Biggered again!


Scott Turow
Shortly after reading the news that Amazon had purchased Goodreads on Publishers Weekly this morning, I received this message from the Authors Guild. Need I say more?

Turow on Amazon/Goodreads: This is how modern monopolies can be built

By Scott Turow

Author's Guild Blog Post 3/29/2013

Amazon’s garden walls are about to grow much higher. In a truly devastating act of vertical integration, Amazon is buying Goodreads, its only sizable competitor for reader reviews and a site known for the depth and breadth of its users’ book 
recommendations. Recommendations from like-minded readers appear to be the Holy Grail of online book marketing. By combining Goodreads’ recommendation database with Amazon’s own vast databases of readers’ purchase histories, Amazon’s control of online bookselling approaches the insurmountable.

“Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads is a textbook example of how modern Internet monopolies can be built,” said Scott Turow, Authors Guild president. “The key is to eliminate or absorb competitors before they pose a serious threat. With its 16 million subscribers, Goodreads could easily have become a competing on-line bookseller, or played a role in directing buyers to a site other than Amazon. Instead, Amazon has scuttled that potential and also squelched what was fast becoming the go-to venue for on-line reviews, attracting far more attention than Amazon for those seeking independent assessment and discussion of books. As those in advertising have long known, the key to driving sales is controlling information.”

One example should make it clear how formidable this combination is. For “Animals Make Us Human” by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Amazon has 123 customer reviews, and B&N has about 40 (they report 150, but that figure includes ratings as well as reviews). Goodreads swamps these figures, with 469 reviews and 2,266 ratings for the book.

As an independent platform, Goodreads, with its 16 million members, posed a serious competitive threat to Amazon. No more.

If you are new to the blogging scene, you probably don’t have a lot of followers (yet). For aspiring authors, this is a calamity. There you are, pouring your heart and soul into your posts, and nobody is reading them! How will anybody know that you are a gifted writer if your blog is languishing, unhonored and unsung, in cyberspace?

The standard advice to unsung bloggers is to guest post, preferably on a high-profile blog that gets a lot of daily traffic. While this is a good way to build visibility, it can often take months before your blog is posted. (The more popular the blog, the longer the wait.)

A more traditional approach for increasing your visibility is write for ezines (online magazines). Again, this is a time-consuming process. First you have to pitch your idea, then have it approved, and then wait for a slot. For those who need to build a platform now, all that waiting, often followed by the inevitable heartbreak of rejection, can be a strain. A third option is to precycle. 

Let’s say you have written an informative, humorous, moving or any well-written piece that simply screams, "People need to read this!"  In order to get these gems the immediate attention they deserve, you can post them on sites that get a lot of traffic, but don’t involve a long wait. It seems almost too good to be true. 

The only catch is that all of these sites require that your work be 1) original (it is, it is!), and 2) that you post on their site first (it boosts their SEO to have first shot at original pieces). Because these sites are concerned about the quality of submissions, they will want to see examples of your writing before approving you. (This is easy if you’ve been devoting yourself to your writing.) After a short wait, you are good to go.

Where you precycle depends a lot on what you write. Some sites cater to people with a literary bent, others to the contemporary scene, and still others to more practical information and advice. If you do a Google search on “article submission websites” you will find lots of places to precycle.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions:

1) Blogcritics. "A sinister cabal of superior writers."
Everybody who’s anybody reads Blogcritics. (It’s got a global Alexa ranking of 23,796, which is quite good.) The audience tends to be young, so Blogcritics is far and away the best place to post reviews of anything contemporary (music, books, articles, TV shows, movies, culture, politics). But do not despair if you are an old codger. You can post other pieces as well. I’ve posted everything from medical articles to opinion pieces without a hitch. (Take a look at their “features” to get an idea of the range of topics.) The best thing about Blogcritics is that they syndicate their articles. That means your post could end up in an online newspaper. Perhaps in Seattle. Make sure to read their guidelines carefully.

2. Buzzle. "Intelligent life on the web." 
For all you fiction and poetry writers, Buzzle is a gift from heaven. Like Blogcritics, Buzzle appeals to a young audience, but unlike other high-ranking article sites, they welcome fiction and poetry. (Poetry!) Their audience is predominantly female. Buzzle does not allow URL links in their posts.

3. ArticlesBase
This is a high-quality free article site that prefers informative “evergreen” articles. An evergreen article is one that stands the test of time. You can read it a year from now, and it will still be relevant. The reason for their preference is that ArticlesBase, like many other free article services, is a resource for journals and ezines that need an article fast and don’t want to pay for it. Once you submit your article it could appear anywhere. You won’t get paid, but you will get exposure. No anchors or URLs are allowed.

4. BloggingAuthors. "A place where readers and writers meet." 
If you have published something, you can write for BloggingAuthors. In their words, “ is dedicated to helping authors of all genres, including mystery, business, legal thrillers, relationships, non-fiction, spirituality, religion, health, book promotion, and literary fiction.” Though they claim to get 1000 views a day, their Alexa ranking is abysmal. The reason you may want to post here is 1) they include a bio and a backlink to your website and blog, and 2) they tweet. Whenever they post an article it gets tweeted to 7,000 followers. BloggingAuthors is distributed through a weekly mailer.

More Resources:

50 Free Article Submissions Websites

List of top 50 Article Directories by Traffic and Pagerank

Free article tracker

Whether you are blogging, writing articles, or designing a cover for your book, there is nothing that attracts readers more than a fetching image. Eye-catching images not only draw the reader’s attention, they establish a mood, set a tone, and express what you can’t say in words. A great image will also inspire a reader to linger, and to want to learn more about you and what you have written.

Fortunately, finding beautiful images has never been easier – or cheaper. You can, of course, purchase stock photos from any number of services. However, if you are on a limited budget, you can now get great photos for free. These are some of my favorite sites for finding fantastic free images.
1. Morguefile
Morguefile is my first stop when I am hunting for a photo. The quality is excellent, and you don’t need to jump through hoops to download. No registration is required. You are allowed to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt images. Attribution is not required. Like most other sources for free photos, Morguefile prohibits use of any photo in a stand alone manner. However, unlike other sites, you are free to use photos for commercial purposes (e.g. the cover of your book).

PictureSpilled Milk by Alecsandro Andrade de Melo
2. Stock.xchnge
Stock.xchnge, owned by Getty, has an enormous selection of good quality photos – 398,876 photos as of this morning.  You can use all of their images for non-commercial purposes, but be sure to check the “restrictions” tab if you plan on using an image for a book cover or on anything else that you sell. Stock.xchnge also hosts a blog, tutorials and other perks for photographers. Be careful when searching! The top line of photos (and they are always gorgeous) are not free. 

Picture© Jamie Wilson | Dreamstime Stock Photos
3. Dreamstime
Dreamstime has over 790,000 images. It’s a little harder to search than either Morguefile or Stock.xchnge, and registration is required. But once you figure out how to use this site, there are riches to be had. Attribution and a link back is required. The maximum number of copies allowed for free images is 10,000.

4. Kozzi
Kozzi offers over 100,000 free photographs. Compared to Dreamstime, it’s easy to navigate. You have to register to use the site, but registration is free.  One advantage of this site is that there are  various size options for photographs. Commercial usage is allowed! (Check their FAQs.)

5. Free Range Stock
Freerange has an eclectic mix of photos, from abstract paint spatters to squirrels. They post their newest photos on the first page, which makes for an interesting introduction to the site. You can search by category, and by most popular and newest. You must register to download. Commercial use is not allowed. Freerange shares revenue from ads on its site with photographers who submit their photos, which is a nice gesture.

PictureAlien Worlds by micromoth
6. RGB Free Stock Photos
All images on RGB Stock Photos are free for personal and commercial use. (The terms of use for commercial purposes are that you only need to contact the artist for written permission.) Some of these photos are truly captivating. RGB also ranks its photographers, so you can search images by the most popular artists.

PictureOtis Chandler
"What makes someone decide to read a particular book? Do people read on their cell phones? Is there really a "walled garden" or do people shop around for e-books? And how many readers actually want books in serial format?" Goodreads has answers to all of these questions.

At the recent ‘Tools of Change’ publishing conference in New York, Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler revealed a remarkably simple, effortless way for authors to sell more eBooks on Amazon… or in fact anywhere eBooks are sold online.

In a survey of Goodreads’ 15 million strong membership, he found that the main driver of eBook purchases was, unsurprisingly, ‘referral by a friend’. But when a follow-up question was put to readers, another powerful sales strategy for authors emerged.

They were asked: “What do you want to do when you get to the end of a book?”

The telling response was this: 83% wanted to see what else the author had written.

The question is, how do you get readers to find your other work?

(The answer is so obvious, you're going to want to kick yourself.)

Go HERE for the answer - Jonathan Gunson's blog, "Goodreads CEO Reveals A Remarkably Easy Way To Sell More Books."

More information:
Read Otis Chandler's fascinating report on what makes people want to read a book, where they do it, and how.

If you have recently published a book, you naturally want to keep tabs on how it is selling. Publishing houses will, of course, send you yearly or, for the larger houses, biannual royalty statements. That's a long wait for an impatient author. If you need instant gratification, your only real up-to-date source of information is Amazon. This is not only because Amazon is the only seller that will update your sales hourly – or daily, depending on the number of sales – it's because Amazon ranks its books. If you have aspirations of becoming a bestselling author, you will find yourself glued to your Amazon page within minutes of publication.

Amazon's ranking system has been the source of much speculation over the years. The ranking is not only based on the number of books sold by the day (or hour), but also takes into account how your book fares against other books in the same category, which Amazon calculates based on a secret algorithm which only clairvoyants, psychics, and 33rd degree Masons have access to. (It is not for "simple folk" to understand the ways of Amazon, which makes them all the more intriguing.)

If you do a Google search on “Amazon ranking” you will find pages of articles written by frantic, OCD rankaholics who have tracked their sales hourly, compared them to their ranking, and graphed them. Dream on! Only those who have enrolled in KDP Select – an Amazon promotional program designed to kill Barnes & Noble once and for all – can actually track sales against ranking. And even those chosen few are not privy to the Ultimate Truth. Ranking changes hourly, but sales reporting may lag by a day.

We can never truly perceive reality...

State Your Name, Rank and Title

But you can get close to it. NovelRank is a free website that allows authors to track their ranking on (US), (England), (Canada), and (Germany). You can also check a box to include (France), (Italy), (Japan), (China) and (Spain). (NovelRank warns you that checking the box may clutter your details page, but, hey, if Pandora didn't care, neither do we!)

And that's not all! You can get RSS feeds to get updates when a book is sold and to view your hourly sales rank. Now you can be obsessed everywhere! You can get graphs!

How to Quantify a Bestseller

In the end, all this watching and waiting pays off! If you never, ever take your eyes off your sales rank, you may become a bestselling author. That's when you have hit pay dirt. StoryFinds knows exactly, uh, almost exactly, how many book sales it takes to enter the ranks of bestsellers. (I have personally checked this chart against my own sales and found it to be accurate.) Here it is:

Bestsellers Rank 40,000 to 100,000 - selling close to 1 book a day.

Bestsellers Rank 8,500 to 40,000 - selling 1 to 10 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 3,000 to 8,500 - selling 10 to 20 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 1,500 to 3,000 - selling 20 to 40 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 1,100 to 1,500 - selling 40 to 50 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 900 to 1,100 – selling 50 to 65 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 750 to 900 - selling 65 to 85 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 350 to 750 - selling 85 to 175 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 200 to 350 - selling 175 to 250 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 100 to 200 - selling 250 to 300 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 80 to 100 – selling 300 to 400 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 70 to 80 – selling 400 to 500 books a day.

Bestsellers Rank 50 to 70 - selling 500 to 650 books a day.

Bestseller Rank of 45 to 50 - selling 650 to 700 books a day.

Bestseller Rank of 30 to 45 - selling 700 to 900 books a day.

Bestseller Rank of 20 to 30 – selling 900 to 1,300 books a day.

Bestseller Rank of 10 to 20 – selling 1,300 to 1,800 books a day.

Bestseller Rank of 3 to 8 - selling about 4,000+ books a day!

Becoming a Bestselling Author on Amazon

If you've looked at your rank and are now depressed because you're not even close to a bestseller, don't despair. Becoming a bestselling author is surprisingly easy. If you join KDP Select and – this is crucial, so pay attention – promote the heck out your book's free days, you can turn your book into a bestseller within a day. Amazon counts free downloads as sales (you won't get royalties, however, because your book is free). When I got 6,000+ downloads in a 24-hour period, my book got the coveted yellow bar. That's an indication of how many you would need, more or less, to get to #1.

Once your book has risen to the rank of bestseller, it will appear on various lists (“top 100,” “top 20”), in relevant categories, which will increase its exposure. There is a caveat, however. Your book won't stay in #1 position for long. But you can use even a brief sojourn in the #1 spot to market yourself as a bestselling author on Amazon when you promote your work. (Make sure to take a screen shot!) Once you've hit the mark (it only takes once), you will almost certainly continue to rise in the ranks.

(If you want to know more about how I made the #1 spot, read Anatomy of An Amazon Bestseller.)

"I have many skills ..."
First published on Blogcritics as "How Amazon Killed Barnes & Noble, and Why We Don't Care."

The year was 2010. Stephen Riggio, then CEO of Barnes & Noble, heralded the company's entry into the epublishing world. In a breathless announcement, Riggio euphorically proclaimed that Barnes & Noble would top the 18% mark in e-books "overnight." Not to be outdone by his own enthusiasm, Riggio predicted that Barnes & Noble would earn better margins from e-books than print books. Its booksellers would become, in his words, "e-bookevangelists."

Beware of all enterprises that require new jargon.

Today, even as I write, Barnes & Noble is crashing and burning. According to CNET, the company's earnings slumped an astonishing 63 percent, from $150 million last year to $55.5 million this year. The culprit? Nook.

Over the last quarter, Barnes & Noble watched in horror as Nook sales, their e-book division, plummeted 26%, with losses of over $190 million. It was like watching Icarus fall out of the sky. Stephen Riggio's dream of “overnight” success was so far off the mark, one had to wonder if he was high when he made his announcement two years ago.

Riggio wasn't high. In fact, Nook is a great e-book reader. Anyone who has worked with Nook's .epub files can tell you they are infinitely better than the cumbersome .mobi files used by Amazon's Kindle. Epub files produce a nice, cleanly formatted page that looks just like a book. Mobi files look just like a mess. But, as every entrepreneur knows, better products do not necessarily lead to better sales. So, where did Barnes & Noble go wrong?

Where B&N went wrong

Barnes & Noble had a better product, a better reputation, and a farther reach than anyone else in the book selling business. The problem was that Riggio misjudged – very badly – how to handle the burgeoning business of self-publishing.

With the advent of epublishing, writers who could never hope to see their books in print could get their work to readers without the time-consuming, and usually fruitless, task of trying to snare an agent, followed by the even more frustrating job of trying to hook a publisher. With epublishing, writers could simply upload a file, set a price, and voila! Instant publication. What's more they could do it anywhere, any time. No deadlines, no delays. An equal draw was that writers who epublished could completely control their work. With the elimination of pesky editors who demanded “show don't tell” and required the proper use of apostrophes, everything that went on or between an e-book's cybercovers was entirely up to the writer. To add icing to the cake, writers who epublished got to keep 70-80% of their royalties. Compared to the measly 10% (and that was on a good day) meted out by print publishing houses, it was a no-brainer.

According to Bowker, there were 211,269 self-published titles released in 2012, up from 133,036 in 2010. This surge in self-publishing, owing in large part to e-books, represents not just people “living the dream,” but an enormous business opportunity for anyone with the ability to turn other people's dreams into their hard cash. Barnes & Noble, with its gentlemanly rules of conduct and brick-and-mortar mentality, simply had no concept of how to corner the market. Amazon did.

The coup de grâce - Amazon's KDP Select

Amazon has always enjoyed the top rank in online sales. If you want to buy a book, any book, chances are you'll find it on Amazon. The “beauty part” is that, unlike brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon has minimal stocking requirements. Anybody can sell a book. Amazon merely takes a percentage.

So, when e-books came along, Amazon was already familiar with the rules. Writers could put their e-books up for sale much as they did their used print books. Amazon would take a percentage, and, additionally, provide delivery. Barnes & Noble did the same thing, but the difference – and this is crucial – was that if you enrolled in Amazon's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select program, you got to give your book away. The catch: You couldn't put your book up for sale on any other site for a (renewable) 90-day period.

Writers quickly discovered that giving an e-book away for free was the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to build a readership. For the popular genre writers, such as romance and mystery/crime, it was a dream come true. Books in popular genres could rack up 20,000 to 30,000 downloads in a single weekend. Numbers like those would not only be considered a wild success in the print publishing world, they would be virtually impossible. Publishers rarely promote first-time authors.

Cottage industries have sprung up around the KDP Select phenomenon. Numerous websites will not only post which Kindle books are free on any given day, but will review them, and even send daily free titles to your inbox. There is no denying the appeal of getting something for nothing.

For writers, and for Amazon, it is a win-win situation, because free days are fantastic promotional tools. Invariably, free days lead to increased sales. And for those writers who simply must hold their precious darlings in their hands, Amazon also provides print-on-demand. Amazon’s CreateSpace took first place in the self-publishing world last year with 57,602 new titles. Amazon is happy. Writers are happy. Customers are happy. Everybody is happy.

Except Barnes & Noble. Which is dead.

First published on Blogging Authors 3/4/13) as "How Writers Can Use Alexa to Build a Platform."

Of the many ranking systems used to evaluate websites, Alexa, an analytics service owned by Amazon, is one of the most popular. In a nutshell, Alexa measures traffic to a website – the more visitors, the higher the rank. (Low numbers indicate a high rank. Number 1, the highest position, is occupied by Google.) Alexa provides data on 30 million websites, and has over 7 million visitors monthly.

How does Alexa gather website information?

Big Brother is not actually watching you. In order to retrieve information on how many people visit a site, Alexa provides a free toolbar. (See below.) Once installed, this toolbar monitors which websites a person visits. That part is fairly straighforward, but not altogther useful. Mere numbers don't give businesses enough information to tailor their marketing efforts, which is why Alexa also gathers data on demographics, such as age and income groups, sex, and region. For marketing purposes, knowing who visits your website, and from where, is crucial information.

There are some drawbacks to the system. The toolbar is most often used by techies, people who specialize in SEO and other analytics. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that tech sites have higher ranking than sites that appeal to people who are more concerned with other types of content – such as literary work. Alexa can't measure the browsing habits of people who don't install the toolbar, which may account for why regional traffic in India is often much higher than the U.S. (India is a major source of website and internet technology.)

How can you make Alexa work for you?

If you have just launched a website, don't even think of trying to improve your Alexa ranking. No matter what you do, your rank is going to be abysmally low (your number will be in the multi-millions), and there is no amount of backlinking, blogging, or giveaways that will get you under 100,000, which is the cut-off point for viewing demographic statistics.

Instead of trying to improve your own ranking, you can use Alexa much in the same way other businesses do. (If you have published a book, in any form, you are a business.) Let's say you would like to increase your visibility as a writer (i.e. build your platform). If your blog isn't getting a lot of traffic, it makes sense to either guest blog or write articles for sites that get significantly more visitors than yours. The easiest way to research the most-trafficked sites for posting guest blogs and articles is by looking at their Alexa ranking. You can get a quick view by installing the toolbar, or you can go the website for more specific data.

I have used Alexa ranking to help decide where I guest blog. Whenever someone publishes an article on the top sites for books, articles or blogs on my topic, I immediately look up their Alexa ranking. If the rank is high (i.e. the number is under 100,000), I check to see who visits the site. If the site appeals to my demographic, I submit a guest blog or article. Chances are, the article will be accepted, because I'm submitting an article geared towards the needs of their market.

Writing requires time and effort. Make sure you get the most out of your labor by placing your work where it will work for you.


     This is where you go to search Alexa rankings. To install the toolbar, click on the tab     "Toolbar." Installation takes a few seconds.

What is Alexa Ranking and Is It Worth Striving For?
     This is a nice little article that spells out what Alexa is and does … and doesn't.

The received wisdom of self-publishing is to place your book everywhere, and in all formats. I did that (mostly). And it didn’t work. This is why: Writers who finance their own work can’t possibly promote their books everywhere, and in all forms.

 Book promotion is time-consuming enough as it is, but promoting a book  to brick-and-mortar booksellers, libraries, organizations, and individuals all at the same time is impossible. If we blindly obeyed received wisdom, not only would writers have no time to write, we wouldn’t have time to breathe. That’s why we are drawn to publishing houses, with their lure of marketing departments.

The promotion dilemma is one which I tackled after publishing my first ebook. (It was not in print form, thank God.) Dutifully, I made it available to everyone. After three months of minimal sales, I jumped ship and enrolled in Amazon KDP Select.

For those who are not familiar with Amazon’s KDP Select program, it requires exclusive publication for 90 days (renewable). In short, you have to remove your ebook from all other sites that may be selling it. At first glance this seems to be contradictory. How can you sell more books with fewer suppliers? The answer to that question is promotion.
KDP Select allows authors to give their books away for up to five days in any 90-day period during which the book is enrolled. Giving away products is a proven technique for increasing visibility – and it works like a charm for books.

I enrolled my book in KDP Select in December, and I advertised my free days (the weekend right before Christmas) to organizations, individuals who had written reviews, bloggers, anybody who might be interested. That weekend 1500 people downloaded the book. Although I was quite pleased, I’d hoped for higher numbers. What I didn’t expect was the incredible surge in visitors to my new website. During those two days, two thousand people visited my website. This was a considerable improvement over my previous number of visitors, which was in the category of “less than 10.” The best part was that sales increased. People who missed the book’s free days simply bought it. (I’d priced the book at $2.99)


Determined to do better on my next free days, I advertised more heavily. This time I put the announcement on every Facebook page that might even be remotely connected to my subject. (I also started a Facebook page for my book, something I should have done much earlier.) Facebook chastised me, and then kicked me off for two weeks with dire warnings of permanent banishment, but not before I’d posted the free days on nearly 200 Facebook pages.

This round, there were over 1700 downloads. It was a modest gain. And to my disappointment, fewer people had visited my website. But the number of people visiting the website daily had increased by a factor of ten. And my book’s Facebook page had a reach of 3,000. Once again, there was an uptick in sales.

I only had one free day left, and I was pulling out all the stops to make this a big one. Starting two weeks prior to the event, I notified all the people I’d contacted on previous free days, and, in addition, I posted on every Facebook page that had not reported me as “spam.” (This was easy to do. I simply looked to see which of my previous posts were still there.) And because I now had over thirty 5-star reviews from previous free days, I could now advertise my free days on several Kindle promotion sites. (More on those later.)

On my remaining free day, there were 6,292 downloads (which is not bad for an obscure medical reference book). Following the previous trend, there were fewer visitors that day to my website than during other free days, but there was a corresponding increase in daily visitors. Interestingly, my blog readers suddenly jumped to several hundred a day. That month, the book sold more than double the copies of the previous month. It was #1 on the bestseller list for my category, and placed in the top 20 for the next larger category, all of which means more promotion. It was also on the top 100 list for free books. (Smack between one book displaying a brawny pirate kissing a damsel in distress and another featuring a brawny farmer kissing a damsel in straw.)
What had happened was fame. With nearly 10,000 people who had my book in hand (metaphorically speaking) I was now known in the appropriate circles. I got a job offer to edit a newsletter, and requests to do webinars and give talks. In short, I now had a platform.

While this short trial of KDP Select has been successful, I will probably call it quits after another three-month run and follow received wisdom. There is a time and place for everything. And the time to hit all venues is after your name is out there.