Amazon held their annual Author Academy event at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow on 17 April 2018. My old nickname was ‘Amazon girl’ at work. Of course I was going to go. I didn’t earn my nickname from being a Kindle bookworm sadly. In 2011, I built a workshop around Amazon’s Kindle publishing instead of using the charts, spreadsheets and figures I was given. Since I would have been the fourth presenter to use those charts, the audience seemed to appreciate it. I’m a thoughtful rebel.
Here’s the slidedeck of the day, sadly, I do not have a copy of my ‘press kit’ that I gave the teams that day, which included an article on Amazon’s approach to backward engineering their future (I introduced the term HIPPO to a room full of HIPPOs – very meta), their most recent Kindle press release, and props.
Who was there
Darren Hardy, UK manager for Kindle Direct Publishing kicked off the event and moderated the indie author panels. He was joined by:
- Romance writer Linda Gillard
- Historic fiction writer Steven McKay
- Mystery writer LJ Ross
- Comedic science fiction writer Barry Hutchison
The writers had a great rapport and appeared relaxed and open on the stage in front of umpteen number of people. I guessed there was about a hundred of us.
I’m not going to detail absolutely everything that was said, but I’ve captured the things that really stood out to me throughout the talks. This is a bit of a brain dump.
An intuitive publishing platform
Darren did an absolutely smashing job of introducing the platform. He kicked off by walking us through the publishing process using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). It’s a streamlined process and KDP jumpstart guides you through the entire process. He also recommends you check out Amazon Author Insight for more guidance.
Actually, one thing that was mentioned several times during the day by all of the authors was the indie author community itself. There is a strong sense of paying it forward. The Alliance of Independent Authors, or Alli, was a sponsor of this event. They are platform agnostic, but seem to cover a variety of topics, including legal matters and vetted freelance design covers, editors and other services.
Hypothetically, as long as you have a decent manuscript in Word, HTML or another recommended format, Amazon has all the other tools you need to publish your book. Even though it’s best practice to get a professionally designed cover, Amazon does have its own basic cover creator.
The royalty rates haven’t changed from my presentation, which just goes to show their pricing model still works seven years later.
Print books from your KDP dashboard
One of the new features I didn’t know about, was KDP taking on some of CreateSpace’s functionality. You can create a print version of your book straight from the KDP dashboard and send up to five proof copies to yourself at cost. You can buy author copies to give away at cost price too, which is one heck of a business card for promoting your business. As writer Ayodeji Awosika says, self-publishing your own book is just good business sense. BJSS does this, and it’s a good talking point at their events.
The rise of audio books
If you want an audio version of your book, Amazon has thought of that too. Acx.com can help you turn your book into an audiobook. While you can narrate your own book, there are strict criteria for sound quality. You can audition narrators and pay them a set fixed fee for the project or opt them into a royalty share. As with most things on the Amazon publishing platform, you have control over how you are going to do it.
Writing a bestseller (aka getting it done)
Not all writers have daily targets.
Steven has a day job, so he only writes every Thursday and Sunday afternoon. This gives him a release schedule of roughly one book per year
LJ writes daily during school hours (so perhaps under six hours per day) and releases a book every four to five months.
Linda takes a more organic approach to writing, squeezing it in when she has the time. Interestingly, she writes her books by hand on paper, which she says helps with the process, especially for blocks.
Barry spoke about this in a later session, but he publishes his books every six weeks or so. He writes early in the morning until the school run, then writes again until around lunchtime then switches to business tasks.
If you’re not physically able to write at a certain time, use it for research, marketing, or other business admin. Bucketizing your day into certain tasks is helpful.
On editors and editing
Steven waits until he’s a third of the way through the book before he thinks of editing. LJ edits the previous day’s work in the morning before she begins writing. Linda prefers to wait at least a day before editing and probably spends as much time editing as she does writing. Every writer is different, so find what works for you.
A crucial piece of advice was to try different editors until you find the one that fits your genre and writing style. Getting the wrong editor can break a story, or worse, break the writer’s spirit.
Don’t tie yourself into knots over edits. You can choose to ignore recommended edits. You’re in control. Make sure you have a cut-off point and get it out there.
Don’t use editors for proofreading. Decent editors are expensive, so use them when it counts. They identify plot holes or story problems. Spelling and grammar are the absolute last stage of editing and most of the writers do this themselves after they’ve made the crucial changes.
Get the book written. You can’t edit or market something that doesn’t exist.
Marketing and the business of selling books
These topics were covered in two sessions, but there was a lot of crossover, so I’ve combined them.
Always remember that you are a writer first.
Outsource the tasks that take time away from your writing, e.g. accounting, cover design.
Spend time on the things that are vital: writing, editing, knowing your audience, marketing your book(s).
Your book description is so important. Knowing your audience will help you with this.
Self-publishing is not as limited as traditional publishing, so don’t be afraid of mashing up genres. There is an audience for everything, but you need to make it easy for them to find you, and then you need to get to know them.
Get a fantastic book cover
Good cover designs are around £200-£300 and if you feel like you can’t afford it, then you probably can’t afford to publish your book yet. In many cases, your cover makes the sale. It must look good at both stamp and full book cover sizes. Your cover should deliver on the promise it makes, so be genre-specific. A lot of one-star reviews come from readers expecting one thing and getting something else.
Don’t design your own cover (unless you are already awesome at it). Again, the time taken to hone this skill to design a good book cover takes away from your writing and marketing.
The book cover isn’t about you. It’s about your audience. It’s helping them find you. As a writer, you’re not subjective enough or experienced enough to design for your audience and medium.
If you are planning a series, make sure you’re consistent throughout. The covers need to look like they belong together.
Have a mailing list. It will help you get to know your audience, but also keep them engaged with you while they wait for your books.
Don’t bother with a Facebook author page unless you really want one. Facebook has made it expensive to promote pages and they don’t appear on your timeline. You’d be better off with a Facebook group so that you can engage directly with fans and peers. Again, getting to know fans will make you a stronger writer. The down-side is that groups take a bit more effort and time.
Remember that you, as the author, are a business, so think about that before accepting fans as friends on your personal Facebook profile. You’d probably be better off using groups, Twitter, etc.
Don’t ask your friends and family to buy your books on Amazon right after you’ve published, especially if they don’t usually read your genre. They screw up the recommendation algorithm. You want to appear in similar categories, so rather get fans to buy your books first. Give your family author copies.
Facebook adverts and Bookbub seem to be the most helpful in terms of actual bumps in sales. Facebook lets you run a short campaign for a few quid, so it works out the most cost-effective.
Twitter and Instagram are expensive and there isn’t really a significant enough bump in sales to justify it.
Goodreads giveaways are good for a bit of promotion. Giving away a freebie to your mailing list is also handy.
KDP Select is a rolling 90-day contract that puts your books on Kindle Unlimited. You grant Amazon exclusivity for those 90 days, but if it isn’t for you, you can choose to leave and publish elsewhere. If you get a traditional publisher interested in your work for a specific country, you can also remove your books from that country’s store.
Being part of KDP Select means you can run limited deals and freebies for promotional periods. Whenever you release a new book, you should look at the pricing strategy for your backlist because a new book is always an opportunity to onboard a new reader to your earlier books.
Having a variety of formats encourages people to buy. If a reader sees an eBook, plus a print book, and an audiobook, it builds trust with readers because they see you as a serious, professional writer.
On sequels and series
Before you publish your first book, make sure your second is well underway.
Don’t talk about your next book or reveal the cover of it until it is available for pre-order.
And don’t put your book on pre-order until a month or so before. Get to know your audience to find out how long they are willing to wait. Mystery readers are probably less patient than epic fantasy readers, for example.
Traditional versus self-published – which wins?
Both Linda and Barry were traditional writers before they became self-published.
The tales are not exactly encouraging in terms of experience and earnings.
For example, if a publisher releases your book the same day as one of their A-lister celebrities, they will likely not promote your book at all. Publishers are risk-averse. They won’t pour marketing into your book if they don’t think they will get more in return. Publishers may even insist you change your story to fit a ‘popular’ genre or style. You get no choice over the cover design or editor either.
Royalty rates are on the low side. In some cases, publishers can take as much as 93% of the book’s earnings. Meaning the author earns pennies for each book sold.
There are still some reasons to go traditional, so it wholly depends on what you want out of your writing career. If you’re not interested in the business of writing and want to see your books in Waterstones or other major retailers, then traditional is probably for you.
But if you want full control over your writing career and retain all the rights to your books, self-publishing offers you that choice.
Thanks for the day
All in all, this was a brilliant day. The chats were great, the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre was top-notch, and I certainly didn’t expect to be fed too (the vegetarian chickpea curry was lovely). Thanks go out to the LJ, Linda, Steven, Barry, Dave, Amazon, Scottish Enterprise, Alli, and Enterprise Nation and all the people who made this event happen.