You Ever Wonder How Books Make Money
Hmm, so another different newsletter this week only cuz my brain is on fire… mostly metaphorically. I could spend my time talking about all the fucking injustice in my little slice of the world (mostly what I focus on when not writing but I know how oppressively unhappy politics can leave people.) Or I could talk about the mold that has taken over my neighborhood this week. Like, it’s a cloud of spores every time I drive near the house and the rest of the surrounding area isn’t much better. But that just depresses the fuck out of me because I have no idea if and when it will improve. My heart is set to hummingbird, blood pressure is in the pits, and everything hurts. I was in the house for a good couple of week, writing consistently, brain working gloriously, etc, but now it’s back to being in the car seeking little spots of relief.
But hey, I got a car and can find places that don’t kill me too much, and I just got to wait it out. The town where I used to work basically blew up from a giant gas disaster (40 houses on fire) so that was intense and there are a bunch of people without homes in eastern Massachusetts because of it. Mold doesn’t look so bad atm. So I’m talking business strategies today, cuz that’s where my brain is to avoid those other topics. (Ah, avoidance. Such bliss XD) Also, I like this kind of stuff: pattern recognition, problem solving, cause and effect, trial and error, etc. It’s cool beans.
Strategizing a new sales model—aka, a peek into my brain
I hopped onto my Book Report page for the first time in a while (I’ve been ignoring a lot of this shit so I can just focus on writing and getting healthy) and got some interesting numbers with my Amazon sales. For those who don’t know what Book Report is, it’s an app that allows you to view your Amazon book sales and page reads and break it down in a gazillion different ways to understand what is selling and what’s not.
So, the numbers were revealing. Out of 48 books, 6 of them were making over 77% of my Amazon income. Intense. That means I have 42 books just sitting there barely making money. What a waste.
So, a couple main thoughts this resulted in: what is similar about these 6 books, how do these 6 books brand me as an author, and how do I get those other 42 books to start making money? Here’s my breakdown.
1) What do these 6 books have in common?
To figure out why these books are a success, we need to look at a few different aspects of what makes them similar. These aspects aren’t what an outsider to selling books might automatically think. You might be asking questions like how good is the story, or the characters personality, or did each one totally have a quirky best friend; or you might want to know if it’s a horror MM verse a romantic MM. Unfortunately, it’s rarely so deep when it comes to writing. The genre plays a roll, but you need to take into account things like cover design, blurb writing, Amazon algorithms, length, etc. Some examples.
- 3 of these books were KU (kindle unlimited) reads. Hellcat, Demon Bonded #11, and Taken By Beasts. These are my only books enrolled in KU, and they’re already at the top of the income pile. Be it algorithms or just readers unwilling to throw down cash outside of KU when on Amazon, this program generates income.
- 4 of these books are either bundles or collections: Taken By Beasts, Demencious Saga, Apprentice Saga, and Bullying Teacher: the complete serial.
- 5 of these books are between 60,000-100,000 words
- All of them have newer covers verse my old, moldy style
- 4 have newer blurbs with an understanding of genre copy-writing
- 4 have been extensively edited, or written originally in my mold free style, aka, quality of writing is better
- 5 books are paranormal, with Bullying Teacher being the odd man contemporary title out
- All of these books are high heat
- Demencious Saga and Apprentice Saga are books previously to my most recently released Demon Bonded book #11. It’s known that books just released in KU get about a month of a ranking boost before a different set of algorithms kick in, meaning all 3 could be a fluke to watch for.
2) If I had a smaller catalog of books on Amazon, would it be easier for new readers to find these 6 books that are already drawing the most attention? What kind of ‘brand’ am I presenting right now, and would it be improved by only having these 6 books on Amazon instead?
This is a question I’ve been poking at for about 2 years when I realized just how much my brain had been impaired by the mold. And even if it hadn’t been an illness at the root, I think it’s a good question for any author to ask after a few years of self-publishing. What are you presenting to your audience, and is that message clear? When someone sees your name on a book, do they already know what that book is going to be about? Do your stories have a consistency of genre/trope, quality, subject matter, etc?
For the varied author, this might be a terrifying question. What, I’m supposed to only write one type of book? If you enjoy writing a variety of topics, no, but if you’re looking to create an income off your books, fuck yeah. Consistency is important. What do you think of when you hear names like Anne Rice, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, RR. Martin, J.K. Rowling, Diane Steele, James Patterson? If you’re familiar with these main stream authors, you immediately think of the ‘type’ of book they write. The genre, be it horror, romance, political intrigue, vampires to wizards to castles and assassins. If J.K. Rowling came out with a contemporary romance in the modern world, wouldn’t you be confused as fuck? If she did decide to write a book like that, it would be smarter to put that book under a completely different pen name so she wouldn’t water down her wizard brand. Otherwise, you might pick up that new book and wonder why there are so many wizards in the rest of her books.
So yeah, here I am looking at my catalog of books asking myself, what am I selling to people as an author, and is that message clear? Not only that, is what I’m selling what I want to be writing?
Books like Hellcat, The Paranormal Academy for Troubled Boys, and Demon Bonded are series I want to write. I wake up thinking about them, plotting them, wondering what those characters are going to do next. And the shorter fics that you find in Taken By Beasts? I enjoy making those even if I don’t usually write them in groups but once in a while between novels. As for Bullying Teacher, I love everything about that book from the high heat to dirty sex, but I don’t like contemporary fics the same way I do paranormal. I don’t like having to make everything feel ‘real’ which is why that book is still such an exaggeration (which probably makes it less believable, but fuck it, real life isn’t that interesting.) So yeah, I can at least say I 100% enjoy writing the books that are selling.
But the other question, is the message of what I write clear? That’s much harder to discern (aka, probably not clear at all.) The genre/trope of dubcon and paranormal are pretty strong themes but other things like consistency in quality and plot are not. Being sick did not allow me to really grow as a writer but just write to escape thoughts of being sick. What I thought was good enough back then isn’t remotely so now that I’m healthy. As a writer, do I want to be known as someone who has interesting ideas but doesn’t follow through, doesn’t push to make a complicated story that really satisfies? Do I want to be known as the author who can’t be assed to edit and ensure every sentence actually makes sense? I’ve tried to read some of my first published books, and my fuck, I don’t even understand what I was trying to say sometimes. (looking at you, Blackthorne @_@) It’s not pretty.
3) How do I get the other 42 books to make me money?
Now, if I was any other author, this would be a question of do I continue to sell the old books, remove them permanently, or edit them and then try to sell them? Do I seek out other platforms and go wide (put my books everywhere you can) and see if that draws in an audience of new readers? Which made me ask very bluntly: has going wide done anything positive for me?
No. I don’t know how to rank on other platforms outside of Amazon, and the platforms themselves have a poor algorithm and SEO set up. I don’t want to do the work to climb to the top of those platforms, especially when it’s much harder to even gain a foothold without those algorithm aspects. I think I made a little less than $100 a month on my books total on other platforms. These platforms can’t compete with Amazon—that fucking monopoly is taking over everyone, let’s not pretend, and KU is part of the problem. But fuck, I want to make money so I’m going to feed the beast for now.
But I have an option most authors don’t take, and that’s the subscription site. Something I realized I haven’t been putting center. The subscription site is how I can make those 42 books generate income while keeping them from watering down the quality of my brand, and stupid me, I was competing against that subscription site by putting those books on other platforms instead of making it so the only way to find them was on the site.
Which leads me to the key: Exclusivity
It goes against the grain as a writer, lol, but so do a lot of marketing strategies. For example, free books. Free books are the quickest way to get people on your mailing list and notice that you exist (at least before Instafreebie started making free so redundant people hoard those digital files and will never have enough time to read them all.) But there are so many authors terrified of giving their work away. They don’t see it as fishing for new readers, but just throwing their hard work away, and because of it, they don’t take the risk and they don’t get noticed.
In the same way, exclusivity on one site instead of spreading your books out everywhere to find as many eyes as possible seems risky, potentially suicidal. How will people find you? Well, through Amazon. Because that’s where most readers find you anyways because it is so fucking hard to compete against that corporate giant. The readers are already there, so that’s where you seek them out.
It helps that those in the KU program already understand the idea of a subscription service. Will they all think that my small number of books is worth the same cost as the thousands of books in KU? Probably not. But the ones who enjoy my type of writing, the genre, the tropes, will be interested enough to give it a month and see. And if they like the new stuff coming out, they may stay.
Crafting a new strategy
So, after I went through all those questions above, I came up with a new strategy I’m going to be focusing on for the next year. The two main goals of this strategy is to
- create books that work for the KU program which will push views, ranking, and ideally sales
- ensure the subscription site is utilizing all those books of exclusive content to the best of its ability
- make sure I focus on branding for both sites
For part 1, it’s about taking those aspects that work in KU and focusing on them. This includes longer stories and bundles. So, if I wanted to have Heat in KU, I would make sure I bundled it with its sequel, Bite, maybe even Feral if I have it written by that time. This would allow for more pages to be read, pushing more income out of one sale instead of the hope the reader would seek out the sequels and read those too.
KU allows for a different strategy in this regard compared to selling book by book. When you’re selling pages, you want as many pages there to be read instead of leaving it up to the reader to seek out the rest of the pages in another book. Make things easy for your reader and give them everything up front. This would also mean rewriting and editing the fuck out of Heat and Bite to ensure my writing is cohesive and at a quality that could sit side by side on the shelf with a book like Hellcat, which is high heat, novel length, and has a cohesive plot that’s well edited.
For part 2, I want to go into creating an exclusive feel to the website and that content. I want to push that there are books to be read that you can’t get anywhere else, and while you’re waiting for me to finish a novel, you can read this too. I need to convey to readers the value of this content, a value that has just gone up if it can’t be found elsewhere. This also means working on my sales funnel and ensuring that my ads in the back of books are pulling people where they need to go.
Part 3, is two fold, and should be thought out on all the different levels. Branding might seem like one of those buzz words, but it matters big time. I want my main series to be my brand on Amazon. When someone picks up a Sadie Sins book there, I want them to think, oh, like Demon Arms, or Mated to the Demon Prince, or Demon Bonded. That’s my goal of a brand on Amazon, those 3 main series going forward. That means those series have to be front and center, be of the highest quality writing I have, covers and blurbs must be exemplary, and the books that are shown side by side with them need to have elements that reflect those series.
Branding for the website, though? Oh, we’re pushing the hardcore erotica and taboo nature of my books you can’t find elsewhere. Not only is it exclusive, but it’s super naughty, and way too hot for Amazon. It’s the idea that these books, if left out in the public, could somehow bring the world crumbling down (or so those shame based censors would have us all believe when it comes to erotica. XD) I want to use that not as a reason to hide my books, but as a reason for readers to come find my dangerous books. Selling sin, basically. <3
I mentioned this when it came to the website, and I want to expand because if you’re selling something on the Internet, you need to understand what a sales funnel is.
You ever see those totally transparent, kinda sleazy blog posts where someone is saying how much they love a product, it helped them after they had this terrible problem (let’s say it’s a weight loss product,) and hey, if you have trouble losing weight too, you should BUY NOW!!! In bright link letter and giant font? Yeah, that’s a sales funnel of the most obvious type. I’m not judging sales funnels (they’re a structure while it’s up to the user to decide if it’s used for good or evil,) I’m just giving you an example that I think we’ve all come across where it doesn’t feel like the end goal is to actually give the reader of that blog a solution to their problem, but just put some cash into the blogger’s pocket
Sale Funnels are all about conversion. Grabbing as many eyes as you can, pulling in the ones interested, and leading them to the end. Cuz I study other authors and marketing, I’ve watched as some authors push certain marketing books in other people’s newsletters with the intent to sell a how to market, or how to brand, or how to write—or breath through your fucking nose and hop on a leg—e course at the end of that sales funnel. I saw an annoyingly transparent sales funnel for one of those master classes (I get the ads on Facebook all the time cuz Facebook knows I’m a writer) where another author claimed to have taken the Master Class of the author in question, and how it was worth the time, etc. Sales funnels may come in different shapes and sizes, might stretch across different areas and employ many strategies, but the goal is still always the same, to get people to the end of the funnel.
So, for myself, when I’m putting books up on Amazon, my end goal is not to make a fuck ton of money there because I had a bestseller (don’t get me wrong, that would be fucking awesome XD) but more, my end goal is to put out work that a certain group of people will enjoy consistently enough to want to see what else I write and invest their free time, and their money, in reading what I write. Instead of directing them towards my back catalog of books on Amazon, I would instead be directing them to that back catalog on my website where they can also get my taboo fiction they never would have had an opportunity to find on Amazon. It’s important that I’m putting my best work forward in that regard with those Amazon books, and creating a brand that promises to continue that quality when you come back to the site.
So when I say authors don’t understand the value of a free book, that’s because they don’t understand a sales funnel. That free book is at the top of the funnel, drawing potential readers in to fall in love with your stories and invest in you as a writer. Instafreebie is great for that, as well as Goodreads giveaways. When you have a blurb at the back of your book telling people about books they haven’t read yet, that’s part of a sales funnel. When you get your book in other author’s newsletters, that’s part of the sales funnel. My newsletter is part of my sales funnel where I might not even be advertising my books, but you’re seeing how I write, and that might interest you enough to pick up one of my books. Every free book on my website is part of a sales funnel where my hope is the reader will invest and want to stay and grow with my books.
I guess I don’t think of my sales funnel as sleazy because I know that it involves me keeping a promise to readers and to myself. That’s not just of quality editing and stuff, but of being committed to what I do, to taking the time to make the story the best I can, and knowing I’m not going to grow bored and run off and never finish a story or some shit. If my end goal was to sell a book, that would be when it all ends. An exchange of cash for story, but by making the focus about building a readership that wants to grow with my stories, I’m promising those stories will be there to grow with. I wish I could have started off healthy, that I could have made that promise look far more stable in the beginning, you know? As a sales pitch, that would have kept people invested. But reality is not a sales pitch, and all we have is reality at the end of the day in all it’s imperfectionism.
Complicated or clear?
I love this kind of shit because of the intellectual challenge. Patterns, structures, and then all the trial and error as you find out what works and what doesn’t. Whether I’m actually good at it? Eh.
So I just removed those 42 (or nearly) books from Amazon and I’m already seeing the KU sales fill in the income those other books brought in, as well as exceed it. Will it hold once Demon Bonded #11 loses it’s algorithm push? No clue. I haven’t been doing any advertising or cross-promotion lately, just playing with Amazon atm. I’d say it was just because of the experiment, but really, I’m so lazy about this kind of shit. =_= I’m looking to create a system where once it’s set up, I don’t have to fuck around with it. I can just add new content, publish books, and the system perpetuates itself. It’s like building a house around my books in the hopes that I can keep the writing process and my income completely stable. But first I have to make a system that works, that sells, and you know, I should probably advertise. >_>
If Amazon tanks, or the KU program fucks up and refuses to count pages again, or maybe they change it all completely again, my system would have to change to adapt. If Amazon decides to censor all mm fiction or says my books cross their acceptable line, again, the system would need to change. It’s always good to reevaluate and question your strategy for this kind of thing anyways, cuz just because something is working doesn’t mean it can’t be better, too.
So, yeah, there’s an inside look at some of the things I do to sell books. I find it all really fascinating <3 (I’m a nerd, sorry. XD) But hey, if you’re interested in understanding how some things on the Internet make money, this might be interesting to you as well. Nothing wrong with making a living.
Hope everyone is safe during this crazy hurricane season. Peace, babes.