Thirty-nine. Treinta y nueve. Trente-neuf. Thelathini na tisa.
No matter how you say it, that was the number. After months of hard work and promotion, my first month of sales on my first self-published book netted me the whopping sales total of 39 copies. I wanted to give up. But I believed in the story too much. And I’m glad I didn’t quit. That little book has now reached over 13,000 people and has been #1 on Amazon’s best-seller list for books in Christian Evangelism (multiple times). Better yet, it’s helped me grow my platform and reach many new readers who I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with several authors and dozens of self-publishing projects in recent years. One particular client has about a dozen books released, and some do really well, while others flop. The crazy thing is when we think we hit on an idea that will really resonate with readers, often they flop. Meanwhile, other less scintillating e-books quietly bring in the sales, anchoring an impressive library of content.
I think where some aspiring writers fall short is by giving up too easily or not thinking enough about long-term strategy when it comes to publishing. Here’s the thing…
With that in mind, here are a few pointers which may help you maximize the reach of your message, and build your platform to share whatever it is God puts on your heart next.
(1) growing your e-mail list
Especially with a first-time author project, I usually recommend launching the book in Kindle and PDF format. We get it out there on Amazon to start selling, but the big strategic move is leveraging the project to build a mailing list. Offering the free download get’s people on your list so you can continue to share through your blog what God is putting on your heart.
More importantly, it gives you the chance to continue to market your stuff down the road. You may reach out later to tell them about special Kindle promos, the project becoming available in other formats, additional study and small group resources, and new projects you’re launching.
The ROI of email is typically higher than any other platform, so using the project to get emails should be at the foundation of your long-term publishing strategy.
(2) using the free download to promote paid sales
One of the differences between PDF and other formats of the book is that the PDF should clearly inform the reader that it’s also available on Amazon. PDF is a great way give them the content, but it’s not as convenient to read, especially on mobile devices. So letting the reader know the book is available in a more friendly format (along with the link to go purchase it) is a simple way to drive sales. Many readers will register to download the free version, start reading it, and then when they decide they like it, they’ll go buy it in the more convenient format.
(3) switching to kdp select
Whenever I do the free download, I usually do it for a limited time. The length of time depends on how well it’s driving email subscribers for you. Then at some point, you’ll want to pull it down and switch to a Kindle-only strategy for the e-book. Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) has a program called KDP Select. The idea is that when you enroll your book into KDP Select, you are committing to at least 90 days of it being exclusive (in electronic format) to Amazon.
In return, you’ll get some sweet benefits. One is that it can be made available to Amazon Prime members in the lending library. They get it for “free” as part of their membership, but the author still gets paid a cut of the fund Amazon dedicates to participating books. Sometimes, you even get paid more than the sales price of the book!
Then there’s also the opportunity to stimulate sales with a discounted or free promotion.
(4) using free kindle downloads to increase paid sales
One of the most important factors of success on Amazon is understanding the Amazon ecosystem. You can certainly promote your stuff to the people who already follow you, but your goal is to gain some new audience by getting your work in front of people who don’t know you. There are some key triggers in Amazon that will lead to your book being found. One is the reviews, especially by those with a “verified purchase”. The other is getting into the “customers who bought this also bought” rotation for other books.
The KDP Select program allows you to offer 5 days of free download every 90 day enrollment period. You should use every single one in every single enrollment period!
The math is simple. The more people who get the book in their hands (with a verified purchase), the more likely you are to get reviews on the book. Additionally, when an Amazon customer gets your book for free, they’re still “buying” it. Their purchase price was $0.00, but they still bought the book, which makes it part of their purchase history, which means it’ll build up sales to become part of that “customers who bought this” rotation for other books those readers have purchased.
I regularly see that when we’re not doing free promos, paid sales dip. And when we do the promos, paid sales rise.
(5) never stop selling it
This one is tricky, but it gets down to this question… How much do you believe in the message God has put on your heart? If the answer is “a lot,” then you won’t give up on it. And selling doesn’t have to be an annoying thing. Often it can be done simply by talking about milestones. I’ll share on social media when one of my books hits the top of a sales chart, or when I get a review that fires me up…
I’ve just seen too many examples of books going completely against the traditional sales spike in the first 60-90 days from launch to think that we should stop telling a certain story after sales settle. In fact, I’ve seen sales rise substantially after 6 months or a year on the market. But it won’t rise if you give up on it.
(6) never stop creating new content
If you’re a writer, then chances are you’re not going to be done writing after you got that one project out. In fact, you probably can’t imagine NOT writing. So keep it up! Keep working on new projects. This is another simple math deal. The more publishing projects you have out there, then more potential “entry points” you have for someone to discover your writing, and to connect with everything else you do. Some will hit big, and some won’t. So just keep moving forward with this as part of your regular writing strategy.
Set a goal for yourself. Maybe it’s one new e-book every 3-6 months. Just set a schedule and commit to it, just like you do with your other (daily?) blogging.
Here’s the key to all of this. Too often writers look at getting something published as an end goal. We work to get published so that one day we can make money from our craft. Wrong. We write because we have something to communicate, we have a story to tell. And self-publishing is one of the tools that can be used to help you do that. It also happens to be one that could generate income. More importantly, it’s a tool you can use to share ideas and whatever God puts on your heart. If you approach self-publishing with a solid strategy to guide you, then you can substantially expand the reach of your voice.
Note: This post was originally published on the Allume Blog.
One of the most frequent questions I get from new authors is, “Should I make a website for my book?” The answer is, it depends. Here’s why.
My first question is, why would you want a website for the book? So people can find the book? You don’t need a whole website for people to find the book. Google does a great job of indexing Amazon book pages already, so people searching for it can find it without a whole website being there. Is it for marketing the book? Marketing can be done anywhere, so a whole website isn’t really needed for that either.
Here’s the thing with building a website with the intent of it being a tool to help your book get found. Search engines these days are always looking for fresh, relevant content that answers people’s questions. So if you build a full website for the book, then it really needs an active content strategy so that fresh content continues to produce relevancy for search engine users. This means you probably shouldn’t build a full, stand-alone website for your book unless you plan to have a long-term strategy for content development. So I’m not saying don’t do it, but if you do, then there are some things you should consider…
How To Make a Website for My Book
The trick here is that any website you create should provide some sort of value to your potential audience, not just the fact that you can help them out by selling them your book. Whatever topic your book is on, the website should provide a wealth of information on that subject. Provide additional stories, resources, and information on the topic. Maybe even ride the wave of current news and events that connect with your theme.
Here are a few considerations for a strong book website strategy:
Don’t just make it a sales landing page. Make it a valuable resource. The more you can position the book and the website as something valuable, the more likely they are to want to buy the book. You should be shooting for a show-don’t-tell approach to website development. Forget the snazzy sales copy, and show them how helpful all of this is for them.
Have an ongoing content (blog) strategy. Plan to continue to produce valuable content, especially if you can focus on current news and trending topics. This will show that your book is always valuable, not just during the first 90 days after you launch it.
Sell more than just the book. Specifically, sell yourself as the author of that book. Leverage the site to help you book speaking engagements and cross-sell other book projects you may have going on.
Grow that mailing list. This is probably the most important item on this list. Offer a free download, maybe a short e-book or special audio/video just for subscribers. Get them on your blog subscription email list. The more you can build that list, the better off you’ll be when you’re ready to launch that next book.
Book Website Alternatives
If you don’t plan to have an ongoing blog content strategy, or if your project simply doesn’t warrant it, then there are some simple alternatives. You can still buy the domain name for your book, but then you can point that domain name anywhere you want.
For example, one of my books is The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty-Fighter. I used to have a stand-alone website for it at theunlikelymissionary.com, until I realized how much work it was trying to maintain relevancy there in addition to the work I was also doing on my main blog (which lead up to that book project). It was simply too much to manage. Now, the domain name points to a book page on my blog, which is where my primary focus is.
The process is simple. First, you can buy the domain name for your book. If the .com name isn’t available, then try one of the hundreds of other not-com names, many of which may work better (i.e. you can get names ending with .life, .family, .community, and many more). Many of these can be bought for under $30 per year, so it’s not expensive to maintain.
Once you have the domain name, then you can point it anywhere you’d like. A couple great options are:
A book landing page on your website. One awesome way to do this (for WordPress users) is to use the MyBookTable plugin to create the book landing page. The plugin has a strong template for building the basic page, and then you can add whatever other information and resource you want to the rest of the page. It’s a good idea to include things like endorsements, social media shareable resources, and maybe even links to blog posts on the site that dig deeper into the topic.
A Facebook book page. This would also require some ongoing content strategy, but it might be easier to manage when you’re sharing posts from your main blog related to the topic of the book. You could also share other links and micro-content (graphics, quotes, etc) that would help readers connect at a deeper level. This could be an amazing tool for keeping conversation going, and continuing to market your book (as part of a solid Facebook content strategy).
Whichever direction you go with this, the key is to add value and simplicity for the user on the other end. There are many more factors to successfully launching a book, but regardless, it’s a great idea to own the domain name to the book title. The important thing is what do you want that experience to be like for the potential reader who goes there.
Where (and how) should you publish your e-book. There are lots of options available. And if you’re self-publishing your work, then you’ll need to figure out which ones are right for you. In this short clip from the Fistbump Media webinar on e-book publishing, Dan discusses how you can make the right decision to meet your goals, and which platforms he uses (and why).
I was recently looking back over some of my blog posts from over 8 years ago, and I was struck by how much my writing skills have developed over the years. The heart of the message has stayed pretty much the same, but my writing has certainly evolved substantially. I know the practice of writing regularly will have that effect. But I’ve also tried to be a good student of the craft of writing.
That’s why I always try to make sure I have a book or two on my Kindle focused on developing my writing skills and publishing knowledge. I’ve been learning a great deal recently about things like caring for the words we use, and deep POV. And it’s always a great help to read about the latest trends in publishing and other’s experiences with publishing platforms.
Because people are always asking me about what I’m reading, I thought I’d start publishing some lists of what’s on my radar. This list is the current top 5 from Amazon’s Hot New Releases list in the Writing Skills category. I’ve already grabbed a couple of them for my Kindle, and would love to hear your thoughts on any of these that you might pick up…
If you’ve considered writing/publishing an e-book, then it’s important to build your project on a good foundation. Analysis of your subject is one of the most important things you can do to boost your success.
In this clip from the Fistbump Media webinar on E-book Publishing, Dan King talks about a couple ways to ensure you’re focusing on the right topics.
Platform. That’s the big buzzword in publishing these days. You’ve got to build your platform if you’re ever going to be successful in publishing. At least that’s what everyone says, right?
But what if e-book publishing is itself the platform, and not the result of building one?
Let me explain by throwing some numbers out there from a recent experience with an author I’ve been working with over the last year or so.
In 2012, Alex Terego had a total of 5 books, all self-published. Throughout the entire year, he sold approximately two dozen copies of his books across all platforms. They were published in print through Createspace, and in e-book format on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook, and in the iTunes store for books.
If you looked at his blog and social media platform, you’d probably say that this makes perfect sense. He was getting about 15-20 page views per day on the blog. He had about 20-30 followers on Twitter, and around 200 likes on his author page on Facebook. There are a few people listening to him, but it definitely isn’t a powerhouse social media platform.
In 2013, we changed the strategy pretty drastically. And the result was kinda mind-blowing…
Over the next year, total distribution of his books went to over 4,000 copies!
How did we do that? Yeah, I get that question a lot. Here are some points on what we did, but before I share them let me say this… we didn’t focus on growing his social media platform. (Insert gasp here.) I know, shocker, huh? In fact, I might point out that his social media platform (which still isn’t huge) is growing more as a result of selling books, and not the other way around.
Revising the Sales Strategy
The first thing we did is evaluate the impact of having the book available for sale on multiple platforms (Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc). Common sense would say it’s important to have the product listed in as many places as possible. You wouldn’t want to miss any sales due to not having your book in certain stores, right?
In my personal self-publishing experience, Kindle has consistently outsold all other platforms (print, Nook, direct PDF sales, etc) combined by at least 20-to-1. On the surface, it already looked like focusing on Kindle would be a good strategy.
Consider this about the availability of Kindle e-books:
This means that virtually every Internet-connected device can give a reader access to Kindle e-books.
Only iPhone, iPod, and iPad users can read books purchased in the iTunes Bookstore. On the other hand, those same Apple product users can download the free Kindle app on their device and read Kindle books.
Exclusivity Has Its Benefits
Another driving factor in focusing on the Kindle-only approach for e-book publishing is the ability to enroll in the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select program. This option is available when you grant exclusive e-book delivery rights to Amazon Kindle for 90 days. In return, you’ll get some nice benefits from enrolling in this program:
Your e-book is available to Amazon Prime members in the lending library. Prime members pay an annual subscription fee in order to get some extra benefits, one of them being the free lending library. It means they can get your book for free for a couple weeks. Even though they get it for free, Amazon has a fund that they pay out from, so you still get royalties when your book is “borrowed,” sometimes more than the actual sales price of the book itself!
You can offer your e-book as a FREE download. Because the greatest enemy of every author is obscurity, getting you book into people’s hands is a big deal. And offering it for free can do just that. There have also been several studies (including my own personal experience) that point to free promos like this resulting in an increase in paid sales after the promo is complete.
I’ve also tested the discount promotion tool by offering one of my $2.99 e-books for a reduced price of $0.99 for one week. Even at the discounted price, I’ve earned approximately THREE TIMES the royalty rate compared to non-promo weeks!
Common sense would say that switching to a single delivery platform would drop sales. However, the opposite is true. Opening up new promotional opportunities has allowed us to reach new audiences, resulting in an increase in overall sales!
Working the Amazon Ecosystem
Simply switching to a Kindle-only e-book publishing strategy isn’t enough. You still have to work the system in order to get the full benefit from these tools.
In the case of Alex Terego, the first thing we did was to set up a free promotion schedule. We call it Free Friday. Every Friday we would offer (at least) one of his e-books for free on Kindle. We had enough initially to create a cycle lasting about two months before a piece would come up to be offered for free again.
This helped get more of his books out there to more people.
Most importantly, it started getting his books into the “Customers How Bought This Also Bought” section of the page for other books. The cool thing about downloading a free Kindle book is that you still “buy” it. Your purchase price is $0.00, but you’ve “bought” the book. As a result, Amazon will begin to index that purchase along with other purchases you’ve made, and use that data to help other people with similar tastes find new books they might like.
The More, the Merrier… Keep Publishing
The final piece of the strategy with Alex Terego is that we continued to publish new content on regularly. Having more content out there for someone to find you can help broaden your exposure. I’ve heard similar feedback from other authors too… some say they didn’t see much traction until they published their fourth (or so) piece.
Having a strong launch plan is important for any book launch project. But remember, Alex Terego never had a huge following to begin with. So there just wasn’t much there to build a launch team with who could help by writing blog posts, and building social media buzz.
So we used what we had…
While leveraging free promotions for existing books, we began to offer the new books for free at the same time. The plan was to entice people to download BOTH Kindle books for free at the same time. If they did, then BOTH would become part of their purchase history, and build a stronger connection between the “Customers Who Bought…” links. This worked particularly well with getting some of Terego’s books to show up on the page for other books of his. The increased visibility built stronger sales for books with that link on other product pages of his.
It doesn’t take a massive platform, or thousands of Twitter followers, or (insert other standard you’ve been holding on to here) in order to be successful with e-book publishing. But it does take some work.
A typical book launch starts with a spike, (some “experts” say) followed by a drop into obscurity after the first 2-3 months. It definitely takes some work, but I’ve found the opposite to be possible! My first self-published work only sold 39 copies in its first month on the market. Total distribution/downloads now exceeds 10,000 copies!
The sames principles worked for Alex Terego, blowing away our distribution expectations for that next year.
I know it sounds cliche, but if I can do it, and if I was able to replicate it with others, then you can do it too! I’m even willing the help you figure it out.