This Is How You Sell Books In The Digital Era

 
sell booksHave you ever heard the saying “razors and razorblades?”

I had a business mentor who said that all of the time. And I mean ALL the time. I have to admit, the first few times he said it, I thought I knew what he meant. You sell someone a cheap part for nothing — even free — then you make your money by selling the pieces that make it work.

Makes sense, right? The handle for those razors — even the super fancy ones with gliding rollers and all that — is the cheap part. Buying those razors is crazy! Like $50/pack crazy!

But, that isn’t the actual lesson. It’s not just about providing a resupply. As always, the heart of the matter is in the small details. You see, when you bought that first kit of razors you weren’t hooked on the handle. You were hooked because you started using it. And the more you used it, the more you began to associate with it. It became part of your landscape.

So, when you went to buy another pack of razor blades, you no longer looked for the best price — you just looked for the razors that went with your handle. It stopped being about function or cost, indeed economy fell to the wayside and your resupply became dominated by psychology instead. It started being about identity. About your razors.

Selling books is a lot more like selling razors than you might think. It’s all about getting that first “yes” and then becoming a part of the reader’s routine.

How do you do that? It starts with a plan…
 

Getting Your Plan Together

Amazon sells Kindles at a loss. Barnes & Noble sells nooks at a loss. Kobo? Yup, pretty much at a loss. Why? Those things are expensive!

They are also the gateway to future purchases. They are a unique ecosystem. Books on a Kindle don’t work on a nook. As soon as you start buying books on a Kindle, you’re going to continue to do so. Why? Because you own a Kindle. When you bought that first one, you said “yes” and, well, the rest is history.

So, how do you get your first “yes”? And, what do you want readers to say “yes” to?

That is where your plan comes in.

The idea here is to make it easy for readers to say yes, enjoyable once they do, and then offer them an escalated next step.

And here’s how you do it.
 

Start With Free

You start by giving away something nice for free. It won’t be free for you — you spent time and effort, probably a little money on an editor and even an artist or photographer. It’s not free for you, but, like a Kindle, it’s the necessary pathway to the next step.

I don’t believe in giving away a full book for free — but I do believe in a good short story. Not a quickie one, a solid one. With a nice cover. A minimum of 6,000 words, 10-12,000 is better. Something that can provide a quality read and is long enough to satisfy but short enough to leave them wanting more.

You give this away for free in exchange for signing up for you email newsletter. That’s right — a newsletter. It’s something that is free for them, but valuable to you. More than worth the cost of a story.

At the end of the short story — and this is important! — you have links for another story. One that is not free.

Making a Small Sale

At the end of your free book, you need to have links to two or three books that cost 99 cents. This is important. Do not jump the gun and go straight for a 3.99 or 4.99 sale. Book buyers are now used to getting a lot for a little. A free story isn’t going to convince them to make that kind of leap.

But a 99 cent story might.

If your free story was good — and I mean it needs to be good, do not skimp on that story just because it’s free — the reader will be interested in buying another one. Making the next book a kind of sequel, or part of the same fictional universe as the free story really helps raise that interest level and break down that sales friction, so consider that in your plan.

Have a title, a cover image, and a link to the store(s) you’re selling them. If you offer your free story in multiple formats, make it easy for them to make the next step. ePub versions should have links to nook, ibooks, kobo, and Play. Mobi version should link to kindle.

Your second story in the progression will be listed on retailer sites (Amazon, nook, ibooks, kobo, Play, etc) for 99 cents. It will also have a professional cover image, an enticing description, and will be at least twice as long as the free one was — 20-30,000 words. Spend real time and effort getting reviews for this book — you need at least 25, and more is always better. Make it good. This book is a very important book.

This book is where you move from bartering to sales.
 

Selling Books

So, you wrote and produced a high quality short story, and gave it away in return for a newsletter signup. At the end of that story is a link to a 99 cent short book on a retailer site. And, at the end of that book is what?

Yup, you guessed it, links to even more books.

The end of every 99 cent book will have a link to at least one $3.99 book. As soon as they’re done reading that book, make sure they know where to go for the next one.

You’ve gotten two “yesses” so far, two virtual buy ins by the reader. They are invested in your story. They like where it’s going. They are going to buy that next book.

Why? Because you led them there. You set them on a path that started with a blog post, went over to a free story, then zapped over to an inexpensive story on their preferred reading platform, and culminated in a full price book on that same platform.

And through the entire process, you stayed in touch with that reader through your newsletter and blog. You not only made a sale — you made a lifetime reader. You got into their routine.
 

Keep the Cycle Going

Once you’re making sales, that newsletter starts to show it’s value. It allows you to let them know when a new story is available, when your books go on sale, when the sequel is out. Use it to get them involved choosing cover art, titles, logos. To inform them of signings, speaking engagements, con appearances.

Your newsletter is a powerful way to stay connected with your readers. Stronger connections lead to better sales.

Book selling is a difficult business. Thousands of books are loaded into Amazon every single day. The competition is immense. Sure, there are those rare talents, books that are so extraordinary that they break away and take off — but those are, literally, a one in a million. A majority of books are not sold that way. They start small, get a following, and gradually expand.

But this doesn’t happen willy-nilly. It’s not chance.

You have a planned progression from a free story, to a 99 cent story, and then on to a $3.99 story. You integrate your marketing tools into each level of sale. The blog helps get a reader’s attention, a free story peaks their interest, newsletters and progressively priced books keep them engaged. And, then it circles back to the blog to keep their attention while you write the next book, to be part of a reader’s routine.

And that’s it. That’s how you sell books — and keep selling them.

So, what are you waiting for? How’s that blog looking? Got that newsletter set up yet?

I’m looking for a good short story to read, have any recommendations…?

About Rob McClellan

Rob is the founder of ThirdScribe, a unique author services platform and social network. As a naval officer and diver, he spent a majority of his career doing a lot more than you would think with a lot less than you can imagine -- a skill that has proven extremely valuable in the start-up world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

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