GUEST BLOG: M. Louisa Locke on Selling Your Kindle Book

7 Tips on how to sell books on Kindle

First of all, why should you listen to me, an unknown author, tell you how to sell your book on Kindle? A little more than a year ago, I was a semi-retired professor of U.S. Women’s history who, besides a few academic articles, had never published a thing. What I did have was a manuscript of an historical mystery I had written 20 years earlier, based on my doctoral research on working women in the late nineteenth century. In the 20 years after writing the first draft, while I pursued my teaching career, I found an agent, collected rejections, lost an agent, published briefly with a small Print on Demand (POD) press, rewrote the manuscript several times, and I was now giving the book one more chance. I also owned a Kindle, which I loved. After serious investigation, I decided to publish my book, Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco, as an ebook with Amazon and Smashwords, and in print through CreateSpace. I paid for a cover design, but put the book up on Kindle myself. That was December of 2009.

Since then, I have sold over 9000 books, the vast majority of them from the Kindle store. I now average 55 books sold a day, and I am making enough money that I have retired completely to work on the sequel, Uneasy Spirits. When I started, I had no particular expertise and no fan base, but I did have access to a world of advice being put out daily on blogs and websites hosted by indie authors, designers, editors, and marketers. I found that when I put their advice to work, was patient, and persistent, it paid off. Here are some of my tips distilled from what I learned from others and my own experience. 

Tip #1: Think about selling from the buyer’s perspective. When a reader goes to buy a book in a traditional bookstore, they either go to the store looking for a specific book because they have heard about it, or they browse the shelves and tables in the store and discover a book. Then they either buy it or they don’t. As an author of an ebook, you need to figure out how readers are going to find out about your book or find it among all the more than 800,000 books in the Kindle store. Then you are going to have to do everything to make sure that once they have found it, they buy it.

Tip #2: Hang out where readers of Kindle books hang out. While you can promote your book through traditional means (print reviews, book tours and signings, mailed postcards, conventions, business cards), increasingly this is a world where potential readers hang out in cyberspace. They find book reviews on blogs like Mysteries and My Musings that specialize in reviewing the genre they, they look for lists on line (Cozy Mystery List or Historical Mystery Fiction), they “like” the facebook pages of their favorite author or favorite subgenre (Mystery Most Cozy), they follow twitter #tags, they join reader sites like GoodReads, and they subscribe to blogs and groups that cater to Kindle owners like KindleBoards, Kindle Forum, Kindlechat, or Kindle Nation Daily.

As an author you need to go to these sites, sign up, become active, and participate in the conversations. Most of these sites let you put up a profile picture, and if people begin to see your face, they will begin to feel like they know you. Your voice in a comment or a guest blog post or a Goodreads review will tell a potential reader if they think they will like your perspective on the world. Your customized signature, with links back to your author website and or blog, and small pictures of your book covers, linked to your Amazon product page, play the role of your business card. The more times a potential reader runs across your name and your book titles, the more likely they will decide to put that name and book title into their search bar when they are looking for new books to download.

Tip #3: Besides having a well-written and edited book, your cover design, interior design and formatting are the most crucial elements to success. If you are going to shell out any money out front-this is where to spend it. If the cover looks home made, or you can’t read the title and author in a small thumbnail, or if the cover doesn’t convey the type of book it is (thriller, cozy, etc), then the reader isn’t going to make the effort to find it, look at, it or buy it. If the book is hard to read and has lots of formatting errors in the excerpt, they will also take a pass. If you have the technological expertise or design experience, you can do this yourself, but if you don’t, this isn’t where to skimp. There are lots of freelancers out there with reasonable rates. See a recent post on do’s and don’ts of cover designs or the blog by Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer

Tip #4: Make sure your book is ready for prime time before you start to promote. Your product description needs to be well-written, your excerpt must be available, and you should have at least 4-5 reviews written by professional reviewers (not just friends and family members). There are more and more websites, blogs, and enewsletters that are willing to review ebooks, and with Kindle gift certificates you can easily send a free copy to a reviewer. Most professional reviewers will then go on and put their reviews on Amazon. However, it is a good idea to have a print edition (POD) to send to those reviewers who insist on this.

Tip #5: Make your pricing competitive. Go to the specific categories in which your book will show up and look at prices of your competitors. If you aren’t a big name with a new release, $2.99-3.99 is probably the safest price point for genre fiction. While 99 cents is ok for an initial offering, in order to get a bump in sales to send you up the rankings, you really have to sell a lot to make up for the loss of the 70% royalty Amazon gives for books between $2.99-9.99. For example, if you look at the vast majority of other books in the historical mystery category, they are $6 and above, often for books that have been out for five or more years. This means there is a good chance they have either already been read by the buyer, or simply seem too expensive for an ebook, when the paperback or hard cover book may be only a few dollars more (or sometimes even the same or a lower price than the ebook. What are those traditional publishers thinking???) No wonder I am out-selling those books.

Tip #6: Don’t make your big promotional push prematurely. Banners on Kindle sites, promotional packages on Kindle Nation Daily, paying for an ad blitz, or promotional contests, can cause a temporary bump in sales. But only if everything else is in place (see tip #4. If the book ranking is too far away from them top 100s in the rankings of any sub-category, a temporary bump isn’t going get the book up high enough in the rankings to self-perpetuate the sales. One of the wonderful things about self-publishing is that you have time. Time to tweak your cover or book blurb, time to get those book reviews, time to correct errors in the text, time to build your readership and your rankings. Then spend the time and money on the big promotional push.

Tip #7: Use Amazon’s browsing capabilities effectively. If you were selling your book in a traditional bookstore, you would hope that the buyer would find your book by browsing the bookshelves. They would have the best chance of finding your book if it was on one of the bestseller or bargain tables at the front of the store, or had a little “staff recommends tag” on the book on the shelf. What would be awful would be if your book wasn’t shelved in the right place, so the potential reader looking for a good mystery to read, didn’t find your book there because it was shelved in general fiction, or romance.

What is truly wonderful about publishing on Kindle, is that your book will be recommended or find its way to the bestseller table along side the traditionally published books at no additional cost or personal contact with the bookstore.

First, when a buyer goes to the Kindle store, if they have purchased book in your category, your book may show up in the list that says “Recommended for you.” Or, your book can show up on the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” list at the bottom of the screen. I’ll never forget when I went to look for an Anne Perry book--the star of Victorian mysteries—and found my book on that list!! If you sell enough books, Amazon will actually send out little emails to targeted customers saying that they think they might like your book. Talk about free promotional support!

Finally, if your book sells enough and has good enough reviews, your book can make the over all top 100 ranked books on Kindle (I have made it to the 200s, so I have hope) or more likely, it will make it to the top 100 in a sub-category (as I have in historical mysteries) and be called a best seller. Readers browse through those best sellers looking for books to buy. If you make it into the top 10-20 books in a specific sub-category, this means if someone browses in that category that your book will pop right up on the screen, ready and waiting for an impulse buy.

But none of the above is likely happen if your book can’t be found in the right browsing categories. As an indie author, this is your responsibility. When you upload your book you have five choices of browsing paths. Think carefully, but inventively. If I had just listed my novel in the main category, “mystery & thriller,” Maids of Misfortune would be competing against 32,000 other books in the Kindle store. But if I instead chose the sub-category of “mystery,” my book would then be competing in a group of 8000. Better odds, but still not great. When I went even further, and chose an additional sub-category, “women sleuths,” my book now is in a category with 5300 other books, giving it even better odds of being found. However, when I put in the right tags on my book as well, for example the tag “historical,” and the buyer puts that tag into the search box, because 5300 books is still too much to for them to browse though, my book becomes one of only 446 books listed. Bingo! In fact if you do that today, Maids of Misfortune comes up number one.

Check to make sure that your combination of five browsing categories and sub-categories and the tags you have listed gives you the most competitive advantage. Initially, because of a computer glitch, Maids of Misfortune didn’t show up in the historical mysteries sub-category. I still sold books, but not that many of them. Once I got this fixed and got my reviews in place (tip #4) and lowered my price (tip #5), I did my one big promotional push-got my short story on Kindle Nation Daily shorts (tip #6), and Maids of Misfortune ran to the top of the historical mysteries category, where it has been ever since, my sales success began.

So, time, patience, persistence, attention to my 7 tips, and, of course a well-written book, and the Kindle store can be a great place for indie authors to sell books.


Iva P. said…
Mary Lou, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. A very helpful post!
Dee DeTarsio said…
Great Tips, Mary Lou! Thank you for sharing and thanks for writing--I love Maids of Misfortune and can't wait to read your next one!
bookgeek said…
As a reader and buyer I wish every author would read this blog over and over again and start with #1 twice over!
And I would also add a #8 "It is very smart to offer your book for non-Kindle-readers as well via Smashwords and as a print book. It aggravates non-Kindle-readers like nothing else if they see great reviews and can't get at the book (except reading glued to their computer)."
Zetta Brown said…
Thanks for the tips! Especially when it comes to narrowing the category for your book. And congratulations on your sales :)
Great post. One note is that you only have two choices of browsing categories now for new books or if you make changes to your existing categories. But really, I have found that the keywords and tags are the key - it doesn't always map from what you select for categories to what you'd expect it to be when browsing. I'm not sure anyone knows for sure how Amazon assigns a book to a browsing list.
Excellent tips! Never thought of a couple of them. Thank you!

Paula said…
Thank you for your advice.
Ellis Vidler said…
What a great and generous post! I expect to have a book out before too long and I really need to learn these things. And I have Maids of Misfortune and hope to start as soon as I finish my edits.
Thank you!
Earl Staggs said…
Excellent tips, great advice, and very kind of you to present them. I hope to follow in your petite little footsteps very soon.
Excellent post!

I'm just now trying to figure out how to use the category selections to the best advantage for my books.

Thanks and continued good luck!!!
Bob Mayer said…
Thanks for the tips. We learned a lot of them the hard way, by trial and error. I've posted a lot of reviews on Goodreads but haven't participated in blogs, so I'll check that out. Thanks.
Cindy Sample said…
Thanks for blazing a wonderful path for the rest of us to follow. These are great tips. Especially regarding the browsing categories. I'm going to check on that right now. Does anyone know if there is a humorous mystery category?
G Thomas Gill said…
Wow, terrific advice. The points on not promoting too early and making sure your book is professionally edited struck home. Thank you for sharing.
Marja said…
What great advice, and how generous of you to share the information. Thank you!
jenny milchman said…
Great, specific tips--I have saved this post for future. I wonder how much (if any) this would be changed by being published by a major house. The price point seems to be a particular bone of contention...

Thanks for sharing, and congrats on your success!
Thea Atkinson said…
how wonderful to have all the right things written in one post that took me at least 4 months to learn...from trial and error.

many thanks
Anonymous said…
Excellent advice. So helpful. And inspiring! Thank you.
Jackie King said…
This was a wonderful post! Thanks so much for your generous sharing. And I MUST say that I LOVE "MAIDS OF MISFORTUNE!" A combination of my favorite things, cozies and historical mysteries! Looking forward to your next book.
Jackie King
M. Louisa Locke said…
I wanted to thank everyone for their very generous comments. It was great to know that people found my tips useful.

I hope I will see some of you over at my blog, the Front Parlor, in the future

M. Louisa
Great post! Thank you so much for sharing this information with everyone. I am going to have to go and see what I can do to get my own book, Vampyre Kisses, seen by more people.

<3's and Fangs,
Elizabeth J Kolodziej
I wanted to take the time to thank Mary Lou for her wonderful tips and for taking the time to share them with us. Her ideas are going to help lots of authors, including myself.

And a big "Thank You" also to all of you who stopped by and offered comments or just visited.
Maryannwrites said…
Thanks for the great tips. This information was most helpful, and I saved the blog for future reference.
Catherine Stine said…
This is an incredibly helpful post. I just posted on my blog about a successful trade author who is epubbing his out of print titles:
I am now compiling other success stories, and, if it's okay with you, I may put a link to this post on a future post of mine on this same subject!
Judd Exley said…
Brilliant. Quite simply brilliant, and a very, VERY valuable post for anyone looking to do this.

You may not know it yet, but you may have just made a real mark on they kindle world.

Well done!
Wonderful advice. Thanks for sharing. I've got a number of books on Kindle and I'm guilty of poorly designed book covers. Yikes!

My Pug At The Beach book (print & ebook) has a professional cover but my poetry books and my liner notes books do not. My new Pug At The Beach book has a cover designed by a pro though and now I'll have her make new covers for those other books.

Jackson Dunes
Pug At The Beach ~ LIfe lessons from an island dog who is part Dalai Lama, part Jimmy Buffett, and a whole lotta fun!
Richard Bauman said…
Thank you for sharing this information with us. So far I've only scanned your tips, but from what I've digested you're tips will help many of sell our books on Kindle. Also, I wish you continued success with your writing.
So informative. This advice makes me believe I can get my books completed and for sale. Thank you for the inspiration.
Thank you for this great post. Very helpful and eye-opening. I've just started the process of putting my book on Kindle.
Anonymous said…
Excellent article. Having just published my novel in paperback and on Kindle, this was particularly interesting to read. The links are also a great source of information.

Kathryn Brown
Unknown said…
These are great. I'm researching how to market on Kindle because I've just committed to selling my first novel (still in the drafting process) as an ebook. This is invaluable, and I really respect people like you who take the time to help others with your experience.

I might go look into your book, too; I love history and a historical mystery is something new to me.
Tess Hardwick said…
This was a great post. Thanks for sharing all of this with us. I'm cheering for you here in Washington for your book to get to the 100's! Good luck and keep us posted.
LT said…
Thank you so much! Our second book is going on Amazon and Kindle and Smashwords - your advice is perfect!
Catherine Bybee said…
Yep... that's about it. And yeah, being in the top 100 of a sub genre shoots sales high.
Duane Gundrum said…
Excellent advice, especially the cateogry suggestions. I've had a couple of books on kindle for a few months now, and my sales have been dismal as I've yet to figure out how to take advantage of this type of marketing. To be honest, I never even thought of how the categories might actually be hindering my sales, rather than helping.

Thank you for offering this advice.
Thanks for the advice. Very informative.
Morgan Mandel said…
Thanks so much for sharing. I'm going to keep this all in mind with Forever Young, my work in progress, and also see what I can do about increasing sales on Killer Career, my current romantic suspense.

Morgan Mandel
WS Gager said…
It always stuns me that people are so generous with their information. I'm gearing up for my third book launch and want to do it in a big way. Will be rewriting my marketing plan thanks to your advice!
Victoria Dixon said…
This is SO helpful. Thank you for posting it! I'm bookmarking this for future reference!
joey said…
Those are some great tips. Very nice and informative post. Thanks for sharing them.

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This is the Wonderful advice. And This is an incredibly helpful post. I agree with you, When a reader goes to buy a book in a traditional bookstore, they either go to the store looking for a specific book because they have heard about it, or they browse the shelves and tables in the store and discover a book.Thank you for sharing this information with us.
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Anonymous said…
Great information, thanks for sharing. I will definitely be bookmarking this post.
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Anonymous said…
Thank you so much! What a great help you are, Mary Lou!
kindle said…
Very interesting site. Hope it will always be alive!
ginger sinsabaugh macdonald said…
Thanks. This seems like a bigger task than pooping out the manuscript!

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