Amazon needs help to sell my books? What the…?
That’s the one thing I wish I’d known before I started writing, or at least publishing, as an independent writer – a question I was recently posed on Instagram.
As an indie author, we’re already set back by a lack of professional support and – all importantly – distribution. We’re not in the bookshops generally, or if we are it’s only through local relationships. Therefore online distribution is critical to us.
Like most indie writers, I started off trying to get published traditionally. I had interest from a few agents, and my book The City of Light was loved by a Children’s Rights manager in Random House and spent 6 months going up through their editorial hurdles – before finally being rejected on the basis of the market shrinking for that kind of fantasy (it was post Harry Potter, and gritty realism was in).
My big mistake
When I decided to publish independently, I thought it best to ‘go wide’, using both Amazon and Smashwords, who distribute to most the other online distributors (Apple, Nook etc). But that’s where I think I made my big mistake. Smashwords took much longer to format and produce, but my sales were pitiful everywhere except Amazon. It also meant that I couldn’t participate in Kindle Unlimited (KU).
The reason I can say with confidence that going exclusive to Amazon would have been better for me is that’s what I did with my second, current, series of The Ghosts of Alice. KU has been a third of my sales, and every time someone downloads it for KU it springs back up the sales ranks. I would almost certainly have done better with my first series by putting it exclusively in Amazon and running KU from the start.
Amazon needs help
But Amazon does need help to sell your book. Most importantly, it needs other people who read books like it to look at it and hopefully buy it. Then it can start throwing it across the path of readers who might be interested in it. I know this because, whilst I advertise with Amazon, only a fraction of the sales come from the advertising (there is a dashboard that tells me this). So Amazon must be placing my book as one of its suggestions once people buy or finish similar books, or elsewhere.
Whilst I can’t prove this, where else are these sales coming from? Some from my social media platform, for sure – but not that many. I suspect you can get a good idea whether your book is primed for Amazon algorithms by the list of ‘Customers who viewed / bought this also viewed’, or whatever it’s called at the moment. If they’re all in your genre, you’re probably doing well.
I know other authors who have had different journeys, and for whom Amazon has not been so great. There are many reasons not to go exclusive, especially in those countries where Amazon isn’t so dominant. But I wish I’d gone exclusive from day one.
Now, setting all that aside, and looking at the ethics and risk of throwing all your eggs in the basket of one quasi-monopolising tech giant… OK that one’s for another day.