The Importance of A/B Testing for Indie Authors

I’m a member of an author collective called Space City Scribes, and we’re in the middle of launching our new anthology, First Last Forever: A Collection of First Date Disasters. Besides the content (in this case, a quirky assemblage of dating stories), one of the most important things about publishing a book is the cover. So after designing nearly a dozen, the group narrowed it down to their two favorites. Instead of us picking, however, we let Facebook friends decide, and one of them won by a landslide.

Here were their choices:

FLF hands FINAL     FLF dance

Can you guess which cover women preferred? Can you guess which cover men preferred?

If you said women liked the “hand holding” cover on the top, you’d be right. That means men overwhelmingly chose the “dancing couple” cover. Why? I’m guessing men were drawn to the woman’s body and the red dress. Women, on the other hand, liked the “sweet” cover. Since this book is for women, you know which cover we chose.

When I designed it, I didn’t set out to create a cover men would love. I was just picking clip art to go with the stories inside (or most of them), and dancing fit the bill. Does this mean that ZERO women would’ve bought our book had we published with the cover on the bottom? Not at all. But I’m guessing we’ll get more sales as a result of using the pink cover. Now, this wasn’t a “true” A/B test. In order to do that, we would’ve had to publish both on Amazon to see which one sold better. At the end of the day, testing in a “real world scenario” is best. But since Amazon doesn’t (yet?) offer this option, Facebook had to suffice.

So what is A/B testing? It’s independently offering two choices to the public (usually not side by side, as we did) ON THE SAME PLATFORM and seeing which one performs better in the market. I caution that the platforms must be the same since your sales on one may naturally be higher than the other. In other words, offer your choices on a level playing field. A/B testing is a common practice in product marketing and advertising, and many, many smart indie authors are taking advantage of it as well.

What else can you A/B test?

  • Email campaigns
  • Promotional ads
  • Blurbs
  • Titles
  • Even story ideas…

Where can you A/B test?

  • Mailchimp
  • Facebook
  • Twitter (they now have a ‘poll’ option)
  • WordPress (they also have a ‘poll’ option)
  • Goodreads

But does all this “writing by consensus” stifle creativity? Yes and no. Yes in that you can’t rationally make any choice you want. No in that whatever you put before the voting public came from your creative brain in the first place. Whichever choice wins, you win, too. And you maximize your revenue. That’s a double-win.

If all you really want is to unchain your soul, pen a 200,000 word magnum opus on penguin courtship, and create a collage cover using bits of Christmas wrapping paper, the new ebook economy will welcome you with open arms.

For the rest of us, A/B testing makes a lot of sense.

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