Category Archives: Publishing

How to Make Your eBook Look Real Instantly

Here’s an annoying problem e-publishers face. I have a book, Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook. It’s a really awesome book. But it’s also completely digital. As such, I can’t do promotional images of a book. All I have is a two dimensional cover:

I think I have a cool looking cover. But it would be really nice to have a physical book for promotional images.

As luck would have it, I accidentally found a way to accomplish this when I wrote my previous blog post. I wanted to create a promotional image for the book that wasn’t just the cover. After playing around for a while, I eventually got to this:

Looks pretty nice, right? The best part of it is that it is (mostly) a default setting in PowerPoint, so it is extremely easy to replicate on your own. Here’s how to do it for yourself in a few simple steps:

1) Grab the original image of your cover. This process isn’t going to turn a sucky book cover awesome, so I hope you already have a decent one to start with.

2) Open up Microsoft PowerPoint. Paste the image into a blank slide. (I’m using the 2007 edition here, which is still pretty standard. I’m not sure if it works on 2003 or 2010. I suspect these settings did not exist in the 2003 edition. They probably exist in the 2010 edition, but I have no clue if they are still default settings.)

3) Click once on the image. This should make a Format tab appear in the tabs bar. Click on it.

4) Click on Picture Effects, go to Presets, and choose preset number 10 (pictured).

5) You now have an image of your book that looks like it is a physical copy. You can right click to save the picture or just copy and paste it into the image editing program of your choice.

You can also make some further edits to tailor the image to your liking. For example, I made two changes to my final image. To access the options, right click on the image and select Format Picture. I removed the transparency by clicking on 3-D Format, selecting Material, and choosing Warm Matte. Also on the 3-D Format menu, I changed Depth to 15 pt. This makes the book look a little bit thicker.

Even with these additional changes, the entire process takes under a minute. I think the end product looks great, and I hope this you sell a few more copies of your book.

Excerpt from Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook

With school starting once again, I thought it was time to do some updating to the greater Game Theory 101 enterprise. Here’s the updated version of lesson 1.1 of Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook. Enjoy.

How to Get More (And Better) Book Reviews

We all know book reviews are important–they generate publicity and improve the reputation of your book on Amazon. But getting good book reviews is not easy, especially when trolls exist. So how do you encourage more people to write reviews of your book without breaking Amazon’s terms of service? Here’s an easy method: ask.

Step 1: Put Your Email Address in Your Book
Some people do not do this. I think there are three rationales:

1) People think their email addresses are private. Newsflash: your email is not your home address. Email is the softest of all possible contact mediums. If you don’t want to respond, you simply delete the email. No one can effectively harass you, because you just report it as spam. Done. (By keeping it private, you are also making it more difficult for media to contact you. That is a bad thing.)

2) People are worried that spam will fill up their inbox. Newsflash: get Gmail. There is no need to do silly things like “email me at williamspaniel AT gmail DOT com” anymore. My email address (as a hyperlink) appears all over the internet. I receive virtually no spam. You will receive virtually no spam as well.

3) People are worried they will be overwhelmed with fan mail. Newsflash: this is a very good thing. But you won’t be overwhelmed. I have sold more than 25,000 books in under a year (with my email address right at the front of the book), and I get about one or two messages a week. That is more than manageable.

Step 2: Wait for Emails
This is probably the hardest part, because you just have to sit and wait for the emails to come in.

Step 3: Respond to Emails
Take five minutes, understand what the reader is saying and what he or she is asking, and construct an intelligent response.

Step 4: Ask for a Review
If the reader responded positively to your work, simply end the email like this:

I am glad you enjoyed the book. Thank you for your feedback, and I always appreciate it when my readers post reviews on Amazon.

Readers will do this for you, especially when you are kind enough to respond to their questions. The best part is that you can be selective of whom you solicit for comments. If the reader is raging at you, you do not mention the review. If he or she really likes you, you do. The reader wins because he gets to hear directly from you. You win because you get a five star review.

Fighting Piracy

I had my game theory textbook pirated today on Scribd. This was the first time that ever happened. The DMCA takedown notice did not take long to write, and Scribd removed the book within eight hours. Overall, it was a painless but not so fun diversion.

Anyway, I doubt I would have noticed it at all had I not set up a Google alert. Essentially, Google sends you an email whenever a new website pops up using the search terms you desire. If you have your name or your book title set up in the alert, you will know within 24 hours when something like this happens. It is a free and easy way to fight piracy, so I strongly suggest you set up an alert for yourself.

The A La Carte Age of Textbooks

Apple’s textbook announcement from a couple months ago turned out to be a big bust. The new era of textbooks will not be about making the biggest, fanciest, or flashiest work around. This is the era of customizability.

Look at the textbooks on your bookshelf. They likely cost you $50 or more. But, honestly, how many of them have you read cover to cover? Probably not very many, if any at all. For the most part, these thousand page behemoths are useful for three or four chapters. Yet, when you purchase the book, you also must buy another twenty irrelevant chapters. And that sucks.

Now that we have a digital platform to work with, it is time to change the philosophy of textbooks. Yes, we can all keep publishing our thousand page behemoths. But we should also publish every chapter individually. Thus, students who purchase our textbooks buy exactly what they need and nothing more.

This model is impossible for the mass-produced paper model. A twenty chapter textbook would turn into 21 versions—one for each chapter and an all-inclusive edition. Publishers simply cannot anticipate consumer demands and produce the appropriate quantity of each version. So we are stuck with one pricy version.

Digital publishing does not face such constraints. For example, I have written three chapters of my Game Theory 101 textbook. The first chapter, Game Theory 101: The Basics is available all by its lonesome. (It’s also been Amazon’s best selling game theory book every month since July 2011—the month of its release.) So is the second chapter: Game Theory 101: Extensive Form. And the third chapter: Game Theory 101: Advanced Strategic Form Games. Students can purchase exactly what they need and nothing more. Or, they can purchase everything for a discounted price. The important thing is that the decision is in their hands, not the publisher’s.

If anything, Apple’s textbook announcement seemed to go in the opposite direction. iBooks still lives in a world that thinks ISBNs are necessary. I’m not sure what purpose an ISBN serves in 2012 when I can simply Google a title and find the book that way.

Actually, I take it back. I know exactly what purpose ISBNs serve: bureaucracy! A single ISBN costs $125. You can purchase 10 for $250, or $25 a piece. Regardless, ISBNs make a la carte textbooks unnecessarily expensive, as the publisher has to purchase a unique ISBN for each individual version. So Apple is going to be sitting this revolution out until it kills its ridiculous ISBN policy.

Death to the ISBN! Viva la a la carte!

Pricing Your Book Intelligently

If you read through the self-publishing message boards, price point is a popular topic. Outside of writing process, selecting the right price might be the most important decision an author faces. I see a lot of different theories about what should determine price. Most of what people say is wrong. You only need to think about one thing when selecting your price:

Pick the price that maximizes your profit.

That’s it. That’s all. Just pick the price that maximizes the size of your monthly check. Picking anything else is stupid.

This is a tall order. It’s not immediately clear which price will generate the most money for you. Amazon offers 35% royalties on books between $0.99 and $2.98. Anything between $2.99 and $9.99 nets 70% (minus a usually negligible data transfer fee). So a $0.99 book needs to sell between five and six as many books as a $2.99 book to keep pace. Whether the higher demand from the cheaper price justifies selling at $0.99 remains to be seen and probably varies from book to book and genre to genre. An author might have to experiment with different price points before settling on the right one for him.

An author must also weigh the value of sacrificing extra profit from a single book to generate additional profit for rest of the author’s library. For example, the author of a trilogy might want to sell the first book at $0.99 and the other two books at $2.99. The cheap introduction brings more readers into the series, which in turn will lead to additional sales of the more expensive selections. I run a similar strategy with my game theory textbook, selling the first chapter at $0.99 and a larger version at $2.99.

Some people’s pricing strategy baffles me, however. Some people refuse to price books at lower prices because they do not feel it adequately reflects the amount of work the author put into the book. Absolute nonsense! The time you spend writing a book is a completely sunk cost once you are done. Placing a book at $4.99 because you think that is the value of the book is beyond ridiculous. The market determines the appropriate price. If selling at $0.99 or $2.99 brings in more profit, your resistance to lowering your price only makes it more difficult for you to pay your rent. It also leads to fewer people buying into your brand and therefore fewer sales of your other books. These authors need to get over themselves.

Just pick the price that maximizes your profit. It’s that easy…at least in theory.

The Power of a 1-Star Review

I am a little worried.

My larger textbook—Game Theory 101: The Basics and Extensive Form—has been doing quite well. This month, it has averaged a little more than ten sales per day. I know that might not sound a lot, but it projects to more than 3500 sales over the course of a year, or $5600. That is a lot of money for a graduate student living off of a small stipend. It’s also a lot for an academic book, most of which will get about 200 sales over their lifetime.

However, my book received its first review yesterday. It was not so good:

I regret this purchase, even at only $2.99. This is way below “101” level. This is about a 6th grade level…[i]f you are considering this product, you are better off reading the Wikipedia articles on Game Theory – it will be free and much more productive.

Needless to say, he gave me 1 star. Now, whenever someone searches for game theory on Amazon, they will see my book is worth one measly star.

How does that impact a seller? Despite averaging more than ten copies per day this month, I have not sold a single one since that time. Yikes.

The part of the review that I put above—the book is very basic. (There is more to the review that I believe is incorrect, but I excluded it from above to keep this conversation focused.) But that’s the point. I want the book to be simple. Game theory should be simple. There should be no magic or hand waving. The number one complain I receive from students taking game theory is that they have no idea how to solve games despite attending every lecture, section, and office hour they could. That’s why I created my video series, which eventually evolved into the textbook.

But his suggestion to read Wikipedia instead is ridiculous. Go read the Wikipedia page on how to solve for mixed strategy Nash equilibrium. Then try to solve the game in this video. Best of luck to you.

My personal feelings aside, consider an objective metric of the quality of a book: the rate of return. Amazon gives you a seven day window to return a Kindle book that does not meet your expectations. My small textbook has a rating of 5 stars (from a single, trollish review). In the last two months, it has a return rate of 0.69%, meaning a little more than 1 in 150 of these books gets returned. (For perspective, I’ve heard anything less than 5% is good, so I’m well below that mark here.)

The bigger textbook? The one with a 1-star review? Zero returns in the last two months. None. Buyers, it appears, like the larger textbook better. Yet it appears from the reviews that the opposite is true.

Edit: Looking back, I noticed I only calculated this from US sales. There was a single return of the bigger textbook from Amazon UK. So the return rate wasn’t exactly zero for the world, but it was darn close.

I’m curious why Amazon does not show the return rate for each book. Writing a review is time consuming, so you might get one review for every couple thousand books you sell. Consequently, the reviews don’t really tell you what the average person thinks of the book. Returning a book, on the other hand, is not costly, since it puts money back in the customer’s pocket. It is a better metric of a book’s value to its customers.

Anyway, hopefully my sales will return. In the meantime, if you have read Game Theory 101: The Basics and Extensive Form, please write a review. =) Whether you think it is five stars or one, at least the review will better reflect what everyone thinks as a whole.

Interview on Mind Your Decisions

Presh Talwalkar recently interviewed me on Mind Your Decisions. You can go directly to it by clicking here. If you are curious about how I got into this field in the first place or my thoughts on the way game theory is taught, this interview is for you.