Self-Publishing on Amazon: 4 Crucial Tips for First-Time Authors

Guest Post by Savannah Cordova

 

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Self-publishing a book on Amazon is a big step for any author, but especially if you’ve never done it before. No matter how much research you’ve conducted or reassurance you’ve gotten from friends, putting your book up on Amazon is always an intimidating process — there are so many little details to remember, and therefore many little things that can go wrong.

Luckily, there are also concrete steps you can take to insure your self-published book as much as possible. And while no single measure will guarantee a successful launch on Amazon, doing all of these things will certainly maximize your chances! Here are four crucial tips for authors who decide to self-publish on Amazon, covering everything from uploading your files correctly to planning your marketing approach.

Tip #1: Polish and upload your manuscript effectively

Before you even think about putting your book on Amazon, you need to get your manuscript and cover in tiptop shape. Not only does this mean writing the best book you possibly can, but also hiring an editor or proofreader to sweep for inconsistencies and errors — not just proofing it yourself or asking a friend. Paying someone else to do the job, someone whose livelihood depends on their abilities, is a much safer bet than trusting inexperienced eyes.

You should also invest in a professional book cover design. Repeated tests have shown that a professional-looking book cover gets you way more clicks on Amazon, and you don’t want to lose up to 50% of potential buyers just because of your cover! So bite the bullet on the cost and get that gorgeous cover for your book.

Once you are absolutely, 110% sure that your manuscript and cover cannot be improved, you’re ready to prepare your files for Amazon. As you may already know, the Amazon Kindle Store uses MOBI files. This means that no matter what kind of file you upload, it will be converted to MOBI — which can have adverse effects on your formatting. So before you upload, ensure that your file is already a MOBI to prevent Amazon from converting it.

As for your book cover image, pretty much all you need is for it to be 1,000 pixels tall x 625 pixels wide, in the form of a TIFF or JPG. If one doesn’t work, try the other — the cover upload function can act up sometimes, so you may need to re-upload a couple of times.

Tip #2: Optimize your description and keywords

With your files safely uploaded and looking beautiful, you’re ready to write the description and set the Amazon keywords for your book! The more you can optimize these elements, the easier it will be for your readers to find you, and the more sales you’ll make. Annie’s already touched on how to write a great Amazon product description, but here are a few things you can do in terms of keywords specifically:

  • Try to get into your target reader’s head

It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many authors go straight to using keyword tools rather than thinking about it from a human perspective. Simply imagine that you were a reader looking for a book like yours, type all the keywords you can think of into Amazon, and check which titles are ranking for each keyword. If they’re similar to your book and have decent rankings, you can bet that’s a strong keyword, and you should add it to your own details.

  • Focus on high-traffic, low-competition keywords

Of course, though you want to be using some of the same keywords as your competitors, you’ll benefit even more if you can find a few niche keywords with high traffic but low competition. If lots of people search for a certain term, but not too many books are actually a good match for that term, this could be your chance to fill a gap in the market!

  • Use Amazon’s ad system to your advantage

This is a tip for after you’ve put your book up on Amazon, but it’s just as effective (if not more so) than trying to optimize your keywords beforehand. Once you’ve made some sales, you can go into your KDP dashboard and “create an ad” — but instead of actually setting up Amazon ads, just check the suggested target keywords for the ad that you would make. Amazon will tell you exactly which words and phrases readers have been using to find your book, meaning you can go back into your description and re-optimize to capture even more readers.

Tip #3: Weigh your options with KDP Select

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the various pros and cons of enrolling in KDP Select, the program that offers various promotional opportunities in exchange for Amazon digital exclusivity. As in, while enrolled in KDP Select (which lasts 90 days), you cannot sell your eBook anywhere other than Amazon — though you may distribute print copies if you wish.

The KDP Select program has several concrete benefits, including:

  1. Free and discounted price promotions, which help you get tons of downloads and gain visibility by ranking on two different types of lists (the free store and the paid store on Amazon).
  2. Having your book on Kindle Unlimited, which is basically Amazon’s “Netflix for books” that allows subscribers to pay $9.99 a month for unlimited ebooks. Authors take home a very small percentage of royalties from this (only about $0.0044 per page), but the massive exposure to millions of KU subscribers and subsequent rankings boost makes the actual payout more or less irrelevant.
  3. 70% royalties in extended territories such as Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico, as long as your book is between $2.99 and $9.99 (though with non-select, you still get 70% royalties in most Anglophone territories).

Of course, the program has drawbacks as well. For example, KDP Select is great for reaching readers in the US and UK, where Amazon overwhelmingly dominates eBook distribution — but other countries like Canada and Australia have a much less autocratic ebook market, with companies like KOBO and Apple Books taking 20-30%. Though this is still less than Amazon’s share of the market in those countries, it’s enough to potentially hurt you if you go Amazon-exclusive for your book launch.

You should also steer clear of KDP Select if you’re trying to get onto bestseller lists other than Amazon’s. Not many people know this, but one of the prerequisites for lists in publications like The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, etc. is that you sell your book on multiple retailers — i.e. Amazon exclusivity is a deal breaker.

The takeaway here is that only you, the author, can decide whether or not KDP is the right path. Carefully consider both sides, and whichever you choose, keep track of what works and what doesn’t so you can make an even more informed decision with your next book.

Tip #4: Prioritize getting reviews

Finally, once your book is up and selling on Amazon, you have one goal that should take precedence over all others: getting (legitimate!) five-star reviews. Naturally, five-star ratings in and of themselves are important, but you also want to have as many people as possible leaving written reviews on your book’s Amazon page.

Why? Because you have to anticipate poor reviews and have a buffer in place just in case. Nothing pokes holes in a buoyant Amazon ship like a burst of one-star ratings, and nothing sinks it like a one-star review, especially if it’s the only review on the page. The more glowing reviews you have, the less likely that a potential customer is going to see that one-star review and decide that your book isn’t worth their time.

To that end, maximize your reviews by asking everyone you know to leave one, publicizing your book through your email list, and utilizing promotional sites and services. Of course, you should never pay FOR a review, or even “review swap” with another author — if Amazon suspects anything fishy, they’ll come down on you hard.

But don’t worry: promoting your book in other ways should lead to plenty of organic reads and reviews. And while you can’t guarantee that everyone you ask will leave a review, the more work you put into this stage, the more reviews you’ll get out of it.

So there you have it: polish your book, optimize your keywords, calculate your odds with KDP Select, and focus on reviews. No matter what kind of book you’ve written, these tips should significantly contribute to your self-publishing success… and perhaps even equip you to make a name for yourself in the cutthroat world of Amazon.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She’s very interested in the self-publishing industry and where it’s headed. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

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10 Tips for Improving Your Amazon Product Listing

Anyone who sells anything on Amazon is familiar with the many rules, guidelines and, peculiarities of writing their product listing page. It can be very confusing and sometimes sellers can have their pages suspended if they do something wrong. Often it takes a while to sort out exactly what the seller did wrong and ends up costing her sales.

Over the last 2-3 years I’ve written hundreds of product listings for clients and have developed a list of best practices when approaching a listing. If your page isn’t doing well or not converting the way you would like perhaps these tips will be helpful.

The Tips

Follow the rules. This means character limits, formatting, verboten words, and promises. Did you know that the only punctuation allowed in bullets and titles are commas and semicolons? Or that you aren’t allowed to put sales and/or discount information in bullets or titles? While you may flaunt the rules and seem to get away with it, eventually the Zon catches up with you and you risk having your listing suspended.

Reduce your keywords to 5-7. The urge to want to use as many keywords as possible is often irrestitible, but you should try to resist anyway. The truth is, if you have narrowed your focus to your ideal customer, you shouldn’t need more than 5-7 keywords. And no matter what anyone tells you, consumers do not read keyword stuffed copy. For good reason, it usually makes no sense.

Search reviews of your own product and competitors with similar or the same product for benefits, phrasing, and language that will resonate with your prospect. You may even find inspiration for an awesome headline. Look for phrases, features and, benefits that come up repeatedly in the reviews – these are the things that are resonating with the consumer or your product. Also, check the headline on the reviews, they may spark a great idea for an awesome headline.

Never, ever, ever, ever pay for reviews. This includes review swapping (I’ll review yours if you review mine), hiring ‘services’ that will do reviews, etc. Amazon has really cracked down on phony reviews in the last couple of years and in fact are suing several parties who were selling Amazon reviews. If you have fake reviews on your account you risk being banned from Amazon. They are that serious about it. This article about paid reviews you may find very illuminating.

Don’t waste bullet points on guarantees or bonuses. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bullet points that talk about bonuses, sales discounts, and guarantees. It’s a waste of a bullet. There is ample room elsewhere in the listing to mention these items. And if you can’t come up with at least 5 benefits of your product perhaps you are selling the wrong product.

Stop using ALL CAPS. Ditto on stars, check-marks or other fancy symbols that you think will make your copy stand out. In fact, ALL CAPS when used in the Internet means you are yelling at a person. Do you really want to yell at your prospect? Honestly, these marks and symbols don’t do anything to highlight your product and it looks amateurish.

Don’t waste your product description. Many sellers spend all their time on titles and bullets and then just toss a generic paragraph of unimpressive sales copy down in the product description. It’s an absolute waste of space to do that. Your product description gives you the most room to really regale your product and speak directly to your prospect. Use your product description to take your prospect through the sales cycle, all the way to the call to action.

Ideally a product description should have: An attention getting headline that speaks to the prospects problem; A second para with appropriate subhead that regales the features and benefits of your product and how it solves the prospects problem; A short bullet list; Your guarantee and bonus (if you offer one) and; A call to action.

Educate yourself on copy writing. Whether you write your own copy or hire someone to write it for you, you should know the basics and understand the elements that need to be in your copy to be effective. An excellent (albeit huge) reference on copy writing is Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. It is available for purchase and though the price is prohibitive I highly recommend it. If your funds are limited you can probably find a used copy or even check it out at the library.

Stop making your copy about you. I hate to break it to you but there isn’t a prospect anywhere on Earth who cares about you—they care about themselves. They are considering your product because it will potentially benefit them. Your copy has to be about them, their problem, their pain and a solution to said pain or problem. Your product listing has to clearly show your prospect what’s in it for them.

Slant your copy toward your ideal customer. No matter what your product is, there is NO product on Earth that is for everyone. While everyone may be able to use your product it doesn’t mean they are looking for it or want it. You need to do your research and determine who exactly does need and want your product. Kitchen gadgets are for people who love to cook, entertain and nurture others. Health products are for people who are health conscious or are trying to solve a health issue. The bonus here, is that the more specific you are in narrowing down your ideal customer, the more you will sell and the more your listing will appeal to those people.

How about you? Have you had a hard time figuring out how to write your listing? Did you eventually learn what worked and what didn’t? Feel free to tell us your story or share your successful tips in the comments below.

The Flip Side of the Amazon Debate

the flip side of the amazon debateThere has been an enormous amount of press about the dispute between Amazon and Hachette books and its authors. By and large the media has sided with Hachette and has done (seemingly) everything in its power to guide public opinion against Amazon.

In the spirit of fairness I offer the following links to articles that go against the tide of  ‘popular opinion’ to give critical thinkers at least a fighting chance to form an opinion about the situation. Konrath and Gaughrin say.

Full disclosure: As a diehard capitalist who believes in the free market and as an indie author who thanks God every day for the likes of Amazon, I am decidedly not with ‘popular opinion.’ I simply don’t believe that a handful of ‘traditional publishers’ should have the right or the power to determine, what we read, what we pay for what we read and what authors are worthy of publication. As always, I side with readers and writers. I believe that readers should have access to as many books as can be published, regardless of publishing format and that they shouldn’t have to pay through the nose to feed their habit. Call me crazy but it seems to me the free market, which enables the consumer to decide is the best of all worlds.

But that is as eloquent as I can get on this topic. Read the articles at the links which do a much better job than I at making the argument.

Writer Chick