Q: What exactly is an ISBN and do I need to worry about it?
A: An ISBN is basically an identification number that helps track book sales. Do you need to worry about it? You’ll honestly get different answers from different people. Do you HAVE to buy one? No. Your book will still be identifiable and able to be sold and tracked. On the flip side of that, you’re an Indie PUBLISHER. If you want to be an indie publisher, that means you need to act like, well, a publisher. And publishing houses use ISBNs. Is it a bit outdated? Possibly. Hell, probably, since most things in the publishing industry are quite outdated. BUT if you want to be a professional about it, there are those who definitely recommend purchasing ISBNs.
Q: If I decide to purchase ISBNs, what do I need them for?
A: You need an ISBN for every format of your book. For a lot of people, that looks like this: ebook, print, audio. So three per book. The one you use for the digital format is used across distributors–so you use the same one for Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. Most authors purchase ISBNs from Bowker (who often runs sales, btw).
Q: Okay, let’s talk distribution. People talk about KU, Kindle Select, KDP, and wide all the time. What the hell do those things mean and what should I do?
A: First, some definitions:
- Kindle Select: This means your books are ONLY available on Amazon in the Kindle Store, and you get paid royalties by the number of pages read multiplied by some magic number Amazon seems to make up and doesn’t tell anyone until AFTER the month has already happened. Some argue that Kindle Select is great for exposure for new authors, the thought being that readers are more likely to take a chance on a new author if they can read the book for free via Kindle Unlimited. On the flip side of that, your book is only available on Amazon, which limits your potential reach since not all readers use Kindle to read ebooks. You do get 70% royalties for more sales, though, than you do when you go wide.
- Kindle Unlimited: This is a monthly subscription service for readers that enables them to download so many ebooks for free every month. For authors, this basically means that your book is free for KU members, but the regular price for non-KU readers.
KDP: Kindle Direct Publishing. This is the self-publishing platform for Kindle that indie authors use. When you upload your book to KDP you can decide whether you want to do Kindle Select or “go wide” at that time. KDP is basically your book sales dashboard: it’s where you upload and update your book, your book cover, your book blurb, keywords, price, etc. And once your book is published, it’s also where you go to get sales data (aka the fun part *wink*).
- “Going Wide:” This means you’re published in places other than Amazon, such as B&N’s Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play. There are multiple ways to “go wide”–either direct or through an aggregator (such as SmashWords or Direct2Digital)–and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it.
A: As for what you should do: You should do whatever’s best for YOU and YOUR career. Everyone has a different opinion on this, and they’re all valid, IMO. I see the point that it can be great for exposure. For me personally, I like having as many revenue streams as possible so I made the decision to go wide from the beginning.
Q: I have another distribution question: if I want to do print books, how do I get them out in the world?
A: Indie authors generally use two different companies for this: CreateSpace (which is a part of Amazon) or IngramSpark. With CreateSpace it’s a pretty easy process and costs you nothing–they only take their piece of the pie for printing costs once someone has ordered a print copy of your book. You can choose to distribute just to Amazon.com, or to distribute to other stores as well, such as Barnes & Noble’s website. If you’re in Kindle Select, I do believe you have more distribution options, but don’t quote me on that. Ingram Spark is kind of a new frontier for indie authors it seems, mainly because of cost. With IS they charge you up front to even set up your book, BUT you have much wider distribution options for your paperbacks. From what I’ve been told, CreateSpace’s paper is actually better quality than IS’s. Some authors use both platforms–CS for getting on to Amazon and IS for distribution everywhere else.
Q: Alright, let’s talk audio (no pun intended). Should I turn my books into audio books? How do I do that?
A: Again, this is a personal decision and only YOU can decide what’s right for YOUR career. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–I’m a fan of multiple revenue streams. Audio gives you one more revenue stream. As for how you do that, you can do it easily from ACX on Amazon. Basically, you create an account and connect your books and then create a request for a narrator to audition. You can choose to either pay the narrator a flat fee up front, or to do a royalty share, which means the narrator doesn’t get paid (and neither do you) until you actually sell an audio book. Narrators will audition if they’re interested, and you pick who you like best. Your audio book will be available on Audible.com along with some other outlets. Some folks say that if you’re going to do audio to start it from the very first book. Others say to wait until you’ve released a few books and have an audience. Again, choose the method right for you.
Q: How often should I publish books?
A: Oh, man. This is a loaded question. Spend any time on kBoards or on any indie chat/email loops and you’ll see that this is a very hot topic. Generally, I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t rush through writing and publishing a book just to get it out there, because odds are the product will suffer in the end, which means fewer sales and bad reviews. Ain’t nobody got time for that. If you can release a new book every quarter, fantastic. If you can release a new book every year? Great. Some of this also depends upon genre–epic fantasy is longer than a category romance, for example–but so many factors come into play here, such as how fast of a writer you are, if you work a day job (and if so, how many hours a week you spend at the day job), responsibilities and commitments outside of writing and day job. Life. Take a look around this blog and you’ll find that I’m way too familiar with how much LIFE can get in the way.
Q: Okay, so are there months that are better or worse to publish in? Which months typically see good and bad sales?
A: I still haven’t finished a complete year of indie publishing, so my answer might be different come April or May, but from what I’ve seen so far and from what I’ve been told by folks who have been doing this a lot longer than I have is that January and February are usually fantastic sales months whereas November and December aren’t so great. You’ll have dips and spikes throughout the year, and you can kind of correlate those with different things like holidays, the beginning/end of the school year, weather (seriously, I’ve noticed my sales seem to spike on weekends when the weather is shitty across most of the United States), even the time of the month (and not THAT time of the month, I’m meaning more that you’ll see spikes around the 15th of the month at at the beginning or end of a month, most likely because of people getting paid semi-monthly). Granted, there are other things to consider, too. For example, if you’re publishing a Christmas romance the best time to release it seems to mid-October to early November (which is the schedule trad publishers pretty much follow, too). If you’re publishing a collection of horror short stories, late September/early October is a great time to do that because of Halloween. Some writers of baseball romance try to time releases around important points of the baseball season (opening week, all star break, World Series). Most indie authors tend to publish on any day OTHER than Tuesday, since Tuesday is the day trad publishers release books. The best day of the week is still being tested, it seems like, but Wednesdays seem to work well for me (if you’re aiming to make the New York Times or USA Today best seller lists, though, the day of the week you release is SUPER important). In other words–publish when your book’s ready to be published, but also be aware of the market and of timing, since timing can sometimes make or break a release.
Q: Should I put my book up for pre-order?
A: Again–only you can answer that question. There are pros and cons to pre-orders, and I honestly haven’t done it yet for me to give you an experienced opinion. For more info, this thread on kBoards is fantastic.
Q: How should I price my books?
A: *blows out a huge breath* If you want to get a bunch of writers arguing with each other, THIS is the question to ask. We all have different opinions and approaches, and none of them are necessarily wrong or right. You can only do what’s right for you (are you beginning to sense a theme here?). Some folks are a big fan of pricing low at 99 cents with the thought that they might only be getting 35% royalties on sales, but at that price more people should buy their book than would buy it at a higher price. Others price so that they can get 70% royalties from Amazon (which is $2.99 to $9.99). For the folks who do this, you’ll usually see a price range of $2.99-5.99 for an indie book, although there are obviously outliers in that regard. A lot of new authors are scared to price in the $3.99 and up range because they think, “Why would anyone spend their money on someone they don’t know?” Dear writers: Please don’t sell yourselves short. Yes, there are those readers out there who won’t spend more than $0.99 on a book, and there are absolutely those out there who will ONLY read free books (whether or not those books are obtained legally is always up for grabs). But there are a lot of readers out there who WILL take a chance on an unknown author at $3.99 or $4.99, and there are readers out there who are actually TURNED OFF by a low-priced book because they think it’s a sign that the book is A) crap or B) the author doesn’t think their work is worth it, therefore it’s probably not that great. Price can set a perception of value, and we’ve all been trained to believe that the higher priced item is usually better than the lower priced item (thus the age-old debate of name-brand vs generic macaroni and cheese). From my personal experience, my books actually sell better when they’re priced higher. Sure, I sold a decent amount of copies of Between the Seams when I ran a 99 cent promo on it before Thanksgiving, but not enough to really make the loss in royalties from the $3.99 price worth it. And Big Girls Need Love Too? It’s been $4.99 from day one and six months in is still selling quite well, thankyouverymuch. Again, it’s a personal decision, but you need not be afraid that no one will buy your books because you’re an unknown author.
Q: Whare are keywords and categories?
A: Keywords are basically the words and phrases people will use to search for your book, so when you’re choosing your keywords think like a reader: if you were looking for a book like your book, what words and phrases would you use? As for categories, those are the actual categories your book lands in, such as: Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Romantic Comedy. There are tons of categories, and there’s a lot of strategy (this thread on kBoards is HUGE, but incredibly informative) behind choosing the right categories for your book.
Q: Do I need to register my copyright?
A: You probably should. Some people don’t, and that’s fine. Technically your work is copyrighted the moment it’s written. However, that won’t help you win a plagiarism case, which unfortunately happens. And let’s face it, if someone is ballsy enough to plagiarize Nora freaking Roberts, why wouldn’t they be ballsy enough to plagiarize you? So register your copyright. It’s easy, only costs $35, protects your ass, protects your intellectual property, and is the professional thing to do.
Q: Okay, okay. So I’ll register my freaking copyright….um…do I register it under my name? My pen name? My DBA or SCorp?
A: Generally speaking your copyright is registered under your name. Some authors who are successful enough create a trust, which is what they register their copyright under (Marie Force comes to mind). The basic difference is that if you register your copyright under the trust, you’re basically extending the life of your copyright way beyond your time here on earth, which means your kids and grandkids and possibly great grandkids can reap the benefits of your labor of love.
Q: You just mentioned DBA and SCorp. WTF are you talking about?
A: One thing you’re going to learn real quick is that you can’t ignore the business part of being an indie author. Not all writers are business-minded, I get that. Most of us would prefer to live in our fictional worlds with our fictional characters, and that’s fantastic–it’s what makes us who we are. But if you’re making the decision to indie publish, you HAVE to have some understanding of the business. If you absolutely cannot understand it or simply don’t want to, it would behoove you to find someone to help you out with that stuff (like a spouse, attorney, friend, etc.). Now that I’ve lectured you, DBAs, SCorps, and LLCs are all different company structures that come with different tax benefits. DBA=Doing Business As. SCorp=Solo Corporation (usually an entrepreneur and can have no more than two employees–the entrepreneur and one other person…at least that’s the way it was when I was working for a 401k administrator back in the day). LLC=Limited Liability Corporation. They all have different purposes. Generally, people will say not to worry about any of those until you’re making $100,000 a year in royalties, or until you have an employee. Others will say to do it ASAP. Others will say once you’ve sold 5000 books. Others will say it depends upon your situation and whether or not you have financial assets you need to protect should you ever get sued (basically, if someone were to sue you for some reason and you were just doing business as you, they could come after all of your assets, meaning your home, your savings, etc., but if you’ve formed an SCorp or LLC and are doing business that way the only thing that can be touched are business assets, meaning your personal assets are safe). Basically, my advice is that if you’re not sure, talk to your accountant and an attorney who specializes in this sort of thing.
Q: Okay, so I’ve read through all of this junk, and you still haven’t answered my main question: how much money can I make?
A: It depends. 😉 Like I mentioned earlier, I made more in my first month indie publishing than I did in the 8 years I was with a trad publisher. There are so many factors that go into this, though, and it really does vary for everyone. Your genre (and subgenre) can play a huge role. Romance readers are voracious and tend to read multiple books a WEEK, whereas readers of other genres maybe read a book a month (cozy mystery readers are apparently pretty voracious, too). Within romance (it’s my thing, so it’s what I know), your subgenre can also impact sales. Erotic romance tends to sell consistently well. Stepbrother romances have been all the rage and selling like hotcakes for almost the past year now. Billionaires sold like crazy post-Fifty Shades of Grey, and are still going strong even though they seem to be tapering off a little bit. Shifters are huge right now. New Adult is still selling like hotcakes. The key, though, is just writing a good book. That’s it. That’s the secret sauce. Yes, poorly written books sometimes sell extremely well, and leave a lot of us scratching our heads. The first impulse is to bash that book (and its readers), when what we should be doing is looking at that book and figuring out WHY it’s selling DESPITE being poorly written. What about that book is striking a chord with readers? So part of sales is definitely market awareness. A big part is luck. A big part is just writing a good book, period. Yes, there are things that can help you sell more books (advertising, promotional pricing, etc.), but the easiest way to sell more books is to write more books. Generally speaking a series doesn’t take off until book 4. A couple years ago it was book 3. Some are now saying it isn’t until book 5 or 6. So just keep writing. You might make $10, or you might make $100,000. Just. Keep. Writing.