Julia Kent knew her books wouldn’t fit into traditional publishing categories, so she began self-publishing in late 2012. As a new author, she started networking with other indie authors, joined RWA, attended meetings, studied different retailers, and joined self-publishing forums online. Above all, she sought out like-minded authors who were looking to succeed, and brainstormed with them.
By March 2013, she was making more in a month from her self-published titles than she made in a year at her day job. In 2014, her husband quit his full-time software developer’s job to run the household and manage their three kids. She describes him as her “single biggest business asset.” Julia attributes her success to the direct relationships she has developed with readers. In her experience, word of mouth is the most effective way to market, followed by retailer relationships, paid ads, and cross promotions with other authors.
Julia Kent is a #KWLWonderWoman—a savvy entrepreneur who built her writing career into a successful independent business. We’ll share more stories here and on Instagram. Do you have a story to share? Tell us here.
In October 2014, I made a decision to strengthen my book sales on as many platforms as I could. At the time, I had just finished the fifth novella in a series that became unexpectedly popular. My Shopping for a Billionaire series had proven to be fertile ground, and as I began writing the next book in the series and looking at my publishing career on the whole, I realized I needed to think longer term than I had been.
My sales on Amazon, my biggest vendor at the time, were 70% of my revenue, but I also knew from running promotions and targeted advertising that I could make inroads into other retailers. My hunch—not just my data analysis, but also my gut instinct—told me that distributing my revenue across as many channels as possible would mitigate risk, but also allow me to grow a wider audience in the U.S.—and in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, as well as among English language readers in other countries.
Why was that important? Because I view this as a career. My audience aren’t just my customers—they are, I hope, on a journey with me. Not all of them, of course. Some are casual readers who pick up my books whenever they’re ready. Others join me on social media to share parts of our lives, to commiserate and celebrate, to talk about favorite books and media and to have fun.
Every single customer is important to me, and as someone who was a reader before I was a writer (weren’t we all?), I try to view my outreach efforts from the point of view of a reader. What do my books bring to a reader’s life? How do I enrich their experience? What engages them and makes my books worth buying?
And most important—how could I reach as many of those people as possible?
With that as the primary goal, I made some very specific plans.
In 2014, my Amazon sales were 70% of revenue. Kobo was 1.5%.
In 2017, my Amazon sales were 48.8% of revenue (45% for the final quarter of 2017). Kobo was 5.3%.
[Note: my 2017 gross revenue is up significantly from 2014, so increases and decreases do not reflect a net revenue loss on any retailer]
So what did I do to diversify?
Step One: Promote all the retailers.
I began to make certain that on social media and in newsletters, I include links to ALL of the retailers, and to rotate WHICH retailer was at the top of my list when posting or emailing. Same with Twitter: I made sure to tweet retailer-specific links and tag the retailers.
Why should a retailer promote your books if you’re not promoting THEM?
Step Two: Meet retailer reps at conferences.
Introverts are reading this and groaning, but sometimes you have to be willing to spend some time “extroverting.”
I was at NINC in 2014, determined to go to open houses and shake hands, get business cards, talk up my books and ask about merchandising and promotional opportunities—and that was my focus. Not going to workshops, not hanging out with writer buddies (no offense, friends …), but business networking.
By the time I left, I’d talked to all the retailers and distributors. I spent the next month following up with emails thanking the retailer and distributor reps, reminding them who I was, and asking about procedures for requesting promo/merch.
Note: I realize not everyone can get to a conference where retailer reps are present or available. But if you can get to such a conference, make this a business priority if going wide is a goal.
Step Three: Opt into any opportunity for wide distribution.
If Draft2Digital had a new partner join them, my books were in. When a chance to join a beta program came up with a retailer, I was in (and I overtly asked to join beta programs). When I learned about library distribution, I emailed people until I could figure out how to enroll my books.
Be an early adopter for wide distribution when possible.
Step Four: Study and ask.
I studied ALL the retailers’ romance landing pages and looked at how they categorized books. Then I asked for specific promo.
Asking in a general way—“I’d like more promo,” isn’t going to work. “I have a book that is going on sale for $.99 and would like to have it added to your Romance Deals section” or “I have a first in a series free eBook and would like to ask how I can be featured on X page” gives the person working on promo a specific request to work with. I learned to override my midwestern Ohio roots and not be passive—I overtly asked about opportunities. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Step Five: Think globally.
I added Amazon UK, AU and CA links to all promotions and newsletters in addition to Kobo, etc. When I paid for ads, I started to think about ALL English-language markets. I asked ad companies to consider adding links to ALL retailers (some did, some didn’t). I tested Facebook ads to the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada—and experimented constantly.
Step Six: Use the wide data you have about your books.
I realized at one point that my Kobo Netherlands sales were tiny, but growing. So, I experimented with Facebook ads in the Netherlands. It hasn’t proven to be fertile ground (yet), but it’s the experimentation, the “what if?” that makes a difference. Other “what ifs” DID produce decent return on investment—and found me more readers in parts untouched outside of the US.
Step Seven: Exploit ALL your rights.
Are you in Amazon’s KDP Select program and reading this, thinking “I can’t do any of this”? Yes, you can—within limits. Only English-language eBooks are exclusive to Amazon if you’re in Select. You can still develop your audiobook, print and translation rights.
Everyone has the ability to do this—whether you sell them to a traditional publisher or publish them yourself. I now have 17 titles in audiobook format, all my books in print, and 7 German and French translations are released (with more in the pipeline). Diversification matters.
My audiobook revenue has ups and downs, but one massive bonus is that when I get a Bookbub featured deal on an eBook with an audiobook, the audio sales rise very nicely, too—and lead to sell-through for other audiobooks in the series. That diversification in format makes a big difference in revenue and ROI. Now that Kobo has an audiobook division, my books will be offered there soon as well—leading to more crossover sales between audiobook and eBook.
For translations, I often see an increase in English-language eBook and print sales when a translation comes out—especially for books in the same series that have not yet been translated.
USE your rights when it comes to different formats.
Step Eight: Engage readers on ALL retailers.
When Kobo has a promotion or sale, I send out a special newsletter, then segment people who click on the links so I know who my Kobo customers are. Same with all the other retailers.
I run retailer-specific giveaways sometimes. Instead of always giving away Amazon gift cards, for instance, I rotate and do iBooks gift cards, B&N, a Kobo eReader, etc.
If you don’t engage readers regarding the retailers where they actually buy and read, you may lose them. If you do meet them where they buy, you increase sales and reinforce a long-term relationship with them. They are more likely to spread the word about your books to fellow readers on those retailers.
Step Nine: Differentiate your behavior with different retailers.
I created a large, 8-book boxed set because Kobo readers like to buy large boxed sets. I then entered the Kobo boxed set into some promotions via KWL, and have experienced big revenue spikes from that boxed set alone. Kobo reader behavior in this area is different than on other retailers.
I plan to do more mega boxed sets on Kobo as a result.
Figure out the differences in reader behavior for *your* books and see if you can tailor your marketing and production approaches to increase revenue and outreach on the different retailer sites.
Step Ten: Ask your readers.
One of the simplest ways to engage readers is with the question: “Where do you find the books you buy?” A simple survey will give you a wealth of information. Some rely on retailer promotions. Others use book blogs. Knowing where your existing readers find books allows you to target new opportunities for grabbing new readers on smaller platforms.
Step Eleven : Be patient.
I know, I know … but it’s true. You can’t expect fast results. It took about 6 months for me to see solid gains on the smaller retailers, and 18 months for me to see deep gains. Being wide takes time. If diversification is your goal, you have to work all of the various angles, experiment, test, and … wait.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julia Kent writes romantic comedy with an edge. Since 2013, she has sold more than 1.5 million books, with 4 New York Times bestsellers and more than 18 appearances on the USA Today bestseller list. Her books have been translated into French and German, with more titles releasing in 2018.
From billionaires to BBWs to new adult rock stars, Julia finds a sensual, goofy joy in every contemporary romance she writes. Unlike Shannon from Shopping for a Billionaire, she did not meet her husband after dropping her phone in a men’s room toilet (and he isn’t a billionaire).
She lives in New England with her husband and three children in a household where the toilet seat is never, ever, down.
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