Monday, December 26, 2016

Selling Books on Amazon

In May 2015, Ty Cohen, highly successful author of books sold as paperbacks primarily on and as ebooks sold through its Kindle Direct Publishing Program (KDP), presented a generously detailed webinar on writing and publishing his way, followed with a short pitch for his program that you can see at

He has been dubbed “King of Amazon Kindle Publishing” and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his works.

I summarize his talk:

What’s Your Problem?

New authors typically have one of the following three problems:
1. Being a procrastinating perfectionist. The writer finds his work is never perfect, so he never publishes it.
2. Not knowing what the audience wants.
3. Needing a way to get in front of the right audience.
These new authors have other problems, as well, with decisions that need to be made about: attracting readers, setting prices, choosing covers, selecting genres, and getting started rapidly.

Prospects for Publishing

Publishing is undergoing a radical transformation from the publishing of physical books to the publishing of digital books:
1. The book 50 Shades of Grey got its initial success on Amazon’s Kindle.
2. Amanda Hocking made $3 million in her first 18 months; she was self-published.
3. Stephen Leather sells 2000 ebooks per day containing his novellas.
4. Novelist John Locke sold $1 million in ebooks in his first year, under nine different titles.

Clearly there is money, distribution, even fame to be obtained through the use of self-publishing in digital media.

Keys to the Kingdom and Its Treasury

Ty Cohen’s keys to success on Amazon:      
   1.   Discover what readers want.
   2.   Determined which price points are optimal.
   3.   Build a huge, loyal fan base.
   4.   Generate large sales so readers and publishers seek you out.

Amazon’s royalties dwarf those of traditional publishing houses. Often Amazon gives authors 70% of the price of their ebook. Conventional publishers typically give 5 to 10% royalty for a printed book.

Not only are there 7 billion devices worldwide that can receive ebook content, but Amazon itself has 700 million credit card numbers already on file, simplifying the purchasing process for its customers.

Use Amazon for Research

Authors can use Amazon’s sales information and review information to determine what the public is interested in having them write about.

Go to and type in the genre you want to investigate. Sort by the number of reviews that the books have received or more specifically five-star and four-star reviews. Amazon makes it easy to sort by other characteristics as well.

Look at the most popular books and determine their strengths and weaknesses by reading the very favorable and the very unfavorable reviews. This will help you understand what the readers want and don‘t want.

In general, the book’s title is the first thing that captures a potential reader’s attention. Next is the cover. Finally, those still interested will read the description of the book.

Give Them What They Want

You are trying to seduce your reader into going past page 20. The title beckons. The first few pages continue to entice. You must continue to battle for attention.

Price Wisely

Although a high price will give you more money per book, it can easily become too high and cut your total revenue. Amazon gives 70% for ebooks priced at $2.99 and above, and this $2.99 price Cohen has found to be optimal. Books over $10 sell at 1/6th the rate of those at $2.99. Not only does this $2.99 price get your more money up front, it gets more readers to swell your fan base, valuable for sales of follow-on publications and other uses.

In pricing the paperback edition of my WYBWM, I chose to make it roughly a dollar more than the minimum allowed by its publisher.  Gaining wider distribution trumped profit-making. If I make it a Kindle book, I will probably charge $2.99, as lower prices produce much less income, and very inexpensive books are often not given much respect. Besides, 70% of $2.99 nets the author $2.07, and 35% of $0.99 nets $0.35, one-sixth.

Get Many Honest Positive Reviews

The number of reviews the book has and how enthusiastic they are keys to successful sales. Even if you are giving the book away, people will be reluctant to spend the time to read them without some reasonable assurance that they are likely to find that effort worthwhile. Favorable reviews give that reassurance.

How to obtain such reviews?
  1.   Write a good book.  
  2.   Contact people who have already written reviews on Amazon. 
      Unfortunately, Cohen does not indicate how to do this.
  3.   Having contacted them, ask if they would like a copy, and gently request that they review it. Those who do agree to accept a copy of the book will usually end up giving favorable reviews, partly because they are predisposed to liking such books and partly due to feeling that a gift should be reciprocated.

Use Translations to Speak to Reader in Own Language

Second to English is Spanish for world-wide use, and English books can be translated to Spanish readily using or hiring a translator from or

Create Your Own Amazon KDP Account

Amazon provides some free instructions or one can pay for more detailed help from Ty Cohen’s site at


Excerpted from my WRITE YOUR BOOK WITH ME, published by Outskirts Press in 2016 and available online from OP and from and, among others.

GET GLAD: Your Practical Guide to a Happier Life

In this holiday season, many people find themselves happier than usual, but some do not, because their expectations are not met, because the past seems better than the present. It’s good to be reminded how to get back on track, how to get happier. Harry Hoover’s little book, GET GLAD, is indeed a “practical guide to a happier life.”

Aim for Happier, not Happy

Aiming for happiness, Hoover writes, is frustrating, as happiness is often ill-defined. Where can it be found? How happy do you have to be to have achieved your goal? Easier, much more practical, is to aim to be happier. What do you enjoy? Do more of it. What do you dislike? Do less.

The Attitude of Gratitude

One key to being happier is being grateful. Hoover’s book’s dedication to his parents for their genes (nature) and their care (nurture) and to his wife shows he practices the giving thanks that he is preaching. He even found a way to appreciate something about his father’s premature death, in that his dad was memorialized by family and acquaintances in a way that inspired Harry himself.

In this book, Hoover lists hundreds of things we might well be grateful for.  Do you need a list? Create your own, counting your blessings.

Top 7 Reasons People Are Not Happy

Though about half the people Hoover (that’s Harry, not Herbert) polled considered themselves “always happy” or “mostly happy,” and another 39% “sometimes happy,” there were 9% who are “never happy.” Reasons:

1.   Worry, often about money: How much is enough? Researchers have found that in the U.S., those with higher incomes tended to be only slightly happier and generally somewhat tenser.
2.   Lack of focus: Less happy people tend to let their minds wander into negativity.
3.   Inability to accept responsibility: Feeling victimized is not a key to solving your problems.
4.   Belief that things can make you happy: Materialism is shallow; its pleasures short-lived.
5.   Comparing yourself to others: Be happy for the good fortune of others, rather than being envious. Investigate how they did it!
6.   Seeking perfection: Yes, the best is the enemy of the good, and completion usually trumps perfection. Seek being satisfied.
7.   Not liking yourself: Appreciate your strengths and work to diminish your shortcomings.

Three Quick Pick-Me-Ups

1.   Get enough sleep, “even a nap can turn your day around.”

2.   Exercise: yoga, kettlebells, walking, swimming. Whatever. Move.

3.   Eat frequently, in small amounts: “Science tells us we should eat every four hours or so.” We don’t want to go against science, do we? I do find my own mood improves after a snack, a “medicinal munch.”

Three Profound Changes

1.   Be grateful: Hoover cites studies that support his belief that “Gratitude is the shortest path to happiness.” I know it works for me. He lists 25 ways you can practice being grateful, from journal writing through turning off negative news (disasters are not appreciated!) to giving compliments and appreciating nature and friendships.

2.   Be a friend: Personal experience, and science, shows that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” To have a friend, one must be a friend, however. Karma, etc.

3.   Be Mindful: Be alert, be aware, and consider meditating.

The Power of Purpose

You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going. While “happy” may be vague, there are goals that are more clear-cut. Mine have to do with my family, for example. Hoover suggests asking yourself these questions to clarify your own goals:

1.   What are my unique gifts and talents?

2.   What do I do best?

3.   How much time do I spend doing what I do best?

4.   What do I want to achieve in my life?

5.   Who are the most important people in my life?

6.   What makes me really happy?

7.   How do I want to be remembered?

8.   How can I make a difference in the world?

9.   What’s most important in my life?

Having sorted these out, decide on your purpose and then commit to it. Commitment is rare and powerful. Commit to being happy. You’ll be glad you did.


This holiday in the U.S. has just ended, and Christmas and Hanukah are next. Giving, sharing, and accepting with gratitude are part of the holiday season, and keys to becoming even happier in the new year to come. Be glad you are you, here, now.

Previously published in somewhat different form in ezine SixtyandMe:

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes, and he helps others write and publish their books via his business website, His life's central theme has been his half-century romance with his wife, Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic for over a decade due to multiple sclerosis, receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Review of ZEBRA, "Physicians, Heal Thyselves!"

What Michael Kram, MD, does here is describe his journey from his first-class medical education and outstanding career as a gastroenterologist through a Topsy-turvy, scary roller-coaster of a ride of conflicting medical diagnoses of his eventually disabling illness, a trip ending in a resolution of the ambiguities of his condition, a struggle that gave him greater insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the current system of medical care in America. As was said of another author whose views were sculpted by adversity, Dr. Kram has not returned from Hell empty-handed.

Dr. Kram’s story is compelling, and its themes are important:
• the vastness of medical information that can obscure the answer to a rare disorder, the zebra that is not the horse doctors are trained to see and to treat;
• the difficult role of an MD, in preparation and the demands of his calling;
• the pride that prevents such experts from acknowledging ignorance, and the legal pressures not to do so;
• the tragedy of the loss of one’s ability to practice one’s profession, especially when it is a calling;
• the value of being in the inner circle when trying to get expert medical help, “whom you know;”
• the need to be your own medical advocate;
• the importance of family and marriage;
• the role of God and faith in our lives;
• the increasing depersonalization of medical care, due to its take-over by larger and larger institutions, often due to pressures from government and insurance agencies.

Readers unfamiliar with Orthodox Jewry will find much that is new to them here, much to admire. Fortunately, an extensive glossary gives the meanings of many of the special terms used in the Jewish religion and in the medical profession. Doctors and their families will recognize many situations characteristic of the medical profession. Educated laymen will come to understand that giving up the care that the medical profession has traditionally provided in order to get treatment by institutional employees, rather than dedicated personal physicians, is frequently a bad bargain for doctors and patients.

Recently, Dr. Gerard J. Gianoli wrote (in a July 2016 newsletter for the AAPS, the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons) a defense of private medical practice as the breeding ground for many medical improvements and innovations; he noted: Throughout the last 70 years, the U.S. has been the greatest mover and shaker in the world of medicine. Most major medical innovations have either been born or significantly developed here. And, many of the major innovations have come from small private practices—certainly not from the government. Innovative changes do not come from out of our universities—they come from individuals who work at our universities. However, true radical, transformative innovations have often come from private practices. Dr. Gianoli cited many examples, including those from his field of specialization, otolaryngology.

The Industrial Revolution swiftly brought the assembly line and its advantages: higher productivity, greater speed, more uniformity, reduced costs. In the automobile industry, we got the Model T Ford, which you could buy in any color as long as it was black. Competition soon developed, with many manufacturers, many models, many colors, much consumer choice, and with a wide range of prices. Current trends in regulation of the medical profession favor assembly-line treatment, with the personal care of the private practice physician shunted to “boutique” medical practices. For a while, some consumers and some doctors can still participate in the kind of personalized medicine they prefer, but if physicians and the public do not protest the decisions of those who are in positions of power and who arrogate to themselves the right to determine health care policy, even those exceptions will disappear.

If this book helps promote a profound re-assessment of the current trajectory of the management of medical care in America, it will have made a major contribution to the future well-being of patients and physicians alike. If Dr. Kram’s observations are heeded, the medical profession, with the help of concerned consumers and informed taxpayers, will have started to heal itself…at last.

I had the privilege to read an advance review copy of Zebra, and much of these, my comments, became part of the book's Foreward.


This is my review for Amazon of Dr. Kram's compelling book, Zebra: It's Not All Black and White in the Physical or Spiritual Worlds.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

20 Fixes if Your Book Isn't Selling (Rayne Hall, 2015)

Although I have covered some of these in earlier parts of this book, I list here Rayne Hall’s 20 fixes for why one’s book does not sell. She devotes a chapter to each:

·      the book cover
·      the blurb
·      sample pages
·      link detours
·      know your reader
·      targeting versus scattershot
·      permission versus intrusion
·      buried in cemeteries
·      social media
·      websites, blogs and other time sinks
·      stop obsessing over what doesn’t matter
·      how to get real book reviews
·      end-matter excerpts
·      shared marketing
·      once-effective methods no longer work
·      distribution channels
·      focused efforts to achieve more
·      change the title
·      the opening scene
·      freshen up your writing voice

Let’s look at some of these we have yet to discuss:

·      Sample Pages: Some book promotion sites allow you to select a percentage of your book to display, the first 10%, 20%, etc. Make sure your book’s “good stuff” fits there. Be generous.

·      Link Detours: Every time you ask readers to click on a link to go somewhere else, a large fraction refuse to do so. You’ve lost them. Make your links usually go to where the book is sold.

·      Know Your Reader: Define your prime demographics. Where do they hang out?

·      Targeting vs. Scattershot: Promote your book to your target audience, or you are wasting time, money, and effort. Go where your readers will be.

·      Permission vs. Intrusion: Hall, “Most advertising is unwelcome. It intrudes….” Some advertising is welcome, though, as people have agreed to receive it, like mail-order catalogs. Intrusion advertising repels, and permission advertising attracts. Broadcasted advertising can easily devolve into spam, making the advertiser unpopular, even a pariah.

·      Buried in Cemeteries: Don’t advertise where there are lots of other similar advertisers, or you will not stand out. Don’t pay to be on a site which just promotes books, rather than supplies material that will attract readers.

·      Social Media: Hall notes, “Every social media message is a mini-sample of your writing.” Remember that. Create interesting posts, but not merely about your book, although writing about related content makes sense. Avoid automated Tweet schemes.

·      Websites, Blogs and Other Time-Sinks. Hall writes, “You need an Internet presence, a way for publishers, journalists and fans to contact you. But you may not need as much as you think….and where to you take the time from? It’s the time you would otherwise spend writing books.” Consider closing an ineffectual blog and guest-blogging instead. Keep your website up to date...or close it down. Online groups are often time-wasters.

·      Stop Obsessing Over What Doesn’t Matter.  Good advice in general. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is irrelevant for writers. Forego social media ranking games. Do try to get ranked high in some Amazon sub-genre categories, however, Hall maintains, as readers will often be influenced by that. Be a big fish in a small pond to get noticed. You’ll have to contact Amazon to get your categories changed. Use all the keywords you can.

·      How to Get Real Book Reviews:  Readers are influenced by the number and enthusiasm of book reviews a book receives. Hall’s suggestions: Ask your beta readers for reviews; at the end of your book, ask your reader for reviews; when fans contact you, ask them for reviews. Offer free ebooks, but nothing else, for reviews. Don’t respond to reviews, Hall writes, whether positive or negative. Don’t buy reviews ever. Don’t swap reviews with other authors. Don’t have friends sabotage competitors.

·      End-Matter Excerpts: If a reader has finished and liked a book, he is likely to buy a similar one he is exposed to with an excerpt at the end of the book he just read. Add an excerpt from your next book or arrange to swap excerpts with an author in the same genre.

·      Shared Marketing:  Hall writes: When you join forces with another indie author, you can halve your marketing workload and double your results – but only if you choose the right partner. I find that on Twitter, much the same effect is obtained by posting to hashtags like #promocave and #amwriting.

·      Once-Effective Methods No Longer Work: The original becomes conventional. The rare becomes common. Free books glut the market. Circumstances change. Hall: “By the time you copy someone else’s success technique, it’s already useless.” Let’s hope her advice lasts longer than that. She recommends you try what has worked, but stop if it no longer works or does not work for you.

·      Distribution Channels: Conventional publishing relied on the path publishers-distributors-bookshops-reader. Now indie authors sell online, choosing their own channels, preferably Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc. “Most new authors sell far more ebooks than paperbacks, so make sure your book is available in electronic format.”(Hall, 2015)

·      Focused Efforts Achieve More: Success breeds success. Investing in reaching the ranking of #3 from #30 pays better than moving from #3000 to #2000, Hall maintains, so place your money and efforts on your near-winner rather than your also-rans. Concentrated promotion beats long-term.

·      Change the Title: See earlier discussion on titles. Note this change in your book descriptions.

·      The Opening Scene:  Hall (2015): “Many new authors’ novels begin with the same few openings.” Avoid.

·      Freshen Up Your Writing Voice: Use less common words, but not arcane ones. 


    Excerpted summary from my Write Your Book with Me of the material in Hall, Rayne (2015). Why does my book not sell? 20 simple fixes.