Sometimes that’s all we need right? A friendly shove in the right direction. A tool that simplifies a complex process. A secret whisper that hints at a better way of doing things. Thirty years in the software industry didn’t give me a hint towards the hidden and deeply mysterious realm of the self-publishing business.
So, in this blog post I am going to share with you some of what I have learned in this last amazing, maddening, exciting and wildly frustrating twelve months in the business. It will be old news to even more ancient hands, but for those aspiring to write and publish that next Man Booker, I genuinely hope this helps just a little.
The subject is truly vast, so in this post I will be focusing purely on the monster that is the “Mighty Zon.”. We will get to FB/Goodreads/BookBub/BookLife/Patreon/Pubby et al in a subsequent post.
First off, it’s super easy to publish via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and there are literally a thousand YouTube clips and books on the subject. Believe me though, that’s really not the issue so we are not getting into that here, although I am happy to answer questions via the website or email.
The issue is exposure and visibility. Over 1 million new books get self-published every year on Amazon, and Amazon only allow you to list your masterpiece in a total of two categories for those browsing to find it. Well, there are those seven keywords as well right? Well…Amazon are not entirely transparent here. There are actually 8 categories you can pick, from a list of around 4,700. You have to identify the categories yourself though and submit via email to KDP Admins. One great tool to help is BKLNK. Find a book just like yours that is selling well, scrape the ASIN from the product page and type it into the site. It will return a list of all the categories that that successful author used, though importantly, please pick a successful fellow Indie writer. There is literally no value in linking to a Stephen King – it’s a no win option.
Another free tool to help with your product page is Kindlepreneur. When you set your book up in KDP you are prompted to enter the blurb. But there are no native formatting tools available in KDP. HTML is supported though, and this handy tool allows you generate the formatting you want in the editor and creates the HTML tags in the background.
KDP is famously flexible. You can change pretty much everything about your book whenever you want. The only thing that is a pain to change is the title – get that right before you publish. Its not impossible to change later but its far from ideal.
The next option is advertising. FB, TikTok, Instagram all have advertising platforms but the most cost effective and the one closest to point of sale is Amazon themselves. Its a short and extremely familiar hop from seeing a book that looks intriguing to get to the product page, read the reviews and click to buy. Amazon, are also extremely frugal with your money. A $5 ad can go a long way, and be profitable quickly, IF (thats a big if, if you didn’t notice) you have everything else in place. A great title, a fantastically visually and genre relevant cover, and a blurb that just compels me to click that magical buy now button all need to be in place. The hidden secret that nobody talks about is that you need to run lots of ads. Category ads, search term ads, auto ads, the entire gamut. You need at least 10 ads a week running for a single book to get the impressions (somebody on Amazon saw the fish) to generate the clicks (you got the fish on the line) to get the sale (I wont bother writing a metaphor for that one). You need around a 0.3-0.5% conversion rate on impressions to clicks ratio to be confident you will get around the subsequent 1 out of 8 clickers actually buying the book. I have heard rumors that a 5% conversion rate is possible but not by me my friend!
It’s important not to rely entirely on the KDP advertising dashboard! It doesn’t display the Kindle Direct readers sales revenue at all. For that, you have to cross correlate against the Royalties Estimator in the brand new KDP dashboard. And, if you are anything like me, you will be refreshing that dashboard every 30 seconds to see how many new sales you made. Forget about that! Amazon are good, but not that good. It takes hours (days) for the data to reconcile. And, for Kindle Direct readers, sometimes months. Think about it, they get to read for free right, so they download a book they think might be cool and then just leave it in their library and get around to actually reading it next thanksgiving.
Top tip: don’t kill ads too quickly. All the books and videos tell you to, and its probably true for any other platform but Amazon, but you need to leave them alone (see the note above about KENP). You need at least 100 clicks to generate the data that tells if you are doing OK or badly, and that takes time.
There are lots of rumors about the Zon algorithms but one I have seen from a fairly reputable source is that they favor short term ads. So run your ad for a 2 to 3 weeks, get your 100+ clicks and then tweak and re-publish, perhaps with different copy and search terms. Try crazy copy but be compelling. Oh yeah and it needs to be less than 150 characters in length. Check it on wordcounter.
Search terms I hear you ask? No? Well I will elaborate regardless. For a targeted ads you need 100 to 150 relevant terms that will lead a searcher to your book. Think, similar Indie authors, genre specific words etc. There are a bunch of data scrapers that can access a page like Goodreads Listopia and garner the terms you need. Instant Data Scraper is one such Google snap-in that works great. Some skills with excel (or access to a geeky teenager) will certainly help here to filter out the garbage. Remember the trickery here is relevancy. If your book is a steamy vampire trope, keywords such as ’17th century furniture’ and a listing of authors such as ‘William Shakespeare’ and ‘Mary Berry’ simply wont ring that bell, and you really, really want that bell to peal don’t you?
Last tip for this post is to specifically target kindle, if that is your primary target buyer. If you broadly target an author in your genre, you risk helping Zon fund their cross marketing of paperbacks and hard covers. Find the ebooks that are similar to yours and make a list of the ASIN’s they are listed under. This will help drive traffic only to your kindle sales page.
I really hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. For sure, it’s targeted at those aspiring to publish or relative newbies, but the Indie publishing industry is new and growing fast, so maybe not. None of this is written down anywhere I can find. I will keep posting as I learn more, so tell your fellow writers and give me a follow. Ask questions and together we will perhaps make this an industry where we can all make an honest buck or (mentally throws coin in fountain) a million.
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Or perhaps consider keeping me from the benefits office by buying a book. Here is my latest release: https://www.amazon.com/Haunting-Edgar-Allan-Poe-ebook/dp/B096HJSZLP