Books2Read and “Universal” Links

I’ve blogged about global or “universal” links twice before: here and here.

Now I’m visiting the subject again. What prompted me? My new use of Draft2Digital.

Draft2Digital distributes ebooks to 8 e-tailers who feature ebooks among their offerings: Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Inktera, Scribd, Tolino, 24 Symbols, and the newly added Playster. Draft2Digital provides a smooth interface for the authors they serve, along with some excellent online tools.

Amongst those tools is access to their sister site Books2Read.

Books2Read creates and sustains a “universal” link for each book distributed through Draft2Digital, allowing authors, reviewers, fans, – or, really, anyone who wants to talk about that great book she just read – to share one URL for the book that connects to nearly every store where that book is sold.

I’ve really liked having one Amazon link that directs each reader to the Amazon store serving his area, and one Kobo link that does the same for the Kobo store fronts.

But the Books2Read link will direct the prospective ebook purchaser to the right Amazon store, the right Kobo store, the right B&N store, or even to stores that I’ve never heard of (but that do carry my books!).

How It Works

Now, the first time a reader clicks on a Books2Read link, she will need to choose her preferred store from an array of icons. But ever after, any Books2Read link will take her directly to the book on her preferred e-tailer site.

Try it for yourself.

No, really! Click on the cover of Caught in Amber. The window will open in a new tab, and you can see exactly what any first-time clicker will see when he clicks a universal Books2Read link.

(Unless you’ve already selected your preferred store for Books2Read. Then clicking will take you to Amber at that store.)

Do it now. I’ll wait! 😉

Before those of you who don’t distribute through D2D – but who do have books on offer with more than one e-tailer, skip this post…catch this!

Universal Links for Everyone

Books2Read will create and sustain universal links even for books that are not distributed through Draft2Digital. All you have to do is create an account with Books2Read, and you can start creating universal links for your books. Cool, don’t you think?

Now, Books2Read links aren’t truly universal. They may be universal for ebooks (I have no way of testing that – too many e-tailers for me to know about them all), but they don’t include stores that carry only paperbacks and hardbacks. I wish they did. That would be…incredible! But Books2Read does have 38 e-tailers (plus several subscription services) on their roster, many that I’ve never even heard of.

They divide their roster into “fully supported” stores and “partially supported” stores.

An Automated Search
(plus add-ons)

The fully supported stores are accessed by the author creating universal links automatically. That is, when the author pastes the link to one store into the box on the Books2Read site, an automatic search finds that book on the sites of 10 e-tailers and includes them in the book’s universal link.

These 10 fully supported stores are: Amazon, Apple, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Thalia, Inktera, and Smashwords.

For the partially supported stores, the author must paste in the link for each store himself, and then those links are included in the universal link.

There are 28 partially supported stores. I’m not going to list them all. You can see the list on Books2Read, if you want the full roster, here. I’ll name a few to give you some sense of them: Blio, Indigo, Libris, WHSmith, OverDrive. But there are many more.

Universal Links Plus?

So, why, you may be asking, does my own site still include individual links to Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and others?

This is my thinking:

First of all, global links are a new thing. Readers are not accustomed to them. If I weren’t an author, I would not be accustomed to them. In fact, when I first encountered them as a reader on another author’s blog, I felt confused that there was only one link. Where’s the Amazon link? I wondered. And…I did not click on that one link. I worried about where it would take me. I certainly didn’t trust it to take me to Amazon. Instead, I went to Amazon myself and searched on the book title.

Well, I don’t want to risk that an interested reader on my site might avoid clicking on one of the links to my books! What if she didn’t follow up by going to Amazon (or Kobo, or Apple) herself? What if she simply bailed altogether? Not good!

And, secondly, using the universal link does require a second click the first time a reader clicks on it. Each extra click is an invitation to the clicker to bail. My direct links don’t require that second click. They take the reader directly to the store front and my book.

So, for now, I’m keeping the individual links to the most popular e-tailers.

But I am using the universal links.

My Universal Links

“Where?” you ask. “I don’t see them.”

Indeed, right now it’s not obvious, because the universal links are connected to the book cover images in the sidebar of my site. With a little more work, I will have all the book cover images serving as links. Right now, most are static images with no links at all, and that’s a waste. People are accustomed to images that are links, images that lead somewhere when you click on them.

I’ve avoided making my book cover images into links, because I would have had to choose which store to favor. And my readers who prefer Kobo (or Apple, or B&N, etc.) would have been super annoyed to click and find themselves arriving on Amazon instead.

Recently, I did make the sidebar images go to Amazon, because I couldn’t bear the wasted opportunity. But now I don’t have to choose! The images can be universal links. 😀

Your Thoughts?

So…now I have questions for you!

What do you think of all of the above? Do you think I am wise to preserve the individual links for now? Do you think I am mistaken to convert the book cover images into links? Or to have them go anywhere but Amazon? (Most – but not all – of my sales occur at Amazon.) Do you find the links as they are currently configured to be convenient for you?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with links and what you think of the issue.

For more about links, see:
A Question for International Visitors
Kobo Knows How to Do Ebook Links Right!



What Is the Essence of My Story?

I just read Kris Rusch’s most recent post about branding for authors and books. It’s excellent, and I’ve been thinking about the concepts all morning. I almost titled this post “What Is My Brand?” But that sounded overly superficial and doesn’t really convey what I mean.

The superficial elements of branding are important, of course. But the reason they’re important is because they communicate (or fail to communicate) the essence of the item on offer, in this case the essence of the heart of my fiction.

If I can communicate the essence of my stories accurately and with passion, then the readers who will most love them will know they’ve found the right book for them, when they stumble across one of mine.

(Speaking of which, I have an important question for those of you who do love my fiction. But more of that later. I’ll ask my question after I’ve done a brief exploration of the concepts behind branding. Back to Kris now.)

I gave some serious thought to the brand-building action steps that Kris presented and assigned as “homework.”

• Define the nature of what you offer

• Define who enjoys what you offer the most

• Determine if there are any related businesses and research their branding

• What is unique about what you offer?

• What is definitely not present in what you offer?

• Create a tagline for what you offer

I’m going to share my thoughts about these six steps, but before I dive in, I want to mention two of Kris’ related points that really struck home.

Kris said:

If you bring any of this marketing stuff into your writing—your storytelling, your creative process—you are screwing up big time. You’ll ruin the very thing your readers love about you.

Your readers love your ability to surprise them. Your readers love the fact that you take them on a journey that seems both familiar and unusual. If you do what you believe your readers want, you’ll retain the familiar and jettison the unusual. You will never be able to surprise them again.

You will ruin your art.

That really spoke to me. I’ve never tried to write to market. In all honesty, I doubt I could do it. All of my books have been books of the heart, books in which the characters and their challenges called to me so compellingly that I simply had to tell their stories.

But there are many successful indies singing the siren song called Write to Market and Reach Success. I have not let this verse guide me, but I have allowed it to nip at my confidence. Kris’ words help me feel strong again in my conviction that I will write only books of the heart. 😀

Her other point:

The moment you publish your first piece, you’ve begun branding. Branding happens whether you do anything or not.
. . .
Brand image—the way that customers perceive your brand—begins the moment a customer (reader) reads something of yours. That customer will get an impression of what you do, and that impression can be reinforced with other work.
. . .
The readers, however, will define the specifics of your brand for you.

A brand, therefore, is a living creation, brought into being and modified by each story released, gaining particularity through the perceptions of those who engage with the things offered. In my case, my stories give birth to my brand. Each new story released alters my brand a little, but also strengthens it. And the perceptions of my readers define the specifics of my brand.

I can strengthen my brand, or weaken it, but I do not control it. And it becomes more and more a reality over years and years.

So… what about those six action steps? 😉

I decided to take my North-lands Stories through the six steps, although I must confess that I found myself sliding from the consideration of branding for my North-lands into branding for my whole oeuvre fairly quickly.

At the end, I concluded that my brand was something I’d been working on understanding for nearly all of the past four years (after I had a body of work created), that I would continue to work to understand it and communicate it for all of the foreseeable future, getting closer over time, and that one morning’s worth of thought (and note-taking) was just one small part of an ongoing process.

I wasn’t going to get it pinned down and right in one morning. And I’m okay with that. It takes some of the pressure off, for one thing. 😉

So here are some excerpts from what I came up with.

What Do I Offer?

Kris gave examples all through her post, and I’m glad she did, because I need examples in order to learn well. I won’t repeat her specific examples for defining one’s offerings, but they were things along the lines of: “I write award-winning short mysteries” or “I write action & adventure set in feudal Japan.”

Mapping one example onto my North-lands gave me: “I write fantasy stories from the entire history of my North-lands.”

That’s accurate, although it won’t convey much to anyone who has not read any of my North-lands stories. Since this is an internal step, not something intended to go out into the world, I think that’s okay. But I did a little more thinking to explore (for myself) what I offer in my North-lands stories.

What if East of the Sun and West of the Moon were history, not folk tale? The world of my North-lands emerged from that history, with its own rich tradition of legend, adventure, and heroism. My North-lands stories chronicle the triumphs of one woman – or man, or child – struggling to make life-giving choices for herself (or himself) in difficult circumstances, and thus generating wonderful changes that ripple outward to shape an entire community or nation or culture.

I think I’m onto something with this. It will need more thought and refinement, but there’s the root of what I’m doing within that. 😀

Who Enjoys What I Offer?

I’ve received enough reviews over the past five years to generate a picture of the readers who love my work the most.

They seem to be a thoughtful bunch, intelligent and compelled to explore the depths of topics that interest them. A few read philosophy or theology. One was an English lit major. Some have suffered greatly, but not been broken by their suffering. They continue to live courageously, with hope for themselves and their loved ones.

They are of all ages: teens, young adults just starting out in life, mature professionals at the height of their powers, and wise old grandfathers and grandmothers. But they all love a good story with heart and great characters, set in a world full of wonder mixed with verisimilitude.

Kris urged us to be very specific with this step.

In addition to pondering the details of my readers’ lives, I also thought about the other books they like to read, largely because Kris gave examples along those lines: people who loved the movie The Black Stallion or people who participate in re-enactments of ancient Roman life.

So… the people who love my books also love Beauty, Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End, Sunshine and Chalice by Robin McKinley.

The people who enjoy my books also enjoy The Sharing Knife, the World of Five Gods novels, and the Penric novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold; The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper; The Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip; and Charmed Life, Dogsbody, and Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones.

Any Related Businesses?

I drew a blank here.

Kris gave examples along the lines of a romance writer writing stories set the world of professional soccer researching the branding of Major League Soccer and allowing elements of that to shape and inform her own brand.

I’m not currently seeing anything like that for me and my fiction, although I’ll keep my eyes open.

I did double down on my perception that successful books in my genre all have painterly cover art along with typography that plays a supporting role, that does not draw attention to itself, instead allowing the art to shine.

Most of my covers are not painterly enough, lacking the effects of spectacular light and shadow that they need to communicate the sense of wonder and mood that are such a part of my stories.

The cover for The Tally Master, created by the talented Milo at Deranged Doctor Design, is much closer to what I need and want.

What Is Unique?

I’m trying to express the magic of simply being alive and the hope inherent in being alive, without whitewashing either the difficulties or the mundanity that are part and parcel of living. Rather I want those difficult and dull elements to both heighten the sense of wonder in life and to be foundational to that wonder. So much of fantasy either omits them or polishes them beyond recognition. Mine celebrates them without becoming mired in them.

What Is NOT Me?

All Kris’ examples were along the lines of This but not That. “Star Wars, but with science, not fantasy.” “Crime investigators, but with real forensics, not that magic stuff in CSI.” And so on.

I followed her lead.

I write fantasy like Robin McKinley, but tell many stories in the same world, rather than just one or two. I write lyrical prose like Patricia McKillip, but with less purple and with a more natural cadence. I write fantasy with greater realism, like Lois Bujold, but with larger doses of the wonder that she tends to restrict to scenes like that in The Curse of Chalion, where Cazaril allows the goddess of spring to reach through him into the world. I write fantasy like Diana Wynne Jones, but with more world building and less handwavium.

Keep in mind that these ladies are my favorite authors and I merely aspire to touch the heights that they’ve reached. 😀

Develop a Tagline

Kris mentions that her pen name, Kristine Grayson, had her stories tagged with “It’s not easy to get a fairytale ending.” Titan romance writer Debbie Macomber has been called “the official storyteller of Christmas.”

I first developed my own tagline when I started this website: “J.M. Ney-Grimm writes fantasy with a Norse twist.”

I liked that tagline, and kept it until I released Serpent’s Foe and Devouring Light. Those were “fantasy with a mythic twist.”

So I changed my website tagline to “J.M. Ney-Grimm writes fantasy with a twist.” But I suspect I need to re-think that. It’s not really conveying the sense of wonder and depth that my readers desire.

Fantasy braided with poetry, wonder, and heart

That’s not quite right either, but it’s moving in the right direction.

As I said above in this post, branding will always be a work in progress, although – honestly – I’m in the early learning stages at this point. I hope I’ll get much more skilled at it in future years.

There’s one element that you could really help me with. Kris gives some great advice about involving one’s readers in figuring out what is unique to one’s own work. 😉

The more specific you get, the harder it will be for you to see what makes your work yours. So enlist the aid of others who love what you’re doing. They’ll tell you what makes your work special. Then you need to believe them, and run with that.

Here’s that question I promised above.

If any of you who love my fiction are reading this blog post, would you share your perceptions? What is it about my stories that you love? What is it that is unique? What is it that makes you wish I had more books out for you to read, because no one else quite hits the spot that a Ney-Grimm book hits?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thank you! 😀