When I started out in 2012 with my debut novel, The Time Under Heaven, it seemed the possibilities were endless for the indie author. I’m happy to report that it’s still true, but the independent author has to be nimble and ready to be a student of marketing strategies to stay in the game to sell books. This has never been truer than this last year and for the foreseeable future. Here are some of the major things that I’ve grappled with.
1. Amazon is still driving the bus in e-book sales and book sales in general. They can change the rules, bring the big publishers to the negotiating table to lower prices, and merge Create Space into Kindle Direct Publishing with a wave of their magic wand. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last couple of years. Pay attention to what Amazon is doing and follow the rules. READ their instructions and ask them questions. I’ve found that they are usually prompt in coming up with the right answer. Yes, I’ve had some frustrations with them as well, but overall my positive Amazon experience is still intact.
2. The email promotion sites that used to sell lots of 99 cent books for me aren’t performing as well as the first three years of using them. Even fellow authors who’ve snagged the mighty Book Bub promotions tell me that downloads are way down from what they used to be. This has caused me to be very careful with my marketing budget and keep track of which sites perform the best for me. I’ve stopped using those with consistent low returns. Even if the promo is just $10 or $20, why should I happily hand over my hard-earned cash for nothing? When I’m running a 99-cent sale, I need to sell 29 books to break even on a $10 promotion. KDP pays a 35-cent royalty on the 99-cent book. If the site fails to produce at least quite close to that, I’ve dropped them. My list of email promo sites has shrunk significantly and some sites have raised their prices significantly which make the stakes higher. It’s also more difficult to schedule with the more effective sites, so I apply early and often with a Plan B in my hip pocket should I not get the desired slot.
3. AMS and Face Book ads are here to stay and indie authors must at least learn about the system. Yes, I find them a bit daunting and out of the realm of my expertise, but I’m beginning to find some success with Amazon ads. I’ve had a bucket of failures, but I’m learning. There are lots of experts out there who can give good advice about figuring this marketing avenue out. I did purchase KDP Rocket, which is software to help authors find the most effective keywords for their books and for AMS ads. It’s a helpful tool and I hope to make better use of it this year. Dave Chesson, an author and the creator of KDP Rocket has some very helpful marketing courses using it if you’re interested. As for Face Book ads, they have been a waste of money overall.
4. Should I go wide or stay exclusive with KDP Select? That was a big question for me in 2018. I’d found going wide to be ineffective in 2013 and 2014 with Smashwords. I moved all of my books at that time back to KDP exclusively and reaped the benefits of Amazon’s book-borrowing program. This was before the Kindle Edition Normalized Page (KENP) measurement. In the olden days, if 10% of your e-book was read you were paid a nice royalty. Amazon changed the rules and we now have KENP to measure earnings.
With the launch of Draft2Digital, I decided to see if pulling a couple of books out of KDP Select and publishing through D2D would help sales. I found D2D to easy to work with and they are prompt to respond to questions. Royalty payments are later than Amazon’s schedule and can take up to three months to receive. While I did sell some books, Amazon sales FAR exceeded anything D2D did in distributing to Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and a couple more booksellers. I’ll be moving books back to KDP once again. There are authors who swear by going wide, but it’s been a bust for me.
The year ahead looks promising, but full of hard work to keep books visible on Amazon and downloading to Kindles everywhere. I was ready to throw in the towel quite a few times in the past year—ask my poor, patient husband who listened to my complaints and frustrations with marketing. It’s not the simple and easy business that started six years ago. It’s much more complex and indie authors must be business savvy to keep up. Although my goals are modest for book sales, it’s still a lot of planning, record keeping, testing, and going back to the drawing board. Persistence, continuing education, talking with other indies is necessary to stay the course, all while writing the next the book, which the good Lord willing I will do this year.
With over 30 years in administration as a manager, paralegal, and administrative professional, my experience runs the gamut from finances, policy, contracts, and human resources. My goal is to help writers navigate the business side of writing with understandable and practical advice.