Amazon, Formatting manuscripts, self-publishing

Filling the Amazon belly

behenmoth

My daughter used to work for a French stationery company – hardly a flourishing sector when handwritten letters are practically museum items now. One of her tasks was to get their products listed with Amazon, so a meeting was organised in which she expected to negotiate as she did with supermarkets. Not a bit of it. The Amazon people sat down, handed out their document and said, ‘Those are our terms. Take them or leave them.’ Naturally, she took them.

One effect of the current crisis is that Amazon is set to consolidate its already very firm grip (Who needs crisis government when you’ve got Amazon?) on the retail sector as a whole (this brief history of Amazon explains the various tactics used to bring thatabout).

As for books, that grip is now impossible to loosen. It’s easy to forget that the Bezos behemoth only began life 25 years ago, but in that time it’s established itself as by far the world’s largest bookstore, selling 560 million ebooks (89% of the market) and 807 million physical books (42% of the market) in 2018. Furthermore, they know exactly what we’re reading, when, for how long, and any highlighting or searches we undertake (How Amazon tracked my last two years of reading). In short, the Amazon strategy is clever, ruthless and effective (Amazon’s plan to take over world publishing).

The Kindle was launched in 2007, and now has 84% of the e-reader market. I have one myself, though I rarely use it – compared to an iPad, it’s clunky, not very user-friendly and has a low battery life. Ebooks will never replace physical copies – in fact in the past few years physical books have made a comeback (How ebooks lost their shine) – but one thing is sure: as a tool for self-publishers, the Kindle is here to stay. While traditional publishers often set their ebook price dissuasively high (Are ebooks too expensive?), self-publishers make full use of the competitive pricing Amazon encourages.

We’re all targeted as consumers by Amazon, and they’ve set themselves up as champions of consumer rights. But how about as writers? For a self-publisher to ignore Amazon as about as daft as a pole-vaulter disdaining to use a pole. And on the whole, they do a pretty good job of making it as easy as possible. Publishing a book these days is done in a matter of minutes. As we all know, selling any significant number of copies is far harder, but Amazon will help you here too – at a price. I haven’t yet used Amazon ads myself, but I think one day I’ll need to if I want to vault any high (for an overview of how Amazon ads work see here). In the meantime, I try to make sure my Amazon author page is OK, though there’s no doubt more I could do (Optimizing your author pages).

A recent addition to Amazon’s panoply of tools is the free app Kindle Create, which I used to format the ebook of Truffle Trouble. It’s easy to use and the result was fine, but it’s not flexible enough if you want to use different fonts or customise other aspects. And conversion of the file for a print book is still better done using Word, so in the end it didn’t save me any time at all. For an overview of Kindle Create, see here, and a comparison with Vellum (for iMac), see here.

Kindle Create, of course, being a tool that aims to lock authors into Amazon, only converts to mobi, so if you want to go wide, you’re better off converting a Word file with Calibre or Draft2Digital. But do you want to go wide? Again, Amazon entices you not to by offering advantages if you give them exclusivity through Kindle Select (a review of the differences is here). As regards this question, two of self-publishing’s major gurus, Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson, have different approaches: the first is exclusive to Amazon, the second goes wide. So there’s no obvious answer here except to try for yourself and see what you feel most comfortable with. Personally, I’ve only used Kindle Select once, not because it makes better sense commercially to go wide (80% of my sales, such as they are, come from Amazon), but because I can’t quite reconcile myself to letting the beast swallow me whole.

 

 

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book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

So does free work?

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Does it work to make your book free? The question arouses much debate, some of it passionate, and I’m not going to attempt to provide a yes or no answer. Many writers refuse to give their work away as a matter of principle, a position I fully respect, and in an ideal world, would prefer to adopt myself. Because writing takes time and effort, and working to give a product away isn’t something that’s done for cars, cucumbers or cupcakes, so why do it for writing?

The short answer is to gain visibility. Without visibility, selling your work is extremely difficult, but giving it away is easier. You might have a good cover and enticing blurb, but convincing people to fork out money on a totally unknown name is a challenge. But if you give them something and they like it, they’ll be more prepared to buy what you produce next. Or so the reasoning goes.

So this is what I’ve been doing. And since I promised a while ago to provide a few figures, here they are.

I made One Green Bottle, first in the Magali Rousseau mystery series, permafree on Amazon in September 2017. Since then, it’s been downloaded roughly 4600 times. Now, that’s all fine and well, but I have no idea how often it’s been read, or whether it’s disappeared into the welter of free books people have on their kindle without ever getting round to reading them. I’m not averse to seeing it downloaded free, but it would be nice to know if it actually gets read. However, that’s the same for most books, free or otherwise – feedback is rare, and once a book is out there, the author doesn’t know what becomes of it. The bottom line is sales figures.

Has the permafree book had any effect on sales of the others in the series? My guess is not, or minimal. It’s difficult to tease out sales resulting from my launch efforts (which so far are basically restricted to informing the 400 or so subscribers who open my newsletter) and the knock-on effect from the permafree. But if I take away sales occurring at launch time, the rest is a monthly trickle that falls a good way short of keeping me in coffee.

Am I despondent? Not at all. There are several factors that go against me. Firstly, I didn’t plan the series properly, so the third one I published was in fact the second one in Magali’s chronology. OK, Star Wars does that all the time but it’s confusing all the same. Secondly, I revised One Green Bottle so there’s a major difference in the current version compared to the initial release – also confusing. Thirdly, the covers, while fine in themselves, don’t correspond to the norms for the genre – they’re all being redone now for the release of a box set, so I’ll see what difference that makes. Did someone mention a learning curve? I’m still climbing steadily.

Of course, making a book free doesn’t mean that it will instantly become visible. You then have to let people know that it’s free. To that end, I enrolled Mystery Manor, the last in the series, in KDP Select, and then made it free for five days, which can be done once in any 90-day period. I then booked a slot on Freebooksy, who announced it to the 310,000 mystery novel readers they have on their email list. The result was just under 4000 downloads. And here there was a small but noticeable knock-on effect: apart from another hefty boost to the free downloads of One Green Bottle, there were 41 purchases of Cash in Carry, number two in the series (priced at $0.99), and 11 of Perfume Island, number three, priced at $2.99. The royalties covered roughly half of the $90 I paid for the Freebooksy slot.

I take some encouragement from this. Because again, the process could be improved – to enrol the last in the series in KDP Select when none of the others have been was illogical. But I’d always been reluctant to give Amazon the exclusivity they require for KDP Select, so it took me a while to take that step. I still don’t like it, but the fact is that I’ve made slightly more from Kindle Unlimited page reads than from sales.

The final verdict? In my case, the jury (composed of me and myself) is still out. But with better planning (conception and promotion) of the new series, and a greater backlist to offer, I should see a larger knock-on effect. On current evidence, it’s not worth making the first in the new series permafree – one seems plenty for that – but well-planned free promotions every so often might just do the trick. It’s a hard slog, because for every person who’s ready to pay for a book, there are a hundred freeloaders. But that’s the way it works – like panning for gold, you have to get rid of the silt and gravel first. And I’m an eternal optimist – there’s a lot more I need to do, but when I get to 10,000 subscribers, I hope to have enough nuggets to pay for my coffee.

 

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book sales, Formatting manuscripts, Google Ads, Publisher's Advice, publishing, Research, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of the useful blogs to have appeared on the Writers Co-op site over the past two or three years.

Practical advice from a full-time (i.e., successful) writer.

Where do your story ideas come from?

How to Format a Manuscript: Andrea Dawn, publisher.

Do Google Ads sell books?

POV explained.

What is the reading level of your work?

Writing meaningful nonsense.

Publishing Through A Start-Up Independent Publisher

Deep historical research

How a talisman can help you write

And, just for fun…
Spiteful but funny quotes from writers about other writers

We hope you’eve enjoyed the last two or three years as much as we have!

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, editing, Flash Fiction, Google Ads, humor, inspiration, Legal, Literary Agents, Literary critique, Magic and Science, mythology, publishing, reading, Research, Satire, scams, self-publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Welcome, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

An Invitation to Blog

The Writers Co-op is looking for a few good bloggers. Anyone in the writing life is welcome to submit a blog. If you have something to say about writing, editing, publishing, marketing or just want to share news of your latest effort, we’re interested. Submit a new blog, or, a link to your current blog page.

Members should post their blog in the draft section. Others should submit their their blog or link to GD <at> Deckard <dot> com. Blogs are posted every Monday or Thursday morning on a first-come basis.

Remember that readers are likely to be people in the writing life interested in learning from one another. Sharing our successes, failures, insights, knowledge and humor is a big part of the life we lead.

I look forward to hearing from you.

– GD Deckard, Founding Member

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Amazon, publishing, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Self-Publishing Help Links

Ready to publish but never have? It can be easier than you think and here are some links to help you do it well.
Why bother? Because you are in control. There is no longer any need for an author to wait months for an acceptable response from an agent and more months while a publisher works your work into their work schedule. Do it yourself now.

Start with the obvious: Amazon began as an online book seller and understands that the easier they make e-publishing for you, the more free inventory they get to sell. They’re happy to tell you how easy it is and to walk you through the process step-by-step:
https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200635650

Want help? An industry has sprouted to provide professional services to authors. You can pay to have some steps done for you, like editing, formatting and cover design. Here is an example of a comprehensive, low-cost service:
https://word-2-kindle.com/how-to-publish-an-ebook-on-amazon/

Editing? You want the best you can afford. Ask for recommendations on social media or use this source:
https://www.freelancer.com/find/editing

The gate keepers are gone. Anyone can publish their book. So, unless someone is offering to market your book for you, they are not offering you anything you can’t do. Why pay them royalties?

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Amazon, book promotion, self-publishing, writing technique

The Missing Bit

CinC_cover web 1600x2400

A good old while since I posted here, which is very remiss of me. I’ve got a few posts lined up (well, in my head anyway), but right now I can’t not say that the new Magali Rousseau mystery is out. Cash in Carry, number 2 in the series. Now some of you might be thinking, ‘What? Doesn’t he mean number 3?’ Nope. Cash in Carry is the second. Chronologically, that is, in Magali’s life, but yes, you’re right – it’s the third in my own writing life.

From a marketing point of view, that is of course pretty crass. But a few months back, I received an email from a reader who’d enjoyed One Green Bottle and Perfume Island, but said that between the two, there were unexplained developments. And it struck me how right she was. So I wrote Cash in Carry to fill the gap. Every once in a while, a reader takes the trouble to share their thoughts like that. It’s a wonderful moment.

To be precise, I’d written most of it already, even before I started the Magali Rousseau series. But I’d got three-quarters done when it stuttered to a halt. Something was missing, so I put it aside and thought one day I’d figure out what it was. With hindsight, it should have been obvious, because the story had a crime but no detective. It was crying out for Magali. I’ve learnt the lesson now – if you’re doing a series, plan the whole lot together. It’s what I’ve just done for a news series I’m working on. But more on that another time.

Anyway, that’s the story behind the story, but what about the story itself? Well, here’s the blurb.

One woman escaping her past, another trapped in a terrifying present.

One man with everything to live for, another with nothing to lose.

In a seaside town in the south of France, three days of anguish play out behind closed doors. And four destinies hang in the balance as events spiral out of control.

When a young woman is snatched from the centre of Marseille, no one suspects the kidnappers’ motivations. With the woman’s life in danger, and the pressure building up towards a disturbing climax, Magali Rousseau needs to show that she is the person for the job. Whilst knowing all along that she isn’t.

Cash in Carry. A kidnap story with a twist.

And here is where it can be found:

Amazon                       Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

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book promotion, book sales, Google Ads, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Welcome

When Is A Book Not A Hershey’s Bar?

Always, of course. So, why do we market them like Hershey’s bars? Here’s two thoughts on that.

1. Most books, like Hershey’s bars, are not advertised. When did you last see an ad for Hershey’s bars? Hershey does not need to advertise them because they are everywhere candy bars are sold. Like J.K. Rowling’s books are in all the book stores. Yes, her publisher will advertise her new book, but that’s just sensibly putting the cart after the horse. They want fans to know she has a new book.

2. When books are marketed, they are marketed like Hershey’s bars, as if they too, were a commodity and people should buy a package of the same thing and if they like it, come back for more of the same book. Books are not commodities. Each one is unique. So, there are no repeat sales of the same book to the same consumer.

What to do? Consider yourself – yes, you, the author – as the commodity. One thing of which we can be certain is that when a reader is looking for something to read, they usually do not envision a cover or make up a title to look for. They will, however, consider a novel from J.K. Rowling if they have enjoyed reading her.

“Sell yourself first.” That’s what any professional sales manager teaches. Don’t expect a stranger to trust what you sell if they do not trust you. How do you get readers to know you well enough to try your book? One writer here that understands this is Perry Palin. In many ways, he sells books to people who have first come to know him. Another may be Mimi Speike. She plans to initially stir up her market with Guerrilla marketing techniques which may make her infamous.

How do you get yourself known as a writer? Use the Comments section to let us know. We, obviously, need all the ideas that we can get!

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