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

January, 2019: What Did Kindle Unlimited Pay Per KENP Page Read?

WHAT DID KINDLE UNLIMITED PAY PER PAGE FOR JANUARY, 2019?

In January 2019, Kindle Unlimited paid $0.00442 for each KENP page read through KDP Select.

This is down 9% compared to December, but it isn’t unusual.

It’s fairly common for Amazon to pay more for Kindle Unlimited pages read before and during the holidays, and then to take a dip when the new year starts.

The royalties for pages read varies from $0.004 to $0.005 (and rarely a little over $0.005) per page.

When it’s near (or above) $0.005 per page read, you have to realize that it’s better than usual and enjoy it while it lasts.

When it’s around $0.0045 per page, this is roughly normal. Actually, most of 2018 was significantly above $0.0045, which shows that the per-page rate has been better than usual for several months, but if you go back a few years and examine all the data, you’ll see a few periods where it dropped down close to $0.004 per page.

You can count on it to fluctuate a bit. You can’t expect it to be the same every month.

However, you can count on the KDP Select Global Fund. It hit a new record high of $24.7 million, a clear million above December’s payout of $23.7.

The global fund steadily rises (and the very few times it hasn’t, it was only a very slight drop).

When Amazon switched to paying per page read for Kindle Unlimited borrows (and to a much lesser extent, borrows through Amazon Prime), the KDP Select Global Fund was around $10 million. Over the past few years since the change, the global fund has steadily risen to nearly $25 million.

This shows that the Kindle Unlimited audience is significant and is growing, and that there is enough content worth reading to sustain the program (and the amount of content continues to increase, except for a few specific subcategories).

Amazon is paying nearly $25 million per month (a pace for $300 million per year) just for pages read through Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime for KDP Select. That’s a huge chunk of royalties for a huge audience. There are also a million authors and millions of books participating in the program, and the most popular books are drawing a larger share of these royalties. But the potential is there if you can successfully engage the Kindle Unlimited audience.

That’s what I like about the pages read system. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much per page, and if you don’t have many pages read it won’t add up to much. But if you see significant pages read data for your book, you know that you’re successfully engaging customers. You want people to read your book, not just buy it. When you see those pages read, you know that your book is being read. That’s why we write books, after all. So that people will read them.

And for the books that really engage Kindle Unlimited readers well, the authors and publishers can be well-rewarded for their reader engagement.

There are a few cases where this program might not seem quite equitable, and if you think hard enough about it you might find something you don’t like. It does provide a good value to avid readers, and it does revolve around the idea of reader engagement, which are a couple of pluses that I do like. (No matter what Amazon does, it’s not going to please everyone. But with the payout rising from $10 million to nearly $25 million since the change, it seems to be working well enough to draw in many more readers as well as authors.)

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

KDP University: Amazon Education for Authors

KDP UNIVERSITY

Amazon is offering a session on “What KDP authors & publishers should know about taxes” on Thursday, February 7, 2019, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific time.

Visit the KDP University to register for this or other events. Click the Learn More link under Webinars. Select an event. Click Register. Fill out the form and press Submit.

Check out the upcoming events, such as “Developing a Promotional Strategy” on February 28 or “How to create, review, & optimize your Amazon Advertising campaign” on March 7.

At KDP University, you can find a variety of resources for authors who are self-publishing, including videos and formatting guides.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

Make Your Copyright Page Pop

FORMATTING THE COPYRIGHT PAGE

The copyright is the most boring page in the book. Readers tend to skim through them. Self-published authors tend to spend more time on other obvious design concerns, like the cover.

A short, sweet, and plain copyright page will suffice.

I’ve written dozens of books (mostly math workbooks, but a few science books and even books about self-publishing), and today I felt a bit bored with the typical copyright page.

So I gave it a little thought and tried something different. In the picture above, I put my copyright ‘paragraphs’ into 3D blocks of assorted sizes and then stacked them together. It’s different, anyway.

I’m using blocks for headers, too, so these blocks will fit in with the rest of the design. The algebra and word problems were the easy part of this book, so I put some time into the design. It’s not as plain as my original math workbooks.

My books have progressed in other ways, too. My earliest math workbooks simply provided hundreds (or even thousands) of problems with answers. They were plain-looking, no fluff workbooks, but some of my favorite comments were from parents, stating that their kids felt like they were doing ‘real’ math.

With my most recent books, I include full solutions in addition to answers. This is helpful for some parents, but also helps the student who arrives at a different answer. Sometimes the ‘different’ answer turned out to be equivalent to the book’s answer: For example, 1/squareroot(3) is the same as squareroot(3) / 3 (if you rationalize the denominator). Unfortunately, some online algebra programs don’t rationalize the denominator, so in rare cases, students believed that the book was ‘incorrect’ (just because I took the extra time to rationalize the denominator, factor out perfect squares, and all the other work that math instructors prefer to make answers look tidy), not realizing that the book’s answer was equivalent to theirs. By working out the full solution (with explanations) in the back of the book, I hope to eliminate some confusion.

Back to the copyright page. It’s part of the front matter. Even if a reader quickly flips past the copyright page, a potential buyer does catch a glimpse of it. I’d much rather have a prospective buyer think, “Hey, that looks pretty cool,” than something else. (A poorly formatted copyright page, or any other section of the front matter, sends the opposite message. You really don’t want the buyer thinking, “Yuck.”)

Every little bit helps. The cover doesn’t sell the book. The cover can attract readers to check the book out. The description can entice readers to Look Inside. But it’s the Look Inside that plays a pivotal role in the closing rate: What percentage of customers who visit the product page actually purchase the book?

For a typical book, just 1 out of 1000 (or more) customers who see the book’s cover will actually visit the product page, and just 1 out of 100 or so customers who visit the product page will purchase the book. I’m not talking about bestsellers. I’m talking about an average book that sells once a week or so to a stranger. You put these ratios together, and it takes 100,000 strangers to see the book to make a purchase. Such traffic is at Amazon. But if 100,000 people see your book in one week, you really want more than just 1 of those customers to purchase the book.

Here is the folly of the typical newbie author. They see it the other way around. The newbie author who is only selling 1 copy or so per week, on average, to strangers incorrectly concludes that there isn’t much traffic seeing that book on Amazon. Actually, 100,000 or more people probably see that book per week. Don’t blame Amazon. Blame the cover, description, Look Inside (and then most important of all, is the content wonderful enough to earn recommendations? that’s the key to long-term success).

A book that will sell like hot cakes has such a good cover (and relevance to the target audience) that 1 out of a few hundred (instead of a thousand) customers who see the cover will check it out, and will have a compelling description and Look Inside such that 1 out of 10 (or better) customers who see the book purchase the book. First of all, this book sells much better because the click-thru rate and closing rate are much better. But then Amazon rewards these metrics, which give the book enhanced visibility. And then if the content lives up to customers’ expectations, word-of-mouth recommendations will give this book long-term success.

So self-published authors strive to find cover appeal, write great descriptions, and provide compelling content at the beginning of the book. But those other sections of front matter, they matter too. Look how hard we worked to perfect this book for you. We even put time and effort into the boring copyright page. That’s they kind of message you want to send.

You want some of your front matter to pop. For a novel, it probably won’t be the copyright page. For some nonfiction books or children’s books, even the copyright page can pop. Why not?

Unfortunately, sometimes Amazon ‘skips’ pages of the Look Inside for print books. I’ve occasionally had a pretty cool picture somewhere in the front matter that didn’t show in the Look Inside. But when the customer opens the book at home, it will be a nice surprise.

Strive to perfect the entire book. That way it won’t matter which pages show up in the Look Inside.

If you want to see a copyright page that really POPS, check out this book by Victoria Kann.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0061781266

If you make illustrated books and you have amazing drawing skills, this should be right up your alley.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

Kindle Book Update

BOOK UPDATES

One challenge with nonfiction books is keeping the content up-to-date.

As an example, I’m currently in the process of updating my self-publishing guides.

I just updated my Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon, Volume 1 (the Kindle edition is on sale on Black Friday, thru Cyber Monday). The others will be updated soon (and I’ll add a note to the description once they are).

As you may have heard, CreateSpace recently merged with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). As a result, I needed to update all of my self-publishing guides. A few of them mention CreateSpace over a hundred times, so it hasn’t been a ‘simple’ update.

I also noticed a few other things that needed updating, like mention of the CreateSpace eStore option (which is no longer available) and changes to Kindle Unlimited.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve updated dozens of my books over the years. A few of my books have required several updates.

It’s a great feature of self-publishing: Amazon makes it fairly quick and easy to keep your content up-to-date.

I have some tips for doing this.

  • Keep a list of the most recent filename for each of your books. If you spend the next few years publishing multiple books, this list will save you time finding your most recent files. Type the list on your computer, backup the file, and print out a hard copy, just in case. (You can find the name of your most recent content file at KDP, unless you originally published the book with CreateSpace, then you’re out of luck if your book has already transitioned to KDP. Don’t rely on Amazon to keep your file info.)
  • Store your most recent editable files (by that I mean your Word file, not your PDF or MOBI file) in multiple places, like on a computer and on a jump drive, just in case something happens to one of the files.
  • Amazon is generally pretty flexible in letting you simply revise the files of the existing book (paperback or Kindle), even if you have fairly extensive revisions. If your current edition is selling well, it makes sense to simply update the files. If you publish a new edition as a new book on your KDP bookshelf, your book will start over with sales rank, keyword relevance, customers also bought lists, reviews, etc. (though perhaps by request you can get reviews transferred, but I would ask beforehand, just to be sure).
  • If your current edition isn’t doing well (in terms of sales or reviews), then it may be better to start over with a new edition. You can simply unpublish your original edition. (Note that paperback editions remain on Amazon forever, just in case a previous customer wishes to resell a used copy.)
  • If the update is significant, mention it in your description. If the update may be a selling point (or if it may make what had been an outdated book into an updated book), mention it at the beginning of your description, like UPDATED IN NOVEMBER, 2018. You can even make a starburst (like the one you see on the picture for my article) to call attention to the update on your cover (my starburst was designed by Melissa Stevens at theillustratedauthor.net).
  • Some problems you may not wish to call attention to. Maybe you corrected a few little typos or mistakes, which nobody else has pointed out in reviews. If so, you probably wouldn’t want to mention this.
  • However, if a review is quite visible on your product page and calls attention to a problem that has since been fixed, you may wish to note this in the book description. (It’s generally much better to revise your description than to comment on the review directly.)
  • Think twice before revising categories or keywords. If any of your original categories or keywords have succeeded in establishing relevance at Amazon (note that you may not realize this if it has happened), revising your categories or keywords may lose this potentially valuable relevance. Maybe you have established some relevance and don’t realize its value: If you’re getting any sales now, changing categories or keywords comes with a risk. My advice is generally not to change these if you’re content with sales. If you’re not getting sales, then there really is no harm in trying, and in that case maybe new categories or keywords will help out.
  • Check your corrections carefully. It’s amazing how easy it is to introduce a new mistake when you’re making a few little corrections.
  • Getting the updated Kindle edition of a book doesn’t work the way we might expect. It generally doesn’t automatically update. Why not? Because customers would lose notes, highlights, and annotations, which could be really frustrating for some customers. If a customer sees that the new edition is available (or if the author wants to check out the latest edition), just buying the book again won’t solve the problem (not if it’s bought on the same account as the original): Amazon automatically finds the original version and delivers that (even if you remove the book from your device first). You can visit Manage Your Content and Devices from your Amazon account and check if there is an Update Available flag present: This lets you manually update the book. Under Preferences, you can also find an option for Automatic Book Updates. If you still don’t get the most updated version, you need to contact Amazon and ask them to “push” the latest version onto your device.
  • It may help to educate your customers. If you post information about your update on your blog, for example, you can tell customers how to get the latest edition of your Kindle eBook.
  • At KDP’s Contact Us option, there is an option to request to have Amazon notify customers of your book update. A message there indicates that this is generally reserved for major problems, like when some of the content was unreadable. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

Changes to Amazon Product Pages, Reviews, Author Central, Etc.

 

AMAZON IS A DYNAMIC MARKETING ENVIRONMENT

Have you noticed a variety of little changes at Amazon recently? Following are some examples.

  • Customer reviews now display in a single column based on helpfulness. Previously, there had been a second column on the right (if you viewed the product page on a PC), giving the most recent reviews significant prominence. Now, the most recent reviews don’t automatically have more prominence than other reviews.
  • Amazon finally fixed the aspect ratio problem associated with Author Central author pages. Previously, when you clicked on an author’s profile at Amazon to open their author page, the cover thumbnails appearing in the top had all been forced into the same narrow aspect ratio, which distorted covers noticeably when they had a distinctly different aspect ratio. Now, if the cover is wider than the default, you get little gray bars at the top and bottom; the cover is no longer distorted.
  • In search results, at the top or bottom of a list, you often find 1-2 books (or other products) with a subtle Sponsored Products label. You also see Sponsored Products on product pages. These are actually paid advertisements, but the way Amazon did this makes them more effective than usual. Especially in search results, they don’t ‘seem’ like advertisements, since they fit right in. Many customers don’t even realize that there is a Sponsored Products label, and even if they do it doesn’t sound like an advertisement. Sponsored Products receive bonus exposure, now that there is a “Sponsored products related to this item” carousel just beneath the “Customers who bought this item also bought” carousel. If you publish a book with KDP, you can run an advertisement for your book via AMS (from KDP); this is available even for paperbacks.
  • There are other labels at Amazon that are changing. The Best Seller labels don’t always include the #1 before them any more, and in some instances they appear in orange, while in other cases they appear in blue. There used to be a #1 New Release label, then it changed to New Release, and today I don’t see new releases highlighted. I’ve also seen other labels, like for items included in a holiday and toy list.
  • Video Shorts display prominently on a product page, showing higher than the customer review section.
  • The options for Amazon Giveaways have changed significantly. There are now only a couple of types of giveaways with fewer options, but now there is less guesswork in setting one up and from the contestants’ point of view, the giveaways are much more standardized and all have a reasonable chance of winning.
  • Some products (even a few traditionally published books) let you clip a coupon. For other books, sometimes the savings are clearly highlighted in search results.
  • Amazon has really been pushing Audible audio books. You can create one using ACX, and even hire a narrator for your book (with the option of splitting royalties instead of paying up front). One of my credit card companies was even incentivizing Audible audio books recently.

What does this mean? Amazon’s website is a dynamic marketing environment for your book (or other product).

For several years, Amazon’s decisions have appeared to aim towards long-term success. A strong part of this has been long-term customer satisfaction.

Obviously, like any business, Amazon wants to earn profits, but unlike some short-sided business practices that I see all too frequently with other companies, Amazon often seems to make a decision based on long-term gains.

Another thing that sets Amazon apart is that, for such an enormous company, it often reacts quickly to change. This makes it a highly dynamic marketplace, compared to a traditionally much slower publishing industry.

These changes tend to favor customer-pleasing content and long-term marketing strategies. A book (or other product) that most customers really enjoy is more likely to be successful in the long run, especially if it gets good exposure in the beginning (an effective marketing campaign that goes beyond Amazon can help with this).

Sometimes, clever people figure out how to take advantage of the system, but since Amazon is dynamic, Amazon often catches onto this and finds way to make a change that hurts those who are trying to take advantage, and is more likely to reward good products long-term. Amazon has always placed a premium on its customer satisfaction metrics, and these metrics continue to evolve.

It pays to visit Amazon every few months (if you’re not already a frequent customer) to see how product pages, searches, etc. are changing. Knowledge is power, and it can impact your marketing decisions.

My recommendation to authors is to focus on writing engaging content that will satisfy your readers (better yet, write such amazing content that it is likely to earn you recommendations and referrals). The engagement part is important because you need customers to start reading and keep reading all the way through. There are so many other books, and so many other forms of entertainment, and your book is competing with those opportunities.

My second recommendation is to focus on long-term marketing strategies. Think long and hard about ways that might help your book continue to sell for many years, or ways to go about marketing that might bring you continued exposure for many years. Content marketing can help with this: For example, post short articles with helpful information (possible even if you write fiction) relating to your book, hoping to catch daily traffic through search engines. Effective long-term marketing strategies tend to be less susceptible to publishing dynamics.

If you tend to favor short-term promotional strategies, you really need to keep up with the latest changes.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

If You Encounter Problems with the Transition from CreateSpace to KDP…

SOLUTIONS TO COMMON ISSUES WITH KDP PRINT

For most authors using CreateSpace, the transition to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is smooth.

A simple three-step process helps you make the transition. Your books remain available for sale at Amazon and other distribution channels. Your royalties remain the same (except for royalties in Europe for books under 100 pages). The books are printed in the same facilities used by CreateSpace. The guidelines for interior and cover formatting are nearly identical.

It should be a seamless transition, and for most authors it is.

But when millions of CreateSpace books move to KDP in a short time span, a few unfortunate authors are bound to experience one or more issues.

If you happen to encounter one of the following issues, you might try my suggestion or you might contact KDP for help.

THE COVER WAS REJECTED BECAUSE THE SPINE TEXT WAS TOO LARGE

Unfortunately, if you change your list price, change your keywords, change your categories, or even edit your description at KDP, you must republish your book in order for the changes to take effect.

When you republish your book, KDP reviews your interior and cover files. It’s sort of crazy: If you don’t change your interior or cover files, why does KDP even look at them? They were good enough the first time. But it doesn’t help us to ask this question to ourselves. It does help to be aware that it will happen.

KDP is more strict about the size of your spine text (or more precisely, the distance between your spine text and the spine edges) than CreateSpace was. If you (or your cover designer) tried to make your spine text as large as possible (0.0625″ from the spine edges), it’s relatively common for KDP’s measurement to decide that your spine text is slightly too close to the spine edge. KDP is very picky about this.

If CreateSpace passed your cover file, beware that KDP might reject the very same cover file (even if you didn’t upload a new one) when you attempt to republish your book at KDP.

One way to avoid this is the same way that you can correct the problem: Revise your cover so that the spine text leaves a little extra room (significantly more than 0.0625″) between the spine text and spine edges. If you try to cut it close, there is a good chance that your cover will be rejected during the file review process (which occurs after you press the Publish button, and which prevents the changes from going live).

If you just need to revise your book description, it’s better to create an Author Central account at Amazon and use Author Central instead. However, if you do use Author Central, you should copy and paste the HTML version of your Author Central book description into KDP and save it at KDP. Why? Because if sometime in the future you republish your book at KDP, the KDP description will overwrite the Author Central description (years ago, it was different).

If you’re thinking about revising keywords or categories, consider this decision carefully. If your book has been available for some time, it’s possible that your book has benefited from keyword or category associations that your book may have developed. If you change your keywords or categories, you risk losing such associations. When you’re not getting sales, there isn’t much harm in trying. But if you are getting sales and you lose associations that had been helping you (without your knowledge, of course), it could negatively impact your sales.

YOUR COVER ISN’T SIZED AS EXPECTED

CreateSpace was a little more flexible with the cover size. If your width or height were slightly too small, for example, CreateSpace might adjust it for you. If the cover was oversized, it wasn’t a problem as long as the extra space was intended to be trimmed off and the meaningful content was sized appropriately.

KDP’s previewer checks your cover size and expects it to match KDP’s calculation based on your trim size, page count, page color (white or cream), and interior color (b&w or full color).

If your cover size isn’t what KDP’s previewer expects, you will automatically receive an error and you won’t be able to approve the preview and proceed to the next page of the publishing process until you fix the problem and submit a revised file.

YOU ENCOUNTER FUNCTIONALITY ISSUES WITH KDP’S WEBSITE

If a feature isn’t working properly at KDP, it could be related to your choice of web browser.

Very often, when a feature doesn’t work at KDP’s website, simply changing your web browser will resolve the issue. It’s worth trying.

As with most websites, rarely a feature at KDP may be temporarily down. When a feature is temporarily unavailable (which is rare), it usually shows a message at the top of the screen. However, rarely there may be an issue and no message shows on the screen. In this case, if you try again later, the feature may be functioning as it should.

If the feature still isn’t working after a couple of days and switching web browsers doesn’t help, make sure that your computer and browser specs are sufficient to handle KDP’s website (or whatever feature you are trying to use). If so, try contacting KDP help.

YOU PUBLISHED A BOOK, BUT AN ERROR OCCURRED DURING FILE PROCESSING

CreateSpace could handle relatively complex PDF files.

It turns out that currently KDP can’t handle the same level of complexity as CreateSpace could.

When your PDF turns out to be more complex than KDP can handle, here is what will happen:

  • Your interior file will appear to upload just fine. You will see a green checkmark next to the file.
  • A message will show that your file is being processed. This is normal so far. Don’t panic.
  • A red exclamation mark will appear inside of a triangle next to your interior file and you will see a vague error message asking you to check your file. This isn’t normal. One way for this to happen is if your PDF is too complex.

There are a variety of ways that a PDF can be more complex. It’s not necessarily the size of your file either. It’s more about which features you used when typing and formatting your book, which PDF converter you used, and the choices you made regarding formatting and layout.

A number of features available in Microsoft Word can result in a complex PDF. For example, it’s better to format a picture as a JPEG with image software and insert the picture into Word with the text wrapping set to In Line With Text. It’s much more complex to use Word’s drawing tools. It’s also more complex to use textboxes and WordArt. If you wrap pictures or textboxes in front of text, beside text, or behind text, for example, instead of in line with text, this makes the file more complex.

There are simpler and more complex ways to add ordered and unordered lists, or to add borders, or a variety of other features in Microsoft Word.

Browse through your file and ask yourself which design or formatting choices you may have made which could be making your PDF more complex. What can you do to simplify it (without sacrificing quality).

If you make changes, save the original file as backup. That way, if the revisions don’t help your file get processed at KDP, you will still have your original available.

Try using a different PDF converter. Adobe Acrobat is among the best, but even Adobe’s PDF’s are susceptible to this issue at KDP. Throwing money at the problem won’t guarantee a solution.

Ideally, you should flatten images and embed fonts in your PDF, provided that your PDF converter has these options available.

If you’re unable to solve this problem, try contacting KDP help.

PRINTED PROOFS, AUTHOR COPIES, AND APPROVING THE PROOF

At CreateSpace, when you “approved” your proof you were publishing your paperback. At KDP, it’s different. When you’re looking at your book in KDP’s previewer, clicking Approve doesn’t publish your book. It just lets you proceed to page 3 of the publishing process. As long as you don’t click the Publish button when you get to page 3, your book won’t be published.

If you wish to order a printed proof, you can find this option is you read carefully on page 3 of the publishing process.

You must publish your book before you can order author copies. Once your book is published, you can order author copies from your Bookshelf.

What if you wanted to order author copies without making your book available for sale on Amazon. Well, this is a problem.

You could publish your book, making it available for sale on Amazon, and then unpublish your book after ordering the author copies, but this has disadvantages. For one, your book’s Amazon detail page will already be live. For another, your publication date will be set and you will miss out on valuable potential exposure from the Last 30 Days and Last 90 Days filters on Amazon (when combined with other searches, some self-published books get noticed this way). I recommend NOT setting a manual publishing date: Choose the option that your book’s live on Amazon date will be used. Don’t publish your book until you’re ready for it to be available for sale. This will maximize your book’s exposure.

Another option is to publish another copy of your book with another print-on-demand publisher (or a local printer) that will let you order author copies without making that copy of your book available for sale anywhere. You won’t be able to use the same ISBN for both books, but at least you can get copies (other than printed proofs, which now have a not for resale watermark rendering them unfit for use as author copies) before your book goes live on Amazon. You could even get spiral bound books or hardcover using this option; your author copies could be ‘special.’ Check out Lulu and Barnes & Noble Press (this last option only offers author copies; they don’t currently offer paperback distribution to anywhere, unless you’re among the top sellers of Nook eBooks, though it is expanding). KDP’s main competitor is Ingram Spark, but whereas KDP lets you publish for free, Ingram Spark charges a setup fee.

YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE MISSING ROYALTIES

Of course you are! You had dreams of selling millions of books, right?

(But seriously…)

If you made the transition from CreateSpace to KDP recently, note that it’s relatively common for your royalty reporting to slow down significantly (50% or more) for a few days (perhaps even a week). This happened to me and some other authors that I know, but after 5-7 days the royalties picked back up to normal and made up the difference. Be patient.

Amazon offers a surprisingly transparent royalty reporting system. It’s much better than receiving a single statement in the mail once every 3 to 6 months. You can see royalties show up in your reports throughout the day (provided your book sells multiple times per day). It’s really cool (but be careful not to turn into a stats junkie and waste precious time that you could have spent writing your next book).

However, with this amazing level of transparency, any time a normal delay occurs, if you happen to be aware of the sale (because a customer told you about it), it’s only natural to freak out.

Most of the time, you see a royalty show up in your reports when the book prints, which often occurs the same day, but sometimes takes a few days. If you sell thousands of books, almost all of them will show up in your reports within a few days of the sale.

But there are a variety of exceptions. If a royalty isn’t showing up, it’s most likely one of the following reasons.

  • A family member or friend said, “I bought your book last week,” while secretly thinking, “I didn’t buy your book, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings by admitting this.”
  • A customer told you that they bought your book, but what you don’t know is that they didn’t buy it new directly from Amazon. Maybe they bought it from another online bookstore. Or maybe they bought it from a third party on Amazon. In this case, it might take 4-6 weeks for the royalty to show through the Expanded Distribution channel.
  • If a customer buys a used copy on Amazon that’s being resold by a previous customer, you won’t receive a royalty for the resale. You already received a royalty when the original customer bought your book (unless, of course, you gave that copy away). Most customers prefer to buy new books, especially if the list price isn’t super high compared to $10. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over the sales of used copies (unless you have a really expensive book).
  • Returns. If a previous customer returns a book and Amazon sells that returned copy to a new customer, you won’t be paid a royalty for the returned copy. Suppose customer X tells you that they bought your book, but you never see the royalty show up in your reports. It’s possible that customer Y bought your book a week ago, then customer Y returned your book, and Amazon resold that book to customer X. In this case, you were already paid this royalty last week. (For paperback books, Amazon doesn’t tell you about returns. You have no way of knowing how many books were returned and how many returned copies have been resold.)
  • Delay. For whatever reason, Amazon occasionally uses a third-party printer to source an order. When this happens, it can take 4-6 weeks for your royalty to show up in your reports.
  • Holidays (or Amazon Prime Day). Amazon sometimes stocks up on select titles for the holidays. When this happens, you won’t see royalties show in you reports as the books are sold. Instead, you see a bulk sale (or a few bulk sales). Sometimes the bulk sale occurs when the books are printed, sometimes it occurs later, sometimes it’s spread over a month or two in installments. Sometimes you even see usual royalties sprinkled in between.

If you happen to know the customer, ask for the printing numbers from the last page of the book. Send these printing numbers in a polite email to KDP. They should be able to use the printing numbers to help track the sale of the book.

YOUR AUTHOR COPIES TOOK LONGER TO ARRIVE

Sometimes, CreateSpace proofs and author copies arrived rather swiftly, even when we took the least expensive shipping option.

It won’t always be that quick.

Suppose you need several copies for an event.

My advice is to schedule the event and order author copies several weeks in advance. I order extra copies, just in case.

What if the shipment is delayed? What if there are defects?

With this in mind, I order author copies so far in advance that if there are defects, there is enough time to replace them, and even if the replacements are defective, there is enough time to replace those too. (If that’s not good enough, you were destined to have a problem, and you have the right to feel infuriated.)

If you don’t allow plenty of extra time, you’re taking a risk. It would be ideal if we could always receive perfect copies right on time. But it’s practical to allow for the worst-case scenario.

I take the cheapest shipping option, but order well in advance. This is my advice.

YOU ENCOUNTER SOME OTHER ISSUE

If your issue isn’t on my list:

  • See if your issue has been discussed in the comments.
  • Try asking your question in the comments.
  • Try searching the KDP community help forum.
  • Try asking your question in the KDP community help forum.
  • Try contacting KDP support.

I wish you luck.

YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH KDP IS JUST FINE (OR BETTER THAN YOU HAD EXPECTED)

Hey, this happens to most authors. Those authors are also far less likely to go online and talk about their “problem.”

Obviously, in this case, what you should do is recommend KDP to other authors. You can hope for good karma: Maybe a customer will like your book and recommend it to a friend.

Actually, KDP is better than CreateSpace in a few ways.

Authors based in Europe appreciate that they can order proofs printed in the UK or continental Europe instead of having their proofs shipped from the USA.

KDP’s Expanded Distribution has even surpassed CreateSpace. For example, I see paperback royalties on my KDP report for Japan, and other countries are on the horizon.

You can now choose 7 sets of keywords (instead of just 5), and there is no longer a 25-character limit per keyword set (but I wouldn’t exceed 50 characters including spaces).

You can now choose 2 browse categories (instead of just 1) without having to contact support, and the categories are more aligned with Amazon’s browse categories (though it’s still not perfect).

KDP’s community forum is different from CreateSpace’s. Is it better? I’m not sure. I haven’t seen spam recently (at least, not at the hours I’ve been checking), which is a good sign. There are helpful community members on both forums.

You can now advertise paperback books with AMS via KDP. This wasn’t possible with CreateSpace. Advertising may not be the magic solution you were hoping for, and it isn’t cost-effective for every book. But it’s nice to have a new tool that wasn’t available previously.

You no longer need to separately login to KDP and CreateSpace to check your Kindle royalties and paperback royalties. Now they show together on the same report.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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