One month ago, I took the plunge and and became a self-published author. I hoped that it would instantly change my life; that I’d spend my days having lunch with Stephen King and my nights jet-setting with J.K. Rowling. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t quite met those dreams. But I’ve learned a lot about the self-publishing industry, sold a few copies of my book, and hope for the next month to be even better. So if you’re considering self-publishing an ebook on Amazon and / or want to know how it works, this post is for you.
BASICS OF AMAZON SELF-PUBLISHING
I uploaded my debut ebook Paranoia for sale exclusively on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. This is known as KDP Select. While I could have uploaded it to the Amazon Kindle store and sold it on other markets like iTunes, Amazon is the biggest seller of ebooks and they offer you certain advantages for sticking exclusively with them. These advantages are being enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU), the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL), & getting promotion days. I’ll explain about these as soon as I answer your most important question, how you make your money.
You can set your ebook’s price to be whatever you want, but there are two broad royalty options. If you set your book from $0 – $2.98, you get 35% of the money on each sale. If your book is $2.99 or up, then you get a much larger 70% of the sale. Obviously the cheaper your book the more copies you’ll sell, but you have to take the royalties into account.
When I first started selling Paranoia, I made the price $1.99. But that meant I was only making 70 cents per sale. By raising the price another dollar, I would likely sell fewer copies, but I’d be making triple the money on each sale ($2.10). It seems a solid trade-off.
Now onto the advantages of choosing KDP Select. KU & KOLL are basically the same thing. KU is a subscription service where users pay a monthly fee and gain unlimited access to all the books available in the KU/KOLL program. KOLL is available for free for all Amazon Prime members. These members get to borrow 1 ebook each month from the KU/KOLL program. Based on the number of users, there is a total fund for these two programs each month.
For this January, it’s $3 million.
Based on the total number of books downloaded through this service, the number of times your book was downloaded, and the monthly fund, you earn a certain amount of money for each time your book was downloaded. It will vary each month, but for me it seems to be roughly the same as selling a copy of my book.
As I said above, another perk of selling your book strictly on Amazon is the promotional program. For each 90-day period you’re enrolled in KDP Select, you get 5 promotion days. You have two promotions to choose from, but you can only use one of them each 90-day period.
First up is the one I chose: free days. For up to five days each months, whenever you want those days to be, you can give your book away for free. This obviously nets you no money, but it gets your book out there. People may read it, review it, and tell their friends about it. This option is best if you’re a completely unknown author looking for exposure (like me) or you want to give the first book in a series away to get more sales on the next ones. Free books get their own section of the kindle store, and if you make it to the top 100 free books on a given day, then you get extra exposure.
There’s also a Kindle Countdown deal option. This means that for five days, you can reduce the price of your book. But the real nice thing is you keep the original price’s royalty rate. This means that if your book cost over $2.99 and you dropped it to under that number, you still earn 70% royalties. I think this is the better option once you have some exposure to possible customers. Like the free promotion, the countdown promotion also has its own page where people can search for books on sale. This promotion is what I plan on choosing during my next 90-day period, since I should have some book reviews on various blogs up by then and more people should know about my novel.
But I think the most important thing you need to know about self-publishing is that unless you’re famous or extremely lucky, you are barely going to sell anything just by posting it. You did not go the route of hiring an agent who will do the legwork for you and secure you advertising. You need to handle all of that yourself. There’s hundreds of thousands of books for sale in the kindle store; you need to find a way to get noticed and stand out. So allow me to share my story and give you some ideas on how to do this.
MY EXPERIENCE SO FAR
First, I made a big mistake when I first posted this book. I’d given it a thorough editing pass, but not a full proofread. Last week I decided to read through the book again both for fun (it’s been a while since I read the whole thing) and to spot any errors. I was simply aghast at how many mistakes I found. Every page I was spotting one or two typos, which was just wholly unacceptable. I felt awful that I’d been selling an unprofessional product and plowed through the whole book in 2 days to fix them all as quick as I could. If you’re going to self-publish, don’t just make sure the story and characters work perfectly; be sure to slowly go through all the text and be certain that the grammar and spelling are right. Nothing’s worse than a book that looks unprofessional.
I’ve already said in my previous blog post On Paranoia & Procrastination that if you want to get a book agent and ultimately a publisher, you need to send out massive amounts of query letters. Surprisingly, you need to do something extremely similar for self-publishing: sending out book review requests.
Query letter on top, book review request on bottom. The resemblance is uncanny.
There are several sites which have massive lists of blogs that review books. This is one of them: http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/. Just like with finding an agent, search for the ones that will review your genre of book and start sending out requests. Luckily, these blogs seem to be more open to looking at your book than agents are. Whereas I only had one agent agree to look at my manuscript and then pass on it, I’ve had 5 reviewers agree to review my book so far (roughly a 10% success rate). It will take them a little while to get a review up, but when they do you’ll have exposure to dozens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of their readers.
One other thing I found helpful was having a blog. If someone liked one of my posts or followed me, I’d check out their profile. If they blogged about writing, I would politely ask them if they would be willing to read a free copy of my book and post a review of it on their own blog. I’ve had two people agree to do this even though they don’t normally post book reviews on their sites. Always remember that it’s worth giving away a copy of your book if it nets you more buyers down the line.
Okay, that covers how to get people to buy your book. But how many people will actually do so? I’m willing to share my numbers to give everyone out there an idea of what they’ll be getting into. (Don’t laugh.)
This is the graph of your sales that you’ll have access to and check every five minutes.
Okay, let’s break this down. As the key at the bottom indicates, the red line is actual sales. Blue is your KU / KOLL downloads, and green is free downloads. This graph starts from the day before I published my book to the present. I ran a 2-day free promotion on 1/13 & 1/14, which massively eclipsed my total sales.
On my first free day I had 159 free downloads & I had 73 on the second day. Strangely, I also had 3 free downloads after the promotion was over; this is probably due to a small glitch or people trying to download it right as the clock struck midnight. Regardless, that’s a 2 day total of 235 free downloads. This is not insanely great, but I was very happy with it. At my high point I was roughly #1,700 in the free book store. Far away from the top 100 needed for the extra exposure, but not bad for my first book and my first promotion.
I should also note that I didn’t just put the book up for free and leave it alone. There are tons of sites and facebook pages where you can ask for your free book to be promoted. I contacted about ten of those, which took a couple hours of work. But it seemed to pay off.
Now the hope here was that people would download this book, rate it, and recommend it to their friends. Unfortunately, not everyone who downloads a free book will read it. Also, not everyone who reads it will review or recommend it. It’s been 10 days since this promotion and I haven’t gotten a single new review on my Amazon page.
Still stuck at 2 reviews, but at least they’re good.
But there did seem to be one positive result of that free promotion. Let’s look at my sales again, but this time take away the green line representing the free downloads.
This is a total of 13 sales and 6 KU / KOLL downloads. That’s…not a lot. Also, around half of these are from family and friends. But I’ll try to break this down.
My first 4 sales on the first 3 days were definitely all from family. Then were was a 6 day period where absolutely happened. Then we’ve got another sale, 3 days off, and 2 more sales over two days. I think at least 2 of those last 3 sales were from more family and friends.
Then there was another 7 day stretch with no sales. But on 1/15, the day after my free promotion, things really started picking up (comparatively speaking). For the next six days I had very consistent sales and download, with my best day on 1/18. Here I had 2 sales and 2 KU / KOLL downloads. I assume this is all from word of mouth due to the free promotion. If that assumption is right, then I lost nothing by giving those books away; no one was buying them anyway. But I gained a dozen sales and downloads. So the free promotion definitely seems worthwhile.
I have another short free promotion, slated for one day on 1/26. Hopefully I get a repeat of this sales boost.
Now obviously, these sales are very low. I’m not going to live off of $4 in sales a day. But no one knows about this book yet. Those bloggers are going to be posting their book reviews within the next couple of weeks, which will finally get me some real exposure. Hopefully that leads to sales, which leads to more exposure via word of mouth, which starts finally kicking things up a few gears. If that happens, I’m sure I’ll do another post and share the effect that those reviews had.
So there you have it, the basics of self-publishing an ebook on Amazon. It’s definitely not as simple as uploading your book file and hitting submit. It’s taken dozens of hours of promotion, and so far I only have maybe 10 sales / downloads that aren’t from family and friends to show for it. But I really think and hope that all this hard work is going to pay off when the reviews come it.
My last bit of advice is to save self-publishing as a last resort unless you’re famous or have other books. I hope it will work out in the end, but there’s no doubt it would be easier to have an agent handle all of this stuff for me. But I’d tried that route and it just didn’t work. So if you’ve already tried to get an agent, failed and are willing to be patient and put in a lot of promotional work, self-publishing may work out for you.
Thanks as always for checking out my blog! If you like what you see, please consider following; it really helps me out. I’ll keep trying to write cool stuff, and let me know if you have any questions or comments below!