Posted in New Author Series, Tips and Tricks | Posted on 10-11-2014|
The “KU Apocalypse,” as some writers have called it, has cut into the bottom line for many independent authors, especially those who have refused to participate in Amazon’s KDP Select program, because they’re not willing to go exclusive with the mega retailer. I’ll be the first to admit that the sales rankings on most of my books have taken a dive since the program launched this summer.
I thought I would write this post to offer some ideas for authors who are feeling the pinch and are staring at their sales reports, wondering what they can do to boost the income a little. I do a couple of these things already, mostly out of habit (as some of you know, I was a professional blogger/content creator for my day job before I could make a living from my fiction, and I watched what a lot of the internet marketing gurus were doing, even if I never fully immersed myself in that world), and because it just makes sense not to leave money on the table.
Before jumping in, I’m assuming that as an author, you already have a mailing list and a blog (and possibly other avenues of putting out content beyond your books). If you don’t, maybe this will give you another reason to rethink the decision not to have those things.
1. Affiliate Income from Mentioning Your Books in Your Newsletter
Every time I send out word of a new release to the readers who subscribe to my newsletter, I put the links to my books in the email, and for the Amazon pages, I use an affiliate link. (Not a member of the program yet? Sign up here.) This means I get 70% of the ebook price from selling a book on Amazon and also that I get another 7% or so (the percentage depends on how many products you sell in any given month) from the affiliate commission.
Now, if you’ve got four people on your mailing list and you’re selling seven books a month, you’re not going to make a big wad of dough doing this. But if you’re determined to become a career author, and you’re succeeding in slowly building up a mailing list and accumulating readers, then this extra money can add up eventually. As some of the ladies pointed out on the recent Mailing List episode of the Self Publishing Podcast, this can end up covering all of the expenses associated with running a newsletter service and then some. (Many newsletters are free to start but then start to cost $XX/month as you acquire more subscribers.)
*Note: I’ve been too lazy to apply for the other stores, but Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo all have affiliate programs too.
2. Affiliate Income from Mentioning OTHER People’s Books in Your Newsletter
Even if you’re prolific, there’s a limit to how often you’re going to release a new book, but common newsletter-publishing wisdom suggests that you stay in touch with your subscribers so they don’t forget about you (and then unsubscribe in a huff when they get a random email six months after they’ve signed up).
So what do you send them? If you’re reading widely in your genre and have some books you would be comfortable recommending, you can send them the latest title that rocked your reading world (with the affiliate code of course). You want to be careful here and not just send random books that you haven’t vetted, but readers are always on the lookout for more good books, and chances are, if they like what you write, they’re going to like a lot of the same types of books as you do.
Since I’ve read so little fantasy of late, I haven’t done this much (I’m going to try it with my pen name’s mailing list, because I’ve actually read more in that genre in these last couple of years), but I have done this with some of my beta readers’ books. We all write fantasy and have similarly quirky senses of humor, so I feel comfortable recommending their books.
If there are other independent authors you read and enjoy who write in your genre, you may even look into forming partnerships with them where they promote your new releases and you promote theirs.
I do think you have to be careful with these situations and make sure you’re still primarily giving your readers what they subscribed for — news about you and your works. What you can do when you’re plugging someone else’s book is also include an update about what’s going on with your own works in progress.
3. Affiliate Links on Your Blog/Author Website
I know, I know, you’re sensing a theme here… I’ll change it up after this, but let’s add this section too.
If you’ve been thinking of starting a blog, but you’ve been told it’s not very effective at selling books, what if you were also making money from other things? At the least, you could have affiliate links for all of your books, but if you’re the kind of person who reads a lot, you can also review other people’s books, the same as with the newsletter.
The difference between your website and a newsletter is that there’s less risk that you’re going to be “bugging” someone by putting something in their inbox that they didn’t ask for. Also, if you’re blogging about things people are interested in, you can get random traffic from the search engines with first-time visitors landing on your site, visitors who might never have heard about you otherwise. They might just check out your books while they’re there. (I don’t sell a lot of books through this blog, , but I do sell some — because of the affiliate links, I can tell where the sales originated.)
So, what do you write about on your site? Product reviews work great with ads and affiliate links. Ebooks aren’t the way to riches, since the affiliate commissions are going to be pretty low unless you’re selling $10 ebooks, but if you’re a tech lover, you might also review some of the latest products related to reading that you’ve purchased or had the chance to play with. I reviewed one of the kindles before the holidays one year and ended up making some nice commissions, since these were $200 products. Before Christmas, you’ll get a lot of people buying extra items on Amazon, too, and you make a commission on anything they buy within the 24 hours that they click on your link.
4. Running Advertising on Your Blog/Site
This is how I made a living when I was a professional blogger (thank you, Google Adsense). I don’t do it on my author page, because I don’t feel the need to and I also don’t want to send people away from my site (and my books), which is what happens when people click on an ad, but the tradeoff is that I don’t make much money from this site, despite putting time into it every week.
If you’re producing content regularly and writing about more than your own writing struggles and book launches (as I mentioned, some people review books or other products), then it can make sense to add advertising to your site. If you’re a non-fiction author, this can be especially effective. Nobody’s out there bidding a lot for placement on ads about “fantasy novels,” but if you cover diet and fitness, home repair, travel, or even self-publishing, there are merchants with related products who want to advertise on your site.
Wet your feet with Google Adsense, and if you don’t mind giving up the real estate on your site and you have the traffic to support it, you can also sell banner or text links directly to interested parties (this takes more work since you have to find interested parties).
5. Setting up a Subscription Model
This is something I toy with every now and then but have never done myself. I’m not sure if I’m ready to take on the pressure of putting something out every month for reader-subscribers. But there is no steadier income than having subscribers who are automatically paying $X every month or quarter. The money is typically withdrawn from their account (Paypal has a subscription option) until they unsubscribe. And if you’re giving them what they want, they might stick around for a while.
So how would this work for an author? The guys over at the Self Publishing Podcast are so prolific that they started a subscription service for their “Story Studio” that allows their dedicated readers to get their newest content every month, often before they release it to the stores. I believe this is a fairly new endeavor for them, but it’s a way to bypass the retailers, sell direct to the customer, and earn more overall on your books.
Don’t think you can put out a new novel a month? Yeah, that’s kind of crazy. But here’s someone else that I interviewed a couple of years ago who uses a subscription model for short fiction.
The ultra prolific Dean Wesley Smith puts out an entire magazine of his own work every month.
A perk to starting a subscription service? The added pressure to produce! Okay, okay, that’s the same thing that has me leery of doing this, but if you need a reason to get your butt in the chair every day, the fact that people are waiting for the next story might just do the job.
6. Get Support Directly from Readers with Patreon
I first heard about this service from Joanna Penn, AKA The Creative Penn, who is using it to help cover the time she puts into publishing her free podcast. The site is called Patreon and its exactly what it sounds like, an opportunity for someone to act as a patron to support your work. There’s a long history of well-off individuals supporting artists and writers, but this brings it into the 21st Century, allowing anyone to support, by donating as little as $1 a month.
As an example, here’s Joanna’s Patreon page, where people pay a dollar or two per podcast that she produces.
Personally, I like this more than the Kickstarter “crowd-funding” model, which is great if you genuinely need the money to make something happen, but can feel a little skeezy (yes, that’s a word) if you’re doing well financially and still trying to get people to back something.
I browsed through the writing category, and it looks like a lot of people are finding support for their web comics, but I bet someone publishing a novel to the web could find some supporters too. If the KU Apocalypse continues, maybe I’ll even give it a try!
That’s all I have for today. If you’re doing any of these things, or doing something else, we would love to hear about it. Please comment!