[What Luke J. Kendall has learned, so far, about self-publishing]

Monday, 1 June 2015

Launching Your eBook

Last week I attended another of Ms Lama Jabr's Kindle Direct Publishing workshops for authors and publishers in Sydney.  The meeting was titled eBook Marketing Strategies: Amazon Kindle Select Book Launch.  Lama runs small workshop sessions covering many related areas.  I met more nice people, and learned a lot: I do highly recommend her workshops if you're in Sydney. (This posting is a bit delayed because I came down with a cold on Friday evening. Almost better now, though.)

“Launching your book” is just one part of the larger topic of marketing, and I plan to write something about that in a future post. Since I'm on the subject of future topics, here are some that occurred to me:

  • Marketing your book
  • Piracy and self-publishers
  • The Twitter paradox: panning the internet for gold vs promoting yourself
  • Online writer workshops
  • Quality of your work
  • What I've learned about writing
  • Preparing your ebook for a printed edition

If anyone has an idea for a topic they'd like to see covered, I'm very open to suggestions.

Although Lama's workshop focused on Kindle Select (which I talk about in other posts, and especially in A Piece of Luck), most of the information applies to any book launch, not just a Kindle Direct Publishing launch (whether the “Select” option or not).

Preparing for launch...

Originally I'd written this section as a dense paragraph, but I think it's more helpful as a list. When I say “you've prepared your book”, I mean you've actually done a lot more than “just” writing it, even though that's far and away the biggest and most important step. I mean your book is ready to release, since you've:

  • Finalised the title
  • Revised it (probably many times)
  • Obtained detailed editor-style reviews (chapter by chapter, page by page, and ideally even line by line)
  • Generally polished it until it's the best you can make it.
  • Written a tight, compelling and informative blurb
  • Written a ten second “elevator pitch” encapsulation of your book
  • Prepared the cover, with properly-licensed artwork
  • Chosen how to (self)publish it
  • Converted it into the appropriate electronic format (.mobi or .epub)
    • Obtained an ISBN and tagged your book with the right metadata (genre, etc.)
    • Checked each page of the eBook version in some eReader simulator on your PC
    • Loaded it up on at least one actual eReader device and checked each page
    • (The above two points are apparently because eReaders' compliance to standards is not what it should be, even today: especially if you have illustrations)
  • Organised a print version

Launching your book...

Okay, on to the topic for today. So you've prepared your book for launch – what exactly do you do to launch it? How will people learn that your book even exists?

The key thing about self-publishing is that you're on your own. You have near-complete control over the book and the whole publishing process. Of course, the other side of that coin is that you have to do everything yourself, including all the stuff that an agent and publisher traditionally1 do:

  • setting the price
  • deciding special deals
  • arranging promotions
  • getting the word out (promoting)
  • getting reviews
  • engaging with readers…

So how do you do all that? How do you get the word out and publicise your book? The consensus is that the critically important thing is to get good reviews for your book. By “good,” I mean that the reviewers like it. I think there are two aspects to this, both of which you have some influence on, but no actual control over. The first and most obvious aspect is just how good your book is, and that depends entirely on you. The second is getting appropriate readers, and that is influenced by how you've promoted and described your book. The last thing you want is someone who hates horror stories reviewing your dark masterpiece, or a prude reviewing your erotic romance, or an aficionado of thrillers reading your book on cultivating orchids. Do some homework to target appropriate reviewers; and also make sure your blurb isn't ambiguous or misleading. If it's erotica, or challenging in some sense, give your potential readers fair warning.

Fundamentally, though, the ratings your reviewers give your book depend on how good it is. No amount of marketing will make it successful if your writing itself is of a poor standard in some sense.

Now, getting on the specifics of the Kindle Select launch, much of what I say is my interpretation of what I learned at Lama's seminar. So any errors or misunderstandings are my own. If you want to contact Lama to find out more, she can be reached via Xana Digital Publishing.

First, work out your goal: is it just to get published? To make the book available? To make a living?

Second, consider the foundation of the launch: the author, and the reader.

If your goal is to make a living from writing, then you as the author need to build an awareness of your books, which means an awareness of you as an author. In effect, you are the brand, and you're trying to build brand awareness. You can break this process down into offline and online strategies. Offline strategies include things like organising author talks and book signings (e.g. at a local library or school or book club), or interesting a local community radio station, even things like printed copies and display stands in local newsagents (this is one of the things Matthew Reilly initially did). Try to form alliances with other writers: attend writing and publishing conferences. Network with industry professionals: editors, formatting specialists, cover artists, independent publishers, convention organises. Provide information to relevant newspapers and magazines.

In all this, keep one thing firmly in mind: you need to behave very professionally at all times. This means treating others with respect, and certainly not assuming that your book is important or valuable to them. Maybe it is, but that's for them to decide, not you. If you experience rejection, accept it with good grace. Never lose your cool.

For online strategies, there are many avenues for promotion, and it's easy to reach a global audience. First, you should do some homework. Study your competitors: which means, have a look at similar books. Then, start studying them – e.g. do a search on Amazon for your genre, and then perhaps look at just the top 10 in your genre on Amazon. See what sort of price they charge – this is invaluable information for you to decide what price to set for your book. Also, see what sort of covers they've designed, study their blurbs, and check out the “author pages”. See if any of this inspires you to improve your own book.

When you finally launch your book, the first thing you do is to provide your book to the publisher (whether that be Amazon – in your country or in the US – or Lulu, or Smashwords, or many others, or an independent publisher). This typically requires you to upload it in the right format to their web site and filling out the necessary online forms (especially the tax information: if you're launching your book in the US, you can reduce the taxation to 5% if you're in a country with a mutual taxation agreement. Otherwise, you'll be taxed in the US at about 30% and again in your own country.)

If you've chosen the Kindle Select program and it's your first book, the very next thing you should do is to go and set up your “Amazon Author Central” account. If you wish, you can simply rely on that to be your web platform for your brand. You can link it to social media if you're active (as you should be) on at least one or two of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, … Don't try to be active on all of them, or you'll find you have no time for actually writing new books!

On Author Central, you can provide a little bio (try to make it interesting and appealing), up to six photos, and even a video or two. You could arrange a short interview, or develop a “book trailer”. Apparently you can source people to help you with both those things through Fiverr; but use common business sense.

After creating your AC account, you should search for your (newly-uploaded) book on Amazon and then link it to your Author Central account. Incidentally, the main reason for choosing Kindle Select is because you gain the option of several days of reduced (even zero) pricing to drive interest and make it easy to provide free copies to people. The downside is that for the (renewable) 90 day period, your book must only be available exclusively through Amazon. Your book will also be available for borrowing by people signed up to the Kindle Unlimited subscription service in those countries in which it is available (and you'll be paid a percentage of the KU pool for that month based on sales, provided the reader reads more than 10% of your book). But do note Kindle Unlimited’s Two-Tier System Makes Some Authors Second-Class Citizens.

Anyway, with your book available electronically now, you've laid the foundation for a good book launch. The next step, the key step, is to reach your potential readers. The most important thing is to get reviews for your book.

Getting reviews...

The more reviews your book receives, the more confidence your readers will have that they're getting a fair assessment of your book, and can make an informed decision about buying it. Four reviews is a rough minimum – with four, you should sell many more copies than if you have none. Ideally, the reviews will be strongly positive. I've seen authors requesting reviews “but only if they'll be 4 or 5 stars”. This seems to me somewhat dishonest – an attempt to skew the statistics by selecting only the glowing reviews. If that practice became common, it would undermine the whole value of book reviews. It's not the same as what traditional publishers do in providing a selection of short comments of praise: that's clearly advertising; nor are they in-depth reviews. And for me, personally, when I review a book, I first read it. I don't just skim it. So if I'm going to invest six hours to read it and then the time to review it, I'm not willing to invest that time if I know the author will throw my work in the bin if I don't like theirs enough. (That said, nor would I post a terrible review: instead, I'd bail out of reading the book early, and provide some constructive criticism privately to the author.)

Fundamentally, though, how the reviewer works and what they say are beyond your control, which is exactly the way it should be.

So this begs the question, how do you get reviews? The general approach is to provide a free (electronic) copy of your book in return for (or in the hope of) an honest review. The top sites for readers to find reviews are Goodreads 1st, and Amazon 2nd. There are discussion groups on Goodreads, and in those there are often offers of “review swaps” - but be careful not to do this in a way that could even seem like a “you give me 5 stars and I'll give you 5 stars” way: Amazon actively looks for and disqualifies such reviews, as they should. (For example, if you visit a friend and help them set up an Amazon account to buy s copy of your book to review, do not login to your own Amazon account there: Amazon will note that your friend's IP address is associated with your account, and disqualify any review they write for your book.)

Another approach is to search Amazon's top reviewers, and approach some of the relevant ones (who review in your genre) to see if they would review your book, for a free copy. Unfortunately, I don't know an easy way to find just book reviewers.

Another way is to use Facebook's groups of people who review books. You do this by going to Facebook, entering book review in the search field, and then make sure you click on the Groups tab (you may need to select the More tab and choose the Groups entry on its drop-down list). You'll then see a list of groups who do book reviews. Browse around and choose one or more groups that look suitable for your book, and go ahead and ask. Some of the groups you need to join, first. Some of them require you to review books yourself (which seems fair enough, to me!) You probably want to choose a public group.

I just read a great-sounding tip over on the Goodreads Support for Indie Authors group from Jordaina regarding FaceBook reviews: "I heard a great tip that if you publically thank those who left you a review and tag them in the post on FB it reminds/spurs others on to review so they can get the same type of public recognition. Just an idea."

And another good tip from the same Goodreads SIA group, from Helen on the Introductions forum there: There is a website called, 'TweetYourBooks.com' which has a list of book reviewers willing to read and review books for free. (Look under the 'Free Reviews' tab) The readers then tweet about the book/review (using the @TweetYourBooks handle). @TweetYourBooks currently has 82.9K followers.

Anything else?

A little, yes. If you're using Kindle Select, then the key advantage is the ability to choose one of the two promotional tools: Kindle Countdown Deals (time-bound promotional discounts for your book, available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, while earning royalties); or Free Book Promotion, where readers can get your book free for a limited time (five days in every 90-day Kindle Select period).

If you choose the latter, one tip from Lama was to choose either the 5-day bloc, or else first a 3-day block then later, a 2-day bloc. It seems that if you choose 1-day periods, people are likely to find out about it only after the free day has ended, and have that frustrating experience repeat on each free day!

Any other tips?

Here are some other possibly-useful resources;

Finally

Originally, I set myself a deadline of self-publishing at the end of May. The astute reader of this blog (possibly both of them) may notice that it's either the end of May already; or even later. So where's the book?

Well, it's still safe and sound and snug on my hard drive, with several backups. Unfortunately, there's been more to know about self-publishing than I could learn during May, so I've graciously allowed the author one more month (gee, thanks, me!). But after that, I'll consider further reasons for delay as mere excuses. So, even if that means the launch won't be as perfect as I can make it, it will launch by end of June at the latest.

I promise.

You can take a look at the 1st chapter of Wild Thing over on Goodreads, if you're really keen. And if it sounds like your cup of tea and you feel you may like to review it: please, drop me a line!

1Though I've heard it said that things have changed a lot in recent years, and publishers often do little or nothing to promote your book these days: the author is expected to do it.

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