So you want to be a publisher? All good, read this.
The way you approach publishing will depend on your motivation. If you are trying to become a publisher, that is to say, you are hoping to one day make a living publishing books or other written materials that you yourself did not write, then I think you will find this guide of the utmost use. If you are a self-publisher, looking to publish your own works, I should give a small warning that there are many who like to write, but not to publish, and if you spend most of your time writing you would be far better off trying to establish a symbiotic relationship with a publisher rather than trying to learn how to publish yourself. Do not even entertain the thought of signing up with any “publisher” that requires you to pay them upfront or at all, and look for a publisher that will pay you and assume all costs. “Vanity Presses” as we call them, that require a payment to publish your book, are taking advantage of you. If you think for whatever reason you will not be able to get a high quality publisher to publish your book, then by all means publish it yourself, but understand self-publishing is not some mere component of being an author.
Even though it’s obvious that self-publishing is far more like publishing than writing, even in the name, many authors are still surprised. They are usually so self-absorbed in writing their novel, which will of course be wildly popular and rise above all others based upon it’s brilliance alone, that when they are “finished” with their “hard work” they can be somewhat upset to find out that their novel, which took them a long period of time to write, is merely the cost of the ticket to enter the race, a beginning rather than an end. If that’s you, don’t despair, despite the fact it will take quite some effort to become basically competent as a publisher, having a basic understanding of publishing will put you far above most authors and perhaps even some publishers, and the cost-benefit ratio of your efforts will improve with every book published. If you’re a hard-working author this guide is for you too.
This guide is as brief as I can make it, because I respect your time, however if any part of it is lacking in explanation just leave a comment. This is the guide I wish I had when I was starting out as a publisher, it would have saved me much of my past trial and error. You need no funds whatsoever to start as a publisher, and to me that is part of what makes the publishing industry so superb. It is also virtually impossible to be immoral while selling a book, as if you mislead a customer about a book’s contents, or if your book is considered bad by those buying it, you will receive no shortage of negative reviews, and all of Amazon & other retailer’s algorithms are very good at detecting bad books and burying them. A truly bad book will receive about 5 reviews, all bad, for every 10-15 purchases, and be instantly relegated to page 2,342 of Amazon’s search results, dead on arrival. This means that if you are “Machiavellian” or try to treat a book like any other product, you will generally be punished by the market. You can’t scam someone with a book, even the cheapest book has a certain cost floor and you will never exceed it unless you are giving customers what they want and expect. The low barrier to entry, combined with the much higher role quality plays in the success of books as opposed to other products, makes publishing a perfect industry for individuals of any age or background. Publishing is by far the most meritocratic industry I know about, perhaps the only industry I could describe as such.
To greatly cut down the length of this guide it is written out to self-publishers even though all the advice is intended primarily for publishers, this is because all the advice to self-publishers is easily able to be understood in a traditional publishing context. If I refer to the time it takes a self-publisher to write the book, a publisher can just understand that in terms of the time it will take to find a quality novel, or the cost of the book, or the cost and time it will take a ghostwriter to complete a book. Self-publishing is less nuanced than publishing, so I’m writing this guide out to self-publishers and publishers will just be able to adapt the advice to whatever style or niche of publishing they are pursuing.
You will begin your path to publishing not with a plan, but with an understanding of the market you are about to enter. You respond to the market. You do not create the market, you do not invent new niches, and you are not a trailblazer. There are around two million books published in the English language every year, and your book will also be competing with every other book that has ever been published. Do not ever be so arrogant as to assume that the people want a book in some new niche that you assume is only unpopular by virtue of not having been blessed with your novels, until you have enough experience and success to attempt this very rare feat.
To familiarize yourself with the market, as a start you need to do some thorough research. This will include narrowing your general ideas down to specific niches, and knowing the in’s and out’s of that specific niche and all related niches. You need to know at a glance what amount of sales one can expect from a book #1 in your niche, a book #10 in your niche, #25, #1000, etc. You need to know how long popular books in that niche stay popular, how many reviews are required to be seen as legitimate and what star rating is better or worse than that niche’s average. You will need to become niche-literate, understanding all the trends and terminologies of your niche. You will need to read bestsellers in your niche, and maintain active membership in forums and groups related to your niche. You will zero in on specific keywords important to your niche, using our free tools here and other free tools to comprehend your niche’s niches, and understand the motivations and desires behind each keyword. We will get into specifics in short time. You will also get used to updating your knowledge, spending around a half hour a week updating and maintaining your understanding of the market, browsing through the top 100 bestseller lists and keeping an eye on major trends. As you put the market research techniques I am about to mention into practice, remember not to draw conclusions. We are never as smart as we think we are.
Treat all new data in isolation, until you have a large enough data pool to actually draw meaningful conclusions. More casually stated, “it is what it is,” and to illuminate this concept consider this:
Mark has started publishing in his niche, which is cut-out paper origami books, as he loves origami. It’s a small niche, but he notices a clear trend – most “break out hits” tend to be on Sunday. Being smart, he goes through and really examines the data, and finds to his astonishment 47% of books that become bestsellers in his category are published on Sunday, far above the about 14% one would expect if all days were equally good to release a novel. He reasons that customers are more likely to enjoy their hobbies on the weekend, but Friday and Saturday are for more active activities. So, someone who is interested in origami would be more interested in practicing it on the weekend when they are not busy with work, and Sunday is clearly the most popular day for doing so, therefore while origami is on their mind, they are much more likely to order an origami book. Taking this newfound knowledge, he releases his next three books on a Sunday. To his surprise, they all do far, far worse than normal, and he sells 30% less! How did this happen?
What happened was, Mark drew a conclusion he should not have. He should have let the data be what it was, it is what it is. 47% of the bestsellers in his category were published on a Sunday, that is the data, and the data is what it is. His conclusion, that Sunday was a great day to publish, was totally wrong and had the opposite effect on his books.
What Mark did not know and could not have noticed, was that most of those books published on Sunday that were bestsellers in his niche, despite appearing to be from different authors, were actually published by the same company, a large Japanese company that not only sells origami books but also origami supplies. While they make the minority of books in the niche, they publish 33% of the bestsellers, since they advertise each book heavily, ensuring each one’s success, since they make money back from more than just the book sales – each book is full of recommendations for their parent companies products. The only reason Sunday had more bestsellers launched, was because the company only publishes on that day, which was not even Sunday, as in Mark’s city in Hawaii, but rather Monday in Japan. In fact, Mark didn’t even know Origami books have more sales outside of the US than in the US, which renders both his data, that more sales were on Sunday, and his conclusion, that it was due to Sunday origami sessions, as wrong.
So when Mark published his books on Sunday, he was competing not only with the Japanese company’s new releases, but all the other books in that category released on Sunday, making his Sunday releases fall flat. Amazon presents his new book to customers who buy in that category, and they are more likely to select the advertised releases with higher rankings and more reviews, meaning that unless the majority of his income is derived from advertising, Mark has just screwed himself with his bad start. Mark thought he had identified the best day to publish, he actually identified the worst by far. This is a simple concept but essential to grasp for any market research, not just publishing.
In the Old Testament, God is asked for his name. Knowing that the ancient man standing before him could never comprehend his name, he simply replies, “I am that I am.” Biblical scholars trying to understand the meaning of this answer, discussing if it was an evasion of the question, a hint at the nature of God, some sort of ancient Hebrew code, are perhaps making themselves less wise in an attempt to be clever.
It is what it is, don’t build upon your own misunderstanding.
Market Research Techniques
Market research is not intimidating, and requires much more hard work than it does intelligence. To begin with, if you have a general sense of what category would you like to publish within, then start with a stroll through the Top 100 eBook bestseller lists, taking a look at each book’s individual listing on the way down. There are a lot more than people realize – some creative searches on search engines will reveal quite a few more than are listed or expected – and you’ll want to scroll through all of them, with your mind switched on. Take note of the following attributes, if you have a bad memory as I do, you might want to write these down to very quickly go over at the end of each Top 100 list.
What price range are the books in the Top 100 list, and what are the most common prices?
What length are they, and how does the length effect the price?
What are common themes in the top few positive reviews, and the top few negative reviews? Notice any trends?
What is their sales rank, and when was the book published?
Are almost all of the top 100 recently published, or were they released long ago? This is important, as certain niches are more static, with a book popular a few years ago just as likely to be popular today, whereas other niches are constantly shifting, rewarding the quick who can hop on trends. Generally speaking you will find that the smaller the niche, the less lucrative but more steady the money from each book will be, but there are countless exceptions.
What authors are dominating this niche, if any? What publishing houses, if any?
A lot of this data will need additional experience to understand – for example, it’s much more useful to look at the sales ranks when you have a feel for how many sales that sales rank represents – but this slow scroll will give you the basic data you need to formulate an understanding of your niche. You need to know the lay of the land.
Don’t forget, if you are publishing in English and in niches that are not particularly associated with any particular countries, you’ll want to switch to Amazon US if you live overseas.
Consider whether or not you would be interested in the books you’re seeing in this slow scroll. It’s much easier to market a book in a niche where you have similar interests to the consumers, this is not an option for some, but if you can align your interests and the customers interests, great. At the same time, do not mistake what you want with what the market wants, whenever what you want and what the customers want are in conflict, rule against yourself and regulate your thoughts.
Once you do that for the Top 100 lists, you’ll find it easy to do the exact same, but for specific keywords. If you’re thinking about creating a book that a keyword is very relevant to within your niche, say “The Bird Origami Handbook,” you’re going to want to search for “Bird Origami” on Amazon, and scope out your most direct competition – those the book retailer feels are the best results for that search term.
Taking note of the above is a start, and as you’re slow scrolling, which will take a few hours at least, remember that a book is a lifelong asset. I have books that I cannot remember publishing that still make me money, and a good book does not have an expiry date. If you publish a book and you make $10 in the first month, have you done bad? Well sure, but to be specific, you have had a bad first month. You can badly publish a good book, have it fail, go golfing, join the military, invade Poland, raise a family, die and be the first man to be brought back to life, and then after all that, start learning about publishing and then make your book a success. Books don’t go off unless you have tied your book to some specific time in some specific way that would make it dated. Even if you did, you can change that. I don’t publish books with expiry dates printed on them, I have never heard of a book that self-destructs after some time, what is with the obsession some publishers have with instant success?
So why complain about a few hours spent, or a few weeks or months spent, learning how to perfect the production and utilization of an asset that will live longer than you?
To begin with, start researching Amazon only, as they are the largest bookseller by far, and you’re far better off knowing one website very well rather than trying to derive data and meaning from dozens of websites.
Now, perhaps you’ll want a wider picture of the landscape, as a prelude to the above niche-related slow scroll, or just to get the broader view.
To do so, open all major Top 100 lists – these are those top level lists, that appear after selecting “Fiction” or “Non-Fiction” on Amazon’s Top 100 main page. Go through each major Top 100 list, and just record the 1st book’s sales rank, the 10th book’s sales rank, the 50th and the 100th. This takes 30 seconds tops, per category. Comparing these gives you a market snapshot at a glance, that is far better than any outdated estimation of sales by category. The 1st book’s sales rank will give you a ceiling, as high as you can reasonably expect any book you publish in that category to go. This is where your book can go if the stars align and you are immaculate, and you will earn a shiny “#1 in Category X” badge that will display on your book’s cover in the search results, giving you an eternal boost. The 10th book’s sales rank will let you know not just what you’ll get if you can reach the Top 10, but you’ll also know how hard it will be to break into the Top 10. This is not for bragging rights, but for the enormous benefit of being listed high up in the Top 100 list. This natural visibility will offset many costs – you might make a loss on advertising reaching the top of your category, and make the money back from the natural sales you receive from the increase in popularity, having your book at the top of those lists really adds value in the minds of the customers, and the smaller impact of “This book is #8 in Category X” as a customer might notice as he is scrolling through your books page, will not hurt at all. The 50th and 100th book are the best for figuring out how deep a niche is, that is to say, it will give you some sort of approximation of how many readers there are and how many books they read. If it is a popular category, and the first few books are sky high in rank but #50 and #100 are pitiful, then reconsider, unless you believe that there are very few new books being published in a category.
You can also find other websites that have collected this data once years ago, using all wrong estimations of sales at given sales ranks, that present their “lists of the least competitive book categories” whom I have nothing but utter contempt for, if you want to check that out. I think there is a program that compares the data for you, for some absurd price, like $90 USD, complete with fake estimates and arbitrary “competitive scores,” this program or one like it is OK if you can afford it, and use it to get the hard data on sales ranks easier, rather than relying on their estimations and scores. Don’t be fooled by additions like direct Amazon keyword data tools that are bundled in these expensive programs, we offer the same, but in my opinion more accurate, direct data tools on this website for free with no sign-up. Check the keyword section.
To do a basic visual cost-benefit analysis, we’ll compare the data. We want to know which Top 100 category list paints the best picture of the category. That is to say, which category appears to be paying the most per page, with the least competition?
I’m sure there is a more efficient algorithm to figure out the most profitable category, but I dropped out of high school after a long and distinguished track record of straight F’s in math, consistency is key, so we’re using this workaround.
First, estimate how many new books are being published in each category you are comparing. This is arbitrary, but we’ll say per month. You can get a very rough idea of this by going to Advanced Amazon Search for Kindle, and entering your broad category keyword, for example “Sports Romance” if you are combining this data with the Top 100 Sports subcategory of the Romance Category. Sort for a recent month and most recently published, and enter the appropriate year, then select New, Kindle Edition, and English. We’re selecting Kindle only to simplify data, the results we get will be very lacking, so we’re trying to make sure that all the data we collect is lacking in the same way, as the amount per month we calculate for this category search is not supposed to be the amount of books published in the category per month, but rather a number representing that number. The numbers we collect are only useful to compare to each other, we are comparing ratios. It’s similar but not the same to how pollsters collect data on which candidate is preferred in a state of many millions, by polling a few thousand. Keep all numbers to create a moving average in the future. I’m hoping this picture shows the advance search clearly. Just take the number of books published that month, which will work for many niches, or take the number of books published over whatever days you can record and extrapolate that into the month. The search stops showing specifics over 1,000, which is why there is that need to use a smaller range for larger categories.
Then you need average sales rank, using full or partial market snapshots. You can just use #100 as a decent measure, and make it straightforward. Write “1” at the top left, write ‘250k’ just left of the center line, as that is a rough estimation of the dead zone where your book will not make any sales, this changes little but if you don’t trust my estimation use your own, and in the center between 1 and 250k, write the sales rank of #50.
Then there is price per page, which you get by dividing the Top 100 list’s average, not median, price by it’s average, not median, page count. The higher price per page, the more you can generally expect to make for every page you write or pay for, certain niches lend themselves to shorter works and some to longer, whether that means more or less work for you per page depends on if the prices are proportional or not. Write in the far right your highest price per page, and your lowest in the top just to the right of the center.
List the niches vertically, right down the middle, from least books published per month to most books published per month. Draw a line, physically or in whatever way you’re doing this, out from the niche to it’s average sales rank on the left and it’s price per page on the right. This makes recognizing the most attractive niche way easier, because now you just look for the ‘longest’ niche on the paper.
By the way, don’t neglect keyword research – it’s more than twice as good to rank first for a specific keyword in your niche, than it is to rank 2nd for two keywords. The first result on Amazon gets an average of 27% of the clicks for that search term, with the second getting 13%, which rapidly declines from there to below 1% at the end of the page. Ranking first or second in a few keywords is better than ranking 10th for many keywords. Your publishing house or pen name publishes within a niche, but each individual book targets a keyword within that niche.
How to get started writing, or hiring ghostwriters, or soliciting manuscripts.
Writing Your First Novels
When you discover a niche and category you want to write for, you should write a detailed plot line, and commit to actually writing a minimum amount per day. If you write “when you have the time” you can expect to be that lazy author talking to your friends about that book you’ve been working on for a few years now, how it’s nearly done, but we all know it’s not. Treat this like a job if you ever want it to be a job. Don’t be obsessed with making your first book perfect, it’s only practice that makes perfect, and perfect is the enemy of good. If you’re worried about your lack of skill being embarrassing, simply write your first few novels under a pen name. You can improve or toss them later, and you’ll only get better through practice.
When I say a detailed plot line, I mean detailed. Part of committing yourself to writing a certain amount of time per day, is forcing yourself to work through creative blocks, mental funks and days where you have no motivation. This is possible with a detailed plot line, where you can “stick to the script” so to speak, and not have to rely on your creativity as much. It also provides a starting point, and starting is usually half the battle. The important process here is to write at all costs. Do you have writers block? Good, write anyway, even if you believe it’s bad, then if it really does end up being bad delete it. Sitting on your hands will never do any good in any way. WRITE! Start with writing a plot line, and don’t overthink it. Your plot can always be edited later, although of course you don’t want to start writing until your book has a storyline that will make it engrossing and alleviate the stress of having to be constantly creative as you write. After that set aside a certain amount of time every day or on certain days to write, and during that time turn off the internet and put your phone in another room. Despite all the little lies you might tell yourself, you absolutely do not need the internet to reference anything while you write, and if you really do you can switch it back on and switch it back off straight after.
Writing does take practice, which can be a Catch 22. Since there’s no escaping this reality, use pen names for your early work so as you improve you don’t have to be associated with your pathetic early work, and when you release your “first novel” aka the first novel that you release under your real name or the pen name that takes off, you too can be one of those “first time published” authors who have amazing success. Nobody writes a good book for their first book, just like no stonemason goes and builds a jaw-dropping stone facade without starting on retaining walls, you can’t get good at what you have not done. All authors who are successful with their first published book, have either written many other books before or they re-wrote the same book or series a hundred times. They get good by doing, not by thinking about practice, not by studying how to practice, but by actually practicing, which for you as a writer means writing.
Insufficient authors are born out of arrogance, they view writing as not a distinct skill, but a vehicle to share their brilliant thoughts or brilliant narratives, and they spend all their time planning their brilliant voyage from here to there, worrying only about what port they will stop at and when they will leave it for the next destination, never sparing a thought for the fact they have to build their own boat, and should worry about the boat more than what they will do with the boat. Worry more about improving your ability to write, rather than what you are writing about.
Consider valuing hard work above ‘intelligence’ regardless of the industry you enter. Intelligence is cheap, and PHD’s living in low cost of living countries can be hired for $10 per hour, and intelligence is getting far cheaper, with the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning soon to arrive in full force. The future belongs to the hard working, which of course still entails working hard to increase your intelligence.
So you wrote your book. Go through it using modern technology, such as free grammar and spelling programs. Perfect structuring might be subjective but spelling and grammar are not.
Formatting your book is hard to explain without countless photos, so just go to a search engine and find one of the hundreds of guides, this part is straightforward and can be done automatically. Once that is done, you’ll want a cover. You’ll want to check out our guide on creating an effective cover, and our tool that allows you to see what your book will actually look like as it will be shown to the customer.
Creating a paperback from an eBook is as easy as changing the formatting to fit your physical book’s dimensions, and the adding of a spine and back to the eBook cover is simple too, there are many free tools to generate this automatically.
This concludes the physical creation of your book, simple. Simple, but not easy – a marathon of 100 miles in a straight line is very simple and straightforward, it’s also incredibly hard. It’s very rewarding however, and you’ll have a lot of fun and experience a lot of satisfaction as you work on your novel. Either that or you’ll hate it and quit halfway, I mean I don’t know you at all so who knows. As they say, you should shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll reach the stars, but then again maybe you’ll reach the empty voice of space, I’m not a scientist and still not sure how space works.
How to hire ghostwriters and solicit manuscripts + Which is right for you?
The path to publishing has a crossroads – you can either hire ghostwriters to write books that you then release, or you can solicit manuscripts from the public and work with authors to publish their novels. This is an artificial distinction of course, you can do both, but they are actually pretty unrelated paths, not too much of the former will help you with the latter and vice versa, I’m sure I will get pushback from some publishers reading this for this opinion, but an opinion is just that. I don’t think a pro vs con list would be appropriate here, so I will instead do my best to convince you why you should hire ghostwriters, and then do my best to convince you why you should solicit manuscripts. This will naturally reveal which path will be best for you, because you’ll find the arguments much stronger and better stated for the position that suits your personality type.
Soliciting manuscripts is the superior option.
Paying ghostwriters has the startup costs of having to pay upfront for every single word, and that means you’ll incur much higher costs per book, money that could be spent on advertising the book. This means you’ll have to split your resources, and will still have to pay even if you don’t end up liking the book. The future belongs to decentralization, and selecting the best books sent to you from authors all over the world will result in way better results.
We have all heard that “The world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, owns no cars. The world’s most popular media company, Facebook, creates no content. The world’s most valuable retailer, Alibaba, carries no stock. And the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property.”
So why, in this era of maximizing profit while reducing ownership and thus risk, why would you try to go in the opposite direction, by taking full ownership and full risk for every novel? If you solicit manuscripts, you’ll not just be able to improve on your advertising and technical processes, but also on your network and relationship with authors. You’re a people person, you’ll find it much easier to compete with all these data crunching robots if you are competing with your personality. Anyone can learn technical skill, and with globalization anybody can hire a ghostwriter and sell books online. Having a public facing company to solicit books and build your publishing company’s brand, means your knowledge of your own country will be utilized, your personality will be utilized, and you can’t just be replaced by some nameless faceless competitor. Plus if you spend money advertising your publishing company, that money also doubles as money advertising your book, and vice versa, so even as you spend to advertise books you’re also building up a larger brand insulating you from temporary failures in individual books.
In a traditional publishing company, both the publisher and the author advertise the book. The publisher advertises in the traditional sense, with advertising dollars, and the author advertises the book by mentioning it to others, writing about it online, talking about the book with fans, being the face and de-facto brand of the book, and all this is usually done for the lifetime of the author, without any explicit agreement being required. In addition, even if the author has just one of her books published by you, all her other books will act as advertisements for yours, since people search books by author, not by publisher.
This natural boost means much more when you’re a smaller company with a smaller advertising budget, and so it’s not just going to be a better future, it will also be an easier start. Working in conjunction with other authors means you’ll be eliminating the cost to get the book written in the first place, and even though you’ll be paying the costs, you’ll benefit from the author promoting the work.
Hiring ghostwriters is the superior option.
I can sum up why hiring ghostwriters is far superior to soliciting manuscripts in one word – freedom. You will own all of the books you publish, meaning your advertising will be twice as effective in terms of ROI compared to traditional publishers.
Besides, who is going to send their manuscript to you, you are barely qualified to self publish, let alone publish anyone else’s work. You cannot be using trial and error on other people’s work. If you do well on an authors book you get half the pay, but if you do bad you’re still out all the money you spent advertising, and you’re stuck with a toxic asset you can’t even adjust to be better. You’ll also have to make your money too fast, that author will expect you to spend money on launch and have results on launch, even if that means a reduced ROI vs slow conservative spending. You also can’t shelf a book for later, every book you publish will be your priority whether you want it to or not.
What do you do if the first few books you publish for an author go bad, and your reputation is ruined? The slow start to a publishing company built with ghostwriters, is actually a benefit to you. You can experiment, try new tactics, brand the books however you want, change the text however you want, and you get all the royalty checks. Are you really going to start calculating what you need to pay other people every month, and maintain that system the entire time you keep the company?
To keep only a percentage of sales, after spending time and effort fixing and marketing a book… You mean commission work? Publishing is a slow industry even before splitting your income, you’re in no rush to be rich? You’re a coward to split risk on a mission that you have total control over – are you that bitch?
Sure with traditional publishing you can read the novel before you pay for it, but you can still read the ghostwriter’s other work before hiring him, and it will be tailored to your exact specifications.
What happens if you spot a great opportunity, a niche with lots of demand but not many new books being released? You can’t take advantage of that opportunity as a traditional publisher. Matter of fact, it’s just a cool fact and not an opportunity, if you’re a traditional publisher.
You need to be a public face from the moment you start soliciting manuscripts. That means all the negatives of being known, such as having to watch what you do and what you say, with zero benefits.
You can’t take risks without making mistakes, so splitting risk means you have to consider a third party every time you want to take a risk. A ghostwriter-driven company can go exclusive with Amazon for a few months, then go publish wide for a few months, and see what works best. You have to plan it all in advance with traditional publishing, and plans are easy to mess up but hard to abandon.
After considering the above two options, and hopefully thinking about much more than just the arguments above, you’ll decide how you want to start out. The specifics of how to solicit manuscripts, and how to hire ghostwriters, deserve their own guides longer than this one, but as this guide is to teach you how to publish and not to improve your processes, we’ll just shine a little light on each.
When you solicit manuscripts, your greatest blessing will be the quality of the manuscripts you select. You will be able to read every last word in a book before you accept it, allowing you to take your time and select the best. Yet, the quality of the manuscripts that are sent to you, for you to select from, will only be as good as you are perceived to be. You need to emulate, or actually be, a quality publishing house before good authors who write good books will trust you with their work. There are countless desperate authors with bad books who will send their novel to any publishing house, but you will only have slightly better odds waiting for an amazing novel to fall into your lap under those conditions than you would have playing the lottery. Yes you have lower upfront costs and a bigger marketing budget, but you will get a reduced ROI on every dollar you spend marketing, so you have to select only very high quality books. You would rather publish one high quality book per year than 10 lesser quality, if you are seeking to become a wealthy traditional publisher.
You will need at a minimum, a website to solicit your manuscripts, a proper way of calculating and paying out money to authors, and a launch plan for each book. Your website will eventually showcase your previously published books, but as a start it will be elegant, simple, and lay out clearly and directly your specific niche, what manuscripts you are looking for, and why authors should submit their manuscript to you. You should have two entry forms, one for individuals to send their manuscript, and one for authors who have already submitted their manuscript to ask for an update. In these forms, make sure to require all the basic information you need. You will need to solicit submissions yourself initially, until you have built up a brand that will show up in search results and hopefully be recommended and mentioned by the authors whose books you publish. You do this by engaging with as many writing communities as you possibly can, and recommending yourself whenever it’s appropriate to do so, as well as making sure your information is available on all lists authors seek out when they’re looking for publishers to submit their book to.
A great way to get your books on the lists that matter are to pretend to be an author searching for publishers, using search terms specific to your niche, and click on all the articles that show up. Find and contact the author of each blog post, and ask if your company can be included in the list, as you run a publishing company that meets the requirements. Be honest, earnest and very appreciative, and if you really are getting no manuscripts sent to you, by all means offer a small bonus for them to include your link, most blog writers make those lists by the dozens and have little regard for them, you might as well just offer $5 or $10 for them to include your website if it’s a webpage with a high ranking.
To those who will be hiring ghostwriters, your great blessing is your ability to target niches, and create a book you think will sell the best, rather than accepting a book you think will sell better out of the options you receive. Yet, you’ll have to accept that the manuscripts you order will either be expensive, or of lower quality than the books released by traditional publishers, or require enormous micro-management on your part and some luck to be brilliant.
Cheap, fast, good. You can select no more than two.
Solicit on every major platform where writers sell their services, making a post explaining what length and type of manuscript you want completed, and the price you are willing to pay per word. You will, of course, browse through hundreds of listings beforehand, to get a feel for what work commands what price. There is no standard rate for me to give you, because the prices don’t just vary based on the experience and skill of the writer you are hiring, but those prices also vary based on how easy or hard the work is to write. Fiction as a general rule will always be cheaper to create than Non-Fiction, the latter requiring research. The price drops lower if the work is not too long, and you provide a plot-line for the writer to work to. To cut costs, create your own plot-lines, post your job requirements on every hiring website every day, and go through the applications, making sure to only hire those whose portfolios have a large body of work that you enjoy and that is consistent, so you know it’s really their work and their writing quality is not some gamble.
To cut down on the hundreds of applications you will get, as so many writers apply to all work wanted posts even though they know for a fact they probably do not meet the requirements, here are some tips.
Make sure you state the major relevant information in the main heading, and make your work description is very detailed. At the very end of your work description, make sure you ask them to put a distinct word before their application, to prove they actually read the description. This will filter out 80% of the applications, removing all who cannot even skim a job description.
“To prove you have read this description, please type the word “Valid Application” before you type the rest of your pitch, as all applications without “Valid Application” as the first two words will be disregarded.”
Don’t list rocket scientist requirements if you are paying a labourer’s wages, there are many writers so you will eventually find a decent writer at a low price, usually those new to writing for a living, but not new to writing, and when you do eventually find a great writer at a low price you need to be aware that you are getting what will be expensive at a low price, and so make sure you religiously, without exception, pay on time, leave rave reviews on their profile as building reviews is often the very reason they take lower paying jobs to start out, and just generally uphold your end of the bargain in every way, as you are getting the better end of the bargain and would be a fool to screw it up. Be forgiving if they are taking more time than they estimated it would take for them to complete the work, and work with them in every way – this is primarily because this is what a decent human does, but there is also the fact that a writer who does not care about your opinion of their work, will just give you shit work. You can rush a writer if you are paying top dollar, that is to say above what they usually command, but rushing a writer who is cheap and good will turn that author into cheap and fast. Cheap, fast, good. Remember, you can only have two. If the writer is cheap and good, and you want to add fast, you will have to remove either cheap or good to insert fast. The same is true of any instance where you have selected two, but later try to add a third. There will not be all three except by lightning strike. You will only waste time being impatient and lose money being cheap, because perfection is the enemy of good.
I will start this off the obvious way, by mentioning we have a keyword research center here at Publishing With Love. Even though it is neglected, and needs to be updated and improved, it’s still a fantastic resource with fantastic tools. We have the only free tool that will allow you to view real keyword data, directly from Amazon. There is no sign-up or membership required, absolutely no bullshit, just real free data for anybody and everybody that wants it. Amazon is as secret as can be about their publishing data – they do not share or sell any of it – so all we can use is what is available on the front end. With our keyword tool, you enter a keyword – say, ‘Romance’ – and our tool will enter that keyword into the Amazon dropdown box and collect all the suggested completions, such as Romance Shifter, Romance Bad Boy, which reveals the most popular keyword combinations for any keyword. Then, it searches all kinds of permutations, adjusting spelling, adding letters before and after, searching from different countries, and giving you a nice list of all the drop down results, with the keyword combinations that show up the most highlighted, all in under three seconds from the moment you type in the keyword and hit enter. It’s a really required tool in your arsenal, we’re the only ones who offer this for free, and ours is better than paid options if I am being honest. This is because ours searches more combinations, and unlike other paid tools, even tools marketed to authors, ours only searches the Kindle Store specifically so you never get unrelated results.
There are also keyword lists, a keyword organizer, category keywords that can be searched, and whatever else I could make available to you for free with no sign-up. I avoid making promises, I am a Quaker after all, but I will do my best to add more good tools, eventually.
Shameless plug now over, let’s proceed to covering how to use keywords. Pay attention to this section, keywords are far more important than new publishers understand, and even though this guide is limited to basic information and not my more advanced techniques, this particular section is still key. I am not a publishing expert, despite being, in my very biased opinion, a good publisher, but I am a keyword expert – that is to say, I believe myself to be among the best in the industry in terms of keyword discovery and utilization. Keywords were the most important part of how I was able to create a thriving publishing company. I was a manual labourer from the age of 16, and went from doing backbreaking labour & choking on asbestos for below minimum wage, to having published thousands of books via my company that pretty much runs on autopilot, all in the space of a few years, thanks to my keywords. Take all of the following keyword advice without thinking twice.
I will give advice for Amazon since Amazon is the majority of the market, and most other booksellers have the similar keyword requirements as Amazon.
When you look at your keyword boxes in Amazon, you’ll see there are seven boxes. Each one of these boxes can contain 50 characters. You should use as much of those 50 characters as you can, and you do not need to show individual keywords within a keyword box with commas, you type them all in with no commas, just a space between words.
You do not repeat keywords, you can use various spellings and even the odd inaccurate spelling, if you feel it to be common enough to justify. Even though Amazon autocorrects the search automatically for the customer, a book with the inaccurate spelling will still rank higher in the search results for the autocorrected term. This is not usually good, there being usually higher quality keywords to enter, but this will ‘work’ in the sense you will rank higher for the misspelling even if it is autocorrected.
A category keyword will list your book in it’s associated category, just by using the keyword anywhere in your seven keyword boxes among any other keywords. There is an exception, if a category keyword is two words, then it has to be in it’s own box by itself. Category keywords can be viewed here, I suggest you expand each category by clicking and do not attempt a search, as the search breaks the webpage in some browsers.
The category keyword “Gettysburg” will rank your historical novel in the correct category, even if among other keywords in a keyword box. “historic american novel gettysburg” will get you in the “History/Americas/United States/Civil War/Campaigns & Battlefields/Gettysburg” category, but “historic american novel bull run” will not get you into the bull run category, because bull run is two words, so it would have to be put in it’s own category keyword box, wasting all the extra characters in that keyword box.
You do not need to enter any category keywords. I only enter the ones that would be included as keywords anyway, ignoring the odd category keyword that I don’t want to be in there, and all category keywords that are two words. Right after your book is approved, you’re just going to visit your Author Central dashboard, not your KDP dashboard, and click on the help button. You’ll select contact via phone, and you’ll be happy to find you’ll get a call back in just a few moments.
Most think that the Author Central support team, are just the Author Central support team. They believe that they should contact Author Central support if there’s an issue with Author Central, but otherwise never call them. They are actually the secret support, and will be happy to move your book into whatever categories you want as long as the book belongs there. You just call and ask, they will put your book into whatever category you choose, and you don’t need to mess up your keywords at all. You can even get your book put into a category for which there are no category keywords – yes they do exist!
Your keywords should be the most relevant keywords to your book, and not just thrown in randomly, you need to go through and structure your keywords to make the most relevant combinations.
To display the difference between random keywords and structured keywords, I will enter some keywords ordered in a random manner, then the same keywords structured the right way. This category is bad boy romance.
Wrong way: romance bad boy alpha male shy woman interracial
Right way: interracial bad boy alpha male romance shy woman
Amazon’s very complex and esoteric ranking algorithm is hard to understand, but here is what I can tell you with total confidence. Amazon considers chronological order, and you will rank higher for any keyword combination that exists in your keywords chronologically. If someone is searching for “interracial bad boy romance” you will rank your book much higher with the latter keywords.
This is because Amazon will identify that you have interracial before bad boy and before romance, and rank you much higher for the first search. It does not matter that you have other words separating this string. You would, of course, rank higher if the words were consecutive, but you’ll still rank higher for any search that exists in chronological order in your keywords. That is why you need to structure your keywords to create the most combinations relevant to your book.
In the above example, “Interracial” was put first because it is a common prefix, the data shows us that many will search for “interracial romance, interracial bad boy, interracial alpha male” yet it is less often they search for “romance interracial, bad boy interracial, alpha male interracial.” Common sense will tell you how to order your keywords to begin with and as you work you’ll gain the experience that will let you know how to order your keywords even better.
Romance was put towards the end, because romance is often a suffix. Customers are much more likely to search for “interracial romance, bad boy romance, alpha male romance” than they are to search for “romance interracial, romance bad boy, romance alpha male” and that is just more likely when combining two keywords, the effect becomes far more apparent when we consider multiple keyword strings, as customers search for your books specific sub-niche.
We consider what order of keywords will result in the most relevant keyword strings.
We have put an emphasis on direct combinations, as well. Your book will be perfectly presented for searches like “interracial bad boy” and “alpha male romance” as those are direct, unseparated strings in your keywords. For those searches, you’re as relevant as can be.
“Shy woman” was added to the back, and not in the center before romance, even though I would imagine “shy woman romance” is a more common search term than “romance shy woman.” This is because every separating word reduces relevancy, and the damage from reducing relevancy of the more common strings in this text box far exceeds the potential good of including this relatively uncommon keyword in any potential keyword combinations. So you’re not always just putting words that are usually on the end at the end, and words that are usually at the front at the front. You’re considering what combinations are important, and making an educated guess which word combinations will result in the most relevant chronological matches to customer searches.
The amount of books whose results you show up in does not matter, it’s how high you rank in the ones that do. Remember that the first result alone takes nearly 30% of all the customer clicks. You will rank in pretty much the same amount of searches with structured keyword data as you would with unstructured data, but your book’s relevancy, and thus ranking, within the searches that match your keyword order will be way higher. This does not just increase the amount of customers who find your book naturally as a result of your keywords, it doubles, triples, quadruples, sextuples your keyword effectiveness.
This tactic will not lead to success on it’s own – Amazon sorts the sort order of books that appear in search results using far more than their keywords, including the amount of customers that click on your book, the sell-through percentage, even data as odd as how active a customer’s mouse is on the webpage, whether the customer who clicked on your book then goes on to buy another book after viewing yours, even if that customer does not buys your book, the percentage of your book that is read on their Kindle, how fast they read it, and what review they leave. Keywords are so important, but even they can’t help you if your bottleneck is somewhere else. If your book is not liked by customers, you’ll find it won’t show up regardless, good or bad book.
An “objectively” bad book can be rewarded by Amazon’s algorithm above an “objectively” good book, because Amazon only cares about the person searching, not what a random selection of individuals would prefer. That is why your keywords must be as specifically relevant as possible. You do not, ever, fucking ever, include any keywords that are irrelevant to your book unless you are publishing in a small and specific niche where you are sure that every person in that niche would be interested in your book, the niche itself being such a narrow distinguisher that you cannot target your book further beyond the very specific targeting inherent to that niche.
If you use big, general keywords that you know are popular, you’re killing yourself. Let’s say you write a Twilight style novel, where a vampire meets some college student and they do kinky stuff and say clever stuff to each other. First off, my condolences. Second, you would only include relevant keywords like paranormal, or vampire, structuring the keywords as mentioned above. If you browse through paranormal keywords, or take a look at the Top 100 in paranormal romance, and notice that the most popular paranormal stories are about werewolfs, not vampires, you might be tempted to include “werewolf” or “shifter” in your keywords, because even though your book is about vampires, you reason that anyone interested in werewolf romance would also be interested in vampire romance, and even if you get 1% of werewolf searches that will be better than including some very rare keyword that you only get 10% of.
What happens now? Amazon will present your book to random customers once it’s published, to gather data on how relevant this book is to their customers interests. They will put your book in various searches, and they will do this initial calibration during the first month your book is sold, and use it to determine your relevancy for certain searches, and the general popularity of your book, so they know whether or not to put your book into the results of more searches. There are millions of books published every year and there are billions of searches for books on Amazon, so of course Amazon cannot test your book in all searches that might be relevant to your keywords. So your book will first be shown in some searches to many customers, and it’s performance there will be used to determine if the book remains in those search results for that term.
The total performance, how strong your book performs in all the search results, as determined by the click through to your book, is used to determine whether to expand your book into more search results, and if so, how many and how confidently. So why does including more popular but less relevant terms kill your book?
Say Amazon puts your book into two vampire related searches, and one werewolf related search. Those searching for a werewolf book, are overwhelmingly, unquestionably most likely to select a werewolf book. It’s what they are searching for. So you tried to use a more popular but less relevant search term to reach “more people,” which it never even did since Amazon will just adjust your position in search results to achieve the same effect, placing you third for a very specific search or on page 14 of a very popular search result, exposing you to the same amount of people regardless, as they will present your book only as much as they think they need to for each book. Yet in the less relevant appearances, your book is ignored.
This is the difference. We will model this by saying your book’s appearance in relevant search results results in about 5% click through. Your appearance in the werewolf search results yields a 0.4% click through.
If you were honest, you’d be looking at an average of about 5%. Amazon keeps you in the search results for those keyword searches, and expands your book to other keyword searches based upon if they feel 5% is a better or worse performance than what they consider average, essentially.
If you’re less honest, you have an average of about 3.47%.
That’s 30.6% less effective! As one book is usually only marginally more relevant for a specific search query vs another, the difference might result in more than a 30.6% “difference.” When your book’s click-through ratio is compared to other similar books that were recently published in this explanation-of-concept over-simplified model, it might look like this.
Book 1: 2.7% Book 2: 3.5% Book 3: 4.9% Book 4: 5.6% Book 5: 3.9%
Since the lowest ranking book has a 2.7% click through rate, we’ll call that a floor. The highest click through rank is 5.6%, we’ll call that the ceiling, at least until you take the advice in this guide and realize there is no ceiling and the sky is the limit. So our effective range is really 2.9%, between the floor and the ceiling. So your keywords were really destroyed by about 52.8% in terms of how this will actually affect your books relevancy and ranking in the above example. By having your book dropping from first place to second to last out of five books, you almost certainly have fallen below whatever cutoff Amazon has for further free promotion in the form of placement in search results. Amazon did not get rich promoting the bottom 40% of books, when they have thousands of other books in the exact same niche and only display 10 results per page.
By only using the most relevant keywords, you increase your clickthrough rate, and more important, by having your keywords reflect the contents of the book, you increase how happy customers are to read your book, which improves your reviews, which improves your Amazon search ranking, and now thanks to more good reviews and the improved placement of your book as Amazon gets more data, you will get a higher click through %, which leads to more sales, which if your keywords are relevant leads to a customer getting what they want, and so on, and so on, until some equilibrium is reached and Amazon will float your book where it feels it belongs.
I will not go into more advanced keyword techniques. This is not because I’m keeping them to myself, but advanced keyword techniques are not worth the effort until you have been working for some time and have the large catalog of books to turn small % increases into profit.
Crafting a superb description and ‘look inside’ for your eBook.
Your description needs to be given the effort it deserves. The description is the most important customer facing text, word for word, and I suggest instead of trying to sit down and decide on a description at once, write out a description you are happy with, then re-visit it every day, so you can see it in as many lights and moods as you can. Search for books that are similar to yours, that are the most successful examples of the type of book you are publishing, and if you notice popular patterns, use them. Keep this very simple, if one trend is the most popular, use it without second thought. If there are a few popular trends, use the most popular or use them all if you can. By “trends” I am referring to similarities in the way the description is presented.
Do the best selling books in your niche appear to have a catchy, bold tagline that shocks the reader, then very short and direct clarifications, as in many drama, mystery and romance niches? Do that.
Is there a flowery, extremely descriptive description with no header, that draws you in emotionally and just cascades down the page, attempting to invest you into the characters and their lives before you have even previewed the book? If the best selling books in your niche do it, borrow all their research, and try to emulate their results. You’ll still need to put enormous effort into your description, as it can make or break your book. You might be noticing a trend right now – like a human, a book requires a lot of moving parts working in unison to function, but only one part not working to be unable to function. You need to work hard on keeping your book alive, before you worry about details. You can always market later, but you cannot undo bad metrics or bad reviews. You need relevant keywords, a catchy description, a captivating first few pages, and a good cover, plus much more, whichever is worse is the bottleneck and should be fixed first.
What is just as important as the description, and this is true of both paperbacks and eBooks, are the first few pages. This is what is revealed in the “Look Inside” section, and many check this before even reading the description. The vast majority of customers who buy your book will read your look inside page, that means a bad first few pages will turn off the vast majority of your customers.
Most know this, but there is a difference between knowing a truth, and actually keeping that truth in mind and incorporating that truth into your worldview.
When your book is finished, read the first few pages. Think about the overall plot, and what interesting information you could include upfront without spoiling the plot. Make it overt, and if you cannot do that, then make it less esoteric. This is not just advice for authors, as I said, all of the information here is for publishers first, and if you’re really too scared to re-write the first page or so, make all your suggestions very specific and send them to the ghostwriter or original author. Readers are reading these first few pages either standing in a public bookstore, or on their computer with 19 other tabs open, and even if they love your introduction, they want to check out all the other options first, so they’ll read through yours quick then the others quick then come back, there are exceptions but they are exceptions, usually no reader at all is focusing specifically and intently on your first few pages the way you do when you read it. You care and give it the utmost attention, and thus notice more good, than an impartial reader would. Don’t think about how you read your own book’s first few pages, think about the last books you bought as a consumer, and how intently you read their look inside section or first few pages at the bookstore. You might not even remember if you did preview or not! Don’t expect anyone to notice what is there under the surface during a preview, they will notice the book’s brilliance when they are relaxed on the couch and devoting their full attention to the book, first focus on attention grabbing and intrigue generating introductions.
How to create an ARC Team, that is, Advance Reader Copy Team.
When your book is close to being publishable, it’s time to start setting up some ARC, or Advance Reader Copy, reviews. Amazon does not allow you to incentivize reviews, for any product, but there is one glorious exemption for Advance Reader Copy reviews.
An ARC is a free copy of your book that you send to a reviewer, so they can review your book without having to buy the book.
An ARC review, is of course the review you receive from that reviewer.
This is an honest review, you cannot ask the reviewer for any specific type of review, nor can you offer any incentive at all beyond a free copy of your book. Most ARC reviewers do not review only for one author, so they know the rules, and if you’re dishonest and ask for a certain star rating, or offer a small incentive, you’ll be just as likely to get a bad review explaining to the world just how stupid you are, as you are to get the requested review. A book is not like other products. Before buying a product at the grocery or the mall, most customers know it only on a surface level. From buying some new microwave meal to buying designer clothing, consumers will, generally speaking, know what the product is and that they like it, and not too much more.
Every customer who buys your book, will be exposed to the reviews even if they do not buy it. The vast majority will scroll down and read the top reviews at least, regularly reading dozens or hundreds. In addition to the very upfront and honest nature of information displays on most major bookselling websites, those same websites are very good at figuring out which books were enjoyed and which were not, and they do their own additional selection. If you have a bad book, or even a good book with bad reviews, the book dies. This industry is an honest industry, because the storefronts are always seeking out and burying bad books, they are displaying all the information a customer could want, and the customers themselves can read all other experiences and share their own and their vote will be counted and displayed everywhere. A book is a big investment, not in money but in the time it takes to read a book. Regular readers who will make up the bulk of your sales are not just grabbing books to read, wasting countless hours on random books they don’t like, they vet these books, they check reviews, Goodreads, they ask around, they read the first few pages, they compare it to dozens of other books, you cannot fool anyone in this industry. ARC reviews are no exception, you can only ask for honest reviews.
An ARC reviewer does not need to be some sort of professional reviewer, anybody can be an ARC reviewer. They should mention somewhere in their review they are giving the review in exchange for an ARC copy. You are required to tell them to do so by Amazon’s policy, but you won’t be punished if that person forgets, just make sure that you tell them to do so.
It’s not hard to find ARC reviewers. At the end of the day you’re just sending them a free copy of a book, and there’s no pressure on them to even review it if they do not want to, you’ll find most you ask are willing to be sent an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, provided you are asking the right individuals who you know already read books like the one you are releasing. This is vital, do not ask randoms to be ARC reviewers. I will not go into where you will find readers who love books in your niche, as that is different for each niche.
ARC’s are the most effective marketing tactic on planet earth. Reviews are the most important advertisement you will ever have, and if your book is launched out of the gate with 100 reviews with an average of 4.8 stars, I would bet virtually any amount of money that you will reach the top 10 in your subcategory even with only $50 in traditional advertising, provided you are not launching in the most popular subcategories with only $50 in advertising. Although you can’t ask for good reviews, the reviews tend to be naturally quite a bit better, as there is no incentive to review or not review, so people who stop reading halfway through, or who read it and were unimpressed, tend to leave way less reviews than people who read it and loved it. After all, if you got a book for free and thoroughly enjoyed it, wouldn’t you love to leave a glowing review? Do not pressure anyone to leave a review if they received the book long ago and never reviewed the book, be careful what you wish for.
If you’re only publishing a few books, without a regular publishing schedule, consider using one of the many ARC services online who will send your book out to readers for a price. I don’t use third parties and can’t recommend any, but if you’re interested in receiving ARCs from other authors sign up on this website, click on “Resources” and visit the ARC section.
Exclusive with Amazon, or go wide?
To go ‘wide’ or not? Do you enroll in Amazon’s KDP program, which means you get paid for book borrows, but cannot release your book elsewhere, or do you just upload your book to every bookseller, going wide, and rely on natural sales?
Amazon’s KDP Kindle Unlimited program is available to anyone who wants to enroll, and you enroll for three months at a time, on a book by book basis. They pay you a proportion of their earned income from Kindle Unlimited subscriptions, based upon not books borrowed, but pages read. If a reader reads all your book, you will get paid based upon the pages they read, not using your listed pages, but Amazon’s averaging of your pages based on your formatting and font size. KENPC rate, kindle edition normalized page count rate, is the rate you will be paid per page. 50 pages will be rate x 50, 250 pages will be rate x 250.
If you are creating the occasional full length novel, sign up for Amazon and go exclusive with them, that is my recommendation if and only if you are creating long books, at a slow rate. If you are writing smaller works, which won’t make money via Amazon’s “pay per page” program, then sign up for PublishDrive which will submit your books to every major book seller and most small ones at once. I recommend a distributor like PublishDrive vs uploading yourself, as PublishDrive submits your book to hundreds of retailers, so even though they take a 10% cut of your profits, or a flat price per month, you’ll make more than that via the extra income. There is no way to upload your book and maintain it too on a dozen different websites, let alone the 40 odd websites that PublishDrive distributes to. Sending your book or withdrawing your book is as easy as clicking, and PublishDrive staffs good, high quality individuals, unlike the thieves at Streetlib.
If you enroll in KDP Select, keep in mind that only pages read and not page count matters, so expanding your book’s word count with filler or unrelated text is pointless, and Amazon will penalize anyone who, for example, simply links to the back of the book in the TOC in an attempt to get more pages read. Kindle Unlimited (KU) generally makes up about 70% of an author’s income if they choose to go exclusive on Amazon. A significant amount, and you better be sure that you’ll be able to make more elsewhere before going wide. What compounds the benefits of KU more, is that you don’t just get more money from pages read, but pages read raises your sales rank in a similar manner to sales. A higher sales rank means more sales, more pages read, and it becomes a positive feedback loop, so competing against other books on Amazon to get onto a Top 100 list or even just to show up in search results, where sales rank is one of many factors Amazon uses to rank books, becomes much harder outside of KU.
By publishing your book exclusively with Amazon you can also ensure that your marketing and maintenance efforts are concentrated on one platform. There’s also a ton of advice for every issue you come into contact with while publishing on Amazon, due to it being the most popular book distributor. As such, if you want a bestseller without a big budget, you must go through Amazon, but if you’re targeting small niches with short works you would be stupid to publish through Amazon exclusively.
All else being equal, there is not much difference between PublishDrive and Amazon in terms of effort – “going wide” is not even a bit harder unless you try to maintain your catalog on each website separately instead of going through a distributor like PublishDrive.
Both Amazon and PublishDrive will pay your royalties out 60 days after the last day of the month you earned. If you make $1,000 in January, you will receive $1,000 early April. Having your book in KU will enable you to run sales, which is supremely important.
Regardless of how you approach marketing, every publisher that I know, myself included of course, generally will find themselves structuring their marketing strategy around sales.
A sale is a big incentive for someone to purchase your book, and can be a force multiplier for your paid promotions. “Buy X Book” is less compelling then “X Book On Sale 75% Off – 3 Days Only!” It immediately provides a reason for buying the book as well as introducing a sense of urgency, because now it’s only on sale for a day or two, so there’s not the option to add the book to a long list and forget about it.
Most paid promotions also are geared towards sales rather than pages read, as that is the only reason readers will sign up to be alerted to receive notifications about a book, they want to shop cheap and discover good deals, as we all do. You will only ever have the full arsenal of advertising at your disposal if you can run promotions. Your sales rank shooting upwards will, I should mention, gain you more pages read as well, but your advertising strategy during a sale will be generally made with sales in mind.
You can also run free promotions, which opens up the possibility of promoting the first book in a series much easier, and making your money on the rest of the books in the series. This is a strategy that is good even if you have no money for marketing at all, but it requires your first book to be good enough to convince the downloader of free books to purchase it’s paid sequel, be honest with yourself, but if it really is a good book, this is free to do and you will make steady income. The unintuitive path you have to take to make the book free means there is nowhere near as much competition for free books, yet high demand.
If you’re broke, take this path, it’s a start and you will make money unless you screw up some major component of the process. The hard part is having to write two books instead of one before you start to earn, but you can always make the first book free once you complete your second book. To make a book free, you can list your books on another bookseller besides Amazon such as iBooks or Google Play, then you can price match your own novel. That’s how you get around the fact Amazon will not let you set your book as free.
Eventually, you have a book published, and then it’s time to market. This is the most exciting part, because it’s where you can see your hard work actually translate into dollars earned. If you put in the hard work before this step, it should be smooth sailing – the boxing match is won outside of the ring.
On Amazon, for books in KDP Select, your first major promotion push should not be the very first day that the book is available, it should be the very first day of your KDP promotion, which you should book immediately after your book leaves the review period. Books enrolled in KDP Select get the option to set their book at a lower cost temporarily, while still receiving the same % of profits that they would otherwise get. Books under 0.99c on Amazon usually get 35% of the book purchase price, however any book $2.99 or over gets 70%. If your book is $2.99 or over, and you have a KDP Select promotion that sets your book to $0.99, you still get 70% of that 0.99c. This doubles the money in your pocket at the same low price.
Keep in mind books can take anywhere from 1 hour to 5 days to be published, adding yet another reason to not plan a promotion on launch day. Marketing and promotion is much more essential to a publishers initial success than the book itself, and that’s proven by a top 100 list full of mediocre novels with superb branding and marketing. Still, a quality book is required for longevity, and you should be wise in how you spend your advertising dollars.
Everyone, even the purist author, should be writing for sales. The best book in the world is worthless in every way if nobody reads it, so even the author who writes to create art and not for profit should still be well versed in marketing, since a dead book that nobody reads is as useless as a book that does not exist. If you have books out and no idea how to market, you’ve wasted your time as well as everyone else’s.
This part teaches you a tried and true marketing model. I tend to focus my book launch on achieving the highest book rank possible, not achieving the best return on my investment in strictly $ terms. This is advice most would disagree with, so feel free to focus strictly on the most profitable promotions in the short term instead, but due to the way ranking algorithms work on Amazon and most major book sellers, achieving a high rank pays off for the entire lifetime of your novel. Your goal, unless you are just starting out and publishing in a massive subcategory, should be to get to the top or as close to the top of your subcategory as possible.
If you grace the #1 spot in a subcategory – even a niche subcategory, requiring maybe 5k sales rank – your book is rewarded with a sexy “#1 Bestseller” tag for the lifetime of it’s existence, that shows up in all search results and categories. That is to say, this tag will be shown everywhere your cover is shown, even if your bestseller tag was earned in the 1992 Men’s Scottish Category of books published on Tuesdays. You get the idea, if you get the top of any category, you get the tag that can lift sales. There is little to no hard data on Amazon’s algorithms, however, the highest rank your book has achieved is clearly considered in search term relevancy. I have published countless books and I can notice a real tangible difference in passive sales months after the promo is over when I stack the promotions. That is to say, if your book gets 10 sales a day from the day it’s published, and an identical book gets 10 sales a day from the day it’s published with a single outlier day of 100 sales, the latter will rank higher than the former, even if the book has been listed for years and that only represents an extra 0.1% of sales. To spike your sales rank, you need to stack promotions. What does it mean to stack promotions?
Say that you book 5 promotions for your book, as well as some PPC ads on a social media website.
Your average first time author will generally book those promotions with the efficiency of each promotion specifically in mind, for the best rate of return per promotion. If you believe the most effective day to launch a promotion is Sunday, you might book them all for Sunday when they are available, for example 2 next Sunday, 1 the Sunday after next and the other 3 next month.
Promotions are always booked out at separate times – some are booked months in advance, others are available for same or next day. You will not be able to get every promotion you want for the same day, unless you are booking for some day well in advance, so make sure you book the promotions before scheduling the Kindle countdown promotion, or if you book the Kindle countdown promotion right away, as most will, that’s OK just give yourself some space to organize, the launch does not need to be right away.
Some promotions have cheaper days than others, or only send book ads out twice a week on specific days, and there is a variety of reasons that an authors promotions are usually staggered. You get the idea, there are dozens of reasons why it would make sense on the surface for an author to spread out their book’s promotions, but the gravity of convenience must be resisted.
What I would suggest, is to the very best of your ability, keep the promotions as close to each other as humanely possible. Often this involves shoehorning in promotions any way you can, but the reward for the headache is instead of 200 sales spread over a month, you might be looking at 140 sales in a couple days. This could be the difference between hovering around 20k sales rank, and shooting up to 2-3k sales rank, albeit only for a couple days unless you have other promotions ready to sustain the rank. Yes, this is less sales, but the increase in sales rank will boost your sales forever, and you’ll likely make much the same sales from increased natural sales over the next few days.
If you decide to dip your toes in Facebook or Goodreads or Amazon ads, I suggest you change your mind for your first launch. If you have a big budget you don’t love then go ahead, but it’s a waste of money until you spend a lot of time observing and comparing different combinations of ads and keywords at a very low budget, so you know which are most effective before putting more money into them. If you do decide to run ads, make sure you start with a few different ads on a low budget such as $5-10 per day, then when you have figured out which one has the best cost per click, put your budget into that slow.
There will always be diminishing returns at a certain point, so don’t escalate straight from $10 to $100 per day, unless you’re targeting extremely broad demographics, which is a bad idea. Don’t serve your ad to random people, you might as well just buy banner ads for 0.01c per display if you want to advertise without results. Target your target audience.
If you do use social media or other advertisements, I suggest you sign up for Amazon Affiliates, and use your affiliate link to link to your book. Not because you get 2-3% of your book sale back, but because you can then see what people actually bought after clicking on your book. If they click on your link and buy a separate book within 24hrs, you get a percentage which means you can identify what customers really bought after clicking on your book’s cost per click whatever. If they click your ad, that is advertising your book, but instead go and buy a different book once on Amazon, you should see what type they are buying. This might mean you need to change your book to better match your ad or niche in general, or it can mean that you need to change your advertisement to better describe or convey your book and what it is – there’s no point paying for ads that only get clicked on by customers who aren’t specifically interested in your type of book, because you misrepresented your novel. Combined with a solid product and good reviews, this initial launch will make your book a real, ranking, noticed, profitable novel.
If your book is sufficiently niche for your novel to avoid being drowned out in a sea of similar books, you can expect a steady but low income from a book after a good launch, without further advertising. Many do just that, although I think you would be foolish to not do a new promotion push every 3 months during your KDP Select period, if you’re enrolled, you don’t need big promotions to run a sale. Generally, after your promotion stack, it becomes a game of maintaining your rank, and in my opinion that’s where cost per click advertising shines.
Regarding cost per click advertising – don’t try to learn Facebook, Twitter, Amazon ads all at once. Nobody on earth can become an expert in every social media’s cost per click platforms, unless it’s their job. Pick one, perhaps the one you are most familiar with, and become an expert learning that one website’s system.
A popular strategy is: First promotions, stacked together, then on the same day as promotions a few days of heavy cost per click spending, with the most money per day for the first week, then dropping off to perhaps 25% of the first weeks cost per day to maintain your rank as long as you can. If you are reading this as a new author, I know it can sound like a lot of work. Trust me, there is no better feeling as a publisher, an author, a reader to see your book high in the charts, to read the reviews from real people who really enjoyed your book, to know that hundreds or thousands of people are becoming immersed in a world you created.
I should mention how sales rank works. Your sales rank is a function of sales, compared to other books in the store, which you know. What many do not know is that Amazon uses a somewhat simple way to compound sales rank. Each day, throughout the day, your sales rank is adjusted based on the amount of sales you got the previous day, with half of the sales you got the day before that day added onto the total, and half of the sales you got the day before the day before that day, and so on. If you sell 100 books on Monday, 50 on Tuesday, and 80 on Wednesday, the books counting towards your sales rank on Thursday will be 130, plus the 12.5% and 7.25%, where it stops nobody knows. This is why it is easier to maintain a sales rank than to gain a sales rank, especially right after a promotion stack.
As for what to price your book at, on Amazon the standard starting price is 2.99, as that is the lowest price point where you can still receive 70% of the sales price. I always price as low as I can, but price what you know to be fair. Make sure you price other currencies at a visually attractive price point, and not simply the equivalent to USD. If $2.99 USD = 312.25 YEN, you can see why you don’t just click “convert price” and call it a day. Make sure to go and set it to 299 YEN, and do similar for all currencies.
There is no store policy that I am aware of against trying multiple book covers, descriptions and keywords. If you’re starting with a small budget or no budget, why not get a couple covers done or make your own in two separate styles, and see which one sells better? Amazingly high quality pre-made covers can be purchased online, and your cover money will be the most effective dollar for dollar marketing you will do. It is smart to see which cover and descriptions get the most sales naturally before putting all your money into an advertising campaign, this is an advantage indie authors have that more established authors do not, so use it. Many people consider a pre-release when marketing their book. This is an attractive idea to authors because it lets them gather sales before the real release date, but I must advise against this. A pre-order will always result in way less sales for the same budget, due to people’s desire for instant gratification and a certain amount of people who simply do not buy pre-orders, your ROI will be less effective.
You will also be locked out of many advertising methods that don’t allow pre-orders, so instead of running all your ads concurrently for maximum sales rank and thus higher placement on top 100 lists and in search algorithms, you’re forced to spread them out. The pre-sales are for experienced authors, with various motivations.
Often, that motivation is to get on a bestsellers list. I’m sure you have noticed a lot of authors of no particular ability and sad sales, with a nice USA Today or NY Times bestseller’s tag. As an IQ test can only measure how good you are at taking IQ tests, bestseller lists are a list of books by authors who are better at getting on bestseller lists. Most of these lists have rules that are used and abused. Most, I won’t give a full list but the two biggest, the NY Times Bestsellers list, and the USA Today Bestseller list, all count pre-order sales as first day sales. That means an author using a pre-order need only sell enough books in three months and one week, to outcompete what other books are selling in a single week.
All those bestseller lists are a sham, and they are for authors and publishers to play social games with other authors and publishers. If you are an individual who wants to be seen as an expert in your field, of course, then perhaps you might want to get onto the NY Times bestseller list. There is no quicker and more fraudulent way to become an expert in your field then to buy yourself the title of ‘Bestselling Author,’ it’s better than a BA, much cheaper too. I do think countless college graduates could have become much more elevated in their field, by buying a NY Times bestseller tag. A bestselling book can turn “Plain Jane” into “New York Times Bestselling Author of “This Book Sounds Smart” Plain Jane!” Even if Ms. Jane was only on the bestsellers list for one week after losing money on the book over a 3 month pre-order.
Still, if it would help you out in life feel free to get on the NY Times Bestseller list via this path if you can afford it, who am I to judge? Not being sarcastic, it’s actually the best option for most.
Books are extremely generous to a beginner due to the fact you can make all the mistakes in the world, and then when you do learn the way to do it right, you can simply turn right around and do it right and it will be as effective as if you did it right the first time, perhaps even more effective depending on the market. Keep in mind the marathon mentality, and treat each mistake as a lesson that will not make or break you. You should be building your company for a lifetime, since it will serve you for a lifetime, and you plan on having your books earning you money for your lifetime. If you are an author, curate your social media presence to be be attractive to your average reader.
Side note – it’s very hard to visualize what the “average readers” want, it is much easier to think about one particular imaginary person and what they want. Think of an individual, just one individual, who is your average reader. Name her and think about whether or not she likes your idea.
For each pen name, create an Author Central account at authorcentral.amazon.com. What to do here will be obvious once you sign up, just remember to include any link to your ARC lists or any other relevant information in your author profile.
Once you have multiple books, you’re going to want to bundle them. This provides value in the form of a better price for the customer and more sales for you as you are increasing the number of listings your books are showing up in. Bundling is simply selling multiple books under one listing, in addition to their individual listings. If you have three fiction books at $5 each, why not offer all 3 of them for $10?
It will give you an extra book listing, an extra way to show up in search results and rank in categories, and will generally cast a wider net. There are also people who search specifically for bundles, or box-sets, who you will never reach without releasing any bundles.
The only cost associated with creating a bundle is a cover, they are not generally advertised. You can also, and this is crucial, create bundles with other authors. This allows your book to be bought by people who are fans of other people’s novels, and spread your book to new customers. It also means you can pool your money with other authors – can’t afford a $700 BookBub promotion? Perhaps you and 9 other authors can afford $70 each. When you bundle your books with other authors, the amount of times you can do that is theoretically infinite, because you won’t run out of combinations as you would with your own books.
Another more controversial option to make money from existing works, is to mirror them. This is allowed on some websites, and not allowed on others. I do not recommend it. Mirroring is taking an existing book, and re-purposing it for a separate audience. An example of this in fiction, is how a straight romance novel will be re-written as a gay romance novel. This involves changing all character names, descriptions, editing the storyline to make more sense, however as can be imagined, it is not a hard process, because humans are fundamentally the same and our relationships are similar. As an example in non-fiction, a guide to understanding machine learning could easily be mirrored to be a book about understanding artificial intelligence, since they share a lot of materials and so could you could get a new book with much less effort than writing a new book. Check with the distributors themselves for current policies, in general a mirrored book should only share around 70% of word count or less with the original book.
This tactic is controversial not necessarily because the book seller would have an issue with it, but because there is a non-zero chance of a customer buying both books even in unrelated niches. I’d imagine it would be more likely to be found by a publisher or author who spends half his day looking at these rankings, I noticed a few which was no worries, but others are hypnotized with hatred and so might leave bad reviews or report you or whatever, that’s a headache nobody wants. Personally I do not use this method and as such am not recommending this tactic. The reason I think it’s a waste of effort, is simply that Amazon changes their mind frequently, and this could be banned at some point in the future, and since mirroring a book still takes effort, just less effort, you’re risking all that effort being wasted. Since this is a very unknown tactic that is profitable for some working with very limited material, I do feel obligated to share it with you.