How to self-publish a Kindle book successfully in 2018
My Guerrilla Publishing course has lots of information and can seem overwhelming, so I just wrote a summary of all the important bits. This includes some of my launch strategies and a basic glossary of useful publishing terms. If it’s useful, please share!
The most important step to publishing successfully is:
1. Write a good book in a popular market that conforms to genre expectations.
Most authors don’t do that one; some even deliberately rebel against it. But after you’ve been publishing for awhile, you’ll figure out you can make 10X the money with 1/10th of the marketing if you’re deliberate about understanding a specific audience and writing books people will enjoy. After that you just need to:
2. Present and package it obviously so readers can identify at a glance that the book is for them.
Most authors screw this up as well. When helping GP students, 70% of the time the genre or topic is not clear from the Amazon page, even after reading the description. These are the common, but fatal, Amazon page killers you should focus on fixing:
* Not having enough reviews (less than 10), which means you aren’t building email lists or sending out enough free copies.
* Not using genre keywords or indicators in your description. Make it stupid clear WHAT your book is, what categories it belongs in (take your categories, add the keywords into your description) – and WHO it is for (for fans who like X and Y).
* Not having a bolded hook at the top of your description that incited interest from the right readers while also cementing the genre. (If your cover is perfect, they should already have a very clear idea of the genre, but most of the time, indie author’s covers aren’t communicating genre well enough – and EVEN if your cover is perfect, you still need to repeat the keywords and genre indicators because search engines can’t read cover text. If possible, add your best keywords in your subtitle; in the first line and last line; in bold.
This part can be confusing, because when you publish on KDP, they’ll ask you for up to seven keywords; and on Createspace they’ll ask for categories. And the KDP keywords you choose are actually just to help place you in the right categories. Mostly, don’t worry about those. You can email KDP support and ask them to put you in up to ten categories. Browse categories on Amazon that other similar books are in. Make a list of categories that would be a good fit for your book. Email that list to support and ask them to add you.
When I talk about keywords, most of the time I mean the words readers actually search for in Amazon or Google to find stuff. You need to know what words they’re using, and you need to use those words in your description because:
1. You need to use their language back at them so they can see and immediately think “hey this sounds like my kind of book.”
2. If you aren’t using the keywords readers are looking for, your book will never show up in search results.
If you need help with keywords, I recommend KDPRocket.
INTERMISSION #1 – this video shows my process for writing bestsellers.
Free books and giveaways
I talk a lot about free books and book giveaways to build your list. This stuff can seem technical, but I’ve also included resources and tools to help you do this, and I have lots of in-depth videos on each subject. Basically, it’s hard to sell to people who haven’t read your work.
FIRST you need to attract them with things they already want, like books by bestselling authors they recognize. You can giveaway 5 books and use Facebook ads to target readers who like those authors or the genre, to get them on an email list (with giveaways, they get more points for sharing, so they have a viral effect.)
AFTER they’re on your list, you can offer them a free book. If they like that book, they’ll be likely to buy future books from you.
If you only have one book – that’s fine, you can give away a sample chapter, or a prequel, or an excerpt. You can also skip the free stuff and just launch a book at full price, but you’ll probably spend more time and money on promotion and advertising (and make less profit). Free books are the easiest way to build an audience, and they’re more effective than most forms of marketing.
But HOW do you give away a free book?
First you need to convert the books to epub or mobi (ebook files). You’ll have to do this to publish anyway. You’ll also need a cover. Then, you can just upload the files to your website and send people the link – or upload to dropbox or some other online storage and send the link. But I prefer BookFunnel, because it looks nicer and has built-in instructions to help readers download and open the files, so you don’t need to help everybody figure it out for their individual devices.
You can also make your book “permafree” by publishing for $0.00 on Draft2Digital, publishing for 99cents on KDP, then emailing KDP support through your dashboard asking them to price match the free version on iBooks or Kobo. They usually will: this makes it free everywhere. You’ll still need reviews but you can test conversions much faster on a permafree book, so you can tweak covers or blurbs and see an immediate boost in downloads.
If you don’t know what you’re doing yet, assume you’ll make all the mistakes. It’s better to “fail” with a free book and figure out the problems quickly instead of “failing” with a big, public, expensive book launch and wonder why nobody is buying.
Publishing Prelaunch Roadmap
1. Build a targeted email list of people who like reading similar books.
First, you need to know who your audience is, what keywords they search for, what books they like. You should pick 10 books that are similar to yours and sell well. Read through the reviews and study the language. What do readers like and dislike? How can you use that language to describe your book and show that your book is the best book in the category (similar to all the stuff they love, with none of the annoying things they hate).
Build a list with book giveaways, using BookFetti or Kingsumo (giveaway apps – you can get access to them in my 1000 subscribers course.) Give out free samples on BookFunnel or Instafreebie (both are good, join lots of the joint author promos). BookFunnel is better for giving out ARCs (advanced reader copies).
You can also use a service like Book Review Targeter which will pull reviewer info from Amazon – which can be effective, but be careful when emailing them; they aren’t your fans, they don’t want to be spammed, but most will be fine if you offer a free book that you sincerely think they’ll enjoy.
2. Warm your list up with stories, free samples, engaging questions and activities.
Don’t just get signups and then try and sell them a book. Prove value first. You can’t sell books without reviews; you need a big email list and lots of free books to get reviews.
Give away lots of review copies. The colder your audience, the less conversion you can expect. So 1000 books to strangers might result in 10 or 20 reviews. 100 books to fans may result in 50 reviews. That’s why building a relationship with readers through a well-written autoresponder series (a pre-scheduled set of emails) is important.
3. Put your book up on preorder. It’s a chance to test your sales copy and cover. You should also be running Amazon and Facebook ads. They won’t convert well without reviews but you can test your ad copy and cover art and find the combination with the greatest hook, which will get the most clicks; then use that in your Amazon blurb. You can also put up a print book, upload new files but don’t approve them so it shows as unavailable, so that readers can post reviews early – otherwise it’s difficult to get everyone to review quickly right after launch while you’re promoting.
INTERMISSION #2 – I’m presenting this weekend on building relationships with readers; I’ll post the video here when it’s ready.
Bestseller Launch Roadmap
I prefer to “soft-launch” which means I just publish it but don’t promote it at first; I give out my free copies, encourage reviews, launch at full price for a month, then do a 99cent promo with ads (it’s tricky though, you want to sell enough copies to show up in the “hot new releases” category; I’ve heard that’s good for 90days but to be careful I’d try and do more promotion in the first 30 days after releasing.)
The main idea of a launch is to sell a bunch of books quickly, so your sales rank goes up and you get more visibility. I recommend shooting for 100 sales and #1 in your category, which should be very possible as long as you’ve researched categories and asked Amazon to put you in more of them.
With zero platform or list, worry mostly about building an audience, getting reviews, building a list – not selling. The bigger your platform, the less you need to give away free books.
What most authors do: freak out at the last minute and book any cheap promotions they can. But most of the legit book promotion sites (that advertise book deals) need to be booked weeks in advance; and they only take discounted books with a certain number of reviews. So you can’t just do last minute promotions.
What I did: built a huge list of targeted readers, gave away 80,000 books (to sell 25,000 copies).
What I do now: email list about book I’m working on, get them excited by sharing covers and excerpts, launch book at 2.99. Giveaway 100 copies with Amazon giveaways and 100 copies on Goodreads (these are ebook copies; I still have to buy them but I get most of the money back). Let people know if they didn’t win they can buy it right away and earn bonus content or a free book (if they buy one I’ll gift them another of their choice). Also let them know it’s free in KU.
Two weeks later, let them know they can get it on sale for 99cents. A month after that, use my KDP free days and let everyone know they can download it. I’ll make sure to let them know what’s happening so they won’t feel cheated: they can wait and get it cheap/free, or get it early, support me and be rewarded.
(Previously I’d use my free days FIRST, to get lots of downloads/reviews. Now that I have a big platform, and I’ve rewarded my fans with free books already, I’ll give them the opportunity to support me first – I may save my free days to two months after launch).
When I get my preorder privileges back (I lost them for a year because I had to change my preorder date and was penalized), I’ll also set up preorders about 3 months in advance, especially for book two’s which will sell from the back of the first book in each series.
I should also give out at least 100 ARC copies to my biggest fans about a month before so they have time to read and review when I launch (and hopefully find any stray typos)… but I usually finish late, upload right away and make it public.
If you’re still not selling…
Go back and fix your cover and blurb. If you have less than 10 reviews, that’s your problem. After that, fix your blurb or hire help. Start with a hook. Include your keywords. This is an EASY FIX but most authors do it wrong. If that doesn’t work, it’s your cover – get a better one (watch my videos to learn why yours isn’t working).
If you’ve done ALL of that and are still having trouble, it’s time to write a more satisfying book in a more popular genre – sales will always be directly limited by demand. Don’t bemoan or complain or whine about the how the illiterate masses only want cheap thrills and don’t appreciate ART. You can’t make people pay for something they don’t want.
PS if you haven’t grabbed the Guerrilla Publishing book and workbook, you should.
Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me