Back in the early days of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), people would write a book, upload it to KDP, and then drive traffic to the book… or just hope that people would find it. And, sometimes, they did. Those days are long gone.
Globally, Amazon’s Kindle has published over 2 million books, and a new book is uploaded to the platform every five minutes. So, just slapping a book up on Amazon is not going to get you where you need to be, if it ever did.
Before we get into the different options for launches in the next chapter, there are certain components you should have in place that you will need.
You will want to set up accounts for various platforms. Many people just go with Amazon. If you want to keep the process exceedingly simple, then yes, you can limit yourself to just Amazon and Kindle for both print and eBook formats. Amazon bought out CreateSpace in 2005, and it functioned as the print arm of KDP up until July 2018 when CreateSpace was phased out and print books were brought under the KDP umbrella. You can set up an account by going to https://kdp.amazon.com/.
If you’d like to get wider distribution for your eBook, you can use Draft2Digital which will distribute to (as of this writing):
- Apple Books
- Barnes & Noble
- Kobo (including Kobo Plus)
- Baker & Taylor
If you are doing a print book and want wider distribution than just Amazon, I recommend using IngramSpark. You can upload both print and eBooks to IngramSpark and they will distribute to approximately 20 online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple books.
Just a note: if you have provided any eBooks to Kindle in the past 12 months, IngramSpark cannot provide service to Kindle through their program. In addition, if you currently have content on Apple, you would need to remove any and all titles from Apple in order to distribute to Apple through IngramSpark. This means you would lose any reviews that you have there. You can set up your eBook in IngramSpark to NOT distribute to various platforms so you don’t lose any reviews.
IngramSpark gives you the capacity to be distributed to 40,000 retailers and libraries. This means that you are in their catalog and if a book store or library wants to order your book, they can. Please don’t think that being in the catalog will automatically put you in front of hungry librarians and retailers. There is the possibility that your book will be picked up by a library or two, but you have to work to have libraries notice your book (i.e., contact libraries, tell them about your book, and ask them to carry it).
IngramSpark allows you to set up a wholesale discount for retailers and guides you through that process. Their GlobalConnect program gives you worldwide distribution or you can select specific regions. While IngramSpark is not free—it runs about $100 to upload both print and eBook files, and there is a cost to make changes to a book after it is uploaded, the value is in both the distribution and the actual print quality of the book.
Leverage Your Amazon Author Page
Amazon’s Author Central (https://authorcentral.amazon.com/) is where you create your author page. You can join Author Central if you have a book available on Amazon or if you have one in pre-release. Just go to the page and follow the registration instructions.
Your Amazon Author page is free advertising space on a major site – use it!
Author Central is an area set up specifically for authors. This is the place to put your bio and picture, links to your website, and RSS feeds from your blog or even your podcast if you have one. Amazon will automatically link any books published under your name to this page.
You can also add videos, including book trailers, interviews, or book signing videos. If you have video clips of you speaking, put a few up. Pick out clips that are short (two-five minutes) and that include sound bites that will interest and intrigue your readers.
Once you sign in, your Author Central account opens to your dashboard. The Welcome section encourages you to update your page and to learn more, and beneath that are some short articles for authors basically pushing whatever is new at Amazon/Kindle.
There are four tabs (plus the help function) across the top of the page that will help you navigate. There’s a wealth of help functions within Author Central and a help staff (by phone during the day or email anytime) that is specially trained to help with author questions. For now, let’s explore the main functions of Author Central.
Claim Your Author Page
One of the benefits of having your book on Amazon is the opportunity to have a bio page on Amazon’s Author Central. This is useful for a number of reasons: First, Amazon is huge and ranks well. Your Amazon author page may come up higher in organic searches than your actual website. In one sense, this is bad (you really need to do some SEO work on your site!), but in another sense it is good—your name is coming up on an authority site. It’s also an easy way to reach your readers—they can click on your name when they are looking at one of your books, learn a little bit more about you, see any other books you may have published. It’s one more place where you can connect with your readers and potential readers.
So many people never bother to fill in even the most basic information on their author pages and that is a HUGE missed opportunity. Click to add or edit your biography. Again, you want your author bio to tell about you and your expertise, but also be warm and friendly. You definitely want to upload a picture. If you’re writing under a pen name, you might upload a picture of you, a stock photo (it would be wise not to choose an image of someone who is already famous…), or use a picture that is a good representation of your book (but not the cover). Worse comes to worse, upload a picture of your pet. People love pets.
You can also add “Events” such as upcoming speaking engagements, seminars, author appearances, etc. They can be live or virtual. Most of us don’t think to update the events section (OK. ME. I don’t think to update it), but again, Amazon is an authority site and having your event up there will give you better exposure than just having it on a back page of your site.
The Books Tab
The books tab is where you can find a listing of all the books you currently have on Amazon. If all your books haven’t been linked to your author page, it’s easy to add them in.
Add Your Book(s): Amazon may have your book on your author page already, but if another author has the same name or a very similar name, they may not add a book, so you may have to add it manually. One of the first questions you will see on your author page is “Are we missing a book?” When you go to your author page (or when you first set it up), click the “Add More Books” button if none of your books are showing or if you are missing a book. You can search by title or ISBN, but searching on your name is probably faster if you have more than one book. Just click to add your books – very simple.
The Sales Info Tab
This is where you’ll find numbers for Nielsen BookScan (if you’re selling a hard copy book – it doesn’t aggregate information for Kindle or other eBook platform sales). It does include print book sales from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target (who knew?), Buy.com, and other participating retailers. Walmart and Sam’s Club do NOT report number to Nielsen. It also doesn’t include bulk sales (wholesale purchases), used book sales, or sales to libraries. Nielsen BookScan is used to help determine various bestseller lists like The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. The New York Times bestseller algorithm supposedly uses hard copy sales numbers from certain brick and mortar stores. It may or may not use Nielsen BookScan numbers to some extent. The NY Times is more secretive about this than KFC is about their chicken recipe.
You’ll also find your Amazon Sales Rank under this tab and your Author Rank. You can see if your sales (and rank) are trending upwards, down, or hanging flat. If you’ve published your book and you’re not actively promoting it, your sales and author rankings will most likely be trending downwards. If you’re seeing occasional spikes, check the dates. Did you have a webinar that day or put out a podcast or blog post? Did you send out an email to your list or did someone else mention you on social media? When you self-publish, sales are usually driven by something you actively did. It pays to check back and see what may have driven sales on any particular day or week. (Then do it again!)
This fourth tab is a handy way to check your reviews for multiple books without having to go into each book page separately. Amazon pays attention to customer reviews and the more positive reviews you have, the better. Amazon has cracked down on paid reviews, fake reviews, and reviews by friends and family so your reviews have to be earned legitimately. (That’s a good thing.)
You can provide free or discounted copies of your book to readers, but you can’t demand a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review (i.e., “I’ll give you a free book if you give me a good review.”) It’s good to track your reviews, making sure no troll has decided to leave an unfounded bad review. You can also find helpful tips in legitimate critical reviews—things people wished were in the book or something they didn’t understand. If you’re doing a second edition or just revising, you’ll have an opportunity to improve your book. (Ah, the beauty of POD publishing!)
Get familiar with Amazon’s Author Central. Stake your claim to your author page and use it to put yourself out one more time on one of the internet’s largest platforms. You can set up your author page in less than an hour’s time. Which means you have no excuse for neglecting this. So go do it. Now. 😉
Choose Your Categories Well
If you ever wonder how books with a small amount of sales become Amazon bestsellers, it’s because the book was placed in category where the number one selling book was not selling very many books. There are some categories where the number one bestselling book sells three copies a day. So, if you put your book into one of those categories, then launch and have five of your friends buy in one afternoon (or better, 10), you’ll shoot to the top of the charts… in that category.
KDP/Amazon allows you to choose two categories to put your book in. (Amazon may choose to put your book in additional categories and you can influence this by your keyword choice – more on that in a bit.) Think of categories as a physical section of a book store. You have the young adult section, business books, fantasy, romance, science fiction, children’s books, etc. Categories are the online equivalent of those sections and you want your book to be in a section where your readers/buyers are going to go. When you click the Set Categories button, you are brought to a screen with various types of books: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Education and Reference, even Non-Classifiable. When you click on a category choice, it opens up a drop down menu of more specific categories. Look for the best match for your book and click on that. That will open up another drop down menu with even more specific categories.
You need to know two things when you choose a category:
- Do not choose a sub-sub category and then a category or sub-category above it in the same string. It’s wasting that higher category. If you choose a sub-sub category, your book is already under the category and subcategory.
- Use one category that aligns as closely to what your target market will search on as possible. Make the second of your subcategory choices a sub (or sub-sub) that doesn’t have a lot of competition. That’s going to take a little research on your part. In general, a book ranked at 100,000 on Kindle is selling around a book a day or 30 per month. In order to get to and stay at the top of that category, you will need to sell over 150 books in your first month. It is tougher than it sounds. You may temporarily top the list with a ten sales on launch day, but you won’t stay there for long. Snap a screenshot fast.
If you’re looking to collect bestseller status or that #1 Best Seller ribbon, you want to choose a category where the top 5 books have very low sales. How do you know how many copies are selling? Two ways:
The first is to check the Amazon Sales Best Sellers Rank number. It’s on the book’s Amazon page in the Product Details section.
Then jump on over to https://kindlepreneur.com/amazon-kdp-sales-rank-calculator/
and input the number, without the comma, into the sales rank calculator. A book with an Amazon best seller rank around 4,500 sells about 42 books a day. Sales rank over 250,000? It’s selling less than a book a day.
That’s a lot of back and forth: checking the category bestseller list, clicking through to each book’s page to get the sales rank, then inputting the sales rank into the sales rank calculator.
A faster way to do this, and I recommend this if you’re going to write more than one book, is to use Publisher Rocket.
Rocket allows you to do category and keyword searches and run a competition analyzer to help you figure out what books are in your market and organizes the data so you don’t have to do all the back and forth.
By typing in a keyword, Rocket brings up titles that match the key word, the type of book, author, how many days it has been for sale on Amazon, the Amazon sales rank number (ASBR), whether the book has the targeted keyword in the title and/or subtitle, the daily sales and the monthly sales. Clicking on the “Check It Out” button takes you to the books Amazon sales page.
There are other programs that do the heavy lifting for you. KDSpy and Kindle Samurai are two. KDSpy and Rocket both offer no questions asked refunds; Samurai, though markedly less expensive, only gives you a refund in the case of errors that can’t be fixed within 72 hours. Also, Samurai is not compatible with Mac (without using a third party interface) and while it can do competition analysis, does not give you nearly the information that Rocket does. While Rocket is the most expensive of the three, it does a lot more than the other two. You get what you pay for here.
If you are using a platform like IngramSpark, you don’t have the same set of categories as you do on Amazon. IngramSpark uses BISAC codes, which are the traditional publishing codes and categories for books. If you’re shooting for an Amazon best seller ribbon, you’re not going to be able to drill down to the subcategory level. This means that you will probably need to sell a lot more books to get the best seller ranking because you can’t “cherry-pick” your category. You can search for BISAC codes, but if you want to download the list for your own database, you have to pay. Unless you’re a publishing house, you don’t need to do this. The BISAC codes, for the most part, match up to the Kindle categories, but not the sub-categories or sub-sub categories, so it’s a bit more work to assess your competition.
When you are first uploading your book and all the sales data to KDP, you have a limited number of category options. But Amazon has a dark little secret (Okay… not so secret): Hidden Categories.
How to Find Hidden Categories
Check books similar to yours and see if any are in a category that you can’t find in the drop down menu choices you are given in your dashboard. That’s a “hidden” category.
One of the methods to help ease your way into a hidden category is to use that category name as one of your keywords. In fact, for some categories, you must use that specific keyword or keyword phrase to “unlock” the category. (Other times you just have to guess at what the keyword is that will unlock that category…)
If you can legitimately—and the important word here is legitimately—work the keyword or keyword phrase into your title, subtitle, and/or book description summary, it can help Amazon recognize that your book belongs in that hidden category.
You can also contact Amazon directly and ask that your book be put into a specific category. You need to give them the full category path or they probably won’t do it. So, if you wanted your book to be included in Venture Capital, you would have to show the path:
Books > Business & Finance > Corporate Finance > Venture Capital
There are also restricted categories—Kindle Short Reads and Kindle Singles. Your book can only be placed in these categories by Amazon.
Because fewer people are in these hidden categories, it is easier to move to the top of the bestseller list. And while very few people are searching on these sub-sub-sub categories, doing well in a sub-category gets you exposure in the next sub-category up, and it builds from there.
So, that’s the initial set up work on the publishing side of your launch. Coming next… the marketing side.
Just a note: Some of the links in this post (and on the site) are affiliate links. There’s no extra charge to you and I receive a small commission if you buy through one of my links. Thank you!