From Blank Page to Published (Part 6): Publishing
Updated: Jun 14, 2020
As I am preparing for the second book to launch, I thought it was time to write this post on publishing to complete the series.
For a self-published indie author, the process of actually publishing your book is quite simple and straightforward. You get to set the date when you want to publish. All you really have to do is upload your book onto the platforms you want to make the book available for the public. It is the fastest way to get published.
Most authors publish on Amazon and it is definitely the easiest platform to use. If you already have an Amazon account, you can set up your KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account from it and start creating your book. KDP provides free programs and tools for you to create your books and covers. I didn't want to risk things going wrong or looking unprofessional so I hired designers and formatters to handle it all and all I have to do is upload the files, preview and hit publish.
There are things you need to be aware of when uploading your book files and entering your book details. One of the most important things is choosing your categories and keywords. The category you choose can determine your bestseller ranking! There are thousands of categories to choose from but not all of them can be selected from the dropbox in KDP when you enter your details. There are hidden categories and not many people are aware that they can actually choose up to seven categories, even though it only allows you to choose two when you upload the book. You need to email Amazon with the other categories you wish to have your book in and they will add them for you. It is extremely helpful to search for relevant categories for your book using Publisher Rocket, which is available from Kindlepreneur. You can easily do a search of all the categories by entering some words or phrases associated with your book and analyse whether that category is worth being in. They show how many books you need to sell in order to become bestseller in that category. They also link you to that category page so you see the existing books in the category to compare with yours.
Below is an example of the category search result. One of the categories I selected was Christian > Emotions & Feelings. According to this screenshot, I need to sell 67 books per day to rank #1 in the category.
And I need to sell 10 books per day to rank #10 in this category. The lower the number, the higher your chances are of becoming a bestseller in the category. So choose wisely! (And no, I am not selling that many books a day...)
That's why it is important to have a launch team to help you in the first couple of days of launching your book. You can get a boost in sales to help you reach #1 as soon as the book is live. Pre-order sales can help with this as well. But after that initial launch week, it is very difficult to maintain more than 10 sales per day unless you are great at marketing or are a well-known author. (I'm just happy to have one sale per day!)
Then there are keyword searches you can do on Publisher Rocket to figure out which keywords to list with your book. It is better to use words that are not in your title or book description but still related and relevant to your book. I searched for the phrase 'grief and bereavement', and a list of related keyword searches came up. You simply click on 'Analyze' to see the competitive score. The lower the number, the easier it is to rank, so aim for those with a competitive score below 50. However, you also need to consider how many times that term is being searched for on Amazon. If hardly anyone is searching for that keyword phrase, then it means it isn't something many people are interested in. There's a lot of data analysis and trial and error involved in figuring out what words or categories to use. I'm still experimenting with these and tweaking them every few weeks. The data also changes so it's a good idea to do new searches and update your categories and keywords periodically. They also have different keywords for ebooks and paperbacks. It's a good idea to choose different keywords for both formats so your book can appear in more search results. I am still learning and experimenting with these every day.
After you choose all your categories and keywords and enter all your book details, you can upload your book interior and cover. I uploaded the ebook and paperback onto KDP and set the ebook up for pre-order. This is because I hadn't finalised the files yet and needed time to check before making it live. I posted and shared the link on various social media platforms and shared with friends. The response was not as much as I had hoped for. It is definitely not easy to sell and market a new book. I am very grateful to all those that did pre-order though! It definitely would not get a lot of organic sales unless I'm some great influencer on social media with a huge following so I am still quite happy with the result in the end. I also enrolled the book into Kindle Select which makes your book available for Kindle Unlimited users for free. This is definitely worth doing because you get earnings from every page that is read - up to 3,000 page-reads per book per customer, so re-reads count, too!
I also uploaded the book onto IngramSpark which distributes to Amazon as well many other bookstores and platforms including Barnes & Noble, and even Book Depository. There were a few issues with the paperback format on both platforms and they took over two weeks to get approved and published. You cannot set print copies for pre-order on KDP but if you set up the book on IngramSpark, they will appear as pre-order on Amazon if they are approved before your selected release date. So my hardcover was available for pre-order as soon as it got approved but the paperback didn't appear until two weeks after. It was frustrating trying to get everything lined up and ready for launch, and you can't predict how long it takes them to approve your files after you submit them.
It does seem easy and straightforward to upload and publish directly on these platforms, but it is time-consuming to set up and sometimes you have to re-upload and change things, and each time, you have to wait for them to approve again before the changes are live. I think I have updated the info and files over 10 times already! But, that is also the beauty of self-publishing - you can change and update as many times as you want! KDP is completely free to upload and update, but IngramSpark normally charges a fee of $49 for each upload or change. They have a promo code to waive the fee now, so I was able to update the description and the cover again.
One of the most difficult things to get after launching are honest reviews for your book. Having a launch team helped a little but it still doesn't guarantee reviews. It is definitely a huge learning curve and it takes a few tries before getting it right. I hope the following books I publish will be able to sell well after getting my name out there with the first book. Running promotions is definitely worth doing to get more downloads and verified reviews too. I did a one day free ebook promotion and got 21 downloads from it, so hopefully those that downloaded will review the book as well. Realistically, only about 10% of readers will actually leave reviews. Most of them would just download, read and move on. It takes a lot of effort to remind and convince people to review your book without seeming pushy or desperate. Unless they are authors themselves, the average reader won't really understand the value of a review - every single one of them counts! I am grateful that I now have 40 reviews exactly one month after the book first launched! It took a lot of effort though! I signed up to different sites and platforms, paid for ads and marketing, posted about the book on social media accounts, and shared it in a bunch of Facebook groups. It was non-stop every day, checking if my efforts resulted in sales, reiterating how important reviews were, and analysing what worked and didn't work. And now, I'm going to do it all over again for the next book! Hopefully, I will do it right this time!
Technically, this post marks the end of my blog series 'From Blank Page to Published', but actually, the hard part comes after you hit 'publish' - marketing! I'm still struggling with this! If you can't market the book well enough to get people to buy it, it almost doesn't even matter how good the book is. I feel like the majority of my time has been spent on marketing than on actual writing! I'm still learning and researching bit by bit every day. Once I get the hang of it, I can focus on writing again!
I will be sharing some of what I have done for promoting, getting reviews and marketing in the next post. There are a lot of useful sites for indie authors that are worth signing up for too! So stay tuned! If you have any good tips to share from your self-publishing journey, please let me know! I would love to know how you did it and learn from you, too!