As you may have already guessed, there’s more to self-publishing than putting your book in electronic format and posting it on a website. There are over 3 million ebooks on Amazon, alone. How do you get noticed? Facebook and Twitter are awash with authors hawking their latest upload. How can you stand out? Here are ten of the many secrets I’ve learned while designing, publishing and promoting ebooks for a long list of New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors.
- Self-publishing is a business. In a successful long-term business, details are king, no-barrier availability is key, a professional presentation earns the sale (and the next sale), and the CEO works smart, concentrating on doing what s/he does best. In the world of self-publishing, that’d be writing the stories your readers (and future readers) love to buy.
- There are no long-term 1-trick ponies in self-publishing. The epublishing world moves at lightning speed. Given the affordability of eReaders, no-wait downloads, and the plethora of favorably priced eBooks, readers are consuming faster. When a reader reaches The End of your first book, you want the excerpt (from your next book) that follows to put the reader’s finger on the “buy button.” This keeps your reader engaged. Lose the reader’s interest and you’ll work much harder for his/her next sale. Start smart. Begin your self-publishing business with a minimum of two professionally prepared ebooks and have a third on its way.
- Professional presentation earns the sale, and the next sale. Your ebook has one chance to make a first impression, and that single impression determines if that reader 1) reaches The End and moves on to purchase your next title and 2) recommends you to a friend. This is how you make money.
A professional presentation begins with an ebook’s cover and finishes with a professional print-like interior comprised of technically sound pages.
The Cover. The cover is how your ebook gets noticed. The cover is the first thing a reader sees, before reading the ebook’s title or description/sales blurb. Like a jaded beauty-contest judge, readers searching for a new author click through to an ebook’s sales page based upon the cover. Know what attracts those readers. Study the covers in your genre. Go to Amazon and pull up the Top 100 bestsellers in the category where your ebook will appear. Identify two reoccurring visual themes. Make sure your cover includes both. Then add one unusual touch. But, unless you are a gifted graphic-designer with lots of time to write and design, do what you do best—write—and hire a professional cover designer experienced in your genre.
Internal pages: If the cover is the icing, the ebook’s internal design is the cake. Trip readers up with orphaned ellipses hanging out on the left margin, truncated text, and other jarring formatting foibles, the reader is more likely to return the ebook, at your cost. Or worse, give a bad review. Concentrate on doing what you do best—writing saleable stories—and hire a professional ebook designer. At minimum, your finished ebook should present like a professionally printed book; open at the cover, flow into properly formatted front matter, feature dropped chapter headings with color flourish, each of which start on a new page, and end with your bio, picture and an invitation to your author website.
Readers have been trained to expect a quality experience; a welcoming experience that includes a print-published styled layout with all the benefits of eReader technology and none of the hiccups. Meet, and even exceed those expectations by adding an embedded video trailer and/or an author interview, and readers will come back over and over again. This is how you stand out.
Having your ebook professionally designed inside and out is a smart investment you’ll make once, for a product with a very long shelf-life and a replenishing market.
- Details are king. You are a great writer. But even professional writes hire editors to cleanup their work. You should, too. Critique partners make okay stand-ins. But nothing beats a professional copy editor familiar with your genre, and the acceptable prose within it.
At minimum, I find 20 copy errors when converting a professionally edited 350-page print book to “e”. Print books copy-edited after 2000, often hit 50 errors. Today’s readers do not expect perfection. But they do expect near perfection.
- Pricing: Free can get attention. Free can also be a valid marketing strategy, when done right. A free ebook can drive sales to a higher-royalty producing eBook, if both books are in the same genre and subgenre, and there is an excerpt in the free ebook, advertising the second. But the only way to take “free” to the bank is when readers get to The End of the free book and are willing to spend money on the second book. A professionally prepared, “e-bump free” ebook is key to the second sale.
99 cent ebooks can also get attention. To generate the same royalty as one $2.99 sale, a 99 cent ebook must sell 6 copies. Pricing all of your full-length works at 99 cents gives you little to work with. The best use of a 99 cent ebook is driving sales to a higher-royalty producing ebook that never dips to 99 cents. Again, giving your reader an “e-bump free” ride is key to achieving that second higher-royalty producing sale.
Here’s how to fairly price a higher-royalty producing ebook for profit: Go to Amazon and pull up the Top 100 bestsellers in the category where your ebook will appear for sale. Determine the average selling price. Be sure to scroll through the entire list, as the higher priced ebooks may be at the bottom. Remember, pricing an ebook is not about hitting a Top 100 list. It’s about making a profit. As of the writing of this article, the average selling price of the Top 100 bestsellers in the following categories were: Contemporary Romance – $3.43; Mystery/Thriller – $7.22; Writing Reference – $6.60. These are the average prices readers reading in these particular genres are willing to pay to read the authors they’ve discovered.
- How to get discovered. Discovery is a deep and equally wide topic; the conclusion of which has yet to be written in this exploding, ever changing world of “e.” Assuming a well-written story, does author discovery happen through Twitter, Facebook, blogging, guest blogging, reader reviews, paid professional reviewers, word-of-mouth, the author website, or all of the above (also known as the Author Platform)? If “all of the above” is the answer, how does a single author manage long-term discoverability and continue to produce saleable work? The answer is obvious. So is the smart business solution. Do what only you can do and work with an epublisher with skin in the game, and who only makes money when you do. More on this in a moment.
- Get a website that is easily updated for little or no cost. The world of “e” is constantly changing. Be sure your website can keep up, for little or no cost to you.
With the advent of Wix, WordPress and Yahoo Small Business, if you have basic computer skills, you can manage your own website. Even better, Wix and Yahoo Small Business have excellent free technical support. Will that site be exactly everything you imagine it to be? That’s not the primary purpose of this website.
The primary purpose of this website is to 1) provide social information (author bio, picture, up-to-date news and reviews, book lists, regularly attended blog and/or contest) or links to that information on your primary site if you have one and 2) provide one or more pages with direct links to all the places where your ebooks can be purchased. This is step one to no-barrier availability.
- No-barrier availability. Make finding, buying and downloading your ebooks as simple as possible. The easiest no-barrier way for a reader to buy your ebook is through the eRetailer connected to the eReader device, app, or software the reader routinely uses. This is why, at the end of a downloaded sample, major eRetailers put a link to the full ebook version located for sale on their site. The reader sees the link, buys, the eRetailer makes a sale and the author gets a royalty; the definition of a no-barrier purchase.
Here’s how you can do something similar at the end of an excerpt, and not be in violation of the “no links to other eRetailers” policy enforced by most major eRetailers.
At the end of the excerpt put a link to one of your easily updated webpages. On that page put direct links to every eRetailer where that ebook is available. This solution isn’t perfect. Not all dedicated (non-tablet) eReaders can make a web purchase. But most tablets and PC/Mac eReader programs can; a feature likely to expand as the epublishing market grows and expands. Be ready for it.
- World-wide availability. The international market is the next frontier poised to explode. Your ebooks should be everywhere—nationally and internationally. Amazon is attempting international inroads, but not every one can buy from Amazon, and not everyone wants to. Many countries have their own already-established eBook Retailers. France has FeedBooks. New Zealand/Australia has Fishpond. Ireland has Direct eBooks. South Africa has eBookShop. And the list goes on. For maximum sales, partner with an epublisher who distributes to international eRetailers.
- Find a business savvy epublisher who promotes their catalog and ties compensation to royalties, not fees. This is how you know your epublisher has skin in the game. Tying compensation to a monthly or yearly fee may seem like a bargain, but it simply guarantees that epublisher has one goal: find the next author willing to pay.
A business savvy epublisher dedicated to author sales will maintain publishing contracts with all major eRetailers, including Ingram, giving their catalog (and your ebook) national and international exposure and distribution. DRM (digital rights management) should also be a provided (and free) option, as DRM exists to protect you, them and the entire epublishing ecosystem.
A business savvy epublisher will also promote the ebooks in their catalogue because selling ebooks is the only way they make money. Of course, epublisher promotion can’t replace author/reader interaction, nor should it. But epublisher promotion can allow you more time to do what makes you money—writing the stories your readers love to buy.
When approaching such an epublisher, come prepared with a win-win/sharing mindset and a few questions. Do they require exclusive rights or simply non-exclusive world-wide digital rights for the purpose of distributing your title? Will your title receive international distribution and a registered ISBN? What percentage of royalties will be pushed out to you and do you have a choice in how those royalties will be paid? Is title withdraw tied to a date, a fee, and if it’s a fee, does that fee disappear if the title has earned a set amount of royalties? What type of ebook files must you submit or (as is usually the case due to eRetailer assessed restrictions) must your ebook be prepared by them or a certain provider with whom they partner? And finally, can you list on Amazon and Barnes & Noble yourself, gain access to all the other national and international eRetailers through them and still receive free promotion?
The world of publishing has changed. Out-of-print books carry the potential of long-term royalties and stories deemed genre misfits can now find a voice. The published market once controlled by big-city editors and sky-scraper high slush piles is flooding, and authors face a new learning curve: how turn a profit. But the tenets of a successful long-term business remain the same: a professional presentation that matches and even exceeds consumer expectations earns the sale (and the next sale), world-wide no-barrier availability is key and the CEO works smart; doing what s/he does best while partnering with professionals with skin in the game.
Nina Paules is the founder of eBook Prep and eBook Discovery, and co-founder of ePublishing Works! Headquartered in New Freedom, PA – the last stop to freedom on the Underground Railroad – eBook Prep, ePublishing Works! and eBook Discovery connect ebook lovers with new and favorite authors, and authors with a bright new source of royalties. You can contact Nina at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit one of the following websites: