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Why You’re Not Making Money With Your Book, And What To Do About It

You spend weeks pouring your heart and soul into a book. You sweat blood over who to choose to design the cover for your book. You spend another couple of weeks proofreading and editing it, or a couple of hundred dollars (likely more) having someone else proof and edit it.

You publish the book to the Kindle store, announce the publication to your blog, and then…two months later, you’ve made maybe $20 from the book. If you’re lucky. What are you doing wrong?

Nothing. I hope. If you are one of those opportunists who has written an e-book on a topic about which you know nothing just because it happens to be a popular Google keyword, you’ve done everything wrong. More on that later in this post.

But, my Pollyanna alter-ego likes to believe that everyone who reads this blog has a high ethical standard, and therefore if they have written a book, they have written a piece of fiction themselves, not hired a ghostwriter to do it, or a non-fiction book about something in which they actually are an expert. So as I continue on, I assume that such is my audience. (Yeah, I know what they say about the word “assume.” But since it’s ME ASS sticking up when I’ve got my head in the sand, U have nothing to worry about! 😉 )

Nothing online is easy anymore

Twelve years ago, you could start a website and be getting a ton of traffic (and making a full-time income from that traffic) in just a few months by simply consistently publishing articles to that website. Today, it’s next to impossible to make a full-time income with a website or blog unless you’re willing to spend several hours a day building up a social media platform, writing kick-butt articles for other high-ranking blogs so you can link back to your own, and contorting your brain trying to get the SEO right – or paying someone else to do it.

Similarly, six or seven years ago, it was easy to make money in the Kindle store. You didn’t even have to have a popular blog with a large readership to market your books to. Relatively speaking, there weren’t a whole lot of books published digitally through Amazon, so those that got on the train right away made good money.

Now…nope. Uh-uh. And here’s the reason: a whole lot of greedy people have taken overpriced courses (put out by other greedy people) that teach you how to make tons of money from Kindle by writing – or having ghostwritten – books about popular online search terms.

Never planted a bean in your life? No problem! Just do some research online about vegetable gardening, semi-plagiarize from a bunch of websites about the topic, and write a book on vegetable gardening as if you’re a Master Gardener! In debt up to your eyeballs and don’t care as you swipe your credit card to buy a brand new smart phone? Doesn’t matter. Read a couple of books on personal finance, take some notes, then write your own fifty-page book that promises to tell readers how to be out of debt in five years or less!

Better yet, go to one of those outsourcing websites and have somebody write the book for you. You only have to pay them a fee once, but then you get to reap the royalty over and over again! Isn’t that cool?

It’s unethical bullshit, is what it is.

But this is why real writers, who truly have experience in the topic they are writing about, struggle to make money on Kindle. Everybody and their brother has published a book about gardening. Everyone and their brother has published a book about weight loss (including some fat people, I’m sure). They’ve published a book about speed-reading, personal finance, veganism, the Paleo diet, making money online…the list goes on, and on, and on.

This glut is why you’re not making money from your Kindle book.

Four ways to give yourself an edge

I’m not going to give you the panacea for all book-selling ills. Even if you do all the things I’m about to suggest, you still may have a hard time making decent money from a book. But they can, and probably will, help. That said, here are four ways to set yourself apart from the mediocre competition.

First, write well.

By many of the self-published books I’ve read on my Kindle, I have to conclude that the proper use of commas is no longer taught in schools. I’ve noticed this even in books that are otherwise well-written and interesting reads.

Fiction authors repeat pet phrases that get old, and sometimes have no clue about how to evoke emotion, or even move the plot along without getting bogged down in boring backstory. Misplaced modifiers and adverbial phrases are common even in traditionally published books, and more rampant in Indie-published ones.

Non-fiction books are often written in a dry, monotone style. It’s much worse among the “authors” of what I call “Google keyword” books, but even those who are writing about a topic in which they have a genuine interest, even passion, end up with a book that lacks style and character.

So, first thing: write well. Be authentic. Use humor as appropriate. When writing non-fiction, use a friendly style (preferably devoid of the “F” bomb). When writing fiction – well, you shouldn’t even be writing fiction unless you’ve either taken a course on it, have read several books about how to do that well and practiced a ton before publishing, and/or are part of a critique group consisting of people who know what they are talking about.

I know, sounds harsh, but I’m trying to help you sell your book.

Second, overdeliver and price modestly.

I recently purchased a book that promised to help my mildly dyslexic son. The writing wasn’t very good, and the author charged $9.99 for a 130-ish page book. The information I wanted, how to help a dyslexic child learn to read, was at the very back of the book and consisted of a no-brainer strategy that I had already learned about in another book.

I returned the book and wrote a not-very-nice review. Yes, I know, what goes around comes around, which is why I generally don’t review crap books. But I don’t like being ripped off. Do you?

If you’re writing non-fiction, provide tips, entertaining (and hopefully also helpful) stories, and useful strategies that are not laid out in either the product description on Amazon or in the table of contents. Give your reader an obviously larger serving of good stuff for their money than the rest of the competition has so far.

If you’re writing fiction, don’t write a 150-page novella and charge the same price that bestsellers like Barbara Freethy do for their full-length novels. You might consider adding an interesting story at the end about what you discovered while researching for the novel, or how a real-life experience inspired you to write the novel.

Make plot twists believable, but riveting. Give at least one character (minor or major) a quirky personality that adds spice and humor to the story.

Third, write a prequel and price it as permafree.

One day, I’m going to do this for several of my non-fiction books. I’m going to write a ten- or twenty-page article that relates to a book, promote the full book on the topic at the end, then publish it and price it at free.

“But Amazon won’t let you price books for free!”

Yes, they will. First, publish it through Smashwords or Draft2Digital. You can price books for free at these distribution websites (they catalog your books at online bookstores other than Amazon, such as the Barnes and Noble Nook store, for a piece of your royalty per sale). Then, publish it to the Kindle store and price it at $0.99. When your book is showing up in both the Kindle store and in the Nook store, send Amazon an e-mail with a link to your book in Nook and politely ask them to change the price of your book to “free”. They will.

There are a lot of cheapskates out there. Like me. We are constantly looking for books to read for free. Consequently, many more people download free books than purchase books with a price tag on them. But when you provide an awesome article or short e-book loaded with helpful content, some of those cheapskates will actually turn around and buy the related book that you promote at the end of your prequel.

With fiction, it’s easy. Write a series that is four to six books long, and set the first book in the series as permafree. You might balk at the idea of giving away something that you worked so hard on, but believe me, this works. I was hardly selling any of my novels until I took the first books in each of the two series I currently have available (more coming!) and made them permafree. Then my sales skyrocketed!

Fourth, be willing to pay for marketing.

These days, everyone who gets to the point of making a full-time income from their writing at least occasionally pays for advertising. Yes, you can try Facebook advertising, but that boat has sailed. So many authors are trying to sell their books there that you don’t have much of a chance of your book’s advertisement being put in front of very many eyeballs.

The most common way authors market their books today is via author-to-reader e-mail lists, like BookBub and BookGorilla. You either discount the price of your book for a period of time, or promote a permafree book. For a fee dependent on the number of people on the mailing list, you can schedule your book to be featured in one of those e-mail lists. BOOM! Whereas you may normally only get a couple of hundred downloads a day of your permafree book, it will spike up to a couple thousand – maybe more – on your promotion date, leading to greater sales of your non-free books in the future.

Again, no guarantees. The authors who make the most money are persistent and consistent. But these four tips should help you increase your e-book sales, no matter what else you do or don’t do.

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