Self-Publishing on Kindle for the Lost and Bewildered
I have been self-publishing for a little under a year now, and I feel I've learned a ton about how to slap together a marketable book and earn coins from it.
I'm still learning, but I thought I'd share my experiences so far.
Follow all these steps exactly.
Table of Contents
- Step 1: Write a Good Book
- Step 2: Edit and Format
- Step 3: Buy a Professional Book Cover
- Step 4: Publish the Book
- Step 5: Reviews
- Step 6: Promotion
- Step 7: Write More Books
Step 1: Write a Good Book
This is the first thing you need to do. If you can't write a good story with a coherent plot and interesting characters and all that mumbojumbo, everything you do after this step won't matter at all. (Unless you're writing naughty books. Then knock yourself out.)
Too many authors make the mistake of thinking they can produce something readable when, in fact, their talent could use a little more nurturing.
If you are under twenty years old . . . don't self-publish. Not unless you are some kind of literary genius. Otherwise, you are going to embarrass yourself and you will be very sorry because book reviewers do not hold back.
If you are over twenty but haven't been writing for some considerable amount of time . . . don't self-publish.
In fact, don't self-publish unless you know for a fact that people enjoy your writing and you can gather a readership.
I was writing online for ten years before I started self-publishing. During that time, I developed a huge following. People critiqued my work and helped me grow as a writer. Having a degree in English Lit also helped.
So by the time I decided to self-publish, I already knew my writing could carry a reader from the beginning to the end of one of my stories. I already knew that someone out there would want to participate in one of my worlds. So I knew I had some sliver of a chance to eventually build a readership again.
Bottom line: don't even bother self-publishing unless you know you can draw a readership to your stories. Because self-publishing isn't easy. There's no point putting yourself through all these steps when you aren't even a good writer yet.
You wanna get better at writing? Read.
Step 2: Edit and Format
Find an professional editor, if you can. If you can't, find a second pair of eyes to at least help you look for typos and spelling errors. Writing forums, fellow writers, fellow classmates at your college. Anything but family members, spouses, and friends. If you value these relationships, don't ask for their opinion of your work.
Your book will also need to be formatted. The easiest solution is to use a writing tool like Scrivener, which I highly recommend. I tried the free trial and it was amazing. I plan to get the full version one day. The tool can compile your book into several formats for you, making your life very, very easy.
I've been using Microsoft Word for years, and I wish I'd known about Scrivener earlier. MS Word actually glitched out and the Spell Check feature stopped working on two of my novels (Time's Arrow and The Harvest), making it really hard to edit them later. This was embarrassing and degrading, because then some readers just assumed I didn't care about grammar and editing.
But I do care. I'm an English Lit major, dammit.
All of it happened because I had a computer crisis and lost my backups. This meant that I had to reformat these two books from scratch, because Amazon -- unlike Draft2Digital -- did not provide me with the ability to download copies of my own books from their website. Thus, the typos.
It was then that I realized I needed to leave MS Word behind and try something else. I fell in love with Scrivener, and as soon as I can, I'm buying it.
Amazon will convert your doc file, but what I do is, I use an MS Word ebook template (downloaded for free off the internet), then convert it into a mobi file at Draft2Digital (I'll get to them in a moment), then upload my book to Kindle.
In this manner, I get a nicely formatted book for free. I'm still working on preventing my images from shrinking during conversion, though. It's a learning process.
Be sure to add a table of contents with clickable links between chapters, so that your readers can navigate your books more easily. You can do this with Draft2Digital's awesome features or add it manually in MS Word. I tend to add it manually out of habit, using hyperlinks within the document.
Once again, this is something Scrivener will do for you. I look forward to the day when I've downloaded the full version.
Step 3: Buy a Professional Book Cover
You can't, under any circumstances, skip this step.
You can not.
If you're an avid reader (and you should be as a writer) you know as well as I do that having a professional book cover is the first thing that sells books. It's the most important thing.
If your book cover looks like you slapped it together in MS Paint, you are not going to sell copies. That's just the way it is. Everyone judges a book by its cover. Everyone.
Now, I know. A lot of writers (myself included) are dirt poor, starving artists, with a pile of student loans who spend their day-to-day contemplating a noose. But. There are some affordable and discounted yet amazing premade covers out there.
My personal favorite is the website Goonwrite.com (I will provide links at the bottom). They provide friendly, fast service, their book covers are often discounted, and -- most important of all -- their book covers are wonderful.
I plan to buy several more covers from them over the next year. A lot of my books really need covers, but I was stubborn and didn't believe that mattered. Boy, was I foolish. Especially being a reader who judges books by their covers!
Sometimes I just go to Goonwrite and browse, looking at all the amazing book covers. They have a very wide selection, so it's pretty rare that you won't be able to find what you're looking for. Even if someone buys the cover you wanted, there's always another just as great waiting for you to grab it.
Get a professional book cover as soon as you can. And never, ever bother promoting a book that doesn't have a professional book cover. It won't sell and you'll just be wasting your money. (Which you'll need to rattle in your soup can while sitting in the gutter with the other poor writers like me.)
Step 4: Publish the Book
Now you've got a good book readers will love, the book has a cover readers will be drawn to, and the book is properly edited and formatted, so readers can enjoy the content without hassle. Now comes the time to tell you where to publish.
Kindle hands down.
I'm fully aware that Amazon doesn't give half a crap about writers. We are dollar signs to them. They don't care about making life easy for us. They care about making money from us. And they will shutdown your account in a heartbeat if they think you are screwing with their coins.
But truth time:
Unless you already have a loyal readership, you are not going to make any money anywhere outside of Kindle Select.
Amazon has dominated everything. As a result, life sucks for other retailers, who are slowly crumbling in their gargantuan shadow.
But. You are not going to make money outside of Amazon when you are first starting out. Period.
Once you have a readership and you are established and people are buying your books left and right, you'll be able to go non-exclusive through a great publisher like Draft2Digital.
Let me tell you, D2D makes life very easy for writers. It was made by writers, for writers, so that explains why. When you sign up with them, you will always be able to download files of your books and book covers, so if you lose your personal backups (which happened to me last year) D2D has got your back.
D2D will also give you a free sign up form so that readers can receive alerts whenever you publish a book (and so that you don't have to pay for a P.O. Box just to create emails for your subscribers). They will also give you a free landing page, universal links, the ability to download pdf, mobi, and epub copies of your books, front and back matter, the works.
Of course, you can achieve all of this with Scrivener, but D2D makes it so that you can do it all for free. Why? Because they actually give a damn about writers as people and not just dollar signs.
All that being said, I must reiterate that you will not be able to make money through D2D until you have an established readership. So sign up with D2D and use their file converting features, but don't publish through them until you've established yourself.
In the few months that I was on D2D, I earned about four bucks through their channels. Meanwhile, I earned about ten times that from the few meager promotions I did through Amazon. Forty bucks isn't much, I know. But it's a crapload when you're just starting out and you're shocked that people are reading your books.
Amazon is simply the giant in this equation. So stick with them in the beginning. It will pay off. I promise.
Step 5: Reviews
Now your book should be all set to slap down in front of your first readers (not counting beta readers -- which you are not obligated to have, but they help. The same way you don't really need those wisdom teeth). You've got a fantastic cover. You've written a fantastic blurb (you did, right?). You have properly formatted and edited the book. Now you just need someone to gush about it.
Reviews are important for two things:
1) Book promotion
The most effective book promotion services require at least ten positive reviews with a 4 star rating before they'll even wave the corner of your book in front of their subscribers.
2) Selling books
When your book is on free days in Kindle Select, the more reviews it has, the more people will download it. I'm speaking from experience here. Even though the book is free, you still get paid depending on how far they read into the book.
So yes. Reviews matter.
Oh, they matter. And getting them is like pulling teeth.
There are a few ways to get quick reviews, as "organic" ones rarely happen. I'm going to go over each one and tell you which is most effective.
1) Book bloggers
This is the least effective way to get reviews. While it's against Amazon's rules to give your book away in exchange for a review, it's not against their rules to contact a book blogger and say, "Hello. Have you seen my new book? The review section is totally empty. What a shame. What should I do about that?"
There's nothing wrong with calling a book blogger's attention to your brand new spankin' book. If they read it, review it, and like it, they might write about it on their blog to hundreds of hungry readers, who then go out and buy your book.
Of course, this hasn't been very effective in my experience. Mostly because I have foot-in-mouth syndrome and tend to accidentally piss book bloggers off. Then they delete their review, and it's like I never asked them.
And even if you aren't like me and don't tend to goof up like this, getting reviews from book bloggers is very slow. And very hard. Especially if you're writing to a niche.
My advice? Don't bother. The process takes way too long, it's way too time consuming (writing all those personalized letters is draining) and most of the time, you might only get one or two reviews out of it.
You can't do this if your book is enrolled in Kindle Select. Your book has to be exclusive to Amazon for the entire 90 days of enrollment. And it doesn't matter anyway, as giveaways rarely if ever produce results. I ran a giveaway on Library Thing for a book of mine last year, and out of the forty people who won a free copy, only one person bothered to leave a review.
Also, Amazon recently decided to make Goodreads giveaways really expensive. Goodreads was the top site to do giveaways on, and now it's over for us poor, starving writers.
Most indie authors will agree that giveaways just don't work for reviews anymore. So again, it really doesn't matter.
3) Call to Action
A lot of writers (myself included) like to write a letter to the reader in the back of their book, asking readers to pretty please leave a review and help them out.
This is done because a lot of readers aren't aware of the whole promotion process and how easily they can help struggling writers out just by honestly saying what they did and didn't like about their book.
I have found writing a call to action to be somewhat effective, as I've gotten one or two organic reviews out of it from a few kind readers.
4) Enroll your book in an ARC
An ARC is an Advanced Reader Copy service. This is the easiest, fastest way to get honest reviews, and no, you are not paying for reviews.
In fact, never pay for reviews. You can get in serious trouble. And . . . it's wrong.
Again, with an ARC, you are not paying for reviews. You are paying for a service to wave your book in their subscribers' faces and ask if they're interested in reading it. These subscribers are usually voracious readers who love to review books and are likely to review the book, but they are not obligated, and their reviews are always honest.
It's a service that publishing houses use to get reviews on new books at launch, and self-published writers do it too. Completely no harm in it.
It's the reason why you might go to the Kindle Store and see a bunch of ebooks with hundreds of reviews on them that were oddly published during the same month. That book was submitted to an ARC service, because the writer and/or publishing house knew it was an effective way to market the book.
There are a lot of ARC services out there, but I would recommend Hidden Gems. They are professional and affordable. You are charged by the number of readers who decide to read your book (two bucks per reader), and because I write to a niche (non-straight people) I always wind up only paying them about twenty bucks for ten potential reviewers.
Again, you are not paying for reviews.
And last but not least, because it needs to be said:
- Never reply to a reviewer on Amazon. That is their space to express an opinion without feeling like the writer is breathing down their neck.
- Never talk about the reviews you receive. Not on your blog. Not on Twitter. Not written in blood on your bathroom floor. Not anywhere outside your head.
- People are not going to like your books. Fact. Keep writing and move on. Because people are going to like your books.
- Learn the difference between critique and attacks. Ignore the attacks. Learn from the critiques.
- Do not -- I repeat do not -- make yourself look bad on the internet. Do not express controversial opinions. Do not get political. Do not rant about gender issues. Not unless you're J. K. Effing Rowling and can afford a little bad publicity. Otherwise, you are going to piss off readers with your personal opinions on the Civil War, and that in turn is going to mess with your coins. I used to do this stuff, and now I don't have a blog at all simply because my political opinions (racism and sexism are real!) were driving away fans who just wanted me to shut up and talk about my books.
Step 6: Promotion
Finally. Now that you've done all that other crap, you can promote your book.
Your best bet early on is to enroll your book in Kindle Select, which was the whole point behind publishing through Amazon.
Go to your bookshelf on Amazon and set up your book for a free promotion for five days. Set it up at least a week in advance, so that promotional websites have time to evaluate your book.
Then submit your book to promotional websites that will place your temporarily free book in front of hungry readers. Depending on the sites you choose, you will get hundreds of downloads, and for every page read, you will earn cash through Kindle Unlimited.
This is why being able to write well is so important. If your book isn't engaging for your target audience (even though "engaging" is slightly subjective here), the chance of said audience reading the book to the end will be slim, and then you won't get paid much.
Here are some websites I would suggest:
Did moderately well promoting Project Mothership through them, though the failure was mostly mine for having a crap cover.
Going to try them out soon, but I've heard good things.
ENT/Ereaders News Today
Heard really good things. Plan to try them out in the future.
This website is actually really helpful. It's good for a little punch. The site will also submit your book to several promotional services at once for you -- for free!
This guy on fiverr is very popular because he can put your free book in front of a lot of people. His service works best for a free book, though. And don't bother with his newsletter. It's not effective.
I'll add more worthwhile sites as I go along.
Step 7: Write More Books
It's easiest to be found when you've got multiple books out. But it won't matter how many books you've got if they have crappy covers.
Really, this one is a bit optional because the pros and cons vary. It boils down to this: do you think you can sell your crappy-cover-books through one book with a good cover? It's not impossible. Sometimes people read one of my crappy-cover-books because I previewed them in the book with the better cover that they were initially drawn to.
But don't write tons of books just to make money. Write because you love it. The best stories come from people who are passionate about what they do.
And as promised, here are the links:
© 2018 Ash Gray