In this latest article in The Guide, Simon Pridmore, a successful self-published author, provides some tips and advice on getting your work to the masses—without the help of an established publisher
Over the past four years, I have done quite well in the world of self-publishing. I have published a number of books in a variety of languages and in various forms, some with images (by underwater photographer Tim Rock), some without. All have been successful to differing degrees; one, Scuba Confidential, has done and continues to do extremely well. So, as a self-publishing author, how can you maximize the chances of success and how do you avoid the pitfalls? In the following, I won’t go into technical specifics. Instead, I will try and hit what I see as a few critical points that will help steer you in the right direction.
First, I am assuming you want to publish your work. Second, I am assuming you want to make some money out of the publication and you are not just interested in stroking your ego. Third, I am also assuming that you do not care if your book is not in the window of your local bookshop or on the racks in airport bookstores. If you self-publish, this is not going to happen. The book publishing industry is in the same sort of old world/new world throes that the record industry, the travel industry and the photo developing industry went through and is fiercely defending old world systems. As a self-publisher, you are firmly in the new world camp.
My Basic Rules
Rule 1: Add words
Pictures might be worth a thousand words each, but they do not hold a reader’s attention without any words at all. Good, strong text content is just as big a selling point as the pictures. There are always exceptions, but, in my experience, books with only pictures don’t sell as well as books with text too. It might only be “the story behind the image,” but text enhances the commercial viability of the book considerably.
Rule 2: Sell through Amazon first
In the beginning, Amazon was all about books. A huge number of people in the US, the UK, and, to a lesser extent, in other countries, shop for books on Amazon. Its market share is phenomenal. In second place, as far as online book sales in the US are concerned, is iTunes. In a recent month, in respect of one of my titles, I sold 250 copies on Amazon and 1 copy on iTunes—an extreme example, perhaps, but a representative one nevertheless. So you must publish using Amazon, and this means Kindle Direct Publishing for e-books, Createspace for paperbacks, and Audible for audiobooks.
Selling on Amazon: Kindle and Createspace
Kindle e-books don’t just work on Kindle book readers; they work on every type of phone, tablet or laptop. When I publish text-only books, I upload them in formatted MS Word. When Tim and I publish our diving and snorkeling guides, which are image-heavy, we upload ePubs. To convert Word files into ePubs, I use Calibre, which is easy to use.
A big tip to bear in mind when you are formatting e-books: Make sure you use page breaks or everything will run together and be a big mess. But Kindle and Calibre give you plenty of opportunity to review your books before they go live, so there is no excuse if you end up publishing a mess. The Kindle online previewer allows you to see how the book will look on a variety of players.
Createspace is for paperback publishing. From a photographer’s point of view, the paper quality in Createspace-published books does not allow images to “pop” as they should. The paper is matte, not gloss. However, if your aim is to sell books, then a Createspace version is likely to outsell any glossier versions you may release elsewhere (see below on Blurb). If you have local bookshop connections or other potential outlets, or you want books to sell when you speak at dive shows, you can buy copies of the book from Createspace at wholesale prices. You can do this with your Blurb books too, although these are much more expensive.
On Amazon your books also benefit from Amazon’s marketing efforts. Amazon’s strategy is to help you sell books. If you sell books then they make money too. And they are very good at what they do. Take a look at any Amazon book listing and see how much publicity there is for other similar books by other authors. If you have an Amazon account and you take an interest in a book, just by going to the book’s page and scrolling down through it, within days you will receive an email. The email will remind you of the book you were interested in, but didn’t buy, and it will also include a shortlist of similar books that you may be interested in. This is great for you as an author, especially if you are new, because it brings your work onto the radar screen of a targeted, interested audience.
For example, you publish a new book on weird critters you find on the reef. A reader somewhere, who has never heard of you or your book goes on Amazon and looks at a Paul Humann book on Reef Creatures. A few days later, the reader gets an email from Amazon in their inbox reminding them that they were interested in Paul’s book and suggesting a few other books on reef creatures—including yours. The reader has a look at your book, likes what they see, and buys your book and Paul’s Reef Creatures book. A few days later, your book is featured on the Reef Creatures book page under the “frequently bought together” listing. You are suddenly visible to Paul Humann’s audience, something that would be very hard to achieve on your own. But Amazon has done it, at no cost to you, in money or time.
So, remember this before you complain about the paper quality of your Createspace book. But remember, too, that this sequence of events can only transpire if you have created a quality book that the reader in my example will buy.
Don’t Forget Draft 2 Digital: Although Amazon is far and away the market leader in the US and the UK, you still want to have your books available on as many platforms as possible, and the way to do this is to publish using Draft 2 Digital, which is a breeze to use. It doesn’t publish to Amazon/Kindle, but it does publish to almost everywhere else, including iTunes.
Audible and Blurb
If your book will even vaguely work as an audiobook, check out Audible and make the best audio version you can. Do the reading yourself—if you have a voice and a studio handy. Or use the Audible network to contact an actor/producer who will make the audiobook with you for 50% of the royalty and no upfront cost. Don’t immediately reject the concept of an audiobook even if your book has lots of photos. Audiobooks now make up around 20% of my sales and they are growing in popularity. With a technology called Whispersync, readers can look at the e-book while they listen to the audiobook. This would work well if you have written a how-to guide, perhaps.
Blurb books are the ones you show off your work with. The Blurb version of your book is the one you give to your Mum so she can show her friends. It’s the one you take with you when you are applying for a gig. They are easy to format with Blurb’s Bookwright software, have a beautiful finish, and you can choose lovely glossy paper to make your pictures look fantastic. The downside is that you can only sell them online on your own Blurb site or on iTunes, which means your network and fan base can buy them but you are unlikely to get discovered by people who don’t know you. However, this is why you have your Amazon versions—so you have all your bases covered.
Amazon pay-per-click advertising works. In our experience, it works better than Google or Facebook pay-per-click advertising. As soon as you have a book published, run an Amazon advertising campaign, monitor expenditure and results closely, look at the statistics, make changes if it isn’t working or cancel it and run a new campaign if it doesn’t. But don’t abandon the strategy. If it doesn’t work, you are running the wrong kind of campaign or targeting the wrong audience. Work to fix those things. On our campaigns, if we find our costs are more than 20% of our revenue, we change the campaign.
Simon Pridmore doing some “research” for his book with Tim Rock
I hope you found this useful. I have taken a broad-brush approach and have not mentioned most of the complex array of self-publishing options out there, but my aim is to give you a shortcut through the maze. Good luck with your publishing—and money-making—adventures!
About the Author: Simon Pridmore writes scuba diving books, travel books and, as you might expect, scuba diving travel books. His book “Scuba Confidential – An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver” was the second-best-selling scuba diving book in the UK in 2016.
Originally from the UK, Simon has lived in Asia for over 30 years and has spent a considerable portion of that time on the move, both overland and underwater. As well as his books, Simon has written hundreds of articles and features on diver training and travel for magazines such as Gaia Discovery, Diver, Sport Diver, Action Asia, EZDive and X-Ray. He has also spoken at dive and travel conferences all over the world. Simon and his wife, Sofie, currently live in Bali, Indonesia, but spend a lot of time exploring other places trying to find a cure for their itchy feet.
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