May on Catherine, Caffeinated: How To Sell Self-Published Books


I’m the type of girl who if she’s, say, on a protein diet, and she’s managed to make it through twelve hours of the day on shakes, eggs and palm-sized tuna steaks, but at seven o’clock somehow—somehow—finds a square of Cadbury’s milk chocolate in her mouth, will say “Well, it’s ruined now. I might as well really ruin it,” and order a meal deal from Domino’s Pizza. With Coke. And a chocolate melt. So even though last Monday, after my little two-week blogging funk, I managed to dust off a post from Drafts (the proved to be popular Amazon Customer Reviews: Bringing the HUH? Since 1995), I told myself that the month of April was a lost cause, and I should just wait until May before I really got going again.

And guess what? It’s May now. If you’re in Cork today you wouldn’t know it because it’s the most miserable weather I’ve seen in a long time, but apparently summer is here. And so is my How To Sell Self-Published Books Month.

On the 29th of March, my self-publishing adventure was two years old. While on one hand this seems absolutely craaaaazy to me, on the other hand it feels like I’ve always been doing this, and that I never had a life that didn’t involve obsessive checks of the reports page on Amazon KDP. (Remember when it was Amazon DTP? Remember when they introduced 70%? Remember when you couldn’t upload a Word doc? Altogether now: “Memories… light the corners of my mind… misty, water-colored memories.. of the way we were—” Okay. Enough of that.) But who knew that putting Mousetrapped on Amazon instead of leaving it to grow dusty in a drawer would not only prove to be a good idea, but actually change my life? Certainly not me. (Not, um, anyone, actually…) But you know what? It’s been a pretty amazing two years.

The book that started it all…

Now, I’m not a headliner. I haven’t sold millions of e-books (or even hundreds of thousands), cracked bestseller lists (other than—*clears throat loudly* —the esteemed Kindle Books—>Travel—>United States—>Regions—>South—>South Atlantic, thank you very much) or bought large items with the shoeboxes of cash I’ve stored under my bed, AKA my royalties from last Tuesday. (Chance would be a fine thing, especially since I’ve started dreaming of a new Macbook Air…) But I think that’s a good thing, especially for you. We don’t know exactly how many people have self-published e-books with KDP, but we can guess it’s in the hundreds of thousands at least. And yet, how many mega-sellers can you name? I think I could do about ten or twelve, at a push. They are exceptions to the rule. Outliers, not role models. It’s unlikely that any of us will ever achieve that kind of success. Trying will only lead to disappointment, because the odds are not in our favor. But there is no reason why you can’t match or better my sales. They’re realistic. They’re doable. And because I charge $2.99, they translate in money that can make a difference to the starving artist. Achieving them will also bring you thousands of new readers and a reason to keep writing books. I truly believe that, and that’s why I spend far more time than I should writing posts on this blog—because I want to help you to publish and sell your book.

Spoiler alert: there’s no magic bullet, no fancy marketing strategy or Jedi mind trick that will get people to buy your book. Stop looking for it. But in the last two years, through my own experiences and what I’ve seen, as a reader, other writers do, I’ve come to a few conclusions that I think might help demystify this whole selling self-published books thing. And now I’m going to tell you about them. Hooray! Posts coming up this month will include:

  • How To Sell Self-Published Books. My personal theory about how self-published books sell, revealed for the first time (unless you were, er, at my Faber Academy course in February, or my Inkwell course in Dublin in March… ). Oooh, the mystery! The anticipation! The superfluous exclamation marks! And there’ll be fancy graphs! Can you take the suspense?! Wait—don’t answer that.
  • But First, Some Tough Love. It wouldn’t be Catherine, Caffeinated if there wasn’t a bossy, cynical and slightly angry post addressed to the self-publishers who just won’t listen, now would it? I think self-publishers do best when they have realistic expectations, so in this post I’ll be stomping on your dreams to make sure that you do. I’ll be telling you why no one, by default, gives a rodent’s arse about anyone else’s book, why you are NOT the exception to the rule and why having written a good book is not the same thing as having written a book people will want to read. Then we can all be friends again afterwards.
  • Prime Your Amazon Listing for a Sale. There’s no point in trying to do anything else to sell your book if when potential buyers land on your Amazon listing, they’re turned off clicking that “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now” button. No one who goes there thinking, Hmm, maybe I’ll buy that book should leave without doing so. This is an area that I myself have been slacking off in lately, so we can buff up our Amazon listings together.
  • Why Promoting Your Book is Like Fight Club. I’m just going to keep you in suspense about this one…
  • Twitter Does Sell Books—Just Not The Way You Think. Um… does that really need an explanation?
  • KDP Select: A Booster Rocket for Self-Published Books? Another post about KDP Select. I’ve been hearing a lot of mixed messages about this lately. Apparently Amazon changed some algorithms or something a few weeks back, and since them popularity/bestseller lists are calculated differently. (Or something. If you know exactly, let us know.) This means that if you have a lot of downloads during the free period, there isn’t as much as a “bump” in paid sales afterwards. I’ve only done KDP once and have another stack of free days at my disposal, so I’m going to run Results Not Typical through there again and see what happens.
  • The Arguments for Higher E-book Prices. Why I think that a 99c book is necessary in the beginning or as a “gateway drug”—but also why, going forward, I’m saving 99c for a certain kind of book.

I hope you’ll join me. Stick around here, add Catherine, Caffeinated to your Google reader, follow me on Twitter (@cathryanhoward) or subscribe to this blog (see sidebar) to receive new posts by e-mail.

But first: more coffee.

9 thoughts on “May on Catherine, Caffeinated: How To Sell Self-Published Books

  1. Ashley McCook says:

    Ooh, excellent stuff! Looking forward to Brad Pitt popping up – that’s why you’re being all secretive about the ‘Promoting Your Book’ bit, isn’t it?! Sounds great *raises coffee cup in salute*.

  2. dianabletter says:

    I’m chomping at the bit, which is a lot less caloric than that chocolate melt (but not half as satisfying) waiting to read your next posts. Meanwhile, I’m moving along toward publishing The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle following all your scathingly excellent (plug, here. folks!) suggestions in Self-Printed. Thanks so much!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      A chocolate melt is like one of those chocolate volcano thingys except in miniature. You get a small pot (about the size of a teacup) with warm chocolate brownie-style cake inside, and inside *that* is gooey molten chocolate. Trust me when I say it’s not a good thing that you can order one with your pizza! 🙂

  3. kellie larsen murphy says:

    Looking forward to your posts. I especially love your sense of realism about self-publishing. Sometimes we all need a kick in the pants to remind us self-publishing is not fame and fortune but hard work.

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