Five Tips for Staying Focused

If you are a small publisher or an independently published author, you wear many hats. Some of these hats include: writer, editor, proof reader, copywriter, blogger, marketer, publicist, and social media strategist.

With so many hat and tasks, sometimes it is hard to focus on just one. However, studies have shown that people are the most productive when they don’t multitask. Instead, your productivity is maximized when you are able to concentrate on just one task and get in the flow.

If you are having a hard time focusing on one task and find that you are not accomplishing as much as you would like to, consider these five strategies for focusing.

1. Schedule your tasks.
Studies show that chunking tasks in time intervals throughout the day is conducive to focusing on that task and accomplishing more. Schedule chunks of time for various tasks. If you want to write, schedule an hour in your day for writing. If you want to spend time on marketing tasks, schedule that into your day.

2. Turn off distractions.
To focus and get into the flow, turn off distractions. Turn off your cell phone. Turn off the notifications on your computer that pop up when you have a new email. Turn off anything that draws your attention and makes you lose focus. You might even need to put a bark collar on the dog or wear noise-cancelling earphone.

3. Allow yourself breaks.
Don’t overdo. Studies show that are maximum for concentration is an hour. After that, we lose the flow and productivity. So, after 45 minutes to an hour, give yourself a 15-minute break. Check your emails and your messages. Get something to drink. Stretch and walk around. Then come back and work on the next task in your schedule.

4. Use an accountability partner.
Using the buddy system can work wonders for focusing. Simply knowing that you have told someone what you aim to accomplish and knowing that they will ask you if you have done it provides great incentive to focus and accomplish a task. Find another small publisher or writer and get some accountability.

5. Reward yourself.
Set goals for yourself and give yourself a reward when you reach them. For example, if you are writing, set a word count for yourself. If you reach it, then give yourself a reward. Consider a Starbucks’ coffee, a pick me up smoothie, or a nice cup of tea. Giving yourself small rewards that acknowledge your accomplishments provides you additional incentive to focus and accomplish goals.

When you start to feel overwhelmed, start with one thing. Do that one thing using the techniques described here to stay focused. Remember, focused activity leads to more productivity.

Do you have any techniques for staying focused that weren’t mentioned here? Please share them with me and others who read this in the comments.

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First Impressions Matter

The door opens and out walk two men. One is wearing a disheveled t-shirt, jeans, and well-worn sneakers. The other is dressed in nice slacks, a dress shirt, and loafers. Both are lawyers. Which one would you choose to represent you?

Most of us would pick the attorney with the professional appearance. Because, regardless of how much people like to say the opposite, appearance is important. Appearance signals care and attention, which sends the message to our brain that the person is competent.

Don’t underestimate a first impression. According to a 2011 study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, people assess a person’s competence and trustworthiness in a quarter of a second (250 milliseconds) based solely on how the person looks.

The same is true for your book. People judge your book based on its appearance. Often, they will decide, on appearance alone, whether your book is trustworthy and worth their time and money.

I recently received a handful of books from a well-known Christian vanity press (which shall remain unnamed). I was shocked to see that the books varied in quality and appearance with some having a distinctly unprofessional look based on industry standards. None of the books sported a back cover that met industry standards. These books did not carry a printed retail price or a BISAC code. The interior of one of the books looked like it was designed in the 1970s. Another’s interior sported poor margins with words running into the gutter.

I was saddened to see that a supposedly Christian self-publishing house was charging authors good money for books that were sub par in terms of meeting industry standards for interior layout and cover design. Producing shoddy books in the name of Christ sheds a poor light on Christianity.

Your book’s appearance is your foremost marketing tool. People who read books know what a book is supposed to look like based on all the industry-standard books they have consumed. If your book does not fit this standard, it will be judged and found lacking. In addition, as a Christian book, you want your book to reflect the glory of God. Having a professional-quality design is important in this pursuit.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) feels that this issue is so important that we have developed an on-demand seminar, How to Create a Professional-Looking Book, as well as a Checklist for Publishing a Professional-Looking Book to help our members publish books that meet industry standards and create a good first impression. With CSPA’s summer membership special of $120 for membership through December 2018, you can join now and get access to this great information to help you make sure your books send the message that they are competent and trustworthy.

People will make a quick judgment about your book based on its appearance. Make sure that your book’s appearance reflects favorably on its content. If you want to sell more books, readers must view your book as competent and trustworthy.

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Should You Publish an Audiobook?

It’s hard to walk and read a book. Fortunately, audiobooks allow anyone to multitask while “reading” a book. In fact, the main reason people listen to audiobooks is so that they can multitask. Exercising, driving to or from work, and cleaning the house rank top among the activities people do while listening to an audiobook.

Multitasking combined with the ease of listening via smartphones, which are highly portable, are driving factors in the increase of audiobook consumption. The Audio Publishers Association reports that audiobooks are growing at a tremendous rate. Their most recent report shows that following numbers:

  • Audiobook sales rose 18.2% from 2015 to 2016 to an estimated $2.1 billion.
  • Unit sales rose 33.9% to 89.5 million over the same period.
  • Production of audiobooks rose 43.1% to 50,937 units in 2016 over 2015.
  • Digital downloads of audiobooks accounts for 82.4% of audiobooks.
  • 24% of Americans listened to at least one audiobook in 2016, an increase of 22% over 2015.
  • Just about half of all audiobook listeners are under the age of 35.
  • Audiobook listeners either read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year.
  • 29% of audiobook listeners listen to the audiobook on their smartphone.
  • Audiobooks borrowed from libraries increased 34% in 2016 over 2015.

These numbers are promising and may stimulate you to get your book produced as an audiobook. Before you run out and take this leap, consider the following:

  1. Audiobook production is not cheap. On average, it costs $3,000 to $5,000 to produce a quality audiobook.
  2. Fiction drives audiobook sales. The most popular categories for audiobooks in 2016 were mysteries/thrillers/suspense, science fiction/fantasy, and romance. So, if your book is nonfiction, give careful consideration to whether your target audience consumes audiobooks.
  3. The competition is stiff. Just because you produce an audiobook does not mean that people will buy it. You will need to market your audiobook heavily to keep it from getting lost in the mass of audiobooks available to consumers.
  4. If your print book is not already selling well, producing an audiobook will, as a rule, not help you sell more books.

The bottom line is that if you create an audiobook version of your book, it will still require promotion to sell. Marketing is key to selling products, including print, digital, and audiobooks. If you don’t have a robust marketing plan, don’t take the audiobook plunge until you do.

Many in the publishing industry are proclaiming the audiobook as the new ebook. What do you think?

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Are You Limiting Yourself?

“This book is for men,” the author said to my daughter as she stood at the book display looking at his book.

“This book caught my eye because I like to travel,” my daughter responded.

“But it’s really for men,” the author countered. “It would make a great dad gift. It’s really for men.”

At that point, my daughter, feeling embarrassed for showing interest in a book “for men” walked off.

Later, she related this story to me. She told me that the book was a travel book with maps and a journal written by a male author. She stated that the author was actively discouraging her from reading his book, even though she was showing interest.

Clearly, this author knew his target audience—men who enjoyed travel. However, he was so tuned to his target audience, that he was limiting himself to “men only”.

Maybe he was not aware that women read books geared for men and that men read books geared for women. While this author may not want to spend his marketing efforts and advertising dollars on women, he could sell more books by keeping in mind that some women might be interested in his book. This mindset would help him keep from shutting out females who show an interest in his book.

One author at CBA Unite shared that she had written a book for young adult females ages 13 to 18. She, too, knew her target audience. However, she went on to say that many moms and dads also read the book. She stated that one of her best reviews was from a dad who read the book.

Knowing your target audience is important. It helps you hone your marketing message and efforts. However, don’t limit yourself to your target audience. After all, a target is just a place to aim.

You should encourage anyone showing interest in your book to read it because:

  1. God can speak to anyone he chooses to through your written words.
  2. Stereotypes are generalizations. They don’t apply to everyone.
  3. The person may be considering purchasing the book as a gift for someone.
  4. Even if your message is not for the person reading the book, they might recommend the book to someone they know will enjoy it.

Whatever you do, never discourage interest in your book. Don’t limit yourself. Keep an open mind when considering who might be interested in reading your book.

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Best Practices for Selling eBooks

Smashwords, an ebook self-publishing and distribution platform, analyzes their aggregate ebook sales across their distribution network each year. This analysis of over 450,000 ebooks by 130,000 authors and publishers provides information for best practices for selling ebooks.

The vast majority (87.5%) of Smashword’s sales are fiction titles—well in line with digital book sales trends.

In his 2017 Smashwords Survey, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, provides insights to help authors make their books more accessible, desirable, and enjoyable to readers. Here are three questions the most recent Smashwords survey answers.

1. Should I offer a free promotion of my ebook?

Smashwords survey found that free still draws readership, but that best results come from offering a first in series book free to hook readers on the series.

  • The number of downloads from free ebook offers has declined over the past three years. In 2016, offering an ebook for free produced 33 times more downloads on average compared to priced titles in the past 12 months. However, in 2015, the number was 35 times more and in 2014, that number was 41 time more.
  • Free is still a powerful sales catalyst for series or backlists. Series that offer the first book free earn 55% more on average than series that don’t offer the first book free.

2. What is the best price for an ebook?

On average, nonfiction ebooks sell at a higher price point than fiction titles. The Smashword’s survey found that the most common price point for indie authors fiction ebooks is not the price point that maximizes earnings.

  • The most common price point for indie author selling fiction books is $2.99.
  • The top four price points for maximizing unit sales (other than free) are $3.99, $4.99, $0.99, and $2.99.

3. Do shorter ebooks sell better than longer ones?

On interesting takeaway from the Smashword’s analysis is that the average length of books that are selling the most copies has decreased over the past few years.

  • In 2012, the average wordcount for the top 60 best-selling romance titles was 112,195.
  • In 2016, the average wordcount for the top 70 best-selling titles romance was 92,725.

I would love to see more statistics about Christian ebook sales. Sadly, Smashword’s does not break out statistics by categories. However, they do provide ranking for sales of books by category for overall sales. Smashword’s survey found that Christian fiction ebook sales ranked 14 out of 17 categories. For nonfiction books, the Religion & Spirituality category ranked fourth out of 16 categories.

I think the two most noteworthy takeaways from this study are that the best price points for maximizing earnings for a fiction ebook is $3.99 or $4.99 and that free can still drive discoverability for an author.

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