Tips for Writers
Tips for Self-Published Authors:
So you’ve written your masterpiece. It has taken months or even years. Your spouse has read it and has declared it one of the best books ever written. With pride and in humble agreement that you’ve created a work worthy of Jane Austin or Mark Twain or Charles Dickens, you decide you’d like to have it published. After much internet research you find there are major publishers known as the Big Five which include Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan Publishers and Simon and Schuster. While researching, you learn that each of these five receives tens of thousands of submissions each year and they accept them only through literary agents. You don’t have an agent. Should you find one? Your shoulders sag slightly. How does one go about that? And if one could be found, how are you to know they are reputable, or even if they might be connected enough to submit to one of the Big Five?
Further internet research reveals the next tier of publishing houses known as independent or medium sized publishers. You learn that they generally take unsolicited submissions without going through a literary agent. Your excitement level rises again and after another five hours in front of your computer, you narrow your list down to ten companies that publish your genre and have good reviews. With high hopes you carefully follow the submission guidelines for each and send your book priority mail so you’ll be assured they received it.
You try to stay optimistic each week as you hear no response, and you take heart knowing that J.K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter and was rejected twelve times before a publishing house took the gamble. Weeks go by with no word, then you get a letter postmarked in Boston with a publishing house return address. You excitedly rip open the envelope to read their regret that your book did not make the cut. But, you tell yourself, at least they had the courtesy to answer your submission.
Your spouse, beginning to tire of your constant frustration, suggests you look into self-publishing. “After all”, he or she says, “some people have been very successful going that route.” You express appreciation for the advice and with renewed determination you spend still five more hours in front of your computer determining your next steps. You learn that e-books far outsell print copies anyway and now that you’ve realized having your book on the airport bookstore shelf is not a likely possibility, you investigate how to turn you manuscript into an e-version.
You find companies advertising their expertise and how they will turn out the very best possible version, but upon further investigation you realize you can do it yourself with inexpensive software packages. And since your book has not brought in any revenue, you simply don’t have money to spare.
You turn out an e-book which you share with acquaintances and family and are pleased with their positive comments. In time you figure out how to put it up on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble Press and Kobo at the suggested price of $2.99 even though it’s definitely worth far more.
Now the wait begins with high expectations. Weeks go by and you check your sales on a daily basis, only to find out, if you’ve made any sales at all, that after these companies take their cut you’re left with next to nothing in royalties.
If this is your story, don’t feel alone. Many authors have traveled the same path with the end result being discouragement and no desire to ever write again.
At this point many authors have all but given up. Essentially telling themselves the only reason for writing in the first place was for a legacy for kids and grandkids and there was never any initial expectation of making money anyway.
But don’t take a hammer to your computer screen just yet. Some of the authors in the same situation were introduced to new way of marketing, an innovative method that changed their lives, sometimes to the point of being miraculous.
But it needs to be understood that not all authors who’ve adopted these suggestions have had breakout experiences. It will take a lot of work on your part to make things happen. But it has happened more than you might think. Many authors have turned the corner and are actually making money from books. The result is they are writing more and consequently selling more which becomes more motivation to write, which… Well, you get the picture.
So, here are a few suggestions for you to consider:
1) LESS IS MORE. Probably the single most incredible realization for authors using this approach is that giving your e-book away is actually the fastest way to make money. Although it seems counterintuitive, once you understand the math, it makes perfect sense. Authors who price their books on the above mentioned platforms anywhere from $0.99 to $2.99 receive anywhere from 30 to 70 percent royalty, which, if you sell enough books, can result in substantial deposits into your checking account. But the fact remains that 90 percent of self-published books sell less than one hundred copies. But think of this. Amazon has a platform called Kindle Unlimited where readers pay a monthly fee to be able to read any book on the platform at no additional cost. The number of books a person may borrow per month has no limit other than only ten books at any given time may be borrowed. The service is extremely well received. Ask your friends how many of them have Kindle Unlimited and you’ll be amazed. You might even be a subscriber yourself. Amazon does not disclose the exact number of subscribers, but there is no doubt it is astoundingly huge. Where this gets exciting is that Amazon takes a significant portion of the monthly subscription revenue and puts it in a fund called the Select Global Fund. From this fund Amazon pays authors who’ve chosen to enroll their books a given amount for each page read on Kindle Unlimited. So, while it’s true your book may not sell, you have the opportunity to collect a tiny amount from every single page read. While the amount per page varies month to month, a general rule to follow is a half penny for every page. While that may not sound like much, consider that your two hundred page book nets you one dollar. Say it takes off and is read by a hundred individuals over the course of a month. A nice hundred dollar deposit to your bank account. What if a thousand people borrow and read it? You can see the potential there. But there is one caveat. If you choose to enroll in Kindle Unlimited, you must not allow your book to be sold on any of the other platforms. Here again this seems counterintuitive and you may think your exposure will be at risk, but for a good many authors, the choice was to their benefit. And finally on this topic, with so many books available for free or $0.99, pricing an e-book at $2.99 will kill your actual sales. Stick with $0.99 and make it up in volume.
2) QUALITY. It goes without saying that quality is paramount. An engaging book that is competently edited is your best advertisement. When people find it and like it, your pages read will grow organically. Write well and EDIT, EDIT, EDIT.
3) QUANTITY. Many readers will not read your work if only one book appears. You have a much better chance of attracting readers when they see a number of works in your catalog, and of particular interest to a surprising number of readers is the availability of a series, or two, or three. When they get to know the character, they’ll want to read about the next adventure. One needs look no further than Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire for verification of that truth. Always make it easy for the reader to find your next book by including a page with your books listed with a link for instant access.
4) REVIEWS. Readers many times look at the number of positive reviews as a method of generating interest. If reviews are poor, readers will pass by without a second look. And if reviews are good but only a handful have been posted, many readers will likewise move on without taking the time to investigate further. Since only 1-5 percent of readers leave a review, this presents a dilemma for an author. One method of increasing reviews is to make it simple to complete the process by including the link directly to the review page for that particular book. Place it immediately after the words you hope they all read, THE END. And don’t be afraid to ask them politely to leave a review.
5) THE GOLDEN TRIFECTA. There are three specific areas you must focus on to entice readers to borrow your book. First is the cover. Readers scrolling through looking for an interesting book are drawn initially to the cover. Make yours as enticing as possible. Search books on the best seller charts to get ideas, and perhaps hiring a cover designer may be your best option. The second part of the Golden Trifecta is your book blurb. It must generate enough interest for the reader to take the next step. An internet search will call many articles giving advice for the best blurbs. Don’t leave out this important step. And last in the Golden Trifecta is the first ten pages of your book. If the reader is interested in your cover design and intrigued with your blurb, they will use the Look Inside feature on Amazon to read the first few pages. No matter how good the cover is and how well written the blurb is, the reader will not complete the borrow action if they are not immediately drawn into the story.
6) NEXT BOOK INTRO. Along these same lines, you might consider including, at the end of the book, the first chapter of the next book of the series or another of your books if you don’t have a series. This sneakily serves two purposes. First, it allows the reader to become involved with the new book and if they like it they will almost without fail borrow it. Second, and this is the sneaky part, you’ll get paid the half penny a page from Kindle Unlimited not once, but twice.
7) ADVERTISING. Many authors have found success with Pay Per Click advertising on Amazon. Finding the right keywords is essential to this process and Amazon allows a large number of keywords when setting up the advertisement. When a reader searches using those keywords, an algorithm has your ad show up on reader’s pages. The incredible part of Pay Per Click is that you are not charged unless the reader actually clicks on your ad. This is where the Golden Trifecta is your greatest advantage. And speaking of keywords, when you first set your book up to sell on Amazon through the Kindle Direct Publishing page, you’ll be asked for keywords there also. These are extremely important. Try to think of words a reader might search for that would fit your book. And you can use other author’s names as keywords if that author’s readers will enjoy your books. Use as many keywords as possible.
8) FOREWORDS. Authors have been using forewords in their books for years. If you know (or know someone who knows) prominent authors, you might consider asking for forewords, and when you get those forewords you can get sneaky again by listing those authors (with their permission of course) as coauthors. The benefit to this is that Amazon sends out emails of a newly released book to readers who follow those authors. This will get your book in front of their followers as well as yours.
9) AWARDS. Being able to represent your books as award winning work is an incredible boost. A Will Roger’s Medallion Award sticker on your book tells readers you have a quality book that is worth reading.
10) SOCIAL MEDIA. Create a presence for yourself on social media. Accept friend requests and post often with interesting tidbits about yourself and your books. Also post other things that might be of interest to your readers.
11) HAVE FUN WRITING. If you write solely because you want to make money, go get a job. Writing is the hardest work you’ll ever do and not break a sweat. If you choose to write, continually work to make your writing better. Read books in your genre and find a few authors whose writing you’d like to emulate, then dissect their writing to see why it is intriguing to you. How do they use descriptions, how do they accomplish scene transitions, how do they use dialog, etc. Learn and practice at every opportunity, and above all, HAVE FUN!
Thanks to Randall Dale, award-winning author, for this month's Tips for Writers selection: "Tips for Self-Published Authors."