Beta Readers, Book Promotion, Marketing, Networking, Social Media

How To Communicate With Readers

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Image via Pexels

Most indie authors are interested in finding out, how to get readers.  In fact, there are webinars, books and businesses that are devoted to that very subject.  However, not many of us ask the more important question like: What do we do with them once we got them?  We’re so focused on bumping up our email subscribers or social media numbers that we forgot about the human aspect of our job.

As I did the research for my latest social media book, I noticed authors asking over and over again, what do I say?  Honestly, there is no rule for that because it all really depends on your book and your message.  Do your books have a theme or moral?  If so, then your content should revolve around that.

I’ve been studying some of the indie elite, looking at their social media pages and even their newsletters and came up with a few tips that will work for those authors who want to not only get fans but keep them long term.

Idea #1: Plan Ahead

Many social media influencers and newsletter writers often plan months in advance what they’ll post.   One Instagrammer /model confessed to using a mood board  to integrate certain colors into her feed to create the perfect aesthetic effect.  I don’t recommend that unless color or fashion is at the top of your agenda but thinking about what you’ll say and sharing things on that topic keeps your message consistent.  For example, if you’re writing about 1940’s gangsters, then your social media posts should consist of posts about 1970’s fashion.  Your readers didn’t sign up for that.

Idea #2: Express Gratitude

When readers sign up for bestselling author, Bella Andres’ newsletter in the first auto responder, she thanks readers for their support saying, “Hello! First and foremost, I want to thank you for reading my books! I’m beyond grateful that I get to dream up and write romantic stories every day—and it’s all because of you.”  If I were one of her readers, I would’ve converted to fan status after that interaction.  I mean who doesn’t like heartfelt appreciation?

Idea #3: Be Sincere

In the summer of 2016, a social media influencer publicly quit Instagram because of what she called, “contrived perfection made to get attention.”  She publicly confessed to having photo shoots for her social media account just to make herself look perfect in all her posts.  She even discussed fake relationships on Instagram.  In essence she confessed to being a fraud.  Don’t fall into that trap, it’s one thing to edit wrinkles from a selfie and another to have a completely fake life.  Remember: You don’t have to create a persona or a character of yourself.  The top celebrities on social media hire professional photographers all the time but authors don’t need to because we have an actual story to tell.  They on the other hand, can only appear interesting.

Idea #4: Hold Real Discussions

I’ve seen so many authors fail at this and it’s because we haven’t really learned the art of conversation.  You know the saying, “People only listen with the intent to respond, not to understand?”  That’s exactly what I see authors doing, they’ll ask a question and answer it or they’ll try to tell their followers what to think.  That is not a discussion, it’s just them standing on their soapbox.  If you want examples of good reader-author conversations head on over to Indie Author & Book Blogs’ Facebook page.

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Here are a few tips about how to get a conversation started:

  • Give facts about a subject you know a lot about.
  • Hold open confessions.
  • Ask an open-ended questions like; Who are the most talented writers of our century?, How do you see (insert character’s name) life unfolding?, What should be addressed in the next book?
  • Hold a Q&A
  • Share a quote from your book on an eye-catching pic.
  • Record a video
  • Have contests
  • Do cover reveals
  • Hold giveaways

Idea #5: Reward Your Subscribers

Many marketers say that the fewer questions you ask, the higher your conversion rates (for your newsletter) will be.  However when I signed up for Stephen King’s newsletter in 2008, I was surprised to receive a birthday greeting on my actual birthday.  Back then when you signed up, you were asked for your name as well as your birthday.  Needless to say, I thought a birthday greeting was super cool but personally,  I would’ve taken it a step further and offered a coupon code or a free gift to my readers.  Why not one-up the man?  😛  Just explain why you’re asking and allow readers the option of skipping the question.

Idea #6: Cross Promote

Long ago, I was listening to a podcast (the name of it escapes me) and an author was asked if she was afraid of the competitiveness of the market.  Her answer was simple, “I don’t see other authors as competition but as colleagues.”  That was the most brilliant way to answer the question and since we indie authors are on our own, we need to support each other when we can.  Interview other authors in your genre and start the good Karma train rolling.  Who knows maybe one day they’ll interview or promote you.

This could be a lot of fun for readers who will be introduced to a new author, and it gives you content to use for social media, newsletters, and blogs.

Miscommunication

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t flip the script and talk about what happens when readers reach out to authors only to get repulsed by the response.  Case in point, just a few months ago, S.E. Hinton, author of the Outsiders, got into a Twitter scuffle with a teenager when asked about the sexuality of one of her characters.  Anyway, Hinton came off looking a bit homophobic and I’m sure she’s not, but the question could have been handled a lot better.  Note to authors:  If someone asks if one of your characters is gay or transgender, a simple yes or no will suffice.

In Closing

Socializing isn’t necessarily complicated if you plan ahead.  When interacting with readers make sure you’re open to hearing them.  You don’t have to understand exactly where they’re coming from but it would be nice if you simply acknowledged their responses.  Your readers will thank you later and who knows they may even start conversations with you.

Beta Readers, Book Reviews, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing

Why Book Reviews Are Important: The Stats

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Image via Pixabay

Recently, there was an article in Publisher’s Weekly, which featured a literary agent giving his opinion on book reviews.  It was called, “Why Most Amazon Reader Reviews Are Worthless” and despite what the title implies, I agreed with some of his views.  In it, he talked about how publishers used to con their way on to the NY Times bestseller’s list by purchasing books at the outlets they knew the NY Times used to gauge their list.  He then compared it to today’s Amazon algorithm which favors quantity over quality and drives some desperate authors to purchase reviews.  Anyway, he’s right the system is corrupt and always has been but reviews still matter when it comes to online marketing.  Let me show you how…

Reviews Aren’t Important, They’re Vital!

Today’s consumer usually does their research before making a purchase and online reviews either motivate them to buy a product or walk away.  Reviews in fact help them learn about your book from people other than you.  According to a 2014 survey by Bright Local, consumers are 84% likely to trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation.

So how many reviews does it take to form a positive or negative opinion in the mind of the consumer?  According to the survey, after ten reviews 88% of customers have already formed an opinion of a product.  So good reviews are important, don’t let anybody tell you anything different.  In fact, I’ve seen several authors incorporating Amazon reviews onto their websites via widgets.  Another technique I noticed is authors building a sales page for their book and including reviews right after the blurb.  Bestselling indie authors Bella Andre has her reviews right under her blurb as does J.F. Penn.

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Image via WikiCommons

Faking It Until You Make It Or Social Proof?

It’s been said by some marketers that people are sheep and will follow a crowd and sadly it seems to be true in certain aspects.  An old trick used by new restaurants desperate for buzz, was to hire people to stand in line or sit at tables to make the place appear busy.  Even if an identical restaurant was across the street serving the same food, the one that appeared busy was always chosen by patrons.

The psychology behind social proof is the idea of social influence, people following the crowd in order to avoid ridicule or missing out.  And it’s not limited to restaurants, in October of 2016, talk show host Wendy Williams, admitted to hiring screaming teenagers to stand outside of her studio and sit in the audience for pop star Justin Bieber’s television debut (at the 18:10 mark).  She says, they did it to make him look like a big deal.  This practice is called astroturfing and it’s used by politicians, corporations and yes, even artists.

This type of thing isn’t exclusive to show business, there are authors over the years who have used smoke and mirrors to inflate their image. For example, it’s been alleged that sci-fi author and founder of Scientology, L.Ron Hubbard’s followers purchased his books by the dozens to make him appear like a big deal after his death in 1986.  By the way, this  kind of stuff is considered black hat (unethical) marketing but that doesn’t stop a lot of desperate people who need that fifteen minutes of fame.

Back To The Point…

The reason why celebrities and artists do this is because it works.  I don’t recommend you buy fake reviews and astroturf your Amazon page because with technology today, that can be easily detected.  However I do recommend that you try to get at least ten good reviews in the beginning.  I know of authors who passively solicit for reviews years after their book’s been published.  Imagine if you pitch ten reviewers per week and only half of them respond, you’ll still have five new reviews per week.  That adds up to 260 at the end of the year.  Also, don’t stop at Amazon, try to get good reviews on Goodreads, as well as any other major outlet your book is sold.

In Closing

I know we grew up thinking that books made it to the bestseller’s list based on merit and popularity but that’s not 100% true.  The missing piece to this equation is hard work and smart marketing, you don’t have to be sleazy and trick people into thinking your books are popular.  If you’re in this for the long haul and want a career in publishing, then time is on your side.  I believe people who focus on their fifteen minutes of fame are selling themselves short.  Most readers these days don’t care if a book was a NYT bestseller, that’s been proven, but what does matter is if you connect with readers through your work.  The readers matter the most, not the lists or awards because without our readers all those things are meaningless.  This is the biggest reason why genuine book reviews not only matter but are vital.

Blogging, Book Promotion, Marketing, Networking, Publishing, Social Media

Why Bother With A Platform? Hint: It’s Not About You!

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Image via Pixabay

When I first started out in 2007, many of the marketing gurus told writers that a website was optional.  Some of them were telling writers that Facebook or LinkedIn were more than enough for a web presence.  But a lot has happened since then and with social media sites charging for visibility, it’s nearly impossible to reach an audience organically.  Also, there’s the control issue, does a business owner (you) really want a middleman controlling when and if you have access to your readers?  So today the advice is to get people FROM social media on to your newsletter or website.

This doesn’t mean abandon social media completely, what they mean is have other avenues that you can rely on to get your message out there like podcasts, blogs and of course newsletters.  If you can only reach your readers via Facebook then you might want to take things to the next level and start branching out.

I can already hear you all asking: why are we doing all this work?  It’s hard and at times tedious, well I’m glad you asked…

Reason 1:  Information Gathering

I know many authors are blogging and on social media believing they’re there to build a massive platform (whatever that means to them) but that’s not exactly why.  The truth is you’re reaching out to readers because you need to learn from them.  And by the way, social media is a great place to mine data from customers (readers).  As you put your life and thoughts on display, you should be exchanging information with your readers, so try asking them questions (open ended ones) such as:

  1. What authors are you reading?
  2. Name one personal pet peeve you have about modern books?
  3. Who are the most influential authors today?
  4. What kind of stories do we need to see more of?
  5. Which book character deserves closure and why?

Author H.M. Ward once discussed meeting with a New York publisher and when she began talking about her demographic, she was astonished when one of the executives asked her, “How do you know this?”  Well duh, she monitors her social media and newsletter analytics.  By the way, she has over 50,000 subscribers on her email list and over 59,000 Facebook fans.

If you feel like you don’t know what to say, study the indie authors who are good at connecting with their readers people like; Mark Dawson, Bella Andre, Adam Croft and Marie Force.   Look at their social media accounts and subscribe to their newsletters and see what they’re doing right.

Reason 2:  Showing Your Expertise

This is particularly for nonfiction authors who need to show their knowledge of a given subject.  A platform gives you a non-censored channel that you can use to educate or inspire.  It also gives you an opportunity to connect with other thought leaders in your field.

Reason 3:  Promotion… Of Others

It goes without saying that promotion is one of the main reasons authors build a platform.  However your books aren’t the only thing you can promote, you can promote other authors, there are tons of them out there who have little to no support, and a shout-out or friendly word never hurt anyone.  Another good idea is to promote your readers, these are the people who should get regular shout-outs.  Thank them for their positive reviews and support.

Reason 4:  All The Cool Publishers Are Doing It!

Over the past few years, several major publishers like Penguin Random, Guardian Books and even Harlequin have started their own podcasts.  Those same companies also have newsletters and social media sites even though they’re already household names.  Despite what a lot of authors think, they’ve been watching indie authors closely and have been taking notes. This means we indies need to step up our game, and that requires us to learn from each other.

In closing, if you learned anything I hope it was that you can’t depend on anyone to reach and build your audience.  This is your job no matter if you’re a traditionally published author or an indie.  It’s your job to know who your readers are and what they want.  This is what a platform is really about, it’s not about stats or image, it’s about connecting and building relationships, real ones that will endure your entire career.

Book Promotion, Book Reviews, Business, Marketing, Networking, Publishing, writing

How To Find Who & What You’re Looking For

 

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Image via Pixabay

Several years ago I wrote an article called, “How to Get Featured or Reviewed on Amazon” and it became very popular.  Recently, it was pointed out that I left out an important fact like names of various departments.  That was my mistake but later on, I encountered another author who was having trouble finding email addresses at a popular P.O.D. company.  It was then I realized there was a much deeper problem and that is, many indie authors can’t do deep research.  Now I come from a freelancing background where finding people who don’t want to be found is just part of the job.  However, we all come from different backgrounds and this kind of stuff isn’t taught in school, even though it really should.  Today, I’m going to help you find people who are hard to track online also, I’m going to go over the fundamentals of sending out an ARC or pitch. So buckle up, because we’re going sleuthing.

Tip #1: Before You Start You Need To Look The Part

When approaching a person like a book reviewer or editor, you must present yourself like a professional.  That means using a professional email address with your domain’s .com such as: JoeShmoe@YourPublishingCompanyName.com.  Most authors have a domain for their pen names but not many have one for their publishing company.  I bring this up because there are still book reviewers and editors who exclusively review trad pub books.  That means no indies allowed.  So like it or not, we need to create a company for our publishing business and that entails building a website and having a professional email address if we want to bypass the snobbery.

Here are the most popular sites for buying a domain and setting up a professional email address for your business:

Tip #2: Don’t Forget To Include A Kit With Your ARCs

Once you’ve gotten passed the gates, you need to bring the goods.  I was amazed at how little authors knew about sending out their work, none of the ones I spoke to ever included a book/press kit or formal letter with their books or ARCs.  How is someone supposed to know who you are let alone where to find you?  Authors can’t assume that a busy professional is going to bother Googling them, many of them just don’t have the time.  You need to introduce yourself and your company then give them what they need whether it be an ARC or a book.  Here’s an article you should read on the topic by Savvy Writers & E-Books Online.

Tip #3:  How to Find Names

Most companies have a corporate website or blog and there, they have listed the names of employees and the departments in which they work.  Also, most magazines and publishers have a page where they list their masthead which is really convenient but not every place is this transparent.

If you can’t find a masthead or corporate website, then you can always check out LinkedIn, there they have a search engine which can help you find your target.  Just enter the name of the company and start filtering the results to reflect certain terms like department and job position.

If that doesn’t work then you can always pick up a phone and call customer service or the information desk and ask them for the info you lack.  But if you’re feeling really bold, you can ask to be connected to the correct department and speak directly to your target.

Tip #4:  How to Find Email Addresses

Before we go any further let’s get one thing clear: You are never to email someone’s personal address.  It makes you look unprofessional not to mention desperate plus, they may report you.  The resources listed here are simply for trying to figure out work email addresses at a large corporation.  Most journalists and freelancers use the following services:

Tip #5:  Always Remember You Are Not Bothering Anyone!

People who work at a company get paid to do certain tasks and unless you’re preventing them from doing that job, you’re probably not annoying them.  If you are professional and courteous to them, then you’ve done your part.  And as an indie author it is your job to promote your books so it makes sense to leave no stone unturned.

Tip #6:  A Warm Introduction Trumps A Cold Pitch Any Day

Despite what many people think, it takes a lot of courage to become an indie author, because we constantly have to put ourselves out there.  Without a middleman, it’s up to us to reach out to the influencers in our industry.  If there is a book blogger or editor at a magazine you want to contact, do it, just be smart about it.  If they have an online community join it, if they have a social media presence, follow them.  Remember a warm email or pitch is always better than a cold one.  I talked about this in a previous article “How to Approach & Pitch Social Media Influencers” and it’s worth giving a read.  Another helpful article is “Before You Pitch a Book Reviewer: 6 Tips Most Authors Ignore” it’s filled with tips that writing professionals need to know.

I hope this helps, and if you have any questions please ask in the comments section.

Advertising, Book Promotion, Marketing, Publishing, Writing Business

The Science Behind Book Covers

Book Cover Design
Pic from ClipArt.co

Though things have changed a bit over the past decade, there are still indie authors who refuse to take their book covers seriously.  I still see book covers that look terrible or don’t fit their genre and the sad thing is, some authors are still designing their own covers.  Some do it out of necessity, while others are just plain cheap and stubborn.  Ask any cover designer and they will tell you that there is a science behind what they do.  There are trends to consider as well as standard formats.  We all know what a typical romance novel cover looks like, but imagine if someone tried to use that same format for a mystery.  It would probably get mocked.  In fact, there are several websites and blogs that do just that.

Color Me A Bestseller

Consumers don’t have time or the cash to evaluate an unproven product but they do judge the packaging.  In fact when it comes to color many corporations pay good money for data as to which colors to use in their product packaging.  Colors are so important that they can make a product look trustworthy or shoddy.

In a study done by Joe Hallock, the least favorite color by both men and women is orange because it was said to look cheap.  The most favorite color by both genders was blue, because it’s said to represent authority, truth, and tranquility.  That could explain why Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all use blue in their logos and web design.  Here are the top 5 colors favored by customers:

  • Blue (Authority, Integrity, Peace, Tranquility)
  • Green (Freshness, Earthiness)
  • Purple (Luxury, Spirituality)
  • Red (Love, Passion, Danger)
  • Black (Formality, Death, Rebellion)

When it comes to unexpressive colors like black, white and grey men tolerated these better than women.  However when it came to tints (a mixture of colors), women preferred softer colors like pastels while men preferred brighter ones.  This makes sense because the romance genre is filled with pinks, lavenders, and baby blues while the mystery genre is dominated by gray, red and black.

Faces Are Just As Important

It’s been proven by science that ads which feature attractive people sell more and that’s because beautiful faces excite a part of our brain which bypasses the parts for reason and logic.  (Think low risk impulse buys.)  Advertisers have known for generations that consumers can be subconsciously trained to buy something they don’t necessarily need.  So if you were thinking that all those romance covers with attractive people in sexy poses is cheesy, you’re wrong, it’s classic advertising.  This is why indie authors should study the books in their genre and see how they’re packaged.  Usually there is a pattern and if you can crack that code, you’ll have a competitive edge.

Genre Specific Trends

Every genre has its trends and some of them have endured for decades while others like the YA girl in a fancy dress have come and gone.  Here is a small list of trends in the four main genres, I only listed successful indie authors.

Romance:  What is typical for the romance genre is an attractive couple embracing or kissing but there is also a lot symbolism of romance like hearts, flowers and beautiful scenery.

Authors to study: S.C. Stephens, H.M. Ward, and Jessica Hawkins.

Mystery:  One thing that most mystery novels have in common are their dark backgrounds with bright forefronts or fonts.  Another thing included was usually a person in action as well as weapons, and urban surroundings.

Authors to study:  Mark Dawson, Chris Simms and Liliana Hart

YA:  The most common theme was an attractive female looking sad or indifferent.  Another popular theme was a female in a romantic pose with a male like a romance novel.  The color scheme often include pastel tints like lavenders, blues and pinks.

Authors to study:  Kristy Moseley, Shelly Crane, and Tarryn Fisher

Sci-Fi: The obvious thing you’ll notice about sci-fi covers are the backgrounds of outer space with spaceships.  However there are covers with models in warrior poses or in space suits ready for action.  The colors schemes are often dark backgrounds with bright forefront images.

Authors to study: Hugh Howey, Bella Forrest, and Michael Anderle.

Following Your Gut

A few years ago, bestselling indie author H.M. Ward, wrote a blog post discussing how her personal preferences almost tanked her book’s sales.  In the post she gives an example of how her original artsy, cover for Scandalous didn’t sell much.  After investigating, she realized something and that is you can’t give people what YOU want.  Trends and standard formats exist for a reason, it’s what the readers are responding to.  It’s been said, that people tell you what they want all the time and all you really have to do is listen.  So save yourself the stress and listen when readers talk.

In Closing…

I hope this post helps as you go searching for a book cover, it’s in no way meant to be a list of commandments, it’s just a guide to help you figure out what’s best for your book.  Many authors find cover design overwhelming and confusing, which can lead to them giving creative control to someone who doesn’t understand publishing.  Remember, just because it’s pretty, doesn’t mean it’s marketable.

Business, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing, writing

Should Authors Go Exclusive With Amazon in 2017?

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Amazon’s KDP introduced their Select program which allowed authors who published through them to give away books for free on their site if they signed a 90 day exclusivity agreement.  Thinking 90 days wasn’t much of a commitment, many authors agreed to it.  Fast forward to 2017, where Amazon is selling over 30 million books and nearly one million of those books are free on any given day flooding the market.  The numbers alone have authors questioning whether going exclusive with Amazon is even worth it anymore?

Your Goals Matter

No matter what the latest marketing tricks are at the moment they mean very little if you haven’t a clear definition of where you want to go.  It’s vital that you ask yourself before you sign any long term contract, why am I doing this?  Do I wish to…

  • Make money
  • Get more reviews
  • Build up an email list
  • Sign with a traditional publisher and go hybrid
  • Become an influencer in a chosen field
  • Build a publishing company
  • Republish a back catalog of work
  • Build a career as an author

As you can see there are a myriad of reasons why people self-publish and many of them don’t require you signing an exclusivity contract.  For example, if you want to sign with a traditional publisher then it might not be wise to lock your work up for any period of time.  If interested, a publisher may insist you take down the book and you can’t do that if you’re only 10 days into your 90 day exclusivity agreement.

Why Ask For An Exclusive?

It’s not uncommon for retailers like Amazon, to ask for exclusives, most retailers do.  It gives them the competitive edge because they offer something their competition doesn’t.  However the manufacturer or vendor (in this case you), usually gets something in return like favorable product placement in exchange for the temporary inconvenience and loss of profit.  Yet with Amazon, there is no such negotiation and instead of favorable product placement, books that are put into the Select program are put on a special list away from the paid books when they go free.  This is the reverse of favorable product placement since the paid books are the default page that shoppers are sent to.  It’s great for Amazon, who gets exclusive content but bad for indie authors who get relegated to a nebulous tab.

Amazon's KDP Select Program

The Psychology Behind it

Lots of authors believe that exclusives are done because retailers and publishers are greedy and though that’s debatable, retailers actually do it because it works.   It’s been proven that products which are available on a limited basis create a scarcity mentality in the minds of shoppers.  It triggers the buy impulse when customers believe this opportunity may never come by again.  Exclusives also make customers feel a sense of appreciation because the retailer is offering them this valuable product making them feel part of a privileged group.

Yeah, But Why Free?

In retail the competition is fierce, these days customers are much savvier and do their research before making purchases.  If they find a product at an online retailer at a cheaper price, that’s called showrooming and it forces brick and mortar stores to match that price or even beat it.  This is how Amazon kills the competition after all, what’s cheaper than free?  Even other book retailers like Barnes & Noble can’t compete with this and have begun positioning their business away from books.

Exclusivity Vs Expanded Distribution

Believe it or not, many startup companies claim exclusivity as the secret ingredient to their success.  However, it’s not the only ingredient, exclusivity should be part of a deeper marketing strategy.  Authors should be leveraging this exclusive period to collect reviews or email addresses for their lists.  Don’t just sit on your duff during this period, there is still work to do —plan the next move.  Ultimately that should mean branching out to other retailers like Kobo, Apple and Barnes & Noble.

 Authors Remaining Exclusive: A Thought

There are experts who used to advise indie authors to remain in the KDP Select program permanently.  They proposed that indies use one book as a loss leader and forgo immediate profits for long term ones.  They suggest that authors use their free book to collect email addresses and sell the next book.  However this may not be a good idea today because several indie authors now report their downloads dropping after the second or third time around in Select.  So going exclusive with Amazon will work but only for so long.  Today, we have no choice but to make our books available everywhere you possibly can because the old tricks don’t work anymore.  Another thing we indie authors have to consider is the inevitable fact that sometime in the future another company will knock Amazon off its perch and wouldn’t it be nice if all our eggs weren’t in one basket?

Indie Publishing, Publishing, writing

Becoming An Amazon Bestseller: The Stats

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Pic via Pexels

Before I get started, I wanted to let you know that this isn’t one of those, why you’ll never be a bestseller type articles, it’s an article about mathematical odds.  The odds about Amazon’s KU program and the amount of competition you’ll face on just Amazon alone.  There’s this prevailing notion that it’s simple to become a bestseller on Amazon, after all they make it so easy to publish that it seems success is inevitable, right?  Yet what a lot of indie authors don’t understand is that we need to know the industry before we publish.  For example, how saturated is the market?  Should we bother creating an audio book?  What are the odds for authors published through Amazon to actually make it to the bestseller’s list?

Using Amazon’s own numbers, I’ve put together some facts that will either confirm your suspicions or utterly shock you.

How Many Books?

It’s estimated that Amazon holds 65% of all new online print and digital sales in the U.S. and that percentage is expected to go up as Barnes & Noble (their second biggest competitor) changes their business model which will now focus less on books.

(These numbers are from Amazon.com as of January 12, 2017):

They sell over 33 million books on their website which includes:

  • 19 million Paperback
  • 6 million Hardcover
  • 8 million Digital
  • 305,000 Audio
  • 500,000 Large Print

That means if you have 1 book, your odds are 1 in 33,000,000 and the more books you publish, the better your odds get. Now I know these sound like astronomical odds but when you consider that most major publishers and indie authors don’t market their books at all, your odds improve ever so slightly.

On a side note, your odds of winning the lottery are around 1 in 13,000,000.   Just thought I’d throw that in.

Is Going Exclusive The Ticket To Exposure on Amazon?

In 2011, Amazon created a program called Amazon Select that would help self-published authors get better visibility on their website.  For 5 days you could set your book’s price at free, but as you can imagine there was a catch, authors had to agree to a 90 exclusive period.  That meant no selling your book at any other retailers.  This seemed like a no-brainer and many authors signed away but it’s now 6 years later and Amazon’s website contains over 912,000 free ebooks as I type this (January 12th 2017).  Some of these books are permafree while most are enrolled in Select.

Kindle Unlimited

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention the most controversial program in self-publishing history and that’s the Kindle Unlimited program.  It’s Amazon’s subscription service where readers can read, or listen to an unlimited amount of books and magazines for a monthly fee of $9.99.  As of today, Amazon boasts of 1 million titles in that program.

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So How Do We Stand Out From The Others?

If you’re feeling demoralized after reading all these stats don’t, selling books was never easy just ask any publisher.  Yet as we speak the barriers that once prevented indie authors from getting into libraries and major chain stores are slowly disappearing.  So it is truly the best of times and the worst of times for the publishing industry.  Now begs the question what do we do about it?  Here are a few suggestions for improving your odds:

  • Create a reasonable business plan and make yourself accountable.
  • Build a platform
  • Publish during popular shopping holidays; Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, etc.
  • Make your book available at retailers and libraries.
  • Network with influencers and other indie authors
  • Have a marketing budget because effective marketing costs money.

It goes without saying that the earlier you start the better, this way you can pivot and maneuver in case of a catastrophe.  Just this past year alone, several sites like All Romance Ebooks, Ellora’s Cave, and Pixel of Ink closed their doors for good, citing Amazon or the market at large as the reason for their closing.  Needless to say, this forced some authors to scramble and find alternatives.

The Moral of This Story

The moral of course is that success comes in many forms not just bestseller lists and awards.  For some of us, just being able to make a living doing what we love is more than enough validation.  And though the competition is tough, it is possible to break through with a lot of hard work, smart marketing strategies and of course, perseverance.  However we still need to be realistic about what we’re willing and able to do because honesty is the foundation of any great career.