5 Guidelines To Picking A Book Sub-Category

5 Guidelines To Picking A Book Sub-Category

Selecting a category and sub-category to write your novel in is similar to the process that you use to select a niche for your pen name, but quite a bit more specific. If you or your pen name write in a specific category as most authors do, you should be laser focused on that categories Top 100 list. It is your bible, because it is the perfect representation of what readers in that category want, and which covers/keywords/tropes/characters are popular with readers. There is so much information there that even experienced self-publishers ignore, to their enormous disadvantage.

First, think of what country you think you will sell the most books in, and switch over to the Amazon store for that country. The results are totally different in Sweden than in the UK, and if you’re writing a book set in the outskirts of Devon you might want to be studying your target audience specifically.

Since you’re focusing on one single category, it’s going to be smartest to spend a lot of time studying each individual book, as important pieces of information can jump out at you from even the slightest differences. To get you started, open each book up and take not of each of the following 10 differences.

1. Sub-category. If you are writing in the paranormal section, a sub-category would be vampires. Write down each sub-category you take note of in the top 100, it will make a great reference after you’re finished browsing.

2. Keywords. What keywords jump out at you? Is there more than one “Vampire Family,” then perhaps it is a popular trope to look into? You can also get real Amazon search data from our keyword search tool.

3. Date published. If the date published was over a year ago, there is some aspect of that book that is giving it enormous staying power. Find out what that is, and see if you can notice any common trends among books that are still on the Top 100 after a long time.

4. Characters. Do most main characters seem to be women? If so, perhaps your book should feature a female character. You might be tempted to write a man under the assumption that rarity determines value, but keep in mind that you’ll be choosing to stand out from the top books, not from all books. For all you know, more books were written with male characters than with female, but it’s the females dominating the top 100. You’re looking at the best books, trying to stand out by being different from them is not a winning strategy.

5. Price. Are books that are twice as long charging 4x the price and getting it? Is there no relation between length, category, characters, etc and price? It’s important to pay attention to the price because it’s not only an indicator of what a similar book can ask for and get, it’s also an indication of interest in that particular book and a thumbs up to emulate it. If most books in the niche are 0.99c and a book from an indie author is sailing high at 9.99, that means readers are willing to pay 10x more for that book. That is a massive indicator of interest, and this is a massive factor in picking what category to write a book in.

Although these 5 differences will show you a wealth of information when you compare books in your category to one another, there are some broader metrics to remember as well, such as:

Look at the ratings. Are they all 5 star, or are some of them 3-4 star and still ranking? If the latter, that usually indicates less competition, or there is some driving force besides quality of writing determining sales in that category. Think about what that could be. To use an obvious example, if you are in the autobiography section the sales are being driven by fame, why are you even there? Popularity can be driven by other factors, and if books are ranking high without good ratings you need to understand the driving factors to determine if you can emulate them or fit into a system.

Be very attentive to the amount of reviews. You will need to generate your own reviews, which is an incredibly time consuming and frustrating process. You will need to manage an ARC team, or beg family and friends for a review, or pay a service to send your book out to be honestly reviewed, and even after doing that you might not be happy with the reviews you get. So if they average 50 reviews on the front page, that means you’ll need 50 to compete. This is a catch 22, you need good reviews to get a person to buy your book, so they can enjoy it and leave a good review. So if it’s 300-400 reviews on average, well, think if you’re up to that.

Note – don’t “create a niche” which is where you lie to yourself to tell yourself that you can create your own niche. If you would totally go out and buy a book about dragons that fight in space, keep in mind that unless your book is a runaway hit you will never get sales, because it’s a category that doesn’t really exist. Medieval fantasy and space are your two personal loves that you would like combined, not the markets. With literally millions of authors out there and millions more readers, it’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of niches have been formed along the lines of what readers want, and if you ignore them to make your own book don’t expect to make a reliable profit out of it.

How To Select A Writing Niche

How To Select A Writing Niche

Before you publishing your first book, before you write that amazing novel you have kicking around in the back of your mind, before you even select a sub-category for your book you’re going to want to select a niche to write in. You or your pen name should pick a particular category of novels to focus on, so that you can build a brand. In some very rare cases – usually when the author is a celebrity or has become a celebrity through writing – an author can choose to publish books in all sorts of categories, and readers will dutifully buy their books wherever they go. For most of us mere mortals, we need to write our books in a single category, or at least a single category per pen name, so that we can build a loyal following and actually make a profit. If you have no special notability, your core fans will likely be people who have read your previous books and want to buy the new book you are putting out. This generally only works if those books are in the same category, as if a big fan of your previous non-fiction book on Ukranian politics is ALSO a lover of fantasy romance, it’s merely a coincidence, and a good businessperson never relies on luck. This is the first step of the writing process for the vast majority of new authors just starting out.

You’ve come to the right place. Not only do I run a publishing company with many pen names under it’s (invisible) banner, but I used to be a writer myself, writing shamelessly for profit in any niche I could, and have hopped around from niche to niche like a madman… If anyone is qualified to tell you how to identify a profitable niche, it’s myself, and the process is quite simple. Note: Simple does not mean easy, a 10 mile run is simple, not easy. Niche analysis is essential.

To begin with, you need to take a stroll through the various top 100 lists on Amazon, on the US website of course as that is where most of your sales will be unless writing a location dependent book. You will not need to be as laser focused as you will have to be when picking a more narrow niche, or subcategory, to write your actual book in. Your market research for your pen name’s niche and your book’s sub-niche are separate, and it’s much hard to switch your niche later for a pen name so really follow both your mind and your heart, and don’t settle on a random category or subcategory.

You can rule out any categories you would hate to write in, off the bat. In the ones you find acceptable, browse through every single top 100 list. Without exception. Would you want to find out two books into establishing your identity as an author that there is another niche you would love to write in with way less competition and just as many readers?

As you browse the eBooks and books, let your eyes linger on each book’s rating, amount of ratings, and price point. These are the three key metrics. Ignore the cover, the keywords, all that you would look at during research for a book niche. What price point are they? This tells you the average price per novel in the category. Some categories support much higher prices, whereas other categories support lower prices. This is the difference between ranking in the top 100 with a $7.99 book or a $0.99 book. If the vast majority of prices are 0.99, keep in mind many of them are priced that way to boost rankings, and they will make the real money in Kindle Unlimited reads. Think about whether you want to be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, because without that you will never be able to match their price points and still pay for advertising. A higher price point is better, but if there are no readers then it won’t help you much to be selling 10 copies of a book at $7.99 whereas your competition sells their book at $0.99c

Look at the ratings. Are they all 5 star, or are some of them 3-4 star and still ranking? If the latter, that usually indicates less competition, or there is some driving force besides quality of writing determining sales in that category. Think about what that could be. To use an obvious example, if you are in the autobiography section the sales are being driven by fame, why are you even there? Popularity can be driven by other factors, and if books are ranking high without good ratings you need to understand the driving factors to determine if you can emulate them or fit into a system.

Be very attentive to the amount of reviews. You will need to generate your own reviews, which is an incredibly time consuming and frustrating process. You will need to manage an ARC team, or beg family and friends for a review, or pay a service to send your book out to be honestly reviewed, and even after doing that you might not be happy with the reviews you get. So if they average 50 reviews on the front page, that means you’ll need 50 to compete. This is a catch 22, you need good reviews to get a person to buy your book, so they can enjoy it and leave a good review. So if it’s 300-400 reviews on average, well, think if you’re up to that.

Note – don’t “create a niche” which is where you lie to yourself to tell yourself that you can create your own niche. If you would totally go out and buy a book about dragons that fight in space, keep in mind that unless your book is a runaway hit you will never get sales, because it’s a category that doesn’t really exist. Medieval fantasy and space are your two personal loves that you would like combined, not the markets. With literally millions of authors out there and millions more readers, it’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of niches have been formed along the lines of what readers want, and if you ignore them to make your own book don’t expect to make a reliable profit out of it.

To get one more critical piece of information, check the rank of the last book on each categories top 100. This gives you a great idea of both what rank you will need to break into the top 100 and get visibility, and also tells you how well top books in that category sell, basically how popular is the niche. The more popular the niche, the more readers, the more money. Ranking is a sales rank, sales rank are your sales. Pretty simple. So don’t go too small or too big, pick a niche that will reflect the amount of time and effort you’re putting into writing. If you’re only writing part time, pick a smaller niche it would be more realistic for you to succeed in. If you’re dedicating your life to writing, perhaps a bigger niche is more worthy of your time.

Other considerations to make if you have more time – you can check the average book length (requires clicking on each book) to see what kind of length the niche will tolerate on average. Some can be much shorter than others. Another is to check the ages of the books on the top 100. Some categories, like Romance, are virtually all brand new bestsellers. Other niches you will find that some are 1 year, 2 year, 3 years old and this indicates much greater staying power, which represents a more long term return on the initial time and money expended.

Doing the same – browsing top 100 lists – on other websites might be a good idea as well, perhaps even on Goodreads. After studying each and every category, taking note of the above metrics, you have a really good sense of each niche’s sales potential, how hard it is to rank in the top 100, how many reviews you’ll need, the kind of prices your book will command in each category and after skimming 100 books in each category you’ll have a good sense of the type of content you will have to write.

So now it’s a good idea to write down each category onto a piece of paper, except for categories you would never consider. A simple elimination process begins – pick what you MUST HAVE. For example, perhaps it must be an easy subcategory to break into, because you can only devote an hour per day to writing and publishing and marketing, so you’re going to be spread very thin. Any category that is too large, cross it out. Rinse, repeat, until you have only a few options, let’s say 5 or less. Then, do a deep dive into each category. Search the internet for interviews of authors who write in the category, search forum posts on writers forums, check historical sales data for books that have been selling in that category for a while, the whole shebang. Out of that chaos you will hopefully find a winner.


The AlphaSmart 3000 – with Mechanical Keyboard Upgrades?

The AlphaSmart 3000 - with Mechanical Keyboard Upgrades?

The AlphaSmart 3000 is an incredibly unique piece of machinery, which has enjoyed a renewed interest amongst authors looking to simplify their life. I am no stranger to using outdated equipment to reduce distractions, as I have the attention span of a hyperactive 13 year old. I delight in carrying my old, boring phone and still listen to music on an iPod. That’s why I was shocked to find out that this product and others like it exists and I never even knew about it. So what is the AlphaSmart 3000? [Click images below to visit]

The AlphaSmart is a stand-alone word processor, with a full sized keyboard and a small display screen. This unit is old, with the first AlphaSmarts being released in 1993. There were quite a few versions, Pro, 2000, 3000, then the NEO 1 and NEO 2. I did some research on every unit available, and for my personal preferences the 3000 version was the best. It had a long battery life, simple features, was the one that seemed the most reliable based on reviews, and was generally just the one best for actually writing. The only limit was the keyboard, but a creative group from GeekHack (links above images) is modding out their AlphaSmarts with mechanical keyboard. If you’re like many authors and would love a stand alone unit to write, this is actually a perfect solution. I was so inspired by this brilliance I knew I had to tell people about it, so I put my money where my mouth is and did this comparison. The keyboard it comes with is subpar, so this upgrade will make it worthy of even a picky professional author.

AlphaSmart is cheap, around $20usd. This seems perfectly reasonable to me, considering it’s essentially a keyboard with an LCD. Don’t take this price for granted, though, since modern electronic word processors like the Freewrite are running around $550, and selling out. The modern ones, ranging on average from 300-600, tend to have features like cloud synch, more advanced spell check, and e-ink. Personally, I don’t get why you need any of that, and cloud synch to me is an anti-feature. Here’s a quick comparison of the most popular by far modern electronic typewriter, and the AlphaSmart 3000.

I bought one, although admittedly have only been using it for a few days now. This is my honest opinion about it, and you know that because AlphaSmart stopped producing these years ago and presumably wouldn’t be trying to market them.

I really, really like it. At $25 plus shipping, it’s a no-brainer. I write incredibly often, and the only complaint I have is that it can only hold 100 pages, so you can’t write a full novel on it, but at the same time with technology this old you would never leave an entire novel on it because if it fails, that’s all folks. So I consider it a reminder to back up. I use it at home, because I use a desktop computer for work and at 1.6 pounds it weighs about as much as a small paperback book. Since it’s $25 I also don’t need to worry about damaging it, like I would if I typed on a laptop. It’s very freeing, and the keyboard is full size so it’s exactly the same as typing on a computer. I thought I would be annoyed by the very small display screen, but surprising it’s no big deal and it can really let you focus on the section you’re writing, I believe my sentence structure has improved slightly due to only having 4 lines displayed at a time. For someone like me who is a habitual re-reader and obsessive scanner, it can also prevent me from scanning my work over and over – basically, it’s perfect for writing a rough draft, although you would never do editing on it unless you didn’t have another device handy. The Amazon link is here but it’s also available on E-Bay. I also hope that one day an enterprising individual will sell the modded units already created, but that’s beyond my skillset.

Not only does the AlphaSmart punch above it’s weight on features, it also has better specs, as you can see in it’s three year battery life. The AlphaSmart does around 700 hours of active use, and uses no battery when not in use. That’s about two years of an hour per day usage, less frequent use will make it last longer. It’s also supported by normal batteries, not rechargeable, which is great for people who travel frequently. As a cheap, durable password protected unit that needs no internet or recharging, it’s essentially perfect for a digital nomad or traveling author. So why would anyone buy any different electronic typewriter? Well for one, the AlphaSmart looks a bit clunky. It’s old, and that shows. Personally I think all the new e-typewriters are quite ugly as well, so this wasn’t a factor in my decision making. There are some downsides – it can only be bought used, so when purchasing one, you run the risk of sticky keys or defects you can’t notice until it’s actually in your hands. The file transfer is imperfect – in fact, when connecting it to your computer and importing, it actually re-types out the entire document into the receiving document. This takes only 30 seconds as it is not typing as a human does but populating as fast as the receiving program will let it, however it’s still a surprising and odd mechanism. There’s no direct support, although the manual and hundreds of posts online about it can solve most troubleshooting issues. Since it’s used, I suggest you manually reset it when you receive the unit.

To reset the AlphaSmart 3000 to factory defaults:

1)   Start with the device turned off.

2)   Press and hold the and keys.

3)   While holding the and keys, turn the unit on by pressing the <on/off> key.

4)   When the dialog “Are you sure you want to reset the AlphaSmart to factory defaults?” appears on the screen, press Y (for yes).

5)   Enter the factory reset password: tommy

Note: Sometimes multiple keystrokes can be registered while typing the reset password.  Make sure only one asterisk appears per letter typed.

6)   Press .

Note: If you performed the factory defaults reset correctly, you should see “Initializing AlphaSmart System…”.  If it was not done correctly, it will take you right back to the last file you were in and you will need to try it again.

It is also a good idea to enter [alt+cmd+K] and then disable sticky keys and slow marks, as they can interfere with other commands from the manual. By the way, if you did purchase this unit and want a copy of the manual, it’s here.

Why you should NEVER use Streetlib.com – A Review/Warning

Why you should NEVER use Streetlib.com - A Review/Warning

A supremely important choice (whether we realize it or not) is how and where to publish our books. Not all distributors are created equal, and the distributor you select will determine how easily you book is approved by the various outlets such as Amazon or Google Play, how well it will sell when it is listed there, and how often you’ll be paid. A good catalog, with a bad distributor, will sell badly. It’s a decision, just like your cover and formatting, that can make or break your title or catalog.

Streetlib is such a bad distributor, I feel they deserve their own article. Their behavior borders on the criminal, and is certainly as arrogant, annoying and blatantly corrupt as any company can get. To find the best distributors, see this article.

I will be telling my story of my time with Streetlib, and how they are still a problem well over a year after unpublishing my books on their platform. This is not just my story – writers forums and chatrooms are littered with similar experiences.  Streetlib tends to prey on those they see as unable to fight back, so as far as I can tell they have escaped any sort of litigation for their actions. The first person to do so will be mightily rewarded by a judge I’m sure, especially in New York. If you are reading this article because you have been ripped off by Streetlib, and you’re looking for others or for proof, feel free to send me a message and I will send you all the extensive documentation I have of my experience, and point you towards others who have experienced the same result.

Anyway, on to the story.

My first experience with streetlib was well over a year ago. Being younger and dumber, I thought all distributors were the same. I had noticed a few complaints about streetlib over the years, but Giac (who I assume is the owner or spokesperson) posted regularly in the forums I frequented, and always responded with a passionate defense of himself and his company. It was a weak trick but it worked on me, because I figured if there was any issues, hey, at least there’s a real person who will be able to help me.

I have a rather extensive catalog, which includes many short stories. When Amazon changed the KDP payouts to pay out based upon pages read, and not books read, KDP became worthless for short stories overnight, and I resolved to move them all to Streetlib. We’re talking around, at the time, 300 short stories, as I am a publisher not just an author.

Almost immediately, there were issues. The exact same books which were uploaded without issue to Amazon (a company extremely strict on their standards) were being rejected by Google Play, Kobo, and NookPress for a variety of technical (not listed on streetlib) and non-technical reasons. Streetlib is also very liberal at blocking titles, they have more restrictive standards than Amazon, Google Play and Ibooks so your book might not even reach them, and you’ll only find out on a manual check. Through enormous efforts I managed to get roughly half of them up over a couple of months, but there was more when it came time for first payout.

Being an American, who had searched google for distributors, I was operating under the assumption the vast majority of people have when clicking on a .com website that is written entirely in english, that said company is a US company.

Their website even proudly proclaimed to be “Streetlib New York.”

Their payout timing was really good – it said royalties were paid out within a month (so for example, the sales of Jan were paid out by the end of Feb), and international royalties were paid out 3 months later. As I was on a completely English, .com website that appeared to be in New York, I was confused when I didn’t get paid. It turns out they classify Amazon, Google Play, Ibooks, Kobo, NookPress – basically every conceivable book seller any English speaking person on planet earth would ever send their book too – as international titles, as they are headquartered in France. This struck me as incredibly misleading, and it took about a week of back and forth between us before I even knew their distinction, as they were rude and preferred to send me copied and pasted sections of their FAQ. By the way for anyone who is considering litigation, them using their US company as a shell company for their French company means the corporate veil could be pierced and you could also go after their French assets.

When trying to get answers, I was hit with what I can only describe as the most passive aggressive, condescending, and evil customer support I have ever experienced. They would move heaven and earth to avoid answering me, when simply answering the question would be 1000x less effort. Here is a verbatim copy of an average email chain we would send back and forth, where the support person would literally follow my online accounts (I never gave them to her) and tell me I got enough advice online, and never answer.

I am italics.

“I was underpaid for this month. I only received $81. It says I made much more than that. Please look into my account and sort out what the hell is going on. Don’t give me a cookie cutter answer or brush me off like you have in the past.”


I know that Giacomo answered your question in the forum. If anything is not clear or you have questions, let us know please, we are here at your disposal.

Thank you very much,

Lucia Zitelli”

“He didn’t answer my question, check the graphs I posted on the forum if you’re following it. “

“Here I am as per your question (“I only received $81. It says I made much more than that.”), he did answer: Please, look at screenshot in attachment.

Let us know if anything is not clear. Thank you

Lucia Zitelli” (This is where she attached a screenshot of the forum post.)


“He didn’t answer my question, check the graphs I posted on the forum if you’re following it.”



I know that Giacomo answered your question in the forum. If anything is not clear or you have questions, let us know please, we are here at your disposal.

Thank you very much,

Lucia Zitelli”


“My last reply is unanswered, if you can answer that satisfactorily that would be fantastic. Don’t attach a screenshot of a post I already replied to, it’s extremely insulting and you’re doing it on purpose. You saw I replied to his post already.”


After no reply


“So you can reply within 6 minutes to show me a screenshot of the post I already replied to but you can’t take a couple minutes to do the math and see what was claimed is mathematically impossible? “


Then she never replied until I emailed her again for a separate issue. You see what I mean, right? They are allergic to being helpful. I honestly thought, at this point, it was simple incompetence, but as time went on I realized it was an integral part of their companies mind state, which is simply to extract as much money from author’s as possible, “no matter what it takes.”

The next surprise was a few months later when the royalties finally came in. Again, I send an email, asking why I was underpaid. I knew how distributors worked, and had read their payment page very carefully. Why wasn’t I getting what I earned, minus their 10% cut? To my shock and surprise, Giac informed me (after a week or so of back and forth emailing, forum posts, etc) that Streetlib, unlike every other major distributor I have ever heard of, didn’t take 10% of MY revenue, they took 10% of total book revenue. What this means is, if you posted a book for $10, and Amazon pays you 70%, or $7, every time you have a sale, Streetlib takes 10% off the entire sale, including taking 10% of Amazon’s cut. What that means is, they don’t take 70c out of that $10 book, they take $1. This is contrary to every other distributor I know of, and common sense to boot. Some websites pay out a royalty as little as 30%, but they would still take 10% of your cut and the websites cut, leaving you paying 33.33% of your revenue to them.

Shortly after that, 136 of my books were marked as invalid due to a system update they did, and I only found out after logging in to see them all unpublished and my earnings low.

Shady, shady, shady. You’d think this is where I pull my books and go about my life, right?

Well, you are right – but like all bad groups, Streetlib had a way of not letting you leave.

Recently I was checking my emails, and I noticed two unusual emails, right next to each other. One was from Amazon, saying it had noticed unusual bot activity on my books, and that any detected manipulation would be removed from my KENCP sales. The other was an email from Streetlib (which I had not been using for over a year at this point) saying that their new system would display the books uploaded through their service in their portal, so people who use them can go click on the links to see their books uploaded on Amazon, etc

It displayed several hundreds of my books.

The only problem was – I had unpublished every book I had ever uploaded to them.

I quickly realized two horrifying truths. The first was, that on logging in, their bot crawler, or whatever they use to find their books on the various websites, had an “attempt log” which showed that they had accessed books with the same author and titles as the ones I uploaded to them automatically, some hundreds of times. One had 400 access attempts in two days – no wonder Amazon flagged my account for suspicious activity!

The second truth was even worse. I realized upon researching that all those books that I had “unpublished” from their platform, that were still, even as I checked right then, completely unpublished, with my sales over the past year showing 0 sales – those hundreds of books, were still uploaded through streetlib. It was just hidden from me when I logged in.

The books were still uploaded through streetlib without a single sale registered. Shocked, hurt, confused – I shot off an email to streetlib. I got a response that floored me.

YES! Streetlib admitted… Yes, we did have hundreds of your books for sale, for over a year, without paying you a single dime, and without showing you on your dashboard, and falsely displaying them all as unpublished. However, they said – and this is a beauty – HOWEVER! We did not pay you at all over the past year, because the hundreds of books of yours we kept selling, never made a single sale. The sales graph is accurate, you simply did not have a single sale over hundreds of titles, although we did leave them up. Never mind that those exact same titles before I “unpublished” them made like 4,000+ sales. Same distributor, same websites, but suddenly they didn’t make any sales over a year? Only an idiot would believe that – the truth is, they simply pocketed the royalties.

There are also many other people sharing similar experiences on various forums, but I don’t want to post their laundry publicly, as most of them are actually still on streetlib due to the big effort to move all their books to another distributor, and I would be opening them up to retaliation. I have personally seen at least a few posts about every issue posted here, including a couple about my last issue (keeping the books up, selling them, not paying authors) within the past week alone.

To recap: I have emailed them, and they have admitted in plain simple English to still having a few hundred of my books uploaded, despite my dashboard clearly saying unpublished on every book for over a year. They are claiming they had no sales, which is absolutely absurd. Their employees unpublished my books themselves after I emailed them (I had no option to, as my dashboard displayed “unpublished” for them all), and are saying they owe no royalties because I had no sales in over a year, despite the fact those same books had 4000+ sales in 7 months.

This is on the tail end of an enormous headache with them, so bad I went through the effort of removing every book from them before I even knew they were scammers, when I thought they were simply sleazy.

Readers should simply stop here, and visit Publishdrive, Draft2Digital, or Smashwords or any other legitimate distributor.


Banned Amazon Keywords

Banned Amazon Keywords

There are many banned words for Amazon keywords, mostly in the erotica category. Don’t run afoul of Amazon, like all large companies there is very little recourse for people who are the victim of an erroneous ban, unless you have a multi-million dollar account of course.

If your account is banned, not only do you lose all your books on that account with no ability to re-upload them on another account, you also lose the royalties already earned – this means if you make $20k in January, and 50k in February, and you’re banned in March, you will receive all of $0. They will keep it all, and you explicitly agreed to it in their terms when you signed up.

This is true whether it’s your fault or not.

Amazon also regularly pulls entire catalogs, for violations on a single book.

The first words to avoid are trademarked terms. These can be very spottily enforced by Amazon, but make absolutely no mistake – if you get too comfortable and start abusing trademarked keywords to get more views on your book, when they do find out they will ban you and there will be no sympathy, as it’s the type of basic good practice they expect even the smallest author to follow. If you have a fantasy magic book targeted towards children, don’t you dare slip “Harry Potter” in those keywords. Seriously, you’re not the first person to get that brilliant idea, but sadly it’s strictly forbidden.

Besides trademarked terms, don’t abuse Amazon terms. As you search our Keyword Nerve Center, you might be surprised to see how many of Amazon’s real searches have “Kindle Unlimited” or another of Kindle’s programs in the search term. If your book really is in Kindle Unlimited, there’s absolutely no issue with slipping Kindle Unlimited into your keywords, right? Wrong, very wrong. Any Amazon specific keyword should be avoided, since Amazon can change it’s mind pretty quick on this, as many people who had to update their keywords to remove Kindle Unlimited found out upon receiving the mass warning Amazon sent out.

Forbidden words includes “Amazon,” “Kindle,” “KDP Select,” “Kindle Unlimited,” “Best Seller,” and even “Free.” Straight from the horses mouth, the following are banned:

Unauthorized reference to other titles or authors

Unauthorized reference to a trademarked term

Reference to sales rank (e.g., “bestselling”)

Reference to advertisements or promotions (e.g., “free”)

You should also avoid putting your pen name in the subtitle, or keywords. Amazon had this to say about it when an individual complained, after his book was banned for just that.

As stated in our Metadata Guidelines (httpss://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A294SHSUYLKTA6), search keywords that are not accurate descriptors of a book’s central storyline or are completely unrelated to its content may be misleading to our customers and are unacceptable. Misleading search keywords, such as reference to other authors or titles, result in confusion for customers as to why the work is included in search results. To that end, authors may be asked to remove misleading terms from their book’s search keyword fields so that we can ensure the keywords do not lead to inaccurate or overwhelming search results or impair our readers’ ability to make good buying decisions. If no changes are made to the book’s search keyword fields, the book may be removed from sale. In all cases of book removal, the author is notified. Our team is looking into any technical issues that occurred during our notification to you. If we determine an error in our messaging system, all authors impacted will be notified immediately.

Don’t think your descriptions are a free for all, either. From Amazon:

Entice readers with a summary of the story and characters. Don’t give away anything that adds to the suspense or surprise. Let readers know what makes your book interesting, and give them a sense of what kind of book it is. If you’re stuck, check the back covers (or inner dust jacket flaps) of books you like for general ideas, or ask someone you trust how they describe your book when people ask about it.

We prohibit including any of the items below in your description:

Pornographic, obscene, or offensive content

Phone numbers, physical mail addresses, email addresses, or website URLs

Availability, price, alternative ordering information (such as links to other websites for placing orders)

Time-sensitive information (e.g., dates of promotional tours, seminars, lectures, etc.)

Any keywords or tags

Finally, there are normal keywords that are simply banned. These are words that are too abrasive for the general population to stumble upon, and you should never include these in your keywords or titles or subtitles.

Abduct / abduction

Back Door




Breast, breasts (Banned in title, not keywords)

Breeding, Breed, Bred, Breeder



Daddy / Dad




Forced / Force / Forces


Girl / Boy

Hypnosis / Hypnotize


Knocked up/Knocking up











Sleep Sex


Step-Whatever (Banned in erotica, not romance)



Virgin / Virginity

[We think] Word’s that will increase the chance of an adult title or additional review:

Alcohol / Drunk


Ass / Asshole




Barely Legal




Drugs / Drugged



Milk / Milked / Milking



Pregnancy / Pregnant / Impregnate


Slut / Slutty



Young / Younger

Unprotected, no protection


Not mentioned but still banned: Generally any word that describes an illegal sex act will not be allowed, and as the word’s disturb me I’m not going to bother listing them here. This is obvious, I’m sure, so I don’t need to tell you this.

So, you’ve finished a romance or erotica book and it’s main keyword is banned. What to do? As long as it is not describing a sex act that is illegal in real life, you can generally still sell it, and in fact the top 100 erotica is full of content that has frowned upon keywords.

As an example of common work arounds:

Incest MUST be step-brother, step-sister, etc. If you have no banned keywords, your book will still be banned, because they are quite serious about this.

Incest = Taboo

Father = Man Of The House

Mother = Woman Of The House

Daughter = Precious Girl

Instead of Hypnosis, “In A Trance” etc

You get the idea. This requires some creativity, and it’s better to err on the side of caution. Anyone searching for a fetish book that you wrote will generally find it, don’t be stupid and try to push in something blatantly unacceptable by Amazon’s standards. You would just be working hard to earn yourself a ban.

Check this page frequently for updates, go over your keywords and descriptions with a fine tooth comb, and go forth and sell millions of books! Don’t let a mistake define you. Your mistakes don’t make you, or break you.

How to get a Google Play publishers account and publish books on Google Play.

How to get a Google Play publishers account and publish books on Google Play?

Google Play Publishing is a bit of an enigma at the moment, at least if you want to publish to them. They are currently closed to accepting new publishing accounts, but Google Play is a major book seller, and indeed is about as good as Apple iBooks in terms of how much sales to expect, which means your average author is taking a massive pay cut if they don’t publish with them. Fear not, I’m here with a solution. First, we should go over some information about Google Play Publishers Accounts.

Why won’t Google Play accept any new publishers accounts? GP has some serious issues in terms of moderating content, it seems. Why they have these issues when they have the world’s greatest algorithm builders and seemingly unlimited funds, I have no idea. So their solution is simple – don’t allow any new people into the game. So what’s the answer? You can’t just google “How to upload eBook to Google Play,” instead there’s a bit of a roundabout process.

Currently, you need to sign up via a distributor that already has an account with Google Play. The best by far is PublishDrive, and if you want to know my reasoning as to why they are the best, you can read this in-depth article here I wrote comparing the major distributors. Many other distributors don’t send to Google Play, including even some that did in the past such as Draft2Digital, at least at the time of writing this. You can manage all outlets through PublishDrive, or you can only upload to Google Play – keep in mind PublishDrive sends to over 100 book sellers so I’m sure you’ll get some additional distribution to make up for the 10% lost.

PublishDrive works by submitting your books to multiple websites, where you can manage them remotely from your single dashboard. So if you upload your book to PublishDrive, you can select Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, any bookseller you desire. The only downside is they take 10% of your profit, this is a small price to pay since the alternative is not listing on Google Play at all.

In the future, Google Play might open up to traditional sign-ups, and since I’m on the waiting list this article will be updated as soon as they make that decision. In the meantime, PublishDrive is a good solution, and you might find it’s nice to be able to upload to a 100 other book sellers to boot!

What do the file types AZW, AZW3, KF8, KFX, .EPUB, .MOBI, etc mean?

What do the file types AZW, AZW3, KF8, KFX, .EPUB, .MOBI, etc mean?

What on earth are these filetypes? These are all eBook filetypes, most associated with Kindle files.

Here are the most common eBook filetypes:

ePub: .ePub is the most common “non-Amazon” eBook file format. It is the standard.

MOBI: Originally created for the MobiPocket way back in 2000, it’s the second most common eBook file format that’s not used on Amazon. Amazon bought the company, but has shut it down, although the .mobi file format lives on.

AZW and AZW3: These two are the original proprietary Amazon Kindle formats. Any eBook sold on Amazon before the introduction of their current format, the KFX, would of been in these formats. .AZW was the original back in 2007 with the release of the first Kindle, whereas .AZW3 was adopted in 2011.

KF8: Amazon eBook file format that was used on the Kindle Fire. .KF8 is still common.

KFX: Amazon’s current file format, very advanced and flexible. Proprietary.

IBA: .IBA is the iBooks Author eBook file format, it’s very similar to ePub, except it only works in iBooks Author.

LRS, LRF, and LRX: Sony’s old eBook formats, abandoned by Sony in favor of .ePubs.

DJVU: Popular with scientists, this format has extreme file compression.

LIT: Microsoft’s old proprietary eBook file format, abandoned.

RFT: Rich Text Format, the eBook format equivalent of textedit. Simple and no frills.

How Much Does Kindle Unlimited Cost In Each Country?

Unlimited is the biggest change to the publishing and reading landscape
in a while. A book subscription service? It’s almost shocking it wasn’t
done earlier. The current cost is $9.99 USD in the US, £7.99 in the UK,
9.99 CAD in Canada, 13.99 in Australia, and around 9-11
USD equivalent everywhere else. One big point that many people miss, is
that if you have Amazon Prime, you essentially already have a similar
service to Kindle Unlimited for free, the only catch is that you can
only borrow one book per month. Although with Prime you also get Prime
First Reads which allows you to pick from a few curated about to
be released books every month, although if you want to read about to be
released books, you might as well sign up for our ARC program and enjoy a much wider selection totally free.

Keep in mind that both Prime Reading (part of Amazon
Prime) and Kindle Unlimited have free trials, so you can try before you
buy with no obligation.

If you already have Prime, and are not a fast reader,
it might make perfect sense to simply use Prime Reading, but if you do
that you’re looking at a reduced selection and nowhere near as many
books. If you read rapidly, there’s only one real option. $9.99 USD is
very fair, and with just Kindle Unlimited and 10 bucks you can be
entertained as a reader all month.

You can sign up for Kindle Unlimited HERE.

There is a bit more to consider than cost, of course.
While you wouldn’t sign up for the $119 prime membership simply for the
Prime Reading, if you already have it keep in mind the selection offered
on Prime Reading, although smaller, is usually higher quality and
composed of books from the Big 5 publishing houses. This is entirely
subjective, of course, so if you prefer majority self-published titles
then Kindle Unlimited might have higher quality books for you.

Kindle Unlimited is important because it’s a
stand-alone service, cheaper than Netflix, and in my opinion the best
value out of any subscription service that exists. HUNDREDS of new books
come out every day, in every category, for Kindle Unlimited and there’s
well over a million titles and counting. Lower quality matters less
when you’re not paying per book – if you click on a book and it ends up
not being good, simply stop reading – there’s no hassle for a refund or
annoyance at wasted money. I strongly recommend Kindle Unlimited,
despite the small cost.

While you’re here, why not check out our free tools for publishers & self publishers or our articles?

Debunking Author Earning Reports & The Bad eBook Data They Promote!

This is a rather short article, by design. I browse a lot of popular self publishing websites, and wanted to take some time to refute some of the data they are displaying as true, which is unintentionally misleading author’s and publishers alike. First off, these market share graphs, created by a guy named Paul Abbassi, are everywhere. I guess it is because there is no central authority to really collect this data, and the private companies that do hold the data tight to their chest, and so we the mildly interest populace are left guessing. Paul asserts an air of authority, and through his Author Earnings Report (now known as Bookstat, as his original website author earnings.com is deleted) he creates a lot of official looking facts and figures that are spread far and wide. However, a cursory glance shows them to be a bit fantastical at best, as I will show in no particular order. I’m not exaggerating how wide spread his data is, here are some graphics from various extremely popular publishing websites. You might recognize them.

Above is a graph of E-Book market share, by Author Earnings Reports. The graph above was taken from an article by PublishDrive (whom I love, btw, great company), the same graph was re-designed and displayed in multiple articles on Kindlepreneur, similar info is on Idealog, Lulu.com, Geekwire, Janefriedman, QZ, Observer, ElectricLiterature, virtually every website that does articles on the self publishing industry. Before I get into just how inaccurate a lot of his data must be, keep in mind that Amazon releases NO ebook sales data. None. Zilch. All sales data, including Bookstat/AER’s, is from websites trawling Amazon, collecting sales ranks, and assuming. Ditto for other websites, most of whom don’t release hard or detailed data. It could be that Paul is not inaccurate in himself, it could simply be that collecting secondary scraps of information will, by definition, be wildly inaccurate when comparing so many secretive data sources.

I would also like to remind people that most websites where “data is money” skew numbers intentionally. Reddit stopped displaying downvotes, and also started fudging the exact upvote amounts, both to make it so anyone who wants accurate data must pay them, and also to retain a degree of control by letting themselves promote or punish certain behaviors with a higher ranking. If you think Amazon does not do this, you are naive. Amazon has incredibly complex algorithms, I certainly do not understand them, and any author who has been publishing with good results over a long period will tell you that the same amount of sales will give you a wildly different sales rank, and I’m not talking about subcategory rank. As Jeff Bezo’s essentially pioneered data scrapping his competitors and undercutting them, and the sales rank is an unofficial ranking granted to you for ranking purposes by Amazon, I think it’s safe to assume that your rank is not determined as a simple function of sales per day. As such, any data analysis collecting “sales” information purely from sales rank is doomed to fail.​ Sales rank is great to make a rough estimate of how much a book is selling, but it’s obviously insufficient to estimate total sales, otherwise Amazon would stop protecting their e-Book sales data like it’s the 11 herbs and spices.

Anyway, on to the bad data, in no particular order.

I will start with a silly one, he’s written JK Rowling twice into the list of top selling audiobook authors. This list looks almost official enough to base my entire writing strategy on, right?

Check this one out. Ignoring the fact that a generic genre called “Literature and Fiction” which outsells all of the other 44 genres (most of which, are literature and fiction) by a mile exists in this fantasy world, the numbers are also ridiculous compared to his own figures. He says (shown in next picture) that from April-Dec 2017 there were 25,425,137 e-books sold at $187,673,044 value.

Then he says (picture after next) that sales in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense was 215,519,384 e-books sold for $1,101,587,355 for the 18 month period from April 2017 – September 2018.

To believe his figures, you would have to believe that sales jumped from 25 million units sold in the last 9 months of 2017, to 190 million units in the first 9 months of 2018. Clearly, that’s untrue. 

This one’s confusing. He claims e-book sales are “pretty flat from month to month” for 2017 and even includes this graph showing them steady for some months (e-books in green.) The picture after that is his summary for the 9 months , which shows 1.3 billion in e-book sales. This graph very clearly shows almost exactly 150mil per month, for 9 months of the year. Yet Paul, in the prior years report, had estimated 2016’s e-book sales at 3.2 billion, when basic logic would dictate around 1.8 billion, or a little more or little less as it was the prior year. So 3.2 billion in e-book sales for 2016, and 1.8 billion in e-book sales for 2017? In the comments section months later, he tries to defend his data seemingly by making up more data. (third pic.)

So to re-cap, he is saying the 2016 data is less accurate, and is putting 2017 e-book sales at 3 billion (where did he get this figure from? It’s not in the report.) The fact that he clearly listed 9 months of e-book sales in 2017 here at a total value of 1.3 billion? Ignored completely.

So. The last 9 months of 2017’s e-book sales were 1.3 billion and that includes over 90% of the market  but all of 2017’s e-book sales were 3 billion, with 1.7 billion being made in the first 3 months. However, he only gives the 3 billion figure in the comments, with absolutely no explanation of how 1 + 1 = 5.

His explanation that he was capturing less of the market towards the beginning of the year, is paltry. He never mentioned that when he released the report, only as a reply to a comment many months after the report was released. He also, according to many forum posts and comments, went back and added 50-100 million to various figures, which is an absurd amount to simply add without explanation. 

Some of what he says could make sense, if it was said upfront. Editing, adding and subtracting from your figures in real time to keep up with criticism of your figures as the criticism comes in, is shady and sloppy at best. Throwing out large numbers without explanation is also absurd. Not to mention that, without fail, every years report he releases contradicts the prior years report in such extreme ways as to make it clear that one of them must be wrong. The actual data analysis of the figures seems sloppy, and the underlying data could better be referred to as the underlying assumptions. Throw in the fact that even if he had a perfect data collector, he could never directly collect sales data complicated enough to make his data useful for targeting – and you’re left with the notion that letting this guy inform us is wrong. People make real, life changing decisions as authors and publishers based on this information. What if the commonly referred to 85% market share of the e-book market Amazon has, isn’t true? Amazon doesn’t claim it. The implications for decisions such as to go exclusive or wide, or what category to publish in, are massive.

I suppose the obvious next step is to ask – how can we get accurate data on the market?

To be honest, I’m unsure. I feel a combination of the little hard data we have, such as from The Association Of American Publishers and NPD Pubtrack, plus $ statements from the companies selling the books themselves, along with niche analysis through inference from a rough analysis of sales ranks, would give a relatively decent picture, good enough for any small publisher to rely upon. Who knows, maybe if enough people are interested I will do my best to paint a decent picture of the current e-book market. Until then, I hope this helped some people understand just how sad the state of “common knowledge” e-book market analysis is. Stay aware!

Comparing eBook Distributors

Comparing eBook Distributors

This is a review and comparison for PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, Ingram, and SmashWords.

comparing eBook distributors


Comparing Publishdrive, Smashwords, Ingram, and Draft2Digital reviews.

So, you’ve decided to hop off of Amazon’s wild ride (or at least, check out your other options) and you want to go wide. No more editing your manuscript to maximize KU pages read, no more obsessively refreshing Amazon to see the new KU rate, no more spikes and valleys in your legacy sales, just a pure, broad, bread and butter honest selling of books.

Please, take my advice – if you have more than, say, 10 books, you would be an absolute idiot to try to upload all your books separately to each separate bookseller. You might think the extra 10% on your income is worth it, but you’ll get more than an extra 10% from the sales of smaller book sellers you would of never individually uploaded to. Yes, distributors like PublishDrive take 10%, but they add absolutely enormous value, ease and reliability to the process, and being able to see all your sales data aggregated in one spot is almost worth it alone, even without the usual boost in income that comes from being on hundreds of book sellers at once. When I had my books uploaded to dozens of book sellers individually, I would literally find out what my payment was when it hit my account – it’s simply impossible to log in to every one regularly. Need to update a book? Good luck. With a distributor you only need to focus on and improve a single copy of each book, and it’s updated across hundreds of sellers.

So the question is then, which one is the best?

To avoid smothering you with my bias, I’m going to break down the actual metrics and give a (kinda) neutral assessment. If you are not interested in a long article, and simply want to know the best based on my research, go ahead and sign up with PublishDrive

Some distributors are so bad I’m not even including them here. One of them, Streetlib, is so bad I wrote an entire article about how bad it is – which is here. Never use Streetlib, which is composed of borderline criminals.

The main legitimate distributors are PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, and Ingram.

PublishDrive, Smashwords and Draft2Digital give you the greatest reach for E-Books, whereas Ingram is best for those who want to sell primarily paper copies, and who’s desire is to get into actual bookstores. I strongly recommend focusing on E-Book self publishing as around 70% of sales worldwide are E-Books now through E-Readers, but it’s whatever you want.

Now, there are a few factors to consider when selecting. One is reach – which one puts your books in front of the widest audience, for greatest potential sales? Another is royalty share – what slice of the pie do they take? Another very important and underrated factor is usability and sales reporting, since accurate and up to date sales data will give you the knowledge you need to maximize sales by spotting trends or fixing issues. Finally I would say support, because when your sales are your livelihood, it’s extremely important to have a responsive team that will help you deal with any issues.

Comparing eBook Distributor Payouts

eBook Royalty Share Comparison

First, let’s compare royalty share. All distributor’s value should be weighed against their payment, which is a percentage of your revenue. Below is a graph comparing the money you will get from a 0.99c, 2.99c, 6.99c and 9.99c book published through a distributor, from a sale on Amazon.

NOTE: This royalty share, to be a fair comparison, is not taking into account each actual book sellers cut. So for example, in real life, it would be 2.99 list price, then the book sellers cut (30% for books priced 2.99 or over for Amazon), then they would take their particular percentage from the 70% left over.

Draft2Digital takes 15% of your royalties, so 15% of the theoretical 70% of list price. Same with Smashwords, except Smashwords also has it’s own website it sells it’s books on, so you will get 85% of list price for books sold on the actual Smashwords website. PublishDrive takes a flat 10% of your income, but they also have a subscription service for $100 per month, so in essence you will not pay a dollar in extra royalties to them after you start making $1,000 or more per month. Clearly, PublishDrive is the best in terms of payment. The subscription even comes with $50 Amazon Advertising Credit and a free 1 month trial, so essentially the first 1 and 1/2 months are free.

For Ingram, you can enter your books information here to see what you will be paid from the physical book sales.

Here is the amount that actually ends up in your pocket for every sale you make at a given price point:

Comparing eBook Distributor Distribution

publishdrive smashwords draft2digital ingram comparison table

Next up is reach. All the best royalty pricing in the world won’t help you if your book is not in front of a wide audience. Would you rather keep 10% of a million sales or 100% of 4 sales? The choice isn’t that drastic, but you get the idea. Below is a graph of which major retailers are available through these distributors. You’ll notice Ingram is excluded from a lot of these graphs, because they are a relatively niche service that is only really amazing for people who are 100% into physical books and want their books in actual stores.

I know from experience that 90% of your sales from going wide will be Amazon, Apple Ibooks, Google Play, and to a smaller extent Barnes and Noble and Kobo. The rest will be miscellaneous sales from the hundred other book sellers.

At the time of writing this, Draft2Digital is trying to get on Google Play, and might eventually get on. I will update if that happens. In the meantime, the data is fairly clear. Smashwords is the worst choice in terms of distribution, unless you want to upload your books yourself to Amazon and Google Play, and use Smashwords for all other marketplaces and for access to the Smashwords marketplace. Draft2Digital is quite broad but requires you to have your own Google Publishers account which is actually quite hard to do and I don’t think it’s open for new accounts right now. PublishDrive is the clear winner here, as you can see. To be honest before I wrote this article I knew I preferred PublishDrive, but looking at the data it really seems PublishDrive is miles ahead, with Draft2Digital coming up in a close second. Only do Draft2Digital if you are going to do Google Play yourself, as they make up about 40% of my wide sales.


Usability & Sales Reporting

Now, onto usability and sales reporting. This is a bit subjective, but to summarize the common sentiment on author forums, Draft2Digital and PublishDrive both have amazing interfaces, whereas Smashwords is quite bad. Smashwords has miles to go in terms of easy formatting, and you will have to learn Smashword’s systems whereas with PublishDrive or Draft2Digital anyone can understand it straight away.

Now, for support. Support is subjective, but I can also vouch for PublishDrive with Draft2Digital a close second. PublishDrive goes to bat for the author much more – they have real humans on the other end who actually want your book to sell. This is very important for erotica, because imagine having to deal with your distributor’s rules and regulations on top of all the actual rules from the various book sellers. To my knowledge, PublishDrive has no additional regulations, and they are very good at noticing when your book is in violation of a book sellers regulations and letting you know to fix it. PublishDrive also lets you add a co-author and they pay out their percentage separately which is a godsend for anyone who does collaborations.

All in all, I have to recommend PublishDrive. When I started this article I had no idea it would be such an endorsement  for PublishDrive. I should remind readers that I am not being paid to post this, and I’ve had a majority of my books on PublishDrive for ages before this website was created. Here are the links to every distributor listed here, and whoever you pick, I hope you experience massive success. 

As part of a promotion, PublishDrive is giving a free $25 Amazon Advertising Credit to people who sign up using their promo link, which is the one used on this page in links to PublishDrive. We update it with their new links regularly.


Used one of these distributors? Share your experience below!