Self-Publishing Book Update

Click the image to view the book on Amazon.

Introduction

In this article, I will discuss how to update a book on Amazon through both Kindle and CreateSpace.

Since I have just done this with one of my own books, I will use that to provide a concrete example.

Here are some of the concerns that I had when I did this:

  • Should I create a new edition or upload new files into the old edition?
  • Will it be worth the effort of making revisions?
  • For how much time will the paperback be unavailable once file revisions begin?
  • How will the revised edition impact customers who own the old editions?

I will share my experience with these questions, but first I wish to illustrate some marketing points with the Look Inside.

Look Inside

The cover, blurb, and Look Inside of these books illustrate some important marketing features (although the sales rank of the paperback has slipped from not being available for a while during file review).

Here are links to the books, in case you may wish to check them out:

Paperback: http://amzn.com/1442183012

Kindle: http://amzn.com/B002A9K630

The new cover was designed by artist Melissa Stevens at www.theillustratedauthor.net. For comparison, you can view the old cover (which I made myself) here:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13068105-how-to-self-publish-a-book-on-amazon-com

Let’s begin with the cover.

  • I feel that the new cover looks more professional and has more pop. The old cover may have more effectively conveyed the content, but I wasn’t happy with the look. Changing designs like this hurts branding efforts, but I feel that the potential of the new cover outweighs this risk.
  • The title is more visible in the thumbnail. This is a very important marketing point for books that sell through visibility on Amazon.
  • Check out the gold starburst in the top right corner (hidden by the Look Inside triangle, yet will be a nice surprise for those who click to Look Inside). Sometimes, a subtle feature can make a big impact.
  • A single image is more memorable. It’s tempting to fill up the entire cover with designs (I’m guilty of doing this with some covers), but simple designs can be more effective with branding.
  • Maybe the Kindle cover is a little narrow. I went with Amazon’s recommended 1:1.6 aspect ratio to try it out; I usually go with something wider. I like the way this ratio fits in the Fire, but the cover is automatically skipped anyway when purchased. I’ll probably go with a wider ratio with my future Kindle covers.

Next, I’ll comment on the blurb:

  • Shorter blurbs are often more effective. For one, the longer a blurb runs, the harder it becomes to maintain the shopper’s interest. You want to grab that interest quickly and encourage a peek inside.
  • Nonfiction blurbs can be longer than fiction blurbs, but need to be divided into paragraphs or use bullets. I added blank lines and boldface through CreateSpace using basic HTML, and did the same at Author Central (where HTML is optional) for the Kindle edition. It’s better to do this at CreateSpace for the paperback (then preview it immediately in your eStore in case there are mistakes) than at Author Central if you have the Expanded Distribution (since other retailers, like Barnes & Noble, may use your HTML).
  • An update stands out at the top. The “brief description” paragraph makes it look like a short blurb, especially since the only other text you see without clicking “Show more” is about the author. My goal is for the customer to peek inside. But for those who want to learn more first, they can click “Show more.” The list in the long description might format better as bullets (one thing I’ll consider changing).

The Kindle edition’s Look Inside has some noteworthy features:

  • In my opinion, the best features are subtle. Subtleties can make the Look Inside seem professional or amateurish, and can put the shopper in a good mood or bad.
  • Note how the first page of each chapter is properly non-indented. Even when there is no indent on the Word file and no indent on the actual Kindle file, there are often indents in the Look Inside. The way around this in Word is to properly create a Style for non-indented paragraphs (also apply this to lines from the copyright page) with First Line set to 0.01″, then edit the HTML in Notepad to change the 0.01″ indent to zero. It’s important to have consistent indents and proper non-indents.
  • I set the indents to 2 em’s, not a value in inches. Go into the HTML and change the value in inches to a value in em’s. An em refers to the size of the letter M, which will vary with the device’s screen, font style, and font size. Using a value in em’s instead of inches helps the indents look good on any device, including the Look Inside.
  • There is a formatting issue with drop caps in Kindle devices. A common alternative is to put the first few words in ALL CAPS.
  • I like that colorful bookshelf (drawn by Melissa Stevens, who also designed the cover). I think it adds a little pop on devices that support color. There is a danger in using too many images in the Kindle edition. Shorter images tend to be better. A main concern is not distracting the reader from the text or detracting from the story. It’s ideal to use a light decorative touch that adds appeal. It’s not easy, as there are many potential pitfalls (image quality, fitting the content well, interrupting the flow, creating orphans, etc.).
  • The cube is repeated. When you buy the book, you don’t see the cover, you just see the cube first. But in the Look Inside, you see both. That repeated cube is another thing I’ll consider changing.
  • There are a few subtle features that I may improve, but overall I’m pleased with these Look Insides.

The paperback Look Inside is somewhat different:

  • The paperback features drop caps, grayscale decorative touches, headers, page numbers, and a slightly fancier chapter heading style.
  • Note that there are no headers or page numbers on most of the front matter (until the second page of the introduction), the odd-page header has the title while the even-page header has the chapter name, and the introduction has Roman numeral page numbers while the body has Arabic numbers. It’s a little “fun” to achieve this in Word, but it’s worth doing. The “secret” is to insert Next Page section breaks (instead of page breaks) where you want the header or footer style to change and place your cursor in the header or footer area and uncheck Link to Previous to make the Same as Previous flag disappear.
  • When the paperback Look Inside first updated, it was showing 100% of the book. Bursting bananas, Monkeyman! That’s why you should always check your Look Inside. CreateSpace was very quick to respond to my inquiry and the problem was quickly remedied.

Republishing

Let me address the questions that I raised in the introduction.

Should you create a new edition or upload new files into the old edition?

I chose to upload revised files, but this may not necessarily be the best decision for you:

  • My original edition had 41 reviews and a healthy sales rank. I wanted to keep these, not start from scratch.
  • If your book has only a few reviews, including a bad one, you might prefer a new edition.
  • If your book has a history of slow sales and you’re hoping for better, a new edition offers hope. It’s easier to maintain a good sales rank than it is to overcome a history of slow sales.
  • A new edition gives you added visibility through the new release filters (i.e. Last 30 Days and Last 90 Days).
  • It is possible to have a new edition linked to an old edition (kind of like how the paperback and Kindle editions can be linked). This consolidates reviews, but doesn’t transfer sales rank from the old edition. Note that if the revisions are significant, recently Author Central has been reluctant to link the different editions. (Doesn’t make sense to me…)

Will it be worth the effort of making revisions?

The risk is that you can spend much time making revisions, and may even invest money on editing or cover design, but might not see any improvement in sales.

In my case, the book had been selling frequently enough to warrant the effort of an extensive revision and the cost of cover design. Here are some points to consider:

  • If you’re strongly committed to having multiple titles out and a professional author platform some years from now, even if it’s a slow going in the first couple of years, then any improvements you can make now might have a significant impact on your distant future even if you don’t see any short-term benefits.
  • More feedback from your target audience about your current edition and your potential revisions can help you decide if the changes may be worth making.
  • Even if the revisions don’t improve sales, if they make you feel better about your book that may be enough to make it worth doing.
  • If the changes are relatively minor and you’re content with sales now, you might consider the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. You can always make the changes in the future. This depends on how minor the changes are.

For how much time will the paperback be unavailable once file revisions begin?

When you upload new files at CreateSpace, your book won’t be available until you click Approve Proof. This can take as little as 12 hours or so, if you view the Digital Proof carefully and okay the changes. But it can take much longer, especially if you order a printed proof. The printed proof is more reliable, while the Digital Proof is quicker. Watch out for chain reactions: You can add a word on page 2 and it can cause crazy changes to the layout and formatting of pages that follow. It’s worth viewing every page.

You can get caught by surprise: You might get some unexpected error (like not making any changes to the cover, but seeing the cover changed or getting an error message about the cover) that takes days to resolve.

Your sales rank will rise while your paperback book is unavailable. I’ve had books with sales ranks that had held steady between 10,000 and 50,000 for months, which rose up to the 100,000’s after uploading revised files, for which the sales rank didn’t return to normal for a couple of weeks. This particular book was in the 40,000’s prior to revising the paperback files, and is presently at 200,000.

Kindle e-books are different: Your old edition remains available for sale until the new edition takes over.

For either edition, it can take a few days for the Look Inside to fully update. Occasionally, this is quicker (this time, the Kindle updated within a day), and sometimes it takes longer.

How will the revised edition impact customers who own the old editions?

With Kindle, if you upload revised files instead of creating a new edition, it’s possible for customers to obtain the new edition at no cost, and it may also be possible to notify your customers of the changes:

  • Login to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), click the Contact Us button (in the bottom left corner of most pages), choose Publish Your Book, and select Making Corrections. Copy and paste the ASIN from your product page into the form, then type a message in the space below.
  • In your message, describe the changes that you made very specifically.
  • Wait up to 30 days for KDP to investigate the changes.

There are three possible outcomes:

  • KDP determines that the revisions are minor. Customers won’t be notified, but can receive the updated edition, depending on their settings under Manage Your Kindle.
  • KDP determines that the revisions are major. Customers will be notified that an updated edition exists. They must use Manage Your Kindle to get the update.
  • KDP determines that the revisions are critical. KDP will remove the book from sale until you correct the issue. Once the issue is resolved, customers will be notified of the update.

For paperbacks, previous customers will simply have to buy a new edition in order to get it (well, I guess they can sell the old one used, which means a new customer receives the outdated edition…).

Even worse, shortly after the transition, it’s possible for a customer to receive the old edition when buying the new edition directly from Amazon. One possibility is that Amazon may have copies of your old edition in stock, e.g. through returns. Another possibility is using a third party printer to fulfill an order, for whom it may be several weeks before the update occurs.

You should order a copy of your book from Amazon.com to see how it looks. Rarely, there is a problem with the files at CreateSpace that causes the old edition to continue to print, or strangely a hybrid book that seems to be a combination of the two editions (this is very rare, but it’s worth checking just in case you win the “lottery” here).

Promotional Sale

The Kindle edition of my updated book will be on a Countdown Deal for 99 cents from March 21 thru March 28, 2014 in the USA. (If you live in the UK, you’ll have to wait a month or so. Sorry, but the UK price had been below the minimum, and the rules require waiting a month after making the UK price eligible for a Countdown Deal.)

Amazon.com paperback customers can always get the Kindle edition for 99 cents through MatchBook.

If you have the old Kindle edition, just wait patiently. I put in a request for KDP to make the updated edition available and to notify customers. It may take up to a month for the updated edition to become available through your Manage Your Kindle settings at Amazon. (KDP may or may not notify you of the update. We’ll see…)

If you have the old paperback edition and wish you had the new one, I’m sorry. If you’d really like the new edition, try using the Contact Me feature here on my blog.

My newest self-publishing books are called A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Volumes 1 and 2 (see below for links to these). How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon.com is my original self-publishing guide from 2009: It has been significantly expanded and updated, but my Detailed Guide is more thorough (especially, if you have both volumes, as the second volume includes many subtle formatting tips and a huge chapter on marketing).

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Should You Self-Publish?

20140118_184900

For most authors, the decision of whether to self-publish or search for a traditional publisher is a tough one. I wrestled with this decision (it fought like a crocodile) in the years leading up to 2008. Even after self-publishing multiple books in 2008 (I had one completely written and the material for several others already well-prepared), I continued to wrestle the crocodile for another seven months. Then sales of two of my books erupted and later the next summer I launched a series that became popular enough that I no longer questioned my decision.

That’s what you hope for, when you’re wondering which route to take. You’re hoping that a day will come when you no longer look back over your shoulder, wondering about the other road (that road you didn’t take is such a clichéd road, it really isn’t worth any anguish).

Not an Easy Way Out

Self-publishing isn’t the easy way out. It might seem that way at first:

You don’t have to find a publisher or an agent, you don’t need to write query letters, you don’t need to put a book proposal together, you don’t need to buy Writer’s Market, you don’t need to meet the right people, you don’t need to write sample chapters for a book that might never get published, you don’t need to make marketing commitments, and you don’t need to wait years hoping to get lucky.

You also won’t have to deal with a pile of rejection letters:

Self-publishing is a sure thing, baby! (Well, at least as far as getting published is concerned; whether or not you’ll sell a copy to anyone other than your grandma, that’s another question.)

But self-publishing is still a lot of work. You’re the writer (so you still need to learn the craft), you’re the editor (which means a great deal more work once the book is written), you’re the formatter (which means learning a new art and how to use the software to pull it off), you’re the illustrator (can you draw, too?), you are your own marketing department (put Executive on your name badge), and you are your only public relations specialist (if you fail at this job, you can kill all your hard work faster than your favorite speedy cliché).

That’s a lot of work for someone who just wants to write. It might just be easier to find an agent or publisher after all.

And you don’t really escape the pain of rejection… because anybody can post a critical review right in plain sight where the whole world can see it (stock up on thread to mend your bleeding heart).

You’re not Really Alone

It really isn’t self-publishing. It’s indie publishing.

You only do it all yourself if you choose to do so:

  • There is an abundance of free information available to help authors learn writing skills, editing skills, cover design skills, marketing skills, and publishing skills.
  • The CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing community forums have many knowledgeable participants to help out if you have a question.
  • You have the option of joining a writing group or organizing a focus group from within your target audience to help provide valuable feedback.
  • You can recruit extra pairs of eyes to help you proofread.
  • Services are available for editing, formatting, or cover design if you need to hire help. You may find affordable service at high quality if you do your homework well.
  • What you lack in financial resources you can make up for in time (it’s money, right?). You can choose to take your time to get it right.
  • You can find support from others, such as this wonderful WordPress community.

Changing Tides

It wasn’t long ago that self-publishing equated to hundreds of books piled in an author’s garage (though somehow I still have hundreds in my home office…).

For most authors, it was either traditional publishing, vanity publishing, or no publishing (and too often, the latter was the case).

Print-on-demand services like CreateSpace and e-readers like Kindle have revolutionized the publishing industry. Now anyone can  publish (and, believe it or not, there are even some authors who have their dogs publish, so if you hear this expression, there is a little truth to it—a photo book about dogs, surely; why shouldn’t it be written by, narrated by, and published by the dog?).

And hundreds of thousands of indie authors are publishing.

Self-publishing was ripe when it first came out. Many readers weren’t aware of the new concept in the early years. There were fewer authors and books, too. E-readers were new and quite appealing. The market was growing rapidly.

Then word started to spread about books with editing, formatting, and content problems. Many customers discovered these problems firsthand. Some review abuse from authors didn’t help the image (fortunately, Amazon has made great strides toward limiting this in the past couple of years). There were also some people (perhaps the extremists we will not label as authors) who had heard of amazing success stories, who were hoping to make a quick fortune with little effort (you can easily spot them because they have deep scars where they continue to scratch their heads).

Yet the number of indie authors and indie books continued to grow, and support for them grew with it. Take tens of thousands of authors, add their families, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, and you can see that there is ample support for the concept of self-publishing. Many indie authors read indie books; many more people who know indie authors read indie books (and not just by authors they know). It’s not uncommon to search Amazon for “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform” to try to find a good self-published book to read.

Amazon and traditional publishers both did indie authors some huge favors. Amazon’s role is obvious: Thank Amazon for the beautiful red carpet. Every big traditional publisher must yearn badly for a time machine. How has indie authorship come to take so much of the current market share? Would the publishers change their e-book pricing strategies if they could dial the calendar back several years? Would they focus more of their efforts on the advantages of digital books? Would they try to get to market faster? Would they encourage their authors to utilize more marketing strategies that top indies have come to thrive on? You might sooner solve the Tootsie Roll riddle…

Traditional publishers have responded to the effects of print-on-demand and e-books. But they also have the disadvantages of being big business: especially, s.l.o.w. response time. Things continue to change, though. They are looking ahead, they have a great deal of publishing experience, and they have many resources. They haven’t disappeared; they just haven’t dominated the market like they once did. Definitely, don’t count them out.

Several bookstores, especially chains, might wish they could turn back the clock, too. So many indie books selling each year. Some bookstores have taken advantage of this opportunity; some have avoided it at all cost. It may have been silly for them to blindly stock several copies of every indie book. But there were some good opportunities to get some of this traffic.

The image of indie publishing seems to be rebounding. Customers have realized that they can filter out what’s good to read by careful study of the product page and Look Inside. Excellent content is good to read regardless of how it is published. Some indie books have exceptional covers, wonderful editing and formatting, and great stories, too. Indie authors have the freedom to provide content that traditional publishers would never have published in the past. An indie author can choose to write to a smaller audience; that smaller audience may appreciate this. Many indie authors provide personal experiences with their marketing, which helps to attract new readers. The best indie books are competing with the best traditionally published books.

Successful indie authors are opening doors for everyone else. Some are even turning down lucrative offers from traditional publishers (check out this article, recently referred to from the CreateSpace community forum). If you do sign with a traditional publisher, you risk having your digital or other rights tied up for a very long time (if you can get a little success, by that point in time you might do much better than the advance offered up front).

Success Still Isn’t Easy

Amazon and other companies are giving indie authors the opportunity to publish. But everyone won’t be striking gold. You might not even strike dirt.

There are millions of books available for sale. Only the top 200,000 or so sold one copy in the past day. Most books don’t even sell a copy per day, on average.

You put so much time into writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing (what you don’t do yourself, you still put time and money into arranging). You invest months, perhaps years of hard work, and you may also invest good money along with it. But sales aren’t guaranteed.

Sales are still hard to come by.

Traditional publishers and agents do have benefits to offer (you might also wonder if they are receiving fewer submission: are your chances better now?). They may be able to help with editing and formatting. They might help a little in the way of marketing, like getting your foot in the door for television or radio interviews, hooking you up with an effective publicist, sending out advance review copies, and listing your title in their catalogs. You’ll probably still be expected to market. You might receive an advance, though it may be $5,000 or less, not the big number you’ve always dreamed about. You have better prospects for getting your book stocked in a chain bookstore (then you get to learn the reality of returnability and big discounts).

No matter how you publish, the key to success is hard work combined with marketable content.

In the end, to the customer it’s the quality of the book that you’ve produced that really matters, not how you got it published.

Option Three

It isn’t indie publishing versus traditional publishing. Both have merit, not just to authors, but to readers, too.

Some authors are choosing both.

Traditional publishers can only produce books so quickly. Some authors write books faster than they can be published. Other authors write a few books that interest big publishers, but several other books that may not. One way to publish all their books is to traditionally publish some and self-publish the rest (sometimes, with a pseudonym). More and more traditional authors are exploring self-publishing.

On the other side, many authors are starting out with self-publishing, hoping to attract traditional publishers.

This can work two ways. If you self-publish a book that scarcely sells, it will be hard to convince a publisher to take up your book. But if you grow a large following and gain frequent sales and many reviews, a publisher may be interested in publishing a subsequent book (or even republishing the same book). They’ll want to be impressed with your success and your marketing platform, and it won’t be easy, but the potential is there.

Yet if you can build a large following and earn frequent sales on your own, why would you want to sign a contract with a publisher, tie up your rights, and take a big cut in royalties (even though a large sum up front would be enticing)? If you can be self-made, why give that up? It’s easy to fantasize about receiving a lucrative offer and turning it down, but if you wind up wearing these shoes, it might not turn out to be so easy. It would sure be a nice problem to have, though, wouldn’t it?

Other authors wonder if the grass may be greener on the other side. Some authors try self-publishing, then try to find an agent or publisher when that doesn’t pan out. Some authors land a contract with a traditional publisher, but don’t make what they were expecting, and switch to self-publishing.

Conclusions

There are a lot of opinions out there on whether self-publishing or traditional publishing is better.

Personally, I think it’s the wrong question to ask.

What’s better for you may not be the same as what’s better for someone else. Other people’s lists of advantages and disadvantages can help you collect ideas for your own list, but your list of pros and cons will be unique.

I believe both options can be good, and so is “option three” (i.e. both).

Nothing beats the feeling of holding your book in your hands, knowing that you gave it your best, believing it to be done professionally. That’s what you should strive for. Whether you do this yourself, with help as an indie author, or via a traditional publisher or agent, the end result is still the same—you shared your passion with readers.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Amazon Sales Rank—Why Does It Matter to Customers?

Rank

Obviously, sales rank is important to Amazon. It makes sense to showcase products that are more likely to sell, and those that have been selling frequently have a proven track record. Sales rank factors into bestseller lists, ordering of search results (to some extent), visibility with special features, etc.

Sales rank is also important to authors and publishers. It helps to show how the book is selling.

Perhaps the strange thing is how important sales rank is to customers.

Popularity

Do people like to buy what’s popular? Aren’t there people with their own sense of style, who want something nice of their own that few other people are enjoying? Some clothes are highly popular, yet you still see a large percentage of people who are uniquely attired.

A few times in the past five years Amazon’s sales rank has been down for several hours to a few days. Sales tend to drop off during this period. Usually, no sales rank means that book has never sold. Suddenly, books that usually sell a few copies per day stop selling while the sales rank feature is temporarily disabled. Why? Because having no sales rank versus a rank of 30,000 can have a significant impact on a buying decision.

It’s like many customers are thinking, “If it’s not good enough for everyone else, it’s not good enough for me, either.” This seems to be a prevalent opinion in the well-educated, well-read world, at least as it applies to book-buying decisions.

There are a few customers who will take a chance on a book with a sales rank in the millions, but not many, and certainly not enough to go around for the millions of books that have received this fate.

Not a Constant

It’s funny when a book that spends most of its time with a sales rank in the millions suddenly sells, and sometimes sells a few more copies that same day. The only thing that has changed recently is the sales rank.

However, while a sale does drop the sales rank considerably—it can drop down to 100,000 from the millions—very often it doesn’t spark more sales. That’s because sales rank combines sales from the past day, week, and month. When a book that rarely sells suddenly sells, its sales rank drops down near 100,000, but rises very quickly. There is a narrow window of opportunity for customers to discover the book with that low sales rank before it returns to its home country.

In contrast, when a book that normally sells every day stops selling for a while, its sales rank climbs much more slowly.

In this way, the deck has been stacked. Hot sellers have a distinct advantage; slow sellers are inherently disadvantaged.

Fairness

This does make sense in many ways. If a book truly is lousy, its sales rank should skyrocket and that book should become less visible.

In other ways, it can seem unfair. There are tens of millions of books on Amazon. It’s absurd to think that only 100,000 are good and 30,000,000 are lousy.

What about books with a very tiny audience? Even if the book is excellent, sales are limited.

How about books that don’t fall into any standard categories? Even if the book is wonderful, it’s hard to find.

There are a number of reasons that a book can be very good, yet not sell well.

Unfortunately, there are also many books that don’t provide a good customer experience: ridiculously short (just a few pages), very poorly written, major formatting issues, etc.

For many customers, the simple solution is to buy books with a track record of selling well—i.e. look for a low sales rank.

Indeed, many customers only shop bestseller lists.

This gives big publishers and popular authors a distinct advantage. A large preexisting fan base gives rise to many early sales. At the same time, these books have a history of providing customers with good reading experiences, so this advantage has been earned.

The new author who throws a book out there has a distinct disadvantage. It takes time to get discovered and by the time a few readers have tried it and found it to be very good, the history of slow sales makes it a challenge for the sales rank to rebound.

Premarketing

Many publishers and authors do premarketing—sending out review copies, creating buzz, going on blog tours—hoping to stimulate early sales, knowing how much this can impact the fate of a book.

Abuse

A few people may try to abuse the sales rank factor, but probably in many cases to no avail. For example, Amazon could easily track authors who buy several copies of their own books and factor this into sales rank (if it’s not already done, it could change). If a lousy book does manage to acquire a low sales rank number, the Look Inside and reviews are likely to expose it for what it really is.

Opportunity

You can look at sales rank as a hurdle, in the sense that it takes sales to get sales.

Or you can look at sales rank as an opportunity.

Self-published books aren’t penalized compared to traditionally published books and popular authors. Any book that sells well improves its visibility. A self-published book that sells 20 copies today will compete in visibility with a traditionally published book that sells 20 copies per day.

Daily sales matter much more than weekly or monthly sales. Monthly sales determines how slowly or rapidly sales rank climbs when a book isn’t selling. When a book is selling, it is daily sales that matters.

This means that a traditionally published book that’s sold thousands of copies in the past still needs to sell copies today to compete with a newly released self-published book. In this way, the playing field is surprisingly level.

Sales rank tends to reward books that help themselves. If you write a highly marketable book, have a cover that attracts your target audience, write an effective blurb, have an engaging Look Inside, and the book generally pleases an audience, all this is on your side: It will help your book get discovered and sell when it gets discovered. Every sale helps your sales rank.

If you also do effective marketing, every sale helps even more. The more sales you stimulate through good content and effective marketing, the more sales rank helps you rather than hurts you.

This is why there are many indie authors achieving some measure of success. The opportunity is yours, too.

Reviews

Another way that sales rank matters to customers has to do with reviews.

Many customers look at the number of reviews and the sales rank.

If a book has several reviews, but a large number in the sales rank, the customer may be suspicious. How did the book get so many reviews without selling?

Of course, there may be a simple explanation:

  • Sales rank isn’t a constant. Perhaps the book was a hot seller when it first came out, but has now saturated the market.
  • Maybe the author has done some effective, temporary promotions in the past. A freebie can give out thousands of copies of the book without directly improving sales rank.
  • Advance review copies may have helped to get some early reviews.
  • The book may have been out for several years and sold thousands of copies, but just doesn’t have a great sales rank presently. Checking the publication date can help with this point.

But many customers will wonder if there is another simple explanation:

  • Were the reviews posted by close friends and family members?

Regardless of the actual reason, this perception can limit the sales of a book that has good reviews, but not a sales rank to match.

A Problem for Amazon?

There is one way that Amazon may be shooting itself in the foot with sales rank: It may be limiting growth to some extent. Five years ago, if a paperback book sold, its sales rank dropped down to about 50,000. Now, this number can be closer to 200,000, depending on the season. Why? Because there are more books, and more books that are selling about one copy per day on average or better. The change is even more extreme with Kindle.

The more books that sell well, the more books there are with higher sales rank numbers that are selling better than they seem.

In previous years, a Kindle book with a sales rank of 350,000 wasn’t selling at all. Now, it’s selling occasionally, and 1,000,000 is not selling at all.

The numbers are changing, but the perception doesn’t change with it. People still look at that Kindle book with a sales rank of 350,000 and think, “That book never sells.”

If there are now 200,000 books selling about one book per day on average, it will be hard for the number of books selling about one book per day on average to climb up to 1,000,000 because of this perception. If Amazon wants to have more books selling at least once a day, sales rank is working against this. Amazon wants to sell more books overall. It may be hard to increase the frequency of top sellers. It might not be as hard to “double the tail,” i.e. double the sales frequency of books at the bottom, without disturbing sales at the top.

The Good Old Days

When you stand in a bookstore, you have no idea which books are selling well.

(Okay, the bestseller lists and books that indicate bestseller status on the cover are a couple of exceptions.)

For the most part, when you stand in an aisle looking at a shelf, you have no idea which books have sold recently and which haven’t.

(Okay, if you’re a frequent customer, maybe you can remember the contents of the shelf well.)

You do see several copies of a few books, and only one copy of most books. If there are several copies, is that because it’s a hot seller? Or are there so many copies left because it hasn’t been selling?

Imagine if you saw the sales rank on every book. You pick up a book, see the number 462,165 on it. You drop it like a hot potato. You better go wash your hands with soap and warm water.

Gosh, ten years ago I used to pick a book based on the cover, spine, back cover blurb, and especially how the first chapter began. There was no sales rank. There were no customer reviews (unless you want to count glowing quotes on the first page and back cover).

You

How do you shop for books? Is sales rank important to you?

If you feel that sales rank should be important to customers, you can market this perception to others.

If you feel that sales rank shouldn’t be so important, you can market this perception.

You have the chance to discuss sales rank with others and to debate (professionally and tactfully) the pros and cons of factoring this into a purchase decision.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Meeting the Challenges of Self-Publishing

Half Full

Half Empty

When the cup is half full, it’s a challenge to view it as half full instead of half empty.

So what about a cup that seems like it’s 90% empty? Can you stay positive and view it as 10% full?

Because that’s the way it seems sometimes to the indie author.

There are so many challenges to face. Charles Yallowitz recently listed dozens in his recent post, “Paranoia in Self-Publishing?”

Indie authors ride a roller coaster of hills and valleys. When several bad cards fall in place in a valley, it can really challenge you.

Writing should be the hard part, right? After all, that’s the main job. You’re a writer.

But writing comes easily. You’ve been bitten by the writing bug. Muse, rather. She’s sitting on your shoulder. You have no choice but to write. Sure, you might have to deal with writer’s block, but that’s the least of your problems.

And there are serious writing challenges, like choosing the right tense and person, balancing the show and tell act, finding the best way to present dialog, figuring out what effect your book really has on your target audience and how to pull it off as best you can, and any number of intricacies of the craft. You love writing, though, so these are the kinds of problems you live for.

It’s the publishing industry that makes you feel like you need to be connected or sell out, the editing and formatting that never seems to end, the holy-cow-how-could-I-do-that typo that shows up after you order a dozen review copies, the sales that don’t come, the false need you feel to stimulate reviews, the sales that don’t come after you get reviews, the bad review with just the right words to sting you where it counts, the in-laws and exes who point out the exaggerated disadvantages of self-publishing, and especially when a few of these issues slap you in the face while sales fall off a cliff all in the same never-ending week. So you decided to self-publish, eh?

Half Full

There are positives and there are negatives. There are times when many things are going your way. You don’t realize how much it’s going your way because you see how much better it could be. No matter how good it gets, it could always be better. But when the negatives come by, you don’t miss them.

It’s like Chutes and Ladders. When you’re going along, you think how you could be going up a staircase. When you’re going up a staircase, you think how you could be going up the super long staircase. And there are so many players in this game, some are going up that staircase. When you slide down a chute, you feel like you’re losing the game. But you could be glad that you’re making progress, on average. You could be grateful you didn’t fall down the really long chute and have to start over from the beginning. You could be happy just to be playing the game.

The negatives will test you. When several come together, they will really test you. They beckon you to react emotionally, instinctively. They challenge you to do what you know you should refrain from. They tempt you to put your reputation on the line. They may even make you question your scruples.

But it’s just a long, deep valley on this roller coaster. Statistically, there will be periods where many negatives come together.

It’s also an opportunity. To show what you’re made of. To demonstrate your patience. To be professional. To show your character. To draw motivation. To meet this challenge. To survive. So that the next time you come to a valley, you will have a positive experience to draw from, remembering how you’ve been through this before. So the next time you reach a peak it will taste that much sweeter.

You can do this.

  • Count the good things. You’re a published author, you get to enjoy writing, you’ve sold X books, you’ve had Y good reviews. Make a list of 20 positives. Get your book out, look at the cover, see your name on the cover, browse through the book. You’re a published author. Enjoy the feeling. Remember when you first saw your book?
  • Exercise. Get some of that frustration out while also doing something that feels healthy. You spend too much time sitting at a desk. In stressful situations, you need to exercise and eat healthy foods.
  • Work on a writing project. Outline your next book, write a poem or short story, write a blog post (but don’t publicize problems that may cast you in a negative light), start a new book, edit a book, do something that will make you feel productive and help get your mind off the negativity. Or get away from it all and spend time with family.
  • Do a search online and read about other authors who’ve gone through tough times. Don’t let yourself get talked into making mistakes. Find mistakes that authors have made and learn from them. See that others have gone through worse. Discover what others have done that was unprofessional, and force yourself to go the professional, patient route.
  • Seek support and advice from your connections, but don’t do it publicly in a way that may make you seem unprofessional. Find someone who will give you comfort when you need it. Find someone who will tell it like it is and offer valuable advice when you can handle it.
  • Ask yourself if there is anything helpful that you can draw from the experience. Sometimes the bad provides an opportunity for improvement. Sometimes the bad is just bad and doesn’t offer anything positive. If there is something that may be useful, try to use it to improve. If there is nothing useful, try to put it in the past and move on.
  • Try something new that you’ve been considering that’s free or low-cost and doesn’t involve a large time commitment, like maybe a new marketing strategy that just requires a couple of hours to learn something new. This is not a good time to spend much money or devote considerable time; think low-cost and not much time long-term. It will help get your mind on something else, and it will give you a new source of hope.
  • Make a dartboard with your bad reviews, bad comments, lousy sales rank, or whatever other problems are on your mind. Throw darts at your problems, shred your problems, stomp on your problems. Get it out of your system.
  • Don’t make any quick decisions during these times. Think them through carefully. Get a good night’s sleep before deciding. Patience can be your best ally against stupidity and embarrassment during times like these.
  • Feel creative. Find your passion. Refuel your motivation. If you’ve been working hard, take a break and come back rejuvenated.
  • Do some small good deeds. Help others in some way. Especially, help others anonymously. The gift of giving not only helps others, it might make you feel a little better, too. It takes a special kind of someone to spread goodness during tough times. You could be that someone. You could be a super hero. A disguised super hero. It may give you the inner strength of a super hero.
  • Read a book. Go to another world, live the life of a hero, find a better reality, overcome tougher hardships. Rediscover that writing is about the reading.
  • When you get knocked down, when you get kicked while you’re down, don’t give in to the circumstances. Rise above them. Laugh hysterically. Ask, “Is that all you’ve got?” Tell ’em, “’cause I’m a writer and I could do a whole lot worse than this.”

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Authorpreneur vs. Writing Artist

Authorpreneur

Authorpreneur

All authors—indie and traditionally published—are being labeled with this new term, authorpreneur.

This is easier to see for the indie author, who must not only write the book, but must also arrange the editing, formatting, cover design, publishing, and marketing. However, the term also applies to traditionally published authors, who write query letters and book proposals, still need to market their books, and have a better chance of getting published if they tailor the book to the needs of an audience.

There is a growing perception that an author must write and function like a businessperson in order to succeed as a writer. Publishers are in the business of writing: They want ideas that will sell. Even the indie author may perceive writing as a business, feeling that’s what it takes to sell books.

Writing Artist

Let’s look at the other extreme—the author who writes passionately without regard for sales. In the utter extreme, the author doesn’t write for an audience, but for his or her own reasons. This author is driven by passion, not business. Getting the book right, carrying out the author’s vision… this author cares for this more than sales. Yes, this author would like to share his or her passion. This author won’t give the book away for free because he or she wants the work to be valued, yet this author is driven by the art of writing, not the royalties.

Which Are You?

Most authors probably aren’t extreme authorpreneurs—focused solely on business—or extreme writing artists—completely disregarding the business aspect. You might feel like you fall somewhere in between, and presently you’re trying to gauge which way you lean and how far.

Would you like to write as a businessperson or as a writing artist?

Most authors feel that they must do one of the following:

  • Sell out, so to speak, writing for business rather than pleasure.
  • Write as an artist and then publish and market as a businessperson, sort of combining the two aspects.
  • Write purely for pleasure; don’t worry about the business side at all.

However, there is another important option that most authors don’t consider.

The Art of Success

You don’t have to turn your art into a business. Instead, you can turn the business into an art.

Here’s what I mean: View marketing not as a business strategy, but as a means of sharing your passion with others. Put your imagination into it and carry out your marketing as an artist. Just like you write with passion as an artist, find a way to feel like an artist when you market your work and become passionate about marketing as a way to share your writing with readers.

It’s a matter of perspective. Consider the following definitions.

Perspective

book

  • business: a product designed to create profit.
  • art: ideas fueled by passion and crafted by a wordsmith.

cover design

  • business: a tool that helps direct traffic to your book’s product page.
  • art: a reflection of your work that helps readers find what you so passionately wrote.

editing

  • business: reshaping an idea to sell better.
  • art: perfecting the art and craftsmanship to get it right.

formatting

  • business: improving the design of a book to attract more customers.
  • art: visually complementing the beauty of the writing.

marketing

  • business: strategies for delivering the product to the target audience.
  • art: motivating yourself to share your passionate creation with others.

Readers, too

As a reader, would you rather read a book that was written for an audience and designed to sell or would you rather read a book that was fueled by passion and shared passionately?

Of course, the question is never put like this. However, as a reader you do buy books. When you buy books that were written and published under a business model, you support the perception that writing should be a business. When you buy books that were written by artists and craftsmen, you support the perception that writing should be an art or craft.

The choice is yours. Each purchase counts as a vote.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Authors, Do You Know Jack?

Jack

Jack-of-all-Trades

Is this a problem for indie authors?

I’ve seen this term used with regard to authors in a variety of contexts over the past couple of months. There are two common cases:

  1. The self-published author who does all the writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing independently.
  2. When the books involve a variety of subjects, categories, genres, writing styles, etc.

But Master of None

The common implication is that the jack-of-all-trades knows something about many subjects, but is the master of none.

I would like to challenge this assumption:

  • Every year I encounter several students who not only ace one of my classes, but tend to earn top scores in all their classes. I interact with many people who have expertise on several subjects. I’m not just talking about double and triple majors, or necessarily students. Do you have any know-it-all acquaintances who you would rely on for information on any number of topics?
  • Authors need to be well-versed on several matters. For example, in addition to storytelling and writing, fantasy authors also need to understand weaponry, fighting, mythical creatures, and a host of topics seemingly unrelated to writing. Nonfiction experts need to know more than their subjects: They must also be able to explain things in a way that the audience can understand, which is a much unrelated skill.
  • Many famous authors would be described as a jack-of-all-trades. For example, consider Robert A. Heinlein, who primarily wrote science fiction and fantasy. He spent ample time doing research on biology, chemistry, medicine, rocket science, astrobiology, geology, mathematics, and many other topics. The level of detail that show up in his stories is amazing when you consider the variety of expertise that is entailed in his many novels. Other famous authors weren’t just self-published, but ran printing presses and were involved in a variety of hobbies and business ventures. Almost all of my favorite authors would be considered jacks(or jills)-of-all-trades.
  • Life experience, both range and depth, can provide valuable insight to authors. Writers who know much outside of their domains have more resources at their disposal for writing their books.

Which Trade?

Suppose you discover that you have a medical condition. The first thing you might do is buy a few books to learn more about it. When you shop for the book, you must often make a decision:

  • Although some books are written by medical experts, the layman sometimes finds the language unclear, the content intimidating, and the reading impersonal.
  • Some books are written by non-experts, but although the author may lack expertise, the author may make up for this through ample research, speaking from personal experience, or having a knack for clear explanations that the layman can understand.

The ideal case is that the author excels at both—expertise in content combined with clear, personal language. Hey, that’s a jack-of-all-trades who excels at both.

An alternative is a book with two coauthors, one who has the medical knowledge and one who can explain well to a general audience. This sounds great as an ideal, though in practice it doesn’t always work out as well as it sounds. While teamwork has much potential, it also entails cooperation and coordination. Finding the best expert and best expository writer to collaborate on the book is a challenge, too. For one, those with the best-looking resumes don’t always deliver results to match.

Either way, I appreciate the time and effort authors invest to provide helpful information. In my experience, sometimes the single author’s technical book helps me more than a similar book that was coauthored, and sometimes it’s the other way around. As a reader, I haven’t observed any reason to automatically disregard an author who tries to fill too many roles. The best criteria I see is the Look-Inside-the-Book; that seems to be a much more reliable indicator than whether the author has coauthors, has a relevant degree, hired an editor, etc.

Indie vs. Self-Publishing

Just because you don’t see a coauthor, editor, cover designer, or publishing label mentioned on the product page or copyright page, this doesn’t mean that the author didn’t seek and obtain valuable help.

It’s really indie publishing, not self-publishing. The indie author acts independently, coordinating the publishing of the book. The indie author doesn’t have to do it all by him- or herself. Although the author writes the book, he or she may recruit help in many ways:

  • Several pairs of eyes may be used to provide feedback on the writing and to edit the manuscript.
  • The author may hire an editor who doesn’t want his or her name publicized on the product page or copyright page.
  • There are numerous resources for all facets of self-publishing online and in books. Most indie authors research several publishing topics.
  • Authors can get much help from the supportive indie author community, such as formatting instructions, advice, feedback, tips, and even “I’ll be happy to help you with that.”
  • After publishing several books, each indie author has gained much experience with all aspects of publishing, often becoming not just a jack-of-all-trades, but also excelling in many areas.

What Does Your Author Page Say?

Do you have different kinds of books on your author page? Will readers wonder if you are a jack-of-all-trades?

If so, you might wonder if you may be losing sales from readers who assume that you must not have mastered either trade. Will including different books on your author page deter sales?

Maybe, maybe not, but there is another point that may be more important: There will also be readers who check out your other books and buy multiple books, whether they are similar or different. You’re more likely to get multi-book sales from similar books, but you will get multi-book sales from different books, too, provided that the first book pleased the reader.

It’s easiest to market books in your own name. You could adopt a pen name for different kinds of books, but then it’s really hard to market multiple names. Many people know you or know of you; every day, you meet new people and have the chance to mention that you’re a writer. You lose your name recognition when you adopt a pen name.

Unless you write children’s books and also write books with mature content, it may be better to put all your books in your own name than to separate them using a pen name. You might lose a few sales due to the jack-of-all-trades perception, but you might gain even more sales from people who know or meet you and from multi-book sales (perhaps not all at once, but readers who enjoy one book now and check out a much different one months from now).

Do I Know Jack?

I have a Ph.D. in particle physics; that’s my area of expertise as far as degrees go. However, I’ve published a variety of books:

  • I started self-publishing to share my passion for a fourth-dimension of space. You have to excel at mathematics to get a degree in physics, so the geometry aspect fits right in. I also coauthored a half-dozen papers on the collider physics of extra dimensions, which are published in professional physics journals, such as Physical Review. This fits right in with my expertise; plus, as a teacher, I have experience explaining abstract concepts clearly (though not all teachers excel at explanations).
  • My Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks is also closely related to my expertise. I observed that many university and high school students lacked fluency in fundamental arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry skills. This series is my effort to help improve math fluency.
  • My science books also relate to my background in physics. I have a basic conceptual introduction to chemistry, a basic introduction to astronomy, and an advanced physics textbook.
  • But my blog isn’t about physics, it’s about self-publishing, and I have written books on the matter. Does this make me a jack-of-all-trades? I don’t think of myself as just a teacher, but a writer and a teacher. I’ve self-published dozens of books, which gives me some experience. I prepared my first book over 20 years ago, although I first published in 2008. I have also drawn thousands of technical illustrations on the computer, written and edited numerous articles (the half-dozen I wrote for physics journals are quite technical, and came with a set of formatting guidelines that paralleled self-publishing in many ways), and used several software packages to write, format, and illustrate, including extensive use of most editions of Microsoft Word since 1997. I’ve become just as passionate about self-publishing as I am about physics and math (perhaps more so): I love to share and discuss ideas here at my blog.
  • At first glance, the word scramble books that I’ve published may seem out of place. How does this relate to physics? This actually started when I was staring at a periodic table while giving a final exam: I realized that I could make thousands of words, like ScAtTeRbRaIn (scatterbrain), using only symbols from the periodic table. I shared this idea with my mom, and we decided to make some word scramble books. My mom loves word puzzles, especially word jumbles, and she is very meticulous (she used to be a technical writer), so she was a good fit to write these books. I’m a coauthor of these books, but my mom deserves most of the credit. As an added benefit, it was a family project.
  • My most unrelated books are on golf stats and chess. I thought about using pen names for these, as they don’t relate to physics, but I’m glad that I didn’t. Thousands of people know my name, and while most people who know my name who buy my books pick a math workbook, science book, or self-publishing book, I still sell a significant number of golf and chess books to people who’ve heard of me (plus many who haven’t, who apparently weren’t deterred by the variety shown on my author page). I actually wrote these books for my own personal use, but published them thinking that others may find them useful, too. Also, these were among the first books that I self-published, and they gave me some valuable experience before formatting my more technical books.

Do You Know Jack?

If yes, good for you!

If you feel like a jack-of-all-trades in various ways, my advice is not to sweat it too much. You have more important things that you can worry about. But jacks-of-all-trades tend to work hard, so you should be keeping yourself too busy to worry anyway. Go get more work done, as that will be more significant than this issue.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Ensure that your blurb and Look-Inside-the-Book show your strengths. Work on your weaknesses. Get help shoring up your weaknesses. Not just in the Look Inside, but throughout the book (because a sudden change after the Look Inside will impact reviews).
  • Where plausible, using your own name carries a marketing advantage and can help you with multi-book sales.
  • Every once in a while, help spread the word about the benefits of being a jack-of-all-trades or mention a story about a famous author who was a jack-of-all-trades. Help paint the perception that it’s not necessarily a bad thing; it may even carry some benefits.
  • If you hire an editor or cover designer, mention of their names on the product page (through the editor or illustrator fields) or on your copyright page (traditional publishers often only list them on the copyright page) might help to show that you’re willing to seek help when you need it. The inclusion of a references section for nonfiction can show willingness to do research. But if you don’t have any help to show, instead of worrying about it, start working on your next book or do some marketing; those things are more important.

Learn More about Jack

(No, my name isn’t Jack.)

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Book Royalty Fantasy Fun

Fantasy

Prior to publishing, every author has the opportunity to entertain fantasies about book royalties.

Only a few authors get to experience the fantasy after publishing, yet every author can enjoy the dream beforehand.

Let’s have some fun with this.

If your wildest dreams could come true, would you:

  • Pay off your mortgage? Look for a new home?
  • Shop for a new car? Buy a yacht? Try on new jewelry?
  • Settle your student loan? Get out of debt?
  • Help out charity? Share with family or friends?
  • Start a new business? Play the stock market.
  • Blow all your cash before you realize how much you have to pay in taxes? Whoops!
  • Think of something creative you could do with mega royalties, like making a fancy gold-plated edition of your book.

This is the one occasion where every author should love math. It’s fun to play with the numbers in the months leading up to publication.

Dream about a bestseller.

  • Every time you check your sales reports, the numbers change, even though you just checked it a minute ago—heck, you just hit the refresh button repeatedly and the number of sales goes up. Cool, huh?
  • Imagine that you could sell 1 book every 10 seconds. That’s 6 books per minute, 360 books per hour, 8,640 books per day, 259,200 books per month, 3 million books if you can keep it up for a whole year. Now we’re properly in fantasy land.
  • At $2 per book (that’s 70% of a $2.99 e-book or a 20% royalty for a $9.95 paperback), you’d be making $12 per minute, $720 per hour, $17,280 per day, half a million dollars per month, and 6 million dollars per year.
  • Everybody will know your name, they will recognize you walking through the mall. Everyone will ask for your autograph. You’ll hire someone to handle all your interview requests. Isn’t life so grand?

Let’s be a little more modest:

  • 1000 books per day would be pretty awesome, right? At a modest $2 royalty, that would yield $2,000 per day or $60,000 per month. Not a bad month, eh?
  • 100 books per day is much more plausible; that’s just 4 sales per hour, one sale every 15 minutes. A $2 royalty would net $6,000 per month. Maybe your book is worth more. Suppose you set the price at $9.99 for an e-book and draw a royalty of $7. Sell 100 books a day and you earn $21,000 for the month. You could start shopping for that car…
  • 10 books per day seems like nothing, doesn’t it? That’s not even one sale every two hours. You’d have to earn a royalty of $3.33 in order to make $1000 per month.
  • 1 book per day is pretty modest, yet there are millions of books that don’t achieve this. You’d have to earn a royalty of $3.33 in order to make $100 per month.

A 99-cent e-book earning a 35-cent royalty requires many, many sales to make your dreams come true:

  • 1000 books per day is still pretty good: $350 isn’t bad for one day’s sales. You’d sell 30,000 books per month to earn $10,500.
  • 100 books per day works out to $1,050 per month.
  • 10 books per day comes to $105 per month.
  • 1 book per day can buy you two Happy Meals for the entire month. That’s about it.

While it’s fun to fantasize about being a bestseller, the reality is that most books sell fewer than one copy per day on average.

But you don’t have to sell loads of books to live the dream:

  • Just writing a book is a remarkable feat.
  • Becoming a published author—hurray!
  • Seeing your name in print—three cheers for you!
  • Your first sale to a stranger—way to go!
  • Got a favorable review—so cool!
  • Asked for your autograph—a Kodak moment!
  • Thanked by a stranger in the grocery store for writing your book—do I see tears?

Writing because it makes your life better and may make other people’s lives better… that’s priceless. 🙂

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Kindle e-book Prices and Royalties

Prices

What Is the Best Kindle Price?

That’s the million-dollar question. The answer also varies from book to book.

A recent article from TechCrunch points out that the $9-10 price range is the most profitable list price for e-books in the United States, evaluating sales data for all books—i.e. it includes both traditionally and indie published e-books. Click here to check it. It’s short and makes some informative points for both US and UK pricing.

However, the article doesn’t make a few points that may be particularly significant for indie authors:

  • Thousands of traditionally published e-books are priced at $9.99 and sell frequently because the authors are quite popular. Think about it: If a hardcover is selling dozens of copies per day at $35 or if a trade paperback is selling frequently at $25, then $9.99 is an enticing e-book price.
  • Many e-books that would be priced between $10 and $20 are selling at $9.99 because the publisher actually makes a greater royalty with a $9.99 list price. Kindle offers a 70% royalty on books with a list price of $9.99, so the royalty on a $9.99 e-book can be as high as $6.99 (it will be somewhat lower due to the 15 cents per Mb delivery fee). A Kindle e-book priced at $19.99 draws the same royalty of $6.99 because the royalty rate is 35%. Think about it: Would you rather sell your book at $9.99 or $19.99 if either way the royalty will be $6.99? Therefore, the $9-$10 price range is selling many, many more e-books than other price ranges above and below this—it’s kind of like ten price ranges in the same slot.
  • Technical nonfiction—especially, textbooks—tends to sell for higher prices.

I’m not advocating cheap e-book prices. I’m just warning that e-book prices of $7.99 to $9.99 might not turn out to be as profitable as this article might suggest for newbie fiction authors.

Low Prices

The article also shows that many e-books sell at low prices. One reason is that there are tens of thousands of books selling for free, 99 cents, $1.99, and $2.99. These are very popular price points, especially among indie authors. New authors often feel that they have a better chance to get discovered with a more enticing price. Others use this strategically, hoping that readers will get hooked and check out the author’s other books.

There is something important to note about low prices:

  • Kindle e-books priced 99 cents to $2.98 earn a 35% royalty. A 99-cent e-book earns a royalty of 34 cents and a $1.99 e-book earns a royalty of 69 cents.
  • A Kindle e-book priced at $2.99 which qualifies (public domain books, for example, do not) for the 70% royalty and has a small delivery fee earn royalties of up to $2.09.
  • In this case, you would have to sell 6 times as many e-books at 99 cents as you would at $2.99 or you’re losing profits.
  • Similarly, you would have to sell 3 times as many e-books at $1.99 as you would at $2.99 just to break even.
  • Amazon seems to have made recent changes to the sales rank algorithm to factor in list price. This would make sense, as Amazon would prefer to sell 100 books at $2.99 than 100 books at 99 cents.
  • Books enrolled in KDP Select can benefit from Countdown Deals. Books priced under $2.99 aren’t eligible for Countdown Deals.

Perception

Most authors expect to sell more books at lower prices and fewer books at higher prices, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Many customers believe that you get what you pay for, and this perception affects the economics of e-book sales. Even if you do sell more e-books at a lower price, you might make more profit at a higher price (since you draw less royalty per sale at the lower price).

Some authors have actually raised their prices from $1.99 to $299 or $2.99 to $3.99, for example, and started selling books at a higher frequency. This doesn’t happen for all books, but it does happen for some.

It depends in part on the value that your book provides, how it appeals to the target audience, and on the buying habits of your specific subgenre or subcategory.

There are many customers who have been disappointed with e-books that they purchased for 99 cents to $2.99, who now shop for e-books priced from $3.99 to $6.99.

Another factor is marketing. If you market your book effectively and reach potential readers on a personal level, they may be willing to spend more money on your book.

Suggestions

Here are some things to consider when deciding on the price of your Kindle e-book:

  • Research books that are very similar to yours, including top sellers. Buyers will know what the typical price range is. If your book seems underpriced, they might wonder what’s wrong with it, and if it seems overpriced, it might not seem to be worth the money.
  • Consider the length of your e-book and the value it provides. Customers like to feel that they are receiving good value for their money.
  • Most e-book buyers want to save at least 50% off the print price.
  • Some buyers will also purchase both print and e-book editions through MatchBook. If you use MatchBook, set your list price high enough that the MatchBook price may seem like a compelling option.
  • A boxed set may help to create the perception of value. The $5.99 to $9.99 price point may be more profitable for a boxed set than for a single volume by a new fiction author. Ideally, the individual volumes would be priced so as to help the boxed set seem like a good value.
  • Technical nonfiction books that provide significant content are generally worth more to buyers.
  • If you succeed in selling multiple print books per day priced $20 or higher, you have much better prospects for selling e-books at a $9.99 list price.
  • Authors who will be signing up for Kindle Select have an incentive to price their e-books between $2.99 and $9.99 in order to take advantage of the Kindle Countdown Deal. This allows you to create a short-term sale to help stimulate sales.
  • Amazon’s algorithm for sales rank may currently factor in the list price. Only Amazon knows for sure, but some authors have expressed recently that this seems to be the case now, and this is consistent with my observations, too.
  • If you have several similar books for sale, a compelling price on one book may help to generate interest in your other books.
  • If you have a series, offering the first book cheap may help to hook readers in the series.
  • How professional does the book look, in terms of both content and formatting? A higher price does command higher expectations.
  • What is the demand for your book? If the content is very specialized, this may warrant a somewhat higher price.
  • What are your specific objectives? Is your goal to draw the most royalty? Is your goal to maximize your readership? Is your goal to get on a bestseller list? When a higher price may draw a greater net profit, if you’re more focused on sales than royalties, then a lower price may fit your objectives better.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Book Marketing Assignment: What Do Your Customers See?

Eye

Concept: The Customer’s Perspective

It’s a very handy perspective to see your book the way prospective customers see it. They are judging your book, deciding whether to buy it, never buy it, or think about it for a while. The more insight you can gain into this, the better you can perfect the marketability of your book.

Challenge: A Different Perspective

The customers and the author view the book through much different perspectives:

  • Customers are deciding if the book interests them. The author has a crush on the book, whereas customers aren’t sure if they even want to shake hands with the book, let alone take it out on a date or propose to it.
  • Customers have no idea what the book is about until they see the cover, read the blurb, and check it out. The author already knows what the book is about; the author even knows the story and ending.
  • Customers want to learn about the genre and content. The author already knows these precisely.
  • Customers stumble along the sentences of the blurb and Look Inside as they are written, noticing any typos or formatting issues. The author tends to read what he or she meant to write, not seeing what’s actually there (making it easy to miss typos). It’s difficult for the author to consider how each sentence might be misinterpreted.
  • Customers are comparing the book to similar books, noticing any differences with what they are accustomed to reading. Authors should be thinking this way, too, when preparing their product pages, but, unfortunately, usually aren’t thinking this way.

Assignment: What Your Customers See

Months after publishing, it’s worthwhile to rediscover your book. You’re no longer feeling that strong urge to publish it; you’re no longer overwhelmed with all the work that must be done to publish the book. You’ve forgotten parts of your blurb, which gives you a chance to see it with fresh eyes.

Here is your book marketing assignment:

  1. Search for your book on Amazon. See how it looks on a page of thumbnails. Imagine not knowing anything about your book. Would you be able to guess the genre and content instantly? Is the title easy to read in the thumbnail? If this were someone else’s cover, what criticism would you offer?
  2. Read your blurb as if you’ve just discovered it. Sound it out slowly, listening to it one syllable at a time. Check carefully for any typos. Does the beginning of your blurb grab your interest? Does the blurb engage you throughout? Does it arouse your curiosity to want to look inside? Are there any sentences or phrases that customers might find confusing, or could just be more clear? Do you see any words, clichés, phrases, or ideas that may upset or confuse your target audience? Is there any punctuation that you’re unsure about?
  3. Examine the biography on your author page the same way. Look at your author photo. Does it seem professional? Do you look credible as the author of your book?
  4. Look inside your book. Scroll back to see your enlarged cover. Read through your title page, copyright page, and front matter carefully; take breaks every couple of paragraphs. Note any formatting issues, no matter how subtle, that might have a little room for improvement; also note any editing issues. Does the front matter make a good impression? You want to roll out the red carpet to welcome the reader, not have the reader pull on a grimy doorknob, press against a splintered door, and walk down a dark, damp hallway.
  5. Read the sample chapters. Does it start out engaging the reader’s interest and hold it throughout? Does the beginning fit the target audience’s expectations for the genre and content? Look carefully for any formatting or editing mistakes. Imagine this is somebody else’s book and you’re determined to show that person how many mistakes there are. If the sample doesn’t make you want to buy your own book, perhaps there is some room for improvement; think of how you might make it more compelling.
  6. Check out other books in the genre or category that appear to be successful. How do those covers, blurbs, and sample chapters compare to your book? Look for ideas that could help you improve your book’s product page. What makes those books marketable? What might your book be lacking?
  7. Ask others to examine your book’s product page and encourage honest feedback.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

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

Indies Supporting Indies

Support 2

There was a great blog article on CreateSpace today by Richard Ridley called “Supporting Indie Authors.” Richard has a great take on this; it’s worth a look.

Indie authors have two images to brand:

  1. Your own branding: author name, title, cover, author photo, series, characters.
  2. The image of indies: a more positive indie image helps all indie authors.

Supporting positive successes of other indie authors helps all indie authors through branding. Spreading news about negative issues hurts it. Blind support isn’t good: If you recommend books with serious problems, it has a negative impact. Focus on the positives and share the news about worthy successes, as this helps indies in general.

There are also two strong local impacts to consider:

  1. Similar titles often feed off one another. When one succeeds, similar books tend to sell better also, through Customers Also Bought lists, for example. However, when a foolish author does the opposite of supporting other indie authors, trashing a competitor’s work (which is against Amazon’s review guidelines), it tends to backfire by dragging down the potential help of similar books (and creates negative branding for authors). Customers don’t usually buy the one book they think is best, but over time buy many similar titles, and Amazon often advertises those similar titles to customers.
  2. Among the authors you interact with frequently, a success among one often helps the other authors in the group. People see the authors who frequently converse together. These authors often have much overlap in their followings.

Support comes in a wide variety of forms. I’m not just thinking about sales, reblogs, and blog reviews, but things like providing helpful feedback and suggestions, sharing knowledge and ideas, offering encouragement at a time of need, word-of-mouth referrals when you happen to interact with another author’s target audience, and posts and comments that foster a positive ambiance in the community.

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

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