I just had a long conversation with Barry Eisler (no, we're not writing this one down) and one of the things we touched upon was what makes a bestseller a bestseller.
I've argued that brands, name recognition, and fanbases aren't as important as we'd like to think they are. In short, the authors who are famous bestsellers right now might not be famous bestsellers in the near future. Rather than repeat the reasons why, you can read the argument here.
In the legacy world, the more books you had in print, the more you'd sell, because you took up a lot of shelf space (both in a single store, and in thousands of stores.)
But in a digital world, every ebook has one slot on the shelf. You can increase shelf space by having many ebooks, but there are only a handful of stores (Amazon, BN, Smashwords, iBookstores, Sony, Kobo, etc) rather than the thousands of bookstores and thousands of other stores that sell books.
This is a much more even playing field. And while I disagree that name authors lowering their ebook prices will hurt my sales much (at low prices, people buy more), I do recognize the importance of standing out among the millions of other titles.
It is easier to make a sale in a digital world, but there it is still a multi-tiered process.
1. A reader must discover that your book exists.
2. A reader must be compelled to look at it.
3. A reader makes a decision to buy it.
4. A reader makes a decision to read it, and then possibly buy your other titles.
The first point requires some heavy lifting on the part of the author, building buzz, networking, trying to get some awareness. But the author has some help. Amazon is leading the pack in making it easy to discover ebooks. Their bestseller lists (which have been supplemented with their new best rated lists) and the "customers who also bought" make it easier than ever to find things to buy.
Once a reader realizes a book exists, the author has to make a good impression. A great cover, great blurb, and professional formatting are all subtle indicators that this is a quality product.
Believe it or not, the size of the author's name on the cover can subconsciously signal that the author is important. But there are other indicators, too.
Star rating, and the number of reviews (along with what is said in the reviews) can help sell books. Here's an interview I did with BookRooster.com, which I recently used to some success, and which helps authors get reviews.
But once the ebook is bought (or the sample is downloaded) there is yet another hurdle to overcome. Just because the book is on a customer's ereader doesn't mean it has been read.
In fact, everyone with an ereader has a choice of where to get content. They can go to Amazon (or whatever store they shop at) and look for new ebooks. Or they can peruse the content they've already downloaded, either as a sample or as a full book.
This has some disadvantages, however. Unlike a print to-be-read pile, where a reader can look at what they bought, it isn't easy to read back jacket copy on an ebook.
This means that some ebooks or samples that have been downloaded get forgotten, and it is a minor hassle to figure out what the book is about.
If you own an ereader, no doubt you've looked through the dozens (hundreds?) of titles on your device and probably forgotten why you downloaded some of them.
Here's the easy fix. Instead of beginning an ebook with the copyright page (that should come at the very end--no one cares about reading that) your ebook should start with the same description that is on the product page. That will jog a reader's memory, and make it easy for them to decide whether or not to read that ebook or sample.
That simple trick (which I stole from Blake Crouch) will improve your chances at being read. Then, once you are read, there are some other tricks to use.
First, make sure you have a clickable bibliography, which allows readers to directly access your other content. But this bibliography should be more than just titles. It should also include the product description of the ebooks (if not for all, then for at least a few of them).
You can also have excerpts from your ebooks, and other writers' ebooks. Again with links.
In other words, you've turned a customer's ereader into your second storefront. They can still find you by browsing online, but as more people buy more and more ebooks, more and more browsing will be within the ereader.
Make it easy for these readers to read you and buy you.