It’s been a year since I self-published my last Kindle book, Build Your Anime Blog. But every month, I still get a check for it. Same goes for Otaku Journalism, the book I published back in 2013. I’m not getting rich, but I appreciate an extra $40 every month for work I did years ago.
I’ve told you about some geek business plans that remain intensive as long as you choose to keep them up—like affiliate blogging and launching a consulting company. But selling a book is uniquely low maintenance. While writing it takes a lot of time and effort up front, after that it continues to make money for you as long as people are interested in buying it.
Here’s my book-selling process, from start to finish:
Test your book idea
That’s right, I recommend telling people about your book before you even begin.
If the purpose of writing your book is to sell it on Kindle, you’re going to want to write about something that will sell. You can find out whether you have a good idea in a number of ways. Otaku Journalism was the same topic as my blog, and I knew that if I had readers for the blog, I would have readers for the book, too. For my second book, I conducted a survey with the question: “If I wrote another book, which of these topics would you be most likely to purchase?” Anime blogging was number one, so I developed a book idea the following year.
I test my ideas for two reasons. Firstly, there’s no use doing any work if it isn’t a book idea people are interested in. Secondly, if people are interested, letting them know I have a book in the works has a second purpose—accountability. Once I’ve floated the announcement out there, I know I have to make good on that promise to my readers and friends.
Plan and write your book
I know, easier said than done. Otaku Journalism took me two years to finish, and most of that time was spent doing other things and saying “I should really work on my book someday.” (This is one reason I should have tested and told people about that book in advance!)
That’s why planning is the most important part. The more structured your book schedule, the easier it will be to do the nebulous writing part. My mentor Steven Savage says that he uses detailed bullet lists “I outline everything in bullet-point blurbs until I know where everything in the book will go down to the sentence.” That might seem extreme, but Steven is extremely prolific, self-publishing at least two books each year on top of a full time job.
For me it’s helpful to brainstorm every possible related topic the book could cover, divide those into chapters, and then divide each chapter into 6 or 7 sections. As a journalist, I’m used to writing pieces I can finish in one sitting, and sections are a very accurate gauge of how much I can finish in one writing session. They’re long enough to help me convey one of the main points of my chapter, and long enough that I feel accomplished when I finish one. Writing a book still sounds daunting, but writing a section per sitting makes it manageable for me.
Format the book for publishing
I do all my writing in Google Drive, but when I’m finished the first thing I need to do is get it out of there. If I try to create an ebook from a Drive file, I’ll just end up with something glitchy.
So the first step of my process is to transfer the manuscript to Microsoft Word. This is where I do all my format checking. I clean up bullet-points and check that there isn’t a page break between a chapter title and its first line of content. I also create a linked table of contents to each chapter title, a feature that will carry over to my finished manuscript.
Once things look good in Word, it’s time to port the file over to Calibre, a free e-book converter. Calibre easily adds metadata to my book (the title, author name, book cover file, and other data that Amazon will need to make my book searchable) while converting it to the .MOBI format that Kindle requires. This whole process takes maybe five minutes.
Next, I use Kindle Previewer, Amazon’s own tool for making sure your manuscript looks good on a variety of Kindle devices and apps. If I didn’t have this, I’d have to just check on my own Kindle device (an Android app, currently) and guess on the rest. Using this tool, I have a really accurate idea of what my Kindle book will look like no matter how it is accessed.
Sign up with Kindle Direct
When the book looks good, it’s time to upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This is the portal Amazon offers to self-published authors who want to upload books to Kindle.
Each time, I go to Create New Title and follow the steps. It’s a pretty intense process, so set aside at least half an hour for it. This is where you mock up the sales entire page where people will navigate to buy your book.
This is also where you choose a price for your book, and I strongly recommend that you pick a price between $2.99 and $9.99. When you do that, Amazon lets you choose to earn a 70% royalty option for your book. So if your book sells for $9.99, you pocket almost $7 on every sale. This is leagues better than any traditional book deal, and why selling on Kindle is great.
It takes 24 hours for my book to appear in the Kindle store after that. I might spend that time promoting my imminent book sale by scheduling a newsletter, or tweeting, or making sure my Amazon Author Page is completely up to date.
Sell your book
Once your book is live, it’s time to watch the sales come in. KDP updates daily, so you can check in the morning to see how your book is doing.
One thing you’ll want to do is encourage your early buyers, likely your biggest fans, to write reviews on your sales page as quickly as possible. (This is why some authors give out free book copies in advance). For some reason, getting at least 10 book reviews as quickly as possible seems to be important to Amazon’s algorithm, and determines just how hard it’ll promote your book in the Kindle store. This part of the process isn’t really my expertise, so I recommend you check out Nathan Meunier’s free book on selling more Kindle books.
Publishing Kindle books is a small but rewarding part of my income. I love being able to share a bigger message with my readers than a single blog post can hold, and it’s great knowing that it’ll stay relevant and profitable for a long time.
If you have individual questions about self-publishing, post them in the comments. I’m sure there’s a lot more we can discuss.
Photo by Zhao on Flickr