decades of consistently erudite, clear writing.

It helps that the cover is interesting to look at and well-suited to the Amazon sales environment.

It sure helps that the book itself is of professional quality, but it’s also priced down low to make it move (just 99 cents!).

And it helps that we picked good categories for it to succeed in (you want a category that does have other books your potential customers are reading, but that isn’t so crowded that you’re going to be stuck down at 1,000,000th place).

Right now, Monetary Central Planning is #2 on Amazon’s charts in the category of Political Freedom, and it’s #5 in Economic Theory. That is an amazing place to be on its very first day. And there’s no reason it can’t hit #1 in both tomorrow.

Now, when we look at tomorrow’s rankings, it’s going to help that we built on this early success by blogging about it, and that our friends and fans shared and tweeted posts like this one (hint, hint).

And when we look at the rankings over the next month, it’s going to help even more that our friends and fans and readers wrote some reviews of the book on Amazon (hint, hint, hint).

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What Is the Best Length for a Book?

Tinybook-IOI recently had a conversation with an author who is planning on publishing a book of her short stories on Amazon.com. She wondered what the best length for a story and the best length for a whole book would be.

My suggestion to her was that she experiment by releasing some of her short pieces as individual ebooks, as well as and before putting them together and releasing them as a big Kindle or print compilation.

In fact, this is good advice for almost any author today, fiction or nonfiction.

Why?

The old physical constraints of paper books once forced authors, publishers, and readers to deal in bulky objects of 100 pages or more. It was just uneconomical in most cases to ship and sell physical books much smaller than that. Nowadays, ebooks let you sidestep this physical constraint, and that creates an opening to trade in smaller units of writing.

Salamander Six, a gripping short story by Mike DiBaggio.

Salamander Six, a gripping short story by Mike DiBaggio. ~10,000 words.

It’s as if once upon a time you could only buy grapes in 1lb bags. Anybody who wanted to buy less than that had to choose between (a) no grapes at all, or (b) moldy grapes in the fridge.

Nowadays, you can buy and sell grapes individually. And it turns out there are customers who only wanted one grape at a time, and there are customers who would never buy a full 1lb of some new exotic Mediterranean grape — but would happily gobble up two or three just to try it out.

Based on my experience, I’d say releasing some smaller ebooks plus a compilation gives you three advantages over authors who stick to selling great big books exclusively.

Advantage 1. You make your compilation look more awesome.

Say you were going to sell a compilation ebook of your short stories at $4.99. If it contains 10 stories, 3 of which you also sell individually for $0.99 each, then you can say that the book has 7 great stories PLUS as a bonus it contains stories X, Y, and Z for free.

Now the perceptive customer can see that your $4.99 book comes with ~$3.00 of bonus material. Everybody loves bonus material.

Advantage 2. It gives you a better chance of being discovered by a new customer.

If a new customer who has never read anything by you before, and never bought anything from you before, only has to pay $0.99 to get their first hit of your stuff, they are more likely to jump in.

Advantage 3. You get more detailed market feedback, and you get it sooner.

In the long run, this is the most important benefit.

A Car Crash of Sorts, by Frank Marcopolos. A very fun story, just ~8,000 words.

A Car Crash of Sorts, a very fun short story by Frank Marcopolos. ~8,000 words.

Let’s say you’ve finished the first 3 short stories, and you plan to write 7 more for your book. (If you’re Frank Marcopolos, you can write a story a month and then publish them all for Christmas). You can keep those first 3 stories to yourself and spend the next few months toiling away in isolation. Or you can sell those first 3 stories separately, and learn from how the readers respond to them while you’re writing the rest.

The sales and reviews will tell you whether they like your longest story or your shortest one, whether they like your first-person-present murder mystery or your third-person-past wizard duel, et cetera. And all that feedback helps you decide what to write more of and what to emphasize in your bigger volumes.

Of course, it’s a great idea to keep tabs on what other successful authors with a similar target audience are doing, but every book and every author’s voice is unique. Your writing isn’t really just another fruit in the produce section.

If Daniel Sanchez and Wendy McElroy and Jeffrey Tucker each wrote a 1,000-word article about the same new law, you would have 3 very different pieces of writing, with three different audience reactions.

The same goes for you. Your readers are going to find you and interact with your writing a little bit differently than they do with anybody else. The best way to find out how is to put some of your writing on the market and see what they do with it.

 

For all three of these reasons, nowadays I find myself advising just about every author and publisher I meet to release some smaller pieces of writing as well as big tomes of knowledge.

Its one more way to get your grapes on the table.

However, there are three caveats you should be aware of.

Caveat 1. Maximize the power of your preview.

Amazon automatically lets people see the first 10% of your book as a preview via the Look Inside feature. For a very short book, the front matter can eat up a lot of that 10%. To get around this, just put your copyright, dedication, et cetera, at the end of the book.

That way, readers who check out your preview will see the things that might make them want to buy.

Caveat 2. Amazon’s royalty system used to be better for short books.

Those of you familiar with the intricacies of Amazon’s royalty system know that Amazon recently changed the payout scheme for some royalties on some books. The short version is that within the Kindle Select program, you are now getting paid based on the number of pages your customers read rather than the sticker price of your book, so short books are penalized relative to long books with the same price.

This does reduce the potential monetary gains to selling shorter books via the Kindle Select program. But the three reasons to do it listed above still stand. Just sell a short book and include the text of it in a long one.

Caveat 3. What is the smallest size you can effectively sell?

Once upon a time, Amazon sent out messages to authors of very small ebooks, saying “Content that is less than 2,500 words is often disappointing to our customers and does not provide an enjoyable reading experience.”

A Century of Anarchy, by Peter C. Earle. A most edifying grape.

A Century of Anarchy, by Peter C. Earle. At ~5,000 words, it is a most edifying grape.

Amazon doesn’t appear to do that anymore. And some authors report having success with really short ebooks. See the forum comments here and here, for instance.

Personally, I would start out with something 5,000 words or more. If your pieces are naturally shorter than that, you could try putting a few of them together as a small compilation.

Whatever you do with a smaller book, put the word count in the description, or even put something like “A Short Story” as the subtitle, so the reader isn’t surprised by its brevity. Nothing generates bad reviews like readers who feel cheated.

(Yes, the number of pages is automatically listed by Amazon, way down on your book page, but some readers won’t look at that.)


My fellow authors and publishers, have you tried releasing pieces of different lengths, either for free or for sale? What have you learned about your own corner of the market? I’m eager to find out in the comments.

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Tell Stories to Sell Ideas

How do you get people to buy your book?

Today, three of my books are in Amazon’s top 100 in their category (20th-century history). I’m prouder than lions to see them there, and I’m hungrier than jackals to get another book up the charts. But let me back up a moment and explain how this happened.

When I say “my books,” I mean that I’m the publishing consultant on all three. The books really belong to the Future of Freedom Foundation, and the authors are Jacob Hornberger and Douglas Horne. Jacob, Douglas, and FFF are the mothers of these excellent books. I’m just the midwife.

In the fall of 2014, I helped FFF put out their first two ebooks on the JFK assassination: The Kennedy Autopsy by Hornberger and JFK’s War by Horne.

They both hit the top 100 before Christmas — in fact both books had started selling copies like hotcakes before we even officially announced or advertised them.

So we followed up by releasing a third ebook in spring 2015 — Regime Change. (Jacob Hornberger wrote it in less than a month.)

So why are these books so successful? Why are people buying them?

Well, take a minute to look at the three books and their Amazon rankings today.

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#33 Regime Change: The JFK Assassination (by Jacob Hornberger)

 

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#36 The Kennedy Autopsy (by Jacob Hornberger)

 

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#46 JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated (by Douglas Horne)

 

Even just judging by the titles, you can see that all three of these books are about a specific, concrete, visceral story — a story with murder, betrayal, and mystery.

In fact, of those three, The Kennedy Autopsy has been by far the most consistently successful. (Today is the first day Regime Change ever beat Autopsy on the charts.) And notice that Autopsy also has by far the most concrete, specific, and visceral title and topic. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Now, all three of these books are from the Future of Freedom Foundation, so you can rest assured there are some strong libertarian themes inside each book. In particular, all three do a very compelling job of demonstrating that the Kennedy assassination is linked to the broader rise of the military-industrial complex.

But libertarian theory isn’t the headline feature that made these books start selling before we even advertised them.  Would The Kennedy Autopsy have sold as well if we’d called it The Military-Industrial Complex and the Deep State’s Medical Cover-Up? I don’t think so.

Instead, the books are focused on and advertised around specific stories. The libertarian principles flow through each book subtly, strengthening the authors’ research and and sharpening their narrative.

In other words, for these books, libertarian theory isn’t the consumer good that people are rushing out to buy, it’s a capital good that authors used to make their specific stories.

The stories themselves are what people want to buy.

You may have noticed that Jeffrey Tucker also uses this formula of telling a specific story to illustrate a general theory.

In his wildly successful article, “Five Years of Gas Can Hell!,” Tucker opens with 7 hilarious paragraphs about spilling gasoline — reeking, staining, flammable gasoline — all over himself. He waits until paragraph 8 before he even mentions “government,” but then he explains the theory of regulation and shows it all comes together. The libertarian theory explains the visceral experience.

Jacob Hornberger does it this way in The Kennedy Autopsy too. He opens chapter 1 with Secret Service agents brandishing their guns and staring down the Dallas doctors over the corpse of the president. That’s a helluva hook.

And Jacob waits until all the way to chapter 12 to come out explicitly with his killer libertarian analysis of the military-industrial complex. Once again, the libertarian theory explains the visceral experience.

So here is the takeaway insight for liberty-minded writers:

The readers know what they want. Mostly, they want stories. Our job is to help them realize that the best stories are made with liberty.

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