For quite some time now, a number of people who read my articles on LinkedIn and my own blog have urged me to put my writings into one or more books – to self-publish on Amazon. I have resisted for a long time, likely because of the same reasons you have: it looks too complicated and I wondered – who would want to read a book from me anyway?
This past week I decided to dive in. Many people self publish books to gain credibility so they can go around calling themselves “Author” – a title which they hope to leverage in order to better promote themselves as workshop facilitators, motivational speakers and other such self-proclaimed expert positions.
Other people, who may be unemployed or making very little money, are hoping that selling books on Amazon will be their ticket to riches, or at least a living. You’ll see many articles on the web claiming that you can make thousands of dollars each month selling your e-books. Some of the most popular self published books on Amazon are books that try to tell you how to sell your books on Amazon!
My interest was only to see if I could do it. The challenge has been staring me in the face for a while now. And let’s be honest. Anybody who succeeds in getting a book on Amazon is also hoping that somebody out there will buy it. And I had hoped that as well.
For their first book, a lot of people compile their blogs and articles from the web and just put all of those into their book – a compilation of “best works” if you will. It seems easy enough. All of the content has already been written, so that’s what I did.
It led to my first lesson. Amazon checks all of the submitted manuscripts before posting them in order to ensure people don’t just copy and paste anything from the web and turn it into a book. That would be copyright theft, plagiarism and extremely unethical.
What happens if you copy your own material? Amazon will send you an email asking you to prove that you are the original author who holds the rights. I panicked when I first got that email, as do most people. But I discovered that it’s a problem you can easily solve by responding to Amazon with a list of web addresses where your material has been posted. There are a few other things you need to do as well, but all of them done easily, if you are indeed the original author. (By the way, you can’t phone Amazon or KDP, the department that handles this. You can only email).
It’s actually a good thing that Amazon checks authorship. Otherwise, anyone could just copy anything from the web, claim it for their own, and make money selling books illegally.
That takes me to my main point – selling books. “If you build it, they will come,” the famous line from the 1989 hit movie Field of Dreams does not apply here. Just because you have a book on Amazon, doesn’t mean anyone is going to see it, let alone buy it.
In fact, the vast majority of self published authors, even people who are extremely good at writing, sell only a couple of books a month.
I recently posted one of the most popular articles on the web, entitled “Real Leaders Give a Damn About You” on LinkedIn (about the need for people in management to start caring about the people who work for them). As I write this, the article has 175,000 likes. I knew I had a popular article on my hands as the piece started to go viral. So – believe it or not, I quickly wrote an entire book based on the article to see if I could include a promo for the book in the footer, while people were still discovering and reading the article. The idea of course was to sell the book.
The numbers have been dismal. 175,000 likes translated into 2 book sales.
That’s how tough it is to sell your self published book.
One of the self-proclaimed gurus on YouTube recommends that you write a lot of books in order to make any money on Amazon. I therefore – within a recent span of 2 weeks – wrote more books. (All of my books, by the way, are small at under 40 pages). I have to admit, it seemed to work. I have sold 20 books in a short time and even made it to Amazon’s “top release” listing for “short reads”. (Amazon rates all of its new books every single hour. One of my books was number one for exactly one hour).
Amazon does want you to succeed. They are very aware of the frustrations experienced by self-publishers and have a number of special programs to help new authors, including one in which people can borrow your book for free, and then, hopefully write a review. The idea is that the reviews will help sell your book.
There’s another big lesson I learned. One of the e-book “experts” recommends that you give your book away to about 15 people and in return, ask for a review. I did just that, and of all 15 people, only one wrote a review.
Getting reviews is like pulling teeth. People just don’t have the time.
I would recommend to anyone thinking of self publishing not to give away your content to anybody in return for a review. There’s a 99 per cent chance you’ll never get that review.
Many new authors try to get the ball rolling by asking their friends and family to buy their book. That’s one thing I did not want to do. It would have made me feel like a new insurance salesman. (Insurance companies tell their new salespeople to sell to family).
But a friend of mine did do that and it angered his friends so much, some no longer speak to him. “Stop bugging us about your damn book.”
Ideally, your sales need to come from strangers – the buying public.
On Amazon, you can produce both a Kindle e-book and also a printed paperback version of your book. I know of only two people in my inner circle who actually read e-books. Everybody else is old school and needs a paper version. So I expected the paperback to sell better. I was wrong. E-books from self-published authors tend to be more popular because they are much less expensive. It seems the masses out there don’t want to spend their hard earned money buying a paperback written by an unknown author.
My first sale was to myself. Yes, I bought my own book. Amazon lets you purchase “author” copies for a very low price but I wanted to experience what would happen if I bought my book as a normal subscriber on Amazon. The book arrived quickly, and I was impressed with the very high quality of the paper and cover.
I showed the book to people I know and everyone asked the same question “How did you print it?” (People don’t really have a clue how all of this works).
You do not print your own books. Amazon does everything. When somebody orders a book, Amazon will print it and send it out. They deduct the printing costs from the price of your book, which by the way, is set by you. Amazon makes its profit of course, and you get the rest.
Overall, I was impressed by how anyone can put a book on Amazon. The process was not as difficult as I thought. You do have to spend up to an hour creating a profile which will ask you for some financial information so that Amazon knows how to pay you.
The process of uploading your book is well done, as you’re taken through a number of steps and tools. One of the tools is a built-in app to create your book cover. The app includes a range of royalty free photos you can use. It’s very cool. And all free.
The only thing that bothers me about self-publishing on Amazon is that when you update your book, you have to upload it all over again (which can take up to 30 minutes) and Amazon has to approve it, all over again, which can take up to another 72 hours. Even if you discover a typo and have to republish for that reason, you need to go through the entire process again.
In fact, it’s so time consuming, some authors don’t bother and just leave the typos as they are!
Publishing your works on Amazon can be a lot of fun. But keep your expectations extremely low. Consider yourself lucky to sell even one book. It has nothing to do with the quality of your writing. You may be a very good writer. But there are now so many books out there, that selling is a very tough business.
The experts will tell you that you must have a great title in order to sell books. I agree the title has to be catchy, but that in no way guarantees you’ll sell anything. I came up with a number of titles I thought were good – and it seemed to make no difference. (One thing to note: once you publish a paperback, you can’t go back and change its title. So before you publish, think long and hard about what title to use. Don’t make the mistake I did, thinking I could change the title later. You can’t).
Most self-published authors get very excited at first and check their account to see how many books are selling. But over time, they get discouraged because their book (or books) are not selling. If you go onto Amazon, you will see self-published books from a few years ago with all of the reviews within the first week or two of the date the book was published. After that, the reviews stop. The sales stop. The book’s page becomes a dead zone (you can see the tumbleweeds blowing across the page).
So most of those who try this, give up after a few weeks and stop publishing.
What about me? Am I planning to post more books? Yes. To make money? Don’t make me laugh. I’ll be doing it just for the pure joy of it. And if you do it, that should be your only motivation too.
Amazon now has a neat feature where you can create an “author” profile to feature all your books on one web page. Mine is here:
If you have a question about self publishing, I’d be happy to share more of my experience.