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Making money from Kindle publishing

Posted on 28 Jan 2013 at 14:16

Kevin Partner investigates whether Kindle publishing could be a lucrative sideline for small businesses

One marketing option is to drive traffic into Amazon from the outside, either by advertising to an existing, relevant, audience or through an external website. In my case I’ve done both, by emailing the customers of my craft retailer and also placing banner ads on our main site. I’ve built a companion website www.yourcraft business.co.uk, too, which both publicises the book and contains all the links referred to in the text. However, to begin with at least, this will result in only modest referrals to the Kindle book page.

The key to having a successful Kindle book is to rank well in searches on Amazon for the appropriate keywords. As for any other business or product, part of the setting-up process is choosing a focused market and identifying the search phrases your potential customers use.

There’s no point writing the book if you can’t do this. Non-fiction therefore has a big advantage over fiction, since although the market is far smaller, it’s possible to carve out a niche from a standing start. Fiction, on the other hand, is to books what games are to apps: a huge market where the odds are against any individual publisher; there are high-profile successes, but the majority of products fail.

Once it had appeared on Amazon, I created a spreadsheet and noted the book’s ranking for its most important search phrases

Given that it’s essential to rank well, the first step is to understand how Amazon sorts its search results – for your book to sell well, it must be visible to its potential audience, which means a front-page position. From Amazon’s point of view, it wants to present visitors with books most likely to result in a sale. You might also expect it to prefer higher-priced books, since that would result in more commission, but I’ve seen no evidence of this.

Prior to launching the book, I’d analysed the search terms I’m targeting to see whether I could work out how they’re organised, and it became immediately obvious that the title of the book plays an important role – the top few titles returned all matched the search phrase closely. A second important factor appears to be popularity, as measured by sales, reviews and "likes". While getting the title right is a matter of researching your keywords, increasing popularity is more difficult, but also more vital as sales will trump keyword match every time when it comes to ranking.

One option is to create a second Amazon account and then review your own book as if you were a customer. However, this not only breaches Amazon’s terms of service and undermines your book’s credibility, but it’s also the last resort of the desperate. A better approach is to directly ask customers to review your book, either by emailing them as part of your publicity drive or by asking them within the text of the book. This was a lesson I learned when experimenting with app promotion – you mustn’t be shy.

I’ve formed one other hypothesis – namely, that Kindle owners know that ebooks vary widely in quality and one of the cues they employ is price: a low price suggests a low-value product. They’re also probably influenced by whether your book is the Kindle edition of a paperback or a standalone ebook (the former having more credibility than the latter). I could have waited the six to eight weeks it will take to publish a paperback version, and would have expected to see a bump in sales when that happened, but I didn’t want to delay the ebook.

Instead, I made it look like a version of a paperback – which indeed it is, but I’ve just published the Kindle version first – by carefully following the conventions relating to the title and verso pages. Above all, I created the sort of professional cover image that might adorn a paperback, as a poor cover is the single most obvious clue that a Kindle book is of amateur origin.

Finally, I knew that many potential buyers download the free sample before purchase: Amazon creates this sample as part of the publishing process and doesn’t allow you to specify where it ends; it generally represents the first 10% of the book. It’s therefore essential that those sections persuade a reader to buy.

With an appropriate title, cover and a marketing plan in place, I published Your Craft Business: A Step-by-Step Guide in October 2012. I also enrolled it in the KDP Select programme: this means it qualifies to be borrowed through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which was launching around the same time (I get paid for each loan).

Once it had appeared on Amazon, I created a spreadsheet and noted the book’s ranking for its most important search phrases – both in the Kindle store and across books in general – and the first lesson learned is that it doesn’t take much to improve your position in a niche market.

One of my targeted search phrases is "home craft business", and as a result of a few sales and a handful of "likes" the book ranked in position three within five days, having started at 20 (and therefore being off the front page). The same sort of improvement was noticed across the other search terms.

As I’m writing it’s been up for only a few days, so it’s too early to say whether the project will prove to be a commercial success. Not surprisingly, no reviews have yet been published, and it remains to be seen whether enough members of my target audience use Kindles to make it viable. However, the book is at least visible and will become more so as I further promote it and encourage reviews.

So, the least I’ll gain from this experiment is a better understanding of whether Amazon’s publishing platform truly represents a profitable opportunity for online businesses, or whether it’s better left to writers of saucy fiction.

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User comments

Good move

You do have one key advantage over most of us, in that you've just got yourself free advertising through PC Pro, a magazine with a circulation of 100,000. Good move. What we'd give for exposure of that kind.

By 0thello on 28 Jan 2013

Maybe the profits are going to a charity to avoid a conflict of interest as pointed out :)

By snoog on 29 Jan 2013

@0thello

Thanks for your cynical comment. Do you think there's a big crossover between PCPro readers and craft business entrepreneurs then?

If you paid attention you would spot that none of my experiments feature demographics typical of the PC Pro audience since that would invalidate their results.

By KevPartner on 6 Feb 2013

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Kevin Partner

Kevin Partner

Kevin is a contributing editor to PC Pro. He's managing director of NlightN Multimedia, a Milton Keynes-based company specialising in web application development and internet marketing.

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