Publishing Insiders Wrap-Up: Smart Self Publishing: Part 3, Making Money with Ebooks

by | Feb 23, 2011 | Social Media for Authors

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We had a great show that examined the ebook phenomenon and what that means for authors. In a word: opportunity!

About our guests:

Karen McQuestion’s essays have appeared in Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor and several anthologies. She is the author of six books self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, one of which, the novel, A Scattered Life, caught the attention of an L.A. based production company and became the first self-published Kindle book to be optioned for film. Five of her previously self-published books will now be published by AmazonEncore. McQuestion lives with her family in Hartland, Wisconsin. Learn more at

Tony Eldridge is the author of the award-winning action/adventure novel, The Samson Effect, which Clive Cussler calls a “first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure.” He is also the creator of Marketing Tips for Authors, a site that publishes free tips and videos to help authors learn marketing techniques for their books. You can read the serial release of The Samson Effect at

To illustrate the phenomenal growth of ebooks, in January 2011, indie publisher Sourcebooks announced that 35% of its book sales that month were ebooks.

Jumping into Ebooks

Barnes & Noble nook (ebook reader device)

Image via Wikipedia

Ebooks constitute an enormous market, much more so than anyone anticipated. When ebooks first arrived on the scene no one really knew what to make of them. Were they a fad? Karen and Tony discuss why and when they decided to take the plunge…

Karen said she had been writing novels no one wanted to publish. This went on for years; she even had agents twice and got some great feedback and near misses, but she never got what she really wanted: a publishing deal. In 2009, Karen heard about Boyd Morrison, an author on a similar path, whose print books had not sold. He put his books on Kindle, sold 7,500 copies in less than three months, and got a book deal with Touchstone. Karen decided to give it a try.

Tony turned to ebooks a little later. He had known about ebooks for a long time, and decided to dip a toe into ebooks in December, when he had his first two books published on Kindle.

Choosing an Ebook Platform

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

In July 2009, there was no iPad, readers couldn’t get ebooks on any phones, but Karen knew about the Kindle and Nook. There was so much information about Kindle that Karen decided to use that format as an experiment. Her hopes were high, but her expectations were low.

She uploaded two books toward the end of the month, and with 10 days left made $30. Karen joked with her husband that if she kept putting her books on Kindle they could go out to lunch once a month. By month two on Kindle, Karen’s books made $300 – when there hadn’t been any interest in them previously. Her husband asked her how many more books she had, and one by one Karen uploaded all of her books, focusing on Kindle because that’s where the majority of ebook sales were.

Tony went with Nook and Kindle. He notes that ebooks make sense for the frugal author. All of the tools for formatting and uploading are available for authors at no cost. There is a learning curve, but the information (on formatting and other issues) is out there. Tony got his two books out pretty quickly – and now he’s looking at his unpublished books. There’s one book he wrote approximately six years ago that he will now publish strictly as an ebook. The investment in ebooks is so low that Tony makes three times more royalties with ebooks compared to print. He considers ebook publishing an amazing path for authors.

Marketing Your Ebook

Behold the iPad in All Its Glory.

Image via Wikipedia

Once your ebook is uploaded, how can people find it? There are well over 800,000 titles in the Kindle store, for instance. Karen says an author can do some of the marketing work before the ebook is available for purchase. Do this by designating keywords and categories at Amazon. Authors get 20 keywords, although many gloss over this step. However, Karen says readers find your book through these tags. In her case, Karen used keywords such as “romantic comedy,” “chick lit,” etc. and filled in all 20 keywords in all five categories. She also priced her books very low, because she figured no one knew about her or her books and they would be willing to take a chance on an author if the books weren’t expensive. Finally, Karen relied upon Amazon’s sample feature, which allows readers to download a free sample of a book. If readers like your sample they will very often purchase the book.

Karen also used, a forum for Kindle lovers, and the Amazon site itself to get the word out about her books. She did not blatantly push her book, but became part of the communities, and that way the members got to know who she was and about her books.

Sales of Karen’s books began to snowball as people bought ebook devices, and word of mouth kept the sales going. In May 2010, her ebook success story was mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article.

Interestingly, Karen markets less now, because each book builds on her previous books. If readers like one book by an author, and all the books are priced reasonably, then they buy the other books.

Cover of

Cover of The Samson Effect

Tony is planning a blog tour, building buzz with some helpers, offering excerpts for free and doing a newsletter blitz. Ebooks allow authors to do a lot more with their marketing a lot sooner. And Tony is thrilled about the new Kindle feature that allows users to loan their books to others. He will use this feature for his ebooks as it has the potential of expanding name recognition in a big way. You’re not missing out on sales by loaning ebooks, but finding new readers, he says.

The Surprising Elements of Ebooks

Tony says the economics of ebooks surprised him more than anything else. When authors go the ebook route and do the work themselves, their initial investment is low and the profits come quickly. And now, with mobile technology, not just Kindle and other ebook readers but smartphones too, it’s easy to read and carry thousands of books everywhere. This is going to become the norm for the future for authors and readers, he says.

From the standpoint of being a writer, Karen says she’s been most surprised by the opportunities ebooks have brought. She once wrote a “quiet” novel, a character-based, humorous and touching book that did not have a great marketing hook, put it on Kindle and within a short period of time sold a lot of copies. Then an LA film producer contacted Karen for the rights to A Scattered Life for a movie. There are so many opportunities with ebooks, such as the chance to write different kinds of books, novellas, essays and short stories.

Sources, Pricing and More

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog by Joe Konrath taught Karen everything she needed to know about publishing ebooks. Authors should write a good book, get it edited, critiqued, etc. and try putting it up on Kindle. The book could take off, but if it doesn’t take off, that’s your answer – maybe it’s not going to take off at this point, she says.

Tony turned to Google to get started. Amazon has a pretty good guide for its Kindle. However, Tony also searched YouTube for videos because he likes visual guides. He also followed the blogs of people who discussed their Kindle experience.

What about book length, price and the book cover? Tony says he started at $7.99, but after doing a survey he found that price was probably higher than the average Kindle book. Once he lowered the price to $4.99, his books started taking off. He’s not sure if the price will remain the same, but it’s easy to go in and change the price point with a click of the button. His advice is to find similar ebooks and look at the price point. Don’t price your ebook too high or you will price yourself out of sales.

Another piece of advice: you have a totally different piece of technology so don’t confine yourself to old marketing – think outside the box. Tony’s book, Conducting Twitter Contests, was published as PDF with embedded videos. For the ebook version, he used all the hyperlinks and put those on a dedicated Kindle page. You can’t watch the videos on the Kindle, but as you’re reading you can click on the links and go to the website with video.

Android Phone HT03-A (NTT Docomo)

Image by jetalone via Flickr

Karen had priced all her books on the low side. She and Amazon Encore debated the price for A Scattered Life, and ultimately the price remained at $2.99 and she sold 100,000 of the book downloads. She doesn’t think that would have happened if the book had a higher price. If your goal is to get people to read your books, it’s better to price them lower.

Future Predictions

For Karen, this is writer heaven, a dream come true. Ebooks are a growing market and as the actual devices become lower in price it will become more mainstream. The ebook market for books for teens is now expanding (many teens got Nooks, Kindles, etc. for the holidays). And authors can be creative: Amanda Hocking has sold more than 500,000 ebooks on her own. One of her smart marketing moves was pricing the first book in her series at 99 cents. At the end of the first book was an excerpt for book #2. Karen had a Kindle, and bought book #2. That second installment had an excerpt from the third book, so Karen bought the third – and both of those books are $2.99. By then, Karen didn’t mind the higher price because knew she knew Amanda’s books would deliver.

iPad Display Item

Image via Wikipedia

With 1,500 books published every day in the U.S. (print, not ebooks) and very few access points for these books, what ebooks have done is offer a way for authors to get published and experiment. They’ll find out right away if readers like their book. With ebooks, authors have quick access to readers and no blocks to distribution, unlike print publishing.

Aspiring writers should keep the faith. If they couldn’t get published before, just jump in and try ebooks. The opportunities are there, Karen says.

You can download the full show at


Upcoming Episode:

Please join us March 8, 2011 for the Smart Self Publishing Series, Part 4: Why Book Design & Editing Matter–publishing-series-part-4-why-book-design-editing-matter

If you want your self-published book to stand out, you need: a good front cover, strong overall book design, compelling back cover copy and, most importantly: strong editing. Our guest Sue Collier, President of Self-Publishing Resources and co-author of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, will discuss these issues, why they matter so much, and how authors can find the right professionals to ensure their book shines.

About our guest: As president and CEO of SPR, Sue Collier oversees all book project work, coordinating a team of experts and holding true to the result-getting principles she learned from founder Marilyn Ross, who continues to serve as the consultant to the consultant. SPR provides turnkey service to individuals and organizations seeking to publish and promote their own books, handling all aspects of book editing, design, production, and marketing and promotions. Sue also offers personalized coaching services for authors and small presses, providing them with the benefits of her extensive publishing background. Over the past two decades, she has worked with hundreds of clients, guiding them through the self-publishing process, and helping them produce professional, attractive books. Learn more at

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  1. Hilary

    Hi Freya and Tony .. I’ve read Tony’s book and it’s excellent – hard back though! One day I shall a) write a book, or make up an ebook .. and then the learning curve starts .. good to have examples though. Thanks – Hilary

  2. Dikibujiri Akinda

    Ebooks make marketing smarter,it is handy,easy to go through and make money as quickly as possible.Ebooks are acceptable.

  3. Tahlia Newland

    Thanks for this. It’s encouraging to hear these stories. I have an option if my agent fails to get a publisher for my YA fantasy. Having self-pubbed books edited is vital though, poor editiing affects readers perception of all self pubbed books.

    • Paula

      We’re glad you enjoyed the coverage of the show and found it useful. And you are 100% correct about editing, it cannot be overlooked. Good luck!



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