Beyond the ‘Zon
Building a diverse income stream in the publishing industry.
A workshop by Alexis Anne
What if I told you Amazon wasn’t the only place to sell your books? And that sometimes you can sell better in other countries? Or that there are other ways to reach new readers other than flinging yourself into the Amazon and social media void? Three years ago I was fed up with being just another author in a sea of authors trying to be seen. That’s when I got a piece of advice that completely changed the way I looked at my books, helped me break out, and to grow a diverse stream of income over several book retailers.
“Stop focusing on Amazon.”
The most obvious marketplace for an author is the Amazon.com store in the good old United States. It’s the biggest, filled with the most voracious readers, they sell more books. But it’s also the easiest place to get lost in sea of books. It’s a lot like trying to become an Olympic athlete in six weeks. There are a lot of people who swim, but very few make it to the Olympic games, let alone medal. And certainly not overnight.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy swimming, or even enjoy competing and improving. I used to live in a town that was the triathlon center of the universe (okay, that may be a bit extreme, but it was close!) and you know what? Most of those athletes weren’t twenty year old phenoms. They were thirty, fifty, seventy-five. They trained and they loved their sport. Many of them made money doing it, had sponsors, taught others how to do what they do.
My point here is that you don’t have to be “the one” and you can’t expect it to happen instantaneously. Which brings me back to the advice I got. Stop focusing on Amazon. Meaning, stop focusing on the Olympics when you haven’t even done a local race.
As an author you need to ask yourself who else is reading, aside from those US based Amazon readers. Where is the ebook and indie market just starting to catch on? It’s easier to “break out” and be seen when you’re one of the few authors instead of one of thousands.
There’s also more places to sell your books than to Kindle readers.
- Who is reading?
- Where are new markets emerging?
- How are they reading?
It is easier to break out in smaller and new markets.
Who are the players?
- Radish & Wattpad
- Overdrive & Libraries
In the publishing world we’ve paid a lot of attention to the music industry because, like ours, it has gone through a massive transformation due to the digital revolution and rise of the cell phone and tablets. And for a long time we were able to look at what was happening in music and know we’d experience similar waves in publishing.
But as we look ahead at 2018 and beyond I believe we’ll start seeing more parallels with the television industry. (Hat tip to author Lindsay Emory for this theory!) Kindle Unlimited isn’t going anywhere and as each of the book distributors grow and change to remain competitive, I believe we’ll see more options available to authors. Similar to the way Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and Starz offer viewers different streaming opportunities and develop projects that are exclusive to their platforms.
I love my Netflix originals, I have HBO almost exclusively for Game of Thrones, and Amazon gives me both streaming of older shows and movies I can watch as part of my package or to purchase and keep, along with original content.
Readers may find similar options in books very soon.
So instead of demonizing the KU machine, we need to start thinking of it as an opportunity that we can use as part of our distribution options. You could fold an entire backlist series into KU for three to six months in order to reach KU’s unique subscriber base. Kind of like watching FRIENDS in between binging a new season of Bosch. Maybe your Kindle readers prefer your sweeter side so you develop a series specifically for your Kindle readers, while your iBooks readers want your steamier side. By targeting readers and matching them up with your content you may find a winning combination!
- Exclusive to Apple devices
- Users worldwide
- Young users (think YA)
- Actively works with indie and trad for promotional opportunities
- US only
- Offer print book options
- Nook app
- Canadian based (now owned by Rakutan)
- Walmart Partnership
- Audio Market
- Overdrive/Library Partnership
- Kobo App
- Actively works with indie and trad for promos
- Google’s answer to ebooks
- Just recently began accepting indie authors again
- On all Android devices
- Promotion tab
- Pricing issues for indies
- app reading only
- uses Candy Crush model of coin-buying for chapters
- actively looking for non-erotic content
- readers are younger and based around the world
Go Direct or Use an Aggregator
If you’re publishing the book yourself you have the option of creating an account with each of these distributors yourself, uploading your content directly, and having total control over your product, or you may simplify things and use an aggregator. The only downside is that they will take a small percentage and you won’t have as much control.
If you choose to go with an aggregator you will want to use either Smashwords or Draft2Digital.
D2D is very involved in the author community and is usually at every conference. They advocate on behalf of their authors for marketing opportunities with the distributors. They also run Books2Read, a universal link creator.
Non-US Markets to Breakout with New Readers
- Australia & New Zealand
- Kobo’s new audio offerings
- iBooks back in the audio game (plus podcasts!)
- More ways to listen (Alexa, iHome)
Usually you write a book, develop a single marketing plan based on the book, and push it out. But in today’s marketplace and with the ever growing readerships based on different distribution channels, marketing needs to be more targeted. It’s not one great book you’re marketing. It’s several different marketplaces that you’re selling your product to and it makes sense to tailor your product to each one. Remember that television idea from above?
You Canadian-based Kobo readers have different needs/wants/desires/opportunities to one-click than your Kindle, iBooks, library readers.
Kobo does a great job with keeping series together, suggesting the next one to read, and giving the reader and idea of how much reading time they’re in for when they pick up your book. Here is my Tease product page on the Kobo website:
iBooks does a great job of getting readers to stay with you. They offer extremely long pre-order windows with no assests required. You can also easily change your release date and add “Sneak Peek” content. They routinely feature “Free First in a Series” books and run seasonal sales. They also feature exclusive pre-orders. Here’s a look at my Tease product page at iBooks. You can see they also do a great job of directing the reader to continue the series.
Nook readers are extremely loyal. Bookbub ads (not features) is a great way to target them!
Diverse Streams of Income
Last year I made more money at iBooks than Amazon. A big reason for that is the series push iBooks provides and the pre-orders they allow me to put up early. My readers know me and they know I’ll put out a good book so they immediately pre-order the next one I have up for offer, allowing me to amass a large number of sales on release day. Plus at iBooks those pre-order sales count double to your rank. Once when they order, and once again on release day, pushing your new release to the top of their paid charts.
But nothing is ever guaranteed and readers have the freedom to change their minds about where they purchase books, so by having my sales split between Amazon and iBooks, and then supported by all the other vendors and affiliate opportunities, I am able to weather the ebb and flow of the industry with a relatively steady paycheck. Here’s a look at my average non-release month breakdown:
Thank you for attending one of my Beyond the ‘Zon workshops! I hope these slides help you on your publishing journey. Remember trial and error is your best friend. What works for one author will not work for you, but by trying different techniques for reaching new readers you will find your magic combination! Good luck!
AlexisAnneBooks @ gmail.com
Looking for more information on the publishing industry or the craft of writing? Check out First Draught. We have a new show available as a podcast or a video on Youtube once every month!