Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple are the big dogs on the ebook scene, but they aren’t the sole providers of electronic books—not everyone who reads ebooks has a Kindle, Nook, or iPad. Let’s look at a few of the other players who still get quite a bit of traffic.
Sony. While we know that Sony has made it big in the world of computers, TVs, and gaming consoles, how do they fare in the world of books? For starters, Sony has the best ratings according to TopTen Reviews in the variety of ebook formats they provide. Not only do they give readers access to the standard EPUB format via the Sony Reader and smartphones (Android and iOS devices), but they also provide free software that enables you to read ebooks on your Mac or PC. The one downside is that the Sony Reader Store does price its ebooks a bit higher than other retailers. Nevertheless, the site is simple enough to use and has a range of books that will satisfy any book lover. And Sony is a proud partner of J. K. Rowling’s Pottermore—need we say more about the company’s dedication to the book world?
Kobo. Fun fact: the name of this Toronto-based company is an anagram of “book.” Kobo sells the most popular ereading device in Canada, and while you might not recognize the company as a major ebook retailer (if you live outside of Canada, that is), they do have an impressive ebook library and offer apps for multiple devices—so, for example, you can read from the Kobo app on your iPad without having to buy a dedicated Kobo ereader. But if you are in the market for an ereader, definitely take a look at their selection. The devices are sleek, and they offer everything from the Mini to the Glo (a model that illuminates the text in the dark) to the Arc (a Kindle Fire competitor that delivers movies and music in addition to ebooks and articles).
Google. We all know Google as the search engine and most of us use their many, many other services, but have you ever looked at Google Play? If you don’t have an Android phone, the Google Play store might not even be on your radar. Google Play is primarily a digital-app distribution platform for Android phones, but through it Google also offers books, magazines, movies, and music. Google does not, however, sell a dedicated ereader, which could be a turn-off for some. But in place of that, the company offers its Nexus tablets, which support Google Play’s wide variety of apps and accessories.
Blio. Blio is, first and foremost, a free ereader software that can be downloaded onto Windows, iOS, and Android devices. It’s on our list of ebook retailers, though, because its ebook store and content is backed by book distributor Baker & Taylor, which has partnered with all major publishers to make their books available in the Blio store. The Blio pitch is “Don’t just read books. Experience them.” Its ereading software, from K-NFB Reading Technologies, gives readers an interesting platform for books with graphics and multimedia components. Blio makes it a point to keep books in their original format, so readers get to see exactly how the book is supposed to look, a very important feature for books in genres like cooking, crafting, traveling, and and children’s.
So, while we all hear nonstop about Kindles, Nooks, and iPads, let’s not forget that ebooks are available more widely than you think. If you’re an author, don’t forget these other retailers as you get your ebook out there for sale!
Bonus: Check out Lifehacker’s list of the five best ebook stores.
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A big question for many authors is how to determine the retail price of their book. In some businesses, conventional wisdom says to set the price of a product by at least doubling your cost. Since that’s the case, if it cost you $10 to print your 150-page book, you should charge $20, right? Wrong! The book industry is not conventional, and the conventional wisdom thus does not apply.
There are many different factors that impact the price of your book: genre, page count, binding (hardcover/paperback), and competition all dictate the best price for the retail market.
There are three things you need to do to find your book’s retail price:
1. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What would you pay for a title by an unknown author in the same category as your book?
2. Visit your local bookstore or go online to Amazon or BN.com and look up recent books in your genre. For books with the same binding as yours and with page counts and trim sizes close to yours, what is the general price point?
3. Determine your production costs and if the retail price determined by the above factors does not allow you to at least break even on a per-unit-sold basis, you may need to go up one dollar—but no more than two dollars. Believe it or not, due to increasingly tight budgets at the chains, a two-dollar price increase can easily cause a corporate chain buyer to pass on your book. However, if you’re anticipating mostly online sales (or are in a strong niche market), you can probably get away with it. (Be sure to check out this post on how to compete with Amazon)
One of the biggest mistakes some authors make is pricing their product out of the market. In a hyper-competitive market, you have to give yourself every advantage when it comes to selling books, and that includes having a price point that appeals to bookstores and readers. To make up for a margin that may be slimmer than you hoped for, push demand and sales as much as you can and build your audience.
Better yet, focus on how to use your book to drive other revenue-generating programs like coaching, speaking, and memberships. With tight margins, you may not make much money on the first title, but it may very well come back to you on additional print runs or new titles down the line.
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It’s a question for authors and interested readers alike: When it comes down to it, what do people like to read most? What types of books sell best?
The answer is never clear-cut, as there are lots of variables involved (fiction or nonfiction, ebook or print book, etc.), but here is a look at some research that may help solve the mystery.
According to a recent reader’s poll performed by Harris Interactive, when considering the choice between fiction and nonfiction, there appears to be little favoritism for readers across America. In other words, people seem to read these categories in equal amounts. This may be due to the wide variety of subgenres included in these two very broad categories.
Under fiction, the top three most favored genres were mystery/thriller/crime, science fiction, and literature. In the nonfiction category, readers favored history, biographies, and religious/spirituality books. However, business books made an impression on the polls as well.
An article by Publishers Weekly goes a step further and looks at the influence of ebooks versus print books on today’s most popular genres. Among the top ebook genres were mystery/detective, espionage/thriller, and romance. Interestingly, all three of these genres fall under the umbrella of fiction.
For authors, insights like these about important trends in the book industry are valuable. In a constantly changing industry, it’s always best to stay ahead of the curve, and know what people like to read.
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There once was a time, not so long ago, when book buyers had bigger budgets and publishers and distributors could reasonably count on being given a not-so-insignificant amount of shelf space in what was a very large and spread out network of competing bookstore chains. If a particular book was not well-received by the buyer at one chain, you had options for moving big numbers in a small amount of time through the decision of another buyer with another big retailer. By the same token, if the buyer at one chain absolutely loved the book, that information could be leveraged in a major way with the buyer at another chain. Strategies like this could often lead to even bigger buys and sometimes a spot in the highly coveted co-op space in the store.
We recognize the important role that indie stores, nontraditional outlets, and online retailers like Amazon are continuing to play in our industry but we are not going to address those accounts here. This is about giant bookstore chains in the brick and mortar world. And in that part of our book-selling world, things have changed. Smaller is the order of the day and that begs the question, is bigger really better?
Back in the day of bigger buys and big-time bookstore distribution, prepublication efforts were rightfully targeted heavily at the retail buyers. After all, those individual buyers held a ton of power in regard to the potential for sales success of any book. Now that the number of chains has dwindled, that power is even further concentrated and potent. Or is it?
If you think your only shot for success is to get massive amounts of product placed on bookstore shelves, then a retail buyer’s power is more potent than anything else you’ll be up against. If, however, you consider the new retail reality and learn where you should be focusing your efforts—on you—it won’t really matter what that buyer does or doesn’t do with your book.
The reality of this retail landscape is that you cannot put the emphasis on bookstores because, frankly, their numbers are dwindling, their budgets are shrinking, and their buys are getting smaller and smaller. Besides, simply the act of placing books on their shelves alone is not the answer. Never was. (More on that here.)
It is always easy to get excited about a really big buy from a really big retailer, and there are still many reasons to get excited about it. It shows that your book impacted the buyer so strongly that they are willing to spend lots of budget on it and they ultimately believe in their qualified opinion that your book has what it takes to sell. So, what’s the down side?
The flip side of the big-time buy in scenario can be a big-time return scenario down the line. Don’t forget that this part of our industry is essentially consignment so any book that doesn’t sell fast enough is subject to being returned for a full refund, and sometimes comes back damaged to boot. When you put a ton of inventory out there, there is a high risk of returns and if you are solely focusing your efforts on impressing the retail buyer instead of your reader, you may be setting yourself up for this outcome.
These days, we have fewer buyers to impress and they have less money to spend. The unavoidable outcome, therefore, is smaller buys. Less exciting at first glance, but could this really be in our collective best interest?
Smaller buys mean lower risk for everyone involved. Let the bookstores start small, sell what they buy, and order more. It’s a long-term strategy that will help you immensely in building something much bigger than one book that gets its 30-90 day run on a bookstore shelf.
What is this bigger thing an author should be pursuing, then, if not sales of his or her book? We’ve always known that creating demand among your audience was paramount to all other pursuits in order to sell books, but the socialization of the web and the ease with which your competitors can get content out there for sale right next to yours has changed the game. It’s no longer just about your book. It’s about you.
You have to focus your efforts on your audience, your reach, your visibility, your brand, your expertise, and your content in all its various forms. You have to focus on you and sales of the book and your other services will follow. You have to build a platform and make that, not a spine out position on a shelf, your primary target.
So, what is an author platform and why do you need one? Learn about that in our three-part series on platform development.
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When you first become a published author there is much to learn about the ins and outs of this sometimes difficult to understand industry. There are some aspects that seem just plain backwards, particularly for those entering the industry from a business background. One of the hardest elements to come to grips with is the concept that a sale is not really a sale until it goes through two or three transactions. This makes calculating expected revenue difficult, to say the least. Add to that the returns factor (discussed here) and you are left with some confusing data to sort through.
If you’re working with a distributor, your distributor is going to sell your book to wholesalers and to retailers. Wholesalers play a very big role in all of this and it’s not uncommon for the majority of your books to first be sold to the myriad of wholesalers out there, big and small. (Learn about the difference between a wholesaler and a distributor here).Your distributor will report this is a sale to you and you will be paid for that sale (minus returns and reserves against future returns) but in the more explicit sense of the word, it’s not quite a sale yet. At this point, your book has been stocked in a wholesaler’s warehouse with the hopes that their customers (retailers and libraries) will purchase it from them.
Now the retailers and library customers of the wholesaler begin placing their orders for your book through the wholesalers. The wholesaler considers each order of your book a sale and will be paid for the books by their retail or library customer for those purchases. If the purchaser is a library, the cycle is done and you can safely call that sale an actual sale since the book is unlikely to be returned. If the purchaser is a retailer, however, it’s not quite a sale yet. Your book is one step closer to really being sold, but at this point, your book has now been given shelf space in a retailer’s warehouse and stores with the hopes that their customers, actual book-purchasing and reading consumers, will purchase it from them.
When an actual consumer picks up your book from a shelf and buys it, it is finally sold. Your distributor will differentiate between the sales to the wholesalers and retailers and the actual consumer sales as “sold in” versus “sold through”. The sold-through number is what you are both going to want to monitor, especially as it relates to the sold-in number. A large discrepancy can spell trouble around the bend in regard to returns. Consumer sell through is reported weekly by Nielsen BookScan and can be obtained through your distributor’s account or through your Amazon Author Central Account.
Until a consumer actually buys your book, it is subject to being returned by the retailer or the wholesaler, so keep in mind that the act of being placed on shelves is certainly not a guarantee of sales. You have two or three more “sales” to make before your book is actually sold through. Focus on creating demand so those books stay sold.
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We all know how hard it is to assign a value to something that took years of work and your heart and soul to create. To the author, the content is often priceless. If you want to sell books, though, the retail price you set should be carefully considered and chosen with caution.
Traditional publishers will typically arrive at their price point by taking into consideration the costs associated with producing, distributing, and marketing the book. It’s tempting to take the same approach when self-publishing but self-published authors don’t normally have the same economies of scale that make this method work.
For instance, a traditional house will be looking at print costs based on a print run in the hundreds of thousands or at least in the tens of thousands, while most self-published authors are looking at much smaller initial print runs. This affects the cost per book and hence would drive your suggested list price way up and out of the market norm.
Instead of following the example of a traditional house, what method should a self-published author use in selecting a price point? Below are some factors that any author should consider when making this important decision.
- Comparable Title Research: The first and arguably most important strategy to employ in setting your price point is comp title research. Find books that are like yours in terms of subject matter, audience, page count, and format. Make sure you have books that are recently released. You want to price your book in line with these titles that consumers will be comparing your book with when shopping.
- Retailer Price Sensitivity: Retail buyers are pitched hundreds and hundreds of books week after week. In today’s tough economic climate, you can bet they are price sensitive! They are not willing to pay even a dollar more for your book when they can get what they think is the same thing for less from another publisher. It is not unusual for a retailer to come back to a publisher and ask for a lower price in order to buy the book. You may as well set yourself up for success from the beginning.
- Niche Content: Do you have a book that fits a very specific need to a very targeted audience? If this is the case with your book, you may not be overly concerned with retail shelf placement and instead be focused on directly reaching your audience. There is a case to be made for a higher than typically recommend price point with books that truly match this description. But be careful! All content should be differentiated, but few books fall into this very niche category. Think “Underwater Basket Weaving for Single Dads that Live in Virginia” kind of niche.
- Once it sells, your price is set for good: As soon as your book is selling, it’s unadvisable to attempt changing the retail price for many reasons (unless you assign a new ISBN with the new price). You’ve already sold copies into the trade at a particular price. If you change now, any returns you get will come in at the different price and if your new price is higher, you’re losing on each return. If it’s lower, get ready for a squabble with the retailer or wholesaler that is returning the books. (Don’t think you’ll see returns? Sorry, Charlie.) Secondly, with notoriously slow payment schedules on book sales, you won’t be getting paid for book sales for quite a while. Having multiple price points thrown into the mix can cause a real accounting nightmare. Finally, it is really hard to get a change like this to stick within all the systems once your book is set up for sale. You will be dealing with an ongoing maintenance issue that will show up again and again. The exception to this is the release of a new edition with a new ISBN. That new edition can have a different price without any of the messy consequences discussed above.
Taking these tips in mind will help set you up for price point selection success. It is an important decision that can have lasting impact on the performance of your book so choose carefully and set yourself up to compete successfully!
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Ask anyone that has been in publishing for more than ninety days what they like least about the industry and you will undoubtedly get the answer, “returns!” Returns are high on the list of frustrating and hard-to-accept aspects of the book business.
When I first began working in publishing years ago, I was told early on about returns during my training with our own Tanya Hall. I remember kind of chuckling when she told me that all sales could be returned for any reason at any time. Having never heard of such a practice in my prior retail, B2B, and direct to consumer experience, I thought surely she must be joking. Well, she wasn’t, but the hundreds of authors I have worked with over the years have certainly felt like the joke’s on them when it comes to returns.
They are bad for everyone involved for many different reasons, but there are ways to minimize them and sometimes it helps just to more fully understand why they happen at all. We’ll go over all three points here.
Books are returned for a variety of reasons, the most common being:
- Insufficient demand to justify current stock levels either at the wholesale or retail level
- Overstock following a promotion that required a large quantity of inventory
- Damage of product upon receipt
Damages are relatively small in comparison to overstock returns so the main catalyst for returns is simply demand. Wholesalers will give your book ninety days max to start moving or an overstock return will be triggered. It’s all about inventory turnover and if your title isn’t turning over fast enough, they send it back for a full refund. With bookstores, your timeline could be as little as thirty days.
Returns are bad for everyone involved, even the retailer.
- Author: Return rates impact future sales of your current or future books with retailers, cost you money in the form of damages and shipping expense, and can be hard to cope with from a morale standpoint.
- Distributor: Return rates impact the distributor’s ability to sell future titles in the same category to retailers, are a reflection overall in retail buyer’s minds of the viability of a distributor’s overall title list, and cost internal time in processing, reconciling, and accounting.
- Retailer: Return rates reflect directly on a category buyer’s performance and can ultimately make them very cautious about taking a chance on a new author. Plus, they cost them money and time with processing and shipping.
There are some ways to minimize your returns risk, including:
- Take a conservative and slow approach to distribution rather than pushing too much inventory out there too quickly without adequate demand.
- Pass on risky placements like airport co-ops unless they will bring you a benefit beyond book sales, such as credibility or exposure for your business.
- Focus your efforts on creating demand with consumers so demand meets supply.
After reading all of this, one might ask the obvious. Why do we put up with this practice at all? Well, the short answer is that we put up with it because booksellers demand it. Harper Studio tried it with much resistance, except from Borders. Both are now out of business. If we were to move to a non-returnable norm, the majority of the industry (booksellers and publishers together) would pretty much have to make the shift at once. Of course, if books are sold non-returnable, the added risk to the retailer means an even smaller likelihood that anything but slam-dunk bestsellers will make it to their shelves.
Do you think we’d be better off with non-returnable sales as the norm? Let us know in the comments below!
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Writers dream of plastering the words “Bestselling Author” next to their name on business cards, resumes, books, blog posts, photos, and virtually every other place their moniker appears. And they can’t be blamed—that phrase counts for a lot, especially for authors hoping to attract customers with a “national bestseller” banner on their cover. But what exactly does it mean to be a bestseller? And how much does it really matter?
Books are traditionally considered bestsellers when they meet one of three unofficial requirements: (1) placement on the New York Times bestseller list; (2) placement on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list; or (3) placement on the USA Today bestseller list. And, if we’re being frank, the biggest prestige comes in making the illustrious New York Times list.
So what does it take to get on one of these things? The number of sold books required to achieve bestseller status is virtually indefinable. The numbers necessary are relative to which other books are in the market the same week as yours. Books on the very same bestseller list can have drastically different sales counts. In his blog post “Bestseller: How Many Copies Do You Have to Sell to Become a Bestseller?” Jeffrey Krames sites a week in August 2010 in which Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love topped the lists, selling 140,000 copies. The fifth bestselling book that same week sold less than 11,000 copies—a 129,000 difference from the first-place seller.
Genre lists are an entirely different ballgame. The New York Times separates books into categories, and the number of books sold required to hit each of those genre categories is immensely different. For that same week in 2010 Krames discussed, Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 topped the business category, selling just over 9,000 copies. Number two on the list, The Big Short by Michael Lewis, measured in at 4,200.
It’s also important to note that bestseller lists only reflect velocity of sales—not overall success of a book. A title could be a “tortoise seller,” moving eight hundred books per week for an entire year but never making any of the lists. Not all sales are reported to the lists, either. Each list has its own way of determining quantity, usually through a catalog of sales reported to them by selected bookstores, and none of the lists are comprehensive. In fact, sales through specialty stores like Walmart, Target, and Christian bookstores are usually not collected, and for some authors, those can be the locations of the majority of their sales.
In some ways, bestseller status is becoming less relevant in this age of ebooks, apps, and digital downloads. Can a free ebook downloaded 100,000 times in a week be considered a bestseller? Not according to the New York Times, but it certainly must have been one of the most-read books of the week. In the long run, that will matter a lot more.
The Times only recently started including ebook sales on their list, and ebook sales for advice books, how-to books, children’s books, and graphic books are not captured at all. Although ebooks only account for about five percent of overall book sales right now, that number is sure to rise.
The Times list is also backlogged by several weeks. Sales for the week ending August 6 won’t appear in the print edition of the Times until August 21. In our digital world, trends can rise and fall with almost terrifying rapidity (silly bands, anyone?); sometimes what was selling three weeks ago has no bearing on today.
Amazon, on the other hand, does update its list hourly, and the site recently separated free ebook lists from paid. This likely reflects actual popularity a little more closely than the Times list, but being an “Amazon bestseller” doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it. But will it eventually? Or are bestseller lists on their way to obsolescence?
Being on the New York Times bestseller list is still a great way to build sales and does hold a lot of cachet—we can’t deny that. But in the end, authors should concentrate on the longevity of their book and its cross-revenue potential.
Our advice? Don’t measure your success solely in book sales. Keep in mind the long-term strategy for your book—increased exposure for yourself and your company. If you only sell three thousand books but those books translated into more clients and, ultimately, more profits for you, then “Bestseller shmestseller!” we say. Slow and steady can and will win the race.
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Many authors begin the hard work of generating sales for their book long before the actual release date. There are many different options for collecting these preorders, as well as many ways to make the most of them, helping you meet your goals and priorities for the project.
One method of collecting preorders is to set up a preorder button on the book's website. During the preorder process, customers will be prompted to fill in their basic information and make a payment through the website for the book (or books) they order. Matching Amazon pricing or offering signed copies can be an added hook to get people interested.
It is also common to create a dedicated landing page for preorders, which you can utilize in your marketing initiatives, that drives consumers to a central location to make their purchase. This is a popular option when you are incentivizing customers by giving them access to extra content at no charge with an order. The landing page can host this content, and once the order is placed, the customer can be given a code to access the free content.
But collecting preorders can also be as simple as keeping a spreadsheet with all the information that you manually collect from customers as they place orders directly through you leading up to the pub date.
A different route is to simply send people directly to a retailer, such as Amazon, to place their order during a specified period of time, usually immediately following the release of the book. In this case, it's important for your publisher to know how many orders you expect to be placed at least three weeks in advance so they can ensure that adequate stock is in place in the supply chain to meet the rush of demand. (Also see our recent newsletter tip, In The Loop.)
Regardless of how you collect the orders, the idea is to have a complete record of all customers and their orders at the end of the preorder campaign.
Once all of the preorders are collected, you have to decide what your priority is for these sales. Have you generated all of these preorders so you can generate maximum revenue from your book right away? Or is your goal to have all of these sales count towards your retail track record? (Shameless plug: With Greenleaf, you have the flexibility to meet either goal, and we can help execute the orders or connect you with experts in the field that specialize in placing those presales in a strategic and planned way for maximum impact.)
If the primary goal is to maximize revenue with preorders, you’ll want to sell the books directly. Revenue generated through direct sales is not shared with a distributor or retailer, allowing for larger margins. Remember to bill the appropriate shipping charges directly to your customers if you want them to cover the cost.
If the goal is to drive retail sales as high as they can go, run preorder sales through a retail channel that reports to BookScan (the book industry’s go-to tool for measuring retail sell-through). This will make these sales a part of the book’s auditable track record. For bulk preorders, we work with a company called 800 CEO Read and they make this process very simple. Corporate customers (or your own company) can buy the books from 800 CEO Read, which reports sales to BookScan.
If you plan on generating thousands of preorders and want to use them to make a run at a bestseller list, we recommend working with an expert who specializes in handling this type of campaign. A campaign like this requires careful coordination and planning and the ability to process thousands of individual orders in a short time span.
What are your goals leading up to pub date? What’s worked to help you generate preorders? Share and discuss!
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Are you using Amazon Author Central? If not, why? It’s an excellent author-friendly tool that can be used to promote your book and your platform that only takes minutes to setup. If you have more than one book, it’s a central location where an Amazon shopper can find your entire bibliography in one place. How’s that for an easy way to cross-promote your work?
Amazon Author Central allows authors to create a custom profile that customers then use to learn about the author and make purchases. The content you can place on your Author Central page includes:
- A bio—Tell readers a little bit about yourself so they'll connect with you as a person.
- Photos—Include your author photo and any other images your readers may like to see, perhaps your workspace or things that inspired your writing.
- Video—Want to get that trailer up on Amazon? Uploading it here only takes a few minutes!
- Events—Want to drive traffic to your speaking engagements and readings? Advert them here.
- Blog feed—Linking your blog to your Author Central page is just another way to grow your list of blog followers and give readers more of what they want: a connection to you as an author!
- Twitter feed—Extend your social media outreach even further by displaying your tweets on your author page.
Recently, Author Central began providing weekly sales data from Nielsen BookScan (a service that tracks sales of print books in stores across the country) for free to authors who sell their books on Amazon. You can view your sales data in a variety of ways. Amazon gives you a basic total from BookScan and shows how many units more or less you sold compared with the previous week. They also visually display your most recent four to eight weeks of sales data on a map of the United States. Alongside that display you will find a list of geographic areas from New York to Los Angeles and the number of books you sold in each.
Access to BookScan data can help you determine whether your publicity efforts are paying off, and tells you what markets you have the most demand in so you can amp up your promotion accordingly.
Finally, for those who like to keep tabs on their Amazon sales rank, the sales data tab displays a line graph of your book’s sales rank history on Amazon and tells you what your current rank is. As with all sales rankings on Amazon, the data is updated hourly.
You can also use Author Central to modify the description of your book listing on Amazon or write a message directly to your readers.
We encourage all of our authors to create an Amazon Author Central page. Even William Shakespeare has an Author Central page. It has to be cool.