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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Celeste Barclay

Lessons Learned By Self-Publishing Debut Author Part 1

Self Publishing Image

Hello Reader,

Before we get started, comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome!

Okay...

This journey as a self-published author definitely has its peaks and troughs, but I think I've learned some lessons along the way. If nothing else, as least I will have notes on what to do, or better yet, what not to do next time around.

Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle Books)

It really is not that hard to get your manuscript onto Amazon Books for Kindle ebooks or Kindle books (paperback) sales. The great thing about the paperback sales is that it is on demand. You don't have to keep inventory unless you want it. You can order a proof copy of your book to see what it looks like in print. There is also an option to purchase discounted author's copies. The digital edition comes from an uploaded document and a few clicks. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) walks you through everything from including your meta data to book description to pricing and advertising.  It also helps you make sure that you have the right time of file and margins.
But......

The Devil is in the details.

Writing Cover/Sales Copy
Have you read an Amazon description that has bold or italics and spacing? Yeah, well you aren't going to get that from just typing some words into the description box. Do you know HTML? If yes, great. Use it. If you're like most of us and either don't know it all or have just a really basic understanding, then you'll want to use a description generator. This is a website that will let you type what you want and then give you the html for the KDP website. I use kindlepreneur.com description generator (sign up for the free newsletter. There are a lot of emails, but most of them have at least one pearl of knowledge for a new author).  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if your description isn't pretty (or professional looking), a potential buyer may not get very far. BTW--just because you write great books doesn't mean you write great cover.  Apples and oranges.  Read several descriptions from books in the same genre as yours.  Find common themes, styles, messages, techniques and work those into your description.

Cover Art

They say, "don't judge a book by its cover," but let's be real: that's the first thing most people do.  Cover art is hard.  Plain and simple.  It can be hard to find a designer that you like AND can afford.  If you're just starting out, budgeting your little enterprise takes some real consideration and prioritizing.  We'll check back in on this topic a few times in this post.  Most bloggers will tell you that cover art is a top priority.  I kinda, sorta, mostly agree. I'm reconsidering some of my priorities as I move towards launching my second novel.

You have some choices to make:
A. Get a professional custom designed (exclusive) cover--the most expensive choice
B Get a professional template/pre-made (non exclusive) cover--the lesser of the professional choices; they run anywhere from $45-$200+ depending on the site, so look around A LOT
C. Use a site that will "build" you a professional looking cover based on art that you provide---which you probably will end up buying from a stock photo/art website
D. Design your own cover in some program ie Photoshop and then upload it
E. Upload some art and design your cover through KDP

I will be the first one to admit that I really didn't know what I was doing once I had the manuscript done.  I can write.  I think I can write pretty well.  But I did not know up from down or left from right when I logged into KDP for the first time.

This is what I did (learn from my choices):
1. I signed up for a free trial and downloaded ROYALTY FREE art from Dreams Time.  Depending on what you need, it has thousands of photos, and I found what I wanted.
2. I tinkered a bit (believe it or not, Word can let you do quite a bit with images, and I used PIXLR, a free junior sized version of Photoshop) and uploaded the art into KDP's cover launcher.  I wasn't thrilled with my design options.  I knew that none of them looked like the professional covers that I would be competing against.  BUT I wasn't very well versed on the realistic costs of having a cover designed, and I wasn't sure what other expenses I might face.  Quite frankly, I didn't want to spend anything I didn't have to until I knew there was going to be some type of ROI.  Otherwise, this was just a pet project.
3. Once I had the book live, I tinkered a little with the cover some more just to see if there was a higher conversion rate with a lighter or darker cover (darker seemed to win).
*For my second novel, I have self-designed again---for now.  I'm still on the fence about coughing up for a professional cover.  More on why I'm on the fence in just a bit.

KDP Select...or Not

One of the choices that you will have when you upload your manuscript is whether to enroll in KDP Select.  I still find this confusing, and I've read several articles on it and the actual website description.  The long and the short of it is: KDP Select allows you to add your Kindle ebook to Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library.
Sidebar I, personally, live and die by my Kindle Unlimited subscription.  I pay $9.99/month and can "check out" up to 10 ebooks (from the thousands available) at once.  I can read a romance novel in just a couple of days, so I can plow through 20 books in a month theoretically.  Do you have any idea just how much that saves me?  I'm all about supporting my fellow authors, but I have a family and all the financial commitments that go along with that.
People who digitally download your Kindle ebook through their subscription get it for "free," and you get paid for each "first time" read of a page in your book.  This means that someone who falls in love with your book and reads it a thousand times is not going to make you a millionaire.  KDP keeps count of the pages, and you receive royalties out of the KDP Select Global Fund.  In other words, you get a cut from this jumbo pot of money that is split among KDP Select authors. Honestly, this is how I make the majority of my royalties.  I have Kindle ebook and paperback sales, but most of what I earn is through this.
THERE IS A DOWNSIDE TO THIS!!! If you do not want Amazon books to hold exclusive publishing rights to your book (ie you want to sell on Barnes & Noble and Kobo, or do free giveaways on other sites, OR SELL FROM YOUR OWN WEBSITE), then this will not work for you. The initial sign up is for 90 days and auto renews.  You can choose not to renew, so you can publish elsewhere, but you then lose out on the KDP Select Global Fund.  Weigh your options.  For my next novel, I plan to do the 90 day period and then turn it off, so I can see if adding Barnes & Noble and Kobo helps.

Royalties

You can choose what percent royalties you want.  I use the 70%, cause well, that's more than 30%.  There is a 60 day initiation period, if you will.  You will start to receive royalties after the first 60 days that your book is available.  There is a minimum threshold of $100 if you don't do direct deposit.  I do direct deposit.  I also use my royalties to roll over into advertising.  *I'll get to that in a moment, and I'll circle back around to cover art along with it.  For paperback novels, you get 70% after printing and shipping have been deducted.  Set your prices wisely and competitively.  For some ebooks, that may mean peanuts compared to the jackpot you thought you would earn, but if the average book in your genre is $5.99, and you're priced at $12.99, guess what--some sale is better than no sale.  Lower your prices so that you don't price yourself out of the market.

Advertising

KDP gives you a couple different ways to advertise and promote your book.

1. Ads

--there are two types of these, and you can set your budget for overall spending and Cost Per Click (CPC)

A. Product Display

(I believe the lower ROI of the two).  Have you ever noticed those little ads off to the right sidebar when you're looking at a book?  That's a product display.  You won't get much from that.  Or at least I got nothing, so I terminated that campaign.  You can set an overall budget for this (I did $100 and didn't spend a penny).

B. Sponsored Product

( I like these).  Have you ever noticed the larger suggested books that are listed horizontally after the description of the book you're looking at?  Or a listing at the top of your search returns that says "sponsored"? These are sponsored ads and are WAY MORE visible and get far more traction.  You can set a daily budget for these.  Mine was $5.00, so if the system spent $5 in a day for me, then it stopped posting my ad.  The secret to this, though, is how much you are willing to pay per click.  The more you are willing to spend for CPC, the more often your ad will be seen.  This isn't a guarantee that anyone will actually click.  This isn't a guarantee that if they do click, you'll get a conversion.  This can get expensive very quickly meaning you're spending on ads, but no one (or very few) is buying your book.  You have to weigh your options: spend on ads for visibility even if you're actually in the red compared to royalties coming in, or lower your bid price for CPC, or don't use this type of campaign.

***So here is where I tie together the cover art, the royalties, and the advertising.  I chose to invest in the sponsored ads rather than pay for the cover art.  I did this simply for the sake of visibility and getting my book out there in front of potential buyers.  I did reinvest my royalties into paying for the ads, so that means that I didn't see all of my royalties (but I also wasn't out of pocket after the first 60 days--I raised my CPC bid then).  I have gotten paid from the KDP Select Global Fund, but it wasn't a huge amount.  When my debt to profit ratio had me spending quite a bit more than I was making, I paused the campaign.  When I paused it, my sales declined because I didn't have the visibility.  I am going to reinstate the campaign, BUT I'm going to reduce my CPC bid.  This means less exposure than before, but more than I have now.

Honestly, I'm still debating on the cover art investment for the next Kindle book that is coming out soon.  My plan for now is to send my designed cover to someone who can make it look fancy.  I'll launch the book with a smaller ad campaign to test out whether the traction comes from the ad placement or the appearance.  I'll let you know how that goes.

2. Giveaways

- you can do a 5-day giveaway for each of the 90-day KDP Select enrollments.  A giveaway is just that--you give away your Kindle ebook for free.  This is why I haven't done it (yet): no sales price means no royalties.  This is why I anticipate doing it when I launch the second book: who doesn't like free?  If I can drive traffic to my first book because it's free, hopefully my writing skills and price point will create conversions for my new book.  There are TONS UPON TONS of websites where you could do giveaways.  Goodreads is one of them.  Just remember, though, if you're in KDP Select, then you can't do giveaways anywhere other than Amazon books.  Since Amazon owns Goodreads, you can do your giveaways there and on Azamon directly.

3. Kindle Countdown Deals

-this is an up to 7 days at a time price reduction.  You have to have your book listed for 30 days before you can do the first mark down.  You can also do it in increments.  There is limited data, from what I can find and what other bloggers tell me, as to how much the Kindle Countdown Deals help.  I have done it twice with little ROI.  I figure that it at least increases some visibility because people love discounts almost as much as they like free.

Author Central and KDP Dashboard

Both of these resources are really useful, most of the time.  BE SURE TO CLAIM YOUR AUTHOR CENTRAL PAGE AND YOUR BOOK(S)! Have you ever clicked on the hyperlink to an author's name and gone to the page that lists all of their books?  It even may have links to their RSS or Twitter feeds.  This is their Amazon Author Central page.  Claiming this helps readers find you and all your books.  On the back end, it allows your to link your website/blog, add a photo, add your RSS and other social media info.  If you have a short promo video for your book, it can be uploaded there.  It also gives you your Amazon Author Rank and Sales Rank info.  Unless you are an econometrics algorithm genius, more than likely you will not be able to crack the nut that is the Amazon books ranking system or their listing priorities.  But it is kind of cool to watch how your rank moves up and down based on your sales. You will also be able to see all reviews of your books in one place.
Your KDP Dashboard is where you upload your book to begin with and manage all of the start up.  It's also where you go for your sales reports.  You will be able to see how many paid digital copies and free digital copies, as well, as paperback copies have been sold.  If you do KDP Select, you'll also see the number of pages read.  It will tell you your royalties based on those numbers.  You can pull up reports for the past too.  It will also have the link to take you to the ad campaign part of KDP. This is really handy information as you try to make informed decisions about advertising and sales.

Barnes & Noble and Kobo

I've set up accounts with them.  I found Barnes & Noble to be annoying because I write under a pen name, so I needed to provide info for both the real-me and the writer-me.  It didn't seem to like that there was a difference, but I'm sure I'm not the only one.  If and when I don't renew my KDP Select, I will list with them too.

Are you still there, reader?  Have you gone cross-eyed from all this information?  Are you tracking?

I know this is a lot to take in, but I tried to break it down as though you were having an actual conversation with someone rather than reading the legal eagle manuals.

I'm going to take a break here.  Part two will talk about the things that you'll want to do just before launch, during launch, and after.

Before I do go, here are two sites/resources that I have found that have a VERY wide array of information on their blogs.  There is info about KDP on there.  I stumbled across them through Twitter and find myself reading at least 2-3 articles a day by them.  They are partnered sites.

Resources

"Just Publishing Advice": https://justpublishingadvice.com/
                                          Twitter: @justpublishing
Derek Haines                    https://dahaines.com/
(the person behind the above site) Twitter: @Derek_Haines
     
Happy reading, y'all,

Celeste
@CelesteMBarclay
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