A few months ago, Dave Chesson, creator of Kindlepreneur.com, received an email from Galaxy Press. Galaxy Press is the publishing company of famed sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard, and the email asked for Dave’s help in writing a new book description for one of Hubbard’s most famous books, Battlefield Earth.

A step-by-step approach to writing a strong book description

Feeling honored, Dave approached the task methodically. First, he returned to basics and reviewed some trusted books and articles about what makes a good book description. Next, he scoured the web for book reviews, including professional blogs, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. “The best strategy for writing a description that makes people buy is not only knowing the book, but also finding out what people say was their favorite part of the book, and expanding on that,” he writes.Continue reading

There are many reasons to test your business name, but this might be the most compelling: names can influence destiny. Studies have linked a person’s first name with chosen career, company rank, even juvenile delinquency. For instance, one study claimed that if you are a woman with a gender-neutral name like Cameron, you may be more likely to succeed in a legal career. There’s even a fancy term for it: nominative determinism.

In business, shorter names are usually more memorable and distinctive than long ones. And, as one blogger observed, IPOs may be more likely with a name under 13 characters. A name that begins towards the start of the alphabet might place you towards the top in local or online lists.

Your business name can be evocative of the kinds of client you serve, your company mission, or what makes your business unique. No matter what imagery your company name is associated with, however, one thing is certain: your name is your calling card.

It’s no wonder Fortune 500 companies spend millions of dollars on studies and consultants when it comes time to name a business. But you don’t need millions to run a successful test. Follow these four tips and you’ll be well on your way to a winning business name.Continue reading

One of the most popular uses for PickFu is to run preference tests on logo designs. If you’re in the process of creating a logo, learn from these past polls and make your tests the best they can be.

1. Decide how much you want to reveal.

Your question is the heart of your PickFu poll, the basic information to which respondents react. When testing a logo, you should consider what, if anything, to tell them about your business or service. Continue reading

Amazon is the world’s largest bookstore, and if you’re an author, you need to make the most of your presence there. I spoke with several indie authors to get their advice on how to maximize your Amazon Author Central page.

Personalize your URL

Amazon Author Central gives you the option to customize your URL. Author Karen Dimmick calls this a “pretty link” which she uses to “easily send people directly to it.” Her personalized link http://amazon.com/author/karendimmick looks nicer than the auto-assigned https://www.amazon.com/Karen-Dimmick/e/B01E0BXITY (though both land you in the same place). Include your Amazon Author Central link in your email signature or on your business cards. Author Amber Fallon adds, “The best way to put your Amazon Author Central page to work for you is to make sure people know about it. Tweet it once in a while. Be sure to include [the link] on your website and your social media profiles.” Tyrone Givens notes that the “author dashboard has a very convenient button for sharing the link to the page.”

Link Your Blog(s)

You can link your blog’s RSS feed so that your Amazon Author Central page is automatically updated every time you post to your blog. This is a surefire way to keep your Author profile current. Richard Lowe advises, “if you have more than one [blog], and they are all relevant, connect them all.”

Add Photos and Video

Your main author photo should reinforce your brand and personality. “Use the same photo from your bio everywhere you appear, e.g. when you’re a guest on a podcast,” says Dimmick. “That way everything ties together.” Colette Tozer adds, “ensure the photo you post in your bio has personality. After all, the reader wants to get to know the author, so ensure that your picture paints an accurate picture.” You can (and should!) also add more photos and have some fun with them. This way your audience gets to know you a little better.

Video is another interactive feature you should take advantage of. A book trailer, a narrated slideshow, or a reading or speaking engagement are all superb content to include as video. Stacy Brown showcases art from her coloring books as well as children interacting with them on her Author Central page. “I really like featuring videos and photos of my books on the Author page,” she says, “because it helps to sell the books more. Since some of the book listings are limited when you use CreateSpace, it’s nice to show more of the insides of the books or of happy little customers coloring in the books and reading!”

Perfect Your Author Bio

Your Amazon Author Central bio should reflect your whole body of work. While books in disparate genres or subject areas should have author biographies tailored to those genres or subjects, your Amazon page is a hub for your entire bibliography. Treat this block of text as marketing copy, a direct message from you to your readers. Keep in mind you will not be able to format this text using bold, italics, or hyperlinks. However, it is still a good idea to introduce readers to your website, blog, or social media channels.

One way to hone your bio’s copy is to test it using PickFu. Upload two or more versions of your “About” copy, and run a poll. You can target respondents by age, gender, parental or marital status, and even preference for fiction or non-fiction. Poll respondents will read each version and tell you which one they prefer, and why.

Add Events

Whether in person or online, make sure to include any events you’re participating in. Doing so helps author Allison Fagundes “capture Amazon foot-traffic that otherwise hasn’t found me on my other social media platforms.” When the event has passed, Amazon removes it from your page automatically.

Include Your Whole Catalogue

“It’s very important to make sure your books are showing up! Sometimes Amazon doesn’t automatically link them,” says Holly Lyn Walrath. Include books that you’ve co-authored, too. You’ll find an “Add More Books” button on the Book Details tab to search for books you’ve written by title or ISBN.

How do you bring the right people to your online store? How do you get them to stay? How do you set yourself apart from competitors?

Many sites take advantage of pay-per-click advertising, social media channels, and search engine optimization to boost site traffic and sales. But on top of these tried-and-true strategies, what else can you do? I spoke to e-commerce site owners to get their advice on marketing opportunities you don’t want to miss.Continue reading

PickFu polls are popular among mobile app companies, self-publishing authors, and e-commerce businesses. But these pollsters may be missing out on a helpful strategy: testing creative in context.

What does it mean to test something in context?

In a previous life, I worked in an ad agency. Whenever we pitched an idea for a billboard, we would Photoshop the creative onto a billboard. If we were creating a website layout, we would show the layout in a web browser. Sometimes when we pitched a TV commercial, we would even take a frame from the storyboard and Photoshop it onto a screen.

The same principle applies when you take a creative option, such an app icon, a book cover, or a featured photo, and test it using PickFu. You show that option in the context it will appear to the user, such as on a mobile device, on Amazon, or in a browser.

Why contextual testing works

The respondents to your PickFu poll are real-live human beings. Helping them visualize what you are testing means they can more effectively judge how your options will look when completed.

Think about it: When you look at a recipe, you don’t generally see the finished dish floating in white space. You see it in a table setting. When you shop for a product, you often see a lifestyle image of that product in use — for example, a lamp sitting on a desk, a t-shirt worn on a body, or a car being driven on a road. These images help you visualize eating the food or using the products, and make you more likely to give it careful consideration.

Testing in Context: Mobile Apps

When testing possible mobile app icons, consider contextualizing your icon against on a home screen, or against competitors in your category. Doing so helps users picture the icons on their own phones.

Fypio, a real estate app, used PickFu to test its icons. It placed the icon ideas on the iPhone lock screen and in a folder among similar apps. You can click the images below to see full poll results, including respondent comments and demographic breakdown.

Testing in Context on a Lock Screen

Testing in Context in a Folder

A gaming company also used PickFu to test its mobile app icon in context and included a larger shot of the icon itself alongside the home screen.

Testing in Context on the Home Screen, with Detail

Mobile apps aren’t limited to testing icons, however. This game wanted to see how users felt about two UI options, so it contextualized those options on a phone.

Testing in Context on a Phone

These two mobile companies wanted to test a button design, so they placed them in the context of their other buttons so that users could judge the icons and buttons as a set.

Testing in Context in a Set of Buttons

Testing in Context in a Set of Buttons, Example 2

In all these examples, poll respondents are better able to visualize how mobile app designs will look on a device. This may help yield even better insights on how to iterate and proceed.

Testing in Context: Books

Authors often use PickFu to test book covers. Displaying the cover designs in multiple formats, as the author below did, may help readers think about your designs where they’ll live – on an e-reader or in an Amazon store.

Testing in Context for eBooks

Since authors want to know what images seem most clickable, another idea is to test cover options among competitors in their Kindle categories.

You could also mock up your cover designs to display how they might look in an Amazon listing.

Testing in Context: Websites and E-commerce Stores

Websites and e-commerce stores can also benefit from testing in context. Show interface designs in a web browser to help respondents visualize. Want proof that it’s a good idea? I googled “blank web browser” and came up with tons of image results from stock photo companies. Grab one for yourself the next time you test a layout.

You can also test social media profiles in context, as this PickFu user did for an Instagram bio. By placing the bios in the context of its Instagram images, respondents can better judge what they like. Just remember that you should always only test one thing at a time, as this user did. By keeping the imagery the same, the only variable is the text of the bio.

Testing in Context: Instagram bio

Summary

Testing in context helps users visualize your creative options as they will truly be seen, whether it’s online, on a mobile device, or among other images.

Just like a recipe uses a table setting or a lifestyle image show a product in use, testing images in their context creates a more holistic experience for a poll respondent than an isolated image might.

Mobile apps have a variety of ways to test images in context. It might mean showing a UI on a phone or displaying an icon on a home screen. You could also test icons or buttons in a set, such as in a file folder or among your already existing buttons.

Self-publishing authors can test in context as well. Think about settings such as your Kindle listing or in related results to ensure your book cover truly stands out.

Websites, e-commerce stores, and social media profiles can also be tested in context. Doing so gives the respondents helpful cues to understand your designs as they will ultimately be seen.

One last thing

I used PickFu because I couldn’t decide how to title this blog post. In less than 15 minutes, I knew what to do. Find out what respondents had to say about why the title “Why Testing Your Creative in Context Is a Smart Move” was the best of the bunch!

When conducting a PickFu poll, one of the biggest benefits is accessing an audience of people who have no familiarity with your product, logo, book, or whatever it is you’re testing. They approach the question without bias… but as the poll creator, do you?

Avoid these common mistakes and poll respondents will answer openly and honestly.

Mistake 1. Leading words

Your question may include a positive or negative bias — words that consciously or unconsciously lead the respondents toward a certain kind of answer.

Examples:

• How much did you enjoy this YouTube video? (positive bias – implies that the viewer enjoyed it, and leads respondents to answer more favorably)
• Should responsible parents vaccinate their children? (puts respondents on the defensive by insinuating that parents who do not vaccinate are irresponsible)
• A recent poll found 80% of Americans disagreed with this government policy. How unhappy are you about this policy? (negative bias – not only is the question phrased negatively, it also includes a statistic that shows many unfavorable views, leading the respondent to feel as though he or she should feel that way, too.)

How to fix it

Remove leading words and phrases and structure the questions as objectively as you can:

On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best, please rate this YouTube video.
• Do you think children’s vaccinations should be required?
• Please rate your level of agreement with this government policy.

Remember, biased questions lead to biased results. And if you’re using polling to make important business decisions, you want your feedback to be as objective as it can be.

Mistake 2. Making assumptions

Sometimes questions include an opinion. For example, “Do you agree that dog owners should be able to walk their dogs off-leash in the park?” This assumes that dog owners want to walk their dogs without leashes, which may or may not be true. But by including this assumption, you are leading more people to respond in agreement.

Further examples:

• Is your favorite color blue? (assumes the respondent’s favorite color is blue)
• As long as nobody minds, is it okay to smoke indoors? (assumes that nobody minds)
Where do you like to party? (assumes respondents like to party)

How to fix it

Structure your questions around facts, not opinions. Make sure you’re not painting respondents into a corner so that they can only answer one way. In the first example, it would be better to ask, “Do you think dog owners should be allowed to walk their dogs off-leash in the park?” Similarly, these questions eliminate assumptions:

• What color do you like the best?
• How do you feel about smoking indoors?
• What do you like to do in the evenings?

Mistake 3. The double-barreled question

Sometimes questions ask about two disparate things. These double-barreled questions do not make good survey questions because respondents will often only concentrate on the one topic that means the most to them.

Examples:

• How do you feel about our two new flavors, French Vanilla and Hazelnut Cream?
• How have teachers and students responded to the new dress code?
• Which title and subtitle do you prefer?

How to fix it

Double-barreled questions should be separated into two distinct questions and polled separately from one another. When questions are worded similarly in a multi-question poll, it’s also good to distinguish them with underlined words or italics, as below:

• How do you feel about our new flavor French Vanilla?
• How do you feel about our new flavor Hazelnut Cream?
• How have teachers responded to the new dress code?
• How have students responded to the new dress code?
• Which title do you prefer?
• Which subtitle do you prefer?

Creating better PickFu surveys

PickFu focuses on preference testing. This means that in general, you’re testing options against one another, not necessarily open-ended or yes/no questions. Therefore, a question like “how do you feel about smoking indoors?” or “How have teachers responded to the new dress code?” likely wouldn’t get asked through a PickFu poll.

That being said, the same rules apply to preference testing as in general surveying: avoid leading words, don’t make assumptions, and only ask about one thing at a time.

For example, if you’re testing mobile app icons, the simplest unbiased question would be, “Which app icon do you prefer?” To embellish the question with anything else may introduce bias. Sometimes pollsters want to know whether their icons read a certain way, so they’ll ask something like, “Which icon seems more kid-friendly?” While not biased, per se, this question asks respondents to judge your icons differently than they might otherwise.

Because PickFu respondents include comments, one approach to avoid any hint of bias is to ask the simple question, “Which app icon do you prefer?” and then read the comments to see if kid-friendliness is something the respondents took away by themselves, rather than being led to see kid-friendliness or not.

Another approach is to include factual statements (unbiased, of course!) to explain what you’re testing, and then ask the respondent’s preference. For example, “Our app is a game aimed at children under 10. Which icon do you prefer?” These approaches may all yield various results, so some experimentation might be necessary to see what’s most applicable in your case.

Keep it consistent

Consistency is key in testing creative options. If you’re testing book covers, make sure that each design option includes the same information. If you tested two cover designs and each cover had a different title, for example, you wouldn’t know whether respondents preferred the design layout or the title on that design layout. Remember, only test one thing at a time.

Below is an example of an author who tested two covers. However, the two titles are different, only one option included a subtitle, and only one option included the superfitdads logo. Any of these variances may have skewed the results.

This poll would be less biased if each cover included the same title, subtitle, and author attribution. Then, the only test parameter would have been the cover design.

Here’s a better example. This author is testing two cover designs. The title, subtitle, author attribution, and even graphic layout is the same. The only difference is the “Action Plan” stamp. By only testing one thing at one time, this author knows the stamp helps his cover.

Summary

In both general polling and preference testing, it is important to keep these main ideas in mind as you design your survey:

1. Avoid leading words that may sway the responses positively or negatively. Phrase your question objectively.

2. Ensure your questions are fact-based, not opinion-based. Do not make assumptions about your audience.

3. Test only one thing at a time. Do not use double-barreled questions. When creating comparisons between two creative options, include only one test parameter per question, such as layout, title, or color palette.

4. You may need to experiment with the level of specificity in your question. Generally, the simplest form of the question will be the least biased. However, there are instances where you will need to direct the question a certain way rather than leave it open-ended. Just be sure to do it according to the three tips above.

What are the biggest and most common mistakes that new self-publishers should avoid? We reached out to three successful authorpreneurs to get advice.

Writing might be the “easy” part

“The biggest mistake self-published authors make is not approaching book publishing as a business, says “Inspiration to Creation” coach Nina Amir. “Many writers don’t realize that when they decide to self-publish, they become publishers. They open a publishing house. They enter into this endeavor eagerly because they are told it will be easy to self-publish, and they are surprised that they can’t just write, and that there is more to it than expected. They must carve out time to manage a team of designers and editors, pay taxes, promote, manage their publishing business’s finances, manage book sales, and more.”

To avoid this problem, Amir advises that new authors “educate themselves on what indie publishing entails and approach self-publishing as a business. It’s also important to determine if they are cut out for self-publishing so they don’t get frustrated and give up.”

Holly Brady, former director of the Stanford University Publishing Course, agrees. She warns that no one can truly “self” publish. “You may be a terrific writer,” she says, “but how good are you at design? Can you put together a killer cover? How about the interior? Are you ready to format your Word doc so that it’s got sequenced page numbers, headers, a title page, a copyright page? And are you willing to learn about the publishing industry? Do you know what a BISAC category is? Or how to get an ISBN number?”

Brady offers this framework: “In truth, a savvy self-publisher is more like an independent filmmaker who gathers together a team of professionals in a creative endeavor. Those professionals apply their skills, bringing to life the filmmaker’s vision of the project. Think of yourself as the creative director of your own project, assess the skills you bring to the table, make a list of the skills you don’t have, and find people who can help you.”

No two paths are alike

Publishing consultant Anne Janzer warns, “New self-publishing authors risk being swamped by oceans of marketing and promotion advice. Ultimately,” she says, “you are the captain of your own ship, so approach promotion with that mindset. You know your core audience, your purpose in writing and publishing, and what you value. Filter advice through those objectives while maintaining a growth mindset.”

Though knowing thyself is a guidepost, Janzer also advises that authors “test, refine, and learn, remembering that the activities that contribute to long-term success are things like building relationships, writing great books, providing value, and being generous.”

Believing “The end” is really the end

“The most difficult part of self-publishing is not getting your book designed or uploaded through Createspace and Kindle. It may not even be writing the book,” warns Brady. “The toughest part of the process for most authors is the marketing because so many of us are introverts.”

Her advice? “As you finish your book and prepare to self-publish, keep a keen eye out for folks who know something about getting books into the hands of readers. Check out the blog posts of Jane Friedman, Joanna Penn, Penny Sansevieri, Frances Caballo, Nina Amir, and Shelley Hitz. And stop calling it marketing. What you’re really doing is building relationships around the content and ideas in your book. Go meet some like-minded people today.”

What other advice would you offer to new self-publishers? Let us know in the comments!