Category Archives: Ebooks

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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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.

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.”

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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Liberty.me’s House of Refuge: Fiction for a Future of Freedom

HouseOfRefuge-CoverIOThis week Liberty.me adds Mike DiBaggio’s award-winning novella House of Refuge to the Library.

I was very excited by the opportunity to release a Liberty.me edition of this story, as my editorial preface should make clear:

Editorial Preface by B.K. Marcus

I became a devotee of seasteading — the creation of autonomous communities out at sea — during the summer solstice of 2014, while seated in the Austin Music Hall, surrounded by hipsters half my age.

We were at Voice & Exit, an event, “built around a simple idea: human flourishing.”

The hipsters were waiting, I suspect, for the liberty-minded lectures to end and the arts festival portion of the evening to begin.

I was there to hear about the end of the era of coercion. They were there for collaborative wall painting, group yoga, and the electronic violin of soundscape guru Govinda (né Shane Madden).

Maybe the alien setting made me more receptive to new ideas — or even some not-so-new ones. Seasteading, in particular, was not a new idea for me. Yet something opened me up to the visionary talk given by “aquapeneur” Joe Quirk, director of communications for the Seasteading Institute.

Joe talked about the technological benefits of seasteading and the untapped potential of the oceans for healing the planet and feeding the world. His focus, however, was on the unique opportunity uncolonized waters present for escaping the crippling strictures that land-based monopoly governments impose on both freedom and innovation.

The American Founders saw the future of freedom in the idea of federalism: small governments that would have to compete for citizens, akin to businesses having to compete for customers. It was, after all, such freedom of movement — of “voting with one’s feet” — that had allowed individual liberty to grow, however imperfectly, in late-medieval Europe. The Founders looked to the model of Greek and Italian city-state republics as a way to keep the state (coercive territorial monopoly government) from growing in America the way it had done in the Europe of their recent ancestors.

But federalism among territorial governments requires small political domains. As Sheldon Richman said in a recent session at Liberty.me U, the smaller the jurisdictions, the cheaper it is to vote with your feet.

It’s hard enough to uproot your family and move to the next town or county in the hope of lower taxes and fewer illiberal laws. It’s much harder when the laws and taxes become ever more centralized over ever vaster territories. As the enemies of freedom seek greater international “cooperation” on banking, taxation, and regulation, how do we recover the liberalizing power of exit?

Those of us with a fondness for science fiction — especially written science fiction — may see our salvation in the colonizing of space. While Star Trek has its Federation and Star Wars its Empire, author Robert A. Heinlein (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Time Enough for Love) offered a different vision of the future, one in which new pioneers could push new frontiers to keep the option of individual liberty alive. Innovation, Heinlein understood, happens at the outer margins of coercive authority, not in the capital cities or central planets of interstellar governments.

But as Joe Quirk put it that solstice day in Austin, “First the ocean, then outer space.”

However unfamiliar, challenging, and even dangerous the oceans may be for 21st-century pioneers, they are far safer and more familiar than the irradiated vacuum outside our gravity well. And ocean colonization will be cheaper. In fact, it will be profitable. The seasteads will innovate both technology and systems of community, law, and governance. If you don’t like how your current ocean city is being run, just sail on to a more compatible arrangement. You can leave the government without leaving your home.

And knowing the tenuous grasp any floating city will have on its citizens, each government will finally face the appropriate incentives to serve the governed — to provide the legal infrastructure to allow maximum private innovation, the best environment for secure wealth creation, and a civic culture that is respectful of privacy and individual autonomy. Talk about human flourishing!

Why did this vision finally take hold for me that day? I’d heard about seasteading for many years. I read about it soon after Patri Friedman began to evangelize for the idea. So why hadn’t I caught the bug before Voice & Exit? Why am I now fired up by the potential for real human freedom offered by “voting with our paddles,” whereas before, seasteading was just one of the many topics buzzing around the liberty movement?

As I said, it might have been that the culture shock of Voice & Exit had disoriented me to the point where my mind was more open to radically different perspectives. But I’m not quite as excited about biohacking, smart drugs, 3D printing, or other disruptive technologies that were discussed that day.

Maybe Joe Quirk just found the right way to bypass my defenses. He is an effective speaker, and his quiet passion and deadpan delivery probably match my aesthetic better than the energetic enthusiasm of most evangelists.

But I suspect much of the credit goes to the science fiction story you are about to read.

House of Refuge is first and foremost a fast-paced adventure story,” author Mike DiBaggio writes in his special introduction to the Liberty.me edition. “And I think it is fully capable of being enjoyed by those who don’t agree with its anti-war and anti-statist undercurrents, or for those who don’t care to look too deeply for lessons in their literature.”

I first read the ebook last spring, shortly after it won second place in the Students for Liberty/Libertarian Fiction Authors 2014 short fiction contest. After starting to talk with Mike about releasing a special edition to Liberty.me members, I very much had his story on my mind when I rediscovered seasteading in Austin. Had Mike’s fiction been my catalyst?

After the Austin event, my family visited the Houston space center on our way out of Texas. The visitors center exhibit that my eight-year-old son and I were most excited by wasn’t anything from the past, present, or future of NASA. It was Star Trek’s Galileo shuttlecraft, restored by fans and donated to the space center. Surrounded by a well-financed propaganda program to promote government funding for centrally planned space exploration, I found that the high point of my visit was instead this fan-restored TV stage prop from the original 1968 science fiction series.

It may seem inappropriate to include a television prop among the exhibits promoting real science and real exploration, but the connection between science fiction and the early history of NASA is an important one. I’ve heard more than one post-Apollo-era astronaut or NASA scientist say that it was Star Trek that turned their imaginations — and later their studies and careers — toward the stars. In the original Cosmos series, astronomer Carl Sagan had similar things to say about Edgar Rice Burroughs’s sci-fi pulp hero John Carter of Mars.

Science fiction captured hearts and shaped imaginations, making the idea of space exploration more and more mainstream — less and less, well, science fictional.

If a government agency can benefit so significantly from imaginative literature, why can’t the advocates of peace and freedom?

We have to help people imagine alternatives to monopoly government before we can hope for any popular support for those alternatives. Heinlein and other individualist science fiction writers have helped more than one generation of libertarians imagine long-term alternatives, but humanity’s future in space is too remote. Joe Quirk is right to point out that we skipped a step: before we leave the earth, we need to leave the land.

And if seasteading’s radical experiment in thousands of competing governments on myriad ocean cities succeeds, we may yet find the call of outer space less alluring.

Mike DiBaggio’s story of adventure and heroism, set entirely at sea, exemplifies the sort of fiction I think the freedom movement needs much, much more of — a tale that demonstrates the evils of force and the virtues of freedom without ever allowing an ideological agenda to distract the reader from the action and drama.

Enjoy House of Refuge and let me know if you agree. Will it draw you into the blue revolution, as it helped do for me, or is it just a ripping good yarn?

Mike and I are both available to continue the conversation on Liberty.me.

BK Marcus, Chief Bookworm
Tannersville, New York
July 2014

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A Century of Anarchy: Neutral Moresnet through the Revisionist Lens

Earle-CenturyOfAnarchy-CoverPeter C. Earle now has a fun, insightful, short book on the quirky, serendipitous, inspiring history of a briefly semi-stateless place: Moresnet.

Moresnet was, as Earle explains, “an unintended consequence of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) [c]reated as a triangle of neutral territory between Prussia and the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna.”

In essence, neither nation controlled the place, and the people were largely left to their own devices. As a result, Earle says,

Moresnet encapsulates the archetype of market anarchy. Hidden in its history we find privately produced, commodity-backed money; competing avenues for the administration of justice; negligible — and, it seems, entirely avoidable — taxes and fees; few, if any, regulations; a defense force without a standing military; open borders (however unintentionally); and an irrepressibly entrepreneurial spirit.

This is a very neat short history of a very neat place. The book is, of course, produced by Invisible Order, and it is available on Amazon.com for just $2.99. Go buy yours now.

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Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies

FaultyPremisesCoverWe at Invisible Order are proud to announce our most recent publication: Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies, available in Kindle edition and paperback (and also as a free ebook with a Liberty.me membership).

Jeffrey Tucker calls it “an incredibly good guide to showing precisely what is nonsensical about political debate.”

How many times have you watched a public policy fiasco and been mystified as to how the politicians can believe their own rhetoric? They talk about how raising the minimum wage is going to make the poor better off, even though there is no mechanism in the nature of things to bring about that reality; about how some new war is going to rid the world of despotism, despite knowing that the history of war tends in the opposite direction; about how some new healthcare mandate is going to bring freedom from disease, and yet you know that legislation can’t actually achieve anything like this.

There always seems to be a missing step in the chain of logic. Politicians and pundits actually seem to believe that passing a law will generate a certain wonderful result, even though the relationship between cause and effect is nowhere present. It seems like a giant exercise in fantasy.

Galles has provided an outstanding tool for navigating your way through the sea of folly that is the politics of our time. There is no anger in his prose, and there doesn’t need to be. He has the arguments, the analytics, and the facts — those alone make the case.

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