Recent Improvements to Amazon KDP

RECENT CHANGES AT KDP

There have been several changes to Amazon KDP recently. Have you noticed?

SERIES. One interesting change is the introduction of the series page and the series manager. It seems like this new tool isn’t 100% complete yet, but it’s a giant step in the right direction. From the publishing end, it makes it easier to manage series. Now you get a series landing page and you can even write a series description (by default it uses the description from the first book).

From the customer’s perspective, there is a change I would personally like to see. When I shop for sci-fi books to read, for example, I see every volume of a series as a separate search result. Sometimes a really popular series has several volumes and these volumes take up a great deal of space when I’m looking for a new book. Seriously, if I didn’t want to read Volume 1, why would I get interested in Volume 6 and read that one? I wish these would show up as a single series in the search results. They should show the first volume of the series unless I’m logged in and the system realizes that I’ve already read one or more volumes, in which case it would be really helpful if the search results put the next volume in front of me (but, please, not every book in the series). I run into the same trouble when I’m looking for t.v. shows to watch on Amazon Prime, though it is much better now than it had been a few years back.

SPONSORED BRANDS. AMS introduced a new feature: Sponsored brand advertising. If you have three or more similar books (with the same author name) that you would like to advertise, you can put them together and make a special landing page with them. This makes it easy for the customer to find a set of related books, which is really handy if you’ve published a variety of books where grouping would be convenient. Of course, advertising costs money, and not all ads are cost-effective, but I like the concept, and it is benefiting some authors.

EXPANDED UK. Expanded Distribution is now available in the UK. If the UK price of the paperback edition is high enough to enable this distribution channel (and earn a reasonable royalty for it), this offers a little added visibility.

BETA REPORTS. For several months now, there has been a KDP Reports Beta option on the Reports page. This has changed recently. For authors of multiple books, tracking the performance of multiple books is a little easier in a couple of ways.

AUTHOR CENTRAL. Amazon Author Central received an overhaul. It seems like it is more mobile friendly now. Perhaps that was the main reason for the update. There are a few things that I like about it, but a couple of things I liked better the old way. The sales rank page makes it easier to keep track of the ranks of several books. It appears that whichever edition (paperback, Kindle, audio, etc.) has the best sales rank shows by default, which is convenient. For the most part, my better selling books are at the top of the page, but I note that it isn’t ordered perfectly by the better sales rank (maybe it averages the ranks of the different editions?). We seem to have lost a feature or two, such as the option to rename the url of the author page. But other features, like From the Author, are just harder to find (this seems to work for paperbacks, but not consistently for Kindle anymore).

UNIFIED AMS. If you advertise in multiple countries and would like a unified view, create a manager account or click the option to manage your accounts by clicking your account name at the top right corner.

KDP COMMUNITY. A few changes have been made to the KDP community, including the occasional presence of a KDP representative. I’ve seen an occasional post from a KDP representative. It’s nice for them to have at least a small presence in the community.

KENP AT AMS. Finally, estimated KENP royalties are included with AMS reports.

NOMINATIONS. You can nominate a book for Kindle Deals or Prime Reading. It’s not easy to get a nomination accepted, obviously, and these may be more helpful for some kinds of books than for others, but it’s nice to feel included by being able to nominate books. I actually had my astronomy book included once before these nominations were made possible (in the past, you would receive an invitation by email to nominate a book, if you were so lucky, and then you would wait again to see if they accepted your nomination). Now the nomination part is easy, but the acceptance part is rare. For me, when my astronomy book was accepted, the experience had been great for me. For books that get accepted in popular categories, you probably also need to get a little lucky not to get buried in the back of the list.

CANADA/AUSTRALIA AMS. It’s now possible to advertise KDP books in Canada and Australia (in addition to the US and Europe).

Which changes have you noticed at KDP or Amazon?

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

A New Form of Book Piracy

Image licensed from Shutterstock.

BEWARE OF BOOK PIRATES

Earlier this year, after publishing a new book, I visited Amazon to check it out. When I finished inspecting the Amazon detail page for my new book, I clicked the link by my author photo to visit my Author Central page. And, boy, was I surprised by what I found.

(A little background: Author Central now shows only my Kindle eBooks by default. Customers have to click the Paperback tab to find my paperback books.)

I noticed one of my better selling books near the top of the list. What stood out is that book is only available in paperback. (For good reason. With thousands of math problems, this particular workbook would not be ideal for Kindle.) Yet, there it was on the list of my Kindle eBooks.

At first thought, I had hoped that Amazon was finally starting to show all of my books by default (like they had once upon a time), instead of just the Kindle eBooks. Some of my books are only available in paperback, and so customers can’t find them on my Author page unless it occurs to them to click the Paperback tab.

But I soon realized that it was indeed a Kindle eBook. What a surprise! This book is only available in paperback. How was a Kindle edition of this book on my author page?

I visited KDP just to see with my own eyes that this book wasn’t showing on my Bookshelf in eBook format. Indeed, it was only available as a paperback.

When I explored this mysterious Kindle eBook, it was obvious to me that it wasn’t mine. Yet it had the same title, the same cover, and even my own name listed as the author. Only it wasn’t a book that I had published (or authorized). When I opened the Look Inside, it looked like someone had used OCR to convert my paperback to a Kindle eBook (which is NOT a good way to convert a book to Kindle format, by the way). When I reached the exercises, I immediately saw a problem. The paperback has the exercises arranged in three columns. In this mysterious Kindle edition, the three equations from the three columns merged together, so that a customer wouldn’t be able to tell when one equation stopped and another started. It was a formatting nightmare, rendering the math unreadable. So not only was there a pirated version of my book available for sale, but any customers who purchased the eBook would likely be quite displeased. Yet the book had a sales rank of about 100,000, so people had evidently been buying the book. What is even more incredible is that the list price was exactly the same as the price of the paperback. The publication date showed that the eBook had already been available for a few weeks before I discovered it.

Fortunately, Amazon has a special form for people or businesses to report copyright or trademark infringement. If you published through KDP, visit KDP’s Contact Us page, and when you select the appropriate menu item, it will automatically take you to Amazon’s copyright infringement form.

I’m not a big fan of the form itself. You have to state your problem clearly in 1000 characters or less. I struggled with this because it was my own name on the pirated book, and I wanted to make it very clear that someone else was using my name and content without my permission (to try to avoid confusion). Plus, the form has lawyer-ish language that seems nonspecific to books. One question wants to know if it is a physical item, and, well, it was an eBook. Is that a physical item? There wasn’t an option for a Kindle eBook. Other questions like this ran through my mind.

Unfortunately, it can take an agonizing couple of days to receive a response. I submitted my request on a Saturday, and Monday was a holiday, so this evidently added to my waiting period. Remember those snow and ice storms that some states had earlier this year? Guess what. This book piracy happened to occur at about the same time, so that while I was constantly checking my email for a response and Amazon to see if the pirated book would ever get taken down, at home I was experiencing frequent rolling power outages. It was a nightmare in a nightmare. (Pinching didn’t help.)

After this waiting period, I received a response and the pirated eBook was taken down. (Thank you, Amazon.)

I can’t imagine what the “pirate” was thinking. Somebody invested some time to get the book, OCR the book, and make the Kindle edition (as little effort as that might have been, and as poorly formatted as the result was). What did they expect to gain from this? Amazon doesn’t pay authors for a couple of months after the purchase specifically so that in the case of infringement or other violations of the TOS, the infringing author won’t ever receive one penny. Did the person expect not to get caught? The book used my cover, my name, even got linked to my actual paperback. Kind of hard not to notice. I’m guessing the “pirate” must have done this to several books, not just mine. The copyright team hopefully checked out any other books that person had published when they blocked the book that I reported.

The lesson is to make sure that nobody else is selling your book on any major retailers, such as Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

A more common mosquito-like book piracy problem is to find websites that claim to be selling or giving away unauthorized copies of your book. Often, these websites don’t actually have the book. With all of the viruses, malware, and phishing that plagues the internet these days, my advice is to avoid visiting untrusted websites, avoid clicking links, and avoid downloading files. Hopefully, most customers will be wise enough not to try to obtain books from unknown sites. People shop for books at places they trust, like Amazon. If you find your book being sold or given away, you can issue a takedown notice. Unfortunately, this can become a regular occurrence, taking up a great deal of time and energy.

If you’re an author, I hope you never have your book pirated. I hope you sell enough books that other people “wish” that they had written your book, but I hope they don’t try to actually sell unauthorized copies of your book.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Expanded Distribution Has Expanded

EXPANDED DISTRIBUTION

Amazon KDP now offers two Expanded Distribution channels. In addition to the usual Expanded Distribution channel for the US, they have added an Expanded Distribution channel for the UK.

Authors and publishers using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing for paperbacks may now add the Expanded Distribution channel for the UK. Each title must be individually enrolled. To sign up for Expanded Distribution in the UK, find a book on your Bookshelf, and go to Page 3 of the publishing process for the paperback edition (the pricing page). You may need to click an option to show prices in other countries. If your list price is too low, your book won’t be eligible for Expanded Distribution in the UK (unless you’re willing to raise your UK list price). Check the Expanded Distribution royalty amount that is displayed and make sure that you’re comfortable with that royalty. The process isn’t complete until you click the button at the bottom to submit the book for publishing (or for “republishing”). The changes won’t take effect until the book is republished.

Every little bit helps. 🙂

If you had edited your book description through Author Central, beware that the description in your KDP description field (Page 1 of the publishing process) will now overwrite the Author Central description. If this may be an issue for you, copy/paste the HTML version of your Author Central page into the KDP description field before you submit the book for publishing. (If you receive an error message, it might be that the syntax for KDP’s description HTML is different than Author Central’s regarding br for manual line breaks.)

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Finding Fonts for Books or Covers (allowing Commercial Use)

 

FONTS FOR BOOKS AND BOOK COVERS

I’ve been using the Adobe Creative Cloud for years now, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and many other great tools for publishing books or graphic design.

One of my favorite tools is Adobe’s Typekit. It is included with my Creative Cloud subscription, but you can get Typekit even with a small subscription (you don’t need the whole Creative Cloud to get it).

What’s cool is that Adobe comes right up front and tells you that their fonts permit commercial use, and it clearly states that this includes books (with no limit on the number of sales). If you’re a graphic designer making book covers, for example, the author who purchases your finished product doesn’t need a separate license (provided that the author doesn’t need to edit your design).

With Typekit, you don’t actually install the fonts on your computer. (Note that if you did install the fonts on your computer, the same licensing would no longer apply.)

Rather, you just install the Adobe app, and the Typekit fonts automatically work with Adobe products and Microsoft Word (for other software, there may be limitations; you should look into that if using other programs). Just make sure that you’re logged into the Adobe app before you open Microsoft Word (if that’s what you’re using); otherwise, Word will automatically substitute another font without even telling you. You don’t need to remain online while you work, once you’ve successfully logged into the Adobe app.

There are several great fonts at Typekit.

For the body text of most books, including novels as well as nonfiction, you want a font that reads well. Adobe has some Garamond fonts, including Garamond Premier, and Garamond is one of the popular fonts for novels. You can get an entire family of Garamond fonts, so if you normally feel that Garamond is a bit light, you can find a darker version.

Another good font for body text is Minion, which I was excited to discover was included with Typekit.

If you’re designing an educational book for K-12, you might consider SchoolBook. There are a few other fonts similar to SchoolBook, too.

But there are numerous fonts that would work for body text paragraphs. I have a few tips for searching for fonts for body text:

  • Serif fonts are commonly recommended for body text.
  • Think of letters and punctuation marks that are important to you. I’ve encountered fonts where I didn’t like the lowercase r, the lowercase a, the lowercase f, the uppercase R, the colon, or the curly apostrophe (don’t type a straight apostrophe from your keyboard, that’s different; first get one in Word and then copy/paste), for example. If you may be typing digits, remember to check the numbers, too. Type these in the sample text.
  • Once you narrow it down to a few fonts, add them all. Open a file with plenty of sample text and test each font out. It just takes one letter or punctuation to spoil a font, and you want to catch that before you format an entire book that way.

(For fonts inside of the book, my recommendations are for paperback books. For ebooks, I recommend not trying to embed fonts. But for ebook covers, see below.)

For headings, you might go with a sans serif font. Myriad is a good simple sans serif font, but there are plenty of others to choose from.

For book covers, you might want a very bold font for keywords, such as Azo Sans or Jubilat, to really help the two or three most important words to stand out, especially for a nonfiction book where it’s really important for the cover to spell out the most important words.

For novels, you want to find a font for the book cover that spells out a particular genre, like Lust or one of the script-like fonts for romance. But remember that it’s more important that the font can be read easily on the small thumbnail. If you get carried away, you can wind up sacrificing the readability. Try to avoid having more than three different fonts included on the front cover.

Another option is to search through websites dedicated to free fonts.

Good luck and happy font searching.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

How Do You Search for Books?

 

INTRODUCTION

It isn’t easy to find the “perfect” book to read, and once you read that book, you need to find another.

This question is important from two different perspectives:

  • Customers want to learn about the best ways to find the books they are likely to enjoy the most.
  • Authors and publishers want to know the different ways that customers might search for their books to aid in their marketing strategies.

I will start out by listing common methods that customers use to search for books.

Then I will share a couple of creative strategies for finding a good book to read.

I hope some of my readers will add helpful comments. Don’t be shy.

HOW CUSTOMERS SEARCH FOR BOOKS

Following are a variety of book-buying habits.

  1. Browse bestseller lists. This is highly popular. The idea is that there should be some good books on these lists. Fortunately, for authors who aren’t yet this popular, this is just one of many methods that customers use. If you write an amazing book and succeed in marketing, then you might benefit from this method. Until then, focus on the other methods.
  2. Browse subcategories. This is also common. I’ve scrolled several pages through subcategories, so you don’t always need to land at the top to get noticed. But if your book is way back even in a very narrow category, there is still hope. How? Because some customers will combine methods, like first choosing a subcategory and then searching for specific keywords.
  3. Enter keywords. This is handy when you’re looking for a certain type of book that isn’t easy to find just by browsing a subcategory. If you want to find a calculus workbook with answers, you could type that phrase into the search instead of browsing through all calculus books (which will start out mainly with textbooks). If you want to find a mystery set in a certain era or location, you could use a search instead of browsing all mystery books. Authors and publishers need to choose their keywords wisely; spend much time brainstorming before finalizing these.
  4. Look for new releases. This doesn’t just help bestselling new releases. Many new releases get noticed when customers search for books some other way (like using keywords) and then click Last 30 Days or Last 90 Days on Amazon to help filter the results. It’s surprisingly common how many books sell fairly well for three months and then see a significant decline in sales, often because the Last 90 Days filter suddenly stops helping. You want to find effective marketing strategies before the three months are up to help the book succeed long-term.
  5. Book reviews. Not just those on Amazon product pages. If you find someone who regularly reviews books in your favorite genre who proves to be fairly reliable in their criticism, you suddenly hit the jackpot. It’s not uncommon for publishers to seek out bloggers with large followings who regularly review books, offering advance review copies. I know that some of my followers either review books on their blogs or have had their books reviewed on various blogs. If you’re reading this, you’re invited to leave a comment.
  6. Word of mouth. If you read a great book, do your friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and coworkers a favor: Tell them about the book. Great stories are meant to be shared. I love it when book titles come up in conversations.
  7. Book marketing. This isn’t so much about the customer looking for the book, as the authors striving to help customers discover their books. Customers discover books through marketing, so it can work. Often, it’s in the form of branding. A customer might see a book cover a few times over the course of months, then one day the customer is browsing for a book to read, remembers seeing that cover, and finally checks it out.
  8. Stores. While Amazon is amazingly popular and convenient, there are still bookstores and customers do browse through the shelves. If you have a paperback book, put together a press release kit and see if local bookstores (and other stores that sometimes carry books) may be interested in purchasing author copies directly from you at a discounted price. A customer who discovers your book in a store might wind up buying more of your books online in the future.
  9. Advertisements. Amazon does this very well. Over the past few years, many ads have been sprinkled onto product pages and search results, but these are fairly inobtrusive. For example, in search results the ads practically blend in with the other books on the list. Many customers do click on ads that interest them. The trick for authors and publishers is not to overspend for their ads, and to use ads just as one of several forms of effective marketing. It also takes a great cover, product page, and Look Inside to get the most out of the ad space.
  10. Indie books. I’ve self-published several books, as have over a million other authors. Like most authors, I’m also an avid reader. When I read, I often search for books by other indie authors. I like to support the idea of self-publishing and the companies (like Amazon and Smashwords) that have been instrumental in making this possible. Many other indie authors (and their friends and family) also search for indie books.
  11. Subscriptions and promotions. For example, many readers subscribe to BookBub, which provides a few recommendations for discounted books every day.
  12. Series, sets, anthologies, similar books. It can take a long time to find a really good book to read. If you can find a set of books to read, or a really long book to read, you are rewarded as a reader for your effort to find that book; you get more material to enjoy reading.
  13. What other methods can you think of?

A COUPLE OF CREATIVE WAYS TO FIND A GOOD BOOK

I have a couple of creative suggestions. These may not be popular yet, but perhaps one will be worth considering. Especially if you’ve spent hours using common methods, but weren’t satisfied with the results.

  1. Suppose that you find a thorough customer review on Amazon, the review really resonates with you, and after reading the book you feel that the comments were spot-on. Well, duh! You need to go back to that review, click on that customer’s name, and see what other reviews that customer has written.
  2. Interact with a variety of authors, see their personalities and their character, and see how well they write informal posts on social media. It’s surprisingly easy to interact with authors in this digital age. Sometimes, once you’ve “met” an author before reading a book, you read the book differently than you otherwise would have. A positive outlook can actually help you enjoy a book more. I’ve read some books this way, and it has often worked well for me.
  3. If you can think of any creative strategies to search for books, I’d like to hear them.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

More Changes to AMS Advertising—Up and Down Bidding

 

AMS ADVERTISING BIDDING DYNAMICS

The amount of your bid may now change.

This includes ad campaigns that were running prior to April 22, 2019.

There are now three campaign bidding strategies:

  1. Dynamic bids—down only. Your bid is automatically lowered when Amazon predicts that your ad would be less likely to convert to a sale.
  2. Dynamic bids—up and down. Your bid is automatically raised as much as 100% when Amazon predicts that your ad would be more likely to convert to a sale, and lowers your bid when it would be less likely to convert to a sale.
  3. Fixed bids. Your bid is fixed, unless you check one of two boxes that allow Amazon to adjust your bid.

In addition to the bidding strategies, there are now two bid adjust options (which replace the old Bid+):

  1. You may choose to increase your bid by up to 900% to land your ad at the top of search results (first page).
  2. You may choose to increase your bid by up to 900% to land your ad on a product page.

WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR OLD AD CAMPAIGN?

If you launched an ad campaign with AMS prior to April 22, 2019, the bidding strategy was automatically changed to Dynamic bids—down only.

If your ad previously had Bid+ set to on, it now includes a 50% bid adjust for top of search (first page).

MAKING SENSE OF THESE CHANGES

The main idea behind AMS advertising is relevance. When the most relevant ads show to customers, this benefits customers, it benefits Amazon, and it benefits the product being advertised.

AMS has always benefited authors and companies whose advertisements rate high in terms of relevance.

In fact, by rating high in terms of relevance, an ad campaign can actually generate more impressions at a more modest bid.

If an ad creates 2000 impressions and has no sales, from Amazon’s perspective the ad doesn’t seem very relevant to the customers seeing the ad.

If an results in a sale once on average for every 500 impressions, this ad is far more relevant than an ad that creates one sale for every 2000 impressions.

What I’ve said so far has been true for years.

The recent change of introducing bidding dynamics helps to reflect relevance in the amount of the bid itself.

In circumstances where an ad has a history of seeming less relevant, a dynamic bid would lower the bid for less relevant ads.

In circumstances where an ad has a history of seeming more relevant, a dynamic up-and-down bid would raise the bid for more relevant ads.

DON’T GO OVERBOARD

Amazon makes it easy for authors to bid too high.

It’s very common for authors to bid more than they can afford to bid.

If you bid too high, your ad is more likely to result in a short-term loss, and you’re more likely to think that AMS isn’t for you.

First of all, it helps to realize that AMS isn’t just for books. There are many businesses using AMS to advertise many other products.

When you’re selling a product that retails for $100 or more, and where your profit is $10 or more, you can afford to bid $1 or more and you can afford to include a large bid adjust option.

When you’re an author selling a book for $5 with a royalty of $3, you can’t afford to bid $1 or close to it (there may be exceptional circumstances, but very rarely).

If you mostly sell Kindle eBooks, and if your average royalty is close to 70% (if your books include many pictures, your effective royalty is probably much less due to the delivery fee), then you want your ACOS (average cost of sale) to be 70% or less so that you’re not losing money on your ad.

If you mostly sell paperback books, and if your average royalty is close to 30%, then you want your ACOS to be less than 30%. The list price should be higher for a paperback, which helps to offset this lower percentage.

Figure out what your average royalty is, then keep a close eye on your ACOS and strive to keep it below your royalty percentage.

For comparison, my ads (some for books under pen names) generate millions of impressions (combined) in a single month with an ACOS usually around 25%. So it is possible to generate many impressions at a modest ACOS.

My ad campaigns use dynamic bidding—down only. I don’t currently raise my bids. The main reason is that this happened automatically on April 22. But after about a month of data, I don’t yet see a convincing reason to change to up-and-down bidding. I might try it with a future ad and see how it does, but the big downside is that ads will cost more.

I didn’t use Bid+, so I don’t bid extra for placement in search results or on product pages. For a nonfiction book, I would prefer to show high in search results than on a product page. But I also prefer not to pay extra for this.

It’s tempting to bid higher and bid extra. But it costs more. If you can get successful ads at a lower cost, you can run your ads for a much longer period.

The main key to success is relevance. You can actually generate good impressions at a modest bid if your targeting results in high relevance.

Part of relevance is a compelling cover, effective description, helpful Look Inside, amazing content that leads to good reviews, etc. This helps you sell more books for each 1000 impressions, which helps to rate high in terms of relevance.

Part of relevance is effective targeting. I have a knack for researching keywords and keyphrases. I spend time on Amazon typing in keywords and seeing what it suggests (yes, I know this isn’t perfect, but as it turns out, it really helps with brainstorming). I jot down keyword ideas whenever they occur to me. Use your brainstorming techniques. Now I don’t use every keyword (or better, group of related keywords) that comes to mind, but I do have a very long and varied list to begin with.

I suggest trying to bid below a half-dollar, maybe in the 30 to 40 cents range. This may not be enough with a popular broad keyword like “mystery” or with a product page for a popular book. But if you are clever enough to find combinations of keywords that do get searched several times per day, but which aren’t insanely popular, or similar popularity for product page targeting, you can get lower bids to be effective.

But you really want the targeting to be relevant for your book. That’s the most important thing. If the wrong audience is looking at your ad, you will rate poorly in terms of relevance.

If your ad isn’t performing well and it’s been a couple of weeks, you can pause or terminate your ad and start a new one. Try different targeting.

Raising the bid isn’t likely the solution to an ad that isn’t performing well because it doesn’t rate well in terms of relevance. But new targeting may help you land more impressions at a modest bid. If you can rate better in terms of relevance, you can land many more impressions.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

School not Meeting Your Child’s Needs? Amazon May Have a Book for that…

 

SUPPLEMENT THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM

As a teacher and a parent (and before that, a student), I’ve seen the different sides of the classroom experience.

Even with an exceptional teacher at a fantastic school with amazing students, it’s difficult for a class to fully meet the diverse needs and expectations of all the students and their parents.

A school curriculum is (ideally) designed to best meet the needs of the students.

But some students and some parents are looking for material that isn’t part of the curriculum (or isn’t covered as much as they would like).

There are a variety of reasons for this, such as:

  • advanced students looking for more of a challenge
  • parents who want to expose their kids to the way they had learned things
  • material that is no longer taught at many schools (like cursive handwriting)
  • parents who want to improve their teenagers’ chances of getting into a competitive university
  • students who are looking for books with clearer explanations and instructions
  • parents whose kids need extra help
  • students who need more practice
  • adults who wish to self-study or relearn old skills
  • students interested in special topics not taught in schools
  • people who wish to learn a specific skill
  • students who need to prepare for an exam
  • students hoping for a quicker way to learn a topic
  • lifelong learners

Obviously, no single book can meet all of these needs.

You can find some books that meet some of these needs in bookstores, but the market for these different types of books has grown far wider than what you can find in a bookstore.

Many students and parents have turned to Amazon, where teachers, tutors, instructors, and other educators are publishing a fast-growing variety of supplementary books.

Do you wish that your calculus course had included some more challenging problems? Or do you wish that there was a calculus book for people who want to understand what calculus is without having to take the class? Either way, or anywhere in between, you can probably find a book for that.

I published my first book back in 2008, and I have since published several math workbooks as part of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of workbooks. (I’ve also published a few science books.)

It started when I realized that my physics students weren’t as fluent in fundamental algebra and trigonometry skills as they needed to be. I thought to myself, maybe students could benefit from some extra practice.

It turns out that some students (and parents) were looking for such extra practice.

My books have developed considerably over the past decade, as I have come to interact with many parents and students who have used my workbooks. I continue to discover new ways that people would benefit from supplemental workbooks.

I’ve also discovered many other authors who are publishing supplemental material on Amazon. I don’t think of these authors as competitors. Rather, I realize that their books are very helpful. The growing number of supplemental educational books helps to attract students and parents to Amazon, and we all benefit from this.

Most people don’t buy a single educational book. They often buy several books. If not now, at some point in the future they will probably purchase more books. The customers-also-bought lists help customers find additional books, and later on Amazon will show customers recommendations based on previous purchases.

If you’re an educator who is thinking about becoming an author, if you want to write a textbook and have it adopted for classroom use, you probably want to work with a traditional academic publisher. However, if you’re thinking about preparing supplemental material, the road to publishing is simpler in some regards if you use Amazon KDP. At least, you should explore all of your options and decide what seems best for your book.

Either way, the goal is the same: Let’s help students learn. 🙂

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks

Kindle Now Has Scrolling Options

 

NOW YOU CAN READ A KINDLE EBOOK BY SCROLLING DOWNWARD

Some formatters used to say that a Kindle eBook is scrollable like a webpage.

But until now, that wasn’t quite right. You used to paginate your way through a Kindle eBook by advancing onto the next “page.”

But Kindle eBooks also weren’t like print books. When you changed the font size, line spacing, or read the book on a different device, the “pages” became significantly different.

However, now on supported devices it is possible to scroll down through a Kindle eBook just like you scroll through an article on a website online.

In the settings, look for the Continuous Scrolling option, shown below for my Kindle Fire.

If you’d rather paginate your way through the eBook, just disable the Continuous Scrolling option and it will function just like it always has.

This new feature is important to authors and publishers who use KDP for a couple of reasons.

Some readers will now scroll through your eBook, whether you like it or not.

So let’s give a little thought to how this may impact eBook design.

  • You want to add Space After to the last paragraph of a chapter (or section) that ordinarily precedes a page break. The page break is removed in Continuous Scrolling, so if you want to have space between the last paragraph of your chapter and the chapter heading that follows, you want to add Space Before to the last paragraph. Ideally, you should do this through paragraph styles or HTML. In HTML, create and apply a style definition that adds a bottom margin to the paragraph. If you’re using Word, create a body text paragraph that adds space after. I use a variety of paragraph styles that add space after: One is like the normal body paragraphs, one is for non-indented paragraphs, one is for the last point of a list, and another is for centered paragraphs. (By the way, since the Look Inside scrolls like a webpage, this is a handy tip to help create a little vertical separation in your Look Inside.)
  • With ordinary pagination, you could control page breaks and prevent information from showing on a screen sooner than you’d like (although some devices like Kindle for PC allow two pages to show on the screen at once). Suppose, for example, that you have an eTextbook with problems followed by answers or solutions. Ordinarily, you could place the answer or solution on the next “page” so that students could try it first, then check their work. However, if they scroll through the eBook now, they may stumble into the answers before reading the problems. Of course, once the student gets used to this, they can scroll more carefully if they don’t wish for this to happen. But it is something to consider as an author or publisher.
  • On the other hand, you can’t design your eBook with the assumption that everybody will scroll through it. Some readers will still be paginating like always.

Can you think of any other ways that this new scrolling feature may impact Kindle eBook design?

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited in 2019

Image from ShutterStock.

THE KDP SELECT DECISION

Years ago, Amazon introduced KDP Select to authors who publish with Kindle Direct Publishing.

The idea was to create a huge library of Kindle eBooks from which select customers could borrow books for free. Authors are paid a royalty, but not the same royalty as for an ordinary paid sale.

Although the nature of KDP Select has changed over the years, the program has grown tremendously.

Let’s reevaluate the KDP Select decision. Is enrolling your book in KDP Select worth it?

There really is only a single drawback to enrolling a book in KDP Select, but it’s a big one: You’re not allowed to publish the digital version of your book anywhere else (like Smashwords, Nook, or Kobo) while your book is enrolled in KDP Select.

It’s also an important decision because it comes with a commitment. If you change your mind, you must wait until your 90-day enrollment period ends before you opt out. It renews automatically, so you must manually opt out of the automatic renewal. (And you must still wait until the current period ends before publishing the digital version of your book elsewhere.)

So here is the real question:

WHY WOULD AUTHORS GIVE UP THE CHANCE TO PUBLISH THEIR EBOOKS WITH NOOK, KOBO, APPLE, ETC.?

Obviously, you would need to receive some other incentive(s) that are even better than the royalties that you would earn from customers using those other brands of eReaders.

That’s what you need to do. You need to look at the incentives that Amazon KDP offers and consider whether they are good enough for your specific book to make it worthwhile to publish your eBook exclusively with Amazon.

Let’s look at what KDP Select has to offer in 2019.

KDP SELECT INCENTIVES

The main incentive is that by enrolling your eBook in KDP Select, your book would be available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. (It would also be available to Amazon Prime customers, but Prime customers can only borrow one book per month, whereas Kindle Unlimited subscribers can borrow as many books per month as they please.)

Does this really help?

That depends on your book, but the potential is certainly there.

But first, let me briefly describe Kindle Unlimited. I’m actually a Kindle Unlimited customer myself. Customers pay about $10 per month (in the US) to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, and this allows them to borrow as many Kindle Unlimited books per month as they would like. They can borrow up to 10 different books at a time, but they can read more than that: They simply need to return one of those 10 books before borrowing another one.

How does Kindle Unlimited have the potential to help authors?

  • Each month, Amazon pays authors of KDP Select books over $20,000,000 in royalties for books read through Kindle Unlimited. That’s in addition to what Amazon pays for royalties for ordinary sales. That figure is staggering. In the beginning, it started at just a few million and has steadily grown to over twenty million. A book that is successful in Kindle Unlimited can draw significant royalties. This are no guarantees, and not all books thrive in the program, but the potential is there, and there are thousands of books that do thrive in the program.
  • That’s a huge customer base. A single customer pays Amazon about $10 per month to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon turns around and pays KDP Select authors over $20,000,000 per month.
  • Although there are a few traditionally published books participating in Kindle Unlimited (those books certainly help to attract customers into the program), many of the books that are doing very well in Kindle Unlimited and the bulk of the books participating in Kindle Unlimited are self-published. This is a fairly indie-friendly audience. If you have a self-published book and are looking for readers who may support indie publishing, Kindle Unlimited has that audience. But again, there are millions of books available to that audience, so there are no guarantees. But there is much potential. (To be fair, Kindle Unlimited isn’t the only significantly indie-friendly audience. Smashwords is another, especially in certain fiction genres.)

There may also be factors that go beyond financial considerations. There are features of Kindle Unlimited that I’m very happy to support:

  • Kindle Unlimited helps to make it affordable to read books. If you read a handful of books per month on average, it’s far cheaper to pay about $10 per month for Kindle Unlimited than it is to buy books individually (unless you only read 99-cent books). Very often, the books that I read are priced $5.99 or above, so all I need to do is average two books per month and I’ve already saved money with my subscription. I strongly feel that more people should read and that they should read more often, and that it should be an affordable habit. Kindle Unlimited encourages this.
  • Kindle Unlimited currently encourages KDP Select authors to engage readers. Kindle Unlimited currently pays authors royalties for Kindle Unlimited borrows based on how many pages customers read. If you write content that engages customers, you will have more pages read. Not everyone is a fan of this, and if you think about every type of book available on the market you might find some cases where it seems unfair, but the concept appeals to me. I like that Amazon is rewarding reader engagement. As a writer, I want to engage my readers. Amazon and I share this common goal.
  • Kindle Unlimited is also a huge library. With fiction, it’s an entertainment base. With nonfiction, it’s a knowledge base. It’s low-cost education. I’m an author of nonfiction books, and I’m glad to have my knowledge available in Amazon’s enormous library.

The potential can be alluring. That’s what attracts authors into the program.

But that’s just the potential. Not all books succeed in the program. Enrolling in KDP Select isn’t the best option for 100% of books.

What you want to know is how well KDP Select will work for your specific book.

However, there are still a couple of other benefits that KDP Select has to offer. Let’s discuss those, and then we’ll get to the issue of weighing the pros versus the cons.

WHAT ELSE DOES KDP SELECT HAVE TO OFFER?

The main thing was Kindle Unlimited. It’s so much the main thing that if Kindle Unlimited doesn’t work out for you, then KDP Select probably isn’t right for you.

But there are other incentives, and if you do enroll, you may wish to take advantage of them.

Well, the one thing that you can manually take advantage of in KDP Select is one promotional tool. Every 90-day period, you can use one of the following promotional tools:

  • Kindle Countdown Deal
  • KDP Select free promo

A Kindle Countdown Deal lets you discount your book (if the list price is at least $2.99 in the US) in such a way that customers can clearly see that the book is “on sale.” (If you simply change the list price on your own, customers who discover your book on Amazon wouldn’t know that the price had been “reduced.”)

This sounds good in principle, and you can get a few sales using this tool, but most authors fail to use the Kindle Countdown Deal as effectively as it can be used. Amazon actually has a landing page for Kindle Countdown Deals right here:

Kindle Countdown Deals

However, that page isn’t easy for customers to find (and the name Countdown Deal isn’t nearly as attractive as it could have been). Plus, there is no guarantee that your book would even be visible on that page.

What you really need is to either have good book marketing skills, a strong active following (of an email newsletter, for example), or to get accepted by BookBub (the most popular option, but also the most expensive), E-reader News Today, or many of the smaller services that help authors promote sale prices.

Instead of running a Kindle Countdown Deal, you could run a KDP Select free promo. The free promo makes your book free during the promotion, and unlike the Countdown Deal, you earn zero royalty during the promotion. (Well, you can technically earn zero royalty during a Countdown Deal. You need to first do the math and see what royalty, if any, you would earn during the Countdown Deal. The larger your file size, there more this may be an issue.) You also get a free sales rank instead of the usual paid sales rank during the free promo, and your paid sales rank has usually slipped considerably once the free promo ends. Unless the free promo works and creates enough interest in your book to result in several sales after the free promo.

But like the Countdown Deal, you probably get much out of the tool unless you find an effective way to promote it. Simply making your book free and doing nothing else won’t likely help much (although this had been effective years ago when it first came out).

There may be something better than these tools that doesn’t require you to do anything at all.

What is that? A boost in sales rank.

How can KDP Select help with your Amazon.com sales rank?

Every Kindle Unlimited (and Amazon Prime) borrow of your book helps your book’s sales rank at Amazon.

Even if the customer hardly reads any pages. A single borrow has the same effect as a single ordinary paid sale.

There is another way to look at it: If you don’t enroll in KDP Select, you won’t have Kindle Unlimited borrows helping your sales rank.

Sales rank helps in various ways with visibility on Amazon.

It’s not as compelling as Kindle Unlimited itself, but it is something to consider.

Every book in Kindle Unlimited that has a sales rank: That sales rank is benefiting from Kindle Unlimited borrows. Whatever the sales rank is, it would be worse without Kindle Unlimited (unless of course the book never gets borrowed at all).

(There used to be another incentive to enroll in KDP Select, but now it’s open to every book, whether it’s enrolled in KDP Select or not. Every book can be advertised with AMS via KDP, whether or not the book is in KDP Select.)

SHOULD YOU ENROLL YOUR BOOK IN KDP SELECT?

Unfortunately, this depends on things that we can’t know for sure.

First of all, how many customers would read your book through Kindle Unlimited?

Even if you knew that, you would then need to figure out how much you would earn in royalties for Kindle Unlimited borrows.

Amazon currently pays on average a little under $0.005 per “normalized” page read through Kindle Unlimited. For most books, a “normalized” page turns out to be a little generous, meaning that it probably turns out to be more favorable than what you would call a “page.” But you have to first enroll in KDP Select before you can find out what your KENPC is (that’s the official page count for your book).

$0.005 doesn’t sound like much. You would need 200 “pages” read just to earn $1.

So what really matters is how many pages will be read. There are books with tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands, or even millions) of pages being read per day. If you write highly engaging content and if your book thrives in Kindle Unlimited, the royalties for pages read can really add up.

Far more important than your book’s page count are reader engagement and the customer appeal of your book (and its cover and product page).

Even if you knew how much your book would earn in royalties from Kindle Unlimited borrows, you would also need to know how much your book would have earned from sales on Nook, Kobo, Apple, etc.

Kindle is the dominant eBook market. If you’re among the few authors with a really good idea and solid marketing plan for how to drive sales to other platforms, that would be a strong incentive to not enroll in KDP Select.

If you have a good idea for how to appeal to Kindle Unlimited, that would be a strong incentive to enroll in KDP Select.

Otherwise, would you rather take your chances with Kindle Unlimited, or take your chances with other retailers?

The only way you can really know for sure is to try it both ways and compare.

Actually, you can try it both ways.

But not at the same time from the beginning.

You could enroll in KDP Select for 90 days. If it’s not going as well as you like, you could opt out before the 90-day term ends. (Be sure to do this successfully.) Once you successfully opt out and once the first 90-day term is up, then you could publish with other retailers.

(Some authors enroll in KDP Select for an entirely different reason: They don’t want to learn how to reformat their eBooks for other retailers.)

Whatever you choose to do, I hope it works out well for you. Good luck.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Why Does KDP Put the “Not for Resale” Strip on the Proof Cover?

 

NOT FOR RESALE (AUTHOR PROOFS)

Ever since I made the switch from CreateSpace to KDP Print, when I order a proof copy there is a horizontal “Not for Resale” strip running across the front cover, spine, and back cover.

CreateSpace didn’t add this strip, but KDP does.

(To be clear, this is just for PROOF copies. Once you publish your book, you can order AUTHOR COPIES that don’t have this strip. It’s just the PROOF copies that are affected.)

Sometimes, that strip interferes with part of the cover that I’m trying to proof. In particular, it often prints over words on the spine or back cover.

My solution is to open the PDF of the cover in Photoshop, crop the image to just the back cover, and print the back cover on my home printer. Similarly, I crop the cover to take a magnified close-up of the spine text and print that. (First save a new copy of your cover file so that you don’t accidentally change the original.)

Today, I received a large envelope from Amazon. I was surprised to find a proof copy of one of my books and two pairs of pants in the same package.

That was odd. I placed the orders separately and didn’t expect a KDP proof copy to be delivered with my pants. Even though I have Amazon Prime, I paid shipping on the proof copy from KDP. But Amazon obviously saved money by delivering the products together.

(In fact, with past KDP proofs I had tried to purchase the proof along with other products, but wasn’t able to do it.)

That doesn’t actually bother me. With CreateSpace, I had always paid shipping. It’s no different now. Amazon KDP is evolving, so maybe in the future…

Rather, I realized something important about that “Not for Resale” strip when this happened.

It reminded me that KDP print makes their proof copies, author copies, and Amazon resale copies in the same facilities.

Imagine this scenario, which may have happened with CreateSpace and which could happen with other POD publishers.

Imagine that an author has piles of books at home. These are mostly author copies, but a few proofs are mixed in. The author sells a copy, or maybe gives a copy away, or maybe a family member sells a copy or gives a copy away. Maybe the author forgot to check if it was a proof copy. Or if it’s a friend or relative making the transaction on the author’s behalf, maybe this person doesn’t know to check if it was a proof copy.

Now someday the person who received this proof copy (by mistake, of course, but mistakes happen) decides to sell the book on Amazon.

If it happened to a KDP author, that proof copy would have a clear notice on the cover, and might help to avoid this undesirable scenario.

I appreciate this label. There have been many times when I have been fumbling through dozens of author copies, inspecting the last page to make sure that they weren’t proof copies. This “Not for Resale” label makes it easy to tell proofs from author copies. And now it’s much harder to forget.

How do you feel about this label? I’ve heard a few authors complain about it. I was surprised at first, but have come to appreciate it.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides