15 thoughts from an Amazon indie publisher

Part 31: a list of advice from a moderately successful and anonymous Amazon author.
Over a year ago, even before I’d thought about publishing an ebook myself, I stumbled across a thread about Amazon and ebooks on a literary forum. The writer talked it up as a moderately successful indie publisher, and while it’s easy to pretend to be something that you’re not via the internet, their words had a ring of truth.
The original author was anonymous, and the the page this post occupied 404ed a couple of days after it appeared (which is how that forum runs), or otherwise I’d just link to it. And away:

Wonder Woman’s numberplate     (source)

Points to consider

$2.99 is the ideal price-point for a new writer’s first book. Any less, and the cut Amazon takes makes the increased copies sold not worth it. Any more, and you start to sell fewer copies. That’s not to say you have to sell your work for $2.99, just information to bear in mind while pricing.
Free books get downloaded as much as one hundred times more often.
Series sell more books than one-offs.
Longer books sell more than shorter books. Surprisingly.
With Amazon, your goal isn’t so much sales right out of the gate: it’s reviews. The more reviews you have, the higher you’ll climb up the Amazon algorithms that determine your book’s placement in ‘users who bought this also bought X’ lists. The majority of purchases on Amazon are referrals from these things right here. They’ll drive people to your book for years. Strive for reviews rather than sales.
Consider using Smashwords; they’re an aggregate e-book distributor. They give you access to places like the Apple store, which are otherwise difficult to get a book into. The only downside of Smashwords is you have to follow their style guide closely, with regards to how your book is formatted. The upside is constant stat-tracking of your book’s sales across the different platforms, and also perks like being able to generate coupon codes. Look into it.
If you want to know more, look into some of the more recent success stories like Hugh Howey.
The basic thing to take heart in: indie publishing creates a middle road for writers, that didn’t exist until very recently. You no longer need to win the lottery of becoming a bestselling novelist in order to make a living as a writer. There is now a middle class of writers.
All you need is a small group of fans, which you then gradually build by consistently turning out a good product. And the more books you have out, the higher your chances of breaking out and appearing in the Amazon algorithms. Particularly in the case of series; they create this ripple effect where, when one book in the series breaks out and the rest follow suit shortly after.
Also of note: publishers are increasingly drawing on people who have built success of their own, via indie publishing, as a means of recruitment. If you publish successfully, publishers will start to approach you. That is a very recent development; it’s not always been that way.
An ideal example e-book publishing strategy: write two books. Price one somewhere between $2.99 and $5. Give the other away for free. If it’s any good, and if you promote it enough, the free one will be downloaded a lot (there are people who just lurk Amazon downloading free books, in the hopes they’ll be good) and will serve to drive readers to your other book. And with such a low price-point, they’re much more likely to buy it on a whim.
The above especially applies if you’re doing a series; in this case, giving the first one out for free is like a crack dealer giving away a free sample. Get ’em hooked, and reel ’em in.
Unless you’re Stephen King, most publishers: (a) do not do structural editing – they edit for grammar and clarity, but don’t do editing for story quality any more, (b) don’t do much to promote your book. They’ll actually ask you, “What are your plans to promote this book?” and leave up to you all the business of organising book tours, signings, etc.
The point being: if you’re already doing all that yourself, what is the publisher doing for you? You might as well become an indie publisher.
Basically what you’re angling for with ebooks is virality. You want to find some way to not just get people to buy your book, but join your fanbase, and come back to buy more books from you in the future.
Ideally, on finishing your book, the reader finds a link to your next book right there at the end of the text. Failing that, you have to snag them somehow; it used to be you’d get them to join a mailing list. Now it’s probably something like giving them a twitter handle to follow: something to make them come back when your new book comes out, as the odds of them remembering on their own and googling you months later are pretty slim.

Proceed to Part 32: ‘Beyond Amazon’, or return to the article index.
Return to Re: writing
While I’ve endeavoured to provide you with accurate information, what is considered ‘accurate’ will change over time. If I’m wrong, or you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.

Rhys About Rhys

Teacher, writer, editor, cook: a bit like that nursery rhyme, really.
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