Self-Publishing With Amazon and Kindle-Unlimited

Before I get into specifics, keep in mind that Amazon changes the rules of the game often and drastically, but as of December 2015, the strategies below are proven and effective.

A few months back, I wrote an article on self-publishing that was based on researching Amazon’s resources.  I had the good fortune to speak one-on-one this week with an author who is currently finding success in the self-publishing world. Aya Morningstar writes romance, which is one of the most lucrative genres at the moment. If you’re interested in reading, or just researching her work to see what’s working in the current market, you can find her books here.

Aya’s first foray into self-publishing was a short story and novella, which showed her that she had a lot to learn about the process. She published 20 erotica shorts (6-9k words) under her second pen name. Within two months, she was making around $3000 a month. However, the changes to Kindle Unlimited rolled out shortly after, cutting into her profits.

Currently, she’s transitioning into writing novel-length books with her third and current pen name, as authors of erotica shorts were hit hardest by the Kindle Unlimited changes (which now pays authors based on pages read versus rentals).

Aya was kind enough to share some of what she has learned about the industry.

First Thing’s First

Before I go any further, it’s worth emphasizing the point I made in my original article on self-publishing: if you self-publish your book without the proper preparation, you are gambling, and the odds are not good. 

The authors finding success in the self-publishing world are not necessarily the best writers. You could write the next Harry Potter, but if you handle it wrong, you’ll end up in deep in the millions on the rankings list. Traditional publishers will also turn their nose up at your second-hand book. The truth is, without an understanding of the process, many authors will make mistakes that bury their books without even knowing what went wrong.

That’s a lot of gloom and doom, but there is hope.

Recency

Amazon rankings are the lifeblood of your book. High rankings are the most valuable advertising your book can get. The higher your ranking, the more visibility, the more sales, the more reviews, and so on. So how do you get a great ranking and keep it?

The first insider trick is the “30-day cliff”. For example, suppose a book needs to sell 20 copies a day to remain at rank #2,000. On day 31, those 20 sales are worth less, and the book’s ranking will start to sink. Amazon wants to bias their rankings toward newer work, or else books like Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games would be crowding the top 10 for the next twenty years.

If you haven’t already mentally jumped ahead, consider what that means for you as an author. If you were thinking “the sooner the better”, and just planned to throw your book on Amazon and figure the marketing thing out as you went along, well, think again. The absolute best chance your book has for success is a carefully thought-out launch plan. It is extremely unlikely for your book to climb back up to visibility after the 30-day cliff on its own.

 

Taking Advantage of Recency

One useful bit of knowledge about Amazon’s ranking system is that it doesn’t care how much you price your book for. For shorter works like romance novellas, many authors choose either the $0.99 or $2.99 price point. The $0.99 price is a great idea for the first 30 days, as it will boost sales (which boosts ranking). However, the royalties from a $0.99 sale are not impressive, so the wise option is to offer your book on Kindle Unlimited for free.

The percentage authors earn on each sale is based on the price. For example, a $0.99 book does not earn 1/3 as much as a $2.99 book—it earns 1/6 as much.

Kindle Unlimited pays authors based on how many pages of their books were read. The change hit writers of short fiction hardest, as the potential for earnings and rank decrease with page count (pages read also boost ranking). At $.099, the fees from Kindle Unlimited can account for a vast majority of your earnings.

After 30 days, many authors then change the price to $2.99. This can prove to be a very profitable cycle. If they push out a new book after 30 days, readers will be drawn in by the low price. Some of those readers will look at the back catalog, which will slowly fill up with $2.99 books. Essentially, once you establish a back catalog, your new books are mostly advertising tools to bring readers in to your existing work. On her old pen name, Aya Morningstar even offers a book that is always free to hook readers and get them interested in her other work.

The last piece of advice on rankings is to make your new book free for a weekend and make a huge advertising push. This puts your book temporarily in the free books chart as well, which is much easier to rise to a high ranking. And remember: rank is visibility, and visibility is key. 

Advertising

Many self-published authors squirm at the word. They don’t think they have that kind of money, or that the risk is too big. First of all, put it in perspective. You could potentially reach dozens of people who exactly fit the demographic of your intended audience for the cost of a coffee. However, there are places where your dollars are well spent and many where they are not. Do your research before deciding to spend your money with an advertiser, as more of them are wasting your money than not. If you’re not judicious in your search, you could spend more money than you earn.

One paid advertisement option is Facebook. Facebook paid ads allow you to choose who your ad will appear to based on an almost limitless set of characteristics (finally, a reason to be glad they are creating extensive personality profiles on all of us!).  You only pay if the person clicks your link. The amount you pay is capped at a number of your choosing per day. The cost per click depends on how likely the individual was to click your link: if they were extremely unlikely, they cost more. If they are extremely likely, they cost very little. While it does sound great, the truth is that Facebook advertising is extremely complicated to master. So enter at your own risk, and accept that it’s going to be a learning process.

When To Advertise

According to Aya, one of the most effective times to advertise is during a promotional period where your book is set to free (as long as it’s on Kindle Unlimited). Authors of all genres can use a service on Fiverr for $10 to $30 to help with this process. Another effective technique is to tweet a picture of your book’s cover announcing that it’s free and then find ways to get users with 1-2k followers to re-tweet your post. Just keep in mind that if you’re on a budget, your dollars will do the most work during a free promotional period.

Aya Morningstar Take On Advertising

I use BKnights, one[other] proven romance website that charges $15, and the re-tweet strategy during my free promo. This got me 2,000 downloads yesterday, which sent my book to top 100 in the entire Amazon free store (and #4 in shapeshifters). This means that anyone browsing the free charts in romance is likely going to see my book and can grab it for free. My ARCs [advanced readers who ensure the book has reviews ready at the time of release] were late, so I only have 9 reviews, but they are all five stars. So people see a free book at a high ranking with good reviews and grab it. Now when I switch the book over to paid, I have some real visibility. Also, over 2,000 people have my book and likely around 100 of them are going to click my mailing list sign-up link. This makes my next release more successful.

Beta-Readers

Another factor involved in Amazon rankings is reviews. Throwing your book on Amazon   ..   and hoping for reviews is risky. By the time people read your book and get around to reviewing it, you’ll be nearing the end of your thirty day boost—and that’s if anyone chooses to buy a book with no reviews. The wiser option is to give away free copies of your book in exchange for honest reviews. You can find beta readers on the writing subreddit of Reddit, writing forums, writing communities like Scribophile, Goodreads from friends and family, etc. If you’ve already published or are publishing, you can also add a ARC-list sign up link to your book. Your only task here is to convince someone to read your book and bother going online to write a review for it.

Just make sure you are clear with your beta readers that you expect an honest review.

Cover Art

Your book’s cover matters, and you should not make it yourself. It doesn’t really matter if you’re artsy. The fact of the matter is that like everything else, book covers are an art in and of themselves. The pros know what catches the eye and what doesn’t. You might be able to grab a freelancer for as little as $30 to $50, or if you’re more invested in your project you could check out a site like this that offers packages from $99 to $379. I stumbled upon that particular link on reddit’s writing subreddit, but there are plenty of cover designers for everyone’s taste and budget.

Blurbs

Your book’s blurb is also extremely important. You can do everything within your power to bring people to your book. But for many, the blurb is the selling point. It’s your chance to intrigue the reader and convince them to buy your book. Keep in mind that blurbs are an art, and the best practices vary from genre to genre. Take the time to look at books in your genre and analyze their blurbs. It also would be wisest to study the blurbs of breakout authors who are currently finding success with their first work in your genre. Authors who have established their names often get away with writing weak blurbs.

Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are another critical element to building your audience. While these will not benefit sales for your first release, they will begin paying dividends each time you release new work. You can use a website like Mailchimp and set up a free sign-up for your mailing list. Also, take steps to ensure that your mailing list link is attractive. A simple, “click here to sign up for my mailing list”, is going to gain far fewer subscribers than a more appealing approach. For example, Aya Morningstar recommends writing a short story or offering a free story from your back catalog to your mailing list subscribers. Consider taking time to make a well-formatted image above your mailing list link as well

Aya prefers to put her books out on Wednesday or Tuesday, which gives her advanced readers time to post reviews and time for her to set the book to free. On Friday, she sends out her newsletter (which includes custom-artwork and is nicely formatted) to her mailing list. Her newsletter lets subscribers know the book is out and free for a limited time. She also books her paid ads on Friday. The end-result is an attack from all angles. It’s also a process that builds in effectiveness with each subsequent release.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to get caught up in the writing part of being a writer. Go figure. But if this article has done nothing else, I hope it has at least proved that in the self-publishing realm, writing only one element of the process. It is very much a symbiotic relationship.

If you self-publish and have found any tips or tricks that I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments. If you found this article helpful, consider subscribing to get an email when I post new content (and only when I post new content – I promise).

 

Kindle Direct Publishing: Is it The Right Choice?

Kindle Direct Publishing is basically Amazon’s platform for self-published authors. If you are planning to self-publish, it’s currently the most viable option for you to get your writing to readers and to make the most money. 

What Publishing Services Does Amazon Offer?

Amazon does publish a very small number of authors each year in the number of about 200. However, self-publishing through Amazon is a different ballgame. Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t edit or manage your book, the marketing, or any other aspect of your book. It’s the e-book equivalent of there being a large store somewhere that says, “You bring us a product already in packaging with labels and price tags and pretty pictures on the box and we’ll slap it on a shelf. If people buy it, we’ll give you 70% of what they pay and keep 30%.” It’s obviously a little more technical than that, but for all intents and purposes, that’s the deal.

Do I Need to Be a Technology Wizard to Figure It Out?

Nope. As long as you have grandma/grandpa-level skills, you should be fine. Amazon made the process intuitive and simple. The only way it gets complicated is if you have some really specific formatting needs. In that case, you would probably want to be passingly familiar with html. Otherwise, just type it in your word processor of choice and plug it in when you’re done. Easy as that.

Pricing

The simple version is that you have two royalty options: 35% and 70%. You might wonder why anyone would choose to keep 35% of their profits instead of 70%, but each royalty option has pricing and size requirements.

If your book is over a certain size (3 MB = $0.99 and 10MB+ =$1.99) you are forced to set your price above a certain point. Beyond that, it would make sense for most authors to choose the 70%. One of the only reasons to choose 35% over 70% is if you have a problem with some of the conditions of the 70% agreement. The list of terms you agree to is relatively benign, with perhaps the exception of agreeing to a digital delivery fee. This is a fee Amazon tacks on for each megabyte of data you’re “delivering” to readers. The fee breakdown is as follows:

Amazon.com: US $0.15/MB
India: US $0.12/MB
Amazon CA: CAD $0.15/MB
Brazil: BRL R$.30/MB
Amazon.co.uk: UK £0.10/MB
Amazon.de: €0,12/MB
Amazon.fr: €0,12/MB
Amazon.es: €0,12/MB
Amazon.it: €0,12/MB
Amazon.co.jp: ¥1/MB

That means if a book published in the US is 13.26 megabytes or larger (that’s really big for an ebook), then you will pay more than $1.99 in transfer fees. Thus, it would make more sense to publish that particular book at the 35% royalty rate if you were interested in the $1.99 price point. Of course, if you thought it could sell for more than $1.99, you could just increase the price by more than 35% and the 70% would still make more sense.

Whew. I’m bad at math and that was mildly confusing. Just remember that 70% makes more sense in the majority of cases. If your book is loaded with pictures or extremely long, and you’re set on selling it at $1.99, then and only then would it matter to you.

For a better idea of how large an e-book is, check out these.

Screen-shot-2009-11-16-at-10.58.04-AM
Photo Credit – Safaribooksonline

This shows the average size of e-books in megabytes. If your book has little to know pictures and is average length, it will likely be around 1 megabyte or $0.15 in delivery fees per purchase.

Final Thoughts

Kindle Direct is a great opportunity, but it could also serve as a little false hope for many. The truth is, there’s a reason publishing companies still exist and they probably will continue to exist. They do the leg work: marketing, editing for audience, book covers, blurbs, sending out advance copies for reviews, etc. If you choose to self-publish, you have to understand that you can’t just throw your book on the internet and expect anyone to read it. I don’t care if you wrote the next Song of Fire and Ice, there’s a good chance it will get buried and never read.

Think of it this way. Your book is like a seed that you’ve been nurturing and building (pretend you can build seeds for the sake of my metaphor here) for months or years. When it comes time to plant it, you had better take the time to turn the soil, fertilize it, check the weather, and carefully plant it. It might even be a good idea to water it afterwards.

Good luck out there.

Why You Should Forget Traditional Publishing

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If you’re writing a book right now, one of the most important decisions in your future is whether to publish traditionally or to self-publish. The good news is that the choice may be easier than you think.

Unless you’re an extremely young writer, you grew up in an era dominated by traditional publishing. The dream was to have your book “on the shelves”, to stroll down a brick and mortar store and see it right there with your name in bold letters. Why? Because you were only a successful writer if your book was in stores. After all, what other option was there?

The New Reality

Electronic book sales are quickly outpacing physical book sales. This fact alone underlies the majority of advice I’m about to give. To understand why, let’s take a look at why traditional publishing used to be essentially mandatory.

  1. Books cost money to print. It could cost tens of thousands of dollars to print as many books as you expect people to buy. So if you didn’t have a big publisher to put the money forward and did it yourself, you could stand to lose a lot of money if fewer people bought your book than you projected. Also, if you went cheap and printed too few, you might not have the resources to quickly restock before demand for your book fell off.
  2. Advertising is expensive. Big publishers used to be one of the few ways you could manage to get the word out about your book unless you were willing to sink your own money into advertising.
  3. You can’t just grab 20 copies of your book, slap price tags on them, and put them on the shelves at bookstores. Publishing companies have deals worked out to get your book on shelves, but you don’t have that kind of weight to throw around.
  4. Publishing companies have internal resources to handle things like designing a cover for your book that will appeal to readers, edit it for the obvious but also for your intended audience, and make suggestions that come from their experience in your genre.

Okay, so if you’re planning to self-publish, the bad news is that the above is still true. The good news is that little factoid I dropped earlier changes everything. What if you didn’t have to predict sales of your book and print them ahead of time? And more, what if there was a type of book store that didn’t have to worry about physically holding your book? What if you could even market your own book with a little time and effort?

You guessed it. You can! Seriously, though. I can’t overstate how huge the e-book revolution is for new authors.

Why You Don’t Need A Publisher

If it’s not clear why e-books are such a big deal when it comes to self-publishing, let me break it down.

  1. E-books do not cost money to print. There’s no predicting sales and calculating the risk of printing too many versus too few. You can literally upload your work to a digital bookstore like Amazon or Kindle Direct for exactly zero dollars and collect money for every purchase. Pure profit! 
  2. Advertising can still be expensive, but the social networking age gives new authors more ways to market their work for free. My own blog, for example, is a platform that I hope will market my own work. You can use sites like Reddit, Twitter, Digg, etc to build interest and a small following for your book by posting a few chapters or collaborating with the community. You can guest post on blogs about writing in exchange for shout outs for your book. You can give your book away to reading lists to have reviews from day one of your launch. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity and willingness to put in time.
  3. Amazon only stands to benefit from having your book on their site. Even if you only sell ten copies of your book, they still earned a profit. You don’t need any muscle or influence to get them to put it on their site.
  4. You can again turn to social networking for cover ideas. There are enough tutorials out there and software that even a novice could design their own cover. I wouldn’t advise this, by the way. But if you’re going for the zero cost method, it’s there. Alternatively, you could likely find aspiring artists who would be happy to design a cover for free in exchange for the chance for their work to be seen and generate interest for themselves.

The Numbers

The facts are clear. Electronic books are getting more popular, which takes away the relative monopoly publishing houses had. But just how much more popular are they?

trade-pub-author-earnings-split

Photo Credit: Authorearnings – The Data Guy

I recommend reading the entire article from authorearnings.com, but here’s the takeaway: author earnings from fiction e-books were 28% higher in 2014. A quick look at the rest of the data in the article indicates that 2014 was just a point along a rising trend. Even big name authors are earning more money from their e-book sales than print sales, and the gap between the two has been increasing.

10k-earners

Photo Credit: Authorearnings – The Data Guy

Keep in mind that this data was only about 1/4th of the way into 2014, meaning you could almost triple the figures seen here to see that the indie publishing group is still growing. It’s also worth noting that the trend was the same for authors earning 25k, 50k, and 100k+ per year.

Final Thoughts

Traditional publishing still offers some great advantages if you’re able to land a deal. However, publishers will need to quickly catch their business model up to the changing times. The current trend of publishers expecting new authors to do most of their own marketing and handling of auxiliary tasks involved in getting their book pushed out will likely need to fade. If publishers want to entice authors to pass up the quick, easy, and profitable route of self-publishing, they need to make the cut they take seem worth it to an author.

Until then, self-publishing is far less time consuming, far more doable, and far more potentially rewarding.