Self-Published Authors Find Success on the Kindle

Kindle readerMore and more romance authors are independently publishing on the Kindle. I sat down with two women from the San Francisco Romance Writers of America chapter to uncover more about this phenomenon and discover their promotional secrets and how they found success on the Kindle.

Many authors think they need a traditional publisher to succeed as an author, but actually all you need is drive, vision and a hungry audience. Then you can started now on your career as a successful published author.

Discover four tips on what it takes to succeed on the Kindle and in the digital publishing market from two authors who’ve done it, one at the start of her career and another in the middle of it.

Tip #1: The Cover is Everything

“I was thoroughly ignored by agents and editors alike, while my critique partners and beta readers kept telling me my writing was ready to be published,” says Tina Folsom, www.tinawritesromance.com, bestselling author of paranormal and erotic romance (Amaury’s Hellion, 2010). “So, when Amazon.com started their self-publishing platform and I got a Kindle for myself, I figured I had nothing to lose.”

She published her first books in Spring 2009. But they had “boring” covers, she said, and she only sold a few copies.

“I still had an old copy of Adobe Photoshop on my computer and taught myself how to use it so I could design decent covers. And boy, did that pay off! As soon as I changed my book covers for the older novels I had out there, plus designed really sexy covers for the two new books (Scanguards Vampires), my sales took off,” says Folsom.

Folsom designs her own covers and only paid a few dollars to purchase the photos from www.bigstockphoto.com. Folsom highly recommends spending your time and effort on your book cover. “People will click on the book if the cover looks enticing,” she adds.

Love Me by Bella AndreBestselling, multi-published author, Bella Andre, www.bellaandre.com, chose to publish a sequel with the Kindle while she was between book contracts with no contract clauses to worry about. She had kept getting requests for a follow up to Take Me, published by Pocket Books in 2005, and decided to “get the book to the readers who wanted it.” In July 2010, Andre published Love Me via the Kindle and SmashWords.com. Andre said she was picky about the cover and took care to brand her Kindle books to express “the more erotic side of Bella Andre.”

Andre was also inspired to publish directly to the Kindle due to J.A. Konrath’s reports of his self-publishing success with the Kindle. (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/) Inspired by his reported good sales results, Andre thought she’d “probably sell” if she put up her sequel. Andre hasn’t released her sales results yet, but has reported that they are “very good.”

Tip #2: Know Your Reader Expectations

Amaury's Hellion by Tina FolsomBella Andre knows that digitally publishing your own novels isn’t for everyone. Since she’s written over ten books and has been in the traditionally published marketplace for over five years, she knows what she’s doing and what readers want. And what they want are well-written sexy stories. She admits that she’s in that sweet spot: She knew that erotic romance readers tend to be early adopters of the e-book medium, and she has readers looking for her.

Readers want more than a sexy cover, though. They also want a good story. Tina Folsom made sure her blurb had a great hook. After the cover, “that’s definitely the next thing people look at,” says Folsom.

Next comes the excerpt. Folsom adds, “It goes without saying that your first few chapters have to pull the reader in, particularly since Kindle allows a free sample of about 10% of your book. So you’ve got to hook the reader right then if you want to make a sale.”

Then comes price and accessibility. Readers want to be able to read books in the way they want. Andre wants to make her books accessible for her readers, so she prices them to sell, offering her books for $9.99 for the print version, and $4.99 on the Kindle. “It’s not so much about price point, but about convenience,” she says.

Price played a factor for Folsom, too. When Folsom released her second book, Amaury’s Hellion in July 2010, she offered the book for $0.99 for the first month, and noted in the blurb that this was an introductory price (and the full price would be $5.99 after that.) That month she sold over 400 copies of her new release, and at the same time, her sales for her first book in the series, Samson’s Lovely Mortal, and all her other backlist titles increased in sales as well.

“The introductory low price of $0.99 definitely worked. It got people’s attention and brought me up in the sales rankings, improving my visibility. With Amaury’s Hellion, I got as high at #628 in the Kindle Store, and for a short time was even on #1 and #2 in Gothic Romances,” Folsom reports.

Both authors offer print and digital versions of their digitally published books, including distribution via the Kindle, and via Smashwords.com which allows for digital distribution to the iPad, Sony Reader, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble online.

Tip #3: Market to Your Specific Niche

Both Andre and Folsom have done specific targeted marketing, using Facebook, Twitter, their blogs, and by requesting reviews.

When Andre’s book was first released, she spent a few weeks using Facebook Ads and sent out reviewer requests and the PDF of her books to romance reviewers, even if they said they don’t review self-published books. “The world is changing. [Reviewers] have to start reviewing ebooks,” Andre says.

All told, Andre said she probably spent $50 on the Facebook ads. In contrast, when Take Me came out five years ago, she spent $10,000 on marketing and advertising. “Never again” she says will she spend that kind of money to market a book, and takes a level-headed approach to an individual book’s success. “It’s going to do how it does,” she adds.

For Folsom, in the beginning, the only thing she did was solicit reviews. “It’s very important to get a few good reviews posted on Amazon.” She adds. Folsom asked fellow RWA members for reviews, and then contacted dozens of blogs. Since her two books are vampire romances, she contacted all kinds of vampire blogs who did book reviews. Folsom adds, “The reviews helped.” Not only did they make her books look more desirable on Amazon.com, she also got some exposure on different blogs, and her sales increased.

What I found interesting about their promotions is that neither author did any pre-publication marketing.

Tip #4: The More Things Change The More They Stay the Same

I asked both Andre and Folsom for advice to authors considering whether or not to independently publish their fiction.

“Worry about the words,” Andre says. “Get [your book] copy edited and proof read. Pay attention to that part. A cover is important but just get it up there; you can always change it later.”

In addition to good editing, Folsom adds:

  • Get a great cover. I need to repeat this: the cover is what will get people’s attention. Invest in it. If you can only spend money on one area, do it here.
  • Write a kick-ass blurb. Think movies. Get your story across in one sentence. Hook them.
  • Get reviews. Ask your fellow writers, other blog[gers], anyone, but get those reviews posted on Amazon. It will improve your sales.
  • Once your first book is up, start working on the next one. The more books you have up on Amazon, the more you will sell, because searches will more easily pick up your books.

Fiction Authors Are Finding Success as Self-Published Authors

For Andre, part of self-publishing was a “great way to get stuff up there, but ultimately, it’s about being in control of process.” She adds, “My success on kindle feeds into a broader success, like getting into Walmart because my agent can point to my Kindle results and say to them ‘just think what she could do.’”

For Folsom, she is already writing book #3 in the series. Self-publishing provides her with a regular income. She sells approximately 45 to 50 books per day on Amazon alone with her 10 titles. “The short stories are cheap and cost mostly $0.99 and therefore I only get 35% in royalties, but on anything that sells for $2.99 or above I make 70% in royalties. It starts to add up.”

Up until just a few weeks ago, I thought that self-publishing as a fiction author wasn’t a savvy business move. And then in the space of one morning at our local RWA meeting, I heard two reports of author success, one from a well-known and published author, the other from a persistent new author. What they both have in common besides the skills to write a good story is that they’re both publishing in erotic romance, and they both understand what it takes to succeed in this brave new world of digital publishing.

I encourage all authors considering this route to weigh the pros and cons of self-publishing. Can you and do you want to handle all the details of editing, proofing, cover design, and marketing, all on your own?

You get to decide!

If you give the readers what they want, make it easy for them to find you and get some good reviews, you just may be able to succeed as an independently published fiction writer. Good luck!

c. 2010 Beth Barany

The Promotion Posse is a monthly column in Heart of the Bay, spotlighting promotional strategies for authors, written by members of SFA-RWA with a knack for PR. You can find author, coach and columnist, Beth Barany, raving about books, authors, and the ever-changing publishing and book marketing world at www.writersfunzone.com/blog.

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19 Responses

  1. Hi, Beth,

    Timely article! Thanks. On my internet radio show this coming Tuesday, I shall be talking with sixx authors about exactly this topic. May I have your permission to read excerpts from this article with proper attribution, please?

  2. Tom Evans says:

    I totally agree … I published my book, Flavours of Thought, on Kindle just a month ago, mentioned it on a few social media sites, went on hols and while I was away I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the sales and reviews – way to go !!

  3. Beth Barany says:

    Rowena, Yes, please! And let me know when it’s up!

  4. Beth,
    Thanks so much for writing on this topic. I have wondered what the professionals think of this method of publishing and your opinion and approval on this is HUGE! It gives us newbies hope…But what we’re really looking for is a little something to line our pockets while we write! LOL!

  5. Beth Barany says:

    Tom, Congratulations!

    Valerie, Good luck with your writing!

  6. Ien Nivens says:

    Good stuff!
    Keep it coming!

  7. I firmly believe that e-books are the way forward. Not ‘instead of’ but ‘as well as’ so that readers can have the product in the format suitable for them. Now that Kindle is available in the UK I think it will be this years favourite Christmas present.
    My book Just Us Two is available as a *pdf download from authorhouse.com. ISBN 9781438929378 When I signed up the Kindle and e-pub formats were not available. Now that they are I am looking into this but am intrigued by the Kindle self-publish. Just not sure how the ISBN situation would work out. Does this come with the Kindle package? Anyone out there able to help?

  8. deborah LeSueur says:

    What a great IDEA. How much does it cost? Sounds like it would be easy? You have a great thing going on here. Teaching so much about everything possible to know in the art of writing.

  9. Beth Barany says:

    Rowena, Absolutely! And thanks for asking!

  10. Beth Barany says:

    Ien, Thanks!

    Rosalie, Congratulations on your book, and for the UK view of things. In fact, re: an ISBN for the Kindle you don’t need one. Though having one for your Kindle edition of your book distinguishes it in the catalog from the print book. More here: http://www.kreelanwarrior.com/2009/03/kindle-publishing-tip-do-you-need-an-isbn-for-ebooks/

  11. Beth Barany says:

    deborah, (Gramma!) Getting a book on the Kindle is free, but preparing a book for the Kindle so that it looks professional costs. Thanks for chiming in, Gramma!

  12. Paul E. Cooper says:

    I have a book, self published 7 years ago…
    would like to have it published on Kindle….
    please advise..
    Paul E. Cooper…

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