Episode 156: Blurbs, Data, and Amazon Books in Chicago (Also, Our Third Anniversary Show)

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Question of the Week: Who would your dream author collaboration be with and where would you go to write?

Happy third podcast anniversary to Bryan & Jim! With three years under their belt, they were free to take on tips about book descriptions and author mindset after thanking their patrons Somebody’s Darling, Hitler Out of Time, and Guerrilla Tactics Against Passive Aggression in the Work Place. The top stories included Amazon Books in Chicago, Amazon Author Insights, a peek behind Data Guy’s curtain, indie bookstores as small publishers, and four writers on a train. This week’s Question of the Week: Who would your dream author collaboration be with and where would you go to write?

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What You’ll Learn:
  • How authors can increase sales by redesigning their back covers
  • How authors can improve their book blurbs with data from BookBub’s A/B tests
  • Why one traditionally published author says writers should aspire to be cockroaches
  • What readers in Chicago can expect from the new Amazon Books store
  • Where authors can access articles and advice from trusted indie experts
  • How Data Guy collects industry data and what ongoing trends mean for authors
  • How indie booksellers and publishers are expanding their reach
  • How proper preparation can make all the difference when collaborating with others
Question of the Week: Who would your dream author collaboration be with and where would you go to write?

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  • Stella Wilkinson

    Congratulations on three years!!
    Yay, so excited to win the competition. I do have to confess to not having read the book, but my dad is a big Peter Sellers fan so I had that advantage to recognise it.
    I’d most like to collaborate with Bryan 😉 Then he can write the blurb…

    • Congrats on winning. I can’t believe you got it so quick. The next one will not be easy!

    • The book is also very entertaining, though not all that different from the movie.

      • Bryan

        It’s been on my list for a while. I’ll have to check out one or the other.

    • ilisa

      Congrats Stella. I tried but was a total blank.

    • Bryan

      Hahaha, Stella. Sounds like a plan ;).

  • I was honored to be able to write one of the side novellas in J. Thorn’s american demon hunters series… was a super-fun experience. I highly recommend everyone try something like this collaboration

    • Bryan

      That’s awesome, Jim. Another reason to check out the series!

    • Jim’s made me hungry, LOL!

  • Chris Syme

    I think Amazon’s new content for self-published authors is part of a smart strategy to gain credibility in the self-published space. I think it’s a good move. One of Amazon’s biggest problems is that they are a faceless entity in a world where authors only trust each other for advice. Now, they have faces, and I believe self-published authors will trust them more. They are in the business of publishing books–I agree with Jim–but to keep their hold on the top, they need to start adding value. This is a page from Mark Schaefer’s great book Content Code.

    • Dan Thompson

      That’s pretty much what I was going to say. This is a PR move to counter the voices of Douglas Preston and his Authors United comrades. But this begs a different question: Since the PR battle with Hachette is now in the receding past, what future PR battle is Amazon gearing up for?

      • Bryan

        Dunh dunh dunh!

    • Bryan

      Great points, Chris. Somebody who emailed us also said they’re trying to leverage the face-value of the other folks in the space by having their guest posts there. Which is a pretty good idea if you ask me.

      • Chris Syme


    • They also get to promote themselves and the benefits of KDP Select and KU. If they leave it to the other guys, there’s more chance the authors will choose to go wide.

    • Thanks for giving us alternate-question answerers a place to gather, Chris! As I see it, community-building is a basic tactic for brands, though it’s usually aimed at customers. Amazon has said it wants to treat authors as customers rather than suppliers, so this makes perfect sense, following that logic. It’s content marketing as a way to promote customer loyalty.

      Also, congrats on the three-year mark!

      • Bryan

        Thanks, Michael :).

  • Dream collaboration: with Neil Gaiman and Joe Abercrombie. Also Terry Pratchett if I get a time machine. I love their work, and don’t know much about Joe personally, but I’m sure Neil would be fantastic for motivation in a collaborative project: for anyone that hasn’t watched his commencement speech, definitely check that out on youtube.

    • Bryan

      Let’s go get some time machines! Also, thanks for the post to the commencement speech. I love watching these things.

  • Honoree Corder

    Congrats on 3 years and cheers to many more!! I was already planning a solo train trip to write, but I’d love to do something with Brian Meeks or Chris Syme or Beth Ann Erickson or Deborah Coonts … my author friends that I also LOVE hanging out with! Thanks for the shout out today, it’s an honor to be a contributor to Amazon. 🙂 Happy writing, everyone!

    • Deborah Coonts

      I’m IN!! A writing and wine retreat maybe?? Or the train. That sounds really cool.

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Honoree! I think hang-out-ability is a great consideration for collaborations. And, you’re welcome :).

  • Lavie Margolin

    Thankfully I’m already living the dream. Most of my books are in collaboration with my wife, Rachel. Our styles compliment each other as I work fast and have big ideas. Rachel is great at planning, structure at grammar.

    Outside of that, a dream team would be Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki and Alan Weiss as I’ve read so many business books from each that have influenced me.

    • Bryan

      Living the dream! That’s awesome, Lavie.

  • ilisa

    3 years of podcasts to catch up on and 3 more years of podcasts to look forward to. What an amazing gift.

    • Bryan

      We’re very lucky to have you listening, Ilisa! Hope you enjoy ‘em :).

  • Thanks for the kind words, fellas. Our trip was incredible. I’d be happy to drop in for a short “lab” section in an upcoming episode if the listeners would like to hear more on the project specifics. And related to that, Zach and are developing a co-writing retreat for authors who want to do something like this. We’re hoping to plan and run the trip while showing the writers how to do it on their own. NOLA was just the beginning!

    • ilisa

      I had no idea until I found this podcast that there are so many resources and even a community to help independent publishers.

    • Laura Martone

      J, I love the idea of a co-writing retreat – you and Zach will make awesome hosts. And it was my (and Dan’s) honor to spend some time in NOLA with you and the ladies. Naturally, I can’t wait to read your “demons on a train” story!

      • You and Dan are awesome. I’d come back to NOLA just to hang with you guys!

        • Laura Martone

          Cool! Please keep us posted if you ever find yourself in the Big Easy – I just hope we can top taking you to a former brothel! 😉

      • Can’t wait to see you guys again 🙂

        • Laura Martone

          Ditto, Zach!

    • @j_thorn:disqus was the train just a fun way to travel down to New Orleans or was it actually valuable writing time?

      I absolutely see value in adventure, fun, and camaraderie, so the train sounds awesome, but curious how that stacks up vs a more stable, quiet, and motionless environment.

      • It was definitely valuable. As soon as we got on the train and settled into our rooms, we went to the lounge car and started planning the story. Also, the entire story takes place in the train. And many things in the book are from actual experiences we had.

        By the time we got to NOLA, we were able to just get to work on our words.

        • Sounds good, especially if you work the environment into the story like you are. I’m looking forward to reading it.

      • What Zach said 😉

        I’ve drafted on a train before. It takes some getting used to. We did it more for the experience and as a way to brainstorm before we arrived in NOLA to write. Having a “destination” retreat is probably better for a collaborative project.

        • As long as there’s more space than on a plane, I’m in. I think I could write on a cross country train, as long as I scheduled some time for short layovers.

    • Bryan

      You’re welcome, J! Wasn’t sure if I was allowed to mention the retreat thing, so I didn’t :). Shoot me an email, we can talk scheduling for a lab segment.

      • Thanks. I’ll email you.

        We hadn’t cleared it with our bosses yet, and by that I mean our wives. So it was probably good that you didn’t mention it, LOL!

  • Spider McGee

    I’d like to think that I could collaborate with some other author on a story, but I don’t know that I’m that good at playing with others. I’m not precious about it or think that my words are sacred, but I don’t think I’d like the idea of ceding 100% control. The only benefit I’d see would be another person holding me responsible for fulfilling my end and telling me I need to get back to work.

    • I totally get it, Spider. Something to think about: I’m an INTJ, the most lone wolf of the lone wolves. My personality type only appears in about 2% of the population. Believe me, I’d rather do just about anything than interact with other people. And yet, I find collaborations to be life-changing. Every time I do one, my own writing improves ten-fold.

      • Bryan

        J. Thorn is a lone wolf… who plays well with others.

    • Bryan

      This is why Jim would be the perfect partner for you, Spider :).

  • Laura Martone

    I respect too many authors to list here, but honestly, I already do collaborate with my dream author – my hubby, Daniel Martone. And we’ve been known to collaborate and “talk story” pretty much anywhere – planes, trains, AND automobiles… now, even the RV we live in! But I think it would be fun to co-author a book while exploring a tropical island – and I wouldn’t say “no” to a writing retreat in a cave. To be honest, I think we could be creative anywhere, as long as we’re together. P.S. Congrats, Bryan & Jim, on three years as co-hosts! Here’s to many, many more!

    • My wife and I have written five books together. Usually we dream them up and outline them at a coffee house, but my dream is to spend the days walking around a city, eating new foods, drinking good coffee, and finding spots to write.

      • Laura Martone

        That’s awesome, Roland, that you and your wife collaborate, too. And yes, your dream is also our dream… why do you think our home is a mobile writing studio (RV) called Serenity? We enjoy finding new scenery, having unique adventures, and sampling tasty food… in other words, being inspired together and then using those experiences to fuel our writing.

        • Bryan

          The couple that inspires together… transpires together?

      • Bryan

        I love walking around a new city! That sounds heavenly :).

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Laura! Ooh, a cave :).

  • Sacha black

    HAPPY THIRD BIRTHDAY guys, I literally think you’re amazing, I can’t wait to hear your podcast every week. I’ve been listening for about a year, and I do try and catch up with the back list when I can. I used to listen to tons of podcasts and now I’ve whittled it down to just a small handful including you guys. Thank you so much for all the work you do and all the amazing news and tips it’s next level awesome and SUPER helpful. My dream collaboration would be Lauren Oliver the YA writer who wrote the Delirium trilogy, and I think I’d like to go and do the inca trail, that or go back to Everest – I climbed up to base camp about 10 years ago, and its SUPER peaceful, so much brain space to write 😀 cheers, and happy birthday Sacha Black

    • Bryan

      OMG. I love Lauren Oliver. That would be an awesome collaboration. Thanks so much, Sacha!

  • Chris Shumate

    Happy third birthday! In podcast years you’re becoming pretty old, being at it this long.

    As for the question of the week, I’d like to do a train, but rather than piggybacking on what the other did, my choice is a plane (although a cruise ship would be great too!). Since I write picture books and early readers, I’d like to be joined by Ron Roy and David Kelly who both write children’s mystery books.

    If I was going to be writing in the other genre I write in I’d like to write with Wayne Grudem, RC Sproul, and Norman Geisler – they are theologians – on an RV trip across the nation.

    • Bryan

      We feel pretty old, Chris :). A long plane ride is a great idea. Maybe somewhere international for a weekend. That’d be fun :).

  • I think @jimkukral:disqushas a great idea about Amazon and airport book shops. I can see that happening.

    However, I think that bookshops (especially Amazon’s and shops in airports) cater to people who don’t really know what they want to read yet, so the reviews and rankings are big. Social proof can be big.

    ON Amazon, I wonder how important they are. I do think some reviews ARE good and high stars obviously, but how a genre book is viewed by a voracious genre reader when it has 45 or 450 reviews I’m not sure.

    Does Data Guy collect data on number of reviews and all that? That would be a great thing to look at.

    • Bryan

      Social proof is huge! I’m not sure if DG collects anything related to reviews. Could be a cool data point.

  • If you want to contests of guessing movies from sound clips, I’d recommend no dialogue (or no full quotes), because dialogue can be googled and shows up the answer almost straight away. I’m not saying that’s how the answer was gotten, but I did google the quote and it brought up Being There as the only option. Just a thought for the future if you want to do a contest like that again. 😀

    Also, congrats on three years! That’s awesome.

    • Bryan

      Great idea, Dan. I’ll make sure Jim keeps that in mind :).

  • C.E. Martin

    Answer of the Week (Collaboration):

    A few years ago, my answer would have been Warren Murphy, creator of The Destroyer Men’s Adventure series. But Mr. Murphy passed away about a year after I finally met him.

    If I had to choose today, it’d be a tough choice, with names like Mike Baron, Will Murray, Piers Anthony, and Brian Lumley at the top. But all in all, I’d have to go with my favorite screenplay writer, S.S. Wilson (“Tremors”, “Batteries Not Included” etc. etc). who’s been trying his hand at novels the past few years. Since I try and make my works flow more like movies than novels, and he’s a master of the silver screen, it would be a great opportunity for me to learn from and collaborate with an amazing story teller who’s work really resonates with my tastes. Even better, I believe he’s based in or near Arizona, so I could drag the family along and let them sight-see to their heart’s content while the writing ensued.

    • Bryan

      Ooh, the Tremors guy! Very nice.

  • Craig A. Price Jr.

    There are many authors I’d love to collaborate with. I think it’d be fun to collaborate with Lindsay Buroker with an epic fantasy. There’s also a great full time indie author near me who is doing full time as an epic fantasy author, Brian D. Anderson, whom I’ve met a few times. It’d be fun to collaborate with him. As far as where, a train would be fun, but I think I’d find most inspiration in the mountains, like at a cabin, with time to wander trails to help the ideas flow. I’ve talked to a few authors about collaboration already, and hopefully in the next few years, I’ll be able to do a few. I’ve always loved to do it. I did do one with an author on Wattpad many years ago, alternating chapters, but he kind of disappeared on me on his chapter, and I’ve been wanting to get back into it ever since. I hope one day we’ll be able to finish the novel we were writing.

    • Bryan

      There’s nothing like a cabin in the mountains.

  • Mark Goodwin

    I’m still in therapy over my last collaboration, so I’ll be writing solo for the foreseeable future. But, on a totally unrelated note, I just signed up for Dawson’s Ads for Authors, and took Brian’s bonus course on ad copy. I can easily expect a positive ROI (return on investment) just from Brian’s class. I’m not exagerating, it’s that good!

    • “Mark,” eh? I think this is Lindsay Buroker using a fake account, LOL!

      JK. I’ve had almost as many failed collabs as successful ones. Goes with the territory, like dating and dining out 😉

    • Bryan

      Aw, thanks, Mark! So glad you found it helpful. Hopefully it can pay for the therapy ;).

  • Happy anniversary/birthday SMB!

    I’m not a collaborator person, so no dream one for me. I did think Bryan may have possibly hit on a possible reason for Amazon’s new Author Insights though. They already sell some author services via CreateSpace, like editing, cover design, etc. But with the launch of KDP Print, some reps have noted that they do intend to eventually replace CreateSpace with KDP Print entirely once KDP Print is out of beta. Which would make sense, why keep both?

    But that begs the question of what happens to the rest of CreateSpace’s services. So maybe the Author Insights is launching now to establish itself as a valuable resource for indie authors and to eventually be where the author services will be available, as a “hey, look we gave you lots of content and if you need more help, what do you know, we offer it for a fee!” 🙂

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Anma! Ah, yeah, that makes sense. Gotta keep the service biz going :).

  • Re Amazon Author Insights: I think Amazon wants to shake off the image of their self-publishing platform as being a place for inexperienced novice authors with bad covers and even worse blurbs. Keen indie authors often learn the trade by reading lots of blogs, so Amazon’s taking out the information-hunting part and making it easier for them. I guess that means there’ll be less authors who hit publish relatively clueless expecting to hit big on their first try.

    As for a dream author collab: I can’t say who it would be with, as I think I’d only want to collaborate with someone I’m already friends with. But I’d love to do a train journey like Lindsey and the others, or maybe a retreat in a forest somewhere.

    • Bryan

      Ooh, a forest. Sounds good to me.

  • Ken Hanson

    Interesting notion about airport bookstores. Great to pick up a book while traveling, but I would think the “quick read” books would top the list. And yes, I think you’re right that Amazon will move in. Great call.

    • Bryan

      Unless it’s an international flight ;).

  • I live near Literati and I’m in there a few times a month. They have a nice coffee bar upstairs and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. One thing that draws me in is the good curation of books. Yes, Anazon does a great job of recommendation based on past purchases, but there’s something to be said for book lovers picking out and displaying books in ways that lead to discovery. They also do something else Amazon can’t: in-person events such as book clubs, author events, etc. These are some reasons independent book stores will thrive.

    • Bryan

      Unless Amazon Books starts doing in-person events… 🙂

      • Hey, the more the merrier! I was responding mainly to Jim’s assertion that indie book stores are a bad business model, that people prefer online ordering and e-books, etc. I think there’s room for all. In fact, when we went to Chicago for your talk, guess where we spent the most time (and money) the next day? Myopic Books.

        • Bryan

          Ha, good point.

  • Emily Hilleke

    Re: why all the downloads, y’all?
    I discovered the world of self-publishing after Christmas. I’ve heard of your podcast many times, but, since I’m not looking to sell books for a while yet, I didn’t think “The Sell More Books Show” had anything to offer me.

    I heard Bryan on Joanna Penn’s podcast #315. I gave the SMBS a try and y’all hit it! The recent episodes are great, but I was so surprised that a show about current events in indie book sales would have a backlist relevant to a newbie like me. I’m looking forward to digging into​ more episodes.

    • Bryan

      That’s awesome, Emily! Thanks for listening to our show. Welcome :).

  • avoura

    Thanks for featuring my book, Hitler Out Of Time, but the link is wrong. You have it as http://sellmorebooksshow.com/episode-156-blurbs-data-and-amazon-books-in-chicago-also-our-third-anniversary-show/www.hitleroutoftime.com/amazon — I guess you missed out the http:// before the www of the proper link, which should be http://www.hitleroutoftime.com/amazon

    • Bryan

      Whoops! We’ll go fix it :).