When I first moved out to Seattle and got a job working at Amazon, it was like a dream come true. I’d always been so passionate about reading, and I loved my Kindle. I think that’s part of what landed me a job, actually.
Working at Amazon for four years was a roller coaster thrill ride, and I learned so much there every single day! I spent my days working with digital content, resolving issues and helping Kindle publishers get their books onto the platform. Eventually I even got to be part of the team which set and enforced the eBook quality standards for all of Amazon.
Who knew I’d get to use that expertise years later, when I started writing and formatting my own books? Below are just a few of the things I learned while working there. I hope they’re as helpful for you as they were for me!
1. Typos and punctuation mistakes are the kiss of death, and not just with customers.
You already know your books should be edited to look professional, but did you know Amazon will ask you to fix things or sometimes even take your titles down if the quality is too low? For example. As part of the team which set the definition of what eBook quality meant at Amazon, we were dedicated to finding and removing content which was so full of errors that the reading experience suffered. Ebook customers expect (and deserve) a professional product, and they hate books that look amateurish. Don’t let your reviews suffer, or even worse, risk having your books get yanked: spend the money on a proofreader.
2. Don’t neglect your ad copy!
You finally wrote the perfect novel. It has an amazing plot, an awesome cover, and it’s been professionally edited. One problem: Your detail page suffers because you’re not good at writing marketing copy. It’s a very different skill set from story writing, and one that you’ll want to develop as an independent author. This will kill your sales because the detail page is the second thing a customer looks at after your cover. Make sure your promotional page is every bit as compelling as what you’re selling!
3. Keep it simple, sweetie.
Formatting is an annoying beast to battle. Mobi or ePub? HTML or Word doc conversion? Scrivener can be really handy for this, but no matter how you do it there’s one universal truth about formatting eBooks: The more complicated your book is, the harder formatting it correctly will be. This can include having images, using math formulas, alternating your fonts, inserting HTML snippets, or anything else out of the ordinary. For the best odds of publishing successfully, always follow these best practices, or even better, keep your book in plain text or basic rich text with minimal bells and whistles!
4. Categories matter.
People will only buy your book if they can discover it. When you select categories on Amazon, your book will be ranked against all other books in that category. If you choose just one, general category like “Romance,” you’re competing against every other Romance book out there for customer attention as well as every book in each of the Romance subcategories (since they inherit their parent categories). Make sure that you have appropriate categories for your title and that your cover and ad copy match the style of the category your book is in. People search visually through book covers, and every category has its own quirks, so you need to look the part. The same advice holds for keywords, as well.
5. Experiment! Fail fast.
Putting a self-published book out there is the same as embarking on a business venture. You have full control of your product. Use it! Like with any new business, don’t be afraid to try unconventional things and see if they work for you. You can always change back. A few examples:
- Is your book not selling as well as you’d like? Try a different cover or a different title. Change your categories. Even experiment with your author name! Did you know that some categories sell better when the books feature female authors, and some sell better with male authors?
- Break your epic novel up into sub-novelettes and sell them for a third of the price each, and then offer the compilation at a discount (this achieves price discrimination).
- Have multiple books published? Give one away for a while to drive awareness!
Working in software, we used to call these types of experiments “Test & Learn” efforts. You put something out there, see how it affects your sales, and then make a decision to move forward. The best way to get quick data on whether something works for you is to try it out!