How Do I Sell My e-Book? A Publisher's Thoughts

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I have seen far too many ‘gurus’ chime in on this subject, and after nearly a year in the business of growing a digital publishing company, I feel like I have some value-add to bring to the mix. I’m not a ‘guru’ and do not ever want to be considered one, but I have been doing this for a while now, and I’ve observed some things you might find usesful. It’s worth the effort, I think, to try and get it all into perspective in my own mind.

First of all, books are books. Stephen King’s eBooks sell better than those of a new writer no one has heard of. Blogs about and reviews of Stephen King books get more notice than those of lesser-known authors, and generate more sales. Authors – in short – who were already popular before putting their titles out in eBook format are still more popular than authors who were not. Authors who bring an audience from mass market publishing to their eBooks sell better than those with no track record. These are facts, and no amount of blogging, posturing, or tears will change them.

So what do you do?

There are solid answers. Covers matter. That said, you don’t need to go out and break the bank on a professional cover designer to get a very good, commercial cover. I’ve done some extensive analysis on our titles, and I can tell you that there is absolutely ZERO evidence in my data to show that the cover art is a huge factor unless it is godawful. If your little brother did it in Microsoft Paint, or you let Calibre generate it for you, or the colors are all mis-matched, you’re going to lose sales for the same reason a similar cover would not work on a print book. It looks amateurish.

That said, there is a lot that can be done with Photoshop, and there are people out there with some amazing artwork that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You just have to look for them. Join the community at Deviant Art and meet some of the wonderful artists there. Browse the public domain photo sites. You may pay some for the rights to an image, but you can often find one you’ll like for a very reasonable price – or even free. Then all you need is to study some books, see what sort of font and text arrangement appeals to you, and find someone capable of dropping it onto your image. All that is a fancy way of saying – most of you aren’t going to make hundreds of dollars on your eBook right off the bat, and investing a bunch of cash in a cover is a serious risk that isn’t really necessary, in my opinion (and experience). Some of the covers we’ve used that I think are the most mundane have resulted in great selling titles, and several titles with amazing covers have not done well at all.

Copy-editing and format matter. If you just run a word document through some conversion program and slap it up, it’s not going to look good. If you don’t get at least one other set of eyes carefully going over your work, it’s not going to read well – it’s going to have typos. Almost no-one is perfect enough to write without errors…and though you may see them easily in another person’s work, you may also NOT catch them in your own. Do yourself a favor and – even if you have to pay a small fee for it – find a proof-reader worth their salt. Then salt them.

On most eBook sites you can assign “Tags” to your books. This might seem trivial, but it is not. There are whole groups out there cross-tagging one another’s books to bring the numbers of people “agreeing” with them high enough to bump them up the search ranks. On Amazon, for instance, if you search the word BLOOD – the book with the highest ranking on that search term is going to come up first. Also, books that have the word BLOOD in their title may start getting that book listed in the “related” products and sent out in “you might also be interested in” e-mail notices.

Price matters. If you are a known quantity,and you present new, original work, you can get more for your eBook. If you are NOT a known quantity, or if you are bringing back older work that can be bought used and cheap in print editions, don’t be greedy. If you charge the $2.99 league minimum at Amazon, you will get more per sale than you ever got from a print publisher per sale by a huge factor. Print books pay (average) 4-10 percent royalty. If you sell your book through Crossroad Press – for instance – you get 80 percent of $2.05 (about what Amazon pays us per sold title after deducting their “delivery” fee) – that’s a good chunk per sale, and it adds up fast. We sell new, original works higher – $3.99 and $4.99 – and those seem to be workable prices as well, but keep in mind what you are asking of your readers. Ignore everything else and buy my book. Give them as many reasons as you can.

Do a good write-up for the book. I sometimes have a hard time getting my authors to help with this, and I do what I can, but a good solid “hook” in the product description is crucial. In print publishing you usually have little or no input to what the publisher puts up as a description, but here – in the digital world – you can write it and even change it with impunity.

When you get reviews, respond to them positively, even the bad ones. Never drop to thelevel of a sour-voiced reviewer. You’re just playing into their game, and you’ll regret it before all is said and done. Remain professional.

Visit forums and bulletin boards and blogs that are related to a: your genre and b: eBooks in general. Be a pro-active part of their communities before blowing your own horn, or it will backfire.

Make sure your author info is available. Set up your Amazon Author’s Page. Set up your Smashwords profile. If you get reviews complaining about typos – proofread and re-publish. Never believe that because someone else did a thing, you can copy what they did and it will work for you…it’s not going to. Each book, and each author, is unique in some way, and requires an individual approach.

Product, product, product. If you have words sitting around out of print, or languishing for years without publication, I suggest you dust them off and get them out there. A body of work in eBook format can generate steady sales much more quickly and reliably than one, or two eBooks. One thing is certain – a story or novel on your hard drive for ten years unread made you no money at all.

The bottom line is – you don’t need a guru. You need hard work, patience, attention to detail, and the same bit of luck you always needed to succeed. It’s easier to get IN the door of digital publishing, but the doors are open very wide. In the old days readers clamored at the publishing door for more to read. Now those doors are big and revolving, and the readers disperse in all directions as they pass through. Latching onto them and drawing them to your work is a whole new ballgame. Pay attention, learn from what you see, don’t let ANYONE tell you the best way to do a thing is”blah blah” unless they can show that “blah blah” has worked for a lot of people over time. And just SAYING that it has worked isn’t enough. Show me stats on how that new expensive cover built sales. Show me, in other words, the money. And don’t do it by showing me someone already successful.

Also, don’t listen to tales of inflated sales. You can go to Novelrank.com and put in the AISN of any book there and track it. If it’s already being tracked, you just log in and add it to those you are tracking. This way, when someone claims a thousand sales, you can check, and if you see a title upcoming you want to keep an eye on to see if something someone did worked for promotion – you have some (albeit imperfect) stats. I’ve seen some eye-opening whoppers told on the net about huge sales that I observed personally through Novel Rank to be much smaller. Keep in mind that Novel Rank is not perfect, and that it only tracks from the moment you START tracking, so any sales prior to that you can’t see. Hype is what it is.

I am happy to offer advice if asked, but that’s all it is. I don’t know how to make your book sell better for CERTAIN – I only know what is working at Crossroad Press. We’ve grown in leaps and bounds, sales are up (best month ever happening now).

One last thing…Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship. While this is not a guaranteed success – I have found that if you listen to them – go in with a good cover price, a decent cover, at least a couple of good reviews on your book already (and not fluffy, gushing ones either – real reviews) – you can generate a good number of sales that last over several days…

We have sponsored several books there, and at least three of them did very, very well. I would recommend their service to anyone.

Enough for one day…

-DNW

9 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this info, David. There are some great insights and useful information in there. I think sometimes folks get so excited to get their work out there that they put the proverbial cart before the horse.

    -Neal

  2. Part of it is that the ability to bypass most of the earlier stages of selling a print book gives people the idea they can bypass the rest of it too…it’s as much work (maybe more work) than ever to build a huge readership in this digital world…but far from impossible.

  3. Thank you for this- very interesting – have gone down this path myself and much of what you said I have done and the rest I will certainly try – as you rightly say it’s a hard job and needs application – But it is also quite fun

  4. Great post, David. A couple of follow-up questions, if I may. First, what are your thoughts on charging 99 cents versus 2.99? Obviously one would do so only to try to get exposure, as the commission is pretty minimal. Since Amazon changed the commission structure, have you tried 99 cents versus 2.99 to get an idea?

    Second question is which of the kindle nation sponsorship options have you found works the best?

    Thanks!

  5. We’ve tried dropping a couple of titles to .99 but it didn’t cause the bump we hoped for. I think, honestly, that particularly from less established authors, it is sort of “cheapening” your work to try and get a bump on the mostly meaningless Amazon sales ranks. You can jump to the top of those ranks with one good sales day but overall, that rank (particularly since they list it by so many sub-lists, like sci-fi>space opera etc. ) is not worth keeping one’s eye on.

    For me, it’s a matter of practicality. Several sites will automatically drop your title or reduce your price if they find it priced lower somewhere else, which makes sense, and they don’t all propagate at the same rate when you change. I have to drop prices across several sites to make it work, and that only to lower the revenue, so mostly we don’t do it.

    What I do instead is offer direct sale coupons and specials at http://store.crossroadpress.com where our books are available in all formats and make the most return for my authors. We also include a 20 percent off coupon to our store in the front of every book sold on commercial sites.

    Not sure this helped.

    The Kindle Nation … we just did the daily sponsorship. Also tried a couple on Planet Ipod (Ipad?) but I think it was too new to have a real impact, and it didn’t do as well.

  6. David –

    That helped a lot, thank you for taking the time to respond. I’m releasing three books this year, and I think I will probably experiment with both 99 cents and 2.99. The coupon idea is also an excellent one.

    Take care,

    Ed

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