How To Sell Ebooks
I just hit a milestone that is hard for me to grasp. As of January, I've sold over one million ebooks.
That's a lot of ebooks.
The question I get asked more than any other is: How can I make my ebooks sell more copies?
That's actually not the right question to ask. Because there is nothing you can do to make people buy your ebooks, except maybe hold them at gunpoint or kidnap their pets.
This business isn't about what you have to sell. It is about what you have to offer. And luck plays a big part.
But I've found you can improve your odds. Here are some things I've done that have seemed helpful.
I can't overemphasize how important a good cover is. Hire a professional. And keep these things in mind:
1. At a glance, it should convey the type or genre of the book you've written.
2. It should be readable in grayscale.
3. It should be readable as a thumbnail.
4. Your name and the title should be large and clear.
There are other little tips that I recommend. Usually legacy book covers have a lot of writing on them, and that makes them subconsciously identifiable as professional. Taglines. Blurbs. "By the author of Whiskey Sour". That sort of thing.
Your artist should know what vectors are, and the rule of three, and the importance of the color wheel, and all the other tricks used to make a cover pop.
If your sales are slow, consider getting a better cover.
GOOD PRODUCT DESCRIPTION
Did you know you can add basic HTML to your book description on Kindle using Author Central? I didn't. But I do now, and I'm using it to make my ebook pages better.
Once your cover gets a browser's attention, you need a good book description to reel them in. Read back jacket copy on some of your favorite mass market paperbacks to get a feel for it. You can also add blurbs, reviews, a bio, past books, and more.
Make sure there is plenty of white space. I don't like big, blocky paragraphs, and I assume others don't either. Use bold and italics when needed, but don't overuse them.
This should be a no-brainer, but every book you publish should be well-written. It should also be well-edited, and well-formatted.
You're going to have to experiment with this one. I have my novels priced at $3.99, my novellas and short story collections at $2.99, my trilogy sets at $9.99, and short stories at 99 cents.
Some of my peers sell for more, some for less. It's all about finding that sweet spot between unit sales and profit. I like my ebooks to be impulse buys, so I keep the prices low. Your results may vary.
The more books you publish, the greater your chances at finding readers. Besides new titles, you can also combine and split up titles to maximize your virtual shelf space.
I have box sets. I have single short stories that are also part of collections. I have joined forces with other authors, each of us putting a title into a set.
I also love to collaborate. That's an easy way to swap fans and increase readership
SOCIAL MEDIA AND ADVERTISING
My take on Twitter and Facebook is similar to my take on advertising. Maybe it'll bring in some sales, but I haven't found it brings in enough to justify the time and money spent.
I have 10,000 followers on Twitter. They don't follow me because they are anxiously awaiting news of my next published book, They follow me because of what I have to offer. Namely, information.
Sure, some of them may buy my books. But this number is minuscule compared to the number of people who have never heard of me before, and discover me for the first time surfing an ebook retailer.
My ebook The List has sold over 200,000 copies. In December it was featured in Kobo and earned $3,000 that month. In the last week, this book has earned me $2500 on Amazon.
I self-pubbed The List in 2009. This is not a new book. I don't advertise it. I don't blog about it, or tweet, or send out email blasts.
It is being discovered by people on their own. Kobo certainly gave it a boost by featuring it, but it was luck Kobo decided to do so. The List just came off a 5 day free period on KDP Select, which no doubt got it some attention, but that was zero cost to me and didn't involve me tooting my own horn anywhere.
I've done things in the past to increase my sales. Blog tours. Sending out review copies. Visiting bookstores. And I saw some success doing these things. But that success pales next to simply being discovered by strangers who haven't heard of you before.
Kobo and Amazon make it easy to find ebooks you like. Their user interfaces are surprisingly smart. Instead of pimping the books you've got, spend time writing more books to publish, then let their algorithms do their thing.
It's no secret that about 90% of my sales have been on Amazon. But 10% haven't. And that 10% equals a lot of money when you've sold a million ebooks.
I like dealing with Amazon. They are so smart, so motivated, and do so much right. They're the one to beat, and their online store is the best in the world.
I also like dealing with Kobo. They're dedicated, hungry, and also extremely smart. If you haven't visited Kobo.com lately, you should. They're doing some really cool stuff, making the shopping experience easier, better, and more fun.
Smashwords continues to raise the bar, innovate, and blaze new trails. Coker is one of the smartest men in the biz. I've done well with Smashwords.
I'm just now uploading my titles to Apple, so I don't have anything to report yet. But I'm not a fan of their iBookstore. It's clunky, not fun to surf, and lacks the ease of Amazon and Kobo.
B&N's PubIt program is easy to use, but I'm not impressed with their online store. Still, I've made some good money there.
Createspace is very easy to use, their books look great, and they integrate into both Amazon and B&N with ease.
Overdrive caters to libraries, and I'm making some money there, but they aren't easy to upload to. In fact, I'm not even sure they have opened up their site to self-pub yet.
As a writer, you should be on as many of these platforms as possible. The more places your books are available, the better.
Competition is good, because it makes everyone try harder, forcing them to raise their game to higher levels.
As a result, I haven't gone all in with Amazon. I don't like the exclusivity aspect of KDP Select. Amazon customers would have more choices, and authors would make more money, if it wasn't exclusive.
I also don't like proprietary formats. I think Kindles should read epub, and Nooks and Kobo ereaders should read mobi files.
My feeling are mixed on this issue.
One one hand, my agent has been amazing selling the foreign rights of my self-pubbed ebooks. I'm in more countries than I'd ever been in during my legacy years.
On the other hand, every right you sell is one you can't exploit yourself.
I've translated two works into German myself, at significant cost (a novel can cost $4k or more), but I'm in the black and set to earn profits forever. Forever is a long time.
But even though I'm doing well with ebooks, I'm not prepared, nor do I have to contacts, to translate every one of my fifty IPs into ten languages. I also don't have the 8 million dollars that would cost.
So my current solution is to sell foreign rights, but limit the term to three or four years, then they revert. That way I can make easy money now, and have the option of do it myself later without losing those rights forever.
If you want foreign deals, audio deals, movie and TV deals, or even a legacy deal, you probably need an agent.
But I don't recommend searching for one until you've sold a lot of ebooks. 50,000 is a good number. And I said sell, not give away for free.
There isn't a single thing I'm saying here that you should automatically believe. Don't trust me, or any other so-called expert. Instead, try things out for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Many newbies reading this don't understand what it is like to have a publisher controlling your book. Many even welcome that opportunity.
I couldn't be happier having complete control over my intellectual property. Being able to change covers, prices, titles, content, quickly and efficiently, is invaluable to me. I can publish instantly, on all platforms, and reach more readers than publishers can.
This is a business. You need to adopt a businesslike attitude.
Businesslike doesn't mean tweeting every ten minutes, begging your 27 followers to buy your book.
Businesslike means looking at numbers and understanding what they mean. Hiring out for things you can't do yourself, or hiring out when your time becomes so valuable you need to. Learning how to repeat cause and effect.
I have an accountant, a financial planner, and an assistant. I hire out for cover art, formatting, and proof-reading. I use a close-knit group of bestselling authors as editors. I discuss strategies with peers, often try new things that fail, and am constantly trying to prepare for the future by watching trends, predicting what will happen next, and analyzing my own habits.
Self-awareness is something everyone claims to have, but few people do. If you want to sell ebooks, look at why you buy ebooks.
When was the last time you:
Bought an ebook you saw in a tweet?
Clicked on an Internet ad?
Followed a Facebook ad?
Bought an ebook because you got a postcard in the mail?
Bought an ebook because you got an email about one?
Read a free ebook?
If you can figure out why you buy what you buy, not just with ebooks, but with every single thing, you'll learn a lot.
Use that knowledge. And if it works well, write about it so I can learn it too.
The first five are key, IMO. Good covers, good product descriptions, good books, good price, and having a lot of titles available.
I see so many crappy covers, especially, which is a major turnoff from the get-go.
I would add: Great titles.
I often agree with Konrath's ideas and these are among the best. There is one more item - luck. I mean the kind of luck that Vince Lombardi talked about. Luck is where preparation crosses opportunity. We can control preparation, but not opportunity, unless we are searching for it with an open mind.
By the way, those of you who have enjoyed my rapier wit, my clever stylizations, and my dashing good looks will be deprived for a time. I have 16 ideas (literally) for new novels. The problem, they are all the same and therefore, boring. I am putting them all aside to work on an experimental novel called Substitution that is a police procedural set 150 years in the future. I will check in from time to time, but not likely to comment. I will miss your fantastic ideas and opinions.
My need to concentrate on this project is overwhelming me right now.
Here is the cover.
Like the cover. Good luck!
Great post, Jack.
I've followed Konrath for quite a while now, but it's good to to see some of his ideas condensed like this. I'm going to make a copy for my writing room bulletin board.
Dean Wesley Smith is very good on this subject too, although some of his conclusions are different from Konrath's.
Joe and Smith are really the pros from Dover on this stuff, for my money.
One thing though... I have got the sneaking hunch that what Joe did... and Locke and Hocking and Selena Kitt... couldn't be duplicated by somebody getting into it today.
Some things have been changed that make it harder, Konrath and Locke both had forces at play from outside the whole indie publishing model... but moslty, they were just doing it first in a less crowded field.
I'd like to believe that I can step out there and get that sort of success (and the guy from "Wool" did it) but I think it's a lot tougher to pull off now.
The big difference is that Konrath says to sell cheap, while Smith argues for raising prices. I have followed D.W.Smith's suggestions, but I'm not sure it was the right thing to do. Basically only your fans will buy at his prices.
And it's worth pointing out that both had fans before starting out.
Moving from traditional published to self-published is a very different game from starting off indie, a factor which doesn't get mentioned much.
What it looks like to me is the emerging working model for this is neither the "price it up" theory of Smith, nor the K-Mart pricing strategy of Locke, but a sliding scale with a lot of interactive factors such as loss-leading and tie-in and intros.