Sunday, October 31, 2010

Patience and Planning Essential for Self-Publishing Authors

A fair amount of what self-publishing expert Morris Rosenthal writes about on his blog is the business of self-publishing and achieving the goal of self-sufficiency. For many self-published authors, one of their goals is to earn a living as an author. Certainly a worthy goal. 

It won't happen overnight. I don't want to hear about the stories of the lucky few who struck it rich. They are a statistically an anomaly. My goal when I entered the adventure known as self-publishing was to generate extra money to help pay bills and our daughter's college tuition. I am not there yet in terms of making a big dent in our bills.

Having said that, my wife, the Chief Financial Officer of our little business enterprise, informed me if our sales continued at the current level each month, she would fell confident enough to start using some of that money to pay down what we owe on our eldest daughter's college education. 

What have we achieved so far? Sales are completely covering the monthly cost of web hosting and my e-newsletter maintained by Constant Contact. My first book was published using Dog Ear Publishing and sales have long since recouped the investment in getting Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball into print. The costs of getting all of my other books into print have been paid for be income generated through sales of books already in print.

The last big cost to recover is the amount we paid for our website. Morris Rosenthal would scold me if he knew how much I spent on the website, but I am happy with the website and it was necessary as a means for me to share information with coaches and in turn build a following interested in purchasing my books (Morris would agree with sharing content). All of the costs of researching my upcoming books and learning about the business of self-publishing have been paid for with revenue from book sales.

I have learned a great deal in the entire process I want to share with other authors who are self-publishers or considering self-publishing. Some key points:

1) Have a plan. Even if it is flawed, you need a business plan. Yes, a business plan.
2) Be flexible with the plan. As you gain experience and learn from successes and mistakes, improve your plan.
3) Be patient! Aaron Shepard states, and my experiences have proven his principle to be correct, it takes a year for a book to begin to reach its potential on Amazon (if you are Aiming for Amazon!).
4) Develop a backlist. The total sales of your backlist will help your bottom line each month.
5) Take the time to learn as much as you can about the business of self-publishing. It is not enough to have a good (great) book - you have to sell it. You have to do your homework.
6) Develop an author platform - this is essential to build a following and there is too much involved to address this in this post.
7) Communicate with other self-publishers. We all make mistakes and we all do things right. Learning from the experiences of others is a great way to shorten the learning curve.

If you are new to the self-publishing business and have yet to publish your first book, or have only one or two books in print, I would suggest the following books as part of your homework:
  • Print-on-Demand Book Publishing by Morris Rosenthal covers the business side of self-publishing using POD technology.
  • Aiming at Amazon by Aaron Shepard covers the business model of selling on Amazon.
  • Self-Publishing With Amazon's CreateSpace by yours truly, Kevin Sivils covers how to use CreateSpace to truly self-publish and an overview of the business model of using POD to sell on Amazon.
  • 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing by Kevin Sivils (Good for individuals who have limited knowledge about the self-publishing industry - a great starting point in the learning process) covers a wide range of basic information about self-publishing in an easy to use question and answer format.
  • POD for Profit by Aaron Shepard covers using LSI to self-publish.

All of these books are available from Amazon.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Excerpts from my latest book: 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing

The passages below are brief excerpts from my latest book, 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing: Answers to Common Questions About Self-Publishing, Print-On-Demand, Book Marketing, Using CreateSpace and More
175. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using CreateSpace to self-publish?
This section describes the pros and cons of using CreateSpace based on my experiences.  What might be a major issue for me might be irrelevant to another author, so please take these statements for what they are.  These are what I think are the strengths and weaknesses of using CreateSpace to self-publish a book.

The Advantages
Low cost per copy for the author

For me personally, this is the most important reason to use CreateSpace in order to self publish a book. The low cost per copy for the author allows the author to make a healthy profit on direct sales. 
         The low price per copy for the author also creates opportunities for the author to act as the wholesaler of the book and still make a reasonable profit on each copy sold. Authors whose business plan includes sales other than on Amazon will benefit from the low cost per copy for the author.

The cost to publish is low

The cost is not just low, it is free. Well, sort of free.  Upgrading to the Pro Plan obtains the lowest possible price per copy for the author.  The author must also purchase a proof copy and pay for the shipping.  Compared to other methods of self-publishing, this is still the least expensive means to self publish a book.

Author sets list price

The wise self-publishing author has done considerable market research prior to publishing.  Part of that research should have included pricing of competing books in the niche or genre the author’s book belongs to.  The author controls the pricing of the book and can price the book optimally to sell as many copies of the book as possible.  If the author makes a mistake in pricing, it can easily be changed.

Print on demand printing

CreateSpace uses print on demand printing. By using this relatively new and still improving technology, CreateSpace allows self publishing authors to take full advantage of the “print on demand business plan” and all of the advantages to this approach to self publishing.

Automatic listing on

CreateSpace automatically lists the book on Amazon, if the author wants to sell the book on Amazon. Within fifteen business days or less after the author approves the proof copy, the book will be listed and available for sale on Amazon. 

Easy access

If you have access to the internet, you can gain access to CreateSpace.  It really is that simple.

Excerpt Number Two:
185. What should I look for when selecting an author services company?
Reputation and price are the two biggest things to be concerned with when looking for an author services company. There are a lot of sharks in the industry who charge too much for their services and do shoddy work. Because it is your book and your money, take the time to do a background check on the author services companies you are selecting from. Check the company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau. Post a question on a message board used by self-publishing authors and inquire about the experiences other authors have had with the companies you are researching. Be sure to read the author contract carefully for each company. A sure sign to avoid a company is if the company will not provide you a sample author contract to read. Reputable author services companies are happy to answer questions and provide as much information as you require in your decision making process.
186. What are the advantages of using an author services company?

If you are using a reputable company who does a good job, if you have written a good book the company will do a good job for a reasonable price in producing your book.
         For a first time author who does not know the ins and outs of the publishing industry, this can be very helpful. The author services company will produce the book, list it on Amazon and other online book retailers, deal with the POD printer, handle the financial transactions and pay you on a quarterly basis.
187. What are the disadvantages of using an author services company?
The time involved to produce your book will be much longer than if you design the cover and interior yourself, hire your own editor and deal directly with a POD printer and distributor such as CreateSpace or LSI. Your book is just one of many the author services company is producing and unless you pay a rush service fee it will be produced in the order in which the company contracted to produce the book. In other words, first come, first serve when getting your book into the production line.
       Costs can be lower or higher to produce your book when using an author services company. This will depend on the company you select or the freelancers you hire. Be careful, do your homework and shop around regardless of the approach you use to produce your book and publish it.

How useful are Amazon's Sales Rankings?

I am not sure how useful Amazon’s Sales Rankings are at times, but they are certainly interesting to watch. Lately I am more concerned with where my books fall in the search listing when a customer is looking for a book in the topics I have authored books in.

The long tail of Amazon kicks in when a book moves up in the search listing. When one of my books makes it to the first page of listings for a given search, sales pick up a bit more. To the extent Sales Rankings play a role in this, I cannot say, but I will say as my average Sales Ranking for a book increases, it moves up a little further in the search results which equals a few more sales, which equals a little higher average Sales Ranking, etc.

I do use RankTracer’s service to estimate sales based on Amazon Sales Rankings for the one book I don’t have published with CreateSpace (CreateSpace provides hourly sales updates). How RankTracer does this I have no idea and Amazon certainly is not going to comment about the process. My guess is RankTracer has some pretty good mathematicians who spent a lot of time monitoring sales of a set of test titles and creating an algorithm capable of good estimates.

Self-publishing expert Morris Rosenthal has spent years doing exactly this and has produced a graph he both updates and publishes on his website. Lately Morris is beginning to think Kindle sales are having an impact on the accuracy of his sales estimates system based on Sales Rankings. Based on following his blog for some time my guess is he will eventually determine a method of determining accuracy of both paper and Kindle book sales.

The other reason I pay attention to sales rankings is to try to judge the impact of an on-line marketing strategy or the impact of my e-newsletter. Book marketing is key to selling books for a self-published author and as much as I have learned about the field of self-publishing, and in the process increasing my sales, I feel like book marketing is the football Lucy keeps moving when I try to kick it.

The more cynical side of my brain thinks Amazon just likes to mess with the minds of self-published authors and uses its Sales Rankings to do so.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Interested in POD? Join this Yahoo Group!

Since I have become a self-published author, I have learned so much more about the publishing industry than I ever thought I would need to know. In doing so, I have also discovered there is so much still to learn. Even the experts in the industry are still learning. In part, this need for constant learning is due to the rapid change in technology and delivery systems in the self-publishing industry.

An interesting group to belong to in order to ask questions and obtain information is the POD Publishing group on Yahoo. Even the big names in the self-publishing industry like Aaron Shepard post there! 

You will have to join the group and receive permission to do so from the moderators if you desire to post questions or answers. All posts must be approved by the group moderators before the post will appear on the message board. If you have no desire to join but would like to lurk there, you will learn a great deal of information.

If you do not like receiving all the e-mail updates from a message group, simply set you membership to only read the digest on the message board and not to receive e-mails.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What is Borders/Kobo Thinking?!

If you self-publish e-books, or POD paper books, you need to read this article. In a time when the book industry is in serious flux, why would a major book retailer react in the manner Border/Kobo is doing? Amazon is the 900 lb. gorilla in the book world and Amazon makes self-publishing viable for the independent author to reach an audience and sell books. Barnes & Noble got off to a bad start but has improved and is working to make things easier for self-publishing authors. About 10-15% of my  monthly sales are now on Barnes & Noble. It's not Amazon, but 10-15% is  nothing to ignore either.

I don't see paper books vanishing in the immediate future, but POD technology and the business model it offers is quickly eliminating the middleman in the publishing world and I am not to sure I feel bad about it. Why should someone else  take a slice of the pie just by standing in the way between the retailer and me?

The responses posted to the article are interesting as well and worth reading. The publishing industry is changing in ways authors could not have foreseen even a year or two ago.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Latest Book, 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing, is available now on Amazon!

At long last my latest book on self-publishing will be in print and available on  301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing: Answers to Common Questions About Self-Publishing, Print-on-Demand, Book Marketing, Using CreateSpace and More is meant to be a source of information for authors considering self-publishing and know little about the industry.
Written in a question and answer format, it is meant to be an easy guide to answer questions the first time self-publisher will have. The book is not meant to be a technical guide on how to prepare your files for CreateSpace or LSI, though it will touch on such topics. It does answer such questions as what is the POD business model? Why is Amazon so important to self-publishing authors? What is an ASIN? How is it different from an ISBN?

Amazon Sales Rankings Revisited

Amazon's sales rankings garner a great deal of attention. This mysterious system, understood fully only by the software designers and statisticians employed by Amazon, is updated hourly. Authors are often guilty of checking the Amazon ranking of their titles on a regular basis as a result and self-published authors in particular seem to spend considerable time worrying about the rankings.

The upshot of this is few individuals are actually able obtain any real,  meaningful information from the rankings. How many books have been sold to achieve the current ranking? Have any books been sold? An upward movement in the rankings could mean other books have not sold and dropped in ranking while a given title that moves up either sold a single copy or has sold more copies in the past, causing it to hold its relative ranking. Or is that how it works at all?

Software is available that tracks Amazon Sales Ranking and provides reasonably accurate sales numbers based on the information from Amazon. But does make the rankings as important as authors seem to think the numbers are?

I have come to believe the Amazon Sales Rankings are important to be aware of, not as a measure of sales (since most of my books are published through Amazon's CreateSpace I have accurate hourly updates of actual sales available through my dashboard on CreateSpace) but instead as a potential measure of the Long Tail effect of the Amazon search process.

An examination of books on any given topic will reveal that the books with the highest Amazon Sales Ranking for that genre or topic tend to be the ones that appear on the first page of search results. Since these are the first titles offered to the customer to consider for purchase, they are also the most likely to be selected.

Other factors are believed to be part of the sales ranking process used by Amazon, but nothing beats total sales as far as the Amazon computers are concerned when it comes to the order of suggesting books to customers to purchase.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It Takes A Year? Evidently So! Self-published Authors and Amazon Sales

Aaron Shepard declares it takes a full year for a book to begin to sell on Amazon. Of course, my books were going to sell quickly and my wide range of marketing efforts via my e-newsletter, blogs and website were going to make the difference!

I am confident my marketing efforts have paid off, but Mr. Shepard is once again right. My best selling books started very slowly, peaked a bit during seasonal times of the year and had a horrible January.

This summer I had my best months ever in total Amazon sales and the seasonal time of the year for my non-fiction books has yet to arrive. In looking at a record of sales on Amazon for over a full year, it would seem Mr. Shepard hit it right on the nail. My two best months of sales ever were exactly a year after my two best selling books were made available on Amazon.

The lesson from this? Self-publishing authors have to be patient. It will take time for sales to pick up and the long tail of Amazon to kick in and help sell our books. Market your books from day one, by all means, but realize it will take time before the results of your efforts really begin to translate into actual sales.