Training #296 – Hot Seats and Ask Us Anything
In this training, we started out by going over the brand new Children's Book Formula training for new and existing members, and then covered the newly licensed Expert Media Show episodes in Apex Authors. We also talked about the increasing sales in the poetry categories on Amazon with the rise of Instagram.
We did hot seats for Lindsay Harvey's puzzle book, Ann Pashak's children's book, and Edymar Ablan Pacheco's children's book.
The topics that we covered include Amazon Advertising, selling puzzle books, advertising in foreign marketplaces, specifying what appears in your Look Inside and the difference between Kindle and Paperback Look Inside, comparing your book to other books in your niche or genre, cover optimization, using templates, whether reviews appear in more than one marketplace, whether to use US or UK spelling, whether you should open a different KDP account for different genres (and the answer is No! though you can have different pen names in a single account), transferring books to a new KDP account such as when selling the rights, editing source files and adding illustrations before converting to MOBI, adding illustrations into Word Documents, blending images on cover graphics, finding keywords for your books, categories with keyword requirements, and a few more topics I wasn't quick enough to record.There were a few questions that we did not have time to get to:
“How do you get your book to have a Look Inside?”
The Look Inside should show up automatically within a week after your book is approved by KDP (for both print and digital.) If it hasn't shown up within that week, then just send a message to KDP Support with the ASIN of your book or your book's URL and ask them to activate the Look Inside for it.
“Please speak about the quality of Amazon's print-on-demand books with full bleed. Years ago, they were not great quality — left a wide white strip down the center of each set of facing pages.”
I haven't printed a full bleed book myself for a couple of years with images extending across the two pages (they've all just gone to the outside edges lately) but I have not noticed that as a problem. The quality isn't quite the same as you would get with an offset press but it's been fine and I've never gotten a complaint about it.
“Would you think of approaching brick and mortar stores locally?”
I sold my first print book through a few local brick & mortar stores. They purchased from me and I had them shipped from CreateSpace and then delivered the copies myself. These days, I'd print the books through IngramSpark in order to get them into the catalogs and just have them order them directly. (You can also use the “Expanded Distribution” option from KDP Print but I find that having the extra pricing control and not being associated with Amazon directly helps me make more profitable sales outside of the Amazon ecosystem so I prefer using Ingram.)
“So am I correct in assuming that our books are shown organically in the UK and US but if you want to run ads in these countries you need to do this completely separately?”
You can choose where your book is sold when setting the pricing in KDP, it's the second screen after you start uploading your book. If you chose that you have “Worldwide Distribution Rights” then your books are probably already available in all of Amazon's marketplaces, but you can drill down and specifically choose which territories to sell in and separately you can drill down and set separate pricing in each of the local currencies so they match what people expect to pay for books there (rather than relying on the automatic conversion from USD.)
For advertising, you can currently advertise in the US, UK, and Germany. Click on the “Promote and Advertise” button next to your book listing in KDP and it will give you links for where you can go to sign up for each of those platforms. You will need to treat them all separately, though you can use the same Amazon account to sign up for each one.
“As a new starter what sort of advertising budget should we consider if it is to be effective?”
For Amazon Advertising, decide how much you can afford to carry over or cover for a period of a few months, because you'll have to pay your credit cards the month after you make a sale but you don't get paid for those sales until two months after. Generally speaking, Amazon won't use your entire budget (unlike Facebook ads) so as long as you keep your bids low it's not too difficult to break even or turn a profit, especially if you have a series of books and know how much a customer on book 1 is worth in the long run.
To play it safe, start out planning to spend $5-$10 per day. Once you have some profitable ads, start raising your daily budget on those ads. Just this morning, I was going over our ad performance with Jay, and we only had one ad that was reaching it's daily budget of $100 (I set most of them at $200) and there were 2 or 3 ads that were between $10-$20 and the rest of the ads all spent less than $3 each. We would LIKE to have Amazon spend as much as they want, because we are getting almost 150% return on investment, but they won't spend that much. So we just have to keep creating new ads and try to make it up in volume.
But, you want to make sure the ads are profitable before trying to scale up.
“Re: children's books, is there any benefit on having a female or male pen name?”
In some genres, probably, though there are always exceptions. For most children's books, however, I don't know that it matters that much. Looking at my shelves (I have a 4 and 7 year old) we have just as many books by male authors as female authors.
That said, I know some folks that put a lot of thought into their pen names in order to have a name that matches their genre and “fits in” or that use an androgynous pen name so that they can build a following without having to worry about a stigma that a male or female pen name might bring.
“How do I know which categories have less competition?”
There are a few methods, all of which come down to checking the bestseller rank for the top books in a category.
The first (manual) method is to open up the first book and 20th book in a category and see how many copies the first couple books are selling versus the bottom of that first “page” of results. A better bestseller rank for the top books means more copies are being sold, but a lower bestseller rank for the 18-20th books in a category means there isn't as much competition since those books are not selling as much. (Just watch out for books that are obviously miscategorized and ignore those.)
You can get a quick glance of what the best selling categories are each month by checking out our Kindle Bestseller Mindmap (available in the Children's Book Formula and Apex Authors members areas) which is updated almost every month and includes a smiley face for the categories selling well.
The best method is to automate that process by using the Book Research Rocket (available in the Apex Authors members area) which will grab the bestseller ranks for every book in a bestseller list automatically as you browse Amazon without you having to click into them all individually.
“Why do some books have only paper back or hard cover and not Kindle? Is there anything going on there with that?”
Depends entirely upon a publisher. If the book is traditionally published and is relatively new, the publisher might be trying to make more money off of their paper copies and only making a few formats available at a time with a later launch to come. Or they might just not want to create books in a specific format.
For small and independent publishers (like us), you'll find most books have Kindle and/or paperback versions available because you can set those up cheaply using KDP and KDP Print. You'll need to use a different printer such as IngramSpark if you want other formats such as hardcover. Check out Training #288 – Printing Physical Books for more info.
“Can I write about a series such as Frozen if I don't have copyright or Disney rights to do so?”
Can you? Yes. Should you? Depends. Would I? No.
If a character or world falls under copyright, then publishing something using that character leaves you open to getting sued by the rights holder. It may not be worth their time and effort to do so, or they may just ignore it because your book might actually help them sell their own intellectual property and they may not care, but it's probably best to get permission first.
One example that Jay uses quite often when asked this question is to point at all the Minecraft books on Amazon. Microsoft owns Minecraft, but to date has not made them take their books down (best case scenario) or sued for damages (expensive scenario) and the books sell really well. There are also frequently books such as “The Unofficial Guide to Harry Potter” or similar books.
Personally, there are plenty of opportunities to sell books using my own intellectual property that I wouldn't risk a lawsuit by using somebody else's unless I got permission from them first.
In the case of Disney characters, I'd always recommend against it because they are pretty much solely responsible for the continual extensions of copyright laws that have happened over the last 50+ years in their efforts to keep Mickey Mouse copyrighted despite the fact that it should have expired decades ago. (Though it wouldn't much matter as they'd still have the trademark.) It has been years since I watched it, but there was a great documentary about how Disney has lobbied for copyright changes over the years…you can find quite a few videos talking about it on YouTube.
“When it's a book series is that you can increase the price and when it's a single book is worth less?”
There are a few different ways to read that question, so I am not answering your question correctly I apologize. Your book is worth whatever you are willing to sell it that the market is also willing to pay for it. Whether the book is in a series or is a stand alone doesn't really matter.
I know a guy who was getting coached on how to self-publish and got to the point on a holiday weekend when his series of short stories were ready to publish, but his coach was on vacation so he wasn't sure what to price them at. Had his coach been around, he'd probably have recommended that he sell them for $0.99 each since they were so short, but he put them up at $2.99 or $3.99. They sold hundreds of copies before his coach got back, so they wisely didn't lower the price as they were getting great reviews and continuing to sell really well.
A common strategy is to price the first book in a series really low ($0.99 or even free) and to make the second book relatively cheap ($2.99 for example) and then price the rest of the books in the series at a higher price (such as $3.99 or $4.99). The first people is to hook people into your story, the second book is to convince them to fall in love with your characters, and by the time they get to the third book they aren't price sensitive because they know they can trust you as an author by that point.
I recommend watching Training #170 – Book Pricing Brain Dump for more information about pricing strategies.
“I'd like to hear if anyone has experience with very thin journals (essentially little to no spine) and how buyers respond to them.”
I've only done one book that is like a journal, and had a page for every day so it was actually a pretty large book with a thick spine and was pretty expensive to print.
From what I've seen, though, I think that you'll be fine with a smaller spine and if you are using KDP Print to produce your books may actually be better off because it'll be easier to lay the book out flat and write in it. One problem w/my journal was that it was so thick it was hard to keep it open while writing (though that's a personal observation and not a complaint that I heard directly from anybody.)
Play around with different trim sizes to see what works best for your journal. I think 40 pages for your book (which is geared towards book clubs that read 12 books a year) is a great size and there's no real need to add a lot onto that. You might want to add a few pages for notes or prompts for people for each book, which could pad it, but there's probably no need to go beyond 60 or so pages.