In 2013, I graduated from my MFA with no job. I had a handful of freelance editing prospects that would hopefully earn rent money for the summer, but that was it. After that, I was stuck. But I had a fantasy novel I’d written in my spare time, so with hopes of earning a little extra money, I published it through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
I called the book House of Blades, and, in the first week, I was thrilled to have sold eighty copies. I’d priced it at $2.99, my cut at 70%, so I was making roughly two dollars per sale. Of course, everyone I knew bought the book in the first week, so those sales numbers were slightly exaggerated. My first goal was to average twenty sales a week.
When I sold a thousand copies in the second week, I revised my goal.
Two and a half years later, I have seven fantasy novels for sale on Amazon, and I’m writing full time.
My results are not typical, but I can at least offer some tips if you think you might be interested in selling novels on Kindle.
1.) Write a book.
While working on my thesis (a collection of short stories), I had also started novel-length projects, but I had never actually finished one. I was a little ashamed of that, to be honest. I wanted to pursue a writing career after graduate school, so I knew I had to finish something. Unfortunately, every project I had started sucked.
In the summer of 2012, I gave myself permission to suck. I started the first draft of a novel that I was determined to finish, even if it was the worst story mankind ever produced. If you’ve never finished a novel before, permission to suck is what it takes. You have to finish the first draft, even if at 30,000 words, 10,000 of them are “very.” If you’re stuck in the middle of a book, you have to finish it, no matter what. There’s no such thing as half a book. When you’re 75,000 words deep in an 80,000-word book, you have written zero books. It’s not until you’ve typed the words “The End” that you’ve written one book.
But you knew that, didn’t you? Moving on.
2.) Write what people read.
I was working on my thesis at the time: a collection of interconnected literary short stories about a dysfunctional, co-dependent family. I was going to be writing my novel at the same time as my thesis, so I wanted something very different. I decided to write a fantasy novel because I’ve always enjoyed fantasy novels and they seemed like fun to write.
As I found out, the fantasy genre comes with a nice bonus: people actually read it. There’s a host of readers who are ready, eager, and actively hunting for anything new in the fantasy genre. So if you’re looking to sell books on Kindle, it’s best to stick within a well-defined genre with an established audience. Romance, erotica, sci-fi, and fantasy tend to sell best, and in roughly that order.
Amazon is built to encourage this. When you buy books in a genre, Amazon automatically recommends books in a similar genre, and they have some ridiculously narrow categories. For instance, whenever I release a new book, it consistently reaches number one in “Coming of Age Fantasy” and “College and New Adult Fantasy.” Never heard of those categories? Neither had I. But first page in a narrow category is far better than fourth page in a broad one.
3.) Get them in the door (cover, description, first chapter).
With my book, I was writing as a kind of experiment. I wanted to see if I could finish a novel, first of all. Then I wanted to see if people would enjoy reading it. I wasn’t particularly motivated to find a publisher because I wasn’t trying to make a living yet; I just wanted to see if fantasy readers would even be interested in the story I was trying to produce. So I went with Kindle Direct Publishing in order to develop a direct relationship with the readers.
But if I was going to sell a book, I wanted to do it right.
There are millions of books on sale in the Kindle library, and most of them suck. If yours sucks less, you stand out. The more professional you look, the more your book will pop out from the digital slush pile.
The first thing a prospective reader sees when they’re browsing Amazon is your book cover, so don’t skimp on this. Hire a professional graphic designer. There are some pre-made pro covers out there for as little as ninety bucks, but I spent several hundred on mine. It’s worth it. People do, in fact, judge books by their covers.
After they see your cover, they’ll click on your catchy title. Which brings up two things: the book’s description, and a little arrow that says “Look Inside…” Your description is vital, and you should spend time making sure that readers of the genre will be intrigued enough that they will indeed look inside. When they do, they will be able to read your first chapter or two for free. Grab them immediately. Waste no time. They’re deciding whether or not to buy your book, so you have to give them every reason to commit. If you have one compelling scene in your novel, make it the first one.
4.) Send them to your blog.
You need to have an online presence even before you’ve sold a book. That means a Facebook page, a Twitter, a blog, and a mailing list. Put a link at the end of your book so they can find your site.
Once they’re on your site, you have them. This is the first step in transforming a reader into a fan. They’ll read your blog posts, check out your other books, and hopefully check back regularly for new content.
Which brings me to…
5.) Keep doing it.
You have to produce more content. The faster, the better.
In my first year, I released three books in a series, each of which was over 100,000 words. The second year, four more. Now I’m in my third year, and I’m working on my eighth and ninth novels simultaneously.
If it sounds like a lot, it is, but it’s more doable than you think. One or two thousand words a day, five days a week, adds up to a book in a hurry.
That’s it. It’s not terribly complicated. It is, of course, a lot of work, and success is not guaranteed. I’ve glossed over one key point, because hopefully it goes without saying, but the book has to be good. And by “good,” I don’t mean it adheres to an impeccable literary standard, because Lord knows mine don’t. By “good,” I mean people should enjoy reading it, and that’s not something you can know until you write it and let someone else read it.
That’s your goal.
If you have questions not covered here, or if you’d like to chat, or if you hate me and everything I stand for, you can contact me through www.WillWight.com.
I do always respond. Eventually.
Will Wight is the author of seven novels, four ransom letters, and two ancient tomes of forbidden knowledge. He lives in Florida, where he keeps a pair of sea turtles as pets and organizes illegal raptor fights. Check out his site at www.WillWight.com! If you don’t, he’ll know.