Music to my ears: When Thom Kephart, Community Outreach Manager for Amazon.com, spoke to the Publishers + Writers of San Diego on January 25, he hammered home his most critical bit of advice to authors: Hire a professional editor.
“I’ve seen more authors fail from lack of editing than anything else. Don’t have your family and friends edit your book,” Kephart said.
I hope writers are listening. I’ve been beating this drum for years, as has Karla Olson, president of PWSD, and other stalwarts of the organization.
As expected, Kephart—in his second presentation to the organization’s membership—talked about Amazon and its publishing arms, CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). All useful information for those new to the realm of indie publishing. I appreciated his efforts at trying to achieve a degree of objectivity when he could have been a total shill for Amazon. At one point, he recommended that authors look beyond the CreateSpace service offerings and templates for editors and book/cover designers.
“There never has been a better time to be an author, and never a harder time to be an author,” Kephart said.
He explained that while he doesn’t see authors as direct competitors of one another, he acknowledged that there are only so many readers, and those readers now have more choices than ever before.
One-fourth of the top 100 books sold by Amazon in the U.S. are indie published; in some countries the percentage is higher. But those authors didn’t achieve that by accident; professionalism is a must.
“People buy books because the books are good, not because of who published them,” Kephart said. “Most readers don’t know who publishes the books they read.”
That’s why, as an editor, I liked best his comments directed at indie authors/publishers:
- Write—a lot. He recommended participating in NaNoWritMo because it forces one to write.
- Network—join a writers’ group(s) and participate in the activities; for example:
- Romance Writers of America
- Mystery Writers of America
- International Thriller Writers
- Publishers + Writers of San Diego
- In the San Diego area, also check out:
- And let’s not forget Gutsy Indie Publishers on Facebook as a good networking opportunity and resource.
- Edit—“I cannot emphasize this enough.”
- “Authors tend to spend more money on a nice cover than on editing.”
- “I’ve seen more authors fail from lack of editing than anything else. Don’t have your family and friends edit your book.”
- Kephart gave an example of a woman whose book got trashed in the reader reviews. She contacted Amazon to find out what she could do about all the bad reviews. (Nothing.) The “editor?” Her mother.
- He recommends multiple rounds of editing, at least 2-3 times, and get it professionally proof read.
- An audience member recommended SD/PEN, San Diego Professional Editors Network as a resource. Also check out the Editorial Freelancers Association.
- Plan—writing the book is not enough; you need to plan for how to sell the book.
- Identify and engage your audience.
- He pointed to best-selling author Hugh Howey, saying Howey engages his audience in both his writing and marketing. For example, he had fans audition to be the reader for the audio book.
- Use appropriate keywords/SEO (search engine optimization)/description in every online presence and meta data. Today, this includes the cover and title of the book.
- Get advance reviews—get the book reviewed and obtain blurbs before the book is published, and use those on the cover and in the book.
- Enter awards competitions—enter your book before it is published, where possible. E.g., Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. In San Diego County, the San Diego Book Awards recognizes unpublished novels and memoirs. “This is a good feedback mechanism,” Kephart said.
- Identify marketing vehicles—how will you market and promote your book?
- Amazon’s KDP now offers a Countdown program as a promotional vehicle to help authors sell more Kindle ebooks. For a limited time, the book is offered at a discount, with the price rising as the deadline nears.
- In a follow-up email, Kephart told me the Amazon Daily Deal “is curated based on a number of factors, some of which include sales, customer reviews, and other criteria (seasonal selections, for example).” Authors have no control over nor input into this program, other than how they price their books.
- Kephart mentioned a number of online services useful in promoting a book:
- Bookbub (Note: this is not a free service, and I have heard mixed reviews from authors, some praised it highly, others said it was a waste of money. I looked at it and chose not use it for Dare I Call It Murder?, but for another book I might reconsider.)
- Tumblr (not a blog, an application)
- Blogs—Kephart said people 35 and under don’t read blogs
“I can’t tell you what makes a book sell,” Kephart said. “No one can. It’s all about hand selling, . . . connecting with your audience.”
- Distribution—this is one of the hardest things for indie authors/publishers to achieve, Kephart said.
- CreateSpace’s distribution options are now all free, including the expanded distribution program. However, if using one’s own ISBNs (which Kephart recommends if publishing more than one title), the author is excluded from distribution to libraries and academic institutions. For that, one needs to directly contact distributors, such as Baker & Taylor. [Or go through Lightning Source/Ingram Content Group—I will address distribution in a future blog post.]
- Speaking privately after the presentation, he told me that books sold through the CreateSpace Extended Distribution program via Lightning Source are printed by Lightning Source, not CreateSpace.
A member of the audience asked: What percentage out of 100 indie authors will actually make money?
Kephart said the number is small but growing. “Hugh Howey is one in 500,000.”
A few years ago, he knew of only four indie authors who had quit their days jobs and were earning a living by writing and selling books, but the number has grown to more than 100. Those that do have multiple books. “You need a lot of books and good distribution,” Kephart said.
- Amazon’s goal: make every book available in 60 seconds or less.
- Kindle books are now outselling print books.
- Kindle owners buy 4.6 times more books; they also are buying physical books; many own both the ebook and print edition of the same title, and they take advantage of Amazon’s Matchbook program, which allows those who bought a print book to buy the Kindle version at a discount.
- Author Central—use it! A free service to authors offered by Amazon.com.
- The Look Inside feature is automatic, but it takes a week or so before implemented.
- CreateSpace has three printing facilities:
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Lexington, Kentucky
- Ontario, California
And by the way: “The drone program does exist,” Kephart said.