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?

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.

 

Book Marketing Techniques That Don’t Work Anymore

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Pic via Pixabay

Over the past 10 years, publishing has evolved into a very profitable business with the 5 biggest publishers reporting a profit margin of 10%.  And according to Author Earnings, in 2015, self-published authors had taken 33% of the ebook market.  However the tables were turned in 2016, when self-published authors lost a little bit of their grip on the ebook market not to mention several major publishing companies actually reporting losses.  So now it’s more important than ever that we indie authors spend our time and money where it matters most.

Things will only continue to change as the market ebbs and flows and we indie authors need to be able to adapt no matter the disruptions to the market.  What worked in 2007, won’t necessarily fly in 2017, so I compiled a list of just a few of the things that used to be marketing truths but are now myths.

Post An Eye-Catching Photo With Social Media Posts

The old advice on social media was to post a nice text quote along with a photo and it worked pretty well.  Now the advice is to write your quote directly on the image itself because when you share a post sometimes the original text gets lost or relegated to tiny font at the bottom.

For example:

Pinterest

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Facebook

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Banner Ads

Back in the day, banner ads were the way to get your product noticed but now with ad blockers, nobody even sees them anymore.  Today, the click through rate of a banner ad is around 0.1% down from 50% in 2000.  Sadly places like Goodreads, offer banner ads in their expensive marketing package which can cost anywhere between $6,000 and up.  However most indie authors agree that the best places to advertise books are in discount newsletters like; BookBub, Bargain Booksy and Free Kindle Books & Tips.

Perma 99 Cents

A few years ago the advice was to lower your price as much as humanly possible which is what tons of indie authors did.  As you have already guessed, this doesn’t work anymore, the new advice is to try price pulsing.  That’s where you lower your price for a limited time and then set it back to a more reasonable one.  The feelings are mixed, many say you have to promote the lower prices but if you’re selling a book at 99 cents, promotion may not be wise if you’re on a low budget or just low on time.

Black Hat Marketing

This means anything shady like buying reviews or even buying your own book in bulk.  It’s one of the oldest tricks in the marketing business but with technology most people can easily spot a fake.  Not long ago, U.S. President Donald Trump was busted buying his own books during his campaign.  Also, several Christian ministers were found to have contracted a service that promises to help authors get on the bestsellers list by buying large quantities of the author’s book.  They might have gotten away with it too if they hadn’t used money from their own congregation to do it.

Same goes with social media, a few celebrities were busted buying fans a few years back and were exposed by a major media outlet.  To make a long story short, your money is better spent advertising or hiring a good book publicist.

You Need To Be Everywhere on Social Media

It’s old advice that’s still being repeated and it’s just not true and never really was.  Your goal on social media is to build a community which means conversations and engagement.  You can’t do that everywhere because you only have 24 hours in any given day.  So it would be wise to just pick one or a few social media sites where your audience is going to be and set up shop there.  If your book is for young adults try sites like; Snap Chat, Instagram or Tumblr, and if it’s adults you’re targeting, try Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Spamming Works

For those business owners who are too lazy to build their own email lists there are services who are more than willing to sell you email addresses.  Sadly, these people aren’t interested in your book and sending unsolicited emails goes against the CAN-SPAM Act which can result in a fine of $16,000.  Also, it’ll get you banned from email marketing services like Mail Chimp or AWeber.  As if that weren’t bad enough, according to law enforcement and online security firms, the average spam campaign is often a front for organized crime which is why most email filters send these emails straight to the trash bin.

I would be remiss if I didn’t address the few books out there that list so called promotional groups on Facebook and Goodreads.  I’ve personally tested them and found them to be a complete  waste of time.  If you look closely at these groups, you’ll discover that they’re nothing but spam pages with author after author dropping links and yelling “Buy my book!”  This is pointless unless, your book is for authors who desperately need to learn about marketing books. 😉

So What Does Work?

Funny enough, it’s common sense that will help you sell a book successfully.  No tricks, just hard work and persistence, oh yeah, and time.

  • Write a book people want to read
  • Edit professionally
  • Get a nice (industry standard) book cover
  • Start building your platform.
  • Invest in your education: Take courses and read books on marketing, publishing and editing.
  • Join a network of professional authors, there are Facebook and LinkedIn groups as well as websites like The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) who help educate and support self-published authors.

In Closing…

There will be more changes on the horizon in 2017, that’s inevitable but that doesn’t have to be a scary thing.  Instead of seeing self-publishing as a disadvantage see it for the opportunity that it really is.  As more and more indie success stories become common place, it will light the fire in some of us to go beyond what we’ve ever imagined.  So until next time, here’s to a creative and profitable 2017 to indie authors everywhere!

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By Leland Francisco

Before You Pitch A Book Reviewer: 6 Important Tips Most Authors Ignore

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Pic via Pexels

Every indie author comes to the point in their career where they’re going to have to secure book reviews and from what I’ve observed, not many of us are good at it.  Despite what you may have heard there are reviewers that are totally disgusted with the treatment they’ve received from indie authors and have in turn, stopped reviewing indie books.

There is an amount of professionalism that is required of us remember, we’re not only authors but we’re publicists and PR managers which require a certain type of skill.  We need to not only know how to pitch but also what to do once we get the green light.  This article is more about preparing for success and maintaining that success once the dust settles on your book launch.

Get Their Name & Genre Right

A sci-fi reviewer doesn’t want to read a romance novel so read their submissions guidelines carefully.  Also, do your best to address your request to the right person if it’s a multi-reviewer site.  People like it when you use their name otherwise, your email or message comes off as automated or spammy.  Sorry but Dude What’s Up, or Dear Reviewer, isn’t going to cut it.

Give Them Time

Reviewers need time, and that can mean months before they can get to your book.  The bigger the reviewer, the more time they’re going to need.  Unless you’re willing pay them for a rush job, just wait your turn.

Be Gracious 

Send personalized thank you emails and offer to help them in the future if they ever need it.  That can mean anything from a retweet or recommendation.  Yes, even if they trashed your book, you still should thank them for a free, honest review.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow but reviews aren’t about your ego, they’re about promoting your book and every book has bad reviews.

Follow Them on Social Media & Give Them a Shout-Out

Just about everyone these days appreciate free promotion. With all the noise on the internet, something like a social media post or shout out in a blog post is really nice.

Promote, Promote, Promote

If you got a newsletter, make a mention of this reviewer even if it’s brief.  Don’t just promote stuff you’re doing, promote their stuff as well like giveaways and interesting conversations.  Authors are always complaining about not knowing what to post about on social media and this is a way to remedy that.  Also, bloggers are constantly complaining about authors not acknowledging them during a promo.

Stay in Touch

Keep this person in your network and make sure to nurture the relationship by sharing their content and sending them things that will interest them.  Keep supporting them remember, it’s not easy being a reviewer, some of them are harassed online and even threatened.  It’s common sense but people respond to kindness and often ignore those they see as panhandlers.

In Closing…

You’d be surprised at how people skip over these important points when engaging a book reviewer.  There are many blog and social media posts rebuking authors who just ask, ask, and ask but offer nothing in return.  Do yourself a favor and don’t be that author!

SEO Keywords For Self-Published Books: Part 2: Tips & Warnings

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Image from Pixabay

In my last post I talked about the basics of SEO keywords and today, I’ll briefly go over the dos and don’ts of where and when to use them. SEO can help book sales by positioning a book in a clear and concise manner for readers to find easily. It can also hurt, an author when used improperly causing the search engines to actually downgrade a book. In fact, just a few years ago, a retailer took down all self-published books from their website causing an uproar.

But before I go there, I still need to address the issue of sloth.

Keywords The Lazy Way

In my last post, I showed you how to find keywords on Amazon and Goodreads. However, if you are short on time, or just don’t want to bother, there are several pieces of software that claim they can take the hassle out of keyword searches. One is called, Kindle Spy and the other, KD Suite, both claim they can find out what other bestselling authors are doing so you can spy on what they’re doing right. The software can cost anywhere from $47 to $97 (U.S.).

None of the authors I’ve seen have anything special to report after using these types of software. They do what they promise, they save time but there is a question about accuracy. One author who used Kindle Spy claimed to have spied on herself and was surprised to see the software reported that she was selling 6 times more than she actually was. There was also suspicion about that software possibly counting free books as sales.

 

Where Do We Use These Keywords?

After you find the keywords that fit your book best, it’s time to start putting them in the title or subtitle of your book. I highly advise at least putting keywords in a subtitle even if it’s not in your original plan to have a subtitle. This let’s readers know exactly what they’re getting when they click buy.  For example, in my vampire novel Eternal Bond I did this:

EB SEO Subtitle Post

 

As you can see, I told readers it was a vampire novel series in the subtitle just so they know exactly what they are getting.  It worked very well on Wattpad.

A Warning About Keyword Stuffing

But you don’t have to stop there, keywords can be used on social media as well.  For example on Twitter, hashtags, help people connect to the topics they’re interested in.   The best way to get visible and possibly go viral is to use keywords so people can find you.

SEO Keywords Twitter Pic

 

Now on the flipside, sites like Twitter and Instagram encourage users to not put more than a few hashtags per post.  It’s considered unsightly and douchey by some.  Remember it’s nice to have keywords but use them sparingly even on social media.

 

Under No Circumstance Should You Try Black Hat SEO

As you may have already guessed there were some authors who were not honest when listing their book’s genre.  In fact, several authors have been busted in the past listing their books under the incorrect categories intentionally because those were the hottest genres at the time. This is why Amazon allows readers to report books incorrectly labeled and will even recategorize a book if the mood strikes them.

This all came after an incident called, Erotica Gate where erotic books were allegedly mislabeled and put in the children’s section of the online store. Though the allegations were never proven, that didn’t stop several retailers such as Kobo, Amazon and WH Smith from taking down thousands of indie books in response to this story.

Methods where products are intentionally manipulated (misrepresented) to gain visibility from a search engine is called: Black Hat SEO. Remember retailers, and social media sites all have search engines and they all have rules regarding how to use their sites. Violate those rules and you’ll find your book demoted or banned from their site.

Back to our story, after the Erotica Gate incident, several retailers changed their rules about category listings and keyword usage in order to improve metadata. This was a positive change for readers but it came at a price—literally.

In Closing…

SEO has become a powerful aide when promoting blogs posts, or books because if readers can’t find  what they’re looking for, they can’t read it. Also, SEO can help you gain visibility on sites like Wattpad and Twitter so it would be to your benefit to learn a little about it in order to position your work for success.

SEO Keywords for Self-Published Books: Part 1

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Image via DesignFeed.io

Three years ago, I wrote an article for authors called SEO Keywords for Fiction Authors and it was one of my most popular posts.  However, a lot has changed since then and SEO has become even more important for authors. Over the past few years Amazon as well as a few other sites have changed their rules about how many keywords you can use and which ones. In fact, several authors have found their books recategorized after choosing the wrong keywords. If you don’t want this happening to you, it would be in your best interest to learn which keywords are best for books in your genre.

Why Bother?

Every major retailer has a search engine to help their customers navigate their websites. Today, the biggest search engines in the world are Google and Amazon. Yes, you read that right, Amazon is considered a search engine as is Apple, so it would be wise to learn how shoppers search if you want to position your book for better visibility.

A few years back, when indie authors everywhere were squawking about keywords and claiming to have gotten sales by tweaking the categories and keywords on their books, I wasn’t a firm believer. That was until I did an experiment with one of my free stories on Wattpad and went from having just a couple of views to a few thousand views. So SEO does matter when ranking in the search engines but as for sales, that’s another story. I do believe that SEO can be a powerful asset to a marketing strategy but in and of itself, it’s not a strategy to rely on. You still need to do other things like advertise, secure interviews, and utilize social media right along with strong SEO.

Types of Keywords Authors Can Use:

Genre: Romance, Thriller, Sci-Fi, etc.
Subgenre: Sweet Romance, Crime Thriller, Sci-Fi Adventure, etc.
Geography: Chicago, Medieval England, Mars.
Language: English, Klingon, Elvish, etc.
Topic: Social Issues, Pathologies, Special Groups.

To find your genre and subgenre go to Goodreads and check out their genre page. Click on the genre that fits your book best, and it will take you to a page with related genres in the upper right hand corner. You can find everything from Bulgarian Literature to Dragon Lance in the Goodreads genre list. When I clicked on Young Adult, I was taken to a page that listed subgenres ranging from fantasy to contemporary literature.

SEO Keywords for Authors
They kind of take out the guesswork don’t they?

If you want to find your subgenre, go to their genres list.

You can also do this also with Amazon, by going to their books section here and choosing to shop by category. When I chose Teens and Young Adult, I got not only subgenres, but the most popular categories, authors, and series. Meanwhile in the left hand margin, I got more subgenres to consider like art & photography as well as social issues.

Keywords for Indie Authors

 

Lost?

If you are totally lost and don’t know what genre to list your book, ask yourself several questions:

1. What age group is my book geared towards; adult, teens or children?
2. Is the conflict internal or external? If it’s internal, then you might want to consider labeling it literary.
3. Is the book geared towards women or men? Men’s fiction usually consists of thrillers, crime and graphic novels. Meanwhile women’s fiction usually consists of romance, chick lit, and erotica.

Even if after all this, you’re still confused just ask another author or even a beta reader what genre they think the book is. Don’t stress this too much, if you mess up, you can always go back and tweak things later.

Before I go, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you that SEO is just one part of a successful marketing campaign.  There is no magic bullet when it comes to marketing books just ask the publishers at the New York big five.  However good SEO does help give your book the visibility it needs to compete in a market saturated in books.

Affiliate Marketing for Indie Authors Part 4: Advertising

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Image from Pixabay

For the past month, I’ve been talking about affiliate marketing as another stream of income and also about using it as an opportunity to promote your book. Today, I’ll talk about approaching affiliate marketing as an advertiser. Yes, you can pay an influencer to promote your book to their audience. However before you get excited, there are some questions you need to ask yourself.

Why Use An Affiliate?

If your platform is small to nonexistent then you’ll probably need to borrow someone’s audience. I talked about this in my post: “How to Pitch and Approach Influencers” last year. A large platform takes time and hard work to not only build but also to maintain and most authors don’t have the time or know how to do it. This is why it makes sense to seek out influencers to promote your book.

How Much Are You Willing To Pay Them?

This is important because price will matter significantly when it comes to interest in your product. If you’re selling a 99₵ eBook, there will be little interest in it, even if you’re splitting 75% of the profits. However, if you’re selling a print book for $8-$20 and splitting 75% of the profits, that may generate more interest. If you’re selling other products like eCourses, or workshops it will generate even more interest because those usually cost more and more money, means bigger profits for the content creator.

Do You Have A Marketing Plan?

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A meme I created for author Dellani Oakes

As convenient as hiring an influencer is, it doesn’t let you off the hook when it comes to promotion. You still have to plan because wishful thinking doesn’t sell books. You need a release date (or rerelease date in some cases), a good price, a social media strategy, blog posts, interviews, etc.  Yes, you still have a responsibility when promoting your own book.

Things To Consider Doing During Your Campaign:

1. Create a script for the content creator: You can be as formal or as informal as you want to be.
2. Create social media posts: If social media is part of the deal make sure to supply them with the info they need like; links, prices, sales dates, etc.
3. Create: Graphics such as memes.
4. Hold a giveaway or contest on your site.
5. When you get those people to your site, make sure you get them to sign up for your newsletter. You do have one right?
If all goes well, you’ll get a few sales and a few new subscribers for future promotions.

The Takeaway

Yes, affiliate marketing can be hard work no matter which side you’re approaching it from. It takes study, planning and not to mention, guts to succeed at this. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t remind you that affiliate marketing isn’t a get rich scheme. Like with most things, it takes time to learn and it takes time to build trust with advertisers and content creators.

Affiliate marketing isn’t just profitable monetarily but also in the sense of platform building. If you want to make a career as an author, your thoughts should be more on the long term rather than on the next sale. But that’s another post for another day…

If you missed the other 3 parts here they are listed below in order: