Making money self-publishing books isn’t a get-rich scheme but you’ll be surprised how much money you can make on Amazon
Sorry, I’ve just got to gloat for a minute. I’ve increased my monthly income from nothing to over $800 in less than a year just from selling books on Amazon…and it feels great. I wanted to share how I make money self-publishing books in a series of posts because it really can be something that works for everyone.
Ok, so $800 a month isn’t huge money but it’s getting there and it’s growing very quickly.
But self-publishing isn’t a guaranteed and easy path to making money. The average self-published author makes around $1,000 per year according to The Guardian. That’s including many authors that have multiple books and a huge list of fans. In fact, nearly a third of the authors made less than $500 a year and 90% of books sold less than 100 copies.
I sold 408 copies in January on six books, about a third on CreateSpace for paperback and the rest on Amazon Kindle. This kind of self-publishing success didn’t happen overnight but it wasn’t entirely difficult either. This post will walk you through what you need to know along with five secrets to make money self-publishing books on Amazon.
Keep reading for five crucial keys to making money self-publishing but don’t forget to check out my all-inclusive guide on how to publish a book and make money on Amazon.
Making Money Self-Publishing Books isn’t Overnight Easy
You’ll see from the graphic that getting up to $800+ in monthly sales wasn’t an overnight story. I launched my first book in April and made less than $100 over each of the first two months. It wasn’t until the first full month of having six books out that I made more than $500 a month.
Keep in mind that the books average about 110 pages each and took between 100 and 200 hours to write. That’s not including the time it takes editing and formatting a self-published book or promoting it for the launch. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a few quality freelancers that can edit, format and create book covers for a reasonable price but still spend over $1,000 to self-publish each book. One of the best sources for freelancers for cover designs and formatting is through Fiverr.com. Costs for a project start at just $5 which means you can try out a few freelancers and without committing a lot of money.
Do it right though and you can make money self-publishing. One of my books is consistently ranked within the top five for both its categories and the limited promotion I do is all free through social media. I’ve consistently made about $300 a month on the book over the last six months and it’s still going strong.
Offering Different Formats to Make Money Self-Publishing Books
Just like making money blogging is about having multiple streams of income, making money self-publishing is about offering multiple formats for your book. I’m behind the curve a little on this one. I offer my books through Amazon Kindle and paperback through CreateSpace. I’ve finished recording and editing the audiobook versions which should be available on Audible within the month.
Understand that different people are going to want different formats. I love the cheaper prices on Kindle but there are still a lot of people that want a traditional paperback book. I never could get used to listening to an audiobook but my aunt listens to one or more books a week.
Below are my Kindle sales for the month of January
Right now, I generally make about two-thirds of my sales on Amazon Kindle and the other third on CreateSpace. Uploading your book to CreateSpace is very similar to the process for Kindle, they’re actually both owned by Amazon. Your book will be listed on its Amazon page as available in paperback and CreateSpace will print and mail it whenever there’s a purchase. Your royalty for paperback sales will be lower, around 30% after Amazon takes its cut and after mailing costs.
Below are my CreateSpace sales for the month of January
I’m using the Kindle Direct Publishing exclusive agreement which means I can’t offer my books in digital format on my blogs or elsewhere. You get a few benefits from the exclusive agreement including being a part of the Kindle Unlimited program and a little better ranking on Amazon but I’ll probably take my books off the program this year. Other sites on which to make money self-publishing include: Lulu, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and SmashWords though traffic on these sites is considerably lower than on Amazon.
5 Things I’ve Learned to Make Money Self-Publishing Books
A lot of making money self-publishing books comes down to the hustle. You have to publish multiple books and constantly be promoting your books on social media. That means writing nearly every day and just putting in the time to make money and be successful.
But there are also some tricks that will help you make money self-publishing books, whether on Amazon or other platforms.
Balance Quantity and Quality in Self-Publishing
You can’t spend years perfecting and writing a book. Even successful books are likely to make less than a few hundred dollars a month. While the money you make on a self-published book will be passive income that will last for a very long time, it’s tough to justify years of work for just a couple thousand a year income stream.
Not all your books are going to make money, or lots of money anyway. From my own experience and what I’ve heard from other self-published writers, about half the books you’ll publish will make very little money each month. Another one in four of your books will make money but nothing to get excited about, maybe $50 to $150 a month. Only about one in four books you self-publish will make more than $150 per month.
This means you need to keep those book ideas coming and constantly be self-publishing new titles. Having more books means two important things to making money:
- You are more likely to hit on a popular subject or self-publish a book that really takes off
- You benefit from cross advertising on Amazon. If someone buys a book, Amazon will send them emails suggesting other books you’ve written
Of course you can’t just write crappy books and expect to make money. I know one author that started out paying foreign freelancers to pump out low-quality books at a rate of two per month. The books were absolutely horrible but the price was right…she thought. She got a few sales for the first month but then the reviews started coming in and destroyed her reputation on Amazon. She now writes her own books under a pen name because nobody will buy books published under her real name anymore.
If you don’t yet feel comfortable with your skill level around a subject, consider taking a coarse on Udemy. The site offers video courses for as little as $15 and is a great way to learn about a subject.
Starting a blog about the subject is also a good way to build your reputation and knowledge in an area before taking the leap into self-publishing. Blogging is a natural fit for making money self-publishing because your blog will drive thousands of people to your book pages. Check out my 10-page guide to everything you need to start a blog and make money or click through the link here to get a special deal on Blue Host WordPress hosting including a free website name and just $3.95 per month hosting.
Learn how to Write an Amazon Book Page
A good book launch will get you ranked in Amazon but you need a great Amazon page to keep selling books after your launch. Not only will a great description help to convert people to buy your self-published book, it will bring more people to the page when they search Amazon or Google. You will put together your Amazon book page when you publish your book through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
Click through to the book page for The Passive Income Myth to see how I do my Amazon book pages.
A great book page starts with the title and keywords you select in KDP. Make sure you use all seven of your keyword options and spend a little time researching which ones get lots of searches. I’ll go more into keyword research in a follow-up article. Your title and sub-title should include keywords but shouldn’t sound like you’re trying to cram everything in there. Your book’s title on Amazon must be the actual title but you can add a few words to the sub-title if you like.
You are allowed to write up to 4,000 characters for your book’s description, about 600 words. Don’t get lazy with your description! This isn’t just to tell people what the book is about but to help Amazon and Google find your book when people are searching. If you use your keywords in the description, people will find your book when they search.
Part of making a book description stand out and get search love is using H-tags. This is just simple html code that tells Amazon a line of text is more important.
<h2> Using an H-Tag will make the text stand out to readers and search engines </h2>
You want to use H-tags in the paragraph headings of your description. I use an H2 tag for the first line in my descriptions and then H3 tags for other paragraph headings. There are other html tags you can use to make your description stand out but the H-tags are really the most important.
Don’t forget to ask people to scroll back up and buy the book! Reading all the way through your book description on Amazon and readers will be staring at the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section. That sucks because it could take them away from your book if they see another one that looks interesting. Make sure you keep their attention on your book by asking for the sale.
Two more sections of your book page are also very important to making money self-publishing. You will have to use the Amazon Author Central site, a different website from Amazon’s Kindle Publishing to include Editorial Reviews and your ‘From the Author’ sections.
You might have to add reviews once they come in later but these are a critical selling point for your book. Reviews from recognizable names work best but you should list at least five reviews for your book. Reviews from customers are posted towards the end of the page as well but don’t make people scroll down before they see how great the book is and why they should buy it.
Your ’From the Author’ section is one of the last opportunities to sell a reader on your book and to make money on the page. Be conversational and talk about how people will benefit by reading the book.
Pick Your Book Categories Carefully
When you self-publish a book on Amazon, you will pick two categories in which your book will show up. This is extremely important because your book will primarily be competing with these books when someone is just browsing for good reads in a category. If you’re not showing up in the top 20 books, people are not going to see your book and you won’t make money self-publishing.
It sucks but there is a game you have to play to make money on Amazon. Look through several categories and you’ll find some books that don’t look totally appropriate for the category but rank very highly. The author has put their book in that category, not because it is the most relevant for the book but because the category isn’t as competitive as others and the book will sell more copies.
Your category needs to be at least loosely related. It does no good to be ranked highly in a category if it is completely off from what people are expecting. I wouldn’t put an investing book in a travel category but it might fit somewhere in education, reference or business.
Finding a category in which your book might do better is all about a little research.
- Go to the Amazon main page, change “All Departments” in search to “Books” and click the magnifying glass
- Scroll down to where you see Books and all the categories on the left-side menu. Each category will have the number of books in parenthesis, i.e. Arts & Photography (1,540,490)
- Pick a few categories in which your book might fit and click through individually
- Each category will be broken into sub-categories and may be broken into categories further within each
- The fewer books in a sub-category will mean less competition for your book to rank well. I usually try placing my books in categories with less than 2,000 other books.
Another way to find how competitive it is to rank a book within a category is by checking the Amazon Best Sellers Rank of the top 10 books. Books are ranked in this best sellers category against all other books depending on how many daily sales they average.
The table below shows an approximate from my research for how many daily sales a book needs for different rankings on the Amazon Best Seller scale.
- Click through the first books ranked in the category in which you’re thinking of placing your book.
- Scroll down to “Product Details” and find where it says “Amazon Best Sellers Rank”
- Take the average rank of a few top ranking books in the category
- Categories where only Amazon Best Seller books with a rank of 50,000 or lower are highly competitive and it’s going to be difficult to keep your book ranked in the top ten. Consider selecting a category where you only need to be ranked in the top 100,000 to remain in the top ten of the category.
Don’t Launch for Free
This one will be controversial because some people have done very well launching their book for free. They make the price free for the first few days and hope to get thousands of downloads. The idea is that people will come back to leave a review for your book which will persuade other people to buy it when it’s not free.
I tried this on my first two books and hated the results. Very few people ever leave a review for a book, maybe one in every 200 readers. The number of reviews you’ll usually get just isn’t worth spending all your launch promotion efforts just to give the book away.
Another reason why I hate the free book launch process is because Amazon has two different ranking scales for free and paid books. Your free book launch might do very well, vaulting you to a top spot in your category…but on the free ranking scale. Once you change the price, you move to the paid rankings and lose all your momentum.
Launching your book for $0.99 puts you on the paid ranking scale immediately and you won’t lose all your launch momentum in the ranking once you raise the price. You won’t have as many copies rush out the door compared to the free launch but you’ll be making money and will benefit from ranking on the Amazon paid scale.
If you can use your book as a way to persuade people to buy other products or services, a process called a sales funnel, you might do very well offering it for free. I know authors that make their book permanently free just to use it as a way to sell other products.
Ask for Reviews Early
Reviews for a self-published book are hugely important but always an author’s toughest challenge. Amazon says it doesn’t use reviews or number of reviews to rank a book but it is definitely something readers look at before buying a book.
Only a fraction of the people that read your book will leave a review so you’re not likely to get many unless you are selling a ton of books. Instead, you need to reach out to bloggers and your own network for reviews. You’ll send them a free digital copy before the launch and ask for a review when the book is published on Amazon.
It’s important to ask early because it might take someone a month to find the time to read your book and be ready with a review. Reviews don’t have to be long or detailed. They can be as short as a few words but a few sentences are always best. I like to get at least ten reviews within the first month of publishing a book. More is better but getting to double-digits is usually good enough to put you in a different class of books from those that have just a few reviews.
Getting reviews from other bloggers, friends and family is easier with your first few books but gets more difficult if you are publishing often and every year. Don’t be too pushy, just ask once or twice. Having a blog makes things easier because you can reach out to readers with a free copy as well.
I’m going to be doing a whole series on how I pick topics for books and make money self-publishing books. I’ll cover everything from writing to promoting and how to publish your book on a budget so make sure you check back in for new articles. Let me know in the comments if you’ve got any questions about self-publishing on Amazon and I’ll be sure to cover it.