How to Improve Amazon (a View from the Publishing Side)

Image from ShutterStock.

Image from ShutterStock.


I love Amazon. As a customer, as a reader, as an author.

Yet, I see ways that Amazon could be even better.

Although I use Amazon frequently as both a reader and author, most of this post is from the publishing perspective.

I don’t intend for my post to come across as a complaint or criticism. Rather, I love Amazon, and I’m thinking, “How could I love Amazon even more?”


Yes. I know this because I and other authors have made several suggestions in the past, and Amazon has already made significant improvements.

  • KDP authors now have access to pre-orders.
  • KDP reports have improved significantly.
  • For weeks toward the end of 2015, Amazon had a large banner advertisement on their homepage announcing Countdown Deals.
  • The Kindle Textbook Creator now supports hyperlinks.
  • KDP authors can now send emails through Amazon to their Amazon followers when they publish a new Kindle e-book.

I could go on. And on.

I’ve shared my suggestions directly with Amazon in the past (and will share this post with Amazon, too).

One time, I even posted an extensive article on my blog about how authors can optimize a particular Kindle feature, and a couple of weeks later I received a phone call from a Kindle representative who had discovered my article and wanted to discuss my ideas. (Just one example of how Amazon has knocked my socks off.)

Amazon does pay attention. And Amazon is strongly oriented around customer satisfaction. That’s Amazon’s key to long-term success.


First of all, did you know that Amazon now offers services like painting your house, cleaning your home, mounting your television, mowing your lawn, fixing your computer, and much more? Amazon connects local top-rated professionals to customers in select cities. Customers pay Amazon, and Amazon offers a Happiness Guarantee.

150,000 books were published on Amazon in the last 30 days. That’s a rate of 1.8 million books per year. Very many of those books were self-published through KDP or CreateSpace.

Just imagine how many authors are interested in:

  • cover design
  • editing
  • formatting
  • translation
  • book promotion

And much more. We’re talking millions of dollars in author/publisher expenses.

Where do authors and publishers go for these services now? They go off Amazon.

One of Amazon’s big marketing rules is don’t drive traffic off Amazon hoping to drive it back onto Amazon later. Amazon wants to keep people on Amazon as much as possible. Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime keep customers at Amazon. Discussion forums keep readers and authors engaged on Amazon.

But many authors/publishers are leaving Amazon to find publishing services.

Authors can get limited services from CreateSpace, but it’s fairly expensive, it lacks interaction with the actual designer, and the file format of the result usually isn’t portable.

Amazon has a golden opportunity to implement something like the new Amazon Services, but for self-publishers, only it would be online and worldwide (not local, like painters and yard crews). Amazon would connect authors/publishers with cover designers, formatters, editors, translaters, book promotion services, etc.

Authors/publishers would:

  • Gain access to valuable publishing services.
  • Be able to pay through Amazon.
  • Benefit from the trust factor of having Amazon mediate the arrangement.
  • See feedback from other author/publishers to help judge quality.

Much like Amazon Seller Central, Amazon could measure the service provider’s performance in similar ways, with defect rates, turnaround time, response time, feedback ratings, etc. This way, service providers who provide top-notch service tend to be more visible.

Amazon could even put the cover designer or editor’s name by the books they’ve designed (not in the usual place by the author’s name, but, say, the cover designer could be listed underneath the thumbnail, and if you clicked on the designer’s name, it could take you to the designer’s portfolio and ask if you’re interested in having a cover designed). This could showcase designer’s works, and even provide marketing for them.

Something like “Amazon Publishing Services” (not provided by Amazon itself, but by connecting authors/publishers to service providers on Amazon) would encourage more authors to use professional services, perhaps even improving the overall quality.

Amazon could obviously limit any services it doesn’t want to sell (anything related to reviews, for example).

With Amazon taking a share of the cut for mediating this, and with 1.8 million books (and growing) published each year, this could be big for Amazon, too. But it would also be yet another marketing strategy for Amazon, i.e. how to keep more people onsite, rather than driving authors offsite to seek services.

On top of that, Amazon could offer paid advertising options to the service providers.

You could still self-publish for free, which Amazon likes to advertise. These would be optional services. Which some authors are seeking already from other sites. Amazon could be that site.


Amazon has improved in this area with pre-orders and messages to Amazon followers, but there is room for much more.

The big problem is that each Amazon product is built in stages:

  • It can take days (or if you get unlucky, even weeks) for the Look Inside to appear.
  • And sometimes that Look Inside doesn’t look the way the author predicts.
  • And maybe even the book description didn’t turn out as expected (the most important info might be after the Read More link).
  • Or maybe the book is listed in the wrong category.
  • Editions take a couple of days to link together.

This is absolutely backwards:

  • Very often, a book has its best exposure shortly after it is published.
  • Very often, the product page looks its best weeks after it is published.

Shouldn’t Amazon make it easy for authors/publishers to launch their books with the product page looking absolutely perfect?

Wouldn’t this improve customer satisfaction? Shouldn’t most customers, buying the book shortly after release, get the best possible product?

Customers pre-order books. Authors build up large followings and generate book buzz, driving much traffic to the book when it’s released. Books get extra exposure when published through the New Release filters.

So let’s make the product page perfect when the book goes live.

It’s simple, really:

  • There need to be two publishing buttons: (1) I’m ready to create the product page. (2) I’m ready to publish.
  • Creating the product would make the book only visible by a direct link provided to the author. It wouldn’t show in customer searches. It wouldn’t be available for purchase (not even pre-order).
  • The author could preview the product page. It would be built in stages as usual.
  • The difference is, the author could wait until the product page is complete before publishing, and the author could revise the description or content file, trying to get that product page perfect before publishing. Editions could get linked before the book goes live.
  • When the author hits the publish button, it would leave the product page as it is, except it would make the book available for sale and appear in customer searches.


Amazon wants more organic book reviews from customers who actually read the book.

So when the customer reaches the end of the content (i.e. before wandering into the back matter):

  • Amazon should make it easy to review the book on Amazon right then and there. (It’s not the same thing as rating the book on Goodreads.) Select the stars, leave a comment. The book is fresh on your mind. Afterward, the reader will be busy with other things (life!).
  • If the review is favorable (4 or 5 stars), Amazon should also ask the customer (both options could be presented together) if he/she would like to see similar books by the author. Again, if the book satisfied the customer, it only makes sense to try to satisfy the customer further.

These things are currently done via nag emails. But they may come days later. And customers are bombarded with emails.

The end of the Kindle e-book is a perfect opportunity to offer the customer further satisfaction while the current book’s satisfaction is fresh on the customer’s mind. When is a better time?

Note that Amazon has made some improvements toward this. But not every reader is experiencing the same options (which may also depend on the device). For example, some readers are seeing an opportunity to Follow an author on Amazon when they open the book (and maybe that would be better placed when the reader finishes the book, as that reader is more likely to want to read more by the same author; at the beginning of the book, the reader doesn’t yet know if he/she wants to follow the author, if that’s the reader’s first experience with that author).


Amazon bought Goodreads. But what is Amazon doing with it?

I keep waiting for Goodreads to send me an email, asking me:

  • “Would you like to automatically transfer all of your Goodreads reviews to Amazon? (Don’t worry, we’ll prevent duplicates in case you’ve already reviewed some of the same books at Amazon.)”
  • Option 1: Yes, I would. Thank you very much.
  • Option 2: Let me select which books I’d like to transfer reviews for.
  • Option 3: No thanks.

How about when I post a new review to Goodreads? “Check this box to automatically post the same review at”

Why make readers who want to post to both sites do twice the work?

That doesn’t seem very customer friendly…


I think the first ever Amazon Prime Day had room for improvement.

Amazon has hundreds of thousands of indie authors who self-publish through KDP and CreateSpace.

Amazon’s indie authors provide content for millions of readers.

And most of those indie authors are readers, too.

So it seems like a natural fit to try to involve indie authors and make them a big part of Amazon Prime Day.

Here is one example:

  • Send an email invitation to all KDP Select authors.
  • “Would you like to discount your book on Prime Day? Don’t worry, it won’t use up your Countdown Deal or free promo days.”
  • Give instructions for how to offer a discount for Prime Day.

The more people get involved in Prime Day, the greater will be the customer interest.

Also, last year, they sold out of Kindles almost instantly. They need to create stronger interest in other products on Prime Day. Get indie authors involved in Prime Day, and millions of customers will be looking for book deals.


Right now, you can gift a book, or if you enroll in KDP Select, you can run a Countdown Deal or run a free promo. (Did you know that when you gift a book to someone, they can use that money for anything? They don’t actually have to buy your book.)

But you can’t give anyone a discount code for your book.

It would be great to create a coupon code for 30% or 50% off, for example.

Authors would find effective ways to use discount codes, like sending them out to a large email following when a new book is released. It would be a compelling incentive to follow authors: “Follow me and I’ll give you a discount code for my next book.”

It doesn’t even have to cut into Amazon’s profits. Authors could choose to take it out of their share. If that’s the only way to make discount codes happen, it’s better than nothing, and many would use such a tool.

Many authors are earning 70% royalties on Kindle e-books. Surely, they would be willing to part with a share of that to create a discount code.

In that case, Amazon would generate more sales without a loss in profit.


Okay, I wrote a whole post on this a few months ago. And emailed Amazon. And Amazon advertised Countdown Deals on their homepage for a few weeks. (I can’t take credit for that: I’m sure many other authors have contacted Amazon, asking Amazon to make Countdown Deals more compelling.) But I wanted to note that Amazon has made improvement with regard to this.

But I still feel that authors could get more out of Countdown Deals.

Right now, authors really need to advertise their Countdown Deals externally, through paid or free book promotion sites like BookBub, E-reader News Today, and a host of others.

So authors are again going offsite. And customers are going offsite. Again: Amazon’s marketing know-how says it’s better not to drive traffic offsite to try to get back onsite later. It’s far better to encourage everyone to stay on Amazon.

But Countdown Deals, the tool as it is now, motivates authors to go offsite, and customers are attracted offsite by those book promotion services. Now they may make it back to Amazon, but surely Amazon would prefer to keep customers (and authors!) onsite as much as possible.

First of all, the name Countdown Deal doesn’t sound compelling to customers. When I browse the Kindle Store on my computer, at the top of the left column, I see Kindle Deals, which includes:

  • Kindle Book Deals, up to 85% off
  • Kindle Daily Deals
  • 50 Kindle Books for $2 each
  • Kindle Countdown Deals
  • Sign up for Deals (this is for Kindle Daily Deals)

On this list, Countdown Deals is the one name that sounds like a dud.

Imagine if the name were “Kindle Countdown Deals, up to 90% off” (or whatever the greatest percentage off is that day) or “Kindle Countdown Deals, starting at 99 cents.” Surely, the marketing geniuses at Amazon could come up with a more compelling name, or a better way to find the most compelling Countdown Deals and promote them on Amazon.

Amazon wants authors to join KDP Select, and Amazon wants readers to browse through the Kindle Deals, so more compelling Countdown Deals would help with this.

And Amazon wants customers and authors to stay on-site. So if Amazon could make Countdown Deals more effective (maybe not for every book, but at least for some books) without having to go offsite, this would be a plus for Amazon. Amazon should be trying to persuade customers to sign up for its own email promotional lists, rather than going offsite to BookBub, for example. (And Amazon is now trying to populate Amazon followers for authors, and Amazon does have a promotional email for Kindle Deals. Why not one for Countdown Deals?)

Here’s an example of how they could help:

  • When you search for a book on Amazon, there is an option to sort by Kindle Unlimited. They make it easy to find Kindle Unlimited books.
  • Why isn’t there a sort-by option for Kindle Countdown Deals (but with a more compelling name)? Right next to Kindle Unlimited, that would be a great place for it.

Some customers borrow books, some customers buy books. The Kindle Unlimited sort-by option is great for customers who borrow. A Kindle Countdown Deals option would be great for customers who buy.


Matchbook has great marketing potential. If the same book is published in print and Kindle, the author/publisher can create a Matchbook offer, allowing a customer who first buys the print book to then buy the Kindle edition at a discount.

But Amazon really doesn’t promote Matchbook. And when Matchbook is available, it’s virtually in fine print. Literally: I’ve encountered dozens of authors who knew it “should” be on the page, but even though they were specifically looking for it, they were unable to find it. Just imagine being a customer who doesn’t know about it.

It’s almost like Amazon added this feature by popular demand, but really doesn’t care about it. (This wild speculation probably isn’t true. Note the word ‘almost.’)

Here are a couple of examples of how Matchbook has great marketing potential:

  • Some nonfiction books are great to have in print for highlighting, annotations, bookmarks, etc. But it would also sometimes be handy to have the same book available as an e-book that you could pull up on your cell phone, for example. You don’t always have a print book with you, so it would be nice to consult when you don’t. With Matchbook, you can buy both editions.
  • Buy the novel in print and on Kindle using Matchbook. Give the print edition as a gift, read the Kindle edition yourself, for example.

But the problems are:

  • Most customers don’t even know about Matchbook.
  • Most customers who have heard of Matchbook don’t think of the benefits of Matchbook on their own.
  • It’s not easy to find Matchbook information even if you know it’s supposed to be there.
  • Nobody is promoting Matchbook and its benefits to customers.
  • Many authors don’t even know about Matchbook.
  • Most authors who know about Matchbook set a Matchbook offer for their books, but don’t feel that it does much good. (Right now, authors really need to do some effective marketing to educate customers about it and how it could help them.)

Amazon could get more out of Matchbook:

  • Make the Matchbook information much more prominent, both before the sale, and immediately after the sale (right then, offer the Kindle edition to go along with it).
  • Make it work both ways. Right now, the customer has to buy the print edition first. So if the customer buys the Kindle edition first, Amazon has no interest in selling the print edition to go along with it? Whatever the customer would save by buying the print edition first, offer the same discount on the print edition after the Kindle edition is purchased.
  • Promote the benefits of Matchbook to customers. Marketing by educating.


To be fair, there is an inherent challenge for Amazon with this.

From the author/publisher side: The author publishes a Kindle e-book, believing (hopefully!) that his/her masterpiece is perfect. Sometime later, the worst has happened: an embarrassing mistake is discovered. The author promptly corrects the mistake. Unfortunately, several customers already have the book. The author wants everyone who already has the book to receive an instant update automatically. But it’s not so simple: The author must first convince Amazon that the correction is significant enough to warrant either (A) automatically updating the file or (B) notifying customers of updates.

From the reader’s side: The reader may have already added notes, highlighting, bookmarks, etc. Then one day, the reader opens the book, and all of those notes have vanished. Why? Because the author sent an automatic update. Maybe the reader would prefer to have the version with the mistakes so as to retain the notes.

It’s the reader’s point of view that causes Amazon to sometimes only notify readers that an update is available instead of automatically updating the book. But not all readers receive those notices, and not all readers figure out how to request the update.

But there is a simple solution:

  • When an author revises a book, give the author the option to check a box that he/she would like to let the reader know that an update is available. The author describes the nature of the updates. That way, the reader knows if it’s just a few typos or just to resolve a formatting issue on iPads, for example.
  • Amazon doesn’t automatically update the book. Amazon doesn’t even notify readers of the update.
  • Here’s what should happen: The next time the reader opens that book, Amazon shows the reader a message. The message indicates that an updated version of this book is now available. It outlines the nature of the revisions. It warns the readers that any notes the reader may have made, for example, will vanish. Now the reader gets to decide.

Then the reader wouldn’t have to do any work to get the update; it’s easy. The reader gets to decide, not have the book updated automatically. And if the reader never opens the book again, well the update didn’t matter, so why bother telling the reader that there had been any “problems”?


Amazon has made great strides to help authors format picture books for Kindle by introducing the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator and the Kindle Textbook Creator.

From a formatting perspective, a few of the things that the Kindle Textbook Creator does are quite amazing (the way it handles a variety of images, and results in a relatively small file, for example). I’m not saying it’s the ideal way to format a typical e-book (it’s not); it’s specifically for textbooks rich with images, equations, and formatting.

What I mean is, the brilliant minds that produced the Kindle Textbook Creator could surely come up with a fairly foolproof way for authors to design other kinds of books, like novels and basic nonfiction.

The novel is the easiest kind of Kindle e-book to format well. But only if the authors knows some basic Kindle formatting rules. And there are a few subtle things that could improve the design, but many authors don’t know about them.

There are novels with variable indent sizes, for example, where the author wasn’t aware that Kindle would indent differently (much, in some cases) from the way Word displays indents on the monitor.

Formatters look at a novel written in Word and know that if they see THIS, they do THAT to make it come out right on Kindle. An experienced formatter could basically write a computer program (surely, some do, at least for a portion of the work) to take a typical novel written in Word and transform it into a fairly Kindle-ready file. So why hasn’t Amazon KDP put a programming/formatting team together to produce a Kindle Novel Creator?

The software might ask the author to load the work in chapters of text, title each chapter, automatically produce a hyperlinked table of contents that will work with device navigation, automatically not indent the first paragraph of each chapter, automatically and consistently indent all other paragraphs (and strip out any tabs, repeated spacebars, repeated Enters, and all the other common formatting problems), optionally create perfect drop caps (assuming Kindle could pull this off), and that’s the bulk of the book right there. It would need to deal with section breaks, treat italics properly, be able to deal with stand-alone quotations, maybe insert a map or other picture, and add front/back matter, but it wouldn’t take much to produce a fairly foolproof, author-friendly way to format a novel for Kindle.

Amazon has three reasons to do this:

  • improved customer satisfaction
  • advertise to authors how easy it is to publish with Amazon for free (well, they already advertise this, but they could deliver better)
  • improve the perception of indie books (for which Amazon has over a million)

If Amazon made such a Kindle Novel Creator, it wouldn’t take much to also make a Kindle Nonfiction Creator. Nonfiction tends to have more bullet points, alternative formatting preferences, more complex formatting needs, but it wouldn’t take much to accommodate the basics.

They could even make a Kindle Poetry Creator, an easy way to help with one of the great formatting challenges for Kindle.

Technology could take Amazon beyond just formatting.

Amazon has a Cover Creator tool at both KDP and CreateSpace. I think this has room to grow. It should be improving once or twice per year. And some design tips should be growing to go with it. It’s in Amazon’s interest to make it easy to pull off a nice cover.

How about editing? A business on the scale of Amazon could come up with (or find) a great automatic editing tool to catch most of the common kinds of mistakes. I’m not saying it would be perfect (and it would surely flag a few things that authors did on purpose). But there are some kinds of spelling, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes out on the market, which shouldn’t be on the market at all. Amazon currently provides a list of possible spelling mistakes, but there is potential to go way beyond that.

Such automated editing help wouldn’t make authors foolproof at writing, or even at editing. But it could eliminate many common mistakes that influence reader perception of authors. And it could take some books that are already very well-written, and iron out a few obvious wrinkles to make them nearly perfect. Help is better than no help.

I keep saying that Amazon is strongly oriented around customer satisfaction. Guess what? Authors are Amazon’s customers, too. We pay for advertising through AMS. We buy proofs and author copies at CreateSpace. Most authors are also avid shopper and/or avid readers. But aside from what we pay in money, we pour a ton of TIME into writing and publishing books, supplying valuable content to Amazon. No matter how you look at it, authors are customers, too. (Let me add that I’ve interacted with Amazon KDP, the Kindle team, and CreateSpace many times over the years, and even back when I literally was a nobody-author, they have always treated me very well.)


I can hear them over at Amazon right now: “Improve the review system. Gee. Why didn’t we think of that?”

Everybody (and their uncle, too!) has suggested that the review system should improve, and just about every suggestion is different.

But almost everybody does agree on one thing: It could be better.

Two aspects of customer reviews absolutely don’t make any sense to me:

  • Why does Amazon permit any spitefulness in the review? That goes against everything I’ve said about Amazon being customer oriented. Only one customer benefits by leaving that spite up, and that’s the person who wrote it. Hundreds (or millions, in some cases) of customers are inconvenienced by having to read that. Doesn’t Amazon wish to create positive customer experiences, with a positive ambiance at Amazon? Don’t remove the review: Just remove the spiteful part, and add a note: “Review was edited to remove spiteful remarks.” That will discourage further spite. Can’t we offer criticism without some of the outright spiteful remarks that we, as customers, sometimes find when reading customer reviews?
  • Why does Amazon permit any spoilers in a review? Does Amazon want to sell the book or movie, or not? How can you possibly let a review spoil the ending for potential customers? There is a simple fix: Either insert a Read More link where the spoiler would begin, or hide the review and put a Spoiler Alert link there. Then customers who don’t mind having the story spoiled can click the link to read more. That would also discourage readers from including spoilers in their reviews.

Amazon has improved the customer review system substantially over the years:

  • Most people now know that Amazon almost never removes a critical review, but blocks and removes very many favorable reviews (suspected of coming from friends or family of the author, but occasionally penalizing an author for interactive marketing). Amazon faced a huge crisis years back, when the WSJ and NYT highlighted problems with the review system, and this change greatly improved the perception of the review system.
  • More recently, Amazon introduced machine learning into the review system. Machine learning favors organic reviews, helpful reviews, and Verified reviews, for example. It helps with the order of reviews, and will probably improve over time.

One more way Amazon could improve the review system is take a public stance against foolish authors who try to slam the competition (and invariably wind up shooting themselves in the feet, as they would gain sales through customers-also-bought lists when more customers buy similar books). Many authors/publishers would love to see Amazon make public progress toward eliminating some of the one-star review abuse. This would bring nice balance to the removal of four- and five-star reviews (which occasionally aren’t from friends or family members of the author).


  • There is a high demand for the boxed set bundle, as opposed to the boxed set book. Why should authors create a boxed set? Amazon can just bundle them all together. Well, Amazon is starting to bundle series together and show series to customers, but the bundle doesn’t offer any savings. Let series authors create a special bundle price. Maybe they could also add a cool bundle cover image and a special description for the bundle page, without having to publish a separate bundle. Personally, I’d rather buy 3 books as a bundle at a discount, receiving them as separate books on my Kindle, than buying one mammoth bundled file; but I want the bundled series at a discount, not full price. It seems like Amazon could sell more bundles if they had upfront substantial savings, and if this option were shown on the page of book 1 in the series.
  • Make the categories at KDP and CreateSpace match the categories on Amazon. This will help prevent books from getting listed in the wrong category, leading to negative customer experiences. Stop using special keywords to get into certain categories (example: if you use the word “zombies” as a keyword without knowing better, you automatically get listed in Children’s & Teen’s Horror Characters/Zombies, but what if your book isn’t really suitable for those readers?). Example: If you spend months writing a novel that involves swords and magic, wouldn’t you be crushed if your book didn’t show up in the Sword & Sorcery category (because you didn’t know you needed these 5 keywords to get into that category: sword, sorcery, magic, dragon, quest)? Why not make it easy for authors/publishers to put their books in the right category, and help customers find the kinds of books they’re looking for? What is the good reason that the KDP categories can’t be the same as Amazon’s browse categories?
  • Make more subcategories available to help readers find exactly the kinds of books they’re looking for. Then don’t allow books to show up in subcategories where they don’t belong. Several years ago, there were actually more subcategories available. A few books are still listed in them, but new books can’t get into them (which makes it really easy for those older books to hold onto that coveted #1 position). The problem was with books appearing across numerous categories where they really didn’t fit. It wasn’t helpful as a customer to go into a subcategory where most of the top matches weren’t what you expected. KDP authors are limited to choosing two subcategories anyway, so there really isn’t room for KDP authors to abuse this (if Amazon also fixed the keyword/category problem mentioned previously). It would be ideal for customers to have more subcategories, but where books don’t show up where they don’t belong.
  • Why only advertise the #1 bestseller. I love those new #1 bestseller in subcategory badges. (I’ve had some on my books, at least temporarily.) They’re really cool. But come on. Seriously, is #2 not good enough for anyone to buy? Amazon only wants to sell #1, not #2 and up? Why not expand this somewhat? Will customers really think, #5 bestseller in ____, gosh, that book must be lousy?
  • There is this perception that a book with a rank of 1,000,000 doesn’t sell, so once the book hasn’t sold for a few days and crosses this line, many customers won’t touch it, which makes it harder for its rank to rebound. There are many niche audiences in nonfiction, for example, where a rank of about 1,000,000 is actually fairly good, and if you average that for the year, you might sell nearly 100 copies (much better than the typical shopper thinks). You could have an average sales rank of 1,500,000 in Kindle and actually sell in the double digits (for one, ranks fluctuate). Or you could sell a hundred copies the first few month, and watch your rank quickly drop to 1,000,000 due to a dry spell. In print, you could actually sell about 10 copies in a year with an average sales rank near 5,000,000. But customers see 2,000,000 and think, that book doesn’t sell at all. My point: Does Amazon really want to discourage customers from buying books that fill a particular niche? My suggestion is only show sales rank data when it’s under a certain value, like 10,000 overall or top 100 in specific subcategories. That is, show sales rank if it helps sales, and don’t show sales ranks (like overall) when they don’t help sales. Some of those books in the millions are good (in fact, some sold very well a few years ago, but have slowed up since, and are still relevant, just not as popular). Amazon is growing and growing. Someday, if you don’t sell multiple copies every day, you’ll be above 1,000,000. Today’s 100,000 behaves like 20,000 from a few years ago, but the perception is slower to change. (Maybe Amazon could show both current and best sales ranks. It might say, 600,000 current, 14,000 on November, 2015. Hey, that book used to sell well. Not sure if this would help or hurt, but Amazon should try to find what helps and what hurts, and go with what helps.)
  • Add Author Central to Canada, Australia, and other countries where it isn’t already available. Why not? We’re waiting for it. Author Central was automatically added to India. If Amazon doesn’t want to add Author Central to Canada the same way it did for the United Kingdom, then why not automatically feed it into Canada from the US page like they did with India? Seems like an oversight.
  • Extend features available in the United States to the United Kingdom and other countries. For example, why can’t we use AMS in the United Kingdom like we can in the US? (I spent a bundle of money on 100 ads in 2015. Amazon could make more money from authors if they extended this to the UK, Canada, and more.)
  • Let the author adjust the ending of the Look Inside. How about that gripping point in the beginning of the novel, so suspenseful the reader would have to buy the book to find out what happens next. Who knows where that point is better than the author? Some short stories have no content showing in the Look Inside at all. Some mammoth books give dozens of pages away for free. Why not let the author set the Look Inside End Here point?
  • Improve Kindle royalty reporting: (A) Show both the number of borrows and the number of pages read (B) provide a reason for customer returns so authors can make their books better satisfy the customers (C) make it easy to find how many books sold in the past year or lifetime without having to download dozens of separate reports (D) provide tracking data (number of views, which keyword searches resulted in how many views, what is the sales/views conversion rate, how many customers opened the Look Inside, etc.) to help authors perfect their product pages to help Amazon sell more books. Also, information like sales over geographic location (like the BookScan data shows for print books) would help with marketing.
  • CreateSpace could improve in a few areas. It’s owned by Amazon, but it’s also kind of separate, i.e. it’s not as easy for Amazon to implement changes to CreateSpace as it is at KDP. But Amazon could surely motivate some changes. Let me be clear: I love CreateSpace. It has been very good to me. I’m just saying, I see a few areas where CreateSpace could be even better, but I feel it would take a push from Amazon for these changes to come about. (And CreateSpace has made improvements, like the new pod for Canada paying royalties, the matte cover option, and free Expanded Distribution.) Amazon could let CreateSpace authors advertise via AMS, and they could even set this up through AMS (on AMS’s site or on the one they have already for KDP Select), so CreateSpace really doesn’t need to get involved at all. Right now, if you want to advertise your CreateSpace book, you have to create a Kindle edition and advertise that instead (just imagine coloring book authors tempted to do this!). I sell 9 print books for every Kindle book, but I can only advertise on Kindle, not CreateSpace; for me, this is backwards (though I love AMS, and my Kindle sales have grown significantly). CreateSpace needs an easy pre-order option like KDP has, without having to go through Amazon Advantage (having to work with Advantage and CreateSpace separately creates all kinds of potential problems). CreateSpace could offer better worldwide distribution, and Amazon could help motivate more Expanded Distribution sales to certain markets (like sending representatives to schools to show teachers both Kindle and print academic solutions, while also recruiting teachers to self-publish educational content, or working with certain libraries, for example). CreateSpace could better compete with Ingram Spark (which is an expensive alternative, and CreateSpace seems like the optimal feed into Amazon) by finding some hardcover option and letting authors print inside covers, for example. (A spiral bound option would be useful, too, even at a somewhat higher cost.)
  • Why doesn’t the Look Inside use the newer Kindle formatting instead of the older formatting? The Look Inside is a valuable sales tool. Why not help authors/publishers easily produce a perfect Look Inside? It’s too common for authors to discover formatting issues in the Look Inside that don’t show in the preview (or even in the actual device when the preview file is side-loaded to it). Why is the Look Inside the hardest thing to format? Why does it interpret HTML more strictly than the actual device? This sales tool could help authors with sales more than it does now.


With my suggestions, I don’t mean to imply that Amazon is doing poorly.

Actually, I feel that Amazon is doing many amazing things. That’s why I support Amazon both as an avid reader and shopper, and as an author/publisher.

But over the past 8 years, I’ve observed a few (!) things which I feel Amazon could do even better. (Really, a few. If I list all the things I love about Amazon, that would be a much longer list, and even more detailed.)

My list used to be much longer, but many of the other things that used to be on my list have already improved.

If you want to see something improve, you must at least make an effort to help it happen.

Amazon already does a number of things well. This is just the tip of the iceberg:

  • oriented toward customer satisfaction
  • hourly/daily royalty reporting (while not perfect, most publishers report quarterly or so, certainly not daily)
  • products can reach the market almost instantly
  • free tools for authors, like Author Central (but wouldn’t it be great to have it in every country?)
  • everyone gets a chance, with access to possible features like customers-also-bought lists


I want to be able to write another post, approximately one year from now, describing how Amazon absolutely knocked my socks off by making several of the things on this wish list come true.

Santa Claus, that’s what I want for Christmas this year. (Well, selling a million books this year would be pretty cool, too.)

I just want Amazon to grow from awesome to awesomer.


Send them to Amazon.

Or share them in the comments.

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

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
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

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


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#Self-Publishing on #Amazon Boxed Set BLACK FRIDAY #Book Deal #AmazonCart

Self-Publishing Boxed Set


The paperback edition of my boxed set came out just in time for Black Friday.

So I set the introductory price at $19.99 (a $37 value—that’s what it costs to buy the 4 books separately). Get 4 self-publishing books for the price of 2. (It’s £13.50 in the UK.)

Really, it’s one 628-page paperback (not 4 separate paperbacks in a box), but it does have all 4 books put together.

It also includes bonus material from my blog.

The Kindle edition is currently priced at $7.99 (even less than the price of 2). It’s £4.84 in the UK.

Self-Publishing with Amazon (4 Books in 1) by Chris McMullen:

Read Tuesday

Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.

You don’t have to imagine it. It’s called Read Tuesday, and it’s free:

Please support the Read Tuesday Thunderclap. This will help spread awareness on the morning of Read Tuesday (December 9, 2014). It’s easy to help:

  • Visit
  • Click Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr and sign in.
  • Customize the message. (Optional.)
  • Agree to the terms. All that will happen is that the Thunderclap post about Read Tuesday will go out the morning of December 9.
  • (The warning message simply means that Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr need your permission to post the Thunderclap message on December 9. This is the only post that Thunderclap will make.)

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
  • Boxed set (of 4 books for less than the price of 2) now available for Kindle

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


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Durned if You Do, Durned if You Don’t

fortune cookie


No matter what you do, your book will never be good enough.


  • If you don’t get your book proofread well, the critics can be brutal.
  • But even if you iron out every spelling and grammar issue, people can still complain about editing. Show more, tell less. Language is too plain and simple. Language is too complex. The point of view changes where it shouldn’t have.
  • And even if your book is masterfully edited, you can still get a sour grapes review that claims that it’s poorly edited. For if the book just has a few reviews and one mentions editing issues, most customers will believe this at point-blank. Unfortunately, it’s often the case, so such sabotage can easily be effective. Your book is vulnerable. (But not defenseless.)
  • No matter how well-written a book is, there will still be readers who don’t appreciate the style. You can’t please everybody, so it will always be wrong to some.


  • If your book has formatting issues, this can deter sales.
  • You learn about justification, you master page numbering and headers, you do your best to format like traditionally published books that you see. Then critics point out how foolish you were for not hyphenating to reduce gaps in justified text, not removing widows and orphans, not having the same number of lines on every page.
  • Or you can spend big $$$ on professional formatting. Now the naysayers will tell you how little money the average self-published book (or even traditionally published book) makes. You might discover that even a most beautifully formatted book doesn’t always sell.
  • No matter how well a book is formatted, there will still be people who feel it’s wrong. Many prefer full-justified; others prefer left alignment. With a printed book, how can you please both?
  • Then there are people who have an agenda. There are book formatters who wish to drum up more business by making subtle points seem critical toward sales. There are authors who are well-versed in the subtleties of formatting who feel frustrated that poorly formatted books sometimes sell very well. There may even be traditional publishers who see a declining market share who wish to emphasize the importance of formatting and editing in order to dissuade people from buying self-published books.


  • If your book has storyline or characterization issues, this can lead to negative feedback and lack of word-of-mouth recommendations.
  • But no matter how amazing the story is, there will be some who will suggest various (and even contradictory) ways that your story could be better. You can’t please everyone.
  • If you write a single-volume fantasy novel, some will fault you for not going into more depth on the world and its rules. But if you write an epic fantasy, others will fault you for going into way too much depth.


  • If your book cover attracts the wrong audience, that can cost you much potential traffic.
  • If your book cover doesn’t appeal to the audience, that can cost you much potential traffic.
  • If your book cover has appeal and depicts the content appropriately, critics will still penalize you for issues like choosing the wrong font, including the word “by,” using too many colors, making the background too busy, arranging your images in a collage, or countless other cover design ‘mistakes.’
  • Then if you spend good $$$ on a fantastic cover, anyone who is out to get you can simply write a review that says something like, “Since the cover is so amazing, I had high expectations for this book, BUT…” Hey, it can be an outright lie. There is no fact-checking when it comes to reviews. Everything is an opinion (even when it’s black and white).


  • If your book has an unappealing or inappropriate design, this can cost valuable sales.
  • If your book has a fairly good design, it may still suffer in subtle ways—text too close to the margin or spine, kerning not quite right on a few letter pairs.
  • You might add a decorative border to appeal to kids. Then someone will fault you for not making a different border on every page; someone else would fault you for not having matching borders; someone will fault you for not making it in color; if you make it color, someone will complain about price.
  • The cover, design, formatting, and editing are important, but let’s not forget that the story itself is the most important part. No matter how great the design is, it just takes one complaint about the story to undo all the benefits of a great design.


The problem is that there will always be critics.

The critics have the upper hand.

No matter how wonderful your book is, any critic can easily find some fault in it.

Most critics are genuine readers who just aren’t happy. No book can please all of the people who read it. People simply have varied tastes.

A few critics are frustrated writers, editors hoping to market the importance of editing so they can drum up more business, designers hoping to do the same, unethical authors hoping to elevate themselves by slamming the competition (this strategy will backfire for them, e.g. by dragging their own sales down with fewer customers-also-bought recommendations), editors of traditional publishers who feel threatened by competing titles, people who are simply jealous of the author, and even review police who simply want to bait authors to cross the line.

Remember, the vast majority of critics are genuine readers.

Most of the criticism that actually identifies something specific has merit.

Those with an agenda have the upper hand, so it’s not worth the battle.

Definitely, don’t respond to any review where the reviewer may have an agenda through a public comment.

It’s too easy for the reviewer to make the author look bad. It doesn’t matter what you say, there is a 99.999% chance that you will lose. You have a reputation to uphold. Some customers will think you’re unprofessional simply because you chose to comment on the review.

It’s easy for the reviewer to solicit an emotional or defensive response from you, which will really make you look bad.

Your comment itself lends credibility to the review. If the review didn’t have any merit, you wouldn’t need to address it, right? (I know, that’s not the way you feel about it when it happens. It can burn inside, and not go away for weeks.)

Here’s what’s very common. You think: I’ll just make one innocent comment and leave it at that. What’s the harm in that?

Here’s the problem: The reviewer will respond to your comment and ask you a question. Now you have no choice but to respond again. Suddenly, what you intended to be a single comment turns into a discussion. The last thing you want on your (quite public!) product page is a discussion with a reviewer who posted a bad review.

You can’t play the critics’ game. The critics have the ball. They have the home field advantage (even on your product page). They have control.

But you’re not helpless.


The first thing to realize is how much you need the critics.

You don’t just need praise. If all you have is praise for your books, that will do nothing but arouse instant suspicion.

You need balance, whether you like it or not. Customers expect it. There should be bad with the good.

The second thing to realize is that you can fight the critics by not giving in to temptation.

Show them (and more importantly, all the traffic on your product page) how professional you are by not engaging with the critics emotionally or defensively.

A third thing to realize is that your book and product page are dynamic.

You can always make a revision to the content and note this in the product description.

But you don’t want to make a revision based on every bit of criticism you receive. There may be customers who actually prefer it the way it was, who simply didn’t voice their opinions.

So the best course is to wait a few weeks and see if the criticism actually has any impact on sales. Sometimes, it actually helps sales. Often, it has no effect whatsoever. (Even when there seems to be a correlation, it often turns out to be coincidence—e.g. your book might have just come off the Last 30 Days list at the same time.)

Sometimes, you just need to add clarification to your product description.

A customer might have made a mistake, assuming your book was something that it wasn’t. If so, simply clarifying this in the product description may negate any effect of that particular review.

Another thing to realize is that things are often much better than they seem. Your book is your baby; you take the criticism quite personally. But the criticism usually isn’t directed at you; it’s directed at your book.

Not everyone has the same tastes. That reviewer is letting people with similar tastes know not to try your book. And that helps! People with dissimilar tastes may still appreciate your book.

If the criticism has merit, consider making a revision. If not, just let it go.

You also have a secret weapon: It’s called marketing.

Personal interactions can often make a huge impact with potential readers. These can have a greater impact than what some stranger says on your product page.

Personal interactions help to generate sales, help the reader approach your book with a favorable frame of mind (i.e. looking forward to it, instead of wondering if anything is wrong with it), and are more likely to result in reviews and recommendations.


There is no such thing as a perfect book. Simply put, it can’t be perfect for everyone.

Sometimes, authors spend way too much time and money trying to over-perfect their books in various ways.

Here are the most important elements of any book:

  • Story appeals to the target audience.
  • Language appeals to the target audience. (Right vocabulary; flows well.)
  • Target audience can understand well without being distracted by too many hiccups.

The opposite problem—authors who don’t find and patch holes in the story, who don’t write in a way that appeals to the audience, who make many spelling or grammar mistakes, etc.—can be a huge sales deterrent. I’m not addressing the minimum effort here; I’m addressing the issue of over-perfecting.

Who needs perfect editing? An editor who reads your book. An author who writes well who reads your book. A reader who has a well-above average command of language. Others will be tolerant to various degrees as long as you meet the three points above as those points relate to them.

Who needs perfect formatting? A typographer who reads your book. An editor who reads your book. An author who has learned about formatting who reads your book. A reader who is much pickier than the average reader. Others will be tolerant to some degree. Subtle points they won’t notice any more than you did. It’s possible that they will have a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right without knowing what that is, which may distract them from the story. It doesn’t take perfect design to avoid this; it just needs enough appeal.

Who needs perfect reviews? NOBODY! Virtually every customer who sees a stockpile of nothing but five-star praise will dismiss the book out of immediate suspicion. Customers expect varied and even wild and crazy reviews. They will see if those reviews seem relevant to them. A review that ruins your book for one customer has no impact on another customer. Rather, if they dismiss the criticism because it doesn’t matter to them, they are more likely to give your book a chance. In this way, any bad review can actually stimulate a sale.

Don’t forget who your target audience is:

  • Do you expect to sell many copies on Do you want support from indie authors and their friends, family, and acquaintances?
  • Do you expect to sell most of your books through bookstores? (You need to do much research and have excellent planning for this.)

In the former case, it may be an advantage to use the free CreateSpace ISBN. If you want support from customers who support self-publishing, you want it to be clear that your book is self-published.

If you spend big $$$ trying to look professional, it might work, but it might backfire. Using your own imprint, you might lose support from millions of readers who support self-publishing. What are you gaining in return? Are you hoping to appeal to people who prefer excellent editing and typography? People who much prefer this are far more likely to read books from the big publishers, or small publishers who’ve branded an image for themselves with regard to delivering quality. They are less likely to take a chance on an unheard-of imprint. You need excellent bookstore potential, research, and planning—and you need long-term goals, like branding an image for yourself as a small publisher who delivers high quality—to make this strategy work for you.

But if you have big plans to sell to bookstores and libraries (not just hopes and dreams, but well-researched plans on how to make it happen), then professionalism can make a significant difference.

It really pays to know who your specific target audience is and what that audience will prefer.

Even if your audience supports self-publishing, they still have expectations. They’re investing money (or at least much time) to read your book. You have to deliver content and quality worthy of that investment.


You don’t measure this through reviews. Though the first time a stranger says something nice about your book, print it out and paste it to your wall. Use it as a reminder that you’re doing something right.

You don’t measure this through sales. Though the trick to sales is to find ways to consistently grow them. If you can grow your sales annually, you can reach any goal in time.

So how do you win?

First, you win by not giving up.

You win by looking professional, even when the chips are down.

You win by writing more books.

You win by learning and growing as a writer.

You win by thriving on your strengths and by shoring up your weaknesses.

You win by caring about your readers, yourself, and your community of writers.

You win by building and growing a fan base.

You win by creating a brand for yourself as an author with a website, author page, and social media.

You win by helping fellow authors.

You win by reading other self-published books—and supporting those that meet your standards through recommendations.

You win by branding a good image for self-publishing.

You win by being part of a community of writers who thrive together.

You win by being the best you can be, and accepting that you are who you are.

You win by writing because you love to write.

You win when you can SMILE despite all the challenges that authors face.

You’re a winner! Congratulations! 🙂

Read Tuesday

Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.

You don’t have to imagine it. It’s called Read Tuesday, and it’s free:

Please support the Read Tuesday Thunderclap. This will help spread awareness on the morning of Read Tuesday (December 9, 2014). It’s easy to help:

  • Visit
  • Click Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr and sign in.
  • Customize the message. (Optional.)
  • Agree to the terms. All that will happen is that the Thunderclap post about Read Tuesday will go out the morning of December 9.
  • (The warning message simply means that Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr need your permission to post the Thunderclap message on December 9. This is the only post that Thunderclap will make.)

Halloween Reading

Looking for some spooky books to read this Halloween month?

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
  • Boxed set (of 4 books) now available for Kindle pre-order

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


Click here to jump to the comments section:

Who Wants to Read Your Self-Published Book?

Love Indies Pic


You may have read an interesting article in the Washington Post recently, entitled, “No, I don’t want to read your self-published book.”

This particular article evolved from a letter from the editor in Horn Book Magazine.

The context of the letter is to explain, essentially, to indie writers why publications that review traditionally published books can’t consider reviewing self-published books.

This is in spite of the big “BUT”—i.e. but there are a few outstanding indie books, yet there are also some bad traditionally published books.


I think it’s great news for self-published authors:

  • In the beginning, traditional publishers and professional book reviewers simply IGNORED self-published books.
  • Self-publishing has grown tremendously. There are many millions of self-published books being sold and read each year, taking up a very significant market share.
  • We’ve finally caught the attention of traditional publishers and, now, even editors who review traditionally published books. They’ve taken notice.
  • It’s an article in the Washington Post about self-publishing. It’s angled so as to explain what’s wrong with self-publishing books, in a way.
  • Maybe it’s not just a message to authors. I read it this way: They see more and more readers enjoying self-published books, and this is a marketing attempt to sell the perception that traditionally published books are better.
  • It may be more than that, too. Traditional publishers not only want more readers to prefer their books, they also want the best indie authors to try to jump through the hoops via agents so that they will have more good material from which to choose.

But I’m looking a little beyond the actual context with my last couple of points.

What is clear is that we’ve seen many articles on various aspects of self-publishing in major publications in the past few years. Self-publishing is gaining more traction.


Writing is an art.

Publishing is a business.

Authors tend to prefer feeling like artists when they write.

Publishers tend to prefer to publish what they feel is more likely to sell.

Self-publishing opens up a fascinating possibility: Writers can write for art’s sake, not worrying if they may be sacrificing some business.

An author can choose to write for a smaller audience.

But there’s another side to this coin: Readers are paying money or, at a minimum, investing time to read books.

As a reader, if you pay for a book, you expect quality.

Unfortunately, not all self-published books have delivered on quality, which brands a poor image for self-publishing at large.

On the other hand, there are self-published books that have delivered on quality, which helps brand a good image for the possibilities of self-publishing.

And then there are traditionally published books that have failed to live up to readers’ expectations. This tends to make readers think about investing much less money on a self-published book next time.


This brings up to an important question: How do you know what’s worth reading and what’s not?

An intuitive idea is some sort of stamp of approval; some attempt at quality control.

It might sound good at first, but it gets a bit tricky.

Traditional publishing would have you believe that their publishing label is the ultimate stamp of approval.

It may be true that most traditionally published books have better editing than most self-published books.

Nothing prevents self-published authors from hiring quality editors. There are, in fact, very well-edited self-published books.

But if editing is quite important to you, traditional publishing might be more likely to deliver on editing. Or if you can find a quality editor whose work you like, you could read books edited by that editor, traditionally published or not. There are many ways to go about this.

Some self-publishers would like their own stamp of approval. Those who believe their books are better in some way often wish to have some means of easily differentiating their books from what they believe to be worse books among customers.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky: There are many ways to judge what makes a book better. Editing is just one. Storytelling is another. There are several qualities that factor into this. And then there is more than one way to tell a great story.

To a large extent, customers judge what’s better. Sure, they can leave reviews (but let’s not open that can of worms just yet). They can also recommend books they enjoy. Let’s give the customer some credit: He or she is likely to check out the product page and Look Inside.

But there are various stamps of approval. You can get an independent review from Kirkus, for example. You can get review quotes. There are indie reviewers and publications that review indie books. There are author groups and reader groups attempting to identify quality as measured in some way.


Imagine that we’re talking about painting, not about writing. Both are art forms, right?

Suppose we give the painters a challenge: They must paint a picture using a page from a coloring book.

Would it be fair to take all the painters who fail to stay within the lines and REJECT their chances to display their art in a gallery because they failed to meet this elementary standard?

We’d lose some brilliant masterpieces if we did this.

Staying in the lines is arguably not the most important talent that one can find in a painter. Though for some kinds of painting, this talent may be quite desirable.

Not everyone appreciate the same art. Some may prefer paintings created by artists who could easily stay within the lines; some may prefer paintings by those who couldn’t do this.

Following the rules of spelling, grammar, and style are, in a sense, like painting within the lines.

The analogy isn’t perfect though.

  • A painter can’t find an editor to polish up the painting. A painter must perfect his or her own masterpiece.
  • An author can hire an editor to polish up grammar and spelling so that more readers can appreciate the art, and so that readers won’t be distracted by hiccups along the way.

Saying that the art of storytelling is more important than the art of grammar isn’t an EXCUSE to completely ignore the latter.


Are the rules of English really rigid?

If you master the art of spelling, grammar, and style, you want credit for your strengths. These are important to you: That’s why you learned them.

You look around and see others making mistakes. You see a few immensely popular books making spurious spelling and grammar mistakes. Frustrating, isn’t it? But there is more to a good book than just spelling and grammar.

There really isn’t an excuse for books to lack spelling and grammar correctness, but, alas, it happens. Even those who are very good at these make mistakes, and those who self-edit often read what they intended to write instead of what’s actually there.

Some people believe that there is only one rule of English: To communicate your idea clearly to others.

If others can easily understand what you’ve written, then you’ve followed the rules.

Many will see an instant problem with this: As soon as most people abandon the rules of English, it will soon become a challenge to communicate clearly.

We do need some rules.

A painter must perfect every square millimeter of his or her canvas. And so a writer must perfect every character on the printed page.


You can’t say that your writing is a work of art and therefore consider your book finished just because you’ve reached the end.

As an artist, you must work diligently to perfect your masterpiece.

As a craftsman, you must learn to master all elements of your craft.

Because there is much more to writing a great book than just writing a great story.

The way you choose your words, the way your story flows, the variation in sentence length, the choice of vocabulary to suit your intended audience, the way you present your ideas, the perspective from which you describe events, the way you develop characters—these and so many other things go into storytelling.

And, yes, spelling, grammar, and style do matter. Because when they aren’t right, they do detract from the story itself.


I do. Well, I obviously can’t read EVERY self-published book. But I do read several self-published books every year. I throw in a few classics, too, because I believe that reading these is valuable toward writing well.

I’m not the only reader out there who supports self-publishing.

There are hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of self-published authors. Many of these authors read books. Not all, but many do like to support self-publishing by reading other self-published books.

These self-published authors have families, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers who also support self-publishing.

There are hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of authors who have been rejected by publishers, agents, magazines, and newspapers. Many rejected authors choose to invest their reading money on self-published books. (Yes, those polite rejections do have a cost; and the not-so-polite ones, well, maybe that wasn’t such a good business decision. Exclusivity may have benefits, but it also has disadvantages.)

Many people view traditional publishers as businesses. Guess what: They’re right! Do these businesses have writing as their top priority? Or is the top priority financial? With these questions in mind, there are many readers willing to give self-published authors a chance, hoping to find writing that was written for art’s sake, not for the sake of business. (It’s not easy to find such books, but there are books written this way, and there are readers who’d like to find them.)

Many people don’t want to read what’s popular. Many do: Bestsellers sell an insane number of copies. Many people do browse the bestseller lists, expecting those books to be better. But there are millions and millions of readers, and so a significant number do prefer to read what’s not popular. They’ve tried popular books and didn’t, for whatever reason, appreciate them. Maybe they will like a book written for a much smaller niche audience.


The main thing is that readers want great books.

Self-publishing may have good potential, but readers need to be able to find books that they enjoy. Out of the millions to choose from.

How do you define ‘great’? One man’s trash is… you know how it goes.

But it doesn’t matter: As a reader, you want to find the kinds of books that you believe are great.

And you don’t want to find books that you can’t imagine anyone calling great.

Image counts.

When customers try self-published books and have a poor experience, they’re less likely to try self-published authors again.

Until they find themselves dissatisfied with expensive traditionally published books. Then they might reconsider.

There isn’t much that we can do about the worst of the worst at the bottom. Not all those at the bottom are bad books: There are some well-written books that simply have little audience, or just didn’t have the right cover or blurb to get attention. The problem with removing the worst books is the impossibility of efficiently identifying them. The other problem is that Amazon makes an amazing amount of money off even the books at the bottom, simply through huge numbers, and so it wouldn’t make sense financially for Amazon to remove them.

But everyone can help to improve the image. Small things go a long way:

  • We can all do our best to continually strive to improve our own books.
  • We can refrain from publicly discussing bad books, as that paints a poor perception that hurts even the best self-published books.
  • We can find great examples of excellent self-published books and mention those publicly. The more people who read and enjoy self-published books, the more readers there will be who support self-publishing.
  • We can offer tips for other self-published authors (indirectly, perhaps—not as unsolicited advice, which often has unintended effects).
  • We can educate readers about ways to find quality books.

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
  • Boxed set (of 4 books) now available for Kindle pre-order

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Self-Publishing Boxed Set Preorder—What Would Make it More Compelling?


I recently combined four of my self-publishing books into a boxed set. The Kindle edition is presently available for pre-order. (Melissa Stevens at designed this amazing—since I didn’t design it myself, I believe I’m allowed to say this—cover.)

What could I do to make this more compelling?

Here are a few ideas that I’m considering:

  • Special introductory price. (I believe the list price can be changed until it gets locked into the last 10 days of the pre-order date.)
  • Add in a fifth book. I have a detailed book that focuses on the subtleties of Kindle formatting, which will be released soon. (This depends, in part, on whether that fifth book will be ready in time. The four-book boxed set that I uploaded is already in its final form, although I selected draft status for a little flexibility.)
  • Add bonus material. The easy thing would be, say, popular articles from my blog. Of course, you can get all my blog articles free at any time. Would it be convenient to have some of the more useful articles at the end of the book? (Ah, but then how about customers who already have my books, or who purchase them separately. Maybe that would entail making a mini-book for 99 cents or perma-free. I loathe to sell a book for 99-cents when the content is freely available, though, even if it does add convenience. Or, maybe I could put the best-of-blog articles in a free PDF on my blog.) Or I could come up with some new articles for bonus material.

Perhaps price would be more compelling. If so, what price would make this irresistible? Here is the current breakdown:

  • Two of the books are $4.99 each and the other two are $2.99 each on Kindle. That adds up to a $15.96 value. (There is some overlap in material between the books though.)
  • I have the list price for the omnibus currently set at $9.99. Right now, it’s like getting four books for the price of two.
  • It’s a huge book, nearly 800 pages in print. The delivery fee is significant (over $2).

There is a trade-off with an introductory low price:

  • If it’s successful, many sales would help sales rank, exposure, buzz, etc.
  • But if it’s successful, it may detract sales from the individual volumes; their ranks may tank in the meantime.

Eventually, I’d like to find the magic price where the boxed set and the individual books are both selling.

But I might make a special introductory offer to stimulate some interest.

Another consideration is that three of these four books sell more frequently in paperback than in Kindle. These books are convenient to place on a desk while carrying out the instructions, especially the larger ones. Soon I’ll have a mammoth paperback edition of this boxed set, too.

I expect the individual paperbacks to continue to sell. This is what I’d prefer if I were buying them.

Then there is MatchBook. Once the print edition comes out, this will come into play. I do get some MatchBook sales. Once you have the print, you can a Kindle edition for cheap to go along with it, which can come in handy.

Another wildcard is Read Tuesday. I’m not sure which books I’ll add to Read Tuesday, but I definitely want to have a couple of highly compelling promotions for that. Maybe a crazy Read Tuesday price would be better than a special introductory offer now.

(One more thing on my mind is that I could move the pre-order date up. Presently, it’s scheduled for release in the beginning of November, mainly for flexibility. I believe I can make the date sooner, but not later, provided that I leave at least 10 days until the release date. One nice thing about the current release date is that it will get the end of its Last 30 Days visibility in the beginning of the holiday season.)

I’ll appreciate any feedback to help me make up my mind.

If you release a boxed set, you may have similar concerns. (If you’ve gone through this before, please share your experience.)

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

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Self-Publishing Expenses Gone Wild!

Editing Cloud


One of the major benefits of self-publishing is that you can do it (virtually) for FREE.

And, if you set a reasonable list price, the royalty rates are very high.

So with high royalties and minimal costs, if you can stimulate any sales at all, you should easily make something.

There is very little risk.

However, the number of authors who are investing big $$$ in self-publishing and who are losing big $$$ because their self-publishing expenses greatly outweigh their profits is staggering.


It can cost next to nothing:

  • Zero set-up fees at print-on-demand indie publishing companies like CreateSpace.
  • Zero set-up fees at most major e-book publishing services like Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook, and Kobo.
  • Minimal cost to order one or more printed proofs for paperback books.

If it costs you next to nothing, you don’t have to sell many books to start making a profit.

But many authors aren’t spending next to nothing. Many are actually spending big money self-publishing their books.

  • Some are spending hundreds, like $200 to $500. This isn’t too bad, but it will take hundreds of sales just to break even. It’s a risk.
  • I’m amazed by how many spend $1000 to $5000. If they don’t sell thousands of books, it will be a bad investment. If they never sell 100 books, it will be a great loss. It’s a huge risk.
  • Can you believe that some indie authors spend more than $5000, sometimes over $10,000, publishing a single book? That boggles my mind.


One problem is that there are so many ways to invest money on self-published books.

Many authors are acquiring major expenses:

  • Cover design can cost $100 to $1000 (or more) for a custom cover. You can get one for $50 or less that’s pre-made. Or you can pay $5 and up for images and make your own cover. Or you can find free images that allow commercial use (but if you do, you really want 300 DPI, especially for a print book).
  • Professional illustrations inside the book cost additional money on top of the cover (though sometimes you can negotiate interior illustrations at a discount when purchased with the cover).
  • Editing can cost anywhere from $100 to $2000 (or more), depending on (A) the qualifications and experience of the editor, and (B) the type of editing services that you need. Simple proofreading is the least expensive option. You can even hire this from CreateSpace. If you need help with storyline suggestions, the writing itself, or formatting on top of editing, costs can grow significantly.
  • Book formatting is another major expense that one can invest in. It can be expensive. But you can also do it for free. Especially, if you plan to publish several books, you can save big $$$ by taking the time to learn and do this yourself.
  • Authors also invest in e-book conversion services. Learning to format your own books can save you money twice: once with the print edition, and again with the e-book.
  • You can also publish an audio book with the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). If you write in a genre that appeals to truck drivers, for example, this can be a compelling option.
  • If you would like to have your book translated to Spanish, French, or Chinese, for example, you can pay good $$$ for translation services. Make sure the language is supported at Amazon before you spend the money! Definitely, do not rely on Google Translate to do this for you (it will be far from satisfactory to translate a book this way).
  • A variety of fees can come with designing a website (though you can get a free website at WordPress and design it yourself). You can register a domain name, pay money to avoid advertisements, upgrade for custom features, pay for web hosting, hire a web designer, or pay for a host of enticing services that many website builders offer.
  • Although much of the most effective marketing can be done by the author for free, there are many marketing expenses that one can acquire: advertising fees, press release distribution, video trailer design, bookmarks, promotional items, contest expenses, bookstore signing fees, etc. If you want to really spend big $$$ on marketing, hire a famous publicist.
  • If you publish with an imprint of your own choosing that isn’t simply your last name, you may need to register a DBA (doing business as) or starting an LLC. You can spend big money if you wish to trademark the name. (Legal Zoom can help with many legal issues, such as filing DBA’s or trademark applications.)
  • Authors can really break the bank publishing with vanity presses. You can publish for free with many self-publishing services, like CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook Press, Kobo Writing Life, and Smashwords. Traditional publishers, if they accept your proposal, won’t charge you any fees (though maybe it would be worthwhile for you to hire a contract attorney once you receive a legitimate offer). Vanity presses, on the other hand, involve hefty start-up fees.

Even the little expenses can add up. The lower the cost, the easier it is spend the money, but after you pay for several of these, it can get expensive:

  • Paying for printed proofs plus shipping/handling. One proof can cost as little as about $7 if it’s short, black and white, and shipped in the United States. If it’s in color or several pages, the cost goes up, and for international authors, shipping can be quite expensive (Ingram Spark may be an attractive alternative for UK authors).
  • Some publishing services, like Ingram Spark or Lightning Source, charge setup fees.
  • Sometimes setup fees grow if you opt for additional features, like enabling additional sales channels (CreateSpace, though, now offers free Expanded Distribution).
  • It costs $35 (in the US) to register for a copyright. It’s not necessary: Your copyright starts as soon as your work exists in print, whether or not you register. But copyright registration entices many authors, as it’s one extra step toward protecting your rights, and it makes it easier to convince Amazon, for example, that you are indeed the copyright holder, should the question arise.
  • You can spend $9.99 to $575 buying ISBN‘s from Bowker (in the US), for example. (You can also get a free ISBN from CreateSpace, or a free ISBN for your e-book at Smashwords. Don’t use your CreateSpace ISBN for your e-book, and you shouldn’t use your Smashwords ISBN for Kindle, for example. You don’t need an ISBN for Kindle, though, as you’ll receive a free ASIN.) Some of these options are tempting. $9.99 at CreateSpace lets you use your own imprint. Buying in bulk with Bowker lowers your cost if you prefer the benefits of buying your own ISBN directly (or if you’re not publishing at CreateSpace). It can get really expensive if you publish several books, since each edition of your book needs a different ISBN. Then if you make major changes, you’re supposed to create a new edition with a new ISBN (perhaps not necessary with the free CreateSpace ISBN or free Kindle ASIN).
  • How about a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)? You can get one from CreateSpace for $25 (but be sure to do this before your proof is approved), for example. Of course, it’s hard for self-published authors to get into libraries…
  • Stocking up for a reading or signing, or to sell in person, requires purchasing several author copies in advance.


If you invest in absolutely everything that you can invest in when self-publishing a book, you could easily spend tens of thousands of dollars. Very few books of any kind will recover such deep expenses.

Is this an expense that really makes sense? That’s a question you should ask yourself every step of the way.

You should try to lay off most of the expenses that I listed above, if at all possible.

Treat it like shopping at the grocery store on a limited budget:

  • Figure your total expense before spending any money.
  • Cross non-essential items off your list.
  • Find cheaper alternatives. (With grocery shopping, you might go with a non-branded alternative. Do the same with your publishing expenses.)
  • Set a reasonable budget. Stay within your budget no matter what.
  • Calculate how many books you must sell just to break even. If there aren’t reasonable prospects for this (do your research!), cross things off your shopping list.
  • If it’s not on your list, don’t buy it.
  • See the money-saving tips that follow. (It’s like shopping for groceries with coupons.)

Here are some money-saving tips:

  • Do all the formatting yourself. There is an abundance of free material (even on my blog) to help with this. When you need help, visit the CreateSpace or KDP community forum and politely ask a specific question. It’s amazing how often a formatting expert replies with a helpful response. Anything that you can do for free, and do reasonably well, will save you big money. Formatting will save you two ways with print and e-book editions. Extra effort spent on your first book will save you much more money in the long run when you publish several more books.
  • Do you really need a LCCN? Indie books are highly unlikely to wind up on library shelves unless you actively market for this channel and have great ideas for how to do this effectively. Throwing money out there and hoping is not a marketing strategy.
  • Market your books yourself for free. Throwing money at advertising isn’t a band-aid for marketing ignorance. The truth is, when it comes to book marketing (which doesn’t work the same as commercial advertising of brands seen on t.v., although branding is important), free and very low cost marketing done by the author tends to be far more effective than paid marketing services.
  • Many people and businesses are eager to accept your money. They definitely profit when you pay them. The more money you invest to self-publish your book, the more likely you’ll wind up in a deficit. They know your hopes and dreams (big sales, good reviews), and they know your fears (no sales, bad reviews, newbie mistakes), and they will use this effectively to sell you things that you don’t really need. Be wary.
  • Keep your expenses to a bare minimum until you have several books out. Don’t break the bank on your first book. (Yes, you want to make a great impression, but settle for making the best impression you can on a low budget. Yes, you can do this.) The more similar books you have out, the more effective marketing tends to be. Plus, if your first few books are getting some steady sales, this will boost your confidence that you can sell books (and it will give you a realistic guide for how much of your expense you can recover).
  • Most expenses can wait until you start making a profit (but not editing, as that will get you some bad reviews). Don’t bother with an audio book or translation, for example, until you’ve earned enough royalties to pay for these services without taking a net loss.
  • Start out with a free WordPress website. Don’t upgrade or pay for any fees until you’re making a profit from your book royalties, though you can grab your domain name in the initial stages, if it’s available.
  • Keep your business expenses to a minimum. In the beginning, you have no idea how many sales you will have. You can register for a DBA if you plan to publish many books, but LLC, trademark , or other expenses can wait until you see how sales are going (though if you want legal advice, you should consult with an attorney).
  • If you know people with great language skills, you may be able to recruit them to help with proofreading (perhaps for a reasonable fee). Especially, if they enjoy your writing, it can be a win-win situation. But don’t be a lazy writer (worrying about mistakes later: the fewer mistakes there are, the easier it will be to eliminate all but a few) and don’t rely on others to catch your mistakes (they are your responsibility). Use text-to-speech to listen to your book: It will help you catch mistakes that you don’t “see.”


There are only two big expenses that I would recommend considering when you’re just starting out. Most other expenses can wait until you see how things are going.

Don’t dig yourself into a hole. Wait until you’re making a profit, then consider investing some of your profits. This way, you won’t suffer a loss.

These two services can make a huge difference in some cases, and therefore they are well worth considering:

  1. Cover design. It’s critical for marketing to have a cover that (A) appeals to your readers and (B) clearly signifies the precise genre or subject. If you can achieve these two goals yourself, that’s great. If you’re a nonfiction author, making the title clear (and relevant) in the thumbnail is more important than the picture, and thus it’s easier for nonfiction authors to design fairly effective covers by themselves. Most fiction authors who don’t have graphic design skills really need to spend $100 to $300 on a highly effective cover. But if the book is lousy, a great cover won’t sell it. If you have a great novel and don’t excel at graphic arts, then I do recommend finding an artist who can deliver a fantastic cover at a reasonable price.
  2. Editing. Most authors need to pay $50 to $200 for basic proofreading (and they need to do the research to find a proofreader who can do this job quite well). Those mistakes can deter your sales. The last thing you want is a review to complain about mistakes and to have a Look Inside that confirms what the review says. There are writers with excellent language skills, but even they often miss mistakes in their own writing because they read what they intended instead of what’s actually there. Text-to-speech can help to some degree. Use Word’s spellcheck to catch obvious mistakes, but don’t rely on it (there are many mistakes that it will miss). You definitely need additional pairs of eyes that can reliably help you out. Editors might convince you that it’s worth spending $500 to $2000, especially if you need storyline help, better character development, or serious writing help. But it’s a tough call. That’s a huge investment, and many books won’t make that $500 back. When you’re starting out, you really need to save where you can and invest wisely.


You may have heard that it takes money to make money, but what you might not have heard is that many authors are spending more money than they will ever earn from their royalties. By the way, this includes traditional authors, too.

Be smart with your money. Any investment is a risk. Wait until you’re making a profit, then investing some of the profits allows you to experiment with services without suffering a loss.

Be patient. Think long-term. Wait until you have several books out and history of sales to judge by before investing good money to self-publish a new book.

Do your research before investing money on a service. Check out the designer’s portfolio. Contact authors who’ve used their services and discuss their experience. Ask for a free sample (e.g. edit one chapter of your book), and consult help judging the quality. Do a cover reveal at various stages of the design. Seek brutal feedback on your writing and cover in the early stages. Ask questions before purchasing the service. Study your contract.

Remember that throwing money out there and hoping is not a marketing strategy.

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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Kindle for Kids Just Got Better!


Amazon just announced the new KDP Kids website:

  • Visit Amazon’s PR page,, to read Amazon’s press release about KDP Kids and the Kindle Kids’ Books Creator tool.
  • Visit the new KDP Kids website,, to explore the new program and to check out the new Kindle Kids’ Books Creator.

Or keep reading here and I’ll introduce you to them. I might even mention a few things that you can’t find through the above links. 😉


The main thing that I see so far is the new Kindle Kids’ Book Creator tool.

This tool is designed to help children’s authors prepare illustrated books for Kindle.

There are some very convenient, cool features:

  • You can upload a multi-page PDF file. Usually, PDF’s don’t convert well to Kindle, but this is different. This tool was designed to convert children’s paperback PDF files to Kindle-friendly files.
  • Kindle text pop-ups are designed to make the text more readable across all available devices (Kindle Fire tablets, iPads, and cell phones).
  • In addition to PDF, you can upload JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and PPM files. Most of these formats are to upload images.
  • Basically, you can add images, add text, and make the text interactive through pop-ups.
  • The idea was to simplify children’s e-book formatting for Kindle. Rather than work with HTML or CSS, you just conveniently add images and text.
  • You can specify facing pages to improve readability. For example, sometimes a print book is designed so that two facing pages create one larger image.

The Kindle Kids’ Book Creator is available for Windows and Mac. Check to make sure that your computer meets the system requirements.

  • Visit the KDP Kids website (I gave the link above).
  • Click the Get Started button.
  • You can download the tool here, or you can click the Learn More link. This link gives you additional options (e.g. downloading without the previewer) and also includes FAQ’s.


It’s not just good news for authors.

This is great news for parents, children, and educators, too.

KDP Kids solves the main problem:

  • Authors and publishers have struggled to make illustrated children’s books work well with Kindle. In the past, this either meant not making a Kindle edition at all, or not achieving optimal formatting. Now it’s much easier to properly format an illustrated children’s book, so there will soon be many quality illustrated children’s books on the market. This is your chance to ride the wave! Yes, the key word was quality (which includes editing). It’s not just about the visual design, but KDP authors now have an easy means to make the book interactive through pop-up text.
  • Many parents and educators have preferred print editions for the same reason: It’s been a challenge to find a selection of properly formatted children’s books. Now that it’s easier to make the images and text work better together, with interactive pop-up text, there will soon be many quality, interactive illustrated children’s books on Kindle and the reading experience will be much improved.

Children’s authors can help themselves by advertising these benefits to parents and educators. Show them how KDP Kids will benefit their kids. It’s a chance for you to advertise something other than your book directly, while still branding your image as an author. That is, you can get publicity through this without blatant self-promotion. That’s a nice marketing opportunity.

Let’s take this a step further: Kindle Unlimited is an amazing value for parents. Children get unlimited reading of 600,000 eligible Kindle Unlimited books for $9.99 per month:

  • bedtime stories
  • chapter books
  • early readers
  • homework help

Kindle Unlimited is like having an immense library at your fingertips, with no late fees. You can borrow up to 10 books at a time.

Check out A.J. Cosmo’s author picture on the KDP Kids page. That’s pretty cool, and shows you how even your author photo can do positive marketing. (But if everyone copies the same idea, it will cease to be effective. I’m not saying to copy this idea. I’m saying to let this idea inspire your own creativity.)


I expect to see new tools on the way, such as a textbook-friendly option for nonfiction.

KDP Kids is just one of 8 new pages that KDP has created. For example, there is KDP Non-fiction: At the bottom of the KDP Non-fiction page, you can find out what the other 6 new pages are.

Kindle is striving to make it easy (and FREE!) for authors to convert their books (even complex ones with images) to Kindle format, and to make it easy and convenient to achieve quality formatting.

The new Kindle Kids’ Books Creator is a giant leap in this direction. I expect to see more coming soon.


I received two emails this afternoon regarding KDP Kids. One was the automated announcement; the other was a personal email. I responded to the personal email and received a very quick, polite response. So I replied to that with some technical questions to try and clarify some important points that didn’t seem clear from the press release or FAQ’s. If any of my questions get answered, I’ll post that information on my blog.

I will also be testing this new tool out. If I discover anything valuable, I’ll be happy to share my ‘secrets’ on my blog, too.

So I may have another post or two about KDP Kids later this week.

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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How Many Books Does an Indie Author Sell?



If you self-publish a book, how many copies should you expect to sell?

To me, this number is much higher than many of the popular numbers floating around. I will try to explain why I believe this.

The most popular estimate to throw around may be 100 books. Not per month. Not per year. Ever.

Other popular estimates are somewhere between 300 and 700.

I believe that any committed author should expect to sell much more than this in the long run, and I also believe that most committed authors either do or will.


There are many ways to estimate the average number of books that an indie author sells by analyzing data that’s available.

You could study Amazon sales ranks, both Kindle and print. Sales rank interpretation, though, isn’t quite as easy as it seems. There are seasonal effects; as the number of books grows, books with higher sales ranks sell more frequently than they used to; Amazon often changes the algorithm, etc. Still, this can give you a general estimate that will be in the ballpark.

Then there comes the issue of which books are indie books? There are various ways to do this, such as that used for the Author Earnings Report.

But those are just Amazon sales. Many authors are getting sales from Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and other online retailers. Many are selling in bookstores. Others sell effectively in person, such as at conferences, readings, signings, etc. These numbers are significant, especially for the many indie authors who effectively market their books through other sales channels.

So the first thing to realize is that there are hidden sales that many of the estimates don’t consider.

There are other ways to go about estimating indie book sales, but no matter what, it’s hard to account for direct sales, which are significant for some authors, so there will always be hidden numbers.

The hidden sales aren’t what I wish to focus on, however.


Let’s look at this word ‘average’ in the context of:

How many copies will the average self-published book sell?

To me, it’s not useful to average ALL self-published books.

Include all self-published books if you wish to pat yourself on the back for beating that number, or if you wish to discourage authors from self-publishing.

If I wish to set a good benchmark to aim for, there are many books that I would exclude from the list:

  • Many book ideas, unfortunately, have very little potential no matter how well they are carried out. There are just some topics that some people don’t want to read. Do you really wish to compare yourself to a genealogy intended for family members, for example? It’s not just genealogy. There are many kinds of books that are popular to write, but can’t be expected to have much audience. (At least the genealogies may sell to family members.)
  • How about those ‘authors’—if you can call them that—who view writing as a get-rich-quick-with-little-effort scheme, publishing pamphlets. Is this a realistic comparison?
  • Even many ‘real’ writers have published experiments, such as short stories and novellas, putting little effort into the book, hoping to learn something from the sales (or probable lack thereof). Surely, this shouldn’t be factored into setting a benchmark.
  • Then there are books with major issues with the storyline, plot, characterization, spelling, punctuation, grammar, flow, writing style, formatting, etc.—I’m thinking of those so drastic as to greatly deter sales.
  • Suppose that you have a fantastic cover. Should you compare your book to those whose covers convey the wrong genre? It seems like other books that clearly signify the content would provide better expectations.
  • Similarly, if you have some great marketing plans or prior marketing experience, should you compare yourself to all the newbie authors who do virtually no marketing, or whose marketing makes very little impact?
  • Are you a committed author, planning to create several quality books? Then don’t look at the one-book wonders (i.e. an author only wrote a single book) for your basis.
  • We can come up with other books that you might wish to remove from the ‘average.’

Do you want to compare your sales to those books? If not, you might also wish to exclude these from the ‘average.’

Think of it this way. Suppose your dream is to be a professional baseball player, and you’re motivated to work so hard that you’ll settle for nothing less than the major leagues. Do you want to know what the average professional baseball player makes, including minor leaguers? Or do you want to know what the average major league player makes?

(For the record, I don’t view traditional publishing as the major leagues and indie publishing as the minor leagues. I see many successful pros in the indie league, and I see many pros playing both leagues.)

If you remove all those books from the ‘average,’ I believe that you’ll find that the average indie author makes MUCH more than $1000.

If you want to look at the cream of the crop, if you want to confine yourself to Amazon, for example, you should be looking at author ranks of about 10,000 or less. I’ll return to this figure later.


There is yet another important point to consider.

Most successful self-published authors write several books.

So if you want to know what an indie author makes, that’s far different from looking at what a typical indie book makes.

First of all, authors who write several similar books sell many more copies of each book than authors who just publish one book.

Then, whatever they make per book, multiply that by the total number of books, which may be 5 or 10, but is often 20, 30, 50, or more.

This opens the door for many authors who only make $500 per book. Publish 20 books and you make $10,000. Plus, every book you publish helps generate sales for your other books.

Multi-book authors tend to do more effective marketing. It’s simple, really. Whatever marketing they do has the potential to bring dozens of sales from a single customer, instead of just one.

Series authors have a marketing advantage, too.


In May of 2014, an author rank fluctuating between 5,000 and 10,000 would have sold 1,000 or more books for that month. I know this from author ranks that I’ve studied firsthand, and I’ve also discussed this figure with other successful authors.

On top of this, there are several authors with mild success writing in two or more names (using pen names). So, for example, an author can have two or more author names with an author rank of 20,000 or better, and may still be selling 1,000 books per month.

At a modest $2 royalty, which many indie authors make, you only need to sell 500 books to make $1,000 per month, which is $10,000 per year if you can do it consistently.

Personally, I think all committed authors should aim for an author rank of 10,000 or less—not just to get there, but to sustain it long-term.

Let me stress the long-term part. It could be several years down the line. I’ll give you another goal to work on first, in the next section.

Of course, the number of published books and authors is growing rapidly. Not too far in the distant future, an author rank of 20,000 or higher will yield sales of 1,000 or more books per month. As the number of books grows, it’s worth adjusting one’s aim to 20,000 or more, as appropriate.


Most authors aren’t going to achieve success right off the bat, and even those who do struggle to maintain that success.

The way to sell 1,000 books per month is to first sell 100 books per month. Set attainable goals first, then increase these goals when you reach them. After 100 per month, aim for 200 per month, then 500 per month, and then you can finally aim for 1,000 per month.

It takes time, thought, research, inspiration, and some talent to produce quality content.

One book usually isn’t enough in modern times. It takes a great deal of time to produce a half dozen or more quality, marketable products.

It takes time to develop a professional online platform. It takes time to learn effective marketing strategies. And the marketing tends to be more effective when you have more books worth marketing.

Plan for long-term success.

Think 100 books when you start out. No, don’t expect this in Month 1. It might take a year, or a few years. But keep working to get to 100 books per month. Then you can start thinking about higher goals. It may take many years to reach long-term success. Think long-term, as it’s within your reach.

If you expect immediate results, you’re likely to be one of the many authors who get discouraged and give up prematurely.

At the same time, you need to get good evaluations of your writing style and storytelling, and you need to research what makes a book marketable. Not every book sells, so if you want to be a successful author, you need to ensure that you’re writing books with good long-term potential.


People like to throw out small numbers for how well the average indie book sells.

As I mentioned, I believe the average committed indie author makes much more than this figure.

But the truth is that the average traditionally published book doesn’t sell much either.

You’d hope to easily sell 10,000. You dream about 50,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000.

But very many don’t sell 1,000. Just being traditionally published doesn’t make the book marketable or in-demand.

However, we could similarly throw out the lowest-selling traditionally published books for various reasons, just as I did for indie books. If you have a large following or great marketing plans—perhaps a killer publicist who will surely book major league interviews and land great reviews—then you wouldn’t compare yourself to the average traditionally published author.

The biggest-name traditionally published books do sell with amazing sales frequencies.

Indie books do take up a large share of the market, especially among e-books, but for the top authors, traditional publishing offers great bookstore potential, and also reaches those customers who still prefer traditionally published books.

Famous traditionally published authors could surely self-publish and still be highly successful, perhaps more so:

  • Already famous, surely much of their fan base would still support them.
  • They can safely invest in professional editing, formatting, and cover design, so these really aren’t issues.
  • They are more likely to get a return on reasonable marketing expenses, too.
  • They can earn upwards of 70% royalties, rather than settling for 10 to 15%.
  • They can price their books lower than many traditional publishers would allow, which may actually improve both sales and royalties, and also allows them to reach a wider audience.
  • Now let me ask you this. Suppose you’re one of the most famous authors on the planet and you choose to self-publish. Are bookstores really going to close their doors to you and force your customers to buy online instead?

In fact, a few prominent traditionally published authors have made the switch.

Some authors also self-publish in pen names in addition to publishing traditionally. Perhaps they write more books than traditional publishers can accommodate. Or perhaps they want to prove to themselves that they could make it as indie authors, too.

I believe that many of the big-name authors from the past who succeeded as traditionally published authors could also thrive in today’s market as indie authors if they had been writers in today’s world instead. Not all would, of course, but those with a unique style and those who could really dazzle readers, wouldn’t they also thrive in today’s world, even as indie authors? Perhaps not all of the classics, especially literary works, but think about the more accessible reads, master storytellers (not literary wonders) that anyone can appreciate. I believe if they were really committed to indie publishing, they would thrive.

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

Does Front and Back Matter Matter?


Front & Back Matter

Here are some points to consider when preparing the front and back matter for your self-published book:

  • Back matter can get in the way of an important page in your e-book. The very end encourages the customer to review the book.
  • Include your blog and social media url’s on your author page (with hyperlinks for your Kindle e-book). Add a note that gives readers a reason to visit your sites (e.g. free interactive map).
  • Series authors can include a short sample of the next volume at the end of each book.
  • A reader might close the Look Inside, bored with a prologue, never reaching Chapter 1, which might grab attention better. Ask yourself if you really need that prologue.
  • Use the table of contents wisely. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. is a wasted opportunity. Create short names that catch interest for fiction or that reveal content for nonfiction.
  • The more front matter you add, the longer it takes to reach Chapter 1. Ask yourself which sections you really need.
  • Short e-books might have very little writing sample to offer if there is much front matter.
  • If there is virtually no front matter, that might seem odd to the customer. Didn’t the author use other books as models?
  • Front matter must look professional to make a good impression. Nobody studies a copyright page, but when they pass by, if it doesn’t look right, it leaves an impression.
  • Publishers lead off with all kinds of too-good-to-be-true quotes. This might have merit from a well-known source, not necessarily otherwise (though they could—it really pays to know your target audience well).
  • Arguably, the most important part of the book is in Chapter 1. Come out punching with your best stuff. Unfortunately, a slow build can cost new readers. Make it easy to reach the first chapter.
  • You don’t have to have the exact same front and back matter in both your print book and e-book. An index, for example, isn’t necessary in an e-book, which doesn’t have page numbers for one, and where customers can simply search for keywords for another.
  • At CreateSpace, page number is a consideration. It can affect whether or not you can use spine text (minimum 102 pages, 130 recommended), the minimum inside margin, or how much the book costs to produce. Every page you add costs you money (unless you have fewer than 24 pages for color or 102 pages for black and white). So think about what front and back matter you really need. But if you’re between 100 and 130 pages, extra pages help you with better spine text potential. If you may be selling copies in person or to bookstores, you want front matter that looks professional and helps sell the book; and you don’t want to be missing sections that they expect to see.
  • Something cool in the front matter can attract attention, if done right. It could be a nontrivial effect with formatting or professional design marks, for example, but it has to look like it belongs there. For an e-book, add a short GIF image (important with text, since the background may not be white) with a publisher logo beside a few lines of text. You ordinarily see images below and above text, not wrapped beside it, so it could be that professional touch that makes the difference. See my example below (the logo was designed by Melissa Stevens).

Math Fluency

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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How to Cook the Look of Your Book

Total IndieChoosing Your Book’s Style

Consider a few things you know about style and perception:

  • A suit makes a more professional impression, right? Yet many consumers are more apt to trust a t.v. model in blue jeans and a t-shirt.
  • Worn clothes with holes reflect poor quality, yes? But have you ever seen anyone pay extra money for designer jeans that look worn and feature holes? And there is a famous tale where Ed McMahon sat down during a sales pitch, when the clients spotted a hole in the sole of his shoe and things began turn around favorably for him.
  • Would anyone be caught dead wearing outdated fashions? Yes! It happens all the time. Not everyone thinks the same way.

Now think about some things you may have heard regarding self-publishing:

  • Don’t include the word ‘by’ on the cover or the words THE END on the last page.
  • Justify full. Don’t use ragged right.
  • Times New Roman looks amateurish.
  • Show more, tell less.
  • We could make a really long list. Some designers are very picky.

There are reasons for these perceptions:

  • There are beautifully designed books that are recognized as top brands, like a Mercedes of books.
  • Some of the perceptions reflect what is typical of many traditionally published books.
  • Book designers want to sell their services, so they want authors to believe that they can’t design books well enough on their own.
  • Publishers, agents, and traditionally published authors want consumers to prefer traditionally published books, so they want to market the perception that their books are better.

Is It Really Better, or Is It a Matter of Style?

Here’s the funny thing.

Many readers may actually prefer to buy books that look a little self-published.

Who is your target audience?

  • If you expect to receive a lot of support from the millions of indie supporters—which include indie authors and their friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers, fan base— then you should design your book around people who will support self-publishing. They expect your book to look a little self-published. They expect your book to list CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform as the publisher; heck, many indie supporters specifically search for CreateSpace on Amazon, since they know they are supporting indie authors when they buy CreateSpace books (or when they buy Kindle e-books for which the paperback is a CreateSpace book).
  • Most readers who prefer model books buy traditionally published books. Starting your own imprint that nobody’s ever heard of isn’t likely to drive those readers away from the Big 5 publishers. (Though it is possible to come out with dozens of professional looking books and establish a significant small publisher label. If that’s your long-term goal, keep that in mind as you read this article, as things may be somewhat different for you.)
  • If your book is an apple, maybe you’ll have more success by making it look like a delicious apple, instead of trying to make it look like an orange. Even if you do persuade people to buy your orange, as soon as it tastes like an apple, your marketing will backfire. That is, dress your indie book up as an indie book and play the indie card; trying to make it look like something it’s not may actually backfire.

There are several reasons that indie supporters might prefer their books to look a little self-published.

  • If it reads a little self-published, it might be easier for indie supporters to read. Much of this audience isn’t looking for Pulitzer-Prize-winning fiction. Rather, they’re looking for easy reading, easy comprehension, vocabulary they can make sense of, and grammar that makes sense to them. Sometimes, the rules of grammar seem like they’re wrong when they’re right. For example, it’s correct to say, “It is I,” and incorrect to say, “It is me,” because conjugations of the verb “to be” take a subject instead of an object. But if you know and follow this rule, it might upset much of the indie support system.
  • Not everyone has the same style. People who favor the style of traditionally published books are more likely to favor those books. People hoping for something different are more likely to support indie books.
  • If your Look Inside appears too professional, it might seem that you’re already successful. Some readers are hoping to find a diamond in the rough—i.e. one that doesn’t look like a diamond, but turns out to be. They’d like to support someone who could use a boost.
  • If your Look Inside appears too good, it might be confused for a published book. Not by people looking for published books; they know the real thing when they see it. But by people looking to support books that appear to be self-published; they might get confused by the difference. (Naturally, there will be some exceptions.)
  • If your book has a bunch of five-star reviews early on, it may deter indie support. Traditionally published books are expected to have a lot of five-star reviews, and they send out hundreds of advance review copies to get them; their customers expect it. Indie supporters expect to see some criticism, and know that reviews are hard to come by (and that’s OK). While many readers will support indie authors, many change their attitude where they suspect abuse of the review system (keep in mind they are suspicious of critical reviews, too). Many stellar reviews, with no bad ones, without a sales rank (relative to the publication date) to suggest many sales, arouses customer suspicion.
  • If your book has a bunch of review quotes, you’re playing the same game as traditionally published authors. Readers of traditionally published books know those quotes will be there, but tolerate it. A great thing about indie books is that you often don’t have to put up with that. Talk about hand-picking just the best reviews, this common game among traditional publishers takes that to an extreme.

Notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say that you could make your book very self-published. I didn’t say that editing, cover design, formatting, and such aren’t important.

I’m saying it’s okay to be different in some ways, but there are some ways where being different can really kill your sales. It’s important to learn the difference.

Don’t Take This the Wrong Way

There are, of course, very important exceptions:

  • The cover is vital. When I say it’s okay to look a little self-published, I mean in every way except for the actual ‘look.’ The cover absolutely has to please your target audience. It doesn’t need to be a cover cliché—like a hunk on a romance cover—but it does need to appeal to the style of your potential readers. Cover appeal is critical. Not everyone wears the same kind of clothing, but everyone has a sense of style and wears clothes that appeal to them. Design a cover that appeals to nobody and you’ll sell books to… nobody. (But you can get away with more in nonfiction. For example, it’s very important for the keywords of nonfiction books to stand out well, and this can make up for otherwise looking a little self-published. For fiction, visual appeal can be everything.)
  • Consistency is key. The most important factor in the design and writing of your book is consistency. Whether you use justified or ragged right isn’t as important as consistent formatting. If some paragraphs are justified, while others are ragged right, that book won’t appeal to anyone. Your book needs to have a definite style.
  • Editing does matter. It’s not so much about having perfect grammar, as it is about (A) having consistency, (B) knowing which rules you can or can’t break, and (C) not having many obvious mistakes. If you’re a writer, everyone who knows the difference between “your” and “you’re,” for example, will expect you to know such basic rules, too. The subtle rules you can get away with to some extent. Occasional mistakes are okay; frequent mistakes can be a disaster. And often the mistakes are far more frequent than the author realizes.
  • Bookstores are different. If getting bookstores to stock your book is important to you, then it’s very important to bring a highly professional looking book with you.
  • Image is everything. You’re trying to gain publicity, so you must be careful not to get negative publicity. For example, one of the big no-no’s is commenting on reviews. Reacting emotionally in the comments section can destroy your reputation even among indie supporters. You don’t have a free license to do whatever you want, if you wish to sell books successfully.

There are some highly popular self-published books (I won’t name names, but I bet you can think of a few) that gained their success while looking a bit self-published. There are some highly professional looking self-published books that are struggling to get by. Just making the book look professional isn’t, by itself, a sales magnet. Just like a salesman with a hole on the sole of his shoe, sometimes it might be best to look a little self-published. Not a lot. Just a little. In the right places.

Be Proud of Who You Are

  • I’m an indie, and I know it.
  • I’m proud to be an indie.
  • I wear the indie badge.
  • See my name. It’s right there.
  • I wear the name proudly, but I wear it well, too.
  • I work hard at it. I’m not lazy.
  • I strive to do my best. I learn more each day.
  • But I have my own style. And that’s okay.
  • I don’t go overboard.
  • I don’t try to be what I’m not.
  • I simply carry out my own style as best I can.
  • It’s not a solo act.
  • We indies are a team.
  • We support one another. Scrupulously, of course.
  • We hear your criticism. It motivates us to do even better.
  • Go, indies!


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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