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Thread: Practical Advice for Self-Publishers--Increase Your Odds of Selling

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  1. #1
    Just another face in a red jumpsuit shelleyo's Avatar
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    Oct 2010

    Practical Advice for Self-Publishers--Increase Your Odds of Selling

    This post was a response to the question about what besides blink luck ever got self-published books anywhere. I guess it was off-topic in that thread, so I've moved it here to serve as advice and things to think about if you plan to self-publish.

    Feel free to disagree and challenge any or all of it. But please note that not once do I say "do this, and this will result." No one can guarantee that your book will perform at a specific level, and that's true whether you're self-publishing or submitting to agents and publishers. If there were such a formula, there'd be little room for debate.

    So, how do you keep your book from staying at the bottom of the KDP barrel? Luck never hurt anybody, but there are still things you can do to increase your odds of success.

    Make the product as professional as possible. Some people pay for advertising, some don't. Some pay for services that help them get reviews like NetGalley, some don't. These can help, but they may not. That's just how it goes.

    In fact, some not-so-professional-looking books that weren't even all that well written or error-checked have taken off like mad. So it's even possible to succeed without doing all the right things. That might be the equivalent of submitting a manuscript in purple cursive font on yellow paper and still having it read and published in the trade world. Sometimes you get lucky because the story grabs.

    But by creating a product that's as professional as possible, the odds are tilted in your favor. Assuming the story is already a crowd-pleaser that keeps readers turning pages:

    *Professional-looking cover that compares to other books in the same genre
    *clean and well-edited manuscript
    *a blurb and perhaps a short except on the sales page that are intriguing and interesting
    *an opening that grabs the reader so they won't want to stop at the end of the sample
    *proper categorization
    *proper use of keywords in the meta (such as where Amazon lets you enter them) to help you get into the correct categories that a self-publisher can't simply select, as well as keywords that potential readers are most likely to search for
    *descriptive title, subtitle and series name that make it clear what the story's about
    *that pro-looking cover should also give genre at a glance
    *links inside the ebook to your other books--make it easy for them to read more of your work
    *which leads to: have more of your work available. More books increase the chances of success
    *sequels and series: having two or more books in a series increases the chances of success, as well
    *which leads to: low entry-points for series. Make the first in a series free or lower-priced than the rest. This can work extremely well.
    *price wisely. Don't charge $9.99 for your ebook, even if it's as good as that trade-pub new release at that price. Under $5 at first. $2.99 or $3.99 is a good starting point. Some people go .99 at first and hope the increased purchases at a lower cost will propel them onto the lists for more visibility. And sometimes, that works like gangbusters. Then they increase the price and keep selling. Pricing strategies depend on a lot of factors, but it's important not to price yourself so high that no one will take a chance on it. More people will buy at the lower prices.

    People have succeeded without doing all those, but I firmly believe that if you do, you increase your odds of success exponentially. And there's one more--a biggee, if you will--that people don't seem to like to talk about. I believe it's incredibly disingenuous to leave this off the list:

    *write in a popular genre that generally sells well that also has self-published authors hitting the lists

    This is the one that I personally think should be one of the first things a writer considers when toying with the idea of self-publishing.
    Writing romance? Most books sold every year are romance, and self-publishers are all over the bestsellers in romance. Self-publishing could be a great choice.

    Writing funny dystopian literary stories with zombies and talking flowers? Much smaller audience. Check the lists, see who's been published by houses and who's on his own.

    The bigger the genre audience, the more self-publishers who're doing well, the better your odds. That's just a business truth (and once you decide to self-publish, you're running a business in a whole different way than when you're writing and submitting).

    One more I'd add:

    *go as nichey as possible in a broad genre without becoming obscure

    To use romance as an example, a broad romance that you don't classify down into a subgenre is easily overlooked. Make it an angsty new adult romance, a light-hearted and funny new adult romance, a paranormal romance, an erotica paranormal romance, a Scottish historical, etc. And then write your next book in the same subgenre, and the next. Don't go from erotic paranormal romance with a lot of humor to a viking historical romance with a lot of murder, dourness and death. Don't disappoint the readers who picked up the first one and loved it for what it was by veering too far away from it.

    There's some leeway, of course, but you increase your odds of success by branding yourself. If you want to write something completely different, you run the odds of disappointing readers who are expecting what they read you for. You might also pleasantly surprise readers who also like your new book's genre, but it's still a risk unless they're closely, closely related. This doesn't mean you have to write the same type of book forever. That's what pen names are for.

    You can do all these things and still not sell much. Nothing's guaranteed anywhere ever. But you dramatically increase the odds of success. Someone who writes really great stories and keeps writing them while keeping the above in mind doesn't have the same odds as someone who publishes an unedited book of poorly-rhymed verse, but the statistics about self-publishing lump them all into the same pool. That's like comparing the odds of success of someone who can write who submits professionally with someone who submits a single-spaced document printed on colored paper with misspelled words on the first page. The odds are not the same.

    There are lots of things you can do to attract a little "luck."

    ETA: A few more things.

    *contact book bloggers who review. It can't hurt, but this is a sort of meh one for me.
    *have a brief 99 cent sale at some point (or free if in Select) and contact the sites like POI and ENT about when you'll do it. This is a free option that can help visibility
    *make the beginning book in a series free permanently or until Amazon gets tired of price-matching it. I resisted this for over a year then watched my income increase dramatically once I broke down and tried it.
    *which leads to: bundles. Bundle a trilogy together and offer the whole at a discounted price above the separate prices. This works best if the first book in the series is permanently free and you use it to enthusiastically point to the bundle. Point the bundle back to the freebie on the sales page so you can hook people with the first book, then convince them to buy the cheaper collection instead of just going on to number two. Sounds counterintuitive, but it works.
    *if you have the budget, try for a Bookbub ad in your genre. But you'll want to make sure you have that truly professional package first. People have been having wild success with this.
    *have a LibraryThing giveaway
    *start a mailing list where you can announce your next release and/or remind people of what you have available
    *social media--I'm not so hip on it, not so good at it, but if you're the type who loves it, yes, connect with your readers if you're comfortable doing it
    *website with a blog. I don't think it's an absolute necessity, but it can only help. You can use a free blogger blog if nothing else, or a cheap domain with wordpress installed for the blog. Nothing complicated is necessary. Have your mailing list sign-up in a visible position. Talk about things other than your book, but related things. If this doesn't interest you, don't do it. But remember that some people will search your name online after seeing your book at Amazon.

    What lifts some books out of the mudflats of KDP is a professional package and the boost they get from 1. being new and 2. being noticed, if it not much at first. New releases are at an advantage for a while, because with a relatively low number of purchases (in at least some genres) they can hit the hot new release lists for that genre, which can increase visibility. Once the book has been purchased, it will start to generate also-boughts. This is where luck can show up. If the book gets into another book's also-bought list, particularly the front page, and that one takes off, it can drag your book right along with it whether it's new or old. This is something that can't be controlled, but it's wonderful when it happens. You can increase the odds of this by being in a popular genre to start with.

    (It used to be that the best way to increase your odds of selling an ebook was to write something erotic. No promotion necessary--sex sells. This has shifted a great deal over the last year, and comes with its own set of rules and pitfalls which seem to change every couple of months. If you want to write erotic material, whether plain old erotica or very steamy romance, the list above changes, since there are some specific things you need to be aware for maximum exposure. You can do very well, but it's trickier now.)
    Last edited by shelleyo; 05-31-2013 at 11:40 PM.
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