Lessons Learned From 15 Minutes Of Amazon Fame

Lessons Learned From 15 Minutes Of Amazon Fame

“In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” ~Andy Warhol

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.

Incubate Inspiration

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.

In September, Roz Morris released her book My Memories of a Future Life on Kindle as four novellas. Her serialization harkens back to Dickens and I loved the retro future aspect. She details it here.

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’s done its job. Now I have to do mine, and write the others!

LaterBloomerCover_v03b-e1354863200178

More Resources

Goddess Leonie writes here about compiling her best blog posts into a print book.

Catherine Ryan Howard has published three books since Mousetrapped. I just downloaded her Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing so I don’t reinvent future wheels. You can find the same information on her blog.

Many thanks to everyone who helped with promotion: Twitter and Facebook friends, #MyWANA tribe, and my phenomenal readers, reviewers and subscribers!

42 Responses

  1. Lynette M Burrows
    | Reply

    Debra, I think it’s pretty fantastic. May you have continued success for 2012!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks so much, Lynette!

  2. Daniela Gitlin
    | Reply

    Fascinating! And marvelous. Congrats!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Daniela. It was a trip!

  3. DianeCapri
    | Reply

    This is terrific, Debra! I’m soooooooooo inspired!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      I’m so glad, Diane! You’ve got such a great series going with Judge Willa and I know you’ve got some surprises planned for next year.

  4. Fabio Bueno
    | Reply

    I’ve learned so much from this post. Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge with us, Debra.
    There might have been a lot of free books during that period. I believe yours landed on the top 3 by its virtue. You’ve earned it. Congrats!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Fabio! But I do believe the goddess Fortuna was smiling on me too 🙂

  5. Karen McFarland
    | Reply

    Wow Debra, you’ve had an awesome experience. And for all your hard work, I’m so happy this happened for you! Thank you for sharing this with us. This self-pubbing, e-booking stuff isn’t easy to figure out. Everyone seems to be having extremely different experiences. I don’t know what to expect. But I really appreciate your post today. Thank you Debra! 🙂

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Karen, you’ve summed up my post in a paragraph. At this point, I think there are as many paths to self-publishing as there are books. Not a bad thing. Follow your intuition and don’t be afraid to experiment!

  6. Eve,
    I love it!
    You can now and forever say, your book was a best seller on Amazon. That’s a great thing to have in your back pocket.
    I published my first Kindle book on October 1st. It’s not a best seller but it’s been steadily selling. I just lowered the price to 99 cents (thank you again for buying a copy). When I lowered it it boosted sales even more. I have two more books coming out in the next month or two. My plan is to use the books to get people to my blog to by the other products I will be offering.
    I ordered my Kindle Keyboard today! I can’t wait for it to come so I can read your book too!
    By the way I started another blog: Write a Book and Book More Business. It is about self-publishing. I share information and tips there for self-published authors. Come on over when you have a chance.
    Best wishes for more and more awesome success in 2012.
    Angela

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Hi Angela, I’m now convinced that having one book as a “free leader” is a great promotional tactic. And if you have a blog, it works in a feedback loop. Thanks for stopping by! I’ll definitely check out your new blog.

  7. Cathy | Treatment Talk
    | Reply

    Hi Debra,

    Congrats – that is exciting that you were in the best seller list! I’m just at the point where I’m ready to upload my first ebook to Amazon as well as my blog – so really great to have your information. It’s nice to read about what others have done with self publishing.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Cathy and congrats to you, too! Please let me know if you need any help with the formatting/uploading process.

  8. Marianne
    | Reply

    Congratulations, Debra! I’m so happy for you. You are wonderful inspiration! Keep going!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Marianne. I’ve still got a long haul ahead, but comments like yours keep me going!

  9. Catherine Ryan Howard
    | Reply

    Very interesting Debra! I’ve been using KDP Select strategically over Christmas and of course I’ve had plenty of downloads (the book is free) but it remains to be seen whether or not that will help or hinder me in the long run. Still, January should be a busy month for e-books (6 million new Kindle owners, apparently!) so hang in there!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Hey Catherine! I agree — it’s just one grand experiment right now. But exciting. I was one of your downloads :). Thanks for sharing your knowledge so openly on your blog. I look forward to reading Self-Printed.

  10. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Hi Debra,
    Later bloomers certainly do Bloom…..here’s to a very Big 2012…..are you up to it?…..I’m sure that you are.
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Debra Eve
      |

      The challenges have just begun, David, but I do believe I’m up to them. Happy New Year!

  11. Louise Behiel
    | Reply

    well done. and best of all, it’s out there – for people to purchase into perpetuity. that’s so cool. thanks for sharing. I’m going to release a novel in january. same way. no promo not much of anything. Just get it out there. then I’ll do the free thing a few days after the second book is released. can’t wait.

    thanks for the encouragement

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Sounds good, Louise. I do believe Catherine’s on to something with her “tipping point” observation: Just get it out there. I’ll be looking for your release!

  12. Julie Hedlund
    | Reply

    Wow Debra, that is an amazing story! I am going to follow your posts with interest about the self-publishing process. I keep thinking I want to post a compilation of travel memoirs and/or guide on traveling with children. Good on you for being a brave pioneer! 🙂

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Julie. I love what you do and and would highly recommend giving it a try, especially the traveling with children idea. I haven’t seen much written on that. It’s a fantastic experience. Just uploading my book Amazon was so satisfying.

  13. rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy
    | Reply

    Thanks for the mention, Debra – and interesting to see your experiment work so well! I’ve been experimenting with KDP Select this Christmas as well and am taking regular screenshots and pinching myself. No idea how the results will translate yet, but it’s fun! Amazing what we can do if we seize our courage. Good luck for 2012

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Roz! You were a great inspiration. I planned to wait until I had a larger body of work, then realized after reading your articles that what I do lends itself to serialization. Congrats on your KDP success too!

  14. Serena Dracis
    | Reply

    Great work, Debra! I’m working on my third career…best-selling author! Going to be my best yet, and almost as much fun as cuddling a cheetah! So I guess I’m one of your later-bloomers too. Your book is on my Kindle, looking forward to reading. Great advice, thanks for sharing it!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Serena, my favorite psychopomp, you’ve had such a fascinating life, I’m just waiting for your memoir! Thanks for stopping by.

  15. Marcia Richards
    | Reply

    Congrats, Debra! Your post is so helpful and inspiring. I should be ready to self-pub in early March, wish it were sooner though. Good luck with your sales…may they sky-rocket!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Marcia. We’re all in for the long haul, so whatever we learn and share along the way will bring us a step closer to success.

  16. coleen patrick
    | Reply

    Thanks for sharing–this is great information! I wish you much success this year!! 🙂

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thank you, Colleen. Here’s to the great year for us all!

  17. Natalie Hartford
    | Reply

    It’s really amazing to read people’s different experiences with amazon’s KDP and getting your name out there – strategies and lessons learned. Very useful – thanks for sharing and here’s to much success in 2012!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Natalie. It is amazing how different everyone’s experience has been! Much success to you, too.

  18. farouk
    | Reply

    such a great insight
    congrats on what you did 🙂

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thank you, Farouk!

  19. Karen A. Wyle
    | Reply

    Thanks for the post!

    How/when do you choose categories?

    • Debra Eve
      |

      During the uploading process, Karen. I think on the second or third screen. You’re presented with a list that more or less follows the left sidebar on Amazon under Shop by Department, Books, Kindle Books. I’ve been seeing a lot of category manipulation recently. People are placing their books into non-competitive categories so they rank #1 there. I don’t think it will help them in the long run.

    • Karen A. Wyle
      |

      Thanks for the info!

      Is there a way to review and modify categories for a book one has already uploaded?

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Sign into your Kindle Direct Publishing Dashboard (http://kdp.amazon.com/). Choose “Bookshelf” at top left. Click on your book. On the first page, see #3 “Target Book Customers.” Click on “Add Categories.” Amazon currently allows only two categories, so you’ll have to remove one before choosing another if you already have two. It will take about 24 hours to reflect the change. Good luck, Karen!

  20. Tony Tovar
    | Reply

    I think its great how everyone who has published a book on Amazon Kindle Store wakes up in the morning to see what the results were over night. I’m guilty of that too. To your continued success,
    Cheers!
    @Nichemonger

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Tony! Things have changed with the Amazon algorithms now, as I’m sure you know. I’m planning to go out with my second book in a few months. It will be interesting to see what happens.

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