The End of the Human Publisher? Introducing the First Novel to Be Chosen by an Algorithm

3 May 2016

From Flavorwire:

[Y]esterday, the Berlin-based company Inkitt announced a partnership with Tor Books that will bring about the first ever book chosen by predictive data.

The novel chosen by Inkitt’s “artificially intelligent” algorithm is Erin Swan’s Bright Star, a young adult fiction submitted to the publisher through a writing contest called “Hidden Gems.” Part of a multi-book “Sky Rider” series, it tells the story of the “fantasyland” Paerolia, “where war and conflict has created strong divides,” and where a a rebel leader named Kael helps a slave named Andra “discover the strength that has always been within her” and “fight to win back what Fate kept beyond her reach” — namely a dragon “that should have been her own.” Bright Star is expected to be released in 2017.

Inkitt, the company responsible for discovering the novel, is an online writing platform where “budding authors” share their work with “inquisitive readers.” It relies on an “artificially intelligent” algorithm to bring the two together with the purpose of uncovering “blockbuster books.” This description calls up a number of questions. Did Inkitt invent artificial intelligence? Should we be surprised that the first artificially intelligent being prefers genre fiction? If you put aside Inkitt’s overheated claims about artificial intelligence, you’ll find a publisher that just wants to do the write thing: “Inkitt’s goal is to remove the middle person so that a blockbuster book is never rejected by a publishing house again.”

. . . .

“This book deal sends a clear signal to the publishing industry that predictive data analysis is the way of the future,” says Albazaz. “Inkitt is at the forefront of the movement to use predictive data in publishing, and this deal shows that our business model works.”

. . . .

Still, it’s hard to say whether Inkitt’s first major deal is a function of its algorithm or its status as a thriving online world, which “stretches from the US to Australia.” By its own account, Inkitt has a community of half a million loyal readers. And its business plan – now seeing its first moments of success — is to bring the “future bestsellers” validated by this community to publishers, like Tor. It also plans to independently publish ebooks of selected novels from its own platform, “with supporting in-house marketing campaigns.”

Link to the rest at Flavorwire and thanks to Dave for the tip.

“Inkitt’s goal is to remove the middle person so that a blockbuster book is never rejected by a publishing house again.”

For PG, Tor is a classic example of a “middle person” which stands between a book and its readers. Is a literary agent a middle person? Or an acquiring editor employed by Tor? If Inkitt is going to “independently publish ebooks,” it’s a middle person as well.

Suspecting that the awkward “middle person” terminology might be a poor translation, PG did some brief Google research on the German term for middleman (he knows it’s politically incorrect, but nothing came up for middleperson) and found Vermittler,  Mittelsmann and  Zwischenhändler. Similar terms appear to be used for the English word, intermediary.

PG also discovered that a person who would be called a real estate agent in the US is a  Grundstücksmakler.

In preparing this comment, PG has approximately tripled his knowledge of the German language.

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Mythbusting The Amazon Algorithm – Reviews and Ranking For Authors

3 May 2016

From Self-Publishing Review:

Despite many educated guesses that seem to have passed into urban legend in self-publishing communities online, there are no secrets to the Amazon ranking system.

I have spent the last few months tracking down programmers, algorithm experts, and reading technical documentation about Amazon’s algorithm, and the documentation that is provided online by Amazon at Amazon Seller Central and KDP. What I didn’t do was talk to any authors or bloggers, because that seems to be where the myths are coming from.

. . . .

MYTH 1 – Nobody knows how the Amazon Algorithm Works

TRUTH – Yes they do.

The Amazon Algorithm is an A9 algorithm, a pretty run-of-the-mill product search engine with a personalization built in. A9 is a company in Palo Alto that creates product algorithms, code that tells Amazon’s website how to sort and load product lists for each customer’s experience. Anyone who wants to read about how this algorithm works has to do nothing more than search for information online and read the manuals, forums, science articles, and a myriad of other documents that tell you EXACTLY how it works. You can even see samples of the code that makes it work if you look!

This sort of algorithm is an item to item collaborative algorithm. This means it works on a node system. What’s that? It’s like a tree of products, or a catalogue, put in order of hierarchy. That means the information Amazon uses to suggest and deliver products to you when you search for them is based on the finite terms used to describe products entered into its catalogue. The fact it is collaborative means it bases results on factors pertaining to the signed in customer only, factors surrounding that customer’s behavior on Amazon and online, and what is popular that day. It also learns about you, and retains those learnings for search and suggestions.

. . . .

MYTH 2 – Amazon has secret ways of ranking books

TRUTH – None of it is secret.

It works according to the algorithm. The factors are already written into the algorithm, which has to be a clear-cut set of commands. There’s no magic here, and it’s simply a case of knowing what factors are used in this sort of algorithm. It’s true that A9 will not be interviewed by the media because of a competitor clause they have with Amazon, but that’s not the same as being magical and clandestine.

Of course, the one part of Amazon’s product promotion that is always going to be confidential is its preferences for pushing certain big-selling products on certain schedules according to publishers and their own agendas. These products, however, still fit into the algorithm and run quite nicely inside its parameters. Products like these are simply put on the site in clear view in ad boxes (such as Easter products over Easter) to push them, which works.

Ranking is influenced by factors that anyone can look up in Amazon documentation (we will discuss in detail):

  • A product that is priced well in relation to similar products, but that is priced in a way that will turn the best profit in relation to its competitor
  • A product that offers a description that gives bullet points or features that the algorithm will recognize in terms of keyword
  • A strong keyword in the title that will help categorize the product (I suggest a subtitle to deal with this)
  • Sales in each session period, which is 24 hours, compared to others in your category
  • How many times someone clicked on your listing to your product, known as Click Through Rate (CTR)
  • Spelling, grammar, editing, and quality of your interior, and also the quality of the cover
  • Number of verified reviews, helpful reviews and new reviews –outside of this, unverified reviews do not count towards ranking but do count towards social proof and CTRs (see below)
  • Product page is complete in all sections and meets Amazon Guidelines on word count, layout, and image size and quality used.

The MAMM Factor – Amazon’s Objective

Amazon has one objective for its sellers to bear in mind: Make Amazon the Most Money. Amazon expert James Amazio says, “Make Amazon the Most Money in 24 hours by letting them let your product be ranked higher than the other guys. Total Revenue = Number of Products Sold x Sales Price.That means that each 24 hours counts, so doing a giveaway over three days isn’t going to help Amazon make money, so this doesn’t help ranking or exposure much at all.

Sales and Rank

Sales are not straightforward numbers either. What Amazon looks for is the number of sales for a product with the best profit in its category (Remember MAMM?). So if your book is 99 cents, but another book is selling at $2.99 but not as many as you, it’s likely Amazon will recognize the $2.99 book higher in rank because it makes Amazon more money. This means you need to do some research on what is selling in your potential category before choosing one, and also before choosing your price. 99 cent books may do well in Romance, for example, but maybe in another category you’re pricing too low to show Amazon a good profit margin.

This is also true of certain “publishers” that force authors to price at $16 or more. While this might be their own profit margin covered, it leaves little room for Amazon to make money if the other books are $3.99 in that category, and it’s going to take a lot of sales to convince the algorithm to prioritize your book in ranking if the chances are poor for Amazon sales. It’s not a case of “less sales for more profit.” It’s a case of “what books sell better relative to other books in that category.”

CTR – Click Through Rates – Book Covers DO matter

If you have a high amount of clicks from the Amazon search list generated to your book page, this counts towards ranking. This means your book cover has to be amazing. It has to stand out.

After They Click –  Zoning

Amazon, like most websites, charts where people click on a page. If you hover over buy boxes on pages, this may count towards ranking/inform Amazon about that customer’s preferences for their next search. This means that advice pertaining to what matters on a page really can be burned down to one piece of advice: Make sure every section above the fold on Amazon book pages gets filled out according to Amazon’s guidelines.

If zoning counts, everything you can see without scrolling down, and that includes the number of Customer Reviews shown, matters. We’ve been saying for years that having decent copy and Editorial Reviews matters, and it does. Content of Customer Reviews? Not so much. To see how readers look at reviews on Amazon, check out our eyetracking results report here.

Conversion Rates

What does count is that if someone goes to your page, you need them to buy your book and convert into a sale. By having a properly filled out Book Page you are increasing your chances of that happening. Conversion rate is measured by amount of clicks through against how many sales are made.

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review and thanks to Henry for the tip.

Facebook Branded Content Policy Change and What it Means for Bloggers

1 May 2016

From ComoBlog:

Facebook defines branded content as

any post — including text, photos, videos, Instant Articles, links, 360 videos, and Live videos — that features a third party product, brand, or sponsor. It is typically posted by media companies, celebrities, or other influencers.

and branded content on pages as: content originating from the Page owner that features third party products, brands, or sponsors that are different from the Page owner.

The Branded Content Policies

As it stands currently (April 28th) the policy language states that branded content on pages is “only allowed from Verified Pages (with the blue badge)” and that they must also follow very specific guidelines.

. . . .

What this means in black and white

  1. ONLY pages that are verified (with the blue badge) are allowed to post anything for anyone else (whether or not you’ve been paid to do so).
  2. If you are a verified (with the blue badge) page, you may ONLY post branded (sponsored) content when it meets the Facebook requirements.
  3. If you are a verified (with the blue badge) page, and you do post branded content, and tag the owner appropriately, the owner will be notified of your post, have access to all the stats of your post, have the ability to share your post to their page, and pay to boost your post. They will not be able to edit or delete your post.

. . . .

Q: Does this really apply to me?

A: If you own a facebook page, yes, it applies to you.

Q: How do I verify my page on Facebook?

A. If your page is not yet verified on Facebook, and you’d like it to be, this post outlines how to request verification. or you can download the free printable checklist at the end of the post.

4/29/16 edited to add a quote from a chat with Facebook Rep:

We’re (Facebook) only accepting verification requests from Pages that represent celebrities, public figures, sports teams, media and entertainment. Our Pages Team is extremely backed up with Brand Requests at the moment and need some time to catch up, that is why we are unable to accept them at the moment.

. . . .

Q: If I want to share a friend’s post (no money or affiliate links involved, I just love her stuff or found it encouraging), can I?

A: Technically, if you enjoyed an inspirational piece that you read and wanted to share it with your follwers by posting the URL and a comment on your blog page, you would need to disclose and tag the source of that article and it is 3rd party because it’s not content owned by you. Using the share button to share her content from her page to yours is acceptable.

(updated 4/29/16 to add) However, if you’ve applied for verification one Rep has said that you may “share branded content on a non-verified page” while you await verification. (I assume this means share by using the share button).

What concerns me then is that Facebook has the potential power then go to that blog owner and say “Katie promoted your post and x0,000 people saw it, so you owe us $x00.00 for advertising on our platform.” Even though the 3rd party did not ask for, or pay you to promote them.

. . . .

Q: What is Facebook’s reasoning behind this?

A: Well, they haven’t included me in the board meetings or strategy meetings, and I’m not very good at mind reading, but if I had to speculate….

(updated 4/30)  Posting content that you do not own to your facebook account (including to profile, page, event and/or groups) is a violation of the Terms of Service (TOS) you agreed to when you opened your account. (See TOS here). Facebook has not been enforcing this policy, but appears to have decided to do so from here on out.

It appears that Facebook is tired of not being able to control the small bloggers and small companies whose posts are becoming more ad-ish, and they also don’t like to not be compensated for the promotions those bloggers do using their platform. It also appears that this was their intention all along. Ads may be used to promote content not your own, but posts of content you don’t own are not allowed.

By prohibiting unverified pages to post branded content and/or prohibiting your page from getting verified, Facebook is denying you permission to post any ads at all, clearing out A LOT of ads that were previously being shown to Facebook’s audience. Now, Facebook may only allow pages to be verified (and I am speculating here) if the page works with larger BIG companies who have more Facebook friendly advertising budgets or who already have advertising accounts with Facebook making it easier to charge the brand when someone promotes the brand. In my opinion, this is Facebook’s way of broadcasting the message that if it’s anything but purely social chit chat, someone is going to pay for it to be shown on their platform.

. . . .

Q: Will my Facebook post get seen at all if I don’t verify my page?

A: I can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t appear that Facebook plans to show anyone’s posts at all, unless you pay. I get the feeling that if you’re self promoting only, they may leave you alone, and you’ll just be left to organic luck. But if you want to be seen or if you want to continue to promote others – someone’s going to pay for that and this is Facebook’s way of enforcing it.

There is no current information on what will happen if an unverified page continues to promote 3rd party content. You can assume if you’re not compliant and the review team finally reaches your page, they are capable of just turn off views for your page altogether. I can’t imagine they will have the manpower to monitor individual posts from thousands of bloggers daily, but it would be very easy to simply shut you down for non compliance to their stated policy.

Link to the rest at ComoBlog and thanks to P.D. for the tip.

It seems like almost every news item PG has read concerning Facebook lately moves it closer to his MTTIW classification.

MTTIW – More Trouble Than It’s Worth

Amazon Giveth, Amazon Taketh Away and Now… Amazon Giveth Again!

27 April 2016

From The Book Designer:

A few years back, authors and small presses could participate in a number of marketing programs at

BUY X GET Y was one of my favorites. You could contact Amazon and request a link from your book to another book of similar appeal. It was not inexpensive, but it was a terrific program that exposed your book to readers interested in books similar to yours. Listmania was a free program that also linked similar books. There were FEATURED PAGES. A small press could purchase a page on Amazon that highlighted a series or group of books in a kind of “landing page”. There were a number of Amazon marketing programs like these and others that were slowly raised out of reach for small presses over the last 5 – 10 years.

Thus began the long dry stretch of desert for single title authors and small presses. Simply put, we were not given any opportunities to participate in Amazon’s marketing programs. Sure, there were tricks and manipulations we could learn, but they were not as effective as participating in Amazon sponsored marketing. Once BUY X GET Y and other programs were placed out of reach, the small press was significantly hampered and not able to compete with the bigger houses that still had marketing programs available.

. . . .

Amazon announced last week that they are launching AMS, Amazon Marketing Services. The program works like this:

As an Advantage or CreateSpace publisher you sign up for AMS and pay an annual fee of $99. This is charged to your account as a deduction of your sales so does not require up-front payment.

Once you are an AMS “member”, you will have access to marketing programs previously reserved for Amazon’s bigger vendors.

. . . .

Keyword/Tag Pay Per Click Advertising

This offering is my current favorite as AMS allows you to increase discoverability of your titles on by letting you set your own budget for a particular keyword or phrase. Depending upon your budget and the desirability of the keyword, your book can rise very high in the search page and you ONLY PAY if someone clicks on your book. Your click budget can be as low as $100.

“A+” Detail Pages

Want video, sample page shots, extra photos and other “juicy” offerings on your book’s page? Now you can have it! $600 gets you a LOT more on your detail page. The “A+” detail page is a deluxe detail page featuring advanced formatting and rich media content (detailed descriptions for example) to enrich the shopping experience for customers.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer and thanks to Barb for the tip.

The Ultimate Collection of Book Marketing Examples

27 April 2016

BookBub has assembled a 173-page PDF of examples of good marketing materials for books and authors. It includes websites, author bios, Facebook page designs, etc., etc.

Link to the collection at BookBub

Beyond Bookmarks: How Publishers Can Help Authors and Booksellers

26 April 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

Oh, publishers, you do love your promotional doodads. And we sometimes love them, too, but much of the time, they honestly don’t help us promote and sell your books. You might play to your strengths by helping where we need it most. Publishers have entire departments devoted to creating marketing and promotional materials, whereas we stores often have small staffs with varying levels of artistic ability. Instead of sending us 200 bookmarks that only 12 customers will end up taking, or shipping us those books-nestled-in-Easter-grass-in-a-special-fitted-box – which too often arrive looking sad, squished, and decrepit from their postal journey – consider sending us instead:

. . . .

Sample Facebook Event Page Copy —Promotional writing is a special kind of writing, and not everyone is good at it. Not only that, but the person responsible for creating promotional materials at a bookstore is not always the person who has scheduled the event and knows the book. It can be a challenge to make a reading sound brand new, to capture the essence of a book in a few sentences, and to present an author’s personality and appeal to customers who may not be familiar with his or her work.

“But don’t independent bookstores want to be unique?” you ask. Of course we do, and of course we are. But we are also overworked and always, always short of enough time to make things as perfect as we’d like. So it could be extremely helpful to have some snappy text to use as a jumping-off point.

. . . .

How About Some Promo for the Midlist?
We know that a few books get the lion’s share of marketing dollars, and the rest need to make their way in a Darwinian world. But what if a few of those big-budget-book dollars made their way toward shelftalkers for the quieter titles that need help to find their readers? Small shelftalkers, with an eye-catching graphic and maybe one review pull-quote. Not too many words, just enough to catch the attention of a bookstore browser.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

BookBub Follow Buttons for Your Author Website or Blog

19 April 2016

From BookBub:

Now that BookBub sends New Release Alerts, an author’s BookBub followers will receive an email whenever they launch a new book. The more followers the author has on BookBub, the more readers they’ll reach, and the more books they’ll sell.

Authors, to help you get more BookBub followers, we’ve created buttons and social media icon sets for use on your websites or blogs. Simply link the BookBub image to your Author Profile. Publishers and agents, feel free to send these to your authors or website designers.

Follow Buttons

Here’s a simple “follow me” button — add this to a website’s sidebar, header, or wherever you think it fits best in the design. Right-click the button and select “Save Image As…” to download it to your computer.


Link to the rest at BookBub

Do Ebook Preorders Work?

18 April 2016

From Joe Konrath:

So I’ve been trying out Kindle preorder pages for some new books (including my latest horror thriller  WEBCAM, which launches today), experimenting to determine if this is a smart way to run my self-publishing business. Here are the pros and cons I’ve encountered.

Preorder Pros

1. Deadlines. I wanted to light a fire under my ass and get some work done. On one hand, why invite extra stress into your life? On the other, consider what motivates you.

I believe the biggest motivator for an artist is inspiration; that spark that compels you to create. Even if it never sells. Even if no one ever reads it. We become writers because we love storytelling.

The biggest motivator for someone self-employed is (usually) money. I own my own business, and my boss is usually a workaholic jerk.

But lately he’s been slacking off.

. . . .

Back in the stone age when I had legacy contracts, writing life was filled with deadlines. Get the manuscript finished by date X. Get the redline returned by date Y. Get the outline for the next book done three months later. You kept to that schedule out of contractual obligation, and a little bit of fear.For the first few years of my self-publishing career, I was writing and publishing as fast as I could. No stress. No fear required.

But lately, I haven’t been pushing myself. So after a lot of thought I decided to give myself deadlines. Tough deadlines, but within my abilities.

. . . .

2. Sales. I’ve had many writers ask me: What’s the best time to launch a new book? My answer has always been the same: When it’s finished.

If your book is ready to be unleashed upon the world, there’s no need to wait. Let people buy it as soon as they’re able to. I recall peers of mine sitting on completed, polished, formatted manuscripts because they wanted to release books the old-fashioned way: with a launch date.

The launch date is a relic of legacy publishing. The point was to get as many people to buy your book the day it came out, to make a run at the bestseller lists.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a NYT or USA Today bestseller.

Now, there is still something to be said for making a big impact on Release Day. But since I’m exclusive on Amazon, and since Amazon’s algorithms seem to reward steady sales over sales that peak and fall quickly (which is one of many insights to glean from and is broken down succinctly at, I decided not to fret too much about building up to a book launch day.

At the same time, if a book is going to be out on a certain date, why make people wait to buy it? And if fans want to buy something right now, why make them wait until later, when they could possibly forget?

3. Buzz. I believe that sales are about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell. The goal is to find people looking for the kinds of books that you write.

So, when I’m pimping a title, I usually only do it around launch day, or if the book is on sale.

A preorder page gives me more opportunities to make announcements on Twitter, or to send out a newsletter. Rather than beat fans and potential readers over the head saying “Buy my book!” over and over, instead I’m offering them new information with each announcement.

. . . .

Preorder Cons

1. Deadlines. I intentionally didn’t give myself much leeway in my deadlines, in order to push myself harder. On one hand, I’ve hit both of my deadlines. But WEBCAM launched today in a less-than-ideal version.

Allow me to explain.

Amazon allows preorders because authors asked for them. I was the first ever, back in 2010, when I worked with DTP to get the first self-pubbed preorder page for DRACULAS.

Since then they’ve streamlined the process. You can submit a book for preorder in KDP, and you must submit the final manuscript 10 days before the on sale date.

But that 10 day period isn’t set in stone. After you submit a final 10 days prior to the launch, you have 7 more days to upload newer versions. Typo fixes, tweaks, that sort of thing.

At 72 hours prior to the launch day, KDP locks you out and you cannot upload a new file until the book goes live. So if you’re one to cut it close, beware.

I’m one to cut it close. Ten days prior to launch I uploaded a barebones text version of the novel. Then I tweaked for a few days, then asked my book designer, 52 Novels, that I wanted some special design work done, and needed it by the 12th. He squeezed me in, and did an awesome job making the ebook look beautiful. But I’d given him the wrong date. I had actually needed it by the 11th.

. . . .

2. Sales. While slow and steady sales help your book attain, and keep, a decent ranking on Amazon, nothing beats a book launch without preorders for getting the best initial rank.

But how much does getting high ranks and showing up on bestseller lists help raise sales?

I dunno.

. . . .

3. Unknowns. Because I have so much happening at once, I don’t know what to credit for tripling my KDP income. I think the preorders played a big part, but so did the BookBub ad, the discounts, the booklinker bibliographies, and possibly other intangibles like the Easter holiday, and the long gap since my last solo novel.

As per usual, I don’t know what worked and what didn’t. I can only guess.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Sue and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

20 Fantastic BookBub Author Profile Examples

14 April 2016

From BookBub:

Once you complete your BookBub Author Profile . . .  BookBub may include you as a suggested author when new members sign up for BookBub or via email. Having an intriguing bio on your Author Profile can be the difference between a new follow and a click on the back button.

While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for writing an engaging author bio, here are some Author Profiles on BookBub that we love. Hopefully they will provide some inspiration.

. . . .

Marie Force


Why we love it: Marie has a well-structured bio. The first paragraph includes the highlights of her biggest accomplishments: her bestseller status, sales figures for her bestsellers, and her traditional publishing track record. She also includes her genre and pen name, so readers can quickly get a sense for her work. Her second paragraph provides insight into her personal life, while the final paragraph details ways fans can connect with her online.

Link to the rest at BookBub

Attract And Engage Readers With Image Marketing

14 April 2016

From The Creative Penn:

A number of years ago, experts predicted that by 2014, mobile marketing would rule the Internet. Guess what? They were right.

So what’s the next trend?

It’s already here, and it’s visual marketing.

In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that Instagram was the fourth most used social media network behind Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. That’s right Pinterest, another visually-based social media network.

Why are images so hot?

Mike Parkinson, the founder of Billion Dollar Graphics, explained the reason in an article titled “The Power of Visual Communication.” In that report, he noted that we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

Images encompass various forms of imagery from blog post images to infographics to social media images. Visual communication – regardless of the medium – grabs our attention more than text

. . . .

  • Researchers found that colored visuals increased people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%.
  • Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images.

. . . .

  • Articles with an image once every 75-100 words got double the number of social shares than articles with fewer images.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

PG expects lots of wonderful things will happen to TPV because:


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