Self-publishing has come a long way in a short time. When I was starting out in the late 1990s, it was considered the last refuge of the incompetent. Now, it’s a viable, respectable way to get your work out there without having to spend years negotiating the labyrinth of agents and editors that traditional publishing represents. Self-publishing also means spending a lot of time on digital self-promotion, so here’s a short list of tools that can be very helpful.
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Amazon.com is responsible for a huge portion of sales of all self-published books… the last figure I saw was in excess of 80%, and I’m sure it’s only grown since then. CreateSpace is the division of Amazon that is responsible for handling the physical printing and shipping of your book. (It can also create a digital version of your book for sale through Kindle.) If you are planning to self-publish and you only have time to look at one online tool, CreateSpace is it.
CreateSpace makes it pretty easy to put out a book in a stunningly short amount of time. When I was exclusively using traditional publishers, waits of two years from day of acquisition to publication date were not uncommon. That is utterly ridiculous, but because of scheduling and other limitations, it was unavoidable.
Now, you can do it on your own terms. Of course you shouldn’t skip the editing, or the cover design, or the marketing… in fact, you owe it to yourself, and the world, to pay attention to all those things. Nobody needs another badly-edited, sloppy-looking self-published novel. And now that you’re the boss, you’re going to find out just how much goes into publishing a book.
CreateSpace works like this:
- Upload your finished manuscript
- Upload your book cover
- Start selling books
It’s that easy. Of course, like everything in life, it’s not actually that easy–you need to make sure your manuscript is properly formatted, you need to choose a book format, you need to make sure your cover fits your book, you need an ISBN or ASIN, etc. Unless you have the desire to learn this stuff and aren’t put off by technical challenges, I recommend hiring a professional to handle this for you. This person should ideally be able to:
- Handle the interior layout design of your manuscript, including font, margins, and gutters
- Help you choose the correct size for your book (CreateSpace offers several choices, and believe it or not, the size you choose may depend on the genre of your book, as well as other factors)
- Help you choose paper type (right now this is limited to plain white or cream… and because these are different thicknesses, your choice will affect your cover dimensions)
- Correctly size the cover to your manuscript, so that it has the proper dimensions
- Upload the files for you
I hired a woman named Sari Naworynski to do all of this for me, and she’s wonderful at it. She doesn’t have a website, but if you want to get in touch with her, I’ll gladly share her email address. Just message me using the contact form on this website and I’ll give it to you. I’m happy to give her all the business she can handle.
Again, if you’re comfortable doing all this yourself, or learning how to do it, then Godspeed. I’ve done it a couple of times, and I did a passable job… but I’ve also tried hiring experts, and I found it was well worth the money, because the results were far superior.
Once that’s done, your book will be available on Amazon, with its global advertising and distribution system. To me, this is the most stunning development in publishing since the invention of the printing press. And this brings me to my next point: Amazon Marketing Services.
Amazon Marketing Services (AMS)
AMS is a relatively new feature from Amazon. It’s their in-house advertising system, and it works very well. It will show ads for your book to people who are already browsing Amazon for books. You are in complete control of just who these ads are shown to, but you can also let Amazon decide that for you.
To begin, AMS will ask you what kind of ad you want to create: Product Display or Sponsored Product. Since these are not terribly descriptive names, let’s explore:
Sponsored Product ads
Sponsored Product ads ‘Promote individual products and use keywords to target shoppers searching for items like yours.’ This means Amazon can show your ad for your book about spiders to people who are looking for books about spiders. The main point here is keywords. A person who types “spiders” into Amazon’s search bar will see a list of potential titles, and they may also see your ad, which will appear as a sponsored product in a little box. Brilliant.
These ads work really well because they are micro-targeting a group of people who are already motivated to buy a book about spiders. To an advertiser, this is a dream audience. You don’t even need to convince them they want your product. They’ve already done that for you. You just need to get them to click on your ad.
When you create a Sponsored Product ad, you can choose between Manual Targeting and Automatic Targeting. In my experience, Automatic Targeting works beautifully. Amazon has an extremely complicated set of algorithms that manage how people shop, and they know a tremendous amount about each one of their customers. My advice is to let them handle it. I’ve had far more success with automatic targeting than I have with manual targeting.
You can also choose to enter Custom Text or create a Standard Ad. This is according to your choice… again, you can just let Amazon take the wheel here. Personally, I create custom ad text.
You will also need to set a daily budget. I would recommend $5 to start. Every time someone clicks on your ad, you will pay a small amount, called a ‘CPC bid’. CPC stands for ‘cost per click’. The more you are willing to pay for a click, the more often your ad will be shown. That doesn’t mean you will be charged that much every day… just that this is the most you will be charged on a given day, on average. (Some days, you might actually be charged more than $5.00, but your average daily cost over the course of a month will not exceed $5.00.)
I currently have my best-performing ad set to $.50 CPC with an average daily budget of $25.00 and no end date. My actual cost per click is currently $.32. It’s been running since July 31, 2017, and as of September 1, 2018, it’s been shown over 19 million times. That’s right: 19 million impressions. It hasn’t been clicked on that many times, but that’s 19 million free advertisements for my book. (Remember, you’re paying for clicks, not impressions!) This ad has worked so well for me that I plan to run it until the day I drop dead, and maybe even longer.
Product Display ads
Product Display ads ‘Deliver relevant ads to shoppers who are actively viewing specific products by targeting shoppers’ interests or related products and categories (eBook Only).’ The difference between this and the Sponsored Product ad is keywords. Product Display ads don’t use them. They use product categories instead.
I experimented with Product Display ads when I was first starting out with AMS, but they never performed terribly well for me. I think they are actually better designed for products other than books. My advice is to set one up just to cover your bases, let it run indefinitely and automatically, and then focus instead on Sponsored Product ads, which for me have been vastly more successful. Amazon will show your Product Display ad to people who are looking for books in the same general category.
A final word about AMS: I set up nearly a hundred different ads in the beginning, thinking that this would be the best way to get lots of sales. I wanted to cover every possible keyword and make sure anyone who was looking for anything even remotely related to my book would see my ad.
As it turns out, all I needed to do was create a single Sponsored Product ad and use the automatic settings. If you’re finding all this overwhelming, that is just what I would do: one ad, automatic settings, and you’re done. Let Amazon do the work for you.
How much does all this cost? This is called your Average Cost of Sales (ACoS). You will pay a certain percentage of your income to AMS for showing your ad. ACoS is measured in a percentage, say 37%. What that means is that for every dollar you earn in book sales, you are paying $.37 (thirty-seven cents) back to AMS.
There is a very large community of AMS enthusiasts out there who can give you lots of tips on how to get into the nitty-gritty, if you’re interested. Try searching for them on Google and YouTube.
KDP Rocket was recommended to me by my uncle, the author Kevin Siepel, who has been using it with great success to promote his two-volume set of books about the conquest of the Americas, called Conquistador Voices. It’s a program you download to your computer, and it works by doing the following:
- Suggesting keywords to you for use in creation of your Sponsored Product ads with manual settings (can run indefinitely)
- Suggesting categories for you to use in creation of your Product Display ads (specific budget, will run until budget is consumed)
- Suggesting ideas to you for books that you haven’t written yet, based on category
- Competition analysis (my least-used feature)
I have found KDP Rocket to be most useful when used in conjunction with AMS. I use the keyword-generating feature to create new Sponsored Product campaigns. It will create a series of keywords for me based on a phrase or keyword I enter, and I can then download those keywords in a CSV file, copy them, and paste them into a new AMS campaign. The whole process takes less than a minute for each new campaign. This is a huge improvement over the old method of trying to anticipate what keywords people might be using to find books, which can take hours and which might not even yield any results–since your keywords are just guesses.
Example: let’s say I’ve written a book about the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. I want to create an ad that will be shown to people on Amazon based on keywords they type in, so that they will see an ad for my book when they search for those keywords. In KDP Rocket, I would click on AMS Keywords, enter a phrase such as “Munchkins Wizard of Oz”, and see what KDP Rocket returns. In this case it seems to be lots of similar book titles. I can download those as a CSV, copy them, paste them into my new AMS campaign, and I’m done.
I’m not going to lecture you here on why you need a website, except to say this: you need a website. Unless you have a nice fat budget, you will probably want to find the cheapest and quickest way possible to set one up. WordPress is the way to go.
WordPress (WP) is a CMS, which stands for Content Management System. Put in more simple terms, it is a platform that allows you to make websites, for free. In my opinion, it’s fantastic. Hundreds of millions of website owners agree with me. WP is the most popular CMS on the web by a huge margin.
There are two other very popular free website providers out there. One is called Wix, and the other is called Squarespace. Both of these platforms have one distinct advantage over WordPress, which is that they make it very easy for people with absolutely no web design skills to create a beautiful-looking site.
However, that is where the advantages end. Wix and Squarespace are very, very difficult to customize, which you will eventually want to do as your traffic grows and you find your site needs more features. They are also not very helpful with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which refers to how easily your site is found by Google and shown in its Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). WordPress is automatically optimized for SEO. You scarcely need to do anything to it except create useful content.
Did you know?
There is way more to a website than how it looks. Behind the scenes, there is a whole system of interactions going on that we can loosely call “back end functionality”. This affects how your site will appear to Google and other search engine crawlers. Site loading speed, SEO, image optimization… all this stuff is critical! If you need help with it, ask a professional. It will be worth your investment.
WP comes in two flavors: self-hosted and free-hosted. The software for the self-hosted version is downloaded from wordpress.org, and must be uploaded to your own server. If you find that daunting, try the free-hosted version, which you can access at wordpress.com. You can choose from a variety of free themes to get started, and later, if you need additional features, you can purchase them very reasonably. WP.com offers live support built right into your dashboard, so it’s possible to chat with a Happiness Engineer (yes, they’re really called that) any time, day or night, no matter where you live in the world.
My Writing Network
My Writing Network is a community of writers on the web. It offers anyone with an interest in writing an easy and free way to set up their own website. It’s based on WordPress, and it’s free to sign up and get your own site. It also has a Facebook group that you can join whether or not you create your own website on MWN.
I am the owner and creator of My Writing Network. Come on in! Everyone is welcome.