“In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”
For three days last week I was on four Amazon Kindle best seller lists. Over 900 people downloaded Later Bloomers: 35 Folks Over Age 35 Who Found Their Passion And Purpose.
It was unexpected. It was intoxicating.
It didn’t last.
And I didn’t make a cent. But the experience—priceless.
Here’s what I learned about the enigma of self-publishing.
Later Bloomers’ Kindle edition is an anthology of my best posts from the past year. I originally planned to release it as a free PDF, until I came across some ebook distribution approaches that inspired me to try Kindle. Uber-blogger Leo Babauta recommended converting PDFs to Kindle as a favor to readers. I adore my Kindle and appreciated his point.
Then I discovered “E-Books: The Tipping Point?” by Catherine Ryan Howard, which charted Kindle sales of her memoir, Mousetrapped (a hilarious take on the year she worked at Disney World Orlando). She sold nine copies in March 2010. Sales steadily grew to 789 in January 2011.
Catherine did nothing different during that time, other than her usual blogging and Twitter activities. Mousetrapped gained its own momentum, then became a Christmas hit. She concluded:
…an e-book doesn’t have to be a full-length novel. This is an advertisement for you as a writer, so if your writing is short stories or a novella then so be it. Just price the e-book accordingly.
And get it out there. NOW.
Educate Yourself and Experiment
By then, I’d put together a 32,000-word PDF draft. Not enough for traditional print, but decent for a free ebook. And I had outlines for three additional serials, maybe more.
Releasing the first one on Amazon, to advertise myself as a writer, became a no-brainer.
On October 31st, I relaunched Later Bloomer, announced the free PDF, serial plans and future print versions.
After the launch, I learned everything I could about Kindle self-publishing.
I reformatted the same MS Word document I’d used for the PDF. Many experts advise against using Word as a Kindle base, but it works fine. My Kindle version looked great, even with illustrations. But it took hours of trial and error. For those of us who can’t hire someone, working in Word can mean the difference between publishing or not. I’ll post detailed instructions and a Word template in the near future.
I uploaded my Kindle version, priced it at $1.99 and . . . nothing. But I was proud of the effort.
What happened next is a complete fluke.
Have Faith and Read the Fine Print
About three weeks ago, Amazon announced their Kindle Direct Publish (KDP) Select program: “Distribute books through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and reach the growing number of US Amazon Prime members.” Also included — a $500,000 fund to be split among lenders.
That’s not what drew me, however. I misread their pitch, “promote your book for free worldwide.”
I thought Amazon, through some electronic sleight-of-page, would do the promoting. I’d burned out digitally and had no problem signing a three-month exclusive with Amazon while I deciphered Nook, Smashwords and all the other publishing platforms.
What was I thinking? “Promote your book for free” meant Amazon would forego their cut for a few days so you could drop your price to zero and land some traffic.
I felt a stupid, but even worse, I’d signed up based on a lack of self-confidence. I loathe putting myself out there.
But what the heck? In for a penny, in for a pound. I set the price at $0.00 for the holidays and went to sleep.
On December 23, I woke up, signed onto Amazon and saw the screen above, ranking Later Bloomers #3 under Biographies and Memoirs — Historical, right behind Ben Franklin (who’s featured in my book) and Harriet Tubman. It doesn’t get any better.
In the UK, I ranked #2 under the same category. I also made #3 under Motivational in both stores.
On Christmas Day, I raised the price as mandated by my KDP Select agreement. Unbelievably, Later Bloomers stayed in the top 50 for its categories, but that won’t last.
The rankings resulted from luck, timing and my choice of Amazon categories. I wish I’d not jumped on the KDP Select bandwagon, because keeping Later Bloomers free might have been a better long-term strategy. But I can rectify that in three months, and I’ve learned to keep business and self-esteem issues separate.
In the end, I couldn’t be more pleased. Later Bloomers is the first book of four. It has done its job. Now I have to do mine, and write the others!
- Jane Friedman has an excellent guide here.
- Catherine Ryan Howard shares a how-to on her blog.
- Leonie Dawson writes here about compiling her best blog posts into a print book.
- I highly recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors Self-Publishing Center.
Many thanks to everyone who helped with promotion: Twitter and Facebook friends, #MyWANA tribe, and my phenomenal readers, reviewers and subscribers!