How Many Books Does an Indie Author Sell?

Bookshelf

INDIE BOOK SALES

If you self-publish a book, how many copies should you expect to sell?

To me, this number is much higher than many of the popular numbers floating around. I will try to explain why I believe this.

The most popular estimate to throw around may be 100 books. Not per month. Not per year. Ever.

Other popular estimates are somewhere between 300 and 700.

I believe that any committed author should expect to sell much more than this in the long run, and I also believe that most committed authors either do or will.

BOOK SALE ESTIMATES

There are many ways to estimate the average number of books that an indie author sells by analyzing data that’s available.

You could study Amazon sales ranks, both Kindle and print. Sales rank interpretation, though, isn’t quite as easy as it seems. There are seasonal effects; as the number of books grows, books with higher sales ranks sell more frequently than they used to; Amazon often changes the algorithm, etc. Still, this can give you a general estimate that will be in the ballpark.

Then there comes the issue of which books are indie books? There are various ways to do this, such as that used for the Author Earnings report.

But those are just Amazon sales. Many authors are getting sales from Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and other online retailers. Many are selling in bookstores. Others sell effectively in person, such as at conferences, readings, signings, etc. These numbers are significant, especially for the many indie authors who effectively market their books through other sales channels.

So the first thing to realize is that there are hidden sales that many of the estimates don’t consider.

There are other ways to go about estimating indie book sales, but no matter what, it’s hard to account for direct sales, which are significant for some authors, so there will always be hidden numbers.

The hidden sales aren’t what I wish to focus on, however.

AVERAGE INDIE SALES

Let’s look at this word ‘average’ in the context of:

How many copies will the average self-published book sell?

To me, it’s not useful to average ALL self-published books.

Include all self-published books if you wish to pat yourself on the back for beating that number, or if you wish to discourage authors from self-publishing.

If I wish to set a good benchmark to aim for, there are many books that I would exclude from the list:

  • Many book ideas, unfortunately, have very little potential no matter how well they are carried out. There are just some topics that some people don’t want to read. Do you really wish to compare yourself to a genealogy intended for family members, for example? It’s not just genealogy. There are many kinds of books that are popular to write, but can’t be expected to have much audience. (At least the genealogies may sell to family members.)
  • How about those ‘authors’—if you can call them that—who view writing as a get-rich-quick-with-little-effort scheme, publishing pamphlets. Is this a realistic comparison?
  • Even many ‘real’ writers have published experiments, such as short stories and novellas, putting little effort into the book, hoping to learn something from the sales (or probable lack thereof). Surely, this shouldn’t be factored into setting a benchmark.
  • Then there are books with major issues with the storyline, plot, characterization, spelling, punctuation, grammar, flow, writing style, formatting, etc.—I’m thinking of those so drastic as to greatly deter sales.
  • Suppose that you have a fantastic cover. Should you compare your book to those whose covers convey the wrong genre? It seems like other books that clearly signify the content would provide better expectations.
  • Similarly, if you have some great marketing plans or prior marketing experience, should you compare yourself to all the newbie authors who do virtually no marketing, or whose marketing makes very little impact?
  • Are you a committed author, planning to create several quality books? Then don’t look at the one-book wonders (i.e. an author only wrote a single book) for your basis.
  • We can come up with other books that you might wish to remove from the ‘average.’

Do you want to compare your sales to those books? If not, you might also wish to exclude these from the ‘average.’

Think of it this way. Suppose your dream is to be a professional baseball player, and you’re motivated to work so hard that you’ll settle for nothing less than the major leagues. Do you want to know what the average professional baseball player makes, including minor leaguers? Or do you want to know what the average major league player makes?

(For the record, I don’t view traditional publishing as the major leagues and indie publishing as the minor leagues. I see many successful pros in the indie league, and I see many pros playing both leagues.)

If you remove all those books from the ‘average,’ I believe that you’ll find that the average indie author makes MUCH more than $1000.

If you want to look at the cream of the crop, if you want to confine yourself to Amazon, for example, you should be looking at author ranks of about 10,000 or less. I’ll return to this figure later.

AUTHORS VS. BOOKS

There is yet another important point to consider.

Most successful self-published authors write several books.

So if you want to know what an indie author makes, that’s far different from looking at what a typical indie book makes.

First of all, authors who write several similar books sell many more copies of each book than authors who just publish one book.

Then, whatever they make per book, multiply that by the total number of books, which may be 5 or 10, but is often 20, 30, 50, or more.

This opens the door for many authors who only make $500 per book. Publish 20 books and you make $10,000. Plus, every book you publish helps generate sales for your other books.

Multi-book authors tend to do more effective marketing. It’s simple, really. Whatever marketing they do has the potential to bring dozens of sales from a single customer, instead of just one.

Series authors have a marketing advantage, too.

AUTHOR RANK

In May of 2014, an author rank fluctuating between 5,000 and 10,000 would have sold 1,000 or more books for that month. I know this from author ranks that I’ve studied firsthand, and I’ve also discussed this figure with other successful authors.

On top of this, there are several authors with mild success writing in two or more names (using pen names). So, for example, an author can have two or more author names with an author rank of 20,000 or better, and may still be selling 1,000 books per month.

At a modest $2 royalty, which many indie authors make, you only need to sell 500 books to make $1,000 per month, which is $10,000 per year if you can do it consistently.

Personally, I think all committed authors should aim for an author rank of 10,000 or less—not just to get there, but to sustain it long-term.

Let me stress the long-term part. It could be several years down the line. I’ll give you another goal to work on first, in the next section.

Of course, the number of published books and authors is growing rapidly. Not too far in the distant future, an author rank of 20,000 or higher will yield sales of 1,000 or more books per month. As the number of books grows, it’s worth adjusting one’s aim to 20,000 or more, as appropriate.

PATIENCE

Most authors aren’t going to achieve success right off the bat, and even those who do struggle to maintain that success.

The way to sell 1,000 books per month is to first sell 100 books per month. Set attainable goals first, then increase these goals when you reach them. After 100 per month, aim for 200 per month, then 500 per month, and then you can finally aim for 1,000 per month.

It takes time, thought, research, inspiration, and some talent to produce quality content.

One book usually isn’t enough in modern times. It takes a great deal of time to produce a half dozen or more quality, marketable products.

It takes time to develop a professional online platform. It takes time to learn effective marketing strategies. And the marketing tends to be more effective when you have more books worth marketing.

Plan for long-term success.

Think 100 books when you start out. No, don’t expect this in Month 1. It might take a year, or a few years. But keep working to get to 100 books per month. Then you can start thinking about higher goals. It may take many years to reach long-term success. Think long-term, as it’s within your reach.

If you expect immediate results, you’re likely to be one of the many authors who get discouraged and give up prematurely.

At the same time, you need to get good evaluations of your writing style and storytelling, and you need to research what makes a book marketable. Not every book sells, so if you want to be a successful author, you need to ensure that you’re writing books with good long-term potential.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS

People like to throw out small numbers for how well the average indie book sells.

As I mentioned, I believe the average committed indie author makes much more than this figure.

But the truth is that the average traditionally published book doesn’t sell much either.

You’d hope to easily sell 10,000. You dream about 50,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000.

But very many don’t sell 1,000. Just being traditionally published doesn’t make the book marketable or in-demand.

However, we could similarly throw out the lowest-selling traditionally published books for various reasons, just as I did for indie books. If you have a large following or great marketing plans—perhaps a killer publicist who will surely book major league interviews and land great reviews—then you wouldn’t compare yourself to the average traditionally published author.

The biggest-name traditionally published books do sell with amazing sales frequencies.

Indie books do take up a large share of the market, especially among e-books, but for the top authors, traditional publishing offers great bookstore potential, and also reaches those customers who still prefer traditionally published books.

Famous traditionally published authors could surely self-publish and still be highly successful, perhaps more so:

  • Already famous, surely much of their fan base would still support them.
  • They can safely invest in professional editing, formatting, and cover design, so these really aren’t issues.
  • They are more likely to get a return on reasonable marketing expenses, too.
  • They can earn upwards of 70% royalties, rather than settling for 10 to 15%.
  • They can price their books lower than many traditional publishers would allow, which may actually improve both sales and royalties, and also allows them to reach a wider audience.
  • Now let me ask you this. Suppose you’re one of the most famous authors on the planet and you choose to self-publish. Are bookstores really going to close their doors to you and force your customers to buy online instead?

In fact, a few prominent traditionally published authors have made the switch.

Some authors also self-publish in pen names in addition to publishing traditionally. Perhaps they write more books than traditional publishers can accommodate. Or perhaps they want to prove to themselves that they could make it as indie authors, too.

I believe that many of the big-name authors from the past who succeeded as traditionally published authors could also thrive in today’s market as indie authors if they had been writers in today’s world instead. Not all would, of course, but those with a unique style and those who could really dazzle readers, wouldn’t they also thrive in today’s world, even as indie authors? Perhaps not all of the classics, especially literary works, but think about the more accessible reads, master storytellers (not literary wonders) that anyone can appreciate. I believe if they were really committed to indie publishing, they would thrive.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Fighting the Blurb

Blurb Fight

BOOK BLURB

In modern times, the book’s blurb is dynamic—it isn’t etched in stone. You can change it as often as you like.

  • If you’re getting regular sales, don’t touch your blurb with a 12-ft. pole!
  • Otherwise, keep fighting your blurb until you finally get it right.

It would be ideal to perfect that blurb before you publish, and you should strive to do this:

  • Browse top-selling books similar to yours and search for successful books where the blurb likely played a strong role. Big-name authors and publishers can sell books without the best blurb, so you can learn more by studying effective blurbs from lesser-known authors.

But, try as we might, it’s really hard to nail that blurb. Thus, those of us who are merely human must keep trying (except while sales are good—”if it ain’t broke…”).

And even if the book description was perfect, external factors may prompt a revision. For example, a slight change can sometimes offset a potentially harmful review (we’ll return to this point later).

I fight my book descriptions all the time, and I recommend that you do the same (except when sales are fine, of course—wait for one of those inevitable valleys to experiment).

Here is how this article is organized:

  1. Fiction Blurb Tips
  2. Nonfiction Blurb Tips
  3. Revision Tips

FICTION BLURB TIPS

Note that the goal of the blurb is NOT to summarize the book. Rather, the goals are to:

  • Implicitly reveal the genre or subject. This should reinforce the message conveyed through the title and visually by the cover.
  • Entice the reader to look inside.

That’s it!

Think about it: You really DON’T want the shopper to read your blurb. You want the shopper to read your book, NOT your blurb. The blurb’s job is to make the shopper read the book. If the customer stops reading your blurb to look inside the book, even better.

Because the longer the customer spends reading your blurb, the more likely the customer will find some aspect of the blurb that he or she doesn’t like, and the more likely the impulse to buy will wear off.

This is why many highly effective blurbs are very CONCISE.

Blurb’s over already. Gee, what do I do now if I want to find out more. Duh! Look inside. (Then it’s your Look Inside’s job to close the deal. The Look Inside is another salesperson just like the blurb. The Look Inside needs to make the customer want to read more, creating a sale.)

There is more to do than just be concise. The blurb must also arouse the buyer’s CURIOSITY.

Otherwise, the buyer finishes reading the blurb, but doesn’t feel interested in the story.

That’s why a blurb isn’t a summary. A summary gives the story away. There is NO curiosity in a summary.

An effective blurb doesn’t give answers, it creates questions. The questions may be implicit, but it’s those unanswered questions that may make a reader want to read more.

Here is a fiction blurb checklist:

  • Be concise. Did you say anything that was unnecessary?
  • Arouse curiosity. Did you give anything away? Does it read like a summary?
  • Genre. If strangers can’t read the blurb and guess the precise sub-genre or have some idea as to the content, your blurb has miserably and utterly failed to be an effective sales tool.
  • Engage. You need to draw interest immediately; most customers won’t be patient and let you build things up (true of your Look Inside, too). Come out swinging with your best stuff, but also pack enough punches so that you can engage interest throughout. When you run out of punches, stop writing your blurb.
  • Flow. Check that it flows well. A hiccup, such as when a reader has to stop and figure out how to correctly parse a long idea, is like stumbling on your way to the cash register.
  • Spellcheck, aisle three. If you can’t get the spelling and grammar right in a hundred words or so… Look, it’s not an option. You have to get it right.
  • Vocabulary. It needs to match your target audience. Words they don’t understand can scare them away (but if such words are common in the prose, you also don’t want to create false expectations).
  • Research. Do your homework. Check out blurbs of successful books similar to yours.
  • Feedback. Ask for opinions on your blurb. Before you publish, this can help you generate buzz.

NONFICTION BLURB TIPS

There are different kinds of nonfiction books.

Do you have a memoir or any other kind of nonfiction book that customers will read for entertainment? If so, you should follow the FICTION BLURB TIPS. You want a concise book description that arouses curiosity.

Do you have a nonfiction book that provides handy information? If so, then your book description will be different from a fiction blurb.

In this case, you want to show customers what information is in your book. The sale may very well depend on customers developing confidence that your book will answer a very specific question.

Therefore, a nonfiction book description may be long, yet still be effective.

The trick is to break a long nonfiction book description up into paragraphs—or even better, use bullets to highlight important points.

You can create paragraph breaks, bullet points, boldface, and italics through Author Central, for example. If so, be sure to copy your description and save it on your computer. If you republish your Kindle e-book (e.g. to change your list price or category), check your Amazon blurb afterward—presently, the KDP description overrides the Author Central description.

Think about what information your book has that customers are likely to be searching for. You want to make this clear in your book description.

Customers buy informative nonfiction books for three common reasons:

  • specific knowledge they seek
  • author has relevant expertise or experience
  • author can communicate clearly

So it may also be relevant to mention relevant expertise and experience in your blurb. However, you probably also have a biography on your Amazon product page. You don’t want to be repetitive, but it may be worth mentioning key points from your resume in your blurb—as not every customer will read your biography.

The way to show that you can communicate clearly is to have a well-written, clear blurb (followed up by a well-written, clear Look Inside).

Here is a nonfiction blurb checklist:

  • Be concise OR break up a long blurb into paragraphs with bullet points. Still, don’t say anything that’s unnecessary.
  • Inform. Make it clear what information will be found in your book. If they aren’t sure that your book will answer their questions, they either (A) won’t buy or (B) will be quite frustrated if they don’t get their questions answered (leading to returns or bad reviews).
  • Subject. If strangers can’t read the blurb and guess the precise subject or have some idea as to the content, your blurb has miserably and utterly failed to be an effective sales tool.
  • Expertise. Briefly mention relevant expertise and experience (you can put more detail in your biography, if necessary).
  • Communication. Show, by example, in your book description, that you can communicate ideas effectively. The jargon used—and how you use it—needs to be a good fit for your specific target audience.
  • Engage. You need to draw interest immediately; most customers won’t be patient and let you build things up (true of your Look Inside, too). Come out swinging with your best stuff, but also pack enough punches so that you can engage interest throughout. When you run out of punches, stop writing your blurb.
  • Recommendations. You can seek editorial reviews from other experts in the field, or quotes from relevant media, and insert these in the Editorial Reviews section through Author Central.
  • Flow. Check that it flows well. A hiccup, such as when a reader has to stop and figure out how to correctly parse a long idea, is like stumbling on your way to the cash register.
  • Spellcheck, aisle three. If you can’t get the spelling and grammar right in a hundred words or so… Look, it’s not an option. You have to get it right.
  • Research. Do your homework. Check out blurbs of successful books similar to yours.
  • Feedback. Ask for opinions on your blurb. Before you publish, this can help you generate buzz.

REVISION TIPS

First of all, if your book is selling regularly, wait for a sales valley before you experiment with your blurb. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently hurt your sales.

Most blurbs are long enough that only the first part of the description appears on the Amazon product page, followed by a Read More link.

Customers are quite reluctant to click that Read More link.

Therefore, you want to make sure that your most effective points—i.e. what will arouse curiosity and make the customer look inside?—appear before the Read More link. If they don’t, move things around.

I recently added a note to four of my books, indicating that the cover had been updated. When I checked the Amazon product pages later, I discovered that another important point had been pushed beyond the Read More link. So I moved the cover update note further down, as it was less important than the other points.

There are good reasons to keep fighting your blurb:

  1. If your book isn’t selling, it’s probably the cover, blurb, Look Inside, or book idea. The blurb is the easiest of these to experiment with.
  2. Almost all product pages do get discovered at Amazon (though, obviously, some much more frequently than others). The blurb and Look Inside are the only salespeople on the product page. They make or break the sale (of course, customer and editorial reviews also have some sway). So if your book is hardly selling, it could be because most customers checking our your product page aren’t sold on the book from reading the blurb.
  3. It’s really hard to perfect the blurb. Some trial and error can help you gauge which parts of the blurb seem to be working.
  4. Search engine optimization is impacted by activity on the webpage (that’s an advantage of having a blog or discussion forum on a website). During a sales valley, a change-up might help a little with Google or even Amazon. During a sales valley, it doesn’t hurt to try.
  5. It may be worth announcing a book update.
  6. Occasionally, a revision to the blurb can help to offset a potentially harmful review.

It’s unreasonable to expect instant results. Also, there are other factors affecting your sales (like falling off the 90-day new releases list), many of which you may not even know about (like changes in customers-also-bought lists). Waiting a couple of weeks is more likely to give you useful data than waiting a day or two.

If you get a bad review:

  • Most likely, it won’t hurt your sales. They can help by adding balance. They definitely increase your review tally. It’s irrational to expect every bad review to hurt your sales. In fact, every hot seller has many bad reviews (and also many good ones). Think about this.
  • Don’t do anything immediate. Give it a week or two to truly see if the review seems to be making a significant impact. If it’s not hurting sales, definitely the best advice is to IGNORE it.
  • Don’t comment on the review. There are too many things that can go WAY WRONG, with very little chance of your comment helping in any way. The majority of customers seem to view comments by the author as unprofessional, so most likely the comment will deter sales even more.
  • Occasionally, however, a critical review does adversely affect sales. In this case, first wait two weeks to cool down and to get more valuable data (you have to wait to find out what effect, if any, that review might have). This also gives the reviewer a chance to cool down, perhaps even forget about your book.

Sometimes, if a review is having an adverse impact on sales, it’s possible to make a revision to the book’s blurb that will offset the review’s effectiveness.

What you’re striving for is:

  1. New customers read your description.
  2. New customers read that bad review.
  3. New customers think, “This doesn’t seem to be an issue now.” New customers disregard that bad review.

Here are a few examples:

  • A customer left a bad review because the customer had unrealistic expectations about your book. If the description already makes this clear, don’t change anything. But if a simple note in your description would clarify this misunderstanding, then future customers will think to themselves, “The description already made that point clear.”
  • A customer left a bad review about editing. Ideally, you would perfect the editing before you publish. However, you could hire an editor, then after the book is edited, include a note in the description that the book was edited on such and such date. Future customers will read the description and review, and may think, “Well, this appears no longer to be an issue.” (They will certainly check out the Look Inside for confirmation.)
  • A customer left a bad review that requests a new feature, like a glossary. You might decide that a glossary really isn’t a good fit for your book, or that most customers won’t care about a glossary. If so, don’t change anything. But if it appears that a glossary (or whatever other feature) is, in fact, in demand, you could add this feature and include a note in your product description. Then that bad review helps you, rather than hurts you.

DON’T revise your description based on EVERY bad review you receive. The vast majority aren’t worth addressing.

DON’T make it seem like your description was revised in response to the review.

DO revise your description in such a way that it still appears to have a very natural progression.

Sometimes, it’s better to do NOTHING at all. If the review isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is, i.e. it wouldn’t sway opinion as much as you fear, then it may actually be a MISTAKE to give the reviewer CREDIBILITY by changing your description to address the review.

For example, suppose you wrote a book for teenagers and a review says that many of the expressions used are outdated. Mentioning in the blurb that the book was updated to make the expressions appear more modern may actually be a mistake in this case, as it makes the reviewer’s comment appear valid. Whether or not they are dated is a matter of opinion, which could be checked by examining the Look Inside. Chances are that such a review wouldn’t impact sales, but revising the book description to address a harmless review could have an adverse effect.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Who has a Halloween Book?

Spooky Word Scrambles

As you may know, I have a Halloween word scramble book (Spooky Word Scrambles) with a cover designed by Melissa Stevens.

While I have a series of word scramble books, I only have one Halloween book.

It’s much easier to promote a series of similar books than it is to promote a single book.

So I have two choices if I wish to promote this book: I could promote the series, or I could promote a bunch of Halloween books, including mine.

The advantage of promoting a bunch of Halloween books, instead of a series where only one relates to Halloween, is that it would be much more suitable for the holidays.

I’m not quite sure what I intend in the way of promotions, but (usually) anything is better than nothing.

I thought I would ask if anyone has a Halloween book, which you wouldn’t mind me promoting beside my own book. Please let me know. (Sorry, no erotica please. I mean no offense by this, just that mine happens to be a family-oriented book, and I don’t wish to create any confusion.)

Know any authors of a Halloween-related book? Please let them know.

Chris McMullen

One Muse Is not Enough

Muses

So you found a muse. Good for you.

She’ll help you string ideas together,

But one’s not enough. Sad, but true!

Writing’s not the only storm you’ll weather.

With the story, your muse is great,

But editing is a different beast.

Your muse won’t help; you’re filled with hate

‘Til a new muse makes this worry your least.

A poor cover won’t sell your book.

So next you must summon a design muse

To help achieve just the right look.

But you will still need yet another ruse.

Your story muse won’t craft your blurb;

This requires a muse of another kind.

So important to find the perfect verb.

Without this muse you’d be in a bad bind.

When you must design the book’s inside,

Not one of these muses will help. No fun!

Muse five joins the publishing ride.

Your book’s design’s now beautifully done.

Still nobody will read a word:

You lack the most important muse of all.

Marketing muse helps you get heard.

Without her help your sales would surely stall.

You’ve one more problem to solve yet.

It’s the toughest challenge that you will face:

All six muses play hard to get;

You can never find two in the same place.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

Improve Your Math Fluency

Improve Your Math Fluency

MATH FLUENCY

I wish to write some posts about math or science concepts, yet I wish to separate them from my self-publishing posts.

Therefore, I now have a new math blog at http://improveyourmathfluency.com.

Don’t worry: I will definitely keep this self-publishing blog active, and will continue to post about self-publishing topics, as usual.

If you have any interest in math, please consider checking out my new math blog.

Whereas I have 49,000 views and 3,000 followers (wow—thank you all very much for your support) at my self-publishing blog, I presently have 36 views, 1 follower (myself!), and 0 views at my math blog. (Don’t follow yourself? You should! That way, you can check out what your own posts look like in WordPress’s Reader. Very helpful.)

As you can see, my new math blog is feeling somewhat lonely. It would appreciate any form of a welcome at all.

But, if you’re not interested in math, I don’t expect you to run over there. 🙂 Hopefully, though, you’ll continue following my self-publishing blog right here.

It’s not quite a new math blog. I originally had it at Blogger, until Blogger’s reader was phased out.

My experience at WordPress has been amazing (thank you, everyone, for your hand in this), so it seemed quite natural to move my math blog over here.

By the way, artist Melissa Stevens designed the header for my math blog.

Chris McMullen

Writing Tip: Dialogue Tag DOs and DON’Ts

Some good examples with dialog tags.

Michelle Proulx -- The Website

Today we’re talking about dialogue tags! I already rambled about them in a previous post, but I’m going to ramble some more about them now, so prepare yourself.

What is a dialogue tag?

It’s the short phrase you stick after a line of dialogue — i.e., “he said”, “she said”, etc.

Simple dialogue tag

Observe the following sentence:

“I love your socks,” he said.

That’s a simple dialogue tag — sentence of dialogue, followed by a dialogue tag. Here are some more:

“Your face is on fire!” she said.

“Are you sure?” he said.

Note:

  • You have to use a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence of dialogue that’s not a period — i.e., comma (most common), question mark (for questions), exclamation mark (for excitement!) — Using a period is effectively ending the sentence, so if you put a period after “I love your socks”, you’re ending…

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How to Sideload Your Kindle Preview Mobi File onto Your Kindle

Sideload

SIDELOAD TO KINDLE

As you can see in the preview, I sideloaded Julie Harper‘s new book, Reading Comprehension for Girls (she will be releasing it in a couple of weeks) onto my Kindle Fire to help check the formatting.

When you proceed to publish your e-book at Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you should preview your Kindle e-book carefully on each device on the online previewer and (the said-to-be-more-reliable) downloadable previewer.

Even better, download the .mobi file onto your computer and then transfer it to one or more actual devices (I’ve heard that formatting may change if the file is emailed, so it may be best to have a micro-USB cable handy).

The first step is to download the .mobi file from KDP:

  1. Visit your KDP bookshelf and click Edit Book Details.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. Click Download Book Preview File.
  3. Save the .mobi file to your computer. Note the file location (default may be a Downloads folder).
  4. Open the folder containing the .mobi file.

For devices that you don’t have, click the Windows or Mac link (as appropriate) from where you just downloaded the .mobi file in order to install the downloadable previewer. Note the location on your computer where the downloadable previewer is installed. Now you can open the .mobi file with the downloadable previewer (there are many ways to do this, such as opening the downloadable previewer and dragging the file into it). The key is to keep track of where you installed the previewer and where you saved your .mobi file so that you can easily find each.

Once you have your .mobi file, here are the steps to sideload your .mobi file onto an actual Kindle device:

  1. Connect your Kindle device to your computer using a micro-USB cable (unfortunately, some devices, such as the Kindle Fire, don’t come with this cable; but you may have one if you have an Android phone, for example).
  2. It works just like connecting a jump drive. You should be able to find your Kindle drive in the folder called My Computer, the same way that you’d find a jump drive if you connected one.
  3. Open the folder for your Kindle drive.
  4. For some Kindle devices, like the Paperwhite, you should recognize e-books that you have on the device. This is the folder you should have open, unless you have a Kindle Fire (see the next step).
  5. For other devices, like the Kindle Fire, you either need to open the Documents folder—NOT the Books folder (unless you used a program like Calibre to remove the Personal Doc Tag from the file). This is important: The intuitive thing is to paste the .mobi file into the Books folder, but that won’t work (unless you removed the PDOC tag).
  6. You should now have two folders open. One folder contains the .mobi file that you downloaded from KDP. The other folder is either your Kindle drive containing the Kindle e-books of your device OR it’s a subfolder in the Kindle drive called Documents (not the My Documents folder on your computer, of course) if you have a Kindle Fire. In the case of the Kindle Fire, you WON’T recognize your e-books in the Documents folder (but you will probably see the Kindle Fire User’s Guide in the Documents folder).
  7. Copy the .mobi file from the one folder and paste the .mobi file into the appropriate folder for your Kindle drive.
  8. Properly disconnect your Kindle device from your computer (the same way that you disconnect an ordinary jump drive, or there may be a Disconnect button on your Kindle device).
  9. Once you’ve disconnected the micro-USB cable, look for your .mobi file on your Kindle device.
  10. If you have a Kindle Fire, be sure to look in Docs, not in Books (unless you did the Calibre thing). If you press the Home button, you’ll see this list: Newsstand Books Music Video Docs Apps Web. Click Docs. Your .mobi file should be there.
  11. Open the .mobi file on the Kindle device. Preview it carefully. You need to preview your file carefully on every device (actual or through the downloadable previewer) since a file can look perfect on one device, but have serious formatting issues on a different device.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Short Stories & Kindle Unlimited: The good, the bad, and the whacko

Short

INTRODUCTION

I will make two points in this article:

  1. Don’t sweat the myth that Kindle Unlimited promotes shorter works. It doesn’t.
  2. There is an opportunity to market shorter works through Kindle Unlimited. But it won’t be easy.

If you have short stories that you want to market on Kindle, the second point will present ideas for how to do this effectively.

However, as the first point will stress, Kindle Unlimited won’t open the door for the get-rich-quickly-through-short-works bandwagon.

I’ll explain why I believe that Kindle Unlimited doesn’t actually favor short fiction, while at the same time showing that it is possible to market short stories.

It’s not really contradictory: The key is that selling shorter works is neither easy, automatic, nor obvious. This explains why most short pieces won’t take off, even though it will be possible to market them effectively.

SHORTER BOOKS, BIGGER PROBLEMS

A big myth going around presently is that Kindle Unlimited favors shorter books.

The underlying idea seems to be that it’s easier for customers to reach 10% of shorter books, and 10% is the critical number for getting paid for Kindle Unlimited downloads. (Need an introduction to Kindle Unlimited? Click here.)

Customers could easily get 30% through a short story before realizing that they don’t actually want to finish it, but for a 200,000-word book, they must read 20,000 words before the author will get paid.

But here’s the thing: All books aren’t created equal. There isn’t equal likelihood of customers downloading shorter books and longer ones. This is where most short books are greatly disadvantaged.

Here are several hurdles that authors must overcome in order to succeed in the short reads market with Kindle Unlimited customers:

  • Kindle Unlimited customers tend to be avid readers. It costs $9.99 per month, which amounts to $120 per year, to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. This will attract avid readers, who will easily get their money’s worth. Spending $10 per month to read short stories won’t seem like a good value to many customers.
  • Avid readers tend to be smart book shoppers. They aren’t likely to be fooled by authors trying to game the system. They are likely to consider the value of books when they shop. Page count will be a factor. So will price.
  • Kindle Unlimited customers may prefer to download higher-priced e-books. It takes ten 99-cent e-books just to get your $9.99’s worth for the month, but if you download five $6.99 e-books, you get a $35 value. Short books are likely to be priced at 99 cents. Simply raising the price of a short story to $5.99 won’t work: Customers will see a large price on little content… and… remember, avid readers are smart book shoppers.
  • Shorter books require even better writing. A few mistakes in a 300-page novel: no problem. One mistake in a 20-page short story: ouch! It’s not just the mistakes, but the mechanics of the writing, the flow of the story, the characterization, the plot, a satisfying ending… the idea has to be fantastic. When you write 100,000 words, you can have a few weaknesses provided that your strengths make the bulk of the book intriguing and enjoyable. In a short work, mistakes of any sort really stand out. The challenge of writing an effective blurb shows how much harder it can be to write much less and do it very well.
  • Writing that works for short stories is different from the kind of writing that works for novels. So if you simply produce a very short version of novels that you’re familiar with, it probably won’t work. You have to research which kinds of short works sell and come to understand how they are effective. (Now the devil’s advocate will say that all writers should try writing short stories—despite the fact that they might be much harder to sell, in general—because learning how to write a short piece well can be highly instructive for writers. Write a short story for what you can gain from it in the long run.)
  • Although readers could take a chance on a short story since little commitment and investment is involved, it’s also true that readers may be pickier when choosing which short stories to read. There certainly are enough short stories out there to choose from. One story doesn’t satisfy a reader for long. What’s the reward for liking the short story? Will there be another 200,000 words worth of writing to enjoy by the same author? You see, when you find a novel that you like, if the author has a few other novels, the reward is a lot more where that came from. If you just have a dozen short stories out, a reader could blitz through the whole collection in a day; you aren’t offering a huge supply of reading material as a potential reward if the reader likes your style.
  • There is much competition from free and low-priced stories. Why should people read your short stories when they can get the entire Sherlock Holmes collection for 99 cents or free? There are many classic short story collections out there at great prices. This comes back to my last point: If you like Sherlock Holmes, or any other classic short work, there is a ton of similar material to satiate your craving for it. If you like a short story by a modern author, often there are just a few more short stories—not enough to satisfy a reader for long.
  • Visibility is a huge issue. Suppose, for example, you want to write a short romance story, hoping to take advantage of the huge romance market. Do you think Amazon wants your short story to show up among hundreds of popular novels when customers search for romance? That could create confusion. So instead your short story should be listed among Short Reads or short story collections. 99% of romance readers will instead be browsing the romance category, looking for novels. There is a marketing challenge here: You’re not just selling a book to romance customers, you’re selling a short story specifically to the very few romance readers who want to read a short story. There is a market for that, just not nearly as wide as the romance novel market.
  • Another marketing challenge is the Look Inside. The shorter your ‘book’ (if you can call it that in this case), the shorter the Look Inside. The Look Inside is a valuable sales tool. A short story has a very short Look Inside. There may easily not be enough there to catch the reader’s interest. You could just give the title, author name, and start the story, moving the copyright notice to the end, but you still need the Look Inside (10%) to be long enough to sell the book.
  • Effective marketing is more costly and time-consuming for a series of short works. It’s fairly affordable to hire out quality cover design and editing for a full-length novel, but can be quite expensive to buy several covers for short pieces or have several short works edited.
  • For those hoping to game the system with short works, customer reviews will be an equalizer. Especially, if they are hoping to benefit from Kindle Unlimited, as avid readers tend to be smart book shoppers.
  • Another equalizer is experience. Customers don’t have to get ‘burned’ too many times to become wiser shoppers. Time favors quality and good value.
  • Even if short works do gain traction, as soon as it becomes popular and fashionable, the market will be flooded with short works. (This really doesn’t affect other authors, as the cream rises to the top. It’s always easy to find books that have achieved success; the not-so-good stuff really isn’t in the way—it falls to the bottom, out of the way.) The thing is, the flood will make it ineffective for authors hoping to generate high rewards with little effort, which means the flood won’t last. Those who succeed through quality writing, satisfying a niche audience, will continue to thrive—hard work, good ideas, and effective marketing will always help such authors thrive.

There are different kinds of short books. Let’s do authors a favor and not generalize them. Some authors slap something short together quickly, hoping to get rich. Other writers craft short pieces with masterful storytelling. These are the two extremes, then there is much in the middle. We would do a great disservice to masterful storytellers who specialize in short fiction by saying bad things about all short works.

A few of my points above specifically address the gamers, but the rest are hurdles that all short works authors must overcome in order to thrive in the short reads market.

BOOK CHOPPING

Okay, there is another extreme that I should address: book chopping. Again, I can’t imagine this being effective, and I will explain why.

Here is what I mean by book chopping: An author takes a regular-length novel and divides it up into smaller chunks (as short as a chapter, perhaps, or it could just be a few parts).

The idea behind this ‘strategy’ is that Kindle Unlimited customers can download several books without paying an extra penny, while the author earns a royalty every time a customer reads 10% of one of his or her books.

So, you could sell a novel and earn $1.80 or so for one download, or you could split that same novel into 5 parts, earning $9 from every customer who finishes the novel. Why stop there? Split it into 20 parts and you make $36 for that single book, right?

Except… Kindle Unlimited customers aren’t likely to reward this behavior, for the many reasons listed above.

On top of that, you have several ‘chapters’ cluttering up your Kindle, and you can only store 10 Kindle Unlimited downloads at a time. Suppose you’re reading Chapter 32 and would like to go back to Chapter 4 to refresh your memory of something that happened earlier. INCONVENIENCE doesn’t sell books!

Sure, some unscrupulous authors might find a way to abuse the system in the short run with this, but (A) they won’t find substantial or long-term success by chopping books and (B) Amazon tends to learn how to prevent authors from taking advantage or catch and provide a fit punishment for those who game the system. It’s not going to work to achieve anything significant, and even for those who are so unscrupulous, the benefits definitely don’t outweigh the risk.

Series are an exception. When each volume of a work reaches a natural division, and where each volume provides a complete, satisfying reading experience, then it’s not a chopped book—it’s a series. Many customers appreciate series, and series authors often do well. You can be a successful series authors, and marketing a series has many advantages. It’s even possible to develop and market a series of short pieces, but this won’t be a chopped novel—each piece will be effective by itself.

MARKETING SHORT WORKS

It is possible to succeed with short fiction or nonfiction pieces.

It’s not easy. You have to overcome the many challenges that I’ve outlined above.

It will take hard work and effective marketing. Find ways to use hard work and brain power to overcome these challenges, and you can stand out from the crowd and succeed with short pieces.

Following are some ideas to help you with this.

  • You need to cultivate a culture for your series of short works. You need to play an angle that gives your short reads an edge. You need to find a concise way to announce this clear and up front, e.g. in a subtitle, through a strap line, as a cover byline, in your blurb, with a slogan, on all of your marketing materials, etc. It’s the card you have to play. Take full advantage of it. Sometimes, it’s not enough to fill a need: You have to show people that they have a need, and you have what they didn’t know they needed. See my next bullet for some specific suggestions. But, whatever angle you play, focus on fostering a culture. This is the key to long-term success.
  • Here are some possible angles. Commuter fiction—read on a plane, subway, or train: Market to commuters, show how your series is tailored for this. Lunchtime reading—have some free time at lunch, but can’t really go anywhere to enjoy it. Morning inspiration—short motivating reads to help people get their days started on the right foot. Bedtime reading—a leisurely way to wind down for a good night’s sleep. People aren’t going to think of the angle for you. You need to find the angle that suits your short works best, and make this point abundantly clear. Don’t sell the book: Sell the benefit.
  • You can get good visibility through wise choices for your categories and keywords. The problem is that you only get to choose 2 categories and 7 keywords, so you must do some research and choose wisely. Find short works similar to yours selling well on Amazon and see which categories they are listed under, and see which keyword searches they show up in. The most relevant category may be Kindle Short Reads (click here) at Amazon.com, but this category is not available through the publisher’s choice (see here); yet there are 700,000 Kindle e-books in this category (with 250,000 in KDP Select), so although it’s said to be ‘restricted,’ evidently it’s easy (or automatic) to get in just by having your book the proper length.
  • Check out the Kindle Short Reads page, as it provides a useful guide for how long it takes to read how many pages. You need to know this. If you’re selling your book as commuter fiction or lunchtime fiction, for example, you need a reliable estimate for how long it will take to read your book. This number is valuable. “Have 30 minutes to read on your lunch or on a train ride? This 15-page book will hit the spot.”
  • Research a couple of specific keywords that may be relevant for your short work. Start typing in the search field at Amazon and it will show you popular matches. You want matches that are both popular and specific to your book; that helps you gain visibility (it doesn’t help to be the last book in a search with many results). Note that popularity varies whether you search in all departments, books, Kindle, Short Reads, or a specific category: So test them all out. Note that “commuter fiction,” for example, doesn’t even pull up a match presently, so don’t waste your keyword with things like this that are never searched for. “Short reads,” on the other hand, is a popular search (with 1250 results, though, so you need to be high up on that list).
  • You want to create a series of short works that stand out and are easy to find. You could put “commuter fiction,” “lunchtime fiction,” “Lisa’s shorts,” “inspirational stories,” or something in a subtitle or series title (though you have to number series with Kindle) or in parentheses, making it easy to find your brand—while also declaring it a short work. If the subtitle or parenthetical note, which will be visible in search results, also emphasizes the advantage of your book’s length (e.g. Commuter Fiction), even better.
  • The covers of your series need to send a clear, unique brand. Have a dozen short stories? You want them all to look uniform. You want them all to be very easy to find. A customer sees any of your short books and immediately recognizes the series. Branding is vital. You want new customers to see that you have a wealth of similar books, i.e. the reward for trying you out and liking your writing is much more where that came from. You want old customers to easily find your other pieces. An appealing (to your target audience) visual brand that creates a unique signature, that’s what you want.
  • Write several similar short books. You’re not likely to sell a ton of short books if you only write one or a few; one-hit wonders aren’t likely in short fiction. If you succeed in hooking some customers on the benefits of your short works, where you really stand to benefit is when you get customers to buy several of your books. It also shows new customers that you’re a serious author, and that there is plenty of reading material similar to any of the short pieces that you offer.
  • Once you succeed in growing a fan base, you want timely releases. They’re short, so you can write, say, one a month. (Say, you spend a month writing. You pass it onto your editor, getting it back weeks later. You also wait for your cover designer. It might take a few months before it’s publish-ready. But once the train gets started, you can have one to publish every month.) You want to publish regularly, so fans start to look forward to the 15th of every month (or whenever, but they know when to expect it). An advantage of releasing a short piece in 30-day intervals is that you always have a book in the Last 30 Days new release category.
  • Amazon tends to help authors who (scrupulously) help themselves. Effective premarketing and marketing can pay big dividends, not just in immediate sales. Another factor on your side is word-of-mouth. Learn the craft and produce quality short reads, and it can lead to long-term success.
  • Look for marketing groups, e.g. in Facebook or at Goodreads. Some groups will correspond to your genre, e.g. fantasy or romance. Also look for groups dedicated to short reads (heck, you could start a group). If you’re using Kindle Unlimited, look for groups associated with this, too.
  • Make one short read free. You should plan to publish dozens of similar books, so, really, why can’t you afford to make one good one permanently free? The freebie won’t be in KDP Select. Publish it on Kobo, Smashwords, etc. At Kobo and Smashwords, you can make it free, and then you (or customers) can notify Amazon of the lower price, politely requesting a price match. The hope is that your freebie will encourage many readers to try out your other stories. Remember, your work has to be good enough to make readers want more of the same. Making junk free isn’t helping anybody.
  • Educate your audience. Show them the benefits of Kindle Unlimited, e.g. how for $9.99 per month they can read your series of dozens of books without paying an extra penny. Show them how to find short reads (include the link to the Kindle Short Reads category). Explain how they might benefit from short reads, e.g. during commutes or lunchtime. Of course, you mention your series at the end of your marketing endeavor. If you’re promoting commuter or lunch fiction, remind your readers to stock up on the weekends, so they don’t waste precious time during their commutes or lunch breaks just searching for the next read.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Oh, How I LOVE Thee, AMAZON. Let me count the ways.

Amazon Pic

When we first met, you were still young, yet already so grand.

More books than I’d ever seen in any bookstore.

Yet it wasn’t just the size that impressed me.

Or that you were accessible and easy to get.

There was something about the smile on your logo,

The friendly feel of your website,

The speedy shipping, with a free super saver,

And, mostly, the way you treated me, even after the sale.

Then you made your affordable prices even more attractive:

I could buy used copies for as little as a penny.

And I could sell my used books,

Even my used textbooks, and for great prices.

You did things for me that no other bookstore ever could.

You treated me like I was special,

Like I wasn’t just another customer.

You had me at the first one-click.

Then, out of the blue, when I thought you didn’t even know my name,

You bent down on one knee,

Proposing your love to me.

You said, “Publish with Us.”

I had tears in my eyes.

Could this be true?

Pinch. What? It isn’t a dream?

“Yes,” I said, “Oh, yes! I will!”

We went to CreateSpace on our honeymoon.

It was more than I’d ever dreamed of.

Then you brought me to Kindle Direct Publishing.

It was over the top.

All my prior attempts to date publishers had begun with rejection;

I couldn’t even land a date,

Couldn’t get my foot in the door,

Slammed shut in my face. “Get out! We don’t want your kind!”

But you saw my potential.

You didn’t care about my resume,

Didn’t want a query letter or book proposal.

Heck, you proposed to me!

All expenses paid, too.

I could publish with you for free.

It really was a dream come true.

More pinches; still awake.

You gave me my very own product page,

ISBN, ASIN, UPC, bar code.

You let me set my own list price.

Then you paid royalties higher than my wildest dreams!

Even more, you brought me customers.

Sales, royalties, more sales, more royalties,

Customers also bought lists,

And my very own author page.

One day, you emailed me,

And followed it up with a phone call.

You wanted to talk to little ole me.

You cared about what I had to say.

Other suitors came, trying to win my heart,

But they could never love me like you have.

They’re just after a trophy;

You want my heart.

The love never stopped.

You repeatedly come up with new ways to arouse my interest.

Freebies, Countdown Deals, Prime, Kindle Unlimited,

70% royalties, improved reports, and now even preorders.

Amazon, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

I can’t imagine my life without you;

I can’t bear to give it another thought.

My heart is yours forever.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen