08 Jul 10 Strange Things I Learned About Publishing Kindle Books
A few years ago, I read a story about a guy who made a living by publishing Kindle books. He wrote books on a variety of topics and had gotten to the point where he was hiring ghost writers to create new books for him. He was making a healthy six-figure income every year. I was impressed!
Over the past few years, I have published a few books for Kindle. Some of them are popular and some of them are duds. I have learned a few surprising things and I thought you might like to hear about them too.
1. The Amazon bestseller list is updated every hour.
For contrast, the NY Times bestseller list is updated once a week. Earning bestseller status is a matter of getting enough sales to be noteworthy in a short period of time. If you post on all your social media channels and send a mass email to all of your people, that is sometimes enough to do the trick. I have done this several times with several different titles in several different categories.
(This is also why I am not impressed when someone says they are a “bestselling author.”)
2. Pricing matters when you are publishing Kindle books.
There is some strategy to picking the right price for your Kindle book. I may write another post about pricing Kindle books someday, but here’s a brief overview for now.
Amazon gives you two choices. You can choose to receive 70% of the royalties or 35% of the royalties from each purchase of your Kindle book. Why would someone choose the 35% option? Because it gives you more control–where your book is published, if people can lend it to others and if you don’t want to be forced into putting your book in the Kindle Select program. This post does a good job of explaining the details.
Ultimately, I have learned that $2.99 is the optimal price for most of my Kindle books. In second place is the $0.99 price. Many people are happy to risk $1 or $3 on a new Kindle book, but above those prices I have found that the sales dramatically decrease. I’m after a large number of sales, not maximizing profit on a smaller number of sales.
3. The Amazon review system is geared toward consumers.
This is another way of saying the Amazon review system is definitely NOT geared toward authors. Authors have no recourse if they are attacked by a competitor posting (false) negative reviews or if negative reviews are from people who haven’t even purchased your book! Amazon doesn’t care. Complaining about it won’t change a thing, so you need to learn to live with it and build a strategy to combat some of these things.
4. Some people are grumpy and negative, and those people like to complain online.
If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to read the comments section on a news website, you know there are a bunch of negative people in the world. In fact, one of my rules about the internet is, “Never read the comments.” There are too many lunatics who spend all day in the comments sections spouting their misinformed opinions and trolling people.
Guess what! Those cranky people also spend time in the review sections of places like Yelp and Amazon. This includes the Kindle store.
For my latest book, I had one guy who left an especially nasty review as an anonymous person (because most of time the cranky folks are too soft and weak to use their real names). As it turns out, I know exactly who he is! He gave me the same sort of feedback in a Facebook group that he runs when the book was brand new. He thinks he’s being sneaky. He’s not being sneaky.
Related: There seems to be a particular type of person who likes to run Facebook groups, MeetUp groups, parent-teacher associations and other such organizations where they get to feel some sort of “authority.” They like the idea of having some power over others, usually because they have some deep insecurities and have been rejected from positions where they could have ACTUAL authority for their entire lives. They are a sad bunch, but don’t underestimate their dedication to trying to pull everyone else down to their level of misery.
The funny part about the people who leave negative reviews on one book or one item is that they tend to leave negative reviews on EVERY book or item they encounter. You can easily check on this by clicking on the profiles of the reviewers and it’s remarkable how consistent it is. Some people are just angry at the world for some reason or another. Haters gonna hate! You can’t let them get to you.
5. You can use negative reviews to your advantage.
This one might sound counter-intuitive, but it works.
First of all, many people are suspicious of products or services that have dozens or hundreds of five-star reviews and ONLY five-star reviews. It doesn’t seem likely that EVERYONE will find a particular product or book perfect. Plus, you have the nasty competitor element to consider as well (covered below).
Secondly, not all negative reviews are inherently bad. They give you an opportunity to respond to show that you have addressed their issue, or will address their issue with the next edition. Or, you can simply thank them for pointing out an error or whatever. I had one of those shortly after publishing my latest Kindle book. Someone left a two-star review and her comment was something about the book being too short and not very detailed. It gave me a chance to politely explain to her that the book is in the SHORT READS SECTION OF AMAZON because that’s where the shorter books without too many details are listed.
So, I basically showed the world that I’m polite and reasonable while I was subtly pointing out that this woman sounds like an idiot with her review. It would have been like buying a new freezer, then posting a negative review because you didn’t know the freezer was going to make everything so cold.
6. Kindle books do not need to be the size of full-length novels.
There are minimum requirements for text content (usually around 2500 words, but depends on your category). Most of the best minds recommend at least 10,000 words for a Kindle book to be sure it is accepted by Amazon and so it provides enough value to the readers. For contrast, a standard paperback novel will usually have 50,000-70,000 words at a minimum.
One of the Kindle “books” I wrote is essentially a list of 101 things with a short description of each item underneath it. I am very clear about that, both in the product description and the introduction of the book, so nobody is surprised when they read it. I priced it at $0.99 and like to tell people that I believe it is priced appropriately at one penny per list item. 😉
7. Competitors can (and do) leave negative reviews for your Kindle book and there’s nothing you can do to stop them.
This is true for any of the things you can sell on Amazon. Whether you’re publishing Kindle books or selling products, your competitors are watching. You will be putting yourself at considerable risk if you start treading on the turf of a profitable niche product or Kindle book that has no current competition. Consider yourself warned!
8. Pseudonyms can be very helpful when publishing Kindle books.
I have a few Kindle books where I have used a pseudonym. Part of the reason is privacy–I don’t want people poking around in my business. I have a wide variety of personal interests, and I don’t want people making decisions about whether or not to work with me in my primary business (commercial real estate in Colorado) because they see I’ve written books about other, random topics. People are super nosy these days and I plan for that.
The other main reason I have used pseudonyms is that I don’t want to be classified as “one of those Kindle authors who pumps out dozens of crappy books.” There is a LOT of garbage in the Kindle store and I know I could easily be thrown into that category if I’m not careful. I may very well end up publishing Kindle books as a serious part-time job, but I won’t ever been one of the people posting junk in the Kindle store just because I found a niche and I’m gaming the Amazon algorithm.
9. International sales are something to consider when publishing Kindle books.
This one was a surprise to me when I saw my first international sales on my dashboard. Who knew people in Spain, Australia or Mexico would be interested in what I had written? Now, I am mindful about writing for an international audience instead of just for Americans.
10. Amazon will remove reviews if they come from your relatives or people who share an IP address with you.
This one is tricky and not-so-obvious. When you agree to the terms of service for publishing Kindle books, it says that relatives cannot leave reviews. It’s not as easy as having relatives with different last names leave reviews to get around this–Amazon can see what IP address is being used to leave the reviews. Tricky, eh? The best rule of thumb is to keep it honest and don’t try to game the system. If you get busted trying to cheat, they can ban your account forever and that would be tragic.