With the publication of my latest book (“23 Anti-Procrastination Habits”) I now have five habit-related Kindle books for my authority website DevelopGoodHabits.com (DGH).
I honestly feel that Kindle publishing is the best way to monetize a brand new blog or authority site. Unlike other income streams, you don’t need lots of web traffic. Instead, you can build your audience and sell books at the same time by leveraging Amazon’s platform.
Now, I know some readers don’t feel that Amazon is “right” for them. Others are having trouble getting started. So, I thought it would be useful to answer specific questions that you might have about the Kindle publishing process.
That’s why I recently sent this message to my email subscribers:
The response back was phenomenal.
Almost two hundred people sent me their questions and comments about the Kindle publishing process. (A big thanks to everyone who took time to send your questions.)
At first, I was tempted to “cherry pick” the most common responses and reply to those. Instead, I’ve decided to turn these questions into a multi-part series of blog posts where I’ll do my best to cover every single response. Today, I’ll tackle the first 15 questions.
But first, let’s lay the groundwork with a concept that I call…
Before I jump into the questions, I wanted to start with the “3 Golden Rules of Kindle Publishing.”
You’ll probably notice that my viewpoint differs from what’s commonly taught by many Kindle “gurus.” My intention isn’t to be contradictory. Instead, I’ve developed three simple guidelines that help me make decisions whenever I’m faced with what to do about a specific promotion, obstacle or problem:
Golden Rule 1: Focus on 80/20 Activities
It’s easy to get caught in the minutiae of Kindle publishing: How can I go from position #7 for my keyword to position #1? Someone just left a 2-star review, should I respond? How do I format my book for the website that gets 20 monthly visitors?
My most important piece of advice for Kindle publishing is to focus on 80/20 tasks. As you’ve probably heard me say a hundred times, there are only a handful of activities (like writing, research, book design and building an audience) that truly matter for selling books. Everything else should be ignored or given minimal attention.
So when you see me reply “I don’t really do that,” to some questions; it’s my way of saying that I feel a specific strategy doesn’t bring a significant ROI. Or in the parlance of the 80/20 rule—the strategy is too time-consuming to be part of the 80% activities that really help sell books.
Golden Rule 2: Build a Catalog Business
Right now, the best thing you can do is ignore those stories of people who publish one or two books that suddenly become overnight sensations. Sure, it happens. And sure, you can engineer the success of one book through effort and hustle. But, it’s been my experience that the Kindle authors who achieve long-term success typically focus on building a catalog business.
Focusing on a catalog business means you don’t agonize over the successes or failures of one particular title. Your goal is to write a great book, market the heck out of it during the launch phase and then get started on the next one.
It also means never taking shortcuts. You don’t swap reviews, you don’t “flame” people who leave one-star reviews and you don’t trick people into buying your books. In other words, your reputation as an author is more important than the sales record of a single title.
Golden Rule 3: Help Amazon Sell Your Books
What I like best about Kindle publishing is Amazon will do a lot to sell your book – if it feels like readers want it. When a book gains momentum it’ll get exposure on pages like New Releases, Top 100, Customers Also Bought and in targeted email campaigns. To be put it succinctly, if you can give a book that initial boost in sales, Amazon will do its best to sell the heck out of it.
I feel it’s important to remember this golden rule whenever you’re making a marketing decision. Ask yourself: “Will this decision increase or decrease my Kindle book sales?” While other book platforms are gaining momentum, I still feel it’s best to focus all of your marketing efforts around supporting Amazon books.
This brings us to the first of the 15 questions.
Many people have asked why I talk about building an authority business instead of Kindle publishing. My response comes from a LOT of thinking over the last year. I have been an online marketer for a decade and have seen many “can’t fail” platforms go the way of the dinosaurs. If I’m correct, people will talk about Kindle publishing in three distinct phases:
Kindle Publishing 1.0: This is the early adopter phase. If you were smart enough to get on the platform from 2007 to 2010, it was easy to sell books because there wasn’t much competition.
Kindle Publishing 2.0: This is the hard worker phase. I’d say we’re currently in this period where hustle, quality content and decent marketing is enough to generate book sales.
Kindle Publishing 3.0: This will be the authority business phase. Eventually the Kindle market will become so bloated with low-quality books that the only way to stand out is to build a brand outside of Amazon, which supports your written work.
My answer to the above question? I feel that the only way to protect your book business against a random change is to build your own platform. While I absolutely love Amazon right now, that might change in a few years when a better platform comes along. Get people to follow YOU and they’ll read your content, no matter where you publish.
So, the reason I started the Authority Internet Business case study is to show how to build a business from scratch. Sure, at first I’m only focusing on Kindle books. However over the next year, you’ll see how to use a book-based audience to grow other platforms.
The answer goes back to golden rule #2—build a catalog business.
I know some gurus talk about maximizing profits for each book. I think this is a short-sighted strategy. Having a profit-focused mentality ignores one of the best things about Kindle publishing—when a reader likes a book, he or she is likely to buy another. And some will even buy your entire book catalog simply because they like your viewpoint.
Yes, I (humbly) feel that I could charge more than $2.99 for my books. But this is the lowest price that provides a 70% royalty rate while giving maximum value to the reader. By charging $2.99, you increase the likelihood of turning a single reader into a multi-book reader.
I’ll give you three:
- Build an email list
- Build an email list
- Build an email list
Okay, all kidding aside, I know there are lots of marketing strategies for selling more books. But, my favorite (without a doubt) is to build an email list.
List building isn’t that hard to do. Simply create a valuable free piece of content and offer it in exchange for a reader’s email address. Beyond writing more books, I’d say the best use of your time is to build an email list. (For more on this, read my post: “9 Steps for Building an Email List from Scratch”)
To be honest, I haven’t done too much with my DGH email list. Right now, I only have four autoresponder messages:
- Introduction email (Download for “77 Good Habits to Live a Better Life”)
- Question for readers (What’s Your #1 Success Habit?)
- Link to a MVP article (27 Strategies to Break ANY Bad Habit)
- Link to a free iPhone app (How to Track Your Habit Triggers)
Notice how these articles don’t “sell” anything. Instead I focus on providing good content and connecting with readers. When I add more messages, they will follow the same blueprint—provide good content to build up that “know/like/trust relationship” that’s important for online marketing.
In addition to these autoresponders, I also send a weekly broadcast email. Usually it’s a brief overview of my latest blog post. While this message doesn’t add anything to my bottom line, it’s yet another way to solidify the relationship with subscribers.
Ultimately, the “no selling” approach for email marketing works really well when it’s time to promote your latest Kindle book. If you’ve done a good enough job, subscribers will open your email, download/buy your book and (hopefully) leave a positive review. I won’t make the promise that it’s a quick process, but it works extremely well if you’re building a catalog book business (Golden Rule #2).
Let me say that again: HELL. NO.
I feel buying or swapping reviews is a dangerous practice for a few reasons:
- Most smart customers can tell when a book has fake reviews. (Bad)
- You’re lying to potential customers and basically gaming the system. (Worse)
- Amazon will eventually find a way to track people who swap reviews and could penalize—even shut down—your author account. (Definitely not good)
I’ll admit that it’s a painful, slow process to get legitimate reviews—often it’s like pulling teeth to get people to submit even a two-sentence blurb. But, that fact should never cause you to take a shortcut.
Even if you’re not bothered by the ethics of swapping/buying reviews, then you should be concerned that Amazon is run by very intelligent people. They know that authors are gaming the system and I guarantee that right now, somewhere in Amazon HQ, there’s a person who is working on a solution to this problem. My advice is to be on the right side when the hammer falls.
Now, does that mean you should never leave a review for another author? Not at all. I leave reviews all the time for books that I enjoy and authors I respect. Oddly enough, usually these are books that directly compete against my own. The difference here is I leave reviews because the content is good, not because I’m forced to do so as part of a review swap.
There is a simple answer, but most people don’t want to hear it.
Really, the “magic formula” to getting reviews is this:
- Write a good book that actually helps people solve their problems.
- Include a request inside the book to leave a review.
- Build an email list.
- Publish quality content on a blog/podcast/YouTube channel every week or so.
- Strengthen relationships with subscribers by engaging them in a conversation and referring them to additional content.
- Launch your books to an email list and ask for reviews.
- Help your readers whenever they send you an email.
- Add other marketing techniques if you have the time.
I know this doesn’t sound like much, but those are the exact steps I’ve followed over the last year and so far it has worked out pretty well.
I would say one of my biggest mistakes with Kindle publishing is responding to negative reviews. Like many people, I used to feel the need to defend myself, but usually my response turned into a snippy, flame-war that damaged my reputation.
Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to ignore negative reviews. Even if you’re right, potential readers might be turned off by your response and not buy your books because of it.
Really, there are two times when a response might be appropriate:
I. Customer service opportunities: If someone has a specific problem that you can solve, leave a response that asks them to directly contact you. From there, do your best to fix their problem. If you can, politely ask them to change the review. I’ve done this on two occasions and it worked out both times.
II. Potential damage to your reputation: There is a fine-line with this one. Generally speaking, most negative reviews are damaging to your reputation. But, once in awhile you’ll get a response that is a remark on you as a human being or your character. Like “Don’t buy this book because he is a thief and likes to punch nuns in the face.”
Sometimes you need to step in and respond to this type of review. The key here is to stick to the facts and calmly support your case. Really, you shouldn’t care about this person’s opinion, but it’s important to show potential readers that this is someone is not basing their review on the facts.
Ultimately, I try not to worry about negative reviews. Everybody gets them. Instead of agonizing over one person’s opinion, focus on 80% activities, like writing that next book.
You’ll always get more reviews with a free launch (if you have an audience.) So that alone is a great reason to stick with KDP Select.
With that said, you’ll also increase the chances of getting the dreaded one-star review. Don’t ask me why, but freebie seekers are the most critical when it comes to Kindle publishing. Usually their reviews sound like: “I never read this type of book, but let me tell you why this one particularly sucks…” (Want proof? Then check out the reviews for my one “permanently-free” book on Amazon.)
With a $0.99 launch, you’ll get fewer reviews, but they’ll generally be more positive (as long as your book is good.)
Even when a book is $0.99, the only people downloading it will be readers who have a genuine interest in the subject. By selling it, you’ll eliminate the freebie seekers who download a book and then leave a one-star review just because they’re not interested in the subject matter.
Over the last year, Kindle authors have seen a diminishing return on their free KDP Select promotions. Some even hurt their sales due to a few negative reviews.
I won’t mince words here—free is no longer an effective long-term strategy. It’s still great for building an audience if you don’t have a blog or established platform. But, it’s not longer the sales-generating machine like it was in 2008 to 2012.
What I think is very effective is launching a book for $0.99. If you have a great book and an existing audience, you can generate lots of sales on Amazon with this type of promotional strategy. Then once Amazon sees that people like your book, they’ll provide more visibility, which leads to additional sales down the road—even when your book goes up to $2.99 or above (Golden Rule #3).
Shameless Plug: I detail a number of case studies in my book “Is $.99 the New Free?,” which talks about the difference between the two type of strategies. So if you’re unsure about what’s right for you, then check out this book.
Like I said, I don’t think the free KDP Select promo is that effective anymore. But, you can still use it to build your brand and get extra exposure for your books. So, if you don’t have an established brand, then you can gain readers by using this tool.
Now, your goal with a free promo is to get as many downloads as possible. So I recommend the strategy that has worked for many people:
- Schedule a promotion to start 10+ days after a book has been published.
- Talk to people who have reviewed your books in the past or currently follow you. Send them a free copy and ask for an honest review.
- Submit to free promotion websites (here is a great list courtesy of Tom Corson-Knowles.)
- Purchase Fiverr gigs to promote your book. This gig, this gig and this gig are the best ones I’ve found.
- Tell people about the book on social media, your blog/email list, YouTube and anywhere else you have a presence.
- Ask readers to review it.
Right now, free promos are hit or miss. Sometimes you get thousands of downloads and other times your efforts will fall flat.
Overall, I feel the best “promotional” strategy is to publish on a consistent basis. Instead of worrying about the success or failure of a single book, it’s better to focus on the next one which can be used to build your catalog business.
Basically, my strategy for a $0.99 promotion is the same as what I do for a free eBook–tell as many people as possible.
That said, I’m currently testing a number of strategies:
- Preselling the book a few weeks before its launch by creating related blog content, talking about it in my email broadcast messages and showing a eCover screenshot through social media.
- Building a “street team” of people who have reviewed my book in the past.
- Running a free KDP Select promo for one of my books at the same time as the $0.99 launch which promotes the new book.
- Promoting the $0.99 launch with a few advertisements.
- Establishing relationships with bloggers in the personal development market and then asking them to promote my book.
None of these strategies are proven. They’re included here as a reminder to always test new things. The $0.99 promotional technique works really well (right now), so you should do everything you can to maximize those initial sales.
I don’t think we should jump ship on KDP Select just yet.
First off, KDP Select lets people borrow your book, which generates additional review (at the $2.99 price point, a borrow makes more money than a sale.) The best part? Amazon regards each borrow as a sale. This means more visibility and ultimately more sales.
Next, Amazon just rolled out a new program called Countdown Deals (check out their FAQ page for more details.) Instead of giving away your book every 90 days, now you run a discount for a week. Basically your book gets more visibility, which has a spillover effect when it goes back to its normal price.
I’m still testing this new feature, so I can’t say for certain if it’s worth giving Amazon exclusivity on your books. However, I think it’s worth a three-month commitment to see if this tool can help you sell more books.
Overall, I still think KDP Select is effective. It goes back to Golden Rule #3. Since Amazon has a huge chunk of the marketplace, it makes sense to use every tool in your arsenal to push books on their platform. The more you work for Amazon, the more visibility (and sales) you’ll get back.
For a $2.99 book, I typically aim for a 17,000 word count. This is a rough estimate, because some books are a few thousand words longer and others are a few thousand shorter. Really, the final word count depends on how much I have to say about a specific topic.
Now, when I say 17,000 words, I mean 17,000 edited words. By the end of the 1st draft, a book will be over 20,000 words. Then during the 2nd and 3rd drafts, I’ll whittle down the word count by ruthlessly eliminating unimportant content.
In my opinion, I’d say the bare minimum for a $2.99 nonfiction book is 12,000 words. And probably if you asked me the same question at the end of 2014, I’d probably say 15,000 words. It’s becoming increasingly competitive to promote a book on Amazon, so one way to stand out is to publish lengthy books full of quality content.
I’ve moved away (slightly) from the “write a book in 21 days” strategy I followed this time last year. Now I strive for a higher level of quality and longer word count (see above.) So my new timeline for getting an idea to publishing a book is around 4 -to 5- weeks. Let’s go over the numbers:
- 10 to 15 hours each week dedicated to writing a Kindle book.
- 2 to 3 hours to outline an idea, doing a complete brain dump on the topic.
- 1 hour to research good resources to include in the book.
- 1 week to write a very rough draft.
- 2 weeks to write a painstakingly slow, 2nd draft.
- 2 to 3 days to do a careful re-write/edited 3rd draft.
- 1 week to commission the eCover design (happens during the 2nd draft.)
- 1 day to go over and do a 4th draft.
- 1 to 3 days to send the book to an editor and get corrections.
- 1 day to fix all the mistakes, add the front/back matter, write a “sales letter” product description and publish on Amazon for $0.99.
- 1 day to download the final version, read it on my iPhone and correct any small mistakes.
- 5- to 10-days to schedule the start of a free/$0.99 promotion.
- During this lead up, I’ve already started on the next book.
Now, a lot of these milestones will overlap, but you put them together the timeline works out to around 4- to 5-weeks. While I’d like to do it faster, I feel this is a decent pace for publishing quality Kindle books.
Honestly, I feel that many authors are making a big mistake with their eCover design. Buyers do judge books by their cover. If your book has an amateur look done by somebody on Fiverr, people will skip over it and buy one that’s more professional/interesting looking.
Sure, you can find hidden talent on Fiverr, but that’s the exception, not the rule. In my opinion, your best bet is to invest a bit of money on a cover that stands out.
I really can’t tell you “how” to make a good-looking eCover. My strategy is to hire someone who specializes in that sort of thing.
If you’re interested, I’ve set up a special autoresponder message that contains the contact information for my designer. I feel he’s done a great job over the last year, so I’d like to support him by giving him referrals.
Simply submit your email address here:
And don’t worry; you won’t be signed up for an email list. I’m using an autoresponder to save time and avoid having to send dozens of cut-and-paste responses.
Like I said before, this is the first batch of answers to your Kindle publishing questions. So expect to see a number of follow up posts in the next few weeks/months.
If you didn’t send me a question or have another one, feel free to ask it in the comment section below. I’ll be sure to add them to the list and will write a detailed response in a future post.
So…what are your questions about Kindle publishing?Take Action. Get Results.