by Tracy Cooper-Posey
Here’s a question for you: Why did you get into indie publishing?
There’s thousands of answers and none of them are wrong. I guarantee that one of the reasons you like indie publishing, now you’ve got a taste for it, is the high degree of control you have over your life, your career and your income.
Yep. Me, too.
In February 2015, I had many books in Kindle Unlimited. Nearly half of my titles were exclusive to Amazon. I had just watched my Kindle Page Reads plummet because of the algorithm shift while Amazon announced the per-page-read payout would drop again.
I got out of traditional publishing because of the impotence traditional contracts impart. Imagine having a reader congratulate you on the release of your book…and that’s the first you knew the book had been released.
Yes, that happened to me.
Now here I was again, stuck with shifting terms and obscure algorithms, unable to influence the bottom line, except to cross my fingers and spit.
I pulled every book out of KU that day.
Where I was
This is my Kobo sales sheet summary for February 2015:
Not pretty, huh?
In February 2015, I was still working a day job – a soul-sucking 9-5 labour that kept me almost permanently frustrated and angry…particularly on Monday mornings.
Steps I took to go as wide as humanly possible
1. Go big, fat, and wide.
I uploaded my books to every distributor possible. Traditional publishing can teach us something about this—their biggest draw, the card they wave at authors, is their massive distribution system.
When you go wide, go W I D E. Build a table that lists all the retailers that aggregate services like Draft2Digital and Smashwords distribute to, and make sure you aren’t doubling up. Even retailers like Kobo distribute to other services (Overdrive, for example). List them all, pick which distributor will put your books where, and go direct wherever you can.
This last point is important. You can’t keep control if you’re letting Smashwords, for example, decide when they’re going to send your book to a retailer, and what your blurb and cover look like when they get there.
You might think the little trickle of revenue you get from a subscription service in Germany isn’t worth the bother, but it absolutely is. Those trickles add up, and I’m living proof of that.
Going direct also gives you perks like in-house promotion. Which brings me to:
2. Advertise and promote like a maniac
This one is critical. You’ve just swapped an old set of readers for a completely new set of readers who haven’t heard of you before. It takes time—lots of time!—to establish yourself on new platforms. Advertising and promotion help speed up that process.
Kobo, for example, has an in-house promotion system that is cheap, easy to use, and effective…as long as you stick with it and systematically and relentlessly promote. It’s a long term process. One day you’ll open your latest spreadsheet and your jaw with drop. Trust me on this.
You can advertise on Facebook, which is great for reaching Nook readers or Kobo readers, or readers in Belgium who like dragon-shifter romances.
The great thing is, because you have the control, you can keep tweaking and testing and building your advertising budget each month as your revenue rises…which it will.
As the title suggests, I went crazy on advertising and promotion and I’m still testing and changing things up even now.
3. Create and focus on an email newsletter.
I’ve had a reader newsletter forever. It was a teeny thing I ignored once the monthly chore of emailing was done.
In March 2015, I rolled up my sleeves and got serious about building my community, readers I could talk to whenever I needed. I found a good email service provider, built drip campaigns and promotions, arranged newsletter swaps, tried Instafreebie for a while…anything that would help build my list.
This is also an essential step. KU readers are unreachable, because Amazon doesn’t share. When you go wide, you can reach your readers as and when you need to. Make sure you have a way to do that.
4. Write Another Book
This isn’t specific to going wide, but it works very well for widely-distributed authors. The next book you release is the best promotion you can do—especially if you’re writing in series.
5. Be Patient
This is not a short term strategy. It can take a full year to establish yourself on all distribution channels and retailers and see results from your advertising and marketing.
And the end result…
I went 100% wide in March 2015.
This is my Kobo statement summary for December 2016:
I didn’t pick the biggest statement, or one with a jumbo-sized bottom line. This was a typical statement for the year. It doesn’t look massive, but here’s the thing: When you’re wide, that figure gets repeated across every retailer and distributor you’re with.
Multiply that bottom figure by five or six other retailers and now the figure starts looking interesting.
You don’t have to be a best seller, or a household name. You don’t have to ad stack and break into the top 100 with your book launch. You can quietly write each day, promote and advertise, and make a little bit of money everywhere.
And if you don’t like the bottom line, you can absolutely shift it upwards. Spend a few months advertising, focusing on that retailer and watch.
Plus: My Amazon revenue increased. Substantially. All the advertising and promotion I had been doing for other retailers had a pleasant halo effect. Because I was getting 70% per sale instead of less than a quarter of a cent per page read, the cumulative effect magnified.
How effective was going wide?
On December 18, 2015, I quit my day job.
Two years later, I’m still writing full-time.
I love my day job.
Tracy Cooper-Posey is a #1 Best Selling Author. She has published over 90 novels since 1999, been nominated for five CAPAs including Favourite Author, and won the Emma Darcy Award. She turned to indie publishing in 2011. Her indie titles have been nominated four times for Book Of The Year and she won the award in 2012, and a SFR Galaxy Award in 2016. She has been a national magazine editor and for a decade she taught romance writing at MacEwan University. An Australian Canadian, she lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, a former professional wrestler, where she moved in 1996 after meeting him on-line. Author site. Productive Indie Fiction Writer site.
Wow, this is all very interesting! Thanks so much. The Amazon and Kindle options sound so appealing, but it makes you wonder about sales in the rest of the reading market. This is great information and perspective. Keep it up!
Good luck with your own publishing efforts!
These kinds of blog posts make me want to stand up and cheer. Good for you, Tracy! Nose-to-the-grindstone stories aren’t as amazing as the “I made a million dollars on indie publishing” stories, but they’re a heck of a lot more achievable. Thanks so much for sharing!
Thanks, Kessie…and you’re welcome.
You’re also quite right. Mine is not a supernova success story, but it is a realistic one. I get to make things up all day, and people pay me for it. In turn, I pay all the bills. It’s very satisfying!
Congratualtion, Tracy. I was able to quit my day job – teaching middle school–back in 2013 after publishing the first 2 books of my first series. I went wide and advertised and sold everywhere. It does work. However, sales dropped drastically in 2016 and 2017 for me, because of a variety of reasons, so I placed 3 of my books in KU late 2017. I’m taking them out in a couple moths and going wide again–mainly because I want to be able to sell them on my website. I’m not yet sure if KU helped. I will do the math and figure it out. Keep writing!
I, too, noticed a general drop in sales in 2016 and 2017, but not enough to warrant changing my overall strategy. I have continued to increase distribution where I can, and improve my advertising.
I would be very interested to hear what your math reveals–whether KU helped or not. I’m beginning to suspect that authors who succeed with wide distribution are actually writing differently to authors who find success in KU, and the polarization is increasing as time goes on. I’m not sure how one would analyse that, but stories like yours help add evidence.
I also saw a dip in 2016 and 2017 under my other name. I have always been wide and stayed wide. (I just started this pen name but am going wide with it as well.)
I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who noticed the dip. I thought it was because I wasn’t in KU.
The dip could well be attributed to KU — there’s no way to tell, but the correlation of KU going super-popular and the dip can’t be ignored.
There could be many other factors affecting sales, too (sensitivities to price, global economies, changes in taxes, etc).
However, if you’re wide, and continue to advertise and promote steadily, and add revenue streams where you can, you can counter the trend. I have done that — I’ve just had my best month ever since going full time.
Also, I have added another revenue stream — direct sales from my site (KWL, please pretend you didn’t see this!), which gives me huge flexibility in promotions and price matching.
Try ingramspark.com too for distribution.
Yes, Ingram Spark is a good quality aggregator for ebooks, but they charge per title, which is a mark against them. All other distributors flow the money to the author, not take it from them. For that reason, I would caution any author to do their due diligence before setting up with Ingram Spark.
There are many aggregators/distributors/retailers out there and more of them popping up all the time (Pronoun’s closure not withstanding).
When a new one appears (or is discovered), I dig to see where they distribute to, and if they have markets/retailers I’m not already reaching, I add them to my roster.
I’m watching Microsoft at the moment, waiting to see how they distribute and work with indies. That might be a distribution point worth adding. We’ll see.
Great post! Thank you.
As an indie Canadian author, what are your suggestions for paperback distribution in Canada? (I started with KDP, just dropped KU and went wide – KDP does not have paperback CA distribution currently). As a YA author, it’s still the question I get asked most (“But where can I buy the actual book?”)
Also, what are the best options for distributing through Barnes and Noble as a Canadian?
If you’re thinking of having your print editions on the shelves in Indigo and Chapters, then you may have to give up that dream. It’s just not possible for indies to be shelved among traditional print authors. We can’t provide returns or the type of discount the retailers demand.
There are traditionally published authors who can’t get into brick and mortar stores. Their book goes out of print without ever getting out of the boxes. So this is not a problem unique to indies. The chains are cutting down on the titles they carry, every month.
The best you can do is make sure your print title is on the Kobo database (that is, add the ISBN for the Createspace edition on the Kobo dashboard). That way, anyone who wanders into Chapters can ask them to order the book in, because it will appear on the database.
That way, you can tell those who want to buy your books that any bookstore in Canada will be happy to order it in. (And they should be happy to do it, it’s a guaranteed sale).
I distributed to B&N via Smashwords for many years before Draft2Digital came along, then switched over to D2D, who don’t mess up the blurb and forget to send the cover and other lovely stuff like that. I have no complaints about D2D, and in fact, my sales got a small boost when I swapped.
Also, through D2D, you can make your books free on B&N, which USA authors going direct cannot (although I think that might have changed recently).
Do you mean that you can get your print book onto the Indigo.ca website through Kobo if you list on CreateSpace? Really? If that’s true, that’s great information. I was just trying to decide between IngramSpark (for Indigo, Baker&Taylor, and Gardners), CreateSpace, and the more radical thought of iUniverse for exactly that reason (Indigo paperback).
I agree that the paperback in the bricks and mortar scenario is largely unrealistic for indies, unless consigned to individual stores that you approach.
Again, with YA, the paperback remains much more important at this point, so it’s something I have to work out.
D2D is my next go-to for B&N/Nook – as it also distributes to iBooks/Apple – even as a Mac user, I have to say that the iBooks publishing process looks like a manual from NASA, and I’m considering forgoing the extra 30% I’ll make by going direct! (D2D pays 40% on iBooks, whereas direct it’s 70% I believe)
Hi, Tracy! Thank you for this great post! I’m just wondering if you were thinking of only ebooks in this post or both digital and paper distribution?
I produce print-on-demand books through Createspace, and via them, reach B&N, Amazon, Indigo/Chapters, Wordery, Blackwells in the UK and others.
I don’t focus on print books, though. They’re the “secondary” format in my publishing platform.
Thanks, Tracy. In the article, you were speaking of working directly with these different platforms. I was just trying to ascertain that this was for the ebook versions only–I don’t use Createspace (yet), but I assume that since all of your print books are handled by them, you don’t necessarily see a breakdown of what was sold by each channel or retailer. Is that correct? (I use Ingram. They give reports by location only for print books.) But I also did want to know how you distributed your print books to each platform, so thank you for answering that question.
Do you gauge your marketing efforts solely, or at least primarily, on digital sales results? (By your response, I think that’s a yes?)
I am very intrigued by your system of direct marketing to platforms. I am going to work on that. Thanks for sharing.
Createspace will not share who they distribute to (their “extended distribution”) — I asked.
However, I only use Createspace for print, so wherever my print editions turn up, I add that retailer to my list.
So far I’ve reached:
Barnes & Noble
Amazon US/UK/AU (new)
Angus & Robertson (Aus)
These are just the places I’ve tripped over myself.
The presentation at these sites can be problematic (blurbs skewed, covers missing), but it is possible to advertise to these customers. THe ROI would be interesting, as the profit per book is so low in comparison to ebooks.
You have to pick your battles. If you had all the time to spare in the world, it would be possible to market to readers of print at the various locations and I’m sure you would see a spike in sales, because it is an under-served market (excepting Amazon & B&N).
I spend my time focusing on ebook venues because my limited time forces me to prioritize.
I actually watch the *trend* of the bottom line, in dollars, across ALL revenue streams, although from day-to-day, I track:
Units sold — both ebook and print
Advertising impressions, clicks and cost per click
Revenue per advertisement, for a very basic ROI
Hope that helps!
Thank you! That is so helpful! I’m working on setting up direct publishing for digital this week. I’m excited to see what I can make happen by putting in a little more of my own elbow grease. Thanks, again!
Currently, I am still exclusive to Amazon, but I plan future books going wide. Eventually, they will all be wide. Good information that gives me hope for a brighter future.
Best of luck, Lynn! I suspect you’ll like getting out from under the Amazon yoke.
Great article, Tracy. Thank you. I’m getting back to writing and marketing fiercely in February. Been taking time off to actually pay the bills. Hoping writing will pay the bills in 2018.
FYI: Facebook advertising sucks for most authors. If you’ve managed to sell any books with their ads, hats off to you.
Didn’t know I could advertise on Kobo. Thanks for the heads up!
B&N/Nook recently started allowing indie authors to sell paperbacks of their works on their site. Commission isn’t that great when you have to pay for printing too, but it’s something. Currently redoing all my covers just for them.
Wish me luck!
Unfortunately, B&N/Nook advertising is only available for US residents and UK residents, but for indies in those two countries, it’s probably worth experimenting and seeing how it works for you.
The key to FB advertising (as for any advertising) is to test and tweak and test and tweak, until you have an advertisement strike gold, then repeat and repeat. It takes time and patience and close monitoring of your stats, but it can be done.
Any advertising venue looses steam after a while, for everyone in general and for you, the individual. Always be looking for the next opportunity.
Good luck, Patrice.
Congrats Tracy on being able to go wide. Very inspiring. I’m getting to publish my 3rd novel in my Kammbia fantasy series. I agree with you about going wide.
Good luck with your series. Although hard work tends to create good luck, anyway.
I’ve self-published (wide) three novels in a 6-part series but have almost no sales. I’m relaunching them after finally admitting to myself that the covers and blurbs weren’t up to my genre’s expectations. So, I feel a bit like I’m starting all over again.
I do have a mailing list going, but I also want to start advertising–something I’ve never done before. I have no idea where to begin, so I’m wondering which advertising options worked well for you.
Thanks for the encouraging article!
Good for you for self-examining and improving your product. That is key, of course — you have to have a product that people want to buy, or all the advertising and exposure in the world is useless.
There are three advertising options I use at the moment: Amazon Marketing Services and Bookbub are my currently preferred choices.
Facebook is good for narrowing down the target audience to a single retailer, although you have to ride herd on the ads with daily tweaking and monitoring, or your budget will blow out *fast*.
There are some very good books and resources out there to help you with advertising. Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula course is the Rolls Royce of training. As I write this comment, he has an AMS guide that is free on Amazon, LEARN AMAZON ADS.
We used Brian Meeks book for AMS ads; MASTERING AMAZON ADS, and HELP! MY FACEBOOK ADS SUCK by Michael Cooper. I haven’t found a resource I like for Bookbub ads, but the principles are the same as AMS ads.
Tweaking and monitoring, and scaling up slowly are essentilal.
Thanks Tracy. That’s helpful. I have read Dawson’s book and am planning to experiment with AMS in the coming month. Bookbub might be a little out of reach at this point (not sure if I have enough reviews), but it doesn’t hurt to try. All they can do is say no, right!?
I suspect you’re mixing up Bookbub Features with Bookbub Advertising.
They’re two different species.
The Features are the ones with quality requirements, including sufficient reviews, and go through an editorial selection process.
Anyone can advertise any book, however. See here for more: https://support.bookbub.com/customer/en/portal/topics/928375-bookbub-ads/articles
Also related-but-different is Bookbub’s Pre-order Alert service. It’s pay-for, but a reasonable price. You must have more than 1,000 followers to use it, but it is another form of promotion/advertising.
Oh, you’re right. I always forget about the Ads vs Featured thing. Thanks!
Thank you so much for this article. It’s been a huge help!