Monday 30 May 2016

Five Killer Tips Every Kindle Author Should Be Using

Please note: there is now an updated and superior version of this article over on my new author website, The Outdoors Author. 

It's been a while since I posted here, what with all the many developments in the Armadaverse lately. By way of apology, this post is for my author colleagues — primarily those who publish through KDP and perhaps Createspace.

In this post we will look at five strategies every Kindle author should be using to maximise return on investment, increase market penetration for their series, provide best value to fans, cooperate with other authors, and make the most of their sales data.

Why am I giving away such useful information? Pretty simple really: as I have said before, I don't consider other indie authors to be 'the competition'. You are colleagues.

1: Be an Affiliate

I would like to think most of you do this anyway, but many people seem to be unaware of the Amazon Affiliates programme ('Associates' if you're in the UK).

In a nutshell, this programme lets you create links to products, categories, searches etc on Amazon. Those links contain an ID for your account. When people make eligible purchases using those links, you get paid a referral fee.

Here's the best bit: you are permitted to use referral links for your own products. Yes, that's right: when someone buys your books using your referral link, you not only get your royalty but a referral fee too, which comes out of Amazon's share. And the referral fee extends to any and all eligible items purchased in that browsing session.

So get an Affiliate/Associate account on all the regional Amazon sites which support the programme, and update all the links on your author web site, brand web site, blog, social media accounts, and even inside the Kindle editions themselves.

Take-home message: Every link to your book should contain your referral ID.

2: Use Collections

Planned a series of five books? Only got 3 published so far? You should still release a collection. I have done this with the Armada Wars Books 1–3 Omnibus, which is released for Kindle in just over 24 hours.

There are two very good reasons for this:
  1. It makes the most of the restrictive Kindle Select pricing structure,
  2. It ensures that a customer for your first book becomes a customer for your second and third books by default

Let's go through the logic.

People like having series box sets. It's convenient, it gives a huge sense of accomplishment when you hit 100%, and it often comes with a cost-saving price.

But here's the thing: if your books are in Kindle Select, you may have noticed on the pricing page of book setup that the price for your book has some quite strict limitations. The maximum price under KDP Select is $9.99 USD. Weirdly, in the UK region it's £9.99 and in the European regions it's €9.99. Even though those price points are not equivalent.

So... if you have five books in a series, their total value might be closer to $25 than $10. As attractive an idea as it is to release a "Books 1–5 Complete Story" edition a few months after the final volume comes out, you might find you can't really do that at the 70% royalty rate. To set the price at a point where it (a) provides value but (b) also makes sense, you would have to remain outside KDP Select for that volume, and only garner 35%.

The solution is to split the series into chunks which have approximately the same value as the USD limit for KDP Select titles.

The Armada Wars Books 1–3 Omnibus, which would cost $11.97 if purchased as three separate Kindle books, is set at $9.99. That price point is £6.99 in the UK region, and €8.99 in the European regions. See what I did there? By riding the max limit for the US region, you can set precise, reasonable equivalent prices in other regions. And new customers still make a saving.

But why go to all this trouble? Two reasons. Your Select royalty on one copy of the collection is a bit of a chunk compared to the royalty on a single volume, and you are creating series fans.

That second point should be critical to your strategy for your series. You might not over-analyse your figures (and we'll get to that in Killer Tip 5), but you probably realise from sales numbers and reviews that fewer people seem to buy each episode in your series. With a collection you're ensuring that the customer WILL buy a certain number of volumes, and not leaving it to chance. And that means they are far more likely to read them, particularly since they are part of one volume which has the psychological prompt of a 'percentage completed' figure. And if they read to the end of that collection, they will probably want more.

Take-home message: Use collections to gain long-term customers and provide higher royalties.

3: Exchange Content

This is essentially a marketing strategy to benefit other indie authors, but it has positive effects for you, your brand, and your affiliate account.

It's pretty simple: approach other indie authors whose work might appeal to your audience, and ask if they mind you placing an excerpt from their book/s in the back of yours. They are unlikely to say no.

Not only does this support the other author, and possibly gain them some sales, but you are likely to get reciprocation. This means the other author may think it's a great idea, and do the same thing for you. So you open up your universe to their readers, in an inviting way which has the implicit endorsement of an author whose work those readers enjoy.

Now I know what you're thinking, as a savvy KDP author: "but that will increase my book's file size, which will increase the per-download bandwidth fee, which will decrease my royalty."

Never fear. Even if you add a whole chapter, you're really talking cents/pennies on the download fee. And I'm confident that the benefits outweigh that cost. Plus, since you're an affiliate, the links you place to the other author's book/s after the excerpt are going to include your referral ID. So you'll not only be paid a small fee for sales of those books, but for anything else the customer buys during that browsing session.

Take-home message: When indies cooperate, we all benefit.

4: Createspace is Useful Even When it's Not

Createspace has its obvious uses, for example imprinting a true page-count onto your Kindle version's Amazon page (and also into the Kindle edition itself) to replace that undercounted KDP estimate. But if like me you find the Amazon profit slice a bit too much, and the author's royalty insultingly low, you may be neglecting or even abandoning your paperback versions.


If you are able to sell the books yourself, you can leverage Createspace to gain sales and earn more money per sale even at a lower price point.

Order your own books from Createspace. They may cost $12 to customers through Amazon, but they will be $4–6 to you. You can then sell them at $9 (for example) and make more income than you would have got through the royalties on a $12 Amazon sale.

They're still on Amazon, so reviews can be added and people can still benefit from MatchBook and free shipping, but every once in a while you will get a direct sale and a cash boost. There is a chance that Amazon will price-match your site, which means their price will drop to meet yours, but so what? You still win — you get more Amazon sales, sales rank increases, and market penetration benefits!

And of course you can also sell signed copies at a higher price point.

Take-home message: If you can sell your own paperbacks, do it.

5: Use Your Figures

The 'reports' section of KDP is useful while the data is still live, but if you're like me you will find the downloadable reports for past months to be really quite cumbersome. But that information is critical to understanding how your books are really doing.

Take the time to grab every single one of those monthly spreadsheets, and invest a few hours in setting up a spreadsheet which lists monthly sales and borrows by book, region, and reading type (i.e. purchases, freebies, borrows).

Believe me this is a tedious task, but it's worth it. Once you have all your historical data plugged in, it's only a small amount of work to add new monthly data. And the things you can learn from it are awesome.

What can you do with that data? Here are some examples:
  • The obvious "monthly sales" plot,
  • Comparison plot of sales of different books,
  • Comparison plot of which regions want your books the most,
  • Income tracking and prediction,
  • Track the occurrence (and hopefully disappearance) of periods without sales,
  • Determine how likely readers are — on average — to progress from book 1 to book 2, book 2 to book 3, et cetera.
That last point can be very illuminating. I found that readers of Steal from the Devil are less likely to move on to List of the Dead than readers of that second book are to move on to the third book, The Ravening Deep. That revelation from my sales data has prompted some changes to the first book to increase readers' faith in the series. The insight was invaluable.

If you're not great with figures, take the time to learn the basics of statistics and representation from the internet. That way you will avoid silly mistakes. An example: if you're going to make a pie chart showing annual sales of several different books, to see how they do compared to each other, you should only include sales figures from a time period when all books were actually on sale. If you're including two years of sales data for book one from a period during which book two was not even available, it's not a valid comparison.

One last note: you might find it tricky to deal with 'borrows' in your spreadsheet, due to the new KENP structure. The way I got around this was to divide the monthly "pages read" value by the KENP pages total for that book, giving the number of whole books borrowed for that month. The month in which that counting method began was July 2015, and you can find the KENP Count figure for each of your books on the "KDP Select Info" tab on the book's "Bookshelf" entry.

Take-home message: Knowledge is power — use the data you have!

So there you have it: five killer tips to make the most of your KDP and paper opportunities. I hope this has been useful (if a little long), and I'd be interested to hear about alternatives, improvements, or any success stories!

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