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As an Author, Is It Worth Being in the Amazon Associates Program?

| Posted in Tips and Tricks |

20

For those who don’t know, the Amazon Associates (or Affiliate) Program is sort of like working on commission for the big seller. You sign up, put links to any of the product pages on your site or in newsletters to your mailing list, and you make a percentage of the sales when people click through and buy within 24 hours. The percentage varies depending on the product type and how many items you sell in the month, but you can expect 4-8% or so.

I’ll admit, that’s not a lot when you’re linking to your own ebooks, which may only run $0.99 to $5, and you may be wondering if it’s worth signing up for the program. After all, it does take a minute or two to log into Amazon and create an affiliate link every time you’re writing a blog post and want to point out an Amazon product.

A lot of authors will probably say no, it’s not worth it, and that they haven’t made any money with the program. I don’t make a lot, but I do earn an extra $75 to $300 a month from Amazon in addition to what they pay me for my book royalties.

That’s money I’d be giving away (giving to them) if I didn’t bother creating those links. And honestly, it takes maybe 5 minutes a month for that money, because I don’t link to products from blog posts very often. I have the links to my own ebooks over there in the side bar, and I link to new releases. I also link to other authors’ books when I interview them on the blog (two years after I interviewed Kate Harper on How to Make Money Publishing Kindle Articles, I still sell copies of her ebook almost every month).

Juuuust in case you’re interested, here are a few more details…

How I Make Affiliate Income from My Author Blog and Newsletter

I’ll be the first to tell you that if you want to make serious money as an affiliate, Amazon isn’t the best program out there (24-hour window vs. the common-in-the-industry 30 days combined with the fact that they don’t offer a high percentage of the sales), but if you’re like me, and your main focus is on writing and promoting your own books, you might be pleased at the extra side income you can pull in by taking a few minutes to add those links.

1. Create a site and build traffic to it.

As an author, you should be doing this anyway. Not all authors choose to blog (or go through the effort of promoting their blog to increase readership), but all authors should at least have a website with periodic this-is-what-will-be-out-next updates, links to where people can buy their books, and a newsletter sign-up form. The address to that website should be on their business cards, on their social media pages, listed in their books/ebooks, stenciled on the back of the car (hey, some people do it!), etc. In other words, you’re going to promote your site anyway. Why not make any Amazon links you have on your site, especially to your own books, Amazon affiliate links?

What this means is you’re essentially earning say 77% on each $3.99 ebook you sell instead of 70%. Can this add up? Sure. You take the effort to create these links once, and they can be there for years to come. Even if you’re not getting a lot of visitors today, that may change as you get more books out and they start selling more copies.

If  you get into blogging, you can interview other authors and include (affiliate) links to their books, as I mentioned earlier. You can also try other types of posts, such as lists of 99-cent titles in your genre, and promote those posts on Twitter, Facebook, etc. I don’t do a lot of those types of blog entries myself, but here’s an example one from last year (I remember making a few dollars in affiliate income from the books linked to, and every now and then one of those titles still pops up in the current month’s report): 10 Free or 99-Cent Steampunk Ebooks.

2. Create a Mailing List and Use Affiliate Links When You Mention Your Own Books

Every author should have a newsletter or mailing list. As I’ve mentioned before, this allows you to email your readers when you have a new release (or any other important news — say you’re running a Kickstarter Campaign or a special sale for fundraising purposes). If you’re new to this idea, check out my post on Newsletters 101: Email Marketing for Authors.

You’re going to tell these people about your new releases anyway, so it just makes sense to use an affiliate link and get the extra 7%. As your list grows, your earnings will grow (both from direct sales and from affiliate commissions).

Forged-in-Blood-Affiliate-Earnings-Amazon

Those were my affiliate sales from this weekend from the release of Forged in Blood I. I didn’t use my affiliate link on Twitter or Facebook (I’ve been lazy and haven’t checked to see what their policies are in regard to using affiliate links lately), but I did use them on my website and in my mailing list. I’d wager at least 350 of those 428 came from the newsletter.

Note: I haven’t been active with them but Apple and Barnes & Noble have affiliate programs too. If you find you’re selling quite a few books there, you might want to sign up for their programs too.

Obvious question: Should you promote books other than your own?

This is up to you. I don’t when it comes to my mailing list (a rare exception was when one of my beta readers came out with her first book last fall); these are your dedicated readers, remember, so you don’t want to push them away by trying to sell things to them every other week. Just because they’re interested in hearing about your newest releases, doesn’t mean they want to buy a lot of other stuff. However, if you read a truly awesome book in your genre and think they might love it too, then it probably wouldn’t hurt to mention it or even share your own review of the book as one of your newsletters (authors often wonder what they should talk to their list about in between releases).

Money Aside, Other Reasons You May Want to Be an Amazon Affiliate

You may be thinking, okay, you made an extra $150 when you released your book, but didn’t you sell thousands that weekend anyway? Like a hundred bucks matters… And like this would work for me if I only have three people on my mailing list and I’ve only published one book…

Okay, fair points, but I still think it’s worth taking the extra couple of minutes to craft affiliate links when you’re going to link to something on Amazon anyway. Seeing what your readers/blog visitors are buying can give you a little extra insight into what people want — AKA market research.

A couple of months ago, I participated in a group book promotion and wrote up this post with everyone’s books: 10 Fantasy Romance Novels from Up-and-Coming Authors. I used affiliate links (this post is an example of one where I spent far more time than usual getting links and inserting book covers, because I did it for ten books, but I did end up making about $40 or so in affiliate income from that post), and it was interesting to see which of the titles sold best and which barely sold at all. Dragon Rose was the winner by a long shot. If you’re curious, go check out that post and take a peep at the cover and the blurb, and compare it to the others (it’s worth noting that it’s not at the top of the list, so it’s not as if people were simply picking the first book).

You can also see from my own screenshot up there that people, after clicking my links, buy quite a few books in addition to my own. You can get a better idea of your target audience and what their interests are by seeing what else they bought (I believe these sales reports are a little more concrete than the also-bought lists on Amazon book pages). Sometimes it’s even entertaining (I’ve found everything from soldering equipment to erotica titles to lawn mowers and baby gates in my affiliate reports).

The information is all anonymous, of course, so you’re not snooping into any particular person’s buying history, but it can give you a broad idea of what other titles people are buying. If you haven’t decided on what you’re going to write next, you might want to take a peep and see what sorts of books your readers are really digging (in addition to your own).

If nothing else, you might get some ideas for new books to read for yourself — hey, if these guys like your books, they must have good taste, right?

So, there you have it — why I bother with the Amazon Associates’ Program. What about you? Do you use affiliate links or are you thinking of giving them a try?

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Comments (20)

Hi Lindsay. Great introduction into the subject. I never really thought much about affiliate links. When I did, thought it was for businesses/corporations only.

I will be looking into this more closely.

I use affliate links in all the reviews I post, and have to admit that I have never earned anything from Amazon. Smashwords has a much better percentage affliate program. I’ve earned some from them, but still not enough to cash out. Overall, it’s not something that makes me money, but since I’m putting up the links anyways, I figure I might as well make them affliate, just in case.

Hi Sarah,

It’s usually the other way around, with Amazon being an easier sell (thanks to one-click and everyone and their grandmother already having an account there with a credit card on file). There are also a lot more things people can buy on Amazon (TVs? DVDs? Furniture? Oh, yes), so you’ve got better odds of making more from the same customer.

Ultimately, the amount of traffic you’re getting has a lot to do with whether or not affiliate programs work, but you’ll also find that you get more people clicking through to the stores if you work the links right into the text of your review rather than setting them apart. I’d also make the name of the book a link to the book page on Amazon — people are always curious and want to see how many reviews a book has and such. Even if they don’t buy that particular book, they might get something else while they’re there, so it pays to get people to click through. Lastly, it helps to make the book cover a clickable link — it’s so common for pictures to be links that people often try to click them anyway.

Of course, it all depends on how badly you want to make sales. If earning money isn’t the priority, you may prefer to keep things the way they are! Happy book reviewing!

My blog features a fair bit of commentary about green products that really are green and that really do work. Plus non-fiction books that I found super helpful. Plus nutrition info and the books where I learned it. And a handful of fiction book recs. All places where affiliate links might do quite a bit for me.

BUT. But, but, but. (To misquote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the book.)

My motive in including all the how-to stuff is that I want my experiences and discoveries to benefit anyone who reads my blog. And I don’t want my recs blurred by the conflict of interest that might arise if I made money from them. Sigh!

I’m tempted from time to time, I admit! So far I’ve stayed strong!

But I’m wondering…what if I put affiliate links only on my own titles? Left all the others clear? Or will that erode my “purity” over time? 😉

Hi JM,

A lot of bloggers will simply disclose that a link is an affiliate link and have a spot on their site that explains that they get a cut of the sale if a purchase is made through that link and that it doesn’t cost the person making the purchase any more. It’s certainly up to you and what you feel comfortable with though!

I didn’t mention it in my post (though I have in other articles), but it’s also very nice to know how many of your own books you’re selling through your blog. Some authors wonder if there’s really any point in maintaining a blog or if that’s time that should be spent writing the book. It’s nice to know one way or another, and affiliate links are the only real way I know to track that. (There are ways to track clicks from your site, but that’s not the same as sales.)

Thanks, Lindsay. I appreciate your feedback.

I talked the issue over with my husband and a close friend, and have concluded that I can dice my conflict-of-interest concerns a bit more finely than I have been. Yay!

I’m going to include affiliate links on all my own titles. There really is no conflict of interest there! I’m writing stories that I hope people will buy and enjoy!

But the links to the non-fiction books by other authors that I recommend won’t have affiliate links. Many are books that I hope all the world will read and benefit from. Especially the books on nutrition. 😉 I want my motive for suggesting them to be only my wish for people to be healthy and happy, with no financial benefit at all accruing to me.

Cool to realize there’s a midway point, indeed a spectrum, between no affiliate links on my blog and all affiliate links. That all-or-nothing thinking will get you every time! 😀

Thanks for helping me to think through the issue!

Thanks for the post, Lindsay! I have affiliate links (for Amazon) set up on my site, even though I’m still just getting started and my traffic numbers are somewhere between very very small and very very very small right now. Like you said in your post, I figure that the amount of time and effort that it takes to put in affiliate links is so small that I might as well go ahead and do it. That way everything will already be there and ready as I start to get more readers.

I’m going to get a kick out of the first time that I see something crazy like soldering equipment pop up on my report 😛 Hasn’t happened yet.

This is one of those things that I’ve done for years which it never occurred to me that other authors didn’t know about. Obviously it’s better to get a royalty of 79% or 39% rather than 75% or 35%.

You will need a website though to join the affiliate program.

Install the Amazon associate toolbar – a grey bar across the top of Amazon pages which offers a quick way to create links. The Share button is particularly good for creating Twitter posts. Here’s an example of what it produces:

Just saw this on Amazon: Encrypted by Lindsay Buroker for $3.95 http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004IZLFO8?ie=UTF8&camp=213733&creative=393177&creativeASIN=B004IZLFO8&linkCode=shr&tag=jaydax08&creativeASIN=B004IZLFO8 via @amazon

Of course this can be edited and the link shortened using a service such as bit.ly to produce something like:

Check out ‘Encrypted’ by Lindsay Buroker (@GoblinWriter) http://amzn.to/10U0JDW

Thank you for the tip about the toolbar, John! I didn’t know that one, and I’ve been an associate since 2001, lol.

Lindsay, my friend Shonna just sent me the link to this post – and at the perfect time! When we had a group blog, we kept meaning to join the Amazon Affiliates program for years, but we never got around to it. Now that we’re involved in our own web sites, and my second book comes out next week, it’s time to get this done!! Thanks for the great post!

And I’m glad to have found you here. Looks like you’ve got a LOT of great posts I’ve got to go read. As soon as I have time after this book launch! LOL!! Thanks again!

I have been on the e-book platform with six books and have not sold one. What am I doing wrong?

Noel you might be better asking this question on the KDP Community Forum at http://kdp.amazon.com/community/forum.jspa?forumID=9
I suspect though that your problem is the lack of a description and a short book with no useful information appearing in the ‘Look inside’ preview.

I got pretty interested when I saw this post and thought I’d go ahead and give it a try.

I signed up for an account and created a blog post around books that I know my visitors would be interested based on the keywords I see coming into my sight.

I guess Amazon didn’t agree, and sent me the following message the next day:

Thank you for your interest in the Amazon Associates Program.

We completed our review of your application to become an Amazon.com Associate, which included a visit to the Web site where you planned to create links to our store. After careful consideration, we have decided that your site may not present a mutually beneficial business opportunity. We have therefore decided not to approve your application to become an Amazon Associate.

Accordingly, we have closed the account under which you had been temporarily approved and that approval has now ended. Thank you for your interest in Amazon.com.

Bummer. All that work for nothing. I just went and changed the links to unpaid ones because I know my traffic is interested in those kinds of books. I thought a site getting 3 to 4 thousand hits a month might interest them; guess not.

Hi Greg,

Is it the Big Sky site? All I can think of is that they thought it was too new/not enough traffic/not enough content, though I haven’t heard of Amazon being particularly picky before. You might keep the site going for a few more months and try again. Barnes & Noble and Apple also have affiliate programs if you’d prefer to send your traffic to sites that will give you a cut! If you want to stretch out beyond books, you could try Commission Junction (cj.com) too. They’re a big mall of merchants that offer affiliate programs. Something like Travelocity might work nicely with your Montana articles (and the affiliate cuts are a lot higher on flights and hotels than on books :P).

Good luck!

Yeah, there’s plenty of options and things to look into. I think sometimes you’ve just got to get focused back onto the writing.

Greg I think it’s more likely that they rejected you because of the prominent Smashwords links on your entrance pages. Amazon seem to have a thing about that. Mention Smashwords on the Kindle forums and your post is pretty well guaranteed to be moderated.

They are quite skittish about that, aren’t they? I don’t know what they’re so afraid of. Smashwords has about 180,000 titles selling, Amazon has millions.

Lindsay,
Nice writeup on the pros/cons of Amazon’s affiliate program. I have spent a lot of time promoting products and from time to time you get lucky and someone buys a higher priced item. I think that trying to make money with ebooks there might be a better outlet, but at the same time, getting your book out to the right audience can bring in a lot of money.

Better outlet? Amazon offer affiliates 4-10% on ebooks. Smashwords usually offers more and the author is the person who decides on the percentage. I for example offer affiliates a 30% commission on all Smashwords sales.

I’m not sure if it was mentioned upthread (I’m on deadline, so I skimmed), but do not use affiliate links inside your ebooks: it violates the ToS of Amazon Associates.

I’m not sure whether this is the case with other affiliate programs. I also don’t know the specific reason that this practice would violate the Amazon Associates TOS, but I suspect it something to do with sales tax and how Amazon collects/pays it on goods it sells.

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