First of all, why should you listen to me, an unknown author, tell you how to sell your book on Kindle? A little more than a year ago, I was a semi-retired professor of U.S. Women’s history who, besides a few academic articles, had never published a thing. What I did have was a manuscript of an historical mystery I had written 20 years earlier, based on my doctoral research on working women in the late nineteenth century. In the 20 years after writing the first draft, while I pursued my teaching career, I found an agent, collected rejections, lost an agent, published briefly with a small Print on Demand (POD) press, rewrote the manuscript several times, and I was now giving the book one more chance. I also owned a Kindle, which I loved. After serious investigation, I decided to publish my book, Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco, as an ebook with Amazon and Smashwords, and in print through CreateSpace. I paid for a cover design, but put the book up on Kindle myself. That was December of 2009.

 

Since then, I have sold over 10,000 books, the vast majority of them from the Kindle store. I now average 55 books sold a day, and I am making enough money that I have retired completely to work on the sequel, Uneasy Spirits. When I started, I had no particular expertise and no fan base, but I did have access to a world of advice being put out daily on blogs and websites hosted by indie authors, designers, editors, and marketers. I found that when I put their advice to work, was patient, and persistent, it paid off. Here are some of my tips distilled from what I learned from others and my own experience.   

 

Tip #1: Think about selling from the buyer’s perspective. When a reader goes to buy a book in a traditional bookstore, they either go to the store looking for a specific book because they have heard about it, or they browse the shelves and tables in the store and discover a book. Then they either buy it or they don’t. As an author of an ebook, you need to figure out how readers are going to find out about your book or find it among all the more than 800,000 books in the Kindle store. Then you are going to have to do everything to make sure that once they have found it, they buy it.

 

Tip #2: Hang out where readers of Kindle books hang out. While you can promote your book through traditional means (print reviews, book tours and signings, mailed postcards, conventions, business cards), increasingly this is a world where potential readers hang out in cyberspace. They find book reviews on blogs like Mysteries and My Musings that specialize in reviewing the genre they like, they look for lists of books on line (Cozy Mystery List or Historical Mystery Fiction), they “like” the facebook pages of their favorite author or favorite subgenre (Mystery Most Cozy), they follow twitter #tags, they join reader sites like GoodReads, and they subscribe to blogs and groups that cater to Kindle owners like KindleBoards, Kindle Forum, Kindlechat, or Kindle Nation Daily.

 

As an author you need to go to these sites, sign up, become active, and participate in the conversations. Most of these sites let you put up a profile picture, and if people begin to see your face, they will begin to feel like they know you. Your voice in a comment or a guest blog post or a Goodreads review will tell a potential reader if they think they will like your perspective on the world. Your customized signature, with links back to your author website and or blog, and small pictures of your book covers, linked to your Amazon product page, play the role of your business card. The more times a potential reader runs across your name and your book titles, the more likely they will decide to put that name and book title into their search bar when they are looking for new books to download.

 

Tip #3: Besides having a well-written and edited book, your cover design, interior design and formatting are the most crucial elements to success. If you are going to shell out any money out front-this is where to spend it. If the cover looks home made, or you can’t read the title and author in a small thumbnail, or if the cover doesn’t convey the type of book it is (thriller, cozy, etc), then the reader isn’t going to make the effort to find it, look at, it or buy it. If the book is hard to read and has lots of formatting errors in the excerpt, they will also take a pass. If you have the technological expertise or design experience, you can do this yourself, but if you don’t, this isn’t where to skimp. There are lots of freelancers out there with reasonable rates. See a recent post on do’s and don’ts of cover designs or the blog by Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer

 

Tip #4: Make sure your book is ready for prime time before you start to promote. Your product description needs to be well-written, your excerpt must be available, and you should have at least 4-5 reviews written by professional reviewers (not just friends and family members). There are more and more websites, blogs, and enewsletters that are willing to review ebooks, and with Kindle gift certificates you can easily send a free copy to a reviewer. Most professional reviewers will then go on and put their reviews on Amazon. However, it is a good idea to have a print edition (POD) to send to those reviewers who insist on this.

 

Tip #5: Make your pricing competitive. Go to the specific categories in which your book will show up and look at prices of your competitors. If you aren’t a big name with a new release, $2.99-3.99 is probably the safest price point for genre fiction. While 99 cents is ok for an initial offering, and an excellent way to get a bump in sales to send you up the rankings, you really have to sell a lot to make up for the loss of the 70% royalty Amazon gives for books between $2.99-9.99. For example, if you look at the vast majority of other books in the historical mystery category, they are $6 and above, often for books that have been out for five or more years. This means there is a good chance they have either already been read by the buyer, or simply seem too expensive for an ebook, when the paperback or hard cover book may be only a few dollars more (or sometimes even the same or a lower price than the ebook. What are those traditional publishers thinking???) No wonder I am out-selling those books.

 

Tip #6: Don’t make your big promotional push prematurely. Banners on Kindle sites, promotional packages on Kindle Nation Daily, paying for an ad blitz, or promotional contests, can cause a temporary bump in sales. But only if everything else is in place (see tip #4.) If the book ranking is too far away from them top 100s in the rankings of any sub-category, a temporary bump isn’t going get the book up high enough in the rankings to self-perpetuate the sales. One of the wonderful things about self-publishing is that you have time. Time to tweak your cover or book blurb, time to get those book reviews, time to correct errors in the text, time to build your readership and your rankings. Then spend the time and money on the big promotional push.

 

 

Tip #7: Use Amazon’s browsing capabilities effectively. If you were selling your book in a traditional bookstore, you would hope that the buyer would find your book by browsing the bookshelves. They would have the best chance of finding your book if it was on one of the bestseller or bargain tables at the front of the store, or had a little “staff recommends tag” on the book on the shelf. What would be awful would be if your book wasn’t shelved in the right place, so the potential reader looking for a good mystery to read didn’t find your book there because it was shelved in general fiction, or romance.

 

What is truly wonderful about publishing on Kindle, is that your book will be recommended or find its way to the bestseller table along side the traditionally published books at no additional cost or personal contact with the bookstore.

 

First, when a buyer goes to the Kindle store, if they have purchased book in your category, your book may show up in the list that says “Recommended for you.” Or, your book can show up on the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” list at the bottom of the screen. I’ll never forget when I went to look for an Anne Perry book--the star of Victorian mysteries—and found my book on that list!! If you sell enough books, Amazon will actually send out little emails to targeted customers saying that they think they might like your book. Talk about free promotional support!

 

Finally, if your book sells enough and has good enough reviews, your book can make the over all top 100 ranked books on Kindle (I have made it to the 200s, so I have hope) or more likely, it will make it to the top 100 in a sub-category (as I have in historical mysteries) and be called a best seller. Readers browse through those best sellers looking for books to buy. If you make it into the top 10-20 books in a specific sub-category, this means when someone browses in that category that your book will pop right up on the screen, ready and waiting for an impulse buy.

 

But none of the above is likely happen if your book can’t be found in the right browsing categories. As an indie author, this is your responsibility. When you upload your book you have five choices of browsing paths. Think carefully, but inventively. If I had just listed my novel in the main category, “mystery & thriller,” Maids of Misfortune would be competing against 32,000 other books in the Kindle store. But if I instead chose the sub-category of “mystery,” my book would then be competing in a group of 8000. Better odds, but still not great. When I went even further, and chose an additional sub-category, “women sleuths,” my book now is in a category with 5300 other books, giving it even better odds of being found. However, when I put in the right tags on my book as well, for example the tag “historical,” and the buyer puts that tag into the search box, because 5300 books is still too much to for them to browse though, my book becomes one of only 446 books listed. Bingo! In fact if you do that today, Maids of Misfortune comes up number one.

 

Check to make sure that your combination of browsing categories and sub-categories and the tags you have listed gives you the most competitive advantage. Initially, because of a computer glitch, Maids of Misfortune didn’t show up in the historical mysteries sub-category. I still sold books, but not that many of them. Once I got this fixed and got my reviews in place (tip #4) and lowered my price (tip #5), I did my one big promotional push and got my short story on Kindle Nation Daily shorts (tip #6). Maids of Misfortune then ran to the top of the historical mysteries category, where it has been ever since, and my sales success began.

 

So, time, patience, persistence, attention to my 7 tips, and, of course, a well-written book, and the Kindle store can be a great place for indie authors to sell books.

 

This post originally was a guest post on The Henderson Files. Other of my posts can be found on my blog, M. Louisa Locke’s Front Parlor.

 

 

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Tags: #publishing, e-publishing, marketing, self-publishing

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Comment by Gladys M. Anderson on March 29, 2011 at 10:13am
These are great tips! I especially appreciate the reminder about selecting the right browsing categories.   Thanks for sharing your expertise.
Comment by Eliza Tilton on March 28, 2011 at 4:05pm
awesome advice! Especially, about tagging it correctly. Grats on your novel. It sounds like something I need to check out.
Comment by Diana Horner on March 25, 2011 at 11:33am
This is a great post, I have passed it on to several of our author clients already. You will inspire and motivate many :)
Comment by Deborah Armstrong on March 23, 2011 at 6:59am
Thank you for sharing such helpful information. It is very timely.
Comment by Amy Dryansky on March 22, 2011 at 12:53pm

great info--thanks so much for sharing this!

 

Comment by Elizabeth Towns on March 22, 2011 at 12:06pm
Thank you - very insightful and just what I needed. Great post.
Comment by Ellen Ferranti on March 21, 2011 at 3:59pm
Thank you so much for all this information. Hope the visit with your Dad was filled with lots of his great sense of humor! Now back to writing...thanks again.
Comment by M. Louisa Locke on March 21, 2011 at 1:22pm

Dear all,

 

I am out of town visiting my father (89 with Altzheimer's-but he still has a great sense of humor) so haven't had a chance to check email until today-and I was just blown away by all the positive comments. Thank you all so much. There were two specific questions -first how to get reviews. This is more difficult when you are self-published (no publishers send out ARC, but first of all, one strategy is to do a print version-as I did through CreateSpace-which I then sent out to reviewers. Since on Amazon a review on the print book carries over to reviews on Kindle, this means as soon as your KIndle verson is up the potential buyer will see reviews.  Second, there are an increasing number of reviewers who are willing to review ebooks. If you publish on Smashwords first, your book is now available in every format that a reviewer might want. And Smashwords permits you to give an individual a code that permits them to get a free copy of your book. Finally, unlike traditional books, where once published you have about 2 months to make enough sales to keep your book on shelves, with ebooks you have time. I didn't submitt my book for reviews until after I had already published my book, which is one of the reasons it was slow to take off. But that didn't hurt me. Which is one of the reasons I recommend patience. Slow and stead actually can win this race!

 

As for how to find where you book is categoried. Go on Amazon.com, look under ebooks. On the right side of the screen there is a long panel, and down a ways there is a list of categories. For some, like fiction, once you click there are more sub-categories. At each stage (or sub category) stop, and in the search bar put in the title of your book. If it is in that category, it will show up, if it isn't it will say something about product not found.

 

If your book turns out not to be in the category it should be, then I would contact your publisher and ask them to work with Kindle staff to correct. As a self-published author I did this through the Kindle support staff directly, but don't know if that works if your publisher puts the book up.

 

Hope this helps, and do feel free, any of you, to ask further questions.

And thanks again for all your kind words.

 

M. Louisa Locke

 

Comment by Sandra Gurvis on March 21, 2011 at 12:13pm
So, how do you get reviews at the time/before you publish your book on Kindle?  Does anyone know?  Reader reviews seem especially important.
Comment by Teresa K. Thorne on March 20, 2011 at 9:58pm

Hi Louisa,

Thanks for all this great information!  I didn't upload my book, my publisher did.  Can't find where to look at what categories were chosen or to modify.  Do you have any idea?  Thanks.

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