The University of Central Lancashire is now offering a MA course on self-publishing.
Notes gathered for a presentation at Vestry House, 16 November 2013, part of the Words Over Waltham Forest Festival.
You can also view the PowerPoint presentation posted on SlideShare.
(By clicking on the icon with the four arrows, bottom right of the first slide, you can view in Full Screen.)
I first had the idea for History In An Hour (HIAH) in 1999. But it took 10 years to do anything about it. In the meantime, between 2002 and 2005, I wrote 3 novels.
It was in 2009 and the self-publishing revolution that I returned to the idea of HIAH. I wrote the first book: WW2IAH. Friend designed cover. Uploaded it onto SmashWords. I self-published because, simply, I didn’t think there was any alternative. I never even thought about approaching a publisher. So there it was – my first published book. It’d had cost me about £20.
In late 2009, I bought the domain name historyinanhour.com (c£7 pa) and set up the site using a basic template offered by a host called Do Your Own Site, since renamed Create.net. It had the advantage. I felt, of being based in the UK. Also, it provides the first 30 days for free. I launched on 7 December 2009.
I’d heard that for a site to succeed you need to add fresh content on a regular basis. Wondered how to add fresh content, so started writing articles about WW2 and the Cold War and Nazi Germany. At the end of each article, I inserted the cover of the book and a link on where to buy it. One of the best ways to increase a site’s visibility, as well as lots of fresh content, is incoming links. So, I wrote articles for other sites that linked back to mine and slowly, the number of visitors grew.
In June 2010, I was featured on the BBC. Resulted in lots of hits to the website. Great, I thought. But, 2 days later, back down. So, spikes are great but what really counts is the slow, hard slog.
December 2009, I joined Twitter. Quickly learnt not to use Twitter as a means to sell. Once, I Direct Messaged my 400 followers about the release of Cold War IAH. Lost followers and received negative feedback.
Partnership with Collca who released my first titles as apps, and sold quite well. (They don’t sell much as apps now because Apple, understandably, doesn’t like apps that are really just books. Instead, you’re meant to use their iBook Store – which is what I did).
As an ebook, on SW, it took four months to sell my first copy of WW2IAH. But then SW distributed it to iBooks and then it started selling quite well. I realised people who bought one in the series often would buy the other. So, within the first year I wrote five titles (c75,000 words). Then writers started coming to me. By the end of 2010, I had 8 titles in the series by three different writers.
By now I’d got the ‘In An Hour’ brand trademarked in the UK.
In 2010, Kindle was launched in the UK. I did what many writers do – upload to Amazon myself, and use SW for other retailers.
Exactly after a year, HC came to me. The chap who discovered me had come across me and HIAH on Twitter. He bought one of my books, assuming it’d be poor or published by a mainstream publisher. In May 2011, I sold HIAH, the website and the trademark to HC.
At the same time I was made redundant from the library service. The timing was perfect.
HC redesigned covers and revamped website. And HC gave it authority because of the stigma still, at the time, attached to self-publishing. But I still do most of the day-to-day marketing and run the site and HIAH’s social media strands. Meanwhile, worldwide, the series has sold about 250,000 titles as ebooks and downloadable audio. (Audio is not something I would have considered on my own).
There are now 29 titles available as ebooks and audio (11 penned by me), and 6 of the 29 them are available as PoD (Print on Demand). We have another 5 due on 24 April, and I’m currently working very hard on two titles, trying to meet a deadline of early January – D-Day IAH and Mussolini IAH.
I submitted my fiction to agents in 2002, and got rejected. Did it mean my writing was bad? Not at all. It’s a matter of timing, luck, what’s ‘in’, whether they’ve already signed up enough for the year, whether the Frankfurt Book Fair is coming up, and some more luck. HC does not accept unsolicited manuscripts – only through agents. The agent, Andrew Lownie, says his agency receives 20,000 submissions per year.
Last year, I revisited my 3 novels and decided they weren’t too bad. So I took one at a time and re-worked them. I then had them professionally edited (having been tempted not to). I got some nice covers. And self-published the first in February 2013. Now four novels on KDP Select (although planning to remove from KDP Select soon).
Publishers v Self Publishing
So I have experience of both the self-publishing route and the traditional. And there are definite pros and cons to each. The great advantage to SP is that you retain complete control. I know exactly how many copies of my novels I’ve sold this week, but no idea about the HIAH. At any point, you can change the price, the cover, amend the description, amend a typo you spotted in the text, etc.
Until recently, publishers held the key; they were the gatekeepers of what could or could not be published. Now, writers can bypass the gatekeepers and do it for themselves.
There have been plenty of self-published success stories: Amanda Hocking (1.5 million sold). Hocking had written a number of books that had all been rejected by agents and publishers. But it worked out to her advantage in the end. Because it meant that when she took the plunge and self-published, she was able to ‘put a lot of books on the market quickly, so if people liked them, they could immediately buy another’.
Other SP superstars – Hugh Howey (Wool), John Locke, JA Konrath who runs the Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog; and of course Snowqueens Icedragon, aka E L James. Her Fifty Shades of Grey was originally published on her own site, then as an ebook and PoD. It was originally developed from Twilight fan fiction – where fans create stories from existing characters and publish them online. Up to last March this year, the Fifty Shades trilogy had sold over 70 million copies worldwide. Several self-published authors parlayed their self-made success into big contracts with established publishers – often in which the terms were fairly advantageous to the author.
Usually people self publish because they can’t get a publisher. (See above).
People who self-publish books aren’t just those who can’t find a traditional publisher. It’s also writers who, perhaps frustrated with working for publishers, have struck out on their own. Thriller writer Stephen Leather is one. Or if they want to publish in a genre that’s different from what they’re known for. Iain Banks, who died June 2013, was considering self-publishing a book of poems.
According to a report in The Guardian last month, the self-publishing boom saw a 59% increase in DIY titles last year, especially in the romance and literary fiction genres. In 2012, there were 391,000 books self-published in the US. According to recent research by Kingston University, two-thirds of UK-based self-published authors are women, and 82 per cent aged between 41 and 70. They state self-publishing is ‘increasingly having a big impact on what publishers commission and is changing the way the industry discovers what readers want… the industry is having to sit up and take notice’. Sales varied from just a handful of copies or downloads to tens of thousands, with one e-book in the survey being downloaded 65,000 times.
But there are still distinct advantages of having a publisher. Support, contacts and expertise (especially the latter). I felt that I had taken HIAH as far as it could go on my own. As well as redesigning the covers and the website, and making both far slicker, HarperCollins re-edited the books, had them fact-checked and, where they could, used their leverage with the online retailers to have the books more visible. For example, GooglePlay featured them for a while. Without them, I doubt I would have received the press coverage I’ve received, and I certainly would not have been able to publish the audio versions which have proved very popular.
Physical books v Ebooks
A p-book has a limited time in order to make an impact; it’s timebound. The publisher will only market it for a limited period. It also has to return lots of sales in a short amount of time. An ebook, however, never gets removed from shelves; and will never be pulped. Ebooks can develop at their own pace, which means that success can be slow and not instantaneous. The author or publisher can focus on the long term because ebooks have an eternal shelf life. But nonetheless, selling an ebook is still not easy. You still only ever get one chance to win any one reader. Therefore, it’s imperative that you finish crafting your work and have everything right before clicking publish.
Self publishing is not vanity publishing
Blurb from a ‘vanity publishing’ site: Initially all manuscripts submitted to us are considered under non-contributory publishing contracts. This is where no costs are incurred by the author and the whole outlay is taken on by the Publisher.
Should we be unable to offer the non-contributory contract for those manuscripts that would fit in with our high standards and genre criteria, an alternative means of being published is considered. This would be under a slightly different form of contract which is contribution-based.
Says it all really.
Elements of a bestseller according to Amanda Hocking:
- Popular genre (qualify…)
- Good covers
- Good price
- Good writing (although subjective…)
- Reviews from Book Bloggers
- Accessible as a writer
Write a good book
Then write a second good book. Each book you have will promote the other books. Take up as much ‘virtual shelf space’ as possible. (I, for ex, have 11 HIAH titles + 4 novels).
But what is a good book?
What makes a good novel?
Ideas taken from Carle Blake’s 1999 From Pitch to Publication:
- A central character for readers to identify with.
- A totally believable central character.
- An enticing setting.
- Characters that grow and develop as the novel develops.
- Good pacing.
- Sufficient number of set-piece scenes as dramatic highlights.
- Plot strands not too complicated.
- Are the stakes high enough? Otherwise the reader may not care.
- Is there a big dramatic question at the heart of the book?
- An ending that satisfies the expectation you’ve build up within your reader.
What makes a good non-fiction title?
- Credibility – Why you are the best person to write this book?
- Well –researched
- A poorly-edited book will break reader’s trust. A reviewer will pick up on typos. And the potential buyer pays more attention to poor reviews than good ones – because, with such a huge choice of books, they’re looking for any excuse not to buy your book. It is easier to lose a reader than to gain one. So you have to build trust with your reader.
- Don’t think you can do it yourself, eg, my 470 track changes.
- The blurb, or Book Description, will usually be the first thing a potential reader will see. So it’s imperative that a blurb is well written, enticing and free of poor grammar and typos. (Like trying to sell a car with a wheel missing).
- Keep main title short. Can have long subtitle.
- Title has to relate to subject matter, especially non-fic – the reader has to know what the book is about simply from the title.
- Short title to tell you what the book is about, and long subtitle that explains the benefits.
- Alliteration, eg This Time Tomorrow.
- Sometimes a snippet of dialogue eg My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young.
- Finding a title:
- Often within the book, eg TTT … was A Feather On the Breath of God.
- The setting, eg The Torn Flag.
- A character or character characteristic.
- The central conflict, eg My Brother the Enemy.
- One word titles, eg, Rebecca, Beloved, Proof, Possession, Holes, Wool.
- Long titles are more Googable, eg The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (now a play), or Eats, Shoots and Leaves, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.
- Consider others titles from books in your genre.
- Good covers will “buy you first impressions and second chances”.
- Thumbnail friendly. Ideal size: 1,563 x 2,500 pixels. Jpeg.
- Do not do it yourself, unless you’re skilled in PhotoShop or similar.
- Expect to pay. Use Fiverr.com
- Check designer’s previous work.
- Bold font and clear title.
- Give designer a brief that’s not too vague nor too detailed, eg my brief for TTF.
- Cover should echo the mood of the book.
- Genre covers adhere to certain styles – immediately recognisable as being part of that genre.
- Free resources: freedigitalphotos.net, sxc.hu, stockphotosforfree.com, pixabay.com, unrestrictedstock.com.
- Paid but royalty-free images from Fotolia.com, Masterfile.com, iStockPhoto.com,
- Historic and other free images from commons.wikimedia.org.
- Has to be consistent and attractive. Reviewers will pick up on poor formatting.
- Formatting in Word is not WYSIWYG when converting to Kindle.
- No tabs or space bar to indent paragraphs. No page numbers because they don’t make sense on ereaders. Limit the number of carriage returns. Insert page breaks between chapters.
- Build a Table of Contents that links to every chapter heading and back.
- Formatting for Kindle: see Building Your Book for Kindle (free).
- For more complicated books try Ebook Architects.
- Unlike a p-book in a bookshop, you can’t skip the Roman numeral pages on a Kindle to page 1 proper.
- Make it easy for your reader – have very limited front matter because of Amazon’s 10% Look Inside feature. Don’t waste all that opportunity to sell your book through your writing with copyright information, dedications, blank pages, author bio, etc. If necessary, put it at the back of the book, or put a link to a page on your website.
- Non-fiction Table of Contents (very important) – has to be linked to the relevant pages, and each chapter heading has to link back to the ToC.
- For non-fic, make sure the ToC headings make sense as to what that chapter is about. If you have to use arty headings, have a subheading.
- For non-fic, you could always put the Introduction, the why you need to read this book, before the ToC.
- Because your reader only has 10%, so like a demo tape (30 secs), it has to resonate immediately. Not always possible, of course.
Back Matter ‘Before You Go’
- Tell the reader about your other titles. Perhaps at the end of your book, provide free samples of your other books. Or a link to those excerpts on your website.
- Kindle will offer the reader the opportunity to tell people about the book via their Twitter or FB accounts. No harm you requesting the same in your afterword.
- Offer the reader the chance to join your email list.
- Ask the reader very nicely to leave a review on Amazon.
- Offer the reader your email address, in other words – be accessible to your readers, as Amanda Hocking says.
- But keep the back matter short.
Some authors will split a longer book into shorter books but that would only alienate your readers. Each book, even if part of a series, has to be a book in its own right. Eg, TTF.
- Very important. It is your main sales page. It’s possibly the first time a potential reader will have experienced your writing therefore it has to be free of bad grammar and typos. A real example but with names and details changed to “protect the innocent” from a Google search: Jane Smith a successful advertising executive (at a leading New York agency) feel happy with her home, her cats, her loving partner, Bill, her cats, shopping wuith her best friend and not forgetting more cats. Jane witness an attack, throwing her life into confusion … Is she really being followed, stallked and threatened or is he in too deep? Five typos in just this bit! And the Bill bit feels wrong. Maybe Jane is really transgendered hence changing into a ‘he’ at the end.
- Allowed 800 words. NO need to use them all. Use ‘Power Words’ like devastating, deadly, vulnerable, reckoning, peril, spectacular.
- Use a tagline, eg. Jaws 2: ‘Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water’; Ghostbusters – ‘Who ya gonna call?’; Alien 3 – ‘The bitch is back’.
- Integrate your keywords. Can use keywords within subtitles. Aim for 3 – 5% kw density.
- Use Mark Edwards’ template or use the advice from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.
- Study others within the same genre. What works? The format. Don’t summarize the whole book within the description. Use short sentences to add sense of urgency.
- Write it as a publisher (a marketeer), not as an author.
- Third person, present tense.
- Concentrate on main plot, no subplots. Limit number of characters.
- Use HTML to insert bold, italics and colour.
- Insert quotes from reviews or endorsements.
- Last line, remind people to ‘Look Inside’ (because people can forget it’s even there); or remind people to actually buy the book: ‘Scroll up, click the buy button & get started today!’
Example: TTT: Tagline. What’s it about. Setting. Plot set-up. Characterization. Conflict. Setting up the fight. Teaser. The emotional draw. Endorsement. Bio to enforce my credibility.
- You can upload directly to Amazon, Apple’s iBook store and B&N’s Nook store. Apple notoriously fiddly and they encourage authors to use a distributor.
- People prefer to use a distributor, ie Smashwords. Has to adhere to their ‘meatgrinder’.
- Smashwords distributes to Apple’s iBook store, B&N, Sony, Kobo, & others, where they probably sell a lot more than they do from their own store. They’ve helped some 50,000 authors publish and distribute their work.
- SW don’t charge upfront but will take a 10% of retail price commission. But still better off, eg you sell a book at B&N via SW and you’ll earn 60% of the listed price. If you go to B&N independently, you’ll only earn 40%.
- The advantage of using SW, is that if you need to amend your book (a typo, improving the description, new cover or the price), then you only need to do so once, and SW will update all their distribution channels.
- What a lot of authors do is use SW for all channels except Amazon, which they do themselves.
- (90% of ebooks sales in the UK are on Amazon).
- Sign up for a KDP account and this is your dashboard, where you can access your reports, ie how many sales, and royalties.
- Bookshelf – this is the list of your books and all the details.
Add a new book, keep it as draft. Delete.
Book title – as it is on the cover. No additional clauses. Eg, Mark Edwards & Louise Voss’s book.
Description, authors, publication date, ISBN
- Book description: 4,000 characters, about 800 words. Insert your KWs.
- Book contributors, ie author, editor.
- Publication date. Can’t pre-date.
- ISBN. It is a product identification number. Was 10 digits. 13 digits since 2007. There are two parts of the number – the publisher prefix and numbers unique to the book. Need different ISBNs for each format. ISBNs can be ordered from the UK ISBN Agency, Nielsen. Takes about 10 days. Can’t buy them individually but in blocks of ten. 10 = £126. 100 = £294. Smashwords offer them for free but you don’t own it. Some stores, Apple iBooks, Sony & Kobo, insist on your book having an ISBN. But not Amazon.
- Limited to two. Can change at any time.
- Don’t choose Fiction because if you choose a subcategory, ie Fiction > Romance > Historical > General, then your book will automatically be included in all those categories.
- Problem is, the KDP system makes it nearly impossible to select the exact category you want your book to appear under since the category selection options do not correspond with the actual options listed in the Kindle Store. So…
- Forget about selecting categories when you upload your book. Instead, scroll to the bottom of the category list and select NON-CLASSIFIABLE.
- Once your book is listed for sale, go to the KDP dashboard. In the bottom right, select “Contact Us”.
- Under “What is the problem?” select “Editing Book Details” and type your request to have your categories changed.
- Within 24 hours, KDP staff will reply and say they have manually added your book to the categories you requested.
Keywords and Cover
- Keywords – up to seven. Can be a word or a phrase. Separate by a comma. “The best keywords are those that do not repeat in the title, category or description as these are currently already used to help readers find your book.” But then all other advice I’ve read disagree with this – they say you should have the same KWs dotted round these places. Who to believe?
- Upload or create a book cover. Ideal size: 1,563 x 2,500 pixels. Jpeg. Can create a cover…
Create a cover
Example of an inbuilt cover. Took less than a minute. But don’t do it – unless desperate. Then still don’t do it.
- DRM (Digital Rights Management) is like a digital padlock. In order to access it you’ll need a codes to unlock the padlock. It’s like having padlocks on every door within your house which you have to unlock every time you enter a room. Which is why the click box is defaulted to ‘do not enable’.
- SW calls DRM counterproductive because it treats honest customers like criminals.
- DRM is “intended to inhibit unauthorized distribution of the Kindle file of your book. Some authors want to encourage readers to share their work, and choose not to have DRM applied to their book. If you choose DRM, customers will still be able to lend the book to another user for a short period, and can also purchase the book as a gift for another user from the Kindle store.”
- “Important: Once you publish your book, you cannot change its DRM setting.”
- DRM-free ebooks purchased on Amazon and converted to epub format using Calibre.
- Don’t worry too much about privacy. It’s always going to happen. DRM makes it more difficult but, as we’ve seen, at a price. Author Paulo Coelho is known to send free copies to pirate sites, seeing it as a cheap form of advertising.
Now you can upload your book from your files.
- Check its appearance via the previewer.
- You can check on different devices (ie Kindle, K. Paperwhite, K. Fire, iPad and iPhone.
- Check different fonts.
- Check to see whether your bookmarks work.
- Could read the whole book via the previewer.
Confirm that you have worldwide rights for your book.
- Discounting: Fish: 30% off sounds like a bargain; 90% off sounds dodgy.
- Very cheap: advantage: no one’s going to put off by the price. People might take a chance on you, as an unknown author. Appeals to impulse buyers.
- Disadvantages: too cheap = low quality, a bit like a bottle of wine; reader has little or no investment in your book so they might not actually read it (it wasn’t the blurb that sold the book but the price), and if they do, you run higher risk of poor reviews. Devalues your work. Readers will expect all your books to be similarly priced. Only 35% royalty.
- Compare prices of other self-published books in your genre.
- For a series – discount Book 1, to entice them in, them back to a standard price for Books 2, 3, etc.
- Difficulties of .99 in £ and $. $2.99 sounds OK in dollars but at £1.88, it sounds rubbish in sterling – both as a number and a price.
*$1 = 62p.
- Full details. Choose between a 70% or a 35% royalty rate.
- 70% – for books between $2.99 and $9.99 (£1.49 and £7.81 – this conversion can change). Anything less or more is 35%.
- Your book must be enrolled in KDP Select in order to be eligible for 70% royalty for sales in certain countries, ie India, Japan, Brazil and Mexico.
- You can choose to automatically convert $ to other currencies. Or set prices individually for some or all other currencies.
- For UK, it’s complicated by the 20% VAT that’s added on top. (Even though there is no VAT on physical books. Also, Amazon forces UK publishers and authors to cover the cost of a 20% VAT charge on ebook sales – even though their UK offices are based in Luxembourg where they only pay 3%.)
- Delivery costs: Amazon charge a small fee for delivery of each ebook based on file size – but only those at 70%. For example, the file size for a standard fiction title is around 0.5 MB, so using the Amazon UK delivery rate of 1p per MB we get a delivery cost of 5p. If your book contains a lot of images, audio or video the delivery cost will be higher.
- The first thing to know is that if you choose the 70% royalty option, you must set your List Price at least 20% below List Price in any other sales channel. That means your 70% is now coming out of 80% of your previous price. Eg, you list your new book for £2.99 on Barnes & Noble. To qualify for the 70% royalty on Amazon, you must list it for £2.99 * 0.80%, which is £2.39. So 70% of £2.39 is £1.67. For comparison, note that 35% of £2.99 is £1.05.
- US Tax: the US & the UK have a tax treaty which means as a UK resident you are exempt from paying tax in the US. But in order to qualify to have to obtain a tax identification number (ITIN, Individual Tax Identification Number). You’ll need to fill in a W8-BEN form.
Also my bank charges commission on exchanging my royalty cheque from Amazon US to pounds.
“The Kindle MatchBook programme gives customers who purchase or have previously purchased your print book from Amazon the option to purchase your Kindle version for $2.99 or less.” (A bit like buying CDs of your vinyl record). People do do this.
Kindle Book Lending
“The Kindle Book Lending feature allows users to lend digital books they have purchased through the Kindle Store to friends and family. Each book may be lent once for a duration of 14 days and will not be readable by the lender during the loan period. Lending is only available for Kindle books purchased on Amazon.com. All KDP titles are enrolled in lending by default. For titles in the 35% royalty option, you may choose to opt out.”
- “Your ebook is available exclusively on Amazon for 90 days.
- You have the right to promote your ebook for free for 5 out of the 90 days.
- Your book is automatically enrolled in the Kindle Owners Lending Library from which prime members can borrow one book per month.
- You are paid for each time your book is borrowed from the Kindle Owners Lending Library. The payment varies from month to month, depending upon how many books are borrowed, but typically is a little over $2 per borrow, so it’s pretty close to the royalty generated from selling an ebook for $2.99.”
KDP Select Pros & Cons
- After your free promotion is over, your book will now appear on hopefully lots of book pages, thanks to Amazon’s “Customers who bought this, also bought …” element of their sales pages. This translates into lots of small billboards that you didn’t have before your KDP promotion.
- You can increase the traction in your gears by scheduling a sponsorship with Kindle Nation Daily (or other book marketing site) on the exact day your book returns to regular price.
- Good for authors with a series. Making the first book free, it encourages readers to then buy books 2, 3, etc. Free is potentially great for building a buzz and attracting reviews.
- I would NOT use Select if I only had one book. You might see increased sales but once readers read that title where are they going to go next?
- Great if you want exposure. To get sales started, for attracting reviews.
- BUT… Since they have no investment in the books, they often leave one-star reviews for anything they read that isn’t to their taste. (Why did they grab it in the first place? Not because the title/cover/subject/genre appealed to them, but simply because the price was right: free.)
- Will free convert into sales post free-period? Yes, perhaps, but limited.
- Savvy readers now only ever buy free books.
- Also it discriminates against readers who own a Nook or Sony ereader, etc. It also means you can’t have an extract of your book anywhere, apart from on Amazon itself. Not even on your own website.
KDP Free Days
- Can do all five days together or separately. The idea is to gain maximum exposure and, hopefully, some reviews.
- Here is a list of sites that will promote / list your book during its free days.
- And another list here.
- There are numerous sites that will advertise for free your ebook during its free days.
- The Author Marketing Club has a handy list of the top sites to submit to. And Desert Girl on Fiverr will submit to 12 sites for $5 (£3.15). Ebook Booster will submit to 50+ sites for $40.
- What I’ve heard many authors say, and what I plan to do, is use KDP Select for the first 90 or 180 days of publication, then withdraw from Select and publish everywhere else.
Alternatives to KDP
Barnes & Noble’s Nook
Smashwords (free to upload and distribute but takes about 10% of your list price) or BookBaby (costs upfront but 100% royalty paid to author). Here’s a useful post comparing the relative pros and cons of Bookbaby vs Smashwords.
Amazon Author Central
- Need to enter separately on all the different Amazons (US, UK, Can, Fr, etc.)
- Includes: Biography, all your books, Twitter feed, Blog feed, events, photos, and videos.
- You’ll need to claim which books on Amazon are yours. It won’t do it automatically. But the process is very easy. My example.
- KISS (Keep It Short & Simple).
- Third person.
- Reference your credentials / expertise.
- Mention other books.
- Mention membership of associations if relevant, esp non-fic.
- Can be humorous if genre allows it – which can help connect with readers. But be careful.
Amazon search facilities
- Amazon shows 20 results per page. (Google – 80% of people stop scanning after the third page).
- Amazon’s search box will auto-fill by popularity (not alphabetically). (But remember Amazon remembers your search history, so use a neutral PC).
- Use your seven keywords elsewhere, esp your book description and title.
- Amazon will search for KWs in title, subtitle, book description, and seven keywords.
- Amazon’s SEO can take up to 4 weeks to take effect.
- Once you’ve sold sufficient numbers of your book (rumoured to be 1,000 copies), Amazon’s algorithms will kick in and they’re start to promote your book for you, ie their newsletters, Customers who bought this…, etc.
- Reviews are extremely important. They provide social proof, endorsement and a nice feeling.
- Yet, sadly, not many people will leave reviews. Eg in 2007, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows sold 2.7 million copies within its first 24 hours. How many were bought from Amazon? Yet now, 6 years on, there’s still only 1,034 reviews on Amazon UK.
- Paid reviews, ie Kirkus Indie ($425), Kindle Nation Daily ($99 & up), and Foreword Clarion ($335). Kirkus, btw, is a bit like the US equivalent of the Times Lit Supp.
- Amazon reviews count for a lot. It helps in pushing your book up.
- Reviews are not listed chronologically but by the ‘most helpful’. Can click yourself on whether you thought a review was helpful or not.
- Unfortunately, people will take more notice of a poor review than a good one.
- Can leave a comment eg, one-star review because of poor uploading time but reviewer hadn’t read book. But on the whole, never respond to a poor review. Take it on the chin. You won’t change their mind. Anyway, 100% five-star reviews looks fishy, ie John Locke.
- Can appeal to Amazon, but they’ll only remove it if it’s abusive, off-topic or a plot spoiler.
- Can click on a button to report it as abuse but as it’s not reviewed by Amazon, it takes about 10 reports before it’s automatically removed.
- Defamatory reviews: a pro-forma statement, signed and posted (not emailed) to Amazon’s legal dept in Berkshire.
- People trust reviewers who have lots of other reviews, and ‘Amazon Verified Purchase’.
- Amazon list their top reviewers, both recent and their ‘Hall of Fame’: UK list and US list. (Top US Hall of Famer, Harriet, has reviewed almost 30,000 items (23 in the last week). Listed not by number of reviews but by number of votes they’ve received. Difficult to search for reviewers in your genre.
- Book Review Broker will contact Amazon reviewers, eg. Non-Fic Bus & Fin $14 to Fic Fantasy $110. Crime $59. No guarantee that the reviewers they contact will accept.
- Or Author Marketing Club has a premium tool ($25 / £15 pm or $105 / £65 pa) that will return a list of top Amazon reviewers who reviewed a similar book to yours. You can then submit to those people as usual, but the spadework of finding the reviewers has been done for you.
- GoodReads also have a list of their top reviewers.
- Book bloggers: Amanda Hocking thanks them. You risk a poor review.
- Long list of book bloggers.
Two Top Marketing Tips:
Write a second book.
The Author Platform
- A website and a blog, FB, Twitter, email list, Pinterest, YouTube, forums, press releases, etc.
- Is it worth it? Yes but it can take years, and yield limited mileage in terms of actual sales. Eg, me on Amazon, in the Daily Mail, twice in the Sunday Times and once in the Chingford Times. Result – limited sales. But still useful in making you and your work ‘discoverable’, for making contacts and for communication. Also, shows you have a social worth. Author Lynn Shepherd: ‘almost the second question an agent will ask now is how many followers on Twitter?’
- “Bestselling books create an author platform; not the other way round.” So, people are more likely to follow you after they’re read your book, not beforehand.
- People won’t buy what they can’t see. The idea is to make your book discoverable.
- Target an audience, a niche, especially non-fiction, eg a book on guinea pigs.
- Target relevant associations and clubs, eg Hungarian FB pages, and specialist magazine, esp for non-fiction.
- Email list (MailChimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers) but only 30-35% of receivers will open the newsletter.
- Local newspapers eg, Chingford Times.
- Business cards and email signature.
- Speaking events (libraries, etc.). eg. City Reads, Words Over Waltham Forest.
- Press release. Some are free, others charge. Perhaps announce a time-limited discount. There’s a set format you should adhere to. But is it worth it??
- Get known for your expertise, ie me & WWI at the pub and City Reads.
- Set up Google Alerts.
- Forums – don’t bother.
- Short & simple. Lighting. Natural.
- Upload to Amazon Author Central, website & YouTube.
- Use my video as an example of how not to do it.
Bookbub, Ereader News Today.
For ex, BookBub will send details of your mystery novel to their 740,000 mystery subscribers. For a novel priced between $1 and $2 this would cost you $750. The average number sold through this mailout is 1,700 (no guarantee). So a $1.99 book could yield $3,383 minus $750 cost = $2,633 (£1,637). They update these figures regularly.
Twitter & Social Media
- Use it not to sell but to inform and interact.
- Not good for selling, eg Ben Hatch tweet to his 55,000 followers resulted in 0 sales! But it is good for building relationships, eg Lynn Shepherd (who invited me to her book launch), and Sinead, and most of my writers. And good for learning from experts, and good for building brand awareness, and remember an author is a brand.
- Bio – up to 160 characters. Can put website url within biog, or a shortened url to your book’s page on Amazon. Don’t try to be too clever, overly sincere. Can change the bio.
- Avatar – photo of yourself or logo or book cover. Can change.
- Following: Follow people using search box or hashtags, eg of a hashtag. Never beg. Day One – follow 30 people. About 10 will follow you back. Give the others about 5 days to follow then, if they don’t, unfollow them. You don’t want a profile that shows that you follow 100 people and only have 6 followers of your own. Don’t go beyond a 1.5 to 1 ratio, so for every follower you, in turn, follow 1.5 people.
- Many follows – you’ll get inundated with noise. I tend to avoid people who tweet a lot. Organise in lists. TweetDeck is good for lists.
- Tweet – 140 characters. But try not to use all 140 because someone may Re-Tweet (RT) you and you need to leave enough characters for that.
- Hashtag. Don’t overdo direct selling.
- Use TwitPic for pictures.
- RT – they’re see it in their Mentions and they might follow you back. Equally when someone RT’s one of your tweets, you’ll see it in your Mentions.
- Direct Mentions. Never use Automated DMs (ie sent to a new follower) and never use DMs to sell.
- Tweet with links – use a url shortener which reduces a long url consisting of 50 characters to one consisting of about 10, eg Bit.Ly, goo.gl, ow.ly, tiny.url. You can then also monitor that bit.ly url and see how many times it’s been linked on, when, and from where.
- TweerAdder will automate much of the above. There is a charge. You can search for words, phrases or people and then save them. Then TweetAdder will follow them for you – say 50 or 100 or 200 per day. Then, if these people you are now following haven’t followed you back in say 3 or 5 or 7 days, whatever you decide, it’ll automatically unfollow them for you. You can set your ratio between followers and following as described above.
- Schedule tweets for middle of the night with Social Oomph or HootSuite.
- You’ll need a Personal account and a page. FB will only let you sell / advertise from a page.
- Personal accounts requires you to accept friend requests while your page requires people to ‘like’ you, or your product.
- Find FB groups of similar interests.
- People either prefer Twitter or FB. I much prefer Twitter. More instinctive and easier to use.
The FB for readers and authors. GRs is for readers and writers. You can add your bio, contact details, photos, videos, books and upload your eBooks. As an author, you should to apply for a Goodreads Author upgrade. If you have a blog, you can link your blog posts to your Goodreads page via RSS feeds. You can sell your eBook on GR.
Other Social Media
YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest (80% female), LinkedIn (lots of specialist groups), LibraryThing, and GoodReads.
Pinterest is a “pinboard-style photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, and hobbies. Users can browse other pinboards for images, “re-pin” images to their own pinboards, or ‘like’ photos.” You can save images and categorize them on different boards.
Instagram is an “online photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, apply digital filters to them, and share them on a variety of social networking services, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.” Bought by FB in April 2012 for $1 billion.
Website and Blog
- The difference between the two. Static website will rank very poorly, and is like a brochure, but a blog needs a lot of content to get onto Google’s radar.
- Use WordPress or Google’s Blogger.
- WordPress offer a free site or a paid site: “Having a blog or website on WordPress.com is a bit like renting an apartment in a complex. You don’t have to worry about the pipes freezing in winter, you don’t have to mow the backyard, and you don’t have to fix the dishwasher if it breaks — all of that is your landlord’s job. But on the other hand, you can’t install skylights, knock down a wall to combine two rooms, or rent out your spare bedroom without the landlord’s permission.” Also you with the free version, you have to have the phrase wordpress.com in the domain name. So your site could be called janesmith.wordpress.com. And you have to have adverts. And you can’t host your own ads (such as Google ads) and there’s limited monetization. But, there is a compromise, which is what I use for rupertcolley.com – for $99 pa (£67) you can upgrade to a premium service so I don’t have to have the subdomain within the url, and no external adverts.
- Get a domain name from 123, GoDaddy, 1&1, FastHosts, etc.
- You’ll have to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO): keywords, tags, categories, headings, images (alt-tags). Use an inbuilt SEO plug-in.
- Widgets (visible to the user, eg a Twitter & FB feeds, search box, tag cloud, etc.) and plug-ins (invisible to the user, eg, SEO, spam blocker, Amazon Affiliate Link Localizer).
- Make it easy to buy books from your site. Can set up your own book shopping cart with PayPal or PayLoadz.
- Google analytics.
- Also, by becoming an Amazon affiliate you can even earn a small commission on your own books you sell from your site.
- Seek out other related blogs and ask to write an article for them with a link back to your site or your book on Amazon.
- SEO checklist (not easy – it’s a whole industry within itself).
- Invite authors to guest blog on your blog, or hold a Q&A with them.
- Join the conversation on other blogs with a signature that includes a link to your site or book.
Self-publishing is an opportunity. But, for most of us, like so much in life, it doesn’t come either easily or quickly, and often it won’t come at all. It is damn hard work, and it can be extremely frustrating. From start to finish, from starting out on your opus to clicking the publish button, to the ongoing marketing and promotion – it’s never ending. And there’s also no quick route to success, no silver bullet. What works for one person, won’t work for another. There’s so much you should do and can do. But you certainly can’t do everything. Write a plan: short term, medium and long term. Try to apply the 80 / 20 Rule: focus your efforts on the 20% of activities that you hope will yield 80% of the benefits.
But while trying to do all these things, you shouldn’t lose sight of what is most important and what you should be spending most of your time on – writing. Because it is only through writing that you can hone your craft and improve your skills. And the more writing you have out there, the more books you have on the virtual bookshelves, the greater your chances. And if, at the end of it all, it pays dividends, then those dividends can be enormous, and there’s nothing quite so satisfying as creative success, because writing, like all creativity, is an extremely personal endeavour.
Do feel free to email me with any questions and I will try my best to answer them, although in preparing for this talk, I am now desperately behind in writing my next two HIAH titles, so do bear this in mind.
I wish you all the very best of luck. And remember, when you’re up there at number one in the Bestseller charts or receiving your Man Booker Prize, please… remember me in your acknowledgements.
Collca (e-publisher run by Mike Hyman, always acceptable to non-fiction. Mention me).
Sinead Fitzgibbon, proofreader. (Mention me for a discount).
The Creative Penn, a good resource to ‘to help you write, publish and market your book’. UK based.
Also, the Savvy Indie.
The Alliance of Independent Authors (£75 pa) offers contacts, connection & collaboration plus expert guidance & advice; and widely champion the interests of independent authors. London-based.
Also the Top 10 Self-Publishing Blogs of 2012.
And book marketing sites worth following.
The Guardian is currently running a series of weekly articles / interviews with successful self-published authors.
The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, est’d a century ago, has a useful online section on self-publishing.
Article on when print publishers are not necessary.
Smashwords’ list of ebook cover designers and formatters.
Smashwords Style Guide, particularly good for building a ToC.
Formatting for Kindle: see Building Your Book for Kindle (free).
History In An Hour
Notes gathered for a presentation at Vestry House, 16 November 2013, part of the Words Over Waltham Forest Festival. As such they are in note form. If you need clarification, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every line is offered here purely for advice. Feel free to share.
I am not responsible for the content on any of the external sites linked within this article. Nor for any consequences arising from using any of these sites, especially if you pay for their services. Please note: information and prices can change. So please read their pricing and their terms and conditions carefully before proceeding.
Meanwhile, please feel free to join my mailing list for the very occasional update.
PS Mat Schmidt from Words Over Waltham Forest asked me to pass on this message for writers based in the Waltham Forest area: