Indie Author Earnings: Should You Be Worried?

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Background image from ShutterStock.

INDIE AUTHOR EARNINGS (3rd Quarter, 2016)

The October, 2016 edition of the Author Earnings Report is out, and the surprising activity has sparked much speculation and debate.

Whereas the indie share of the e-book market has steadily climbed in the past, this last quarter of 2016 has shown a marked drop.

As a physicist, when I look at this data, what I see are several data points of continued growth, and a single point of decline. Thinking statistically, one data point isn’t significant.

These data points are a little different, though, when you consider that each “data point” consists of 3 months of data (it’s a quarterly report, roughly).

So the combined sales for three consecutive months show indie author earnings losing a significant share of the e-book market.

Three months is a long time in the e-book publishing industry.

And we’re heading into the big fourth quarter.

So if we could learn anything from the data, or if we could uncover a reason behind the drop, we might be able to use that information to make smarter publishing and marketing decisions this coming quarter.

Still, it’s a big IF, and the information begins with one data point. It’s not much to go on. But it’s the reason for ample speculation and debate on the topic.

ANY IDEAS?

If you simply read the comments on the Indie Author Report, or read any of the many articles that have been written on the topic, you’ll encounter possible explanations.

When I looked at the first graph of the Author Earnings Report, what instantly caught my eye was significant growth in the earnings of Amazon published e-books. Amazon actually has its own imprints (which are by invitation only, last time I checked). For indie authors, you can publish with Amazon if you land a deal with Kindle Scout.

The Indie Author Earnings Report actually discusses this very point. According to the report, KindleFirst had several bestsellers during the quarter, and there appears to be improvement among most of the Amazon published e-books (on average). (By Amazon published, I don’t mean KDP, I mean Amazon’s imprints, Kindle Scout, etc.)

Personally, I think it’s good for Amazon’s imprints to be doing well. I’ve read some of their e-books myself, and so I know that there are good books in there.

Amazon seems to think long-term, and this why Amazon seems to place a premium on customer satisfaction. If Amazon published e-books take a larger share of the e-book market and if this improves overall customer satisfaction, then it would help Amazon maintain (perhaps even grow) its large customer base. Presently, Amazon published books are in limited supply, so you shouldn’t run for the hills worried that they will suddenly saturate and dominate the marketplace. Amazon published e-books have shown a more up-and-down behavior (compared to previous steady growth of the indie share) in the past, too, so we really need more data to see if this will simply drop back down or if it’s really a new trend.

Another thing I see is Kindle Unlimited. Over the past three months, Amazon paid out $45 million in royalties for pages read of KDP Select books. (That’s in addition to royalties for sales, it’s on top of whatever Amazon pays for Harry Potter and other traditionally published books in Select, and it’s in addition to the All-Star bonuses. The $45 million is for KDP Select books, which Harry Potter is not part of, and Amazon published books might also be separate from it, though this last point I’ve never inquired about or considered until recently.)

That $45 million (it was paid as $15 million per month) over the past quarter is significant, and it’s separate from royalties for sales. There are significant indie royalties in the KDP Select Global Fund.

And guess what: Amazon published e-books are part of Kindle Unlimited. So if Amazon published e-books start pulling in more customers, this is good for Kindle Unlimited (which has shown continued growth, with the Global Fund rising from $10 to $15 million per month over the past year or more, and with the payout holding fairly steady just under half a penny per page read).

BEST SELLERS

One thing to remember is that bestsellers hold a significant share of the marketplace. As bestselling e-books switch from indie to traditional to small publisher to Amazon imprints, each share of the e-book marketplace can show a big swing.

For the millions of e-books that aren’t bestsellers, or aren’t even close to being bestsellers (and I’m talking overall bestsellers, or major category bestsellers, not subcategories), what’s true of the e-book market on average is less likely to be directly related to your own sales.

Another thing I know from interacting with authors regularly over the years is that EVERY SINGLE MONTH there is a large group of indie authors loudly complaining about how sales or borrows have suddenly dropped off in dramatic fashion. No doubt you’ll hear the stories from such a group this month, too, only now it will be natural to try to tie it to the latest author earnings report.

If you happen to be seeing a drop this month, it could be completely unrelated to whatever else is going on in the e-book marketplace. It’s very common for sales to drop off after 30 days, after 90 days, or on one random month where the algorithm throws in one of its change-ups that suddenly affects your books.

The best thing is to keep writing, keep marketing, learn new ways to market, thing long-term, and try your best to stay positive and productive (which will be your advantage over anyone who doesn’t).

AMAZON IS ACTIVELY PROMOTING INDIES. YES, RIGHT NOW.

I can offer some proof of this point.

Visit www.amazon.com/poweredbyindie. This dedicated Amazon page (at least for October, 2016) says Powered By Indies at the top.

Amazon is sponsoring #PoweredByIndie and has invited indie authors to participate this October. (I received an email about this from Amazon, and if you subscribe to KDP announcements, you probably did, too.)

Over the past years, Amazon has regularly highlighted stories of successful indie authors.

It appears to me that Amazon wants many indie authors to succeed, and no doubt many indie books have benefited from Amazon’s internal marketing and Amazon’s algorithm. Amazon tweaks their internal marketing (like customers-also-bought lists) and their algorithm periodically (the latter is usually intended to improve customer satisfaction in various ways, and is sometimes responsive to attempts to manipulate the algorithm). Even if Kindle sales are down for indie authors overall this last quarter, I still see Amazon as being very indie-friendly (compared to the much of the publishing industry, Amazon is rolling out the red carpet to indies).

Again, this is just a single data point. I’ll wait for more data, and I’ll continue to focus on writing and marketing, which will serve me well regardless of the future of the e-book market.

Good luck!

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2016

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

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
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What the Dreck?

Slush Pile

The Dreaded Slush Pile

Two popular terms among authors and readers make me cringe every time I see them—which is much too frequently. There are some very strong opinions about this subject, too.

  • dreck
  • slush pile

These terms generally refer to the ‘worst’ of the books, but this definition by itself creates some problems.

  • There is more than one way to define the word ‘worst.’ Do you mean editing, subject matter, sales rank, very short books, web content disguised as books, or something else entirely?
  • Thus, some authors take this the wrong way. “Are you talking about my book?”

Any one of these things, by itself, doesn’t necessarily make a book bad:

  • Maybe an author has a fantastic story, but on a low budget, chose not to invest in an editor without knowing if the book would sell. Given a choice, I’d rather have a great story that needs editing over a lousy story with superb editing. (But there are many excellent stores with good editing to choose from, so this isn’t a decision that we really have to make.) My point is that editing alone doesn’t imply that a book is bad.
  • Similarly, if the book simply has poor formatting, it could still have great content. I wouldn’t call a book poor just because it could use some tender-loving formatting care.
  • A miserable sales rank—or no rank at all—doesn’t make a book lousy. Maybe the cover and blurb aren’t attracting attention, but the story is amazing. Perhaps the author didn’t attempt any marketing. Or maybe there is a very tiny audience for the book. These things don’t determine that a book is poor. (Just that the author isn’t getting rich from that particular book. At least not presently—for all you know, it could have sold like hot cakes when it first came out, but just hasn’t sold in recent months.)
  • How about a very short book—just a few pages? If the information is valuable, people will want it. If it’s very well written, what’s the problem? The beauty is that customers can decide if that appeals to them. More people writing short books doesn’t mean that other books won’t sell. It doesn’t mean that shorter books are selling. Kindle Unlimited makes it easier for customers to reach 10% of shorter books, but Kindle Unlimited doesn’t encourage customers to download shorter books. Why borrow ten very short books? Customers spending $120 per year may be more inclined to get the best possible value for their money. But let’s just say that shorter books do start selling more. This means that those books are appealing to customers. If those short books truly are dreck, customers will stop buying them. So if they sell frequently, they must not be dreck just because they’re short.
  • Perhaps you’d like to judge the content as dreck—e.g. certain kinds of romance novels, sales pamphlets, get rich schemes. Return to my last point. If it’s selling and continues to sell, apparently it’s satisfying readers. How can you call something dreck if readers appreciate it? Because if there is something that you’re sure is better, then wouldn’t readers also agree that it’s better and stop buying the ‘dreck’? But again, even if it’s not selling, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the book is bad.
  • There are, indeed, books that we may agree are lousy. Maybe we can judge by the intention of the author. If the author made a poor effort, and was just hoping to turn a quick buck, perhaps that could properly be classified as lousy. If the author tries to deceive readers, does that make the book lousy? If the author recruits dozens of reviews to make a book seem far better than it actually is, when the author knows that nobody would have bought the book otherwise, can’t we call that book lousy?

The worst of the worst, however you want to define them, are important for two good reasons:

  • When a reader experiences a book that turns out far worse than the reader was expecting, it leaves a significant impact on the customer’s reading experience (and it tends to change the customer’s book buying habits).
  • When one of the worst books sells, it frustrates authors who have worked very hard to master their craft and publish a quality book.

Not all mention of the ‘slush pile’ stems from good intentions, though:

  • Some authors feel a sense of superiority and mention the slush pile with a sense of arrogance and disdain. This isn’t expressed as the frustration of an author who worked hard, but comes out as an “I’m better than you” feeling.
  • Some authors feel a sense of inferiority and mention the slush pile to feel better about themselves.
  • It may be in the financial interest of traditional publishers to advertise the slush pile as often as possible, hoping to create a perception that self-published books aren’t worth reading so that more customers will, hopefully, buy traditionally published books.
  • Editors and book formatters may advertise the slush pile, hoping to encourage authors to hire their services. (Editing and formatting are important. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay for such services, just that this might be one of the motivations for advertising it.)
  • Some readers want to feel superior in terms of what they are reading. For example, they might feel superior reading literary works, and thus denounce everything else as dreck.

Personally, I feel that not enough people read. A greater selection improves the chances that everyone can find a book that he or she would like to read.

Here are some truths about the ‘dreck,’ including reasons that I cringe every time I hear it mentioned. (Am I a hypocrite for mentioning it here? My hope is to help improve the perception, and that some good may come from the following points).

  • Every indie author who mentions the slush pile or dreck is marketing a poor image for indie books, which in turn hurts his or her own sales indirectly. Oops!

  • The worst books aren’t in the way of better books. Lousy books that don’t sell quickly fall in the rankings and fall down into the depths of obscurity. Why worry about lousy books that are hard to find?

  • When a self-published author says derogatory things about other authors’ books, how does that affect his or her image? Brand a positive image for yourself. It might even help your sales.

I’m not saying that we should ignore books that have problems.

Here are some positive ways to address this issue:

  • Don’t advertise lousy books.

  • Don’t use the words ‘dreck’ or ‘slush pile.’

  • Do find a few excellent examples of self-published books and advertise those instead of the bad ones.

  • Don’t put other authors down.

  • Do find indie authors who are producing quality books and bring those authors up.

  • If you know a friend or acquaintance who is a newbie author, offer some helpful tips that will result in a better first book.

  • Occasionally share tips in your social media posts that would help fellow authors produce better books

  • Help motivate self-published authors to perfect their books.

  • Do your best when you self-publish. Do some research. Seek feedback. Don’t view your first book as an experiment. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Chris McMullen

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

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

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

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Indie Publishing Is Dynamic

Updated

Introduction

Traditional publishing has its benefits, but so does indie publishing.

However, those benefits are meaningless if you don’t take advantage of them.

One of the great advantages of indie publishing is the opportunity to swiftly respond to the many changes that arise throughout a book’s life, and to give a book an extended lifetime that far exceeds typical shelf life.

How’s the Weather?

Even in the publishing industry, the weather is unpredictable.

Many factors come up, including those that are beyond your control.

  • Kindle changes the way that series books are displayed in search results.
  • Just as you begin your big promotion, one of your first reviews stings like a bumblebee.
  • The subject of your nonfiction book experiences a major change just months after it’s published. Now it’s outdated.
  • Amazon discontinues the 4-for-3 program, starts discounting paperbacks, or stops putting them on sale.
  • One of the main subcategories that you selected is suddenly eliminated.
  • Someone raises a valid complaint about an issue that you failed to anticipate.
  • Readers convince you that you needed more editing help than you realized.

As an indie author, there is much you can’t control, but there is much you can respond to swiftly.

Product Page

Many features on your product page are dynamic:

  • The cover. Just upload a new one!
  • The blurb. Easy to revise. You can even format it through Author Central.
  • The keywords. Wise choices improve discoverability. Hardly selling? Change them up.
  • The categories. Be careful, though. If you’ve built up good visibility, a change could cost you.
  • The reviews. You can rarely change them, but it’s dynamic in that there is always the potential for a customer to leave a new review. (It works both ways. If things are good now, a bad one can spoil it. If the last review stings, in time a new one may be favorable.)
  • The editorial reviews. Get a great review quote from a relevant source and it can spice up your product page.
  • The biography. In addition to trying to find what works, if you leave this unchanged, it can become outdated.
  • The author photo. Strive to look the part.
  • The page count. You could add content. For a Kindle, adding a paperback makes this more accurate.
  • The customers-also-bought lists. The more effective your marketing, the more sales will help with this.
  • The list price. Having doubts? There’s one way to find out.
  • The sale price. Amazon often changes the sale price of print books. You can’t count on the selling price (but for CreateSpace print books, you’re paid based on the list price).
  • The recent blog posts on your Author Central page. Amazon displays the three most recent posts.
  • The book itself. Republishing is so simple, we could interrupt this blog with an auto insurance commercial.
  • And much more. Expanded distribution adds third-party sellers. More print sales leads to a few used books for sale. Author Central and Shelfari offer book extras. There are customer discussions, which are (and should be) quite rare except for popular authors.

But Not Everything

A few things are static:

  • The title. Choose wisely. Changing the title requires republishing a new book.
  • The author name and ISBN are fixed, too, unless you republish.
  • Customer reviews. A bad review is a permanent public record, so do your best to perfect your book from the beginning.
  • The publication date. (Though there was a period recently where republishing a Kindle changed this date.)
  • If you comment on a review, as soon as the reviewer or anyone else replies to your comment, if you change your mind and delete your comment, it will say, “Deleted by the author.” Amazon means the author of the comment, but everyone will assume it’s the author of the book.
  • Print books remain on your Author Central page forever. (A Kindle book, along with reviews of the Kindle edition, can be removed by unpublishing. But if you republish later, those reviews may reappear, although you may appeal to Author Central.)

What Does It Mean?

It means two things:

  1. You’re not stuck with things the way they are now.
  2. Don’t get too comfortable with things the way they are.

Here are some examples of how you can benefit from a dynamic publishing environment:

  • Monitor your three most recent blog posts. At any time, a customer can look at your Author Central page. What will this combination of posts look like to a customer?
  • Advance review copies can help to get a few early, honest reviews. If you’re planning a big early promotion, this can help to offset the possible misfortune of an unexpected critical review from one of your first customers.
  • On the other hand, if you get several glowing reviews, nothing critical is balancing them, and your book hasn’t yet established a healthy sales rank, this may seem suspicious to customers.
  • Making the blurb more clear or revising your book may render a review less relevant. This offers a little protection against the foolish person out to sabotage a book: The comment motivates you to improve the book or even the blurb, and now you suddenly have a better product (or packaging) on the market. Turn a negative into a positive.
  • Sales super slow? Try changing things up with a new blurb, cover, keyword, category, author photo, biography, or list price.
  • That strong urge you feel to respond to a review may have consequences that affect your book for it’s entire life. Some mistakes aren’t easy to fix. If instead you revise the blurb to address an issue raised in the review, if you later realize that doing so was a mistake, you can revise your blurb.
  • Adding quality books to the market similar to those you’ve already published helps your customers-also-bought lists help you.
  • When Kindle adds new features, like the recent Countdown Deal, you can take advantage of them immediately.
  • Updating the content of your book is easy. Just republish.
  • Keep writing and marketing. Even if things are going well now, you never know. The best way to prepare for the unknown future of your book is to write similar books and spend some time marketing effectively.
  • Got a couple of bad reviews? (1) If there are valid points, update your book. (2) Drive traffic to your product page through effective marketing. This helps you get some sales even when the product page isn’t appealing much through discovery on Amazon.

Beyond the Product Page

Marketing is also dynamic. For example, social media used to be the craze. It’s still effective for some kinds of marketing, but not nearly as effective in general. A current trend is a content-rich website. It’s also good to try new things because doing what everyone else is doing isn’t always most effective for you.

Don’t rely on Amazon to sell your book. Even if you get 95% of your sales from Amazon, you should look beyond Amazon for help.

  • Amazon tends to help books that help themselves through effective marketing. The work you do to drive traffic to your product page helps.
  • Traffic that you direct to your product page can help you jumpstart sales when you first publish and can help keep sales going if your visibility in search results plummets or if you receive a couple of bad reviews (if you’re personally interacting, those customers may trust what they learned from you more than what a stranger posts in a review).
  • Getting your books stocked in small, local bookstores, selling from your own website, etc.—every added sales outlet helps you with branding, discovery, and improves the chances of selling books through some outlet if your Amazon sales suddenly drop.

Finally, don’t forget that authors are dynamic, too. You’re gaining experience as a writer and marketer. All writers continue to grow, no matter how seasoned they may be now.

About Me

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

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

Even Indie Authors Get Rejected

Rejection

One great benefit of self-publishing is that it’s a sure thing.

You don’t need to send out query letters or book proposals.

You won’t be rejected by agents or editors.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t feel rejected.

Formatting Rejection

Once your manuscript is complete, you spend several days hammering that square peg of a book into a round hole, trying to reshape it into acceptable formatting.

You might be rejected by Microsoft Word, refusing to number pages, format headers, or keep the layout the way you would like it.

The publishing service might reject your file because it didn’t meet the technical guidelines.

Kindle might show you a preview that doesn’t look anything like your Word file.

Smashwords might not accept your e-book into the premium catalog.

Editing Rejection

People may point out spelling and grammar mistakes in your writing.

They might suggest that you really need an editor.

You might receive some constructive criticism on your writing, which, even when it has merit, can be hard to swallow.

Even worse, when you seek to hire an editor, the editor can choose to turn down the job.

Technical Rejection

When you order printed books, there is a chance of receiving defective copies.

A customer can receive a defective copy. No manufacturing service is perfect.

Even an e-book customer can experience technical hiccups while downloading or reading a book.

When one of your few customers encounters a problem that’s beyond your control, it can be frustrating.

Content Rejection

You can’t publish anything.

Amazon has content guidelines.

CreateSpace has content guidelines.

Kindle, Nook, and Kobo have content guidelines.

If you probe the limits of your writing freedom, your work could get rejected.

Sometimes there isn’t a clear line between what is or isn’t acceptable, but a murky gray area.

Legal Rejection

If you quote a line from a song, you could receive legal notice to take your book down.

If your writing infringes upon the rights of others, your book could lead to a lawsuit against you.

Legal action could cause a retailer to stop selling your book, or the publishing service to stop distributing your book.

Article Rejection

With the hope of gaining more exposure among your target audience, you may submit an article for publication.

Just like submitting a book proposal, your article may be rejected.

Contest Rejection

If you enter your book into a contest, you might not win.

You might not even make the first cut.

Review Rejection

Critics can leave bad reviews.

They can post one-star reviews right on the product page, where every shopper can see it.

Where your family and friends can see it.

Where you can see it.

Those comments can cut deep.

Sales Rejection

There is no guarantee that you will sell a single copy of your book.

Many books never sell 100 copies.

Not 100 per month. Not 100 per year. Not ever.

There are books that have been on the market for over a year that have no sales rank.

To not sell any books must hurt worse than receiving thirty rejection letters.

Public Rejection

People you know can complain about your book.

Or about how you’re wasting your time pretending to be an author.

While you strive to build positive publicity for yourself, once you enter the public eye’s scrutiny, one false step can lead to negative publicity.

Bully Rejection

Cyberbullies can target you.

Family Rejection

Your own family might not appreciate your writing.

They might wish you did something more “meaningful” with your time.

Self Rejection

You could be your own worst critic.

You might regret your prior writing.

You might delete your work and start over before you ever finish.

You might not even find the courage to publish in the first place.

Approved!

You write, therefore you are an author: See “Intimidation is nine-tenths of the writer’s law,” by Ionia Martin.

You don’t need permission to share your passion. You are approved!

Don’t focus on the worst that can happen. Focus on readers who can benefit from your writing. Those are the people worth writing for.

Writing and publishing a book is a huge accomplishment, no matter how you do it. Give yourself a round of applause. Congratulations!

Grow a thick skin. Find a support system. Don’t let ’em bring you down.

When you feel rejected, turn it around. Use it as a motivator. Let it boost you up.

Support

Offer support to other authors.

Read. When the writing is good, leave positive reviews. Spread the word about good books.

Share your wisdom and experience with authors who seek help from you.

Provide emotional support where it’s needed. Oh, yes, it’s needed.

Applaud authors everywhere for working hard to create wonderful reading experiences.

Listen.

It’s faint, but listen.

Do you hear it?

Sounds like a clap.

More clapping.

It’s growing louder.

Applause.

Take a bow. That applause is for you.

Publishing Resources

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

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

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

Why You Want Fellow Authors to Succeed

Compliments

You want your fellow authors to be successful.

You even want books similar to yours to do well.

And it’s not just about creating good karma.

It makes good business sense, too.

Some would have you believe that the way to thrive in the competitive publishing business is to play the cutthroat game and slam the competition. Unfortunately, you can find stories of a few big authors and publishers slamming one another, not just recently, but even going way back. You can also find gossip about more underhanded activities.

But that’s just foolish.

And again, it’s not just because it’s not nice. Economically, it doesn’t make sense if you take a moment to look a few moves ahead.

Highly similar books usually sell together. Some customers buy them all at once. Some buy one today, another in a month, and another a few months from now.

Similar books help one another out through customers-also-bought associations. They also help one another out through word-of-mouth referrals because they share a common target audience and people within that audience do discuss books they enjoy.

When you buy a book online, Amazon recommends similar books. When you visit your homepage, again Amazon recommends similar books.

Foolish authors look at similar books and think, “Oh no! That book looks good. It might take all my sales.” The immature reaction is to slam the competition.

And shoot yourself in the foot in the process.

Most likely, that book won’t take your sales. Most likely, that book will either (A) help your sales or (B) not affect your sales.

When customers really like a book, they want to find more books similar to that.

But there is one way that similar books can take your sales. That’s when you succeed in hurting that book’s sales.

Then, instead of that book’s sales helping your book out through customers-also-bought associations, it’s hurting your sales by not sending traffic your way.

When authors slam one another and a lot of the competition, it creates a bad vibe for the whole set of similar books. It hurts sales for everybody.

Similar books are free marketing for you. Other authors’ great content and effective marketing helps you through customers-also-bought marketing. You don’t need to do anything to benefit from this except continue writing your own books, developing your own author platform, and marketing your own books.

Applaud your fellow authors and watch them help you without even trying.

Act on your jealousy and watch you hurt yourself.

First of all, your efforts to hurt the competition may actually help the competition because you’re giving those other books more publicity, even if it’s negative. And you have to credit people, who can often smell a rat.

Second of all, you don’t want to hurt the sales of similar books that can only help you out.

And what about those amazing authors who break through and make it big time?

Does that make you feel all jealous inside? Do you look at those books critically and think how childish the storyline is, how poorly edited the book is, and completely miss the big picture?

Applaud those authors. If you self-publish, applaud the indie authors who succeed. They’re helping to make a great name for indie authors. They’re reaching hundreds of thousands of readers and showing them that indie books can be amazing.

If you self-publish, you want other indie authors to be successful. Their success builds a large audience of readers who are willing to take a chance on indie books. That helps you.

It’s not just indie author success. It’s any author success. Any author who makes readers love the reading experience creates future sales for many other authors.

There is no indie versus traditional battle. What’s most ridiculous about that is the increasing number of authors who publish both ways. Should they punch themselves in the face?

There is just one battle. That’s you wrestling against yourself, your emotions, and your irrational instincts.

What’s good for readers is good for all authors.

And if there are readers who enjoy a book, that book is pleasing readers and therefore good for all authors, including you, whether or not you approve of that book.

Way to go, Amanda Hocking! You made a huge name for yourself. You made a huge name for indie authors.

Way to go, Hugh Howey! Way to go, E.L. James!

Way to go, Stephen King! Your great works have hooked millions of readers not just on your books, but on the love of reading.

Way to go, J.K. Rowling! Way to go, Anne Rice!

Way to go, all authors, big and small, whose books have pleased readers.

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

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The Critical Book Sales / Marketing Chain

Chain

Sales Formula

How many books will you sell? There is a simple formula for this:

SALES = (# of views) X (% of buys)

For example, if 1000 people view your book every day, but only 0.5% of those people purchase your book, you would sell 5 copies per day.

The two ways to maximize sales are to

  1. Maximize the frequency with which people view your book—i.e. increase your book’s exposure.
  2. Improve the percentage of people who purchase your book after viewing it—i.e. improve the buying ratio.

Wasted Effort

If your buying ratio is lousy, any time you spend improving your book’s discoverability is wasted because the buying ratio is inefficient. It would be 20 times more effective to raise your buying ratio from 0.001% to 0.1% (that’s 100x better) than it would be to increase your daily views from 1000 to 5000 (that’s 5x better). (The 20 times more effective compares 100x to 5x.)

Too many authors are focused on increasing the number of views instead of improving the % of buys. The latter may be easier and more effective.

You probably get hundreds or thousands of more initial views than you realize. Amazon.com sells millions of books every day (because the top 200,000 or so sell at least one copy per day, and the top books sell hundreds of books per day, adding up to millions overall). Shoppers view many more books than they buy, so there are probably billions of books seen on Amazon every day. At this stage, I’m saying that the thumbnail has been seen, but the book may not have been clicked on.

Of these billions of views, many shoppers click on one of the Last 30 Days or Last 90 Days links, which helps to find new releases. This filters the search results to help books that are otherwise hard to find get discovered in the first few months of the publication date.

TIP: Don’t enter a publication date at CreateSpace or Kindle. Leave this blank and the publication date will automatically be the date that you click the magic button to publish your book. This maximizes your book’s exposure in the new release categories.

Why should we think that a newly published book buried in Amazon’s haystack may be viewed hundreds or thousands of times more than the sales (or lack thereof) might suggest? (Again, by view, I mean that the thumbnail has been seen, not necessarily the product page.)

Because there are unmarketed books that get discovered and start selling frequently right off the bat. Although this is a rare percentage of books, it does happen, which shows that shoppers are discovering books through the new release filters.

Most books that don’t sell frequently on their own generally suffer more from a poor buying ratio than from poor exposure.

Buying Ratio

The buying ratio depends on this critical marketing chain:

  1. What percentage of people who see the thumbnail click on the book to visit the product page?
  2. What percentage of people who view the product page click to look inside?
  3. What percentage of people who look inside purchase the book?

This gives us another formula:

% of buys = (% of clicks) X (% of look insides) X (% of closes)

where the percentage of closes corresponds to point 3 from the marketing chain.

Suppose 1000 people view your book everyday, but:

  • 990 of them don’t click on it because it doesn’t look like it belongs to a genre that they read. In this case, a simple cover mistake may be costing you many sales.
  • 990 of them don’t click on it because the cover doesn’t look like it belongs in the category that it’s listed under. Such a target audience mismatch can greatly deter sales.
  • while 500 of those people do click on your book to see the product page, 495 of those don’t look inside because the blurb describes a different genre than the cover depicted. The cover and blurb must send a unified message.
  • while 500 of those people do click on your book to see the product page, 490 of those don’t look inside because the blurb doesn’t capture their interests.
  • while 500 of those people do click on your book to see the product page and 250 of those go on to look inside, 248 of those don’t make the purchase because the Look Inside doesn’t seal the deal.

More Sales

If you can improve the buying ratio, it will significantly improve your sales frequency.

There are three steps in the chain. Just one problem with these three steps can greatly deter sales even if the other steps are incredible:

  1. Improve the effectiveness of your cover at attracting your target audience. Cover appeal isn’t satisfactory. The most effective covers (A) pull you into them and (B) grab the specific target audience.
  2. Improve the effectiveness of your blurb to engage the interest of and arouse the curiosity of your target audience.
  3. Improve the effectiveness of your Look Inside in convincing your target audience that your book is Mr. Right for them.

A great cover with a lousy blurb = many lost sales.

A great cover and great blurb with a lousy Look Inside = many lost sales.

It’s really hard to make all 3 fantastic. But that’s what it takes to achieve a highly effective buying ratio.

Consider these points when designing your cover:

  • Spend hours researching bestselling covers within your specific subgenre. Find top sellers overall, good sellers with content similar to yours, and the best indie books. These are the kinds of images, font styles, and layouts that attract your target audience. But note that top authors and publishers can get away with a lesser cover due to name recognition.
  • Study cover design tips and mistakes. You can find such lists here at my blog, for example (click the Cover Design tab above).
  • Consider hiring a cover designer. You might think you can’t afford one. It might turn out that you really can’t afford not to have one. If you get a highly effective cover (now that’s a big IF, not guaranteed by hiring a designer, so do your research well) that improves your buying ratio by 10 times, that could make a huge difference over the next few years (especially, when you finally reach the level of having a professional author platform and several books out). On the other hand, if the blurb, Look Inside, or content greatly deter sales, that will put a huge dent in your cover’s potential effectiveness. There are no guarantees.
  • Get feedback, especially from your target audience. Be patient and redesign as needed.

Consider these points when writing your blurb:

  • Spend hours studying the blurbs of top selling books in your specific subgenre. What makes these books seem interesting? Does the writing flow well? Are the easy to read, or do you have to puzzle them out? Do they engage your interest throughout? Do they arouse your curiosity and make you want to click to look inside?
  • Don’t write a summary of your book for your blurb!
  • Ask yourself and your beta readers which elements of your book are most likely to attract interest in your book. Your blurb should use these effectively to draw out the shopper’s curiosity. You don’t want to give out information, but want to plant seeds that will make the reader want to know more.
  • Every sentence of your blurb needs to engage the shopper’s interest. Any sentence that doesn’t can greatly diminish your buying ratio.
  • Any spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes can greatly deter sales. Let’s face it: If you make a mistake in a 100-word blurb, that doesn’t bode well for writing tens of thousands of words well. Get help combing through this carefully.
  • Make sure your blurb reads well, flows well, and will be easy for your target audience to comprehend. Most people are looking for an easy read.
  • Shorter is often more effective for fiction. Anything extra increases the chances of the reader walking away. Come out punching, hook the reader, and make the reader look inside to learn more. For nonfiction, concise may also be good, though there are also benefits of showing expertise, qualifications, and listing selling features. If so, use basic HTML or go to Author Central to separate your paragraphs with blank lines and to use bullets to list features.
  • Get feedback, especially from successful indie authors and your target audience. Be patient and rewrite as many times as it takes to nail it.

Consider these points when preparing the Look Inside:

  • Browse through dozens of professional looking Look Insides of top selling books in your genre and compare them closely to your book. Don’t copy them; rather, learn what makes them highly effective.
  • Good editing and formatting are more important than many authors realize. Books tend to have more mistakes than the author realizes because the author tends to see what he or she meant to write rather than every word exactly as it was written. Get help ironing out your Look Inside. Your Look Inside is the only salesperson at Amazon making the difference between Buy It Now and Walk Away. Yeah, it’s that important.
  • The Look Inside needs to grab the reader’s interest right off the bat, arouse the reader’s curiosity, and seem like the kind of book that the cover and blurb depicted. The cover and blurb create expectations; the Look Inside must deliver on the promise.
  • The Look Inside must read well. The words should flow well. Even little things, like avoiding repetition, varying sentence structure, organizing your ideas well into paragraphs, dialog tags, and consistent style can have a significant impact if everything else is right.
  • This last point is huge. Your book idea has to have a significant audience (or a significant niche audience), and the category, cover, and blurb have to be effective at reaching this audience. The first step really is to research the potential of your book, starting by finding similar books and seeing how well they do, then by receiving ample feedback before, during, and after your book is written.

Putting extra time into perfecting the effectiveness of your cover, blurb, and Look Inside can pay huge dividends over the lifetime of your book. Rushing can cost you big time.

The X Factor

There is another factor that can have a huge impact on your buying ratio besides your cover, blurb, and Look Inside:

The impression that the content of your book has on your audience.

This make a big difference in the way of reviews, recommendations, and word-of-mouth referrals.

If you have a fantastic cover, a killer blurb, and an amazing Look Inside, but the content fails to meet the expectations that the cover, blurb, and Look Inside created, everything can backfire.

Bad reviews that highlight important points (i.e. important to buyers) which shoppers can corroborate with your Look Inside can kill your buying ratio.

So it’s also worth perfecting your content. Perfect your storyline, characterization, editing, formatting, and writing. This can make the difference between favorable recommendations and unfavorable criticism. You can’t completely avoid criticism because not everyone shares the same interests, but you want to do your best to limit it and to encourage positive feedback.

There is an abundance of good content already on the market. Writers who can achieve something extraordinary have an opportunity to stand out with marked word-of-mouth referrals. It’s not easy. Sometimes a story or character is just so memorable. Study stories and characters, especially those in your subgenre, that are exceptionally memorable.

There are two more ratios that are worth considering as they also impact your net sales:

  • Your return ratio: How often a customer is dissatisfied with your book.
  • Your referral ratio: How often a satisfied customer helps you reach a new customer.

Marketing

The higher your buying ratio:

  • The more books you will sell without marketing.
  • The more effective any marketing that you do will be.

For a given buying ratio, there are two ways that marketing can help sales:

  • Marketing can help you improve your book’s exposure. More views among your target audience means more sales.
  • Marketing can help you improve your buying ratio. Personal interactions can help stimulate sales even if the cover, blurb, and Look Inside are lacking to some extent.

Marketing is most effective when your efforts reach many people in your specific target audience who don’t already know about your book.

For example, spending a little time every week over the course of several months to prepare content toward developing a content-rich website that will attract hundreds of people from your target audience through search engines every day can give you amazing long-term exposure. 100 people per day equates to 36,500 people learning about you and your book every year. It’s an activity that can start out very slowly at first, but if done right can be highly effective after a year or more.

Long-Term Success

However many copies you sell, whether it’s a few a month or several per day, imagine if you could multiply this number by 2, 5, or 10. Going from 3 per month to 6 per month may not seem like much, but your book won’t be available for just a month. What if your book continues to sell for years? After a decade or lifetime of sales, multiplying all those sales by 2, 5, 10, or more could turn out to be huge.

This is especially true if you’re not trying to be a one-hit wonder. Most new authors’ books struggle. It’s not easy to get discovered. But there is a lot of potential for good writers with good ideas who persevere.

Focus on long-term success. Imagine having several similar books on the market. Now every book that you sell has the prospect of helping to market your other books. Anything you can do to improve your buying ratio can pay added dividends by helping to sell your other books.

Work toward having a professional author platform in the long run. Do a little here and there with this long-term goal in mind. Do marketing that is likely to reap long-term rewards.

Publishing Resources

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

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

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

Series Changes with Kindle

Series

Kindle is changing the way that series appear at Amazon:

  • The change will make it easier for customers to see that a given book is part of a series.
  • The change will clearly show the volume number to help customers find the next volume of a series and to read a series in order.
  • The change will show the series name to help customers find all of the volumes of a given series.

Example

You publish an e-book with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and enter the following information in the publishing fields:

  • Title: Mr. Wrong Feels Oh So Right
  • Series Title: Bad Romance
  • Volume: 3

When people search for your e-book on Amazon, they will see the following in search results:

  • Mr. Wrong Feels Oh So Right (Bad Romance Book 3)

The parentheses show that this book is part of a series. The “Book 3” makes it clear that this is the third volume of a series.

What If

Are you wondering whether it matters if your book is a stand-alone book that could be read all by itself out of sequence?

  • Doesn’t matter. If you publish your book with a series title, your book is part of a series and will include the series title and volume number in parentheses.
  • Anything that comes in multiple volumes will be treated as a series.

Impact

Personally, I like it. When I first published The Visual Guide to Extra Dimensions, volumes 1 and 2, Amazon included Volume 1 and Volume 2 with the title and subtitle in search results.

Several months later, the volume numbers disappeared from search results, and sales did slow a little along with it. Before, it had been very clear that two separate volumes were available. I had contacted CreateSpace and Amazon, and the volume numbers have reappeared and vanished a couple of times.

As a customer, I had trouble buying Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. It wasn’t clear which volume was which, or how many volumes there were. It seems to make sense to wave a flag that says, “Over here, I’m volume 7, buy me next.”

If Amazon is making this change, it appears that someone high up has realized that either (A) this will help to improve sales by helping customers find the books they are looking for or (B) this will improve the customer buying experience because customers have been buying books that they hadn’t realized were parts of series. Maybe both.

Do you have a series published on Kindle? If so, you might want to check what you have entered under the title, subtitle, series, and volume fields. You can update this information as needed to help improve the transition.

Right now, it seems that Amazon is doing this for Kindle. I’d like to see it for print books, too (which would make sense, as many Kindle editions are linked to print editions).

How do you feel about it?

(Speaking of changes, WordPress seems to have made a nice one recently. Now, I can copy and paste from one of my blog articles to another and it retains formatting and links. I like it.)

Publishing Resources

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

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

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

Omnibus … or … Omni-Bust?

OmnibusI’ve seen an increasing number of omnibus editions on the e-book market in recent years.

It’s an attractive idea:

  • Customers save money when the omnibus is discounted compared to buying individually.
  • It’s convenient: Customers don’t have to hunt down the separate volumes or remember to buy later.
  • The omnibus allows continuity in reading: When you finish one volume, the next is sitting right there, ready to read.
  • Seeing the omnibus available, you don’t feel worried that the series might not be completed (provided that the omnibus is a complete set).
  • Authors benefit by encouraging customers to buy the entire series up front.

The benefits sound pretty good. So I was about to hop on the bandwagon myself. Until I started having second thoughts.

Are there any disadvantages?

  • Will the presence of your omnibus edition deter the sales of your other books? If so, this may offset the benefits of a stronger sales rank and your reviews may get spread thinner.
  • If you already have some volumes out with good sales ranks and a healthy number of reviews, you’re kind of starting over with the omnibus edition. Maybe the potential savings will help to stimulate many early sales to quickly build up the sales rank and reviews, but then returns the issue of what happens to your other books?
  • If you’ve already promoted your individual volumes, have many links online pointing to your other books, and have already been branding and marketing your books, you need to consider your omnibus with your marketing plans. The omnibus does give you new time in the new release category and provides new opportunities to create buzz, but you must also consider your other books.
  • If you sell both e-books and print books, will you make a print omnibus, too? Paperback customers may appreciate having separate volumes over one mammoth book. Also, for lengthy novels, a single book may exceed the maximum number of pages possible.
  • For Kindle e-books, if you’re planning to set the omnibus price above $9.99, you need to consider that the royalty rate is 35% for Kindle e-books priced $10 and up, so you may actually make much more money selling the e-books separately or limiting the price of the omnibus to $9.99. If your books include many pictures, you must also factor in the delivery costs.

How do you feel about omnibuses, as an author or reader? If you have experience publishing an omnibus, please share it so that others may learn from your experience.

Publishing Resources

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

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

My original self-publishing guide, How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon.com, has recently been updated and expanded.

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

A Good Goal for Indie Authors: How Many Books Should You Sell?

Covers

How Many?

At any stage of writing or publishing—from the concept to already having a few books out there—you want to know how many books to expect to sell.

It’s the million-dollar question. Well, you hope it’s a million-dollar question. You’d hate to find out it’s a hundred-dollar question, a five-dollar question, or a zero-dollar question.

Getting answers isn’t easy. Many authors are reluctant to share their numbers. Perhaps there is good reason for this:

  • Revealing a high frequency of sales may attract unwanted attention. For example, it may evoke jealousy in others.
  • Revealing a low frequency of sales may make it seem like the author has failed, it may draw pity, and it may even deter sales.

It’s also not easy to gather sales data from Amazon, BN, Apple, and all the other book and e-book retailers out there.

Nonetheless, there have been several attempts to determine the average number of books sold. The numbers can vary somewhat depending on a number of factors, such as:

  • Whether the research involves all books, just print books or just e-books, just fiction or just nonfiction, just indie books or just traditionally published books, just Amazon or all retailers, etc.
  • The time period over which the research was gathered, since the numbers may change significantly within a few years.
  • How the researchers went about gathering their data.

Despite these differences, the average number of books sold is often said to be a figure like 100, 250, 500, or 650.

I can hear some of you asking an important question: Is that per month? per week?

Nope.

That’s right: It’s not per month, per week, or per anything. It’s just a period. That’s lifetime.

Those are some small numbers!

You know what I think about those numbers?

Unacceptable!

Too many authors work their rears off crafting a hundred thousand words, editing, formatting, polishing, learning the craft, blogging, tweeting, facebooking, developing a website, writing sequels, supporting other authors, working 40 hours a week to pay for the luxury of writing part-time, and supporting families while spending years writing their books… to sell a few hundred books all together.

That’s too much hard work.

The worst part of this is that there are many authors who’ve done all this hard work who are presently thinking, “It sure would be nice to sell 100 books,” because they haven’t gotten there yet.

Most of the authors I’ve encountered love to write so much they couldn’t imagine not writing. Many were writing novels before print-on-demand made self-publishing viable. Now they have the opportunity to share their work with others.

They do all of this hard work so that some readers can find a few weeks of enjoyment.

It might be a small niche audience who enjoys that book, but for many authors, that’s okay. They know that some people will enjoy their books even though they didn’t write the most popular topics (or didn’t write them the way they’re usually written), and they want very much for the audience that will appreciate their books to find them.

Another Number

One.

One what, you ask?

One book.

Sell a single book to a stranger.

Have one stranger enjoy your book.

The first time you autograph a copy for somebody.

Let one stranger reach out to you and tell you that your book was worth writing.

One can be a powerful number.

You can’t get to 50,000 without starting at one.

Number one in a category would be a pretty cool “One,” too, don’t you think?

Goal-Setting

First, I said that a few hundred is unacceptable. Then I said that one is special. Am I sending mixed messages?

My suggestion is that you don’t set a single goal, but set several goals in stages:

  • The first goal is to get regular sales of any sort. It doesn’t matter if it’s one book per month, one book per week, one book per day, a few per day, or what. A sales frequency with some regularity will net you sales in the long run. Time is on your side. One book per month doesn’t seem good, but if you can keep it up, after several years it will add up to something. Eventually, you’ll break that average number of books sold.
  • The second goal is to improve your sales frequency over the course of time. If you start at one book per month and raise it to one book per week, that’s a 400% improvement. The slower you start, the easier it is to improve. Starting with one book per day, try to get to 2 a day, then 3 a day, and so on. Be patient. And work toward your goals.
  • Better than comparing yourself against others (there will always be a bigger fish out there), try to improve upon your former self. Not just quantitatively. If you feel that your writing or publishing skills are improving, even if your numbers aren’t growing, that provides some satisfaction and gives you hope for future improvement.
  • One of your long-term goals has to be to exceed the average number of books sold. Whether it’s a year, a few years, a decade, or whatever—it’s not so much the time period that matters, but the satisfaction of getting over this hump—you’ve got to reach 1000 books and grow from there. First you’ll get there with the sum of all your books, but eventually you want each book to break this threshold. Work for it. Remember, it doesn’t have to happen this year. Time is on your side.
  • Then you’ve got to keep the momentum up. 1000 isn’t close to what your hopes and dreams were when you were fantasizing about sales before you pressed that publish button. If your numbers are growing, that’s a great sign. Let your long-term goal be to steadily improve your numbers and you will have much potential for future success.
  • Don’t just focus on the numbers. In the end, it’s not the numbers that matter. It’s how many readers benefit from your books that truly matters. Focus on your readers and, naturally, both your books and your marketing will be better with your readers at heart.

It’s not Easy

If the average number of books sold is 250, this doesn’t mean that every book is selling 250 copies.

Since it’s an average, it means that for every book that sells 100,000 copies, there are thousands of books that hardly sell at all.

There are millions of books available for sale, with tens of thousands coming out every month. It’s not easy to get discovered.

But the challenge makes success that much more rewarding. Accepting the challenge makes you want to write an even better book.

It’s also not as hard as it at first seems.

Many authors give up. Some books were published as tests. A few people took up publishing with the misconception that it would be an easy money-producer.

There are a number of reasons that tens of thousands of books hardly sell at all:

  • Content is lacking.
  • Little or no marketing.
  • Ineffective cover.
  • Bad need of editing.
  • Poor choice of categories.
  • Content doesn’t have an audience.
  • Author didn’t have relevant expertise (especially, for technical nonfiction).

This means there is hope. Books that were slapped together with the hope of making easy money are bringing that average down. Authors who got discouraged quickly are bringing it down. Books that need a much better cover, authors who don’t market, unedited books, all these factors make the average number of books sold smaller. If you could throw all these out, the average number of books would be higher. How much higher? That’s a good question, but higher nevertheless.

Work for It

It may not come easily, but you can do it.

You. Can. Do. It.

Here are some ideas to help you on your way:

  • Research the idea before you write. See what’s already out there. Try to gauge your book’s potential.
  • Give your readers the best content you can. Don’t rush it. Focus on long-term success. Quality affects long-term sales through word-of-mouth, customer reviews, and branding.
  • Get ample feedback from your target audience and fellow authors. Assess your storyline, characterization, writing style, formatting, cover, and blurb.
  • Make or buy a cover that will specifically attract your target audience. If you have a quality book, the cover can be a very influential sales tool. Most best-selling indie authors credit their covers for much of their success. A fantastic cover won’t sell a lousy book, but can make a huge difference for a great book. You work so hard hoping for your target audience to find your book, wouldn’t you like for them to actually click on it once they see it? It’s the cover that makes the difference. An appealing cover isn’t satisfactory. It has to attract your target audience to give your book maximum potential.
  • Write a killer blurb. Rewrite as many times as it takes, get as much advice as you need. A few sentences on your product page are the only thing that will determine if the customer will click to Look Inside or walk away. Similarly, perfect the Look Inside.
  • Good editing, good formatting, a professional appearance, a professional author photo, an effective biography… all these things influence sales and some also impact word-of-mouth sales and reviews.
  • Develop a professional online author platform. When people check you out, you want to look like a professional author. Create content that will attract your target audience, as this can be a highly effective marketing tool. Don’t try to build Rome in a day or a week. A little work every week over the course of several months can get you there. Visualize the professional author platform you’d like to have and work for it, little by little, with your long-term vision in mind. Meet and interact with other authors and check out their websites to help you improve your vision for your own platform. One year from now, you want to have 100 or more people who don’t already know about your book visiting your author platform every day by searching for relevant keywords through search engines (that’s over 30,000 visitors per year!—if the content fits your book well, these are people who may enjoy your book). It takes nonfiction content that’s a good fit for your book to attract them. Done right, it may be the most effective marketing you do.
  • Write more books. Every quality book you write improves your exposure. Customers who find one of your books are likely to find your other books, which gives each book much increased exposure. Some customers will also buy multiple books. You look like a serious author with several books out. Shoppers also realize that trying one of your books has the possible reward of providing a large supply—the risk is they may not like the book, but the reward is that it will be easy to find several other books like it if they do enjoy it. Each book also helps you reach more readers, and every reader you reach is one more person who might eventually tell a friend. Some authors get discouraged by a slow start and give up. Authors who push on and continually strive for improvement have a great deal of potential. Writing several quality books greatly enhances your prospects of selling a significant number of books.
  • Learn about marketing. Try out a variety of ideas. Spend a lot of time writing, but also spend a little time marketing every week. Marketing can pay off in the long run, but you have to do some of it and keep it up for marketing to pay long-term dividends for you.

If your book isn’t selling well, try to change it up. If sales decelerate or a critical review suggests need for improvement, consider a change.

One way to improve your numbers is to improve your books:

  • Try changing the blurb. This is something simple to change and in a couple of weeks, you may be able to judge its effect.
  • The next simplest thing to consider changing is the Look Inside. Both the blurb and Look Inside can have a significant impact when the content is highly marketable.
  • A new cover is a more drastic change. If you believe in your book and if feedback suggests that your current cover isn’t attracting your target audience, this may be worth considering.
  • If your book isn’t selling or if a critical review suggests improvement, consider improving your book’s content.
  • Be patient. Sometimes, there is an audience out there for a book and it just isn’t easy to match the book to the audience. It is possible for word-of-mouth and branding to eventually pay off, even if things start out very slowly.
  • When things seem really bad, seek advice from (A) people with experience and (B) people in your target audience. If it’s not working, you should be open to suggestions.
  • Market your book, run a promotion, try to get the word out. Paid advertising probably isn’t the answer for a book that isn’t selling, but there are a lot of ways to advertise for free that may be more effective. First perfect the content and packaging, then turn to marketing. Quality and packaging are more important for long-term success. Interact with your target audience.

Good luck with your books. 🙂

Wish your fellow authors well, too, and mean it. Similar books work together, whether you like it or not. Quality similar books thrive together through customers-also-bought lists and word-of-mouth. Foolish authors who shoot down their neighbors hoping to get ahead shoot themselves in their own feet because if they actually succeed in deterring sales of similar books, their own books will sell fewer copies from customers-also-bought lists. Customers don’t buy one book. Over time, they buy several similar books. Authors can benefit from this greatly, or lose from this, much depending on how the authors of similar books support one another.

Publishing Resources

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

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

My original self-publishing guide, How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon.com, recently updated and expanded, is temporarily on sale for 99 cents at Amazon.com.

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

The Vulnerable Author

Shattered

Introduction

Once you press that publish button, your book will be publicly visible. This allows the general public to discover and purchase your book, but it also makes you vulnerable.

What could happen?

  • You could spend years researching and producing a book, and in just a few seconds someone can write a few words in a review that sends you seething.
  • You could spend months doing even more work to market your book, only to find that some of your former social media friends no longer wish to speak with you.
  • You could be unfortunate enough to attract the attention of cyberbullies.
  • You could stick your foot in your mouth publicly in a few seconds, shattering months of hard work to brand your author image.
  • You could have a steady flow of sales going, and then suddenly the algorithm that was helping your book get discovered can freeze your sales like an Arctic chill.
  • You could have virtually no sales at all.

Authors need firewall protection—not so much for their computers as for themselves!

What Can You Do?

Think positively:

  • Don’t dwell on the worst that could happen.
  • Visualize a positive future for you and your book.
  • Don’t waste anxiety over what hasn’t actually happened.
  • At the first sign of a problem, don’t react out of fear. Things might be much better than they seem.
  • Be patient. Try to stay positive. Feel confident (but not arrogant).
  • Don’t be a stat or review junkie.
  • Eat healthy and exercise.

Be the best you that you can be:

  • You can’t control other people, but you can control your own actions.
  • Refrain from remarks and activities that may attract negative attention.
  • Strive to maintain a professional author image.
  • Don’t behave reactively or defensively.
  • Show patience, think things through, talk things out privately.
  • Ask yourself, “Does this look professional?”
  • Show good character.

Diversify your assets:

  • If you only have one book and it’s only available on Amazon, you’re ultra vulnerable.
  • Strive to sell effectively through multiple sales channels. That way, if something is adversely affecting sales at Amazon.com, chances are that it’s not also affecting Amazon UK, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Sony, Apple, BN.com, The Book Depository, local bookstore sales, direct sales from your website, in-person sales, etc. While Amazon.com may be your main sales channel, other additional sales help to give you continued activity when Amazon.com sales are slow.
  • Write multiple books. If you write different kinds of books, consider using a pen name as this offers protection from being targeted (on the other hand, it’s easier to market books that are all published in a single name).
  • If you have a talent for cover design or basic editing, for example, you can combine this with your writing hobby so that you’re not entirely dependent on book sales.

Market, market, market:

  • Pre-marketing helps to generate early sales. The more sales you generate, the more likely you are to get valuable reviews from customers (which looks more natural than recruiting reviews in a time when customers are learning to be suspicious of reviews).
  • Learn ways to market your book effectively and do the work. Personal interactions can help to generate sales, even if there is a sales deterrent on your product page. Customers you interact with personally through marketing are also more likely to post reviews.
  • Run book promotions or contests to help generate interest in your book. This can help to inspire sales and reviews when you’re going through a lull.

Experiment. When sales slow, that’s a good time to try and shake things up:

  • Try revising your blurb. If there is a recent bad review, sometimes a blurb change can render the review less effective. For example, if the blurb points out the same thing that the review says, new customers may think, “It wasn’t useful to say that in a review. It says it right there in the product description.” For example, if the customer was surprised that it was just a novella, or if the customer complains that there is too much violence, making such things clear in the blurb can help to offset the review. Your blurb is a dynamic marketing tool.
  • If a review complains about editing, consider getting your book edited. If you receive helpful feedback about features of your book that you might improve, consider doing this. Don’t blindly revise your book every time you receive a review; but when you do receive feedback, do give it your consideration. If you do update your book, consider mentioning this in your blurb.
  • Reexamine your Look Inside and cover. A slow period is the best time to try something new.

Support:

  • Develop a fan base. Create a fan page or email newsletter with content or activity that will attract fans. Provide instructions for signing up at the end of your book.
  • Make connections with fellow authors. Share stories and advice with one another. Help one another out (scrupulously, of course).
  • Research to find others who have shared a similar experience. See how they handled it, both what they may have done wrong and what worked well.
  • You’re not alone. There are thousands of other supportive authors out here. Reach out.

Look for the silver lining:

  • Don’t just see and focus on the bad. Look for the good that comes with it.
  • Sales have ups and downs like roller coasters. Remember to see and enjoy the ups, and when falling down, remember that it may go back up later.
  • When a customer says something like, “I enjoyed the characters, but…” don’t focus solely on the BUT! See the good remarks, too, not just the bad ones.
  • If you did the best you could at the time, remind yourself how hard you’ve worked. Believe that your hard work will pay off in the long run.

Things may be better than they seem:

  • A bad review can actually improve sales. You never know. Wait and see. One thing’s for sure: It will increase your total number of reviews, which makes your book seem more popular.
  • Customers are growing suspicious not only of good reviews, but also of bad reviews. Give your customers credit. They might be able to see through smoke and mirrors (if there is any).
  • A review that points out a problem may help you in the long run. You might wind up making a revision that puts a much better book on the market.
  • There are seasonal effects, economic factors, Amazon’s algorithm periodically changes things up, and a number of reasons that sales might slow down temporarily. You really need to wait a few weeks to see if things are really slower than normal. Be patient.
  • Don’t fret over the actions of a jealous rival. Customers may see through this. If a rival does succeed in bringing your book down, at least you can be sure that he or she has shot him- or herself in the foot foolishly. Similar books help each other sell better through customers-also-bought lists, for example. More likely than not, a jealous review will actually help your sales and hurt the sales of the author who left it. Try not to sweat it.

Avoid making mistakes:

  • Avoid commenting defensively on a review. Avoid commenting at all. Be patient, think things through, talk things out, learn how other authors have handled this (both good and bad), ask yourself if the worst that can happen offsets the best possible outcome.
  • It’s tempting to send your “posse” to your blog and downvote a review you don’t like, but how will that look? In the worst-case scenario, you and your friends vote and the reviewer and the reviewer’s friends vote on all your reviews. How will that look? Put yourself in a customer’s shoes. There may be a special situation, but at least think things through and talk things out, be patient, let emotions calm down and wisdom kick in.
  • Avoid ranting about a customer in public, such as on your blog. What you post on your blog doesn’t stay on your blog; it’s not like Vegas. You want people to read your book. You don’t want people thinking, “Is that how you treat your customers?” I don’t know about you, but I absolutely LOVE my customers. They aren’t easy to find.

Publishing Resources

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

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

My original self-publishing guide, How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon.com, recently updated and expanded, is temporarily on sale for 99 cents at Amazon.com.

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