Continued from part II.
THE FINAL UPLOAD
Only a few more steps and my 2002 out-of-print travel narrative, Searching for Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez, would be available to e-readers.
I did not use the “Kindle Create” feature, now available at Amazon’s KDP, for example, so I can’t speak to its ability to ease the chore of laying out a book. Nor did I experiment with the Kobo, Nook/ Barnes and Noble Press, or any of the other dozens of possibilities summarized in this 2014 article. You may even want to read Jane Friedman’s advice on options and questions before you fully commit. Trouble is, all of this information is and always will be dated. The e-publishing scene changes fast.
As for me, if I’d had to proceed with complete caution and with an aim to conquering all platforms, I’d still be back at square one.
Here’s what I did do.
The final process of uploading my cover, properly formatted manuscript, and new table of contents to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform was bug-free. Online, it’s possible—and necessary—to toggle through all the pages and see what your final ebook will look like. When you see things you still don’t like (as I did) you can go back to your manuscript, make changes, and upload again.
I still had a few last-minute decisions to make. Was I going to have a map designed? I wasn’t willing to take on the extra expense, plus, I rarely flip through an ebook to look at maps.
How far did I want to indent paragraphs? I noted that most of the ebooks I buy indent fewer spaces than is recommended by Kindle. There is no perfect answer, since the ideal appearance will vary according to screen reading size. I ended up following Kindle’s instructions.
How did I want to set my royalties? Kindle provides several choices. I chose 70% royalties. To choose that higher royalty rate, I had to price my book at $9.99 or less. No problem, there, since my own strategy was to keep the price low. I went for $8.99.
Did I want my book available in their Kindle Unlimited program, which allows subscribers to access your book for free? (Authors are compensated according to number of pages read, using a complex formula that also takes into account subscription revenue.) I decided to try it, and I’ll include a spoiler here: while my first month’s sales have been modest, I’ve already earned more through the KU free-read system than from individual ebooks ordered. That’s a possibility I never considered, and its tempting to see those pages add up, day by day, as displayed for self-publishing authors on the KDP Reports page. As this article points out, 14% of all 2016 ebook sales were actually Kindle Unlimited full-read equivalents, for which the authors were paid. Interesting, eh?
WAITING FOR MY FIRST SALE…
On the first day my ebook was available, my first self-re-published copy sold, adding $6.24 to my royalties balance sheet. (I can expect those royalties to be deposited in 60-90 days). Being accustomed to earning less than a dollar for many of my books sold, it looked like a generous number. Of course, I don’t have a publishing team behind me, making sure those copies keep selling.
AND ENCOURAGING THE NEXT… HERE COMES MARKETING
And here we arrive at the task that all authors face, regardless of format or publication path: getting the word out.
So far I have witnessed that each little effort is rewarded by a small blip in copies sold and Kindle Unlimited pages read. No marketing or outreach: no sales. My own numbers tank the moment I stop reminding people I have a new ebook published.
As always, the writer must decide how hard to work for each uptick in revenue. I set myself three goals: first, to sell that first copy. (Done!) Second, to recoup what I spent on digitalization and design. (Done or close to done, though I won’t know for sure until I hit the end of my first full month and view the report.) Third, to make just a little extra. (I’ll keep the specific number to myself, but I share the concept: why not admit upfront what you’re hoping to earn, in order to gauge the benefits of future ebook projects?)
In order to spread the word, I’ve done the following:
- Made a Facebook page and posted on my own personal page as well as in a Baja-specific group page.
- Revived a long-ignored Instagram account and started posting photos of the Sea of Cortez, relevant to my book and with the hashtag #searchingcortez. I have no indication this resulted in any sales, but I add it to the “teach an old dog new tricks” argument for catching up with one more social media platform.
- Contacted a Baja-specific online newsletter to ask about ad rates, and ended up getting some free marketing by sending them a book excerpt and photos. This was probably the most effective of my strategies.
I still plan to:
Experiment with at least one discount promotion for my book, by temporarily lowering the price to $2.99, for example.
For a future book I might consider:
- Paying a selective reader outreach service like BookBub, which charges to promote your sale-price ebook to an immense database of potential readers. I scored fantastic and highly profitable single-day sales figures for BEHAVE, my last novel, published by Soho Press, using that method. But my publisher footed the initial BookBub bill, not me. Even so, I would consider and pay for this option if my book were fiction or suitable for a more general audience—or even if I was simply willing to risk my own money in order to chase a readership that could benefit me down the road. It’s certainly an interesting experiment. BookBub’s own stats (cost to author or publisher versus average sales produced) can help you decide if it’s a gamble you’d like to take.
Your homework: Research the platform you’d like to use; this blogpost has focused on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing but a dozen options exist. If social media overwhelms you, consider one new platform you’d like to learn how to use, and give it a try, keeping sales expectations in check. (Also remember that the social media “Rule of Thirds” suggests you not use more than a third of your posts to visibly hawk a book). Be wary of spending money on advertising, but do look for chances to promote your book for free—for example, by publishing an excerpt as an article. If you have a book you want to push in a big way, and you’re willing to pony up the cost, consider BookBub or similar ebook promotion services with proven track records.
This project, which seemed so simple at first, took longer than expected: perhaps 60 hours total, including minor marketing efforts. Though I do think I’ll cover my expenses, I have no evidence yet I’ll make my third financial goal of turning a modest profit that honestly includes the cost of my own labor. Then again, I’m only three weeks in!
On the other hand, the effort was already well worth my time in terms of pedagogical value. I learned more about Amazon KDP, ebooks in general, how to use Instagram, services like BookBub, and how to hire a freelance designer. I faced my discomfort with revisiting old work and generated new ideas about adjusting my writing style in the future. I made peace with doing a little social media marketing without losing myself in it.
Finally, I had the pleasure of taking part in the 49 Writers community, once again. I wish you the very best in your own epublishing adventures and please, if you have experiences to share, post your comments here.
Andromeda Romano-Lax is a co-founder of 49 Writers and the author of over a dozen books, including the forthcoming sci-fi/historical novel PLUM RAINS (June 2018) and the re-issued SEARCHING FOR STEINBECK’S SEA OF CORTEZ. She’s also a demanding and supportive book coach. www.romanolax.com.