At its most basic, writing only requires a pen and paper. But these eight tools will help you take your writing further – from composition to grammar checking, from workshop groups to professional editing.

Google Docs

google-docs

Google Docs just might replace Microsoft Word, especially if you’re collaborating with co-authors or an editor. Everyone can access and edit a document in real-time, and there are chat features and comments to hammer out any sticking points. The real-time nature of Google Docs spares you the confusing process of emailing different versions back and forth, keeping everything centralized. Your work is stored in the cloud, meaning you can work on your book from any device when you’re on the go. Best of all, it’s free.

Scrivener

scrivintrolarge

For a more robust composition software, try Scrivener. It’s made specifically for writers, with features that break your manuscript into chapters or scenes and enables you to navigate between them easily. You can also import research, notes, and images. Once you’re finished, Scrivener can export your work into an e-book. Scrivener is $45, and offers a free 30-day trial.

Grammarly

grammarly

Grammarly is a browser extension that goes beyond simple spell-check. Whatever you’re writing (be it your book, a Facebook promotional post, an email), Grammarly examines it for grammar, punctuation, proper sentence structure, and word choice. It even checks for plagiarism. Grammarly is free with a paid option.

Inked Voices

inked-voices

Looking for critiques on your book? Inked Voices is a membership site where small writing groups gather to workshop and improve one another’s work. Founder Brooke McIntyre explains, “Writers can also get critiques from professional editors and writing teachers via the site. Once a writer launches his or her book, we support them by announcing their latest books in our newsletter and on social media.” Membership is $10 a month or $75 a year.

Hiring an Editor

If you’re looking for a freelance book editor or ghostwriter, you might look at sites including Upwork, Fiverr, iFreelance, and FreelanceWritingGigs.com. Your experience will vary based on the person or people you hire, but these boards are a good way to connect you to lots of available talent. They’re also a good place to shop for graphic designers for your book cover.

Next up: Tools to help you format your book! Stay tuned…

Self-publishing is a learn-as-you-go process. Authors must constantly adapt and try new tactics in order to get their books in front of the right audience. We asked experienced authors if there was a single thing they did that helped boost sales. Here’s their helpful advice.

Advertise to the right list, even if that list doesn’t look like it accepts advertising

When Naresh Vissa released his book Podcastnomics, he was disappointed with initial sales. “I did a couple of Reddit AMAs, was interviewed by some small print and broadcast media, and used social media to spread the word,” he said, but “my book still couldn’t crack 100 books sold. Fortunately, I found a targeted blog geared towards podcasters, contacted the administrator, and asked him if I could advertise to his mailing list for nearly $300. He said very few people contacted him to advertise and that he never even thought of accepting advertising.”

The blogger agreed to Naresh’s request and sent an e-mail to his list, teasing the book and recommending it as required reading for all podcasters. “Within 24 hours,” Naresh said, “I sold more than 90 copies of the book, and later that week, it climbed all the way to #1 in its primary category on Amazon’s bestseller list. I recouped my advertising expense with that one quick and simple send. And because it rose the charts, Amazon then started pushing my book out because they thought it would sell well moving forward… and it has. I’ve sold more than 4,000 copies of the book to date.”

Get smart with email drip marketing

David Brown, author of The PFB Diet book, managed to triple his sales by setting up a drip marketing sequence. “Instead of directing my readers directly to the book sales page,” he said, “I started directing them to my subscribe page, where they can instantly download a free sample chapter from my book. After downloading the sample chapter, they receive five follow-up emails over the next 5 days, and these emails offer further insight into how my diet works.” David remarked that even though “I have done a ton of things to optimize my sales figures,… this one change really stands out in terms of how little work it took to gain such a major boost.”

Repackage what has sold successfully before

Carey Heywood is a best-selling romance author, and has had success by bundling her already-published material into a boxset. “The investment is low since the material already exists,” she says. “The cost to create a bundle is mainly formatting, cover design, and advertising.” Simple as that!

Redesign the cover

Carey also recommends redesigning a book’s cover, a strategy she calls “a cost-effective way to bring new attention to an older book.” She is currently designing a new cover for her book Better. “Once I have my new cover,” she says, “I plan to promote it with a paid cover re-reveal blitz and a sale,” a strategy that worked well for her in the past.

cover-design-poll

Many authors also use PickFu to test cover designs and find the one that audiences find most appealing. Author Dennis J. Coughlin said, “I loved my PickFu experience. I used it for my book [Rain Down‘s] cover design and I found the results were extremely helpful. I was impressed by the speed of the voting and the fact that everyone left a detailed comment in addition to their vote.”

Have you found a simple trick that boosted your book’s sales? Let us know!

Launching in the App Store means being at the mercy of Apple and Google, a nerve-racking prospect. Rejections can sometimes seem arbitrary, and unforeseen bumps in the road can delay a launch.

We asked experienced app developers what they wish they had known before releasing their first app. Here’s what they said:

Be conscientious with data

“Many times, we’ve seen our customers wanting to collect a wide array of user data for their analysis and marketing purposes,” said Mark Pedersen, app developer at Nodes Agency in London. “But if the app is not using these data for anything particular, odds are your app will be rejected due to collecting information not related to core functionality of the app.”

One suggestion: “Don’t ask users to subscribe to push notifications upon first opening the app without providing context for why you’re requesting permission,” adds Jonathan Levey, Digital Marketing Manager for Skyjet. “It’s better to prompt the user to opt in at some key experience point when they’re likely to be interested in receiving notifications.”

Why is this important? The next tip explains.

Make sure your app has staying power

“Ever download an app and try it out and realize it was a waste of your time and then immediately delete it? Well, in doing so, that negatively affects that app’s rankings in the store you got it from,” said Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal. Both the Apple App Store and Google Play measure how long an app stays on a user’s phone after it has been downloaded. “This is one of the best metrics for these platforms to understand if the app is quality enough to be solving the user’s problem, need, or desire. To move the needle on this metric, app developers simply must have a clean, concise, easy-to-understand user interface that satisfies the user’s intent.”

Add video

A great way to showcase your app is by adding video. “This will make it stand out from the other two million apps in the App Store and make consumers far more likely to engage and eventually download your app,” says Bob Bentz, president of ATS Mobile. “Many new apps simply don’t take advantage of it.” However, it’s important that your preview video focuses on functionality only.

Make sure it’s release-ready

“If you update your app straight away, the reviews you received from Day 1 users will move from Current Version to All Versions,” warns Ashley Burnett, 18-year-old creator of Type In Time and Motor Math. “You want as many Current Version reviews as possible, as you will get an average star rating under your app’s listing, which looks nice. Therefore, you should ensure 100% there are no bugs and give it a week or two before releasing any non-urgent updates.”

Remember the basics

One of the most common issues is forgetting meta-data. “The meta-data should always be double-checked for containing correct information and no broken links, since the moderators in the App Store are particularly keen on having correct meta-data,” says Pedersen. In addition, he warns, “the App Store moderators are intent on all apps having proper privacy policies in place. Apple takes this item very seriously, and even a few minor spelling errors in the privacy policy can result in rejections.”

More helpful hints

• Visit AppReviewTimes.com to get a crowdsourced idea of how long the review process will take.
• Email appstorepromotion@apple.com and appoftheweek@apple.com to increase your chances of being featured.
• Use PickFu to test app names, icons, descriptions, and more so that you have data before entering the review queue.

Got more advice for aspiring apps? Comment below!

Some might say that writing is its own reward. But once you’ve put your book up for sale, sales can be an even better reward.

Many users turn to PickFu to test book titles and cover designs. But PickFu can help you hone a book’s description, too. Below are tips from self-published authors on what makes a book description sing — and how to get the cash register to ring.

Focus on Value to the Reader

You’ve reeled a potential reader in with a strong title and attractive book design. They’ve clicked on your description page. Now what?

Mihaela Lica Butler, author of the cookbook Vegan Romania and the children’s book Garden Super Hero Tales advises that authors tell the reader what’s in it for them.

“Generally speaking, value should be a strong focus,” she says, “and value comes in different forms.” Various means of conveying value may include the author’s expertise on the subject, the book’s affordability, content exclusivity (not being able to find the information within the book anywhere else), or features like recipes, interactive content, or illustrations and coloring pages.

In her description of Vegan Romania, Butler explains why a vegan diet isn’t traditionally associated with Romania, but how it plays an important part in daily life there.

Romania is little known for its vegan cuisine. In fact, Romanians enjoy meats more than anything else. Their traditional foods are usually rich in fats and spices. But in the countryside, people cannot always afford meat. They substitute animal fats with a wide variety of vegan ingredients. Vegan food is also enjoyed in all its diversity during several fasting seasons, especially during the 40 days of Lent.

In another sentence, Butler emphasizes that the book’s recipes “in their vast majority, are not available in English anywhere else.”

In just a few sentences, she has offered exclusive content and demonstrated her knowledge of the subject matter.

Pose a Question

Alina Adams, author of The Figure Skating Mystery Series, says “the best tip I have for writing strong book descriptions is to pose a question the reader desperately wants answered – but can’t unless they read the book.”

Adams set up her question with this intriguing book description:

At the World Figure Skating Championship, the Ladies’ Gold medal goes to Russia’s dour Xenia Trubin over America’s perky Erin Simpson thanks to the vote of one judge, who then promptly turns up dead.

Who killed Silvana Potenza? A skater? A coach? A fan? An official? A parent?

Emphasize Enhanced Content

Adams’s mystery series also includes professionally made videos of The Ice Theatre of NY as part of the story. “In my book description, I make sure to highlight this unique feature, and – this part is critical – explain exactly what that feature is and how it works. Enhanced ebooks are still so new, customers don’t expect them, and don’t exactly understand what they are. It is my job to make that clear – and enticing – in the book description.”

Think Like a Publisher

Richard Ridley, author of young adult series The Oz Chronicles, advises authors to approach their book description as marketing material, not literature. “You are not writing your book description as the author,” he says. “You are writing it as the publisher.”

“Making an impact on the reader is your principal concern. What will move the reader to want to know more about your book? What will motivate the reader to add your book to his or her cart? Write the book description with your head, not your heart.”

Consider Outsourcing It

The best tip in writing a book description may be not to write it all, but to have an objective third party, someone who isn’t as close to the work, write it for you.

This person might be your editor, a close friend, or you could even host a writing contest. Bryan Hutchinson, author of Writer’s Doubt, wrote that every time he created a version of his book’s description, “I didn’t say enough or I said too much. Alas, this is normal. The reality is the author is not usually the best person to write their own book’s description.”

Run a Test

Mark Edward, co-author of Catch Your Death, spent time meticulously combing over best-selling books and their descriptions. Employing some of the techniques he observed, he managed to double his sales.

Catherine Ryan Howard, self-published author of Distress Signals, added that “the ability to edit your book description… is a huge advantage self-publishers have over traditionally published books, which settle on a blurb quite early on that then gets passed along the lines to catalogues, retailers, etc. and to my knowledge, can’t be changed. But you can change yours as much as you like, and so continually experiment with what works and what doesn’t.”

Get the First Sentence Right

“Fear is contagious…”

This is the first line of Catch Your Death‘s description.

Edward says, “Your first line needs to encapsulate the whole book. It needs to draw people in, hit them where it feels good and make the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. Not easy – but worth spending time on.”

One way to do accomplish this is to test options on PickFu. See if in just a few words and without much context you can create a reaction. Ask a question such as, “Given these opening sentences of a book blurb, which would you want to know more about?” I ran that very poll:

Book Descriptions

Now that I’ve set the tone and have a better understanding of how audience members react, writing the rest of the description will flow from this first sentence.

What other tips for book descriptions would you include? What worked for your book? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @PickFu!

Pamela Wilson and Jeff Goins host the Zero to Book podcast where Jeff, an established author, walks Pamela, a newer author, through the process of launching a book.

In this episode, the hosts discuss the importance of a book’s title. Jeff calls it a book’s most important marketing asset – more important than the content itself, at least in terms of marketing. A book’s title, after all, is the most succinct way to communicate what it’s about.

The title should be judged on its appeal to new readers. Your existing fan base might already be inclined to purchase your book, no matter what it’s called. But the title is the thing that could potentially entice or dissuade new customers to join the fold.

Jeff guides Pamela through a process for ideating and testing book titles, including using PickFu. He talks about our wide-reaching demographic pool of respondents (no, it’s not a room of interns in Soho – we’re in California, anyway). He also talks about how affordable — and even addictive — testing ideas can be.

“The results are sure to surprise you,” he says. We hope you agree.

Ready to give PickFu a try? Start here.

Naming your app is like naming your baby and can be equally gut-wrenching. You want your name to be unique, but not so unique that no one can pronounce it or spell it. Your name ideally says something about your product’s personality, but also conveys its usefulness. Some apps that balance the two goals well are TravelZoo, BookBub, and Parking Panda; the names allude to the app’s main function, but are memorable and “brand”-able.

If only it were as easy as combining your app’s category with a fun-sounding noun, though. There’s much more to it than that. Here’s a quick rundown of 10 tips to consider when naming your mobile app:Continue reading

Recently, a new customer signed up for PickFu and told us he’d discovered our service in a book. That book was Launch Tomorrow: The Non-Designer’s Guide to Using a Landing Page to Launch a Lean Startup, by Luke Szyrmer.

In it, Szyrmer outlines a method for defining an audience, validating an idea, and quickly taking that idea to market. PickFu is featured as a means of rapid market testing “in order to figure out which concepts grab attention, tickle tastebuds, and leave people wanting more.”

“The implications of PickFu,” he writes, “are enormous… If you can find out how people react to a certain color or shape or logo or byline, you have a much better chance of choosing something attractive.”

Szyrmer emphasizes PickFu’s affordability and speed. He recommends using PickFu polls to create an attractive offer and to make important branding decisions. “By choosing a brand and a style that already evokes exactly the feelings and associations that you want in your target market, you construct a unique experience which can’t be found anywhere else. With PickFu, you can test these associations out within minutes.”

The author is honest about a drawback, too: “Declared behavior isn’t the same as actual behavior. This is a big problem with branding, traditional advertising and market research. Just because people say they’ll be happy to buy something often doesn’t mean that they actually will. As a result, you can’t be certain that the declared results will directly correlate with sales. Nonetheless, PickFu’s inexpensive and fast. If you want to put some numbers to help you prioritize a list (of for example bullets), then it’s a great first cut to weed out the more attractive options based on consumer opinions.”

If you’re curious about Szyrmer’s other tips for aspiring entrepreneurs, check out Launch Tomorrow on Kindle or @LaunchTomorrow on Twitter.

Steve Chou runs an online store called Bumblebee Linens. As an e-commerce site owner, he knows that an appealing photo can make the difference between losing a customer and making a sale. In fact, a simple photo swap helped Steve improve sales on a listing by 209%.

In order to test photos, Steve ran split tests on his website, whereby he published a listing, waited several days, swapped out the images for new ones, waited again, and then compared the results. The problem with split testing, however, “is that it takes forever. Every test that I run usually takes at least 3 weeks or more,” he wrote in a blog post. “And I’d say that 9 times out of 10, my tests are inconclusive.”

Besides the time required, a conversion pixel or some kind of tracking mechanism was needed, adding complexity and hassle to the tests, especially when selling on sites like Amazon, eBay, or Etsy. “Not only is this a major pain in the butt if you have multiple listings,” he said, “but if you’re lazy like me, you’re never going to do it.”

So when Steve heard about PickFu, “I thought I’d give it a try just for fun.” He took a listing from his store and tested his current featured photo against a new photo.

This was the photo he was running:

test-ecommerce-photo

And this was the new photo:

test-e-commerce-photos

After surveying 50 women in the span of less than 20 minutes, the second photo beat the first by a margin of 3 to 1. The female respondents gave answers such as the following:

• It’s like a recommended serving suggestion – it just looks great and makes you picture using it
• The purple flowers against the gray backdrop and white napkins is gorgeous.
• … the flowers make it more interesting and make the napkins look a bit more fancy.

Steve admits that PickFu won’t replace traditional split tests, because split tests use your actual website customers as test subjects. Still, split tests take time to set up, and even more time to run. “Depending on your traffic levels, it can often take several months before you can get an answer,” he said. “Now it’s one thing if they always ended up providing conclusive results, but it’s rarely the case. … So from my perspective, I’m very reluctant to run a split test now unless it’s for something major. But for everything else, I’m more inclined to pay [a few] bucks and get a quick 20-minute answer from PickFu.”

After publishing his blog, one commenter wrote, “Wow, Steve, this is AWESOME! I’m definitely going to give PickFu a try. I’ve known about split testing and wanted to try it but it seemed overwhelming and technical. This, however, is right up my alley.”

Is PickFu right up your alley? Tell us about it! And keep in mind, we at PickFu practice what we preach. We tested two possible titles for this very blog post.

Mike Fishbein has self-published twelve books. “I used to think that I could just write a great book and publish it and then the sales would roll in,” he wrote in a blog post. “I was wrong.”

Mike’s most recent book, Your First Bestseller: How to Self-Publish a Successful Book on Amazon, became the top-seller in Direct Marketing.

So what changed?

Mike learned that it’s not enough to write a compelling book. The book has to be designed in such a way that readers will want to buy it. And that means having a well-crafted title and a stand-out cover.

For that, he turned to PickFu.

“I had a radical idea to use a 1970s-style motif for the title and cover,” Mike told us. After brainstorming many ideas, he was most excited to title his book Pimp Your Book: How to Self-Publish a Bestseller on Amazon. “I thought it would add character and be attention-grabbing, [but] when I tested it on PickFu, I learned that readers found it unappealing and tacky.”

testing-book-titles

Here are some actual responses:

  • I feel like “Pimp your…” is over done and a little bit dated now. It also implies a cheap way to do something, not a money saving or independent way to get something done.
  • Don’t think the title “Pimp my Book” is appropriate or appealing! Makes me think of hookers not book publishing!
  • I dont think using the word pimp in a book will attract people who are serious
  • I do not like option A’s use of the word “pimp” as it’s juvenile and offensive.

“The unfortunate truth,” Mike said, “is that my opinion is not always right. Fortunately, PickFu told me what my readers think, which is the most important opinion at the end of the day. Had I used my personal favorite title idea, instead of the one that tested better on PickFu, I’m not sure I would have had the same results.”

With his title decided on, Mike went to work with a graphic designer to create the book’s cover.

0-cRG3Ic2a1mLqRd9y

“People see your cover in places like the ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ of related book pages, category bestseller lists, and search results,” he wrote. “Your cover, in addition to your title, will in part determine whether or not they click through to your book page.”

In the past, Mike made what he called the “rookie mistake” of hiring a designer on Fiverr and expecting great results. It took trial and error before finding a designer with whom he’s got a great working relationship. Today, Mike recommends designing at least two versions to split test. “Designers will likely charge more for that, but I believe it’s worth it.”

testing-book-covers

Mike discovered another benefit to using PickFu. “Previously I relied on my email list for feedback. I get great feedback from my email subscribers, but it’s hard to get a high volume of responses in a short amount of time. In addition, I’m limited to my existing subscribers as testers. PickFu enables me to get a large volume of feedback in a short amount of time from people that aren’t already on my email list.”

Mike’s book sold over 400 copies in the first ten days of its launch, and attributes some of his success with the tests he ran before publishing. “I would recommend PickFu because it’s easy to use and provides actionable feedback that’s both quantitative and qualitative. It enables you to see not only what cover or title is favored, but why it is favored.”

Have you had similar success as an author using PickFu? Tell us about it in the comments!

PS – We used PickFu to test the title of this article. See the results!

 

Michael Cowden faced a dilemma. He and his team had been working for months on a mobile game called Outrun the 80s. Then a friend in marketing suggested a different name — Super 80s World.

Not bad, Mike thought. But is it better than Outrun the 80s?

He asked his friends. He asked his family. But, as he later told us, “the problem with this method is that they aren’t necessarily the target audience or the most likely to be honest with you.”

So Mike turned to PickFu. He polled 50 people and asked, “Which mobile game sounds like more fun?”

super-80s-world

Super 80s World won, but only by a narrow margin. What was surprising, however, was what the people who voted in favor said in the comments.

“It reminds me of Mario.”
“I love the 80s and Super 80s World sounds more exciting.”
“I don’t like A because it makes it sound like you are trying to run away from the 80s, and that was my childhood! I like the B title because it celebrates the fun 1980s.”

As Mike wrote later on the Super 80s World blog, “I could immediately tell that Super 80s World communicated the game concept much better. The folks that liked that name got what the game was about and, more importantly, wanted to play it!”

Since then, Mike has continued to turn to PickFu for help in answering key questions about the game. For example, he tested two logo concepts, and what became the game’s logo won overwhelmingly:

testing-logos

He also tested concepts for game characters:

mobile-app-testing

He even tested questions like, “Based on the donation levels on this Kickstarter page, would you be willing to donate?” and “For ‘Episode 1’ of a Mobile Platformer Game (like Mario Bros), does 3 worlds and 30 levels sounds like… too many / too few,” and “Which of the following animations feels more natural for the play of the game?”

“Being able to answer a key business question for $20 is a no-brainer,” Mike told us. “As soon as I saw that this service was available at a reasonable price, I was sold. You can’t make key business decisions in a vacuum or an echo chamber. PickFu is a very cost-effective way of getting immediate user feedback.”

Super 80s World is currently in beta, so sign up for early access and see what other exciting turns the game takes!