It’s doable but very hard. It takes a combination of good things, some not much in your control.
A starting definition is required: what is a “big seller”? Almost everybody will agree that if your book has “many, many thousands of sales; royalties in six-plus figures; a book-based movie, and spin-offs of book fame like Charlie Rose, the morning shows, and widespread name recognition, that’s a big seller.
All of that can happen, despite the self-publishing (which too often is linked to poor production and artwork, weak marketing, little or no selling pre-prep, and reluctance by book distributors to keep the book in stock and sight).
Your book is most likely to break out big if you are well known or you say things that lots of book buyers want to read—and repeat to their friends. Those sales can be quickly magnified if the timing is right—the topic excites readers eager to know more about what you are saying. (I’m presuming your prose is tight, true, and flawlessly professional.)
I think I heard you say, “Fat chance! No way my message will hit the headlines—and what would Charlie Rose, or even Tokyo Rose, ask me even if they could find me?”
Yet there are self-publishers who define being a “big seller” differently, though they’d be happy to be “found” if the world started spinning in reverse. They have already sold a few thousand copies, pushed through Kindle and CreateSpace. One suspects they are about as happy as they’d be if they’d won a Noble and Pulitzer Prize and Miss Spenser, the senior literature class teacher, had given them a posthumous “A.” Their books are well written, to the point, and spotlessly proofed. But the covers aren’t bookstore stuff: free artwork, Arial type, more cartoonish than befitting a true big-house tome.
They all did pretty much the same thing. They told stories, about themselves, their families, some friends. One book was sad. It was a true story. It was patched together with such gentleness and determination that it was hard to put down. A book you gave your spouse or your aunt even though none of you know the author. Or like your friend who told you to buy it—“you’ve got to read this.”
The other two popped with humor. Both worked because the dialog sounded true–and was funny; it was how men, the key protagonists, talk—one book, three brothers and an older sister in a tense, disintegrating family all sliding apart on strings of love; the other, a loose tale of a not-so-good magician working the subway, the bus station, and a bewildering corporate bachelor party, realizing that the weaker his magic was, the funnier was his patter.
Those are also paths to “best sellerdom” for the unchosen. There are as many, or more, winning paths in non-fiction too. I suspect there are thousands of writers of wee books who are puffing with pride just having the best they can do available digitally or in paperback. They’d take the fame and chat with Charlie but in the meantime they can scarcely hide their smile when somebody whispers, “I read your book. It was great.”
And what happens if only a handful of people buy or read your book. Don’t brag too loudly about your fan club. There’s no reason to say anything. Keep that book in your goods box to give your grandkids. You wrote and published a book. How many others in your family are in print? Or your friends? You count.
This was a gnarly problem earlier. Whether it was you alone closing your books at the end of the month or you had to calculate royalties for all of the authors in your publishing crew, it was a brainbuster to figure out where or how the Amazon outlets shared the good news.
It’s better now. It couldn’t be easier with Create Space, Amazon Advantage’s ordering process (which wants you to send them your 110%-worth books to sell at a 55% discount!) is about as confusing as one could devise, but tallying your monthly royalties (and sales) is simple enough now, and Kindle is somewhere in between.
All are slightly complicated by Kindle and Create Space’s overseas sales, with many of those purchases in strange currencies and no quick way to convert the conversion into US dollars. Plus the fact that the Kindle extra-US sales come in at odd times on separate checks. It matters because if you’re the publisher you must figure out how much your writer gets from the royalties, after you figure out what the royalties are worth!
OK, how to make the calculations?
Create Space first. They send you the tally sheet by email at the end of each month, lovingly itemized. The information sent tells which books were sold, the quantity, the number returned, and the royalty percentage sent. That will be paid to you two months hence, so you needn’t even check the web tallies. CS will also tell you by email before that money is in fact deposited 60 days hence, so just check that the totals are the same. Start your check up at www.createspace.com.
Amazon Advantage is reached at https://advantage.amazon.com. Sign in and find the “Amazon.com Advantage Sales Payment Summary” to see how the process works, with diagrams! Find the sales summary of each month. Payments are made at the end of each month for the previous month’s sales. If, say, $400 is listed in the total payments box, see the SHOW link in the line above, open it, and it will tell you that Author A earned $200 (broken down by his/her products sold), B earned $100, and C, the other $100.) By the time you see those specifics, the $400 will already be deposited in your bank—and you will have been informed that a payment is being deposited, by email.
Kindle is a bit labyrinthine but it’s findable. This is where Amazon sells your digital products. Go to https://kdp.amazon.com and sign in. Find the word “reports” in the top bar,, then open up “Prior Month’s Royalties.” (It opens on the bottom of the page, so scroll down.) The total and itemized breakdown will be listed two months back (if it’s May, look for March) since they pay 60 days later. Again, go down the country itemizations to see if you are a big seller in other markets. Those sales will be deposited separately–it seems at random . Kindle sends you a cryptic email telling you of every deposit soon to be made.
That’s what we do. It’s all kind of a pain unless your books are healthy sellers, but the money spends nonetheless. (One alternative is to sell the books yourself on the street corner. Of course you could do both!)
P.S. A very profitable way to sell books directly to the most interested and benefitted buyers (usually at 100% value) is to practice the gilded art of niche publishing. See my book Niche Publishing: Publish Profitably Every Time, or other, directly focused products at our order form.
I’ve been selling my e-books through Nook Press for four years and it’s a good way to get your book posted for sale at Barnes and Noble, which runs it. (Its platform was earlier known as Pubit!)
It’s probably the easiest free ebook press site to use. (The others most used are Kindle and Smashwords.) Simply go to Nook Press.com and there are three choices: E-Book Publishing, Print Books, and Help Services. If you want to publish and sell your books through them, go to the first. If you just want them to print your books, the second, and if you need help putting the book together, the third.
Just follow the submission directions in the publishing section, (My book, How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days, will ease your march through the steps, if needed.)
There are usually two perplexing areas in the free publishing formats: (1) who you can talk to–actually talk to, or at least type to and have them immediately type an answer back, and (2) how many copies have you sold, when, and when will those royalties be paid.
(1) Live assistance is great at Nook Press. If you have questions it will tell you where to go and how to do it immediately.
(2) Easy enough here too, if you remember that you get paid 60 days after sale and you are paid for all of that month’s total sales. For example, if you sold a book in March, you will be paid at the end of May. (They will send you an email telling you it is en route [to your bank account] at that time.) So if you sold $42 worth (say six books) in March, you will be paid the $42 at the end of May. Go to the SALES button and it will tell you the number of books sold the present month, how many were sold last month, and you can go down a list of previous months and it will tell you specifically which books were sold during those earlier 30-day periods. (There’s also a graph on the SALES page telling the number of books sold each of the past six months.)
I need that by-the-month information (in our example, for April) because it tells me exactly which six books were bought that month. That’s important to you if you have more than one ebook published by Nook Press. For me, I own a publishing company and I submit the books written by my five authors (see www.meetingk-12needs.com), plus me. So I need to know which books by which authors (and the royalty for each) they are paying. That’s so I can pass that royalty on to them.
That’s it. Consider adding Nook Press to your selling force. If nothing more, it’s another publisher in your growing in-print domain. Your kids will shriek with delight. So will your spouse when those additional royalties get heavy in your account!
P.S. If you want to read other comments, usually how-to, in the 400 or so blogs at this site about any of the “open publishing” sites, go to the SEARCH box at the top, right, of the first page of this blog and type in the publisher’s name (one at a time). The blogs will be lined up for you to read! What are the other related publishing outlets you might want to know about? Try Nook, Kindle, Smashwords, BookBaby, Create Space, Amazon, Lightning Source, Lulu, Scribd, Blurb, iBooks, and Kobo.
At 11” x 6,” the postcards are big enough to cover other books already on the potential buyer’s desk. But the real issue is, are the cards clever enough to lovingly pick the buyers’ pocket?
Said another way, it will cost us about $6500 to get the sales missive done right and delivered on time. But will the returns grossly exceed that cost while we are still in the same flesh? (Three months will tell the tale, hoping for a third of that in three weeks.)
I’m a niche publisher. A few years back my firm hit a bulls-eye designing, creating, and selling standard operating procedures manuals for dentists. Now we create and sell books to K-12 administrators: mostly principals, superintendents, school board members, and teachers. Flossing was pretty much what I knew about dentistry at the earlier incarnation, and avoiding the grumpy old dudes who ran schools was my gift as a kid. How the niche publishing came about is another blog, or several—go to the search box on this blog and write “niche publishing” and you can read what I’ve said so far. Or read my book: Niche Publishing: Publish Profitably Every Time.
The bottom line is that I don’t write education (or dental) books: I get first-rate leaders (preferably already speaking widely in their field) who are experts about the target topics. They are the heroes. They share their hard-earned well of knowledge—in writing. (I have had 46 books published that I did write, but that’s a different, and concurrent, life!)
Here the expert is my younger brother, Jim, and these are his fifth and sixth books for me. Why him? I can’t find anybody else with more experience, ideas, and recognition among other superintendents, principals, and teachers, nor anybody who has also given so many key speeches to conferences, conventions, academies, … Anyway, he’s a lot of fun, disciplined, and full of reliable genes, good ideas, and true stories…
But here’s what’s up now. Jim wrote two books that I want to sell simultaneously: The Art of School Boarding: What Every School Board Member Needs to Know and The School Principal’s Toolbook. (We try to make our titles so clear that a buyer knows what’s inside before lifting the cover, so I hope these too are self-explanatory.) They are dynamite books but running two separate selling campaigns costs money—and we think one campaign makes giant sense.
Here’s the most important item on the card:
Our buying target is the SUPERINTENDENT, who is chosen by the Board and chooses the principals! If the other two don’t work, he or she doesn’t either, at least for long. The rest of the postcard explains the books, shows the covers, summarizes the tables of contents in key words, soothes the super’s soul in three paragraphs each of selling prose, all leading to four wee questions, “(Do you) want to review a free ebook copy (of one or both books)? … read testimonials? … check the author’s credentials? … or order copies, with the usual discounts?” Then it politely sends the mesmerized 12,200 superintendents (a large percentage of all of them in the U.S.) to www.meetingk-12needs.com for the rest, to decide and close the deal. (Go ahead: you needn’t be a superintendent to be curious—although admittedly there are a lot of curious superintendents!)
So that’s why I asked in the headline, “Can we sell two new books by using 12,200 jumbo postcards?
Here are the images on the (two) sides of the postcard:
We don’t know. The cards hit the mail yesterday. Here’s what it looked like, scanned to blog size. I’ll report back right here every three weeks or so. It might be a pinch slow at first because the dust is still settling from the Easter break. The honchos are probably still trying to find their stray kids.
But I can share one thing now: what I had to do to put the jumbo postcard together and get the offer in flow.
1. Think up a way to sell two very different books to three school chiefs at once. Does it make sense? Was the superintendent the right target? Will I starve my wife, kids, and myself to death?
2. Find a reliable, current, affordable mailing list of superintendents. Google first, limit it to four, and call and let them (quickly) sell their wares and virtues to me.
3. Find a fast, reliable printer who is comfortable with jumbo cards and can also sync the mailing (I send the list) and provide inexpensive small adjustment art tweaks, if necessary.
4. Find a card (or graphics art) designer (or design it yourself if you are experienced) and get the copy, changes, colors, and the rest pulled together on time.
5. Find the money and distribute it gratefully when everybody does what you want—preferably, far better than you imagined.
6. Get my website up-to-date, and go through the link lines the buyers will visit so it’s all current, easy to follow, and delay-free. Like the supermarket, don’t slow the buyer down but be sure he/she at least sees your other products and services along the way.
7. Plan the fulfillment. Get the free ebook email ready; write thank-you model replies to your lucky customers; find envelopes, bags, or boxes for shipping; set up a meter mail system with the post office; get tape and all the incidentals; listen to your phone message and make it clear and relevant; set up an invoicing system for direct purchases (usually for purchase orders); double-check your shopping cart process (if used); line up helpers if needed, and lay in enough book stock to cover the initial surge, with a fall-back five-day POD replenishment lever ready to pull if good fortune gushes in.
That’s it. “Cross” is the word of the day. My fingers are crossed—or my banker will be cross. See you soon.