My Not So Scientific Theory of How to Sell Self-Pubbed Books


May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Last week I poured a bucket of ice-cold water over your dreams in Read This First (which, thanks to Freshly Pressed, is the most popular post ever on this blog with 11,792 views and counting), and then explained why I think you should go guns blazing for the launch of each book instead of waiting until you’ve a few to sell in One at a Time. This week I’ll be presenting my Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books, which is based on how I think I managed to sell my own books over the last couple of years. 

So: how do we sell self-published books? Well, isn’t that the million dollar question—especially when there’s a lucky few in the world who have actually made a million dollars off their e-book sales. We’re not aiming quite that high. Instead, our goal is to sell enough books per month to earn back what we spent publishing them, make a profit besides and get (and maintain) a warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment and pride. For me personally, that’s finding royalty cheques in the mail that equal $1,000 or more per month. At an average price of $2.99 per book, that’s a goal of approximately 478 sales every thirty days. And I think this—as in, My Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books—will help you shift those copies easily, especially if you have more than one book. It worked for me.

The thing to remember is that Amazon sells books through its magical algorithms. Each sale increases the chance of there being another sale. The more popular you get, the even more popular you get. And if get popular enough, you don’t have to do anything at all, because between recommendations and pride of place atop search results, Amazon will be selling your book for you. Which is our aim. But in order for that to happen, we have to get the Amazon wheel turning in the first place. We have to get our book selling initially, and do it without Amazon’s help.

On the other side, we must also try to bring anyone who meets our book before they meet us to come check out our online platform after they reach “The End”, so that they can potentially be one of our first readers the next book round.

What I’m talking about here is what to do in the six months before you release your book and during the first six months afterwards. How to build an online platform. How to get people excited about your book and anticipating it. How to launch it online. How to give your book the equivalent of a hearty breakfast filled with fiber and slow-release energy, setting it up for a great day.

Or something.

Let’s take a second to talk about that “it worked for me.” The thing is, I didn’t do any of this on purpose. I didn’t really know what I was doing but looking back, this is what happened, and it’s what I’ve done—or tried to do—with each new title since. So of course I can’t—and won’t—guarantee that doing this sells books. But I did it, and I sold books.

I’d also like to point out that this is 99% common sense. You could probably figure it out on your own. But hey, I need something to blog about this week and you need something to read while you’re avoiding doing the thing you should be doing. So: everyone’s a winner.

So what exactly am I on about? There’s five steps as far as I can tell, and each day this week I’ll be elaborating on one of the steps (except the first one, which is self-explanatory). They are:

Step 1: Build an Online Home

Start a blog. Set up a Facebook page. Sign up for Twitter. Use Mailchimp to make a mailing list and a sign-up form so people can join it. See if you like using Goodreads.

I don’t think that needs a blog post of an explanation, does it?

Step 2: Find First Readers

Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about building an online platform, or making friends online. (Genuinely making friends, I may add. If you are one of these people who says “I follow back!” in your Twitter bio, for example, you’ve missed the “genuinely” bit.) By sharing quality content we’ll hopefully draw people to our blog, and by entertaining or intriguing them when they get there, we’ll get them interested in our voice, our perspective or maybe even our sense of humor. With any luck, they’ll like our style and want to read more of what we wrote. As luck would have it, we’ll have written something, and by blogging about The Something’s path to publication, we might even get our readers, followers, etc. contemplating buying The Something when it comes out. But most importantly, if they don’t want to buy The Something—or even if they never want to hear of The Something ever again—we’ll continue to generate the type of content that brought them to us in the first place, thus maintaining our online platform.

Does this make sense? Well, at least it looks pretty…

Step 3: Launch Online

On Wednesday we’ll launch our book online, at least three months after we started talking about it on there. We’ll do everything we can think of to spread the word that our book is now available and that it’s worth a read, including things like competitions and giveaways, organizing a blog tour, getting reviews from book bloggers and other readers, writing guest posts for other blogs and making cute and/or funny things for the magical interweb, such as book trailers.

Step 4: Get Amazon Going

By Thursday we’ll have built an online platform and convinced a bunch of people to stop by it regularly, and some of those people will have bought our book just because they like us. Some other people will never buy our book because they’ve no interest in it, but they’ll still help us spread the word through retweets, guest posts, etc. Our first round of sales will have released the handbrake over at Amazon, but now we need to put some gas in the tank so we can start the engine. (Can I just say that I know there’s a chance that my analogies are making no sense today, but in fairness I am writing this with one eye on The Voice.) So today we’ll discuss making the most of Amazon—which, from what I see, most authors don’t bother or don’t know to do—and the importance of sending our potential readers there as opposed to anywhere else.

Step 5: Everything Else

On Friday we’ll run through all the things we can do now that we’ve done everything else. Things like KDP Select, releasing new “bonus” material, making the most of getting reviews, offering free extras or other downloads and even paying to advertise on sites like Facebook and Goodreads. We’ll also discuss what not to do, what’s a complete waste of your time and why you must never forget about the people who will never buy your book.

See you in the morning…

(Bring coffee!)

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