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Here's an investigation that led me to scour the depths of Internet forums to determine whether or not it's possible to make a lot of money being a self-published author. But, above all, you're about to discover a veritable hellish world where anything goes to sell books.
Following a discussion with a friend who has started publishing fiction on Amazon, I decided to see what the indie author community is like.
So I read thousands of posts on forums and entire blogs dedicated to the art of selling ebooks on Amazon and other digital book self-publishing services (Kobo for example).
And I've discovered some amazing things...
Let's face it, the real revolution Amazon has brought to the world of reading isn't really the Kindle.
Introduced 10 years ago with a flurry of press releases and marketing efforts, Amazon's first e-reader was a passable reading device at best.
But the arrival at the same time (November 2007) of the KDP - Kindle Direct Publishing - system really changed the world of publishing, reading and authors.
The idea behind this service is to allow anyone to offer their text for sale in digital format on the Amazon website. In less than 48 hours, your novel, short story or essay is available worldwide.
Anyone with access to Amazon can buy, download and start reading.
And, as a thank you, Amazon pays the author 70% of the money raised by the sale of the ebook.
What Amazon perhaps hadn't anticipated, however, was the exploitation and even abuse of this system by a whole horde of specialized authors with strong marketing skills.
These authors then used KDP to generate millions of dollars by selling texts of sometimes dubious quality - like the famous "Dinosaur Erotica" genre (yes, it exists!) which earned Christie Sims tens of thousands of dollars...
What really surprised me was that, yes, authors have become millionaires by publishing their books, without a publisher, on Amazon.
This is the case, for example, of Amanda Hocking, who decided in 2010 to place her first novel on the Amazon platform.
In just 18 months, she has sold over a million copies of her books, making her the first self-published millionaire on the Internet. Yet most people don't even know her name.
An article in The Guardian newspaper tells this incredible story in 2012 (read here).
In the end, she earned around 2 million euros in just 20 months. An income that would make any professional author dream, so for an amateur it's even more extraordinary.
Since then, Amanda Hocking has been translated all over the world, including into French by a major publisher, and her books are still on Amazon.
A few days ago, the BBC website ran an article announcing that independent authors working in the romance genre have seen their incomes rise. Many of them now earn more than $100,000 a year...
My investigation could have ended there. But there's been a lot of water under the bridge since 2012, and I wanted to find out more...
My research quickly led me to a forum of English-speaking authors under the domain name kboards.com.
Originally, it was a forum for users of Kindle e-readers, apps and Fire tablets.
But it's also home to many freelance writers who seek and share advice, tips and sometimes even complete and elaborate strategies on how to make a fortune with Kindle ebooks.
For, on Kboards forums, participants are rarely looking for advice on how to write a masterpiece capable of changing the world or making female readers cry. What they're really looking for is a miracle recipe for making money.
Let's take a classic forum example. A user boasts that he has published two books and, in just three months, has enough money to quit his job and live off the money earned from sales.
Of course, he writes a trendy genre "NA Romance" which is "New Adult Romance". I'll come back to this later...
There's also the example of the man who earns around 300,000 dollars a year selling his ebooks:
Or the author who explains that his book sales exploded in just a few months:
So it's not always clear whether all this is bogus or not...
But examples like these are plentiful, and the forum is full of topics on how to sell your books.
To sell more and make a lot of money, some people directly suggest using Facebook advertising to promote books.
Complex strategies are then implemented. For example, if you have a series of 3 books, you make the first one free for a while, then create a "bundle" (i.e. a single ebook grouping together the three volumes) which will be sold at a friendly price. Fingers crossed, of course.
Next, we promote the discount - or the free book - on blogs, newsletters and so on.
You can also advertise directly on Amazon to promote your books.
By investing a little money, you can even get downloads that will propel your ebooks into the bestseller category for a while.
But above all, you ask your friends and family, and your "fans", to write a review on the book's Amazon page.
After all, ratings, comments and reviews are a major concern for independent authors who publish on Amazon.
As soon as the system was set up in 2007, two things were discovered:
All these recipes and tips have been passed on from post to post, topic to topic and user to user for years.
So it's impossible to escape these tips if you spend some time reading and participating on the forum.
This is where a second category of users comes into play: those who sell shovels.
Clearly, publishing ebooks on Kindle is like a gold rush.
Topics on the Kboards forum don't always have much to do with writing.
If there are whispers that a particular genre is selling a lot, we immediately start writing a short story to "test the market" (30 pages is usually enough).
If it catches on, we'll launch the writing of a saga in 3 to 12 volumes of novellas (60 to 100 pages) or novels (150 pages or more) on the theme to take advantage of the windfall. Because, yes, you read that right, the recipe for success is to write large series or, more often, trilogies.
The independent author must therefore quickly become an analyst and editor capable of unearthing the latest trends to ride the wave before it's too late...
But, as with every gold rush, there are also those who sell the shovels. And there are plenty of them in the world of self-publishing.
First and foremost, there are the graphic designers, who regularly remind us via incessant promotions on Kboards that this really is the right time to buy their illustrations at knock-down prices.
These visuals will work wonders to sell your books in various categories:
And then there's the site that makes indie authors dream: BookBubs.
This site, which may not mean anything to you, allows you to distribute promotional offers to readers/buyers. Provided the site accepts your ebooks, of course. And for that, nothing beats a nice cover...
I've also found softwares that allows authors to carry out comprehensive marketing studies on ebooks.
If an author wants to write a romance book about pandas (why not, after all), then he or she can use a software to get information on which categories sell best, get an estimate of sales figures and even an overview of how difficult it is to sell a book in this market.
So, by using this software, you may realize that vampires are out of fashion, but zombies still sell (and therefore make money).
And why not turn your futuristic action thriller (because you're a Crichton fan) into a romance if that sells more? Don't laugh: on KBoards, some people really do ask themselves this question.
Finally, there are the inevitable proofreaders.
And, let's face it, this is often a necessary service for indie authors used to releasing several books a year in different genres.
Many of these proofreaders haunt the KBoards forums to offer their services - always with a 20% discount because it's winter, or the new year, or spring, or the summer vacations!
But the must in the career of a millionaire amateur writer is to become a coach to explain to other authors that yes, it's possible, you can do it too. And thus earn even more money.
I've found this to be a fairly regular occurrence, but I'd like to focus on the case of JF Penn. This lady is a best-selling author of supernatural thrillers on Amazon who has suddenly decided to dispense her good advice.
But she uses another name, Joanna Penn, to sell books that explain how to make lots of money by selling lots of books.
Why does a successful fiction writer embark on a career as a coach to explain to others how to be successful too? Is being a writer not enough anymore?
To be honest, I don't have a ready-made answer to this question. But I do have a few hypotheses.
Studying the well-oiled marketing of the JF/Joanna Penn books (you can download some of them for free on Amazon), I've noticed that every free book supposedly explaining how to write better is a foretaste of a paying book.
The pattern seen on KBoards forums (and you can check Reddit too for marketing) remains the same: a good proportion of authors are trying to identify which literary "niche" will enable them to make a fortune.
If a few decide that "advice for authors" is the right niche, we're going to see a lot of books on the subject.
That's probably why there are so many ebooks on how to write a good book, how to manage a detective story or, more crudely, how to write a book to make it a bestseller.
After many hours of me, too, haunting the discussion forums on the subject, I think there are many authors who make a good living from indie ebook publishing.
There are even a few millionaires, that's for sure. We've seen some of them in the press, and others have been spotted and published by mainstream publishers.
But there are also some who are too busy writing and who rarely, if ever, visit online forums.
Somehow, I have the amusing impression of witnessing, first-hand, the lives of pulp writers and other pulp fiction writers of yesteryear.
With the Kindle generation, authors publish their manuscripts directly on the Internet and sell them (or not) without anyone's help.
The fastest, smartest and most assiduous even manage to publish a novel a quarter to support themselves and their families.
But let's make no mistake: for every millionaire, how many authors won't earn more than $100 a year?
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Recognizing the need for an informed and reliable source for eReader-related content, Nicolas created MyEreader.net, where he currently serves as the lead writer. His well-crafted articles cover a wide range of topics, including eReader reviews, comparisons between various devices, tips for optimizing reading experiences, and discussions on the future of digital reading. Read more here
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