Marketing a Book when you’re an Artist (not a Businessman)

Image licensed from Shutterstock.

READING, WRITING, AND BUSINESS

Talented authors, especially in fiction, naturally excel with the art of writing.

Talented businessman (and women) who publish their writing have a distinct advantage when it comes to generating sales.

If there were only two books in the world, where one was written by a talented writer and the other was written by a talented businessman, if this was all I knew about the books, I would first want to read the book written by the talented writer.

It just seems to be a better fit, doesn’t it?

But when you visit Amazon, there aren’t just two books to choose from. There are tens of millions. And it’s hard to tell which of those may have been written by especially talented authors, and which are appealing more because of the marketing of businesspeople and which are successful mainly because of the merits of the actual writing.

Amazon dazzles you with dozens of brilliant pictures of book covers. You see bestseller lists which make you feel that those books must be selling well for a reason. Indeed, the reason may very well be marketing. You recognize the names of big publishers and popular authors who have succeeded in a very important aspect of marketing: They have branded their names into your brain.

Think for a moment. Can you think of any movies that you feel were so awful they should never have been made in the first place, yet somehow many people you know have actually watched it (and worse, may even talk about it, and not just to complain about it)?

It happens. Too often, it happens.

Of course, it happens with books, too.

The difference is that when you visit a theater, there are about a dozen newly released movies to choose from. When you visit Amazon, there are tens of thousands of books that have been released just in the past 30 days.

There are thousands of talented authors and thousands of wonderful books. Yet there are millions of books to choose from. And those that you would consider the “best” may not be so easy for you to find as a reader.

Such that even if you write a book that may be among the best books that readers in your genre would enjoy…

It’s very challenging for a talented author to get those books to sell.

Unfortunately, it might be better to be a good writer with excellent business skills than to be an amazing writer with absolutely no idea how to market.

But that doesn’t mean that a talented writer who lacks business skills can’t develop marketing skills.

It may grow very slowly. It may take a long time. There may be pitfalls along the way.

But any author can start marketing, and even if you just put a little time into a variety of marketing ideas here and there, you can continually expand your marketing net.

INDIRECT BOOK MARKETING

What is marketing? I like to think of it as “helping people in your target audience discover your book.”

I don’t enjoy business. I don’t like selling. But I do like helping people to discover my books. This definition works for me.

Before I had thought of this, marketing had seemed unappealing to me. Now I think of it in such a way that I enjoy the idea.

I don’t like it when salespeople interrupt what I’m doing to try to sell me something.

As an author, I try not to interrupt what people are doing to tell them about my book.

I prefer an indirect approach. There are a variety of ways that you can market your book indirectly.

  • People could hear about your book from someone else (other than you). If your book is worth recommending, you should consider how to get your book into the hands of people who might recommend it. Recommendations and word-of-mouth sales can be quite valuable.
  • People could first discover you, and then discover that you’re an author. One way to go about this is content marketing. For example, if you write nonfiction articles on a blog relating to your book, you could potentially generate daily search engine traffic to your blog, and then on your blog people will notice that you’re also an author. Simply end your article, Your Name, Author of Your Book.
  • People could interact with you, and then discover that you’re an author. You don’t even need to volunteer this. During most conversations, there are opportunities to answer questions like, “What do you do?” or “What have you done lately?”

The problem with marketing is that it isn’t magic.

You’re hoping that you can put forth a minimum of effort and generate hundreds of sales.

But the reality is that most successful long-term marketing takes time and effort.

Another problem is that you’d like to spend more time writing and less time marketing.

A possible solution is to spend a little time each day with marketing. It will add up.

Even if you market effectively, the results will probably come in far slower than you want.

Plan knowing that it may take much time. Be patient. Keep trying new things. Keep building your platform.

Try to keep the costs low (look for free options) unless you’re fortunate enough to earn enough sales that you can afford it without going in the red.

MARKETING BEGINS WITH THE CONTENT AND WORKS ITS WAY OUTWARD

It’s far easier to sell content that is amazing and that seems amazing than it is to sell content that’s just okay.

Step 1. Write content that is amazing. There are thousands of highly talented authors and there are thousands of amazing books. How amazing is your content? Is there some way that you could improve it?

Step 2. Make your content seem as amazing as it really is.

  • A book with an amazing cover seems amazing. A book with an okay cover doesn’t have nearly as much appeal. This is your chance to attract the attention of readers. Send the message that your content was worth putting a nice cover on it.
  • A book description that generates interest in your story helps the book seem amazing. (But don’t give the story away or readers won’t need to read the book.)
  • A book that quickly grabs the reader’s interest and holds onto it seems amazing. A book that loses the customer’s interest while the customer is just reading the Look Inside doesn’t sell.
  • A book that readers want to continue reading through the end, and then want to recommend to others really is an amazing book.
  • Typos, writing mistakes, formatting mistakes, etc. make your book seem far less amazing than it might really be. There are too many books on the market for customers to take a chance on mistakes.

Step 3. Get neutral opinions to help you assess the appeal of your cover, description, early chapters, and entire story.

The more appealing your book is from cover to cover, the more dividends marketing can pay.

From the business side of things, for too many books, 1 out of 1000 strangers who see the book’s cover will check it out, and 1 out 100 strangers who check the book out will buy it. For a book like this, you need 100,000 strangers to discover your book every day to sell an average of one copy to a stranger per day. Put another way, if your book is selling about one copy per day to strangers, there is a good chance that 100,000 see your book each day and that your product page is squandering a great deal of potential sales.

For a rare book that really has strong appeal from cover to cover, 1 out 10 strangers who check the book out will buy it, more people who see the book will click on it, and it benefits in other important ways, too:

  • It’s far more likely to generate many more sales from recommendations.
  • It’s far more likely to generate positive reviews from strangers.
  • It’s far more likely to generate sales from customers-also-bought lists.
  • It’s far more likely to generate good visibility on Amazon.

But first it needs to get discovered and get initial sales.

You still need good marketing. But the marketing is more likely to bring long-term rewards.

A SAMPLE OF MARKETING IDEAS

  • In the book itself. At the end, encourage readers to follow you on social media, visit your website, or sign up for a newsletter. List your other current and coming books. Offer a free sample (like a short chapter) of another book if it is similar to the current book.
  • Premarketing. For example, do a cover reveal to try to generate interest in your book before you publish it. Get beta readers involved in your book as you develop it.
  • Advance review copies. The idea is to give a free copy of your book, with the hope of obtaining an honest review in return. (Amazon doesn’t allow you to offer any other incentives other than a free copy of your book.) You can run an Amazon Giveaway or a Goodreads giveaway from your product page. An Amazon Giveaway is fairly inexpensive, especially with a small number of prizes. For ebooks, a Goodreads Giveaway is actually cost-effective if you give away 100 books (you don’t have to pay for the cost of the books, too; but for paperbacks you have to also buy author copies and pay to ship them yourself). Aside from giveaways, you can recruit people to send advance review copies to.
  • Start a blog. If you love to write, this is only natural. If you can write about nonfiction topics that relate to your book (even in fiction), short articles can eventually turn into a content-rich website that attracts daily visitors through search engines. Some authors write poetry on their blogs. Some make great photo blogs. There are many ways to engage an audience with a blog. If you interact with both readers and other bloggers, you can build a fairly popular blog.
  • Social media. You should have it (Facebook and Twitter at least). You should do something with it. At the very least, for those readers who enjoy Facebook and Twitter, you should have something for them. If you put the time into the social interaction aspect of it, you can make social media work better, but at least you should have something there.
  • The personal touch. Some authors are reluctant to try it, but the personal interaction (especially, in person, but online is better than nothing) can make a difference for an author who hasn’t yet built a following. Most people haven’t interacted with many authors in person. Even though the number of authors is rapidly going, many aren’t interacting in person. If a person interacts with an author and has a positive experience, the person is more likely to buy the book and also more likely to review the book or recommend it to others (but, of course, only if the content is that good). How can you setup local and regional opportunities to meet people in your target audience? It doesn’t have to be a signing (which may be hard to populate when you’re starting out). Groups of people in your target audience probably already exist: book clubs, senior centers, schools (for children’s books), and countless others. You just need to figure out how to get involved and take the initiative.
  • Bookmarks. I like these better than business cards. If the bookmark looks nice and doesn’t seem like an advertisement, it might actually get used, and then it will be a constant reminder about your book.
  • Promotions. Discounted (and even free) prices used to work more effectively with less effort. There are so many books discounted (or free) these days, it’s not easy to stand above the crowd. It makes it a challenge (like most marketing), but there is still potential. The big question is how to spread the word about your sale price. There are sites that can help, free or low cost, but not all are very helpful. Explore and hope you find a helpful one.
  • Advertising. This is tricky. Too many new authors spend too much and don’t target their advertisements as effectively as they could. When you’re starting out or when you’re not earning much in monthly royalties, you really can’t afford to overspend on advertising. Your ads compete with authors and publishers who sell many copies per month and so can afford to invest significant money on an advertising budget. So you have to be smart about it. Refrain from the temptation to bid high. If your ad isn’t performing well, it’s tempting to raise the bid. But effective ad campaigns often make effective use of keywords or other targeting criteria, plus have a great cover and highly appealing product page (including the Look Inside). Relevance is your best friend when it comes to advertising. With Amazon’s AMS (via KDP), for example, once an ad is deemed to rate high in terms of relevance (by getting a high click-through rate and a high sales frequency), it tends to perform better than other ads. In fact, such an ad can perform better at a lower bid (counterintuitively). If an ad rates low in relevance, it tends to perform poorly, even if the bid is raised high. When you set your keywords or other targeting criteria, you don’t just want popularity; you want strong relevance. It also helps to spend time brainstorming keywords (also worth doing before you publish).
  • Keep writing. Each time you publish a new book, you get renewed visibility with the last 30 days and last 90 days filters at Amazon. Many authors have asked, “What happened to my sales?” both 30 days and 90 days after publishing. Well, if these filters had been helping you (without your knowledge; how would you possibly know?), that could be the answer. Plus, you attract new readers, and slowly build a fan base. Few indie authors publish a single book and have great long-term success. Most effective indie authors have established a platform with several related books. If you can keep writing and publishing, as long as you’re getting some sales with each book, you should keep doing it. Most of us do it because we love writing so much that we just couldn’t stop, sales or not. If you’re not getting the sales, you need to rethink what types of books you should write, how to make the cover, how to write the description, etc. When things aren’t going well, you have to try making changes.
  • What are other indie authors who are having some measure of success doing with their marketing? It’s easy enough to find authors who are selling some books, and it’s really easy to find their blogs and social media. So it’s not hard to see some of the things that work for them.
  • Do you feel creative with your writing? If so, spend some time thinking how you might be creative with your marketing. Maybe a little creativity will attract some readers. Maybe you will think of a marketing strategy that isn’t overused (yet! it will be if it works for you and other authors find out) and be the first to adopt it. You shouldn’t be a one-strategy marketing machine (unless, of course, the first thing you try is a great success, then you should do it until it dries up). You should be exploring a variety of options that can help you widen your marketing net.

Even when marketing works, it often develops very slowly. Just because you don’t get any early results doesn’t mean you should give up.

Another important word is “branding.” You’re creating a brand. When people see marketing, they rarely stop what they’re doing and run to the store.

Rather, months later when they happen to be shopping for a product, people tend to buy a product that they’ve heard of.

You want your author name, or your book title, or your character’s name, or your series name to be something that people have heard of.

You want your cover to be something that people have seen before.

(In a good way.)

When that happens, you’ve succeeded in branding readers.

GIVE KARMA A CHANCE

I know, you’re eager to go market your book.

But first, spread the word about someone else’s book.

Maybe it will give you some good karma. Or maybe you just feel like being a good person.

You’d like a stranger to recommend your book to others.

So take a moment to recommend a stranger’s book to others. This will help you visualize what you want to happen to your own book.

Plus, you get to do a good deed.

I’m recommending The Legends of Windemere series by Charles E. Yallowitz (who has absolutely no idea that I’m mentioning his series today, although I have mentioned him in years past).

I finished the Legends of Windemere series and enjoyed it for the storyline and several of the characters which appealed to me.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

Your Book Description Doesn’t Just Show up at Amazon

 

THE BOOK DESCRIPTION AND ITS JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

I was creating a Goodreads giveaway yesterday when I noticed that one of my book descriptions didn’t look quite right. Then I realized that a few of my book descriptions had similar issues. (I haven’t yet looked at all of my books there, but did check my recent releases.)

The problem was that I had formatted my descriptions at Amazon KDP using the limited HTML that is available (boldface, italics, line breaks, bullet points, and ordered lists). While that resulted in improved formatting at Amazon, the HTML had a few undesirable effects at Goodreads. In particular, if you use short bullet points with words or phrases in each point, the words and phrases might not appear on separate lines and there won’t be any bullet point symbols.

So if you meant to make a list like this:

  • red riding hood
  • big bad wolf
  • grandma’s house

It could instead look like this at Goodreads:

red riding hood big bad wolf grandma’s house

It actually can look even worse when it blends together with the previous and following sentences.

At Goodreads, there is a simple fix. After you’ve logged in and pulled up your book, there is an option to edit the description. You may need to click a second time to edit the description. Also, beware that there is a required field further down: you need to enter a comment explaining the revision.

If you self-publish with KDP, you should be used to checking how it looks at Amazon shortly after you publish. You might also have the good habit of using Author Central to improve the formatting. (But when you revise your description with Author Central, you want to go to Edit HTML and copy/paste the HTML for your description into KDP and save it at KDP. Why? Because if you later republish your book, even if it’s just to add keywords or change your price, the KDP description will automatically replace the Author Central description.)

But where else does your description go?

For the Kindle edition, it automatically populates into Goodreads, and it does this very quickly after publishing.

The print edition can take longer to populate at Goodreads. I often wind up adding my print book to Goodreads manually, in which case I get to enter the print description at that time.

If you check the box for Expanded Distribution, your description also goes to BN.com and dozens of other online booksellers (if they choose to list your book for sale online; usually, there are many that do). If you don’t sell many books through the Expanded Distribution channel, most of these may not matter to you, but you might want to see how they look on a few of the major websites.

If your Kindle edition isn’t enrolled in KDP Select and you use an aggregator like Smashwords, your eBook description also gets used with a variety of eBook retailers. You might want to see how it looks from the customer’s side for a few of the major eReaders. If your book is enrolled in KDP Select, however, then the digital edition must be exclusive to Kindle, so this is a non-issue.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

Book Giveaways in 2019

 

BOOK GIVEAWAYS

The two major book giveaway programs have changed considerably in the past couple of years.

One nice feature is that both types of giveaways now offer Kindle eBooks.

Amazon’s giveaway program has undergone several significant changes. It’s convenient and now offers better exposure for authors who don’t already have a large following, but there are now fewer options to choose from. The overall cost can be quite reasonable, especially if you give away a small number of books.

Goodreads’ giveaway program is no longer free. However, it is cost-effective for giving away 100 Kindle eBooks. The print option, while fairly expensive per book, allows you to include the personal touch.

Both programs let you run giveaways in the United States. Goodreads now has an option for Canada for print books. It would be nice to see expansion at least to the United Kingdom and Australia (and any expansion with eBooks).

Obviously, Amazon’s program has Amazon customers, which is nice, but Goodreads’ program consists of many dedicated readers, and Goodreads winners are encouraged to leave reviews (at Goodreads), which is in some ways nicer. There are pros and cons of both programs. Neither program is ideal, and the programs make more sense for some books and authors than for others. The only way to really know for sure is to try it out.

AMAZON GIVEAWAYS

To run an Amazon giveaway in the United States, visit the product page of an item on Amazon.com, scroll down the page below the customer review section, and look for the option to setup an Amazon Giveaway.

  • You can give away print books, Kindle eBooks, Amazon gift cards, and most products on Amazon.
  • Amazon giveaways are fairly cheap. For a Kindle eBook, you just pay the current sales price (plus sales tax). If there happens to be a Countdown Deal in progress, it costs you even less. For a print book, you must also pay the shipping charges (though if you have Prime, you might notice a sweet reduction in the cost, as of early 2019).
  • The best new feature is at the bottom. Under Discoverability, choose Public to have your giveaway included in the dedicated Amazon Giveaway pages. For authors who don’t already have a large following, this helps strangers discover your work.
  • You can visit the Amazon Giveaway page here: https://www.amazon.com/ga/giveaways. There are currently 147 pages with 3500 giveaways. Not every product gets optimal exposure, but since many giveaways do result in hundreds of entrants (without added exposure), people are finding products here. There is an option to subscribe to the giveaways.
  • There are currently only two types of giveaways: Lucky Number Instant Win and First-come, First-served. If you’re hoping for exposure from Amazon, choose Lucky Number Instant Win.
  • The downside to Lucky Number Instant Win is that Amazon has greatly restricted the options for the odds of winning. Amazon will give you a few options, which varies depending on the product, and you must select one of the options. For many Kindle eBooks, the options are 100, 200, and 300. For some paperbacks, the options are 400 to 600.
  • If you’re hoping to give away a large number of products, you either need an extremely popular giveaway, or you need to have a large following of your own and then pick First-come, First-served.
  • Unfortunately, KDP books aren’t eligible for a discount, and the giveaway dashboard doesn’t show the number of sales. These options are for Amazon Sellers who sell products through Amazon Seller Central. Feel free to email KDP support and request that they add an option to discount KDP published books in Amazon Giveaways. It would be great if they did this.
  • You can gain valuable data by checking your giveaway dashboard. Divide the number of Hits by the number of Entrants. The smaller this number, the greater the percentage of people who checked out your giveaway proceeded to enter the contest. Divide the number of Hits by the number of Product Page Visits. The smaller this number, the greater the percentage of people who checked our your giveaway visited your product page. If 1 out of 2 people enter your contest, that’s much better than if 1 out of 10 people do. Similarly, if 1 out of 10 people visit your product page, that’s much better than if 1 out of 50 people do. These ratios tell you something about the marketing appeal of your cover and title (but it also depends on how well your book appeals to the giveaway audience, which isn’t a good fit for all books).

GOODREADS GIVEAWAYS

To run a Goodreads giveaway in the United States (or Canada for a print book), login to Goodreads and visit your Author Dashboard. One way is to scroll down to Your Giveaways and click the word giveaway where it says, “Listing a giveaway…” Note that your book (including the edition you need, paperback or Kindle) must first exist on Goodreads (if not, visit the FAQ’s to learn how to properly ask the librarians to add your book).

  • You can give away print books or Kindle eBooks (provided that you published through Amazon KDP). Print books are sometimes appreciated better, and they allow you to include the personal touch. However, giving away 100 Kindle eBooks is quite cost effective. For Kindle eBooks, you don’t need to pay for the books (you just need to pay the setup fee). For print books, you must purchase author copies and ship them yourself (or have each author copy directly shipped to each different address).
  • Check out the Goodreads giveaway page here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway. Compared to Amazon Giveaways, I like that it’s much easier to sort and search.
  • Your Goodreads followers and anyone who has already added your book to their Want to Read list receive notifications that your giveaway is available.
  • Your book will be marked as Want to Read by entrants (unless they undo this).
  • Approximately two weeks after the giveaway ends, winners receive an email reminding them to rate and review the book. They aren’t required to do this, but this does help. A percentage of reviews generally show up at Goodreads (but not nearly as many are likely to show at Amazon).
  • For a print giveaway, you can include a brief thank-you note. You can state that any review at Goodreads, Amazon, or anywhere else will be appreciated, but reviewing is optional (and you should note this in your request). You want to keep it short and simple. You don’t want to sound like you’re harassing the winners, or that you expect a certain star value (since each of these are violations of the policy, and likely will upset the recipients). The best thing is to simply ask for honest feedback.

BOOK MARKETING

Why run a book giveaway?

  • The contest gives you a chance to send a marketing message other than, “Check out my book.” Your message is more like, “Enter for a chance to win a free book.” There is potential here. Some authors are more effective at marketing than others, and thus are more apt to take advantage of this potential than others.
  • The real hope is for word-of-mouth sales. Few books (percentagewise) succeed at this, but for those that do, it’s well worth it. When a book has that magical content and really spreads well by word-of-mouth, every copy you can get into the hands of readers can really pay dividends months in the future. The best way to get word-of-mouth sales has to do with choosing your content wisely and preparing it just right. If you manage to do that, then giveaway copies help to jumpstart sales.
  • It can take several months for word-of-mouth sales to come (and for some books, it never happens). In the meantime, you want to create buzz about your book. You would love to have people talking about your book. Your giveaway and the marketing you do to help promote your giveaway can help with this. Some authors are successful at creating buzz, which helps to generate early sales.
  • Another hope is to get some reviews. Goodreads winners are pretty good at posting reviews at Goodreads (not nearly 100% obviously, but the ratio is often far better than random buyers who read the book), but it’s less common for them to also review the book at Amazon (though it’s great when they do). You’re getting review potential, and the Goodreads reviews are helpful (since readers at Goodreads are looking for books to read).
  • You gain some exposure. Several people who previously didn’t know about your book have seen your title, your name, and your cover. It’s a small part of the branding process.

If all you do is run a giveaway, and you don’t do anything to promote your giveaway, in many cases you probably wouldn’t feel like you got enough out of it.

If you promote the giveaway effectively, and if you also do much other marketing (and premarketing) to help launch your book, and if your content is spectacular, then you are far more likely to reap the benefits of the giveaway.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

CreateSpace and KDP Are Merging

CREATESPACE MERGES WITH KDP

It’s a logical business decision.

The one significant change has to do with when royalty payments are made. See the section entitled Royalties towards the end of this article.

In 2008 I published my first book with CreateSpace, and in 2009 I published my first Kindle eBook.

When I was learning about publishing with Kindle, I asked myself the following question:

Why does Amazon use a different company for publishing eBooks than it does for publishing paperbacks?

It seemed like it would be convenient for authors and cost-effective for Amazon to have a single self-publishing service.

This is finally happening in 2018.

This is the way it should be, and should have been all along.

THIS IS GOOD FOR AUTHORS

It benefits authors for CreateSpace to merge with KDP.

  • It’s convenient to check royalty reports at a single location.
  • It’s convenient to have a single account for logging in.
  • It’s convenient to publish both paperback and digital editions at the same site.
  • Migrating titles from CreateSpace to KDP will actually improve Expanded distribution, with Amazon Australia, Japan, and Mexico as examples.
  • Migrating titles from CreateSpace to KDP offers the option to advertise paperback books through AMS.
  • Authors based in Europe will be able to order proof copies and author copies printed in Europe, which will save time and money.

NOTHING TO FEAR

You shouldn’t be worried about CreateSpace merging with KDP.

You probably aren’t losing anything.

You’re probably gaining a few little things.

Overall, this is better.

The few losses have already occurred months ago. That’s now in the past.

  • It’s been a year since CreateSpace discontinued the CreateSpace storefront (called an eStore) whereby customers could purchase books directly through CreateSpace. Few authors sold books through their eStores (almost all sales came through the Amazon.com sales channel instead, while a few came through Expanded Distribution). The few authors who were significantly affected by this change have already had to adapt.
  • It’s been months since CreateSpace discontinued their paid services. If you really need to pay for editing or illustration services, for example, even when CreateSpace offered these services, in many ways you were better off shopping for freelance services instead.

You really aren’t losing anything:

  • Your paperback books will still be available for sale through the Amazon.com sales channel.
  • Your paperback books will still be available for sale through Amazon’s European sales channels.
  • If you enabled Expanded Distribution, your paperback books will still be available through the Expanded Distribution channel. (In previous months, KDP print’s Expanded Distribution wasn’t quite as wide as CreateSpace, but things have changed. KDP’s Expanded Distribution is actually on par with CreateSpace now.)
  • KDP print now offers Expanded Distribution through Canada, Japan, and Australia (with Mexico coming soon).
  • The one significant difference has to do with when KDP issues royalty payments. (See the section entitled Royalties below.)
  • KDP has a community help forum (much like CreateSpace has).

THE QUALITY WILL BE THE SAME

According to Amazon:

“On KDP, your paperbacks will still be printed in the same facilities, on the same printers, and by the same people as they were on CreateSpace.”

Over the past few months, I’ve already migrated some of my CreateSpace titles over to KDP.

I haven’t observed any difference in quality.

ROYALTIES

The royalties paid for KDP paperbacks are virtually identical to the royalties paid for CreateSpace paperbacks.

One exception has to do with very short books sold through Amazon UK and Amazon EU. If you have a very short book that sells through the UK and EU channels, you may wish to compare the printing fees and royalty rates between KDP print and CreateSpace. Visit the KDP help pages for paperback printing fees here: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834160.

There is one significant difference between KDP and CreateSpace: That has to do with when royalty payments are made.

  • CreateSpace pays for royalties 30 days following the end of the month. For example, at CreateSpace you get paid on September 30 for royalties earned in August.
  • KDP pays for royalties 60 days following the end of the month. For example, at KDP you get paid on October 30 for royalties earned in August.

From now on, Amazon will pay royalties based on KDP’s royalty payment schedule.

This means you will see a one-month delay for CreateSpace royalty payments once the transition begins.

It looks like we’ll still be paid on September 30 for CreateSpace royalties earned in August.

But after August, you can expect a one-month delay.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO?

Amazon is making updates that will allow you to move your entire CreateSpace catalog to KDP in a few easy steps.

You can already move books one title at a time. My advice is to wait until you can transfer your entire catalog at once in a few easy steps, instead of manually transferring titles. However, if you still want to do this, log into KDP, add a paperback book, and check the bottom box to indicate that the book has already been published at CreateSpace. KDP will then automatically transfer your book’s information to KDP while you wait (just a couple of minutes). If you do this, if you had Expanded Distribution at CreateSpace, double-check that this box is checked on page 3 of the publishing process.

In a few weeks, Amazon will begin automatically transferring titles.

My advice is to be looking for the option coming soon that will allow you to move your entire catalog in just a few steps. Will this option show up at KDP or CreateSpace? Look for it at the top of your member dashboard at CreateSpace. I saw a message there earlier, but not it’s gone, so it will probably show intermittently for a while (and possibly not always in the same place).

During the transition, your books will remain available for sale and you will continue to earn royalties.

Your reviews will stay intact, and your sales rank history will remain. (There may be a little fluctuation in sales rank during the transition, but if so, it’s temporary and then it should behave as usual. This may be the case if you migrate a title manually. Perhaps by transferring your entire catalog with the new option the transition will be seamless.)

After the titles are transferred, log into KDP, visit your bookshelf, open one of the titles, and visit page 3. Make sure that Expanded Distribution is checked or unchecked as you prefer. Just in case this changes on you, you don’t want to be caught by surprise. I’m not saying it should change: It just seems like a wise precaution.

GOOD NEWS ABOUT INDIE PUBLISHING

According to Amazon’s email announcement on the consolidation of CreateSpace and KDP:

More than 1000 authors earn more than $100,000 per year from their work with CreateSpace and KDP.

When you think about it, that’s actually a pretty large group.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The number grows rapidly when you ask how many earn more than $10,000 per year, and even more rapidly for earning more than $1000 per year.

It’s a positive indicator. Use it as motivation. If others have done it, so can you.

This good news about indie publishing means that you shouldn’t be worried about the merger. It’s not a sign of difficult times coming for indie authors. (But no matter how good the times are, it’s always wise to have a back-up plan in mind, just in case.)

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

KDP Print vs. CreateSpace (Comparing the Little Details)

 

KDP PRINT VS. CREATESPACE PAPERBACKS

I have published dozens of paperbacks with CreateSpace over the years, and have recently published some books (under pen names) with KDP’s new print-on-demand option.

While in many respects the two services are comparable (and both are Amazon companies), there are quite a few little differences.

DIGITAL PREVIEWS AND PRINTED PROOFS

There are several differences relating to printed proofs:

  • With KDP print, you don’t have to go through the manual file review process before you can order a printed proof. If you know what you’re doing, this saves 12 to 24 hours, but if you have a big mistake in your PDF files, CreateSpace’s manual file review would help to flag the issue before you waste time and money on a printed proof. However, both offer digital proofing tools to help catch mistakes before you order a printed proof.
  • KDP’s version of an interior reviewer is comparable to CreateSpace, but it appears to be friendlier for more web browsers. Also, whereas CreateSpace first offers an interior reviewer before file review and then a digital proofer after the file review, KDP print consolidates this into a single digital preview tool (accessible prior to file review).
  • A cool thing about previewing at KDP is that you can preview how your cover looks (back, spine, and front) before going through the file review process. With CreateSpace, you must first go through file review (12 to 24 hours, usually) before seeing the option for the digital proofer.
  • For authors residing in Europe, the most notable difference is that you can have a printed proof shipped from the UK, Germany, France, Spain, or Italy instead of the US if you use KDP print, whereas CreateSpace sends all author proofs from the United States.
  • The KDP printed proof has a not-for-resale watermark on the cover, whereas the CreateSpace proof simply indicates that it is a proof copy on the last page inside the book.
  • A funny thing about KDP is that you must first request the option to purchase a printed proof, then wait for an email to come that will take you to Amazon to order your proof. (Unfortunately, you can’t use Prime to get free shipping.) With CreateSpace, you just click to purchase a proof, without having to wait around for an email to come.
  • KDP print is much more finicky about the spine text, ensuring that it’s at least 0.0625″ from the spine edges. CreateSpace occasionally lets this slide if you’re close, and if you violate this, CreateSpace will often adjust your cover for you. KDP print will almost always make you revise your cover on your own until it meets this requirement to the letter. If you have a book just over 100 pages, you’ll have to really shrink your spine text down to meet this requirement. For a book under 100 pages, it’s a non-issue as spine text isn’t allowed, and for a book with a much larger page count, you should have plenty of space for your spine text. It’s just for books with 100 to 150 pages where this can be tricky.

CATEGORIES AND KEYWORDS

KDP print has an advantage in terms of categories and keywords:

  • KDP print lets you enter keywords in up to 7 different fields, without imposing a strict limit on the character count (though I would avoid going over 50 characters, including spaces). CreateSpace only lets you enter 5 keywords (or phrases), and each one is restricted to 25 characters (including spaces).
  • KDP print lets you choose two Amazon browse categories, from the same category list that you see when you publish a Kindle eBook. If you publish both paperback and Kindle editions at KDP, this makes it easy to choose the same categories for both editions of your book. CreateSpace only lets you choose a single BISAC category, and the list doesn’t correspond as well with the actual categories that you see at Amazon (though even KDP’s categories don’t match that perfectly). If you contact CreateSpace, you can request to add your book to a second category, but that’s inconvenient, takes time, and may be completely undone if you republish your book (requiring another request later).

DISTRIBUTION

CreateSpace offers better expanded distribution, but very few self-published books see a significant benefit from this.

  • The main advantage is that CreateSpace automatically distributes to Amazon Canada and pays the same royalty for Canadian sales as for US sales. That’s great if your book happens to sell many copies in Canada, but for many books that sell mainly at Amazon.com (the US site), this is a minor detail.
  • CreateSpace’s expanded distribution includes online bookstores, including Barnes & Noble (online, not physical stores), the Book Depository, and many other websites. Again, this sounds great, as authors are hoping to sell books worldwide, but the reality is that most self-published books sell primarily through Amazon.
  • It’s very unlikely for your self-published book to get stocked by any national bookstore chain simply from the expanded distribution option. You can pretty much count on it NOT happening. Your best bet is to sell a few author copies to local stores that you approach in person with a well-researched press release kit, but expanded distribution really doesn’t affect this.
  • KDP print includes distribution to Amazon Japan (you get to set a royalty specifically for Japan, in addition to European countries), but otherwise CreateSpace offers much wider distribution through expanded distribution channels.

KDP print may improve their expanded distribution options in the future. (But will they add online bookstore distribution? Amazon really doesn’t want you selling your title on BN.com or Book Depository, right?) It would be nice to see them add Amazon Canada, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and India. They have these options available for Kindle, and they already have Japan available for paperbacks, so we can hope…

ADVERTISING

This is interesting.

According to the KDP help pages, the option to use AMS to advertise KDP books is limited to ebooks. I also contacted KDP support to inquire about this option and was told the same thing.

BUT… If you proceed to run a Sponsored Product ad, you can find your KDP paperback books at the end of the list, and it will let you set up and submit an AMS ad for your paperback book. (However, a product display ad specifically states that it is only for ebooks right where you see this option from AMS.)

Most authors sell more Kindle ebooks than paperbacks, in which case it would make more sense to advertise the Kindle edition. In that case, it doesn’t matter whether you use KDP or CreateSpace for the paperback edition.

However, for the author who sells more paperbacks than ebooks (or for a book that wouldn’t be a good fit for Kindle, like an adult coloring book or a puzzle book), if you would like to advertise your book with AMS, you must use KDP’s print option (not CreateSpace). An alternative is to use Amazon Advantage (but then you would lose the major benefit of print-on-demand).

MAKING CHANGES

Ideally, you would perfect your book before you publish and never make any changes. But in practice, there can be a number of reasons to make changes:

  • Adjust your price.
  • Revise your description.
  • Change keywords or categories.
  • Update your cover.
  • Correct typos.
  • Keep the material current in a dynamic marketplace.

With CreateSpace, any changes to your interior file or cover file require going through the file review process, which basically unpublishes your book for 12 to 24 hours (at least: if you run into problems with that and have to go through the process multiple times, your book could be unavailable for sale for days).

At KDP, it works much like it does when you republish a Kindle ebook: You go through file review when you click the yellow Publish Your Paperback Book button. If you pass the file review, the new files simply override the old ones.

What I like about CreateSpace is that you can revise your list price, description, categories, and keywords without republishing your book, whereas any changes at KDP require republishing. (However, the best place to revise your description is through Author Central, but be sure to copy/paste the updated HTML version of your Author Central description into KDP. That way, if you ever republish your KDP book, the description won’t revert back to the original KDP description.)

LOOK INSIDE

In my experience, the Look Inside usually becomes available almost instantly with KDP print, whereas this often takes days at CreateSpace. It can vary considerably at CreateSpace: I’ve rarely seen it same day (or nearly so), and have occasionally seen it take well over a week.

If you’re launching your book with a strong marketing push, that Look Inside can be a valuable sales tool. I want it to be available as soon as possible. KDP print has the advantage here.

LINKING PRINT AND KINDLE EDITIONS

If you set it up properly from your KDP bookshelf, you will already have your paperback and ebook editions linked together on your bookshelf so that KDP “knows” that the two editions go together. Linking should be quick and easy at KDP.

If you publish the paperback with CreateSpace and the ebook with KDP, you must wait up to 72 hours for the two editions to automatically link together. Supposedly, if the title, subtitle, and author fields match exactly in spelling and punctuation, they will link automatically, but it does take time. Recently, I’ve had a problem with the editions not linking at all, and having to contact KDP support after 72 hours to request the link (perhaps my problem has occurred when I use my own imprint name and ISBN with CreateSpace).

PUBLISHER NAME

If you take the free ISBN option, then:

  • CreateSpace paperbacks will show “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform” under the publisher name at Amazon.
  • KDP print paperbacks will show “Independently Published” under the publisher name at Amazon.

Maybe many customers won’t notice the name in the publishing field, but CreateSpace has a little advantage here. There are millions of self-published authors. If you count their family members, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, you will find several million customers who support self-published books. How do you find a self-published book to read? One way is to include the word “CreateSpace” (without the quotes) along with other keywords in a search at Amazon. There are customers who do this (I’ve discovered a number of books myself with this very method, even when I’m really shopping for a Kindle ebook, since I can find the Kindle edition from the paperback product page).

KDP print’s “Independently Published” sounds much more vague.

On the other hand, if you get your own ISBN, you can use your own imprint name, and then it makes no difference whether you use CreateSpace or KDP print. Either way, it will list your imprint name at Amazon. US authors can purchase ISBN’s from Bowker (at MyIdentifiers) for example. The cost is reasonable if you buy in bulk, but expensive if you just need one ISBN. (Don’t waste any ISBN’s on ebooks. Amazon gives you a free ASIN, and if you publish ebook editions elsewhere, an aggregator like Smashwords will offer a free ISBN for ebook stores that require one. Also, don’t use free ISBN’s anywhere other than where they are intended to be used.)

QUALITY AND PRICE

These are identical.

If you have a small sample size, you may experience statistical anomalies, making one service seeming much better or worse than the other. I’ve ordered thousands of author copies from CreateSpace over the years (often over a thousand copies per year), so I’m very experienced with what to expect in terms of quality and typical variations at CreateSpace. I haven’t ordered nearly as many copies from KDP print, but so far the quality is comparable.

List prices and royalties are the same (except that CreateSpace distributes to Canada and pays US royalties for Canadian sales).

CONVENIENCE

KDP wins in terms of convenience.

After you publish one edition (paperback or Kindle), when you add the second edition to the same title on your bookshelf (instead of adding a brand new book), it automatically populates the title, author name, description, keywords, and categories.

You also see the royalties for both editions on your KDP reporting pages, instead of monitoring paperback and ebook royalties from two different websites (with two different accounts).

Copyright 2018


CHRIS MCMULLEN

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

Amazon KDP Supports Indie Authors—and You Can, too, through New Year’s Resolutions #PoweredByIndie

Book Butterfly

Image from ShutterStock.

WRITING RESOLUTIONS

First, a little history: Amazon KDP celebrated Indie Publishing Month a few months back. At the time, they featured a special landing page for indie books, and encouraged authors to use the #PoweredByIndie hashtag with relevant social media posts.

With the new year, Amazon Kindle is again supporting indie authors. This time, it’s through New Year’s writing resolutions.

For one, Amazon created a landing page for indie authors’ writing resolutions and recommendations for indie books (it’s worth exploring, as the page includes many books and audio books geared toward writing and publishing):

http://www.amazon.com/newyearnewstories

Also check out the Amazon KDP Facebook page this month (or any month, as you can often find publishing tips there):

http://www.facebook.com/KindleDirectPublishing

Finally—and this is where YOU come in—Amazon is encouraging indie authors to use the #PoweredByIndie hashtag on relevant social media posts, namely your own writing resolutions and indie book recommendations.

This is a great time to show your support for indie publishing.

  • What are your writing resolutions for the new year?
  • Which indie books would you recommend?

Help readers discover #GreatContent (another cool hashtag) among the world of indie books.

HAPPY 2017!

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

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)

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Authors: Don’t Be Afraid to Strike Out

Strike Out

AUTHOR SUCCESS

Sometimes, the only difference between an author who becomes highly successful and thousands who struggle to get discovered is this:

The author who became highly successful wasn’t afraid to strike out swinging.

Many authors don’t try to find an agent or traditional publisher. They’re afraid to strike out.

Many authors who do try to find an agent or traditional publisher give up after a few rejections. Having struck out a few times, they’d rather not strike out again.

Many authors don’t try to get their books stocked in local bookstores. They might strike out.

Many authors don’t try to get the press to cover their stories. The answer could be NO.

Many authors give up after self-publishing a couple of books. Striking out is no fun.

Many authors are afraid to seek advice from successful authors.

Many authors ignore big opportunities and focus only on the smallest ones.

But you can’t hit a grand slam if you don’t step up to the plate.

Chances are that you will strike out a lot.

But the solution isn’t to give up.

If you don’t like striking out, work on your approach so that the next time you have a better shot.

It may not be as simple as asking.

There is a little more to it than that.

You have to learn to ask the right way.

For example, there are better and worse ways to prepare a press release kit or a query letter.

Keep working on your story idea and pitch until you nail them.

And experience is a big factor.

You have to strike out several times to gain that experience.

Do your research, as that helps much, too.

You can learn much from others who’ve stepped to the plate many times and finally learned how to get on base.

Work hard to improve as an author.

Work hard writing as that hard work can go a long way.

That hard work and experience give you a solid foundation to stand on.

Build connections.

Seek advice.

Start with small things to build confidence, but don’t stop with the small things.

Visualize the successful outcome you wish to achieve and work toward it.

Remind yourself that you CAN do it.

Odds are in your favor when you play the long game.

ASK FOR IT

A little over a year ago, I had this idea for a Black Friday just for books.

I mentioned it on my blog and received much initial support, but it was just an idea and there were only a couple of months to the big event.

I asked for help.

Authors generously helped spread the word and signed up.

I sought help with a press release and publicity and received much support.

I took a few chances, asking for really BIG opportunities for exposure or help.

One of these came through this year.

The simple fact is that if you don’t ask, you don’t receive.

I’ve had the chance to meet and interact with hundreds (surely, thousands) of self-published authors.

A surprising number of those I’ve met have achieved some nice levels of success.

Most of the highly successful authors whom I’ve met are not afraid to strike out.

They’ve gone to the plate many times and struck out many times, but finally learned how to make contact.

Don’t be afraid to strike out.

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: www.readtuesday.com.

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 http://thndr.it/1CkO2Bg.
  • 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) now available for Kindle pre-order

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Cover Reveal

Boxed Set of SP Books 3d with reflection

As you know, I have a few books on self-publishing. The first was originally published in 2009. I designed the original covers myself, and felt they worked for nonfiction: The main point was that the titles were easy to read in the thumbnails.

The big problem for me was that my covers didn’t have a unified look. So I hired Melissa Stevens (www.theillustratedauthor.net) to make them more unified and to add an image that might help them pop. We settled on a geometric approach, arranging the covers of my books in a cube, spheres, and a pyramid.

She also designed a matching header (you can see it now at WordPress and Facebook), shaped like a cylinder.

The cover that impressed me most was the boxed set (coming soon) that I used for this cover reveal above. I like this perspective, which shows off the front cover while still allowing for ample detail on the spines.

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

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

 

 

Indie Publishing Is Dynamic

Updated

Introduction

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

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

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

How’s the Weather?

Even in the publishing industry, the weather is unpredictable.

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

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

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

Product Page

Many features on your product page are dynamic:

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

But Not Everything

A few things are static:

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

What Does It Mean?

It means two things:

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

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

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

Beyond the Product Page

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

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

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

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

About Me

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

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

Marketing Children’s Books

Childrens Books

What Do I Know About This?

Children, tweens, and teens make up a significant portion of the target audience for dozens of books that I’ve published.

This includes my Improve Your Math Fluency series of workbooks (arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry), my chemistry and astronomy books, projects where I’ve collaborated with other children’s authors, and books that I’ve published under a pen name.

(My audience isn’t just children, though. Many adults buy the same books. Most of my books have a grown-up look to them so that the same books can appeal to both audiences.)

I have implemented the marketing tips that I share below.

Math

Who Is the Target Audience?

Ultimately, you write a children’s book for the kids. If the kids who read the book don’t benefit from the book, it will be very difficult to achieve lasting success.

But the kids may not be involved in—or even present during—the purchase. Parents and educators are more likely to make the purchase.

Both the packaging (cover and blurb) and content must appeal to parents and educators, or the book won’t sell.

The book needs to appeal to the target age group, their parents, and the educators of this grade level in order to have a fighting chance.

You must target a very narrow age group or grade, such as Ages 9-11, preteens, or grade 4.

You would love to sell your book to everyone from age 0 to 115, but if you market your book this way, it may not sell to anybody.

Consider the parent or teacher who is shopping for the book. For example, a parent may be shopping for a book for a child who reads at the second-grade level. This parent doesn’t want to buy a book that has a kindergarten reading level because that would be too easy, and doesn’t want to buy a book with a fourth grade reading level as it would be too hard.

The parent also wants the content of the book to fit the interests and perhaps relevant curriculum standards for this grade level. The material must also be parent- and teacher-approved.

Many authors avoid mentioning the age or grade level, but this is a big mistake. The worry is that specifying grade 4, for example, will eliminate a great percentage of the shoppers. And there may be children in grade 2 who can handle the material, or children in grade 6 who are still reading at the level of grade 4 or who would benefit from additional practice with the easier material. Specifying grade 4 might lose those sales, right? But it’s just the opposite!

What parent is going to buy 50 books to find the one that’s the right level? None! Parents and teachers need to know exactly what they’re getting. Specifying an age group or grade level (not broadly, like grades 1-6) helps much more than it hurts. If the parent can’t determine the grade level, from the perspective of the parent, chances are that it’s not the right level, so it’s not a good gamble. When the level is clear, the guesswork is removed.

Some parents will say, “Oh, that’s the wrong level,” and that’s okay. First, they weren’t going to buy the book anyway if the level hadn’t been clear. Second, if they did, they would be unhappy with the purchase, which leads to a return or a bad review. What you gain by specifying the level are several customers who say, “Hey, that’s the level I’m looking for.” Catching the interest of 10% of the people who check out the book is better than having 99% of the people who check out the book pass on it because the level is unclear.

There are a few exceptions. For example, if you write a book on arithmetic facts or tracing the alphabet, parents know by the topic whether or not the child is in the right age group. But if your book is about math, reading, science, history, or fiction, for example, there are many books on each of these subjects in many different grade levels, so you must make this very clear.

Here’s a tip: Use the words “and up.” For example, kindergarten and up, or grades 4 and up. This is less restrictive.

Level

The Challenges

One difficulty is designing a cover that appeals to both the children in the target age group and their parents or teachers. Cover design is already challenging when there is just one target audience. It’s even tougher for children’s books because it must appeal to two audiences to result in a single sale.

Traditional publishers often indicate the grade level on the cover, such as a large “2nd” in the corner. (Note that Amazon has a new feature that hides the top right corner of the cover until the buyer looks inside.)

Similarly, the content must appeal to children, parents, and educators.

With self-publishing, it’s up to the author to determine the grade level. The writing has to match the grade level that you specify, the content has to match this level, and everything must be age-appropriate. It’s not easy to get this right, but one mistake can greatly deter sales. You can search online to find tools to help give your book a readability score.

The better approach is to talk with local teachers of the approximate grade level, ask for their opinion, and find out what standards they use to determine readability. For example, if there is a particular software program that can help you pinpoint the reading level that is more likely to be recognized in your state or country, then that’s the program you want to use.

Another thing parents and educators have on their minds is the author’s qualifications. This may be a relevant degree or teaching experience, for example, but not necessarily. A degree and educational experience may be more relevant for nonfiction. But even for fiction, parents and teachers want their children to read text and content that is free of mistakes. How will children learn to read and write well if they read books that have mistakes? It’s important to write well and iron out the blurb and content as well as possible.

K-12 educators are strongly oriented toward a curriculum, which follows state or national standards. You want to determine how your book fits, or doesn’t fit, into the curriculum. If you’re hoping to have your book used in a classroom setting, teachers will surely be thinking about how it ties into the curriculum. Your book doesn’t necessarily need to tie into the curriculum, though. For example, many schools are dropping cursive handwriting from the curriculum, yet parents buy cursive handwriting books because they still want their children to learn these skills. How you go about marketing your book depends on whether or not it fits into a school’s curriculum.

Formatting is generally more complicated for children’s books, especially if there are pictures. In many ways, it is easier to format text. For full-page picture books, the text and images must fit together, and full-page images must be designed to bleed past the page edges for paperback books. Full-page pictures with text are challenging in e-book design since an e-book may be read on a tiny cell phone screen or a large iPad: Text needs to be clear either way. The screen may have color, or may be black-and-white, but sometimes two colors that contrast well together don’t look different in grayscale, so ideally the images should look good both in color and grayscale. Image size and memory are two more challenges for e-books that have pictures.

New children’s authors generally find it difficult to get discovered by their target audiences, but it is doable. Ultimately, it takes great content, but it also requires effective marketing, patience, and developing an author platform that includes several similar books.

One more challenge is the perception of value. Beginning-level books, especially, often have very few words, so it may not seem, to the reader, that much work is involved in making the book, unless there are really intricate pictures (when, in fact, it takes a great deal of effort to write a book at the appropriate grade level, and to format most children’s books; but the shopper may just be thinking about the word count). Paperbacks and hardcovers printed in color may be quite expensive, and Kindle e-books with pictures may have a high memory. This means that the price may be higher than you or the customer would like. One possibility is combining multiple books together into a single book to help create the perception of better value, but it doesn’t always work out (if the page count is high for a full-color book, or if the images take much memory in an e-book, a larger volume may still turn out not to seem economical). Chapter books, consisting mostly of text, have an advantage when it comes to pricing reasonably.

It’s important to be aware of the challenges as you plan your book, write your book, design your cover, prepare your blurb, and establish the grade level.

Writing

Blurb Tips

Parents and educators are most likely to read the blurb. If you write to a teen audience, this improve the chances that the “child” will be reading the blurb. Younger kids may also read the blurb, but even if they do, they probably won’t buy your book unless their parents also read your blurb.

So you want to have the parent and educator in mind while preparing the blurb. But the child is important, too.

It’s important to establish the specific grade level, target age group, or reading level. Parents and teachers don’t want to take a chance; they want to know the proper level.

Note that grade levels can vary considerably by country. For example, it may be more appropriate to identify the key stage for UK children’s books. Also note that Amazon uses the same product description for all countries, so if your primary audience resides in the USA, for example, it’s probably not worth indicating the appropriate level in the UK (also, spelling and wording would be different there).

A parent isn’t just looking for the grade level, but to see that the material is age-appropriate, the reading level is a good fit, the content is what the parent or child is looking for, the material will engage the child, etc. Think about the best features that your book offers. These should be clear from reading the blurb (but not explicit for a fiction blurb).

Concise blurbs are often more effective. A fiction blurb should grab interest quickly and arouse curiosity. A long blurb runs the risk of boring the shopper or giving away too much. You want the buyer to look inside.

A nonfiction blurb can be longer, if separated into block paragraphs. Use bullets to highlight key points. You can format blank lines, bullets, italics, boldface, and underline by signing up for Author Central.

Blurb Girls

Category and Keyword Tips

Unfortunately, the BISAC categories that you select when you publish your book are different from the categories that you find on Amazon. You must choose the closest match.

Tip: There is a “secret” to getting into special categories. A hard-to-find page in the Kindle help pages (check it out even if you publish a print book) reveals how to use keywords to get your book listed in certain categories:

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41

Once there, click on one of the categories (such as Children’s or Teen & Young Adult) to pull up a table. The table lists the keywords that you need to use to get your book into a specific category.

In particular, to get listed in a specific age group, you must use one of these keywords:

  • Baby to 2 years old: Keyword = baby.
  • Ages 3 to 5: Keyword = preschool.
  • Ages 6 to 8: Keyword = Ages 6 to 8.
  • Ages 9 to 12: Keyword = preteen.

It doesn’t say, but if your audience is teens, it seems logical to include “teen” as a keyword (without the quotes, of course).

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to choose two categories, but CreateSpace only lets you pick one. Well, that’s not quite true:

Tip: Contact CreateSpace after your book appears on Amazon and politely request that it be added to a second browse category. Browse through the categories on Amazon, and when you find the best second category, copy the browse path (e.g. Books › Children’s Books › Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths › Collections) into your email to CreateSpace.

In the past,  I have been advised that the BISAC category must be within Children’s in order to add a second category under Teen.

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Getting into the Classroom

Just enabling a distribution channel that’s available to academia probably won’t generate many sales to schools. It’s worth having access to such a channel. For one, you can then say that your book is indeed available through that route if the topic comes up in a conversation. But you’ll probably have to market personally to generate sales among educators.

Well, I have had multiple sales of 25 to 200 books directly from Amazon. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened periodically with me. Teachers are looking for material that they can use in the classroom, and some do have a budget for additional classroom resources. If your product page appeals to teachers, there is potential. This is like winning the lottery. You can’t plan for it. You can make your content and packaging as appealing as possible, and if you get lucky, enjoy it. If not, well, you should have realized it was unlikely. If you do get bulk orders this way, it’s likely to be rare unless you’re motivating these sales through personal interactions.

I’ve also had upwards of 150 copies of a book purchased in bulk through the Expanded Distribution. That academic outlet is open, but, in my experience, is quite rare.

The more likely way to get a book adopted for classroom use is to personally interact with teachers. You may have to suffer many rejections along the way. First, you have to have content that’s an excellent fit into the teacher’s curriculum. Then the teacher may already be quite happy with the materials already on-hand or accessible online. The teacher may not have a budget. The teacher just might not like your book. The grade level might not match up as well as you’d hoped. There are many reasons that your book might not get adopted. However, there are books that appeal to teachers, and if you happen to have one of those, taking time to personally interact with teachers may pay large dividends.

If the teacher wants to adopt your book in the classroom, it could be ordered directly from Amazon, it could be ordered through the Expanded Distribution (though not all teachers may know how to go about this), or if you publish with CreateSpace you can create a discount code and direct the teacher to your eStore. The per-book shipping is pretty reasonable for large orders, and a sufficient discount may be enticing. If the teacher is investing his or her own money, rather than placing an order from the school through the school’s budget, the optimal solution is for you to order author copies and sell those at a discount in person. You probably can’t sell author copies if the school is purchasing the books through school funds (since auditors will examine records, hoping to prevent schools from overpaying for products through personal transactions of this sort); in this case, Amazon, Ingram, or your eStore are best.

It’s still worth interacting with teachers even if the chances of your book being adopted for classroom use are very slim:

  • Teachers can help you judge the reading level of your text and the grade level of the content of your book.
  • Teachers can help you determine whether or not your book fits into the current curriculum.
  • Teachers may give you good ideas that you hadn’t thought of.
  • If the teacher likes your book, he or she could recommend it to parents, other teachers, etc.
  • The teacher may be able to help you arrange a local reading of your book to children and their parents at the school or a library (you may need to go through a fingerprinting process with the local police to ensure safety).

Most teachers are very busy people, and if you catch them at the end of the day, they’ve been dealing with kids all day long. Keep this in mind. If you show up seeming like a salesperson, you may not receive the warmest reception.

Don’t forget librarians: They can also help you judge the reading level of your book. They may even be willing to order copies of your book through Baker & Taylor to stock. Or you might be able to volunteer to read your book to children.

Another great opportunity comes with specialty bookstores that specifically stock educational materials. It’s like a teacher resource store, filled with educational workbooks, supplemental books, and all kinds of classroom materials, from dry erase boards to highlighters. If you can find any of these in your region, you may be able to sell them author copies at 40% to 55% off the list price (or on consignment).

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Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

You may have better success among parents or home school teachers. For one, they may not be as tied to the standard curriculum.

One way to meet parents is through local readings at a school or library.

There may be another opportunity. Many parents are looking for after-school help. This could include tutoring or additional practice for students who are struggling. But it also includes advanced sessions for students who are breezing through school.

I know a local parent who used to offer advanced math lessons in the evenings. She was very good at helping advanced students learn math ahead of the curriculum. Parents observed this, news spread quickly, and her after-school program was in-demand.

You can try to find parents or home school teachers willing to use your books. You can also create your own after-school program (or perhaps even an online course) where your book is part of the required reading. There are many opportunities if you have good content, personal marketing skills, the ability to think outside the box, and the motivation to do the work.

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Personal Interactions

Authors intuitively search for marketing strategies that involve little time or interaction, hoping to reach a large audience with little or no effort.

This is why so much money is squandered on ineffective advertisements, promotions, and hiring people to do the marketing for the author.

But personal interactions have the potential to be far more effective.

For one, it’s easier to get people interested in you—a living, breathing, interacting person—than a book that just sits there.

For another, parents and teachers will judge your character and personality. They can ask you questions to learn things that aren’t evident in your blurb, but which matter to them.

People who meet and interact with the author—and who enjoy this interaction—are more likely to check out the product page, buy the book if it’s a good fit for them, and leave a review if the book was helpful or entertaining.

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Marketing Children’s Books Online

You can’t interact directly with your target audience because you’re an adult. But you can interact with parents and educators.

It’s hard to find your target audience through social media, discussion forums, a blog, etc.

But you may be able to help your target audience find you. It may involve some work, but if you pull it off, it might be the most effective marketing that you do.

One way is to post an article in a high-traffic area. The article must be relevant to your target audience and your book. The end of the article needs to state Your Name, author of Your Book.

Another way is to create content for your own website or blog that will appeal to your target audience. Most authors who attempt this become quickly discouraged, and so never realize the full potential.

The problem is that if you write one article today, or a few articles this week, you can pour hours into the writing, yet even if the content is incredibly valuable to your target audience, it might get only a handful of views when it’s first posted, and then may not be viewed at all after that. It’s really tough to post more articles when the initial results are so dismal.

It can take months and several content-rich articles before a content-rich website begins to show its effectiveness.

A blog receives initial traffic from followers, reblogs, and the reader. But it can also receive continued traffic through search engines.

Your goal is to get regular search engine traffic. These are people who search for keywords on the internet, then find your article in the search results.

For this to be effective, the articles must be highly relevant for your book, and the keyword searches must be highly relevant for the articles. You don’t want to write about something so popular that your article will be virtually invisible, but you do want the keywords to be searched for with some frequency. It can take several articles before you hit the magic combination that pulls in traffic from search engines.

If you can direct dozens of people to your blog from search engines every day, this adds up to thousands or tens of thousands of people in your target audience discovering your book (assuming you mention or show your book somewhere on your website or at the end of your article, with a link to it). Presently, I have over 100 views of articles on this blog every day, on average, with at least 70% of the traffic coming from search engines. It didn’t start out that way. In the beginning weeks, I had just a handful of views of any post, with none of it coming from search engines.

The potential is there. You can’t realize it if you don’t try.

Wacky Sentences

Feedback Is Vital

How do you know if your book is good? Get it into the hands of your target audience.

You need beta-readers. (Don’t make your first customers beta-test your book. Then critical feedback comes in the form of a permanent review.)

Find out what children in the target audience like and dislike. What do the parents think?

Ask teachers, too. Their feedback can help you establish the grade level and see how your book fits with the standard curriculum.

Reviews 3

Who Are You?

When people discover your book, that’s what they’re wondering.

Are you qualified to write this book? Do you have relevant expertise or experience? These are things you want to highlight in your biography if you have the qualifications that parents and teachers are looking for.

You’re not just selling your book, but partly yourself, too. Ultimately, you’re trying to create a brand as the author of a children’s book or series.

Your author photo should portray the look of someone who could write a children’s book.

Author Picture 4 Cropped Small

More Than Just an Author

Chris McMullen, more than just the 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

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