This post is about whether it is possible for an author to become, and remain successful without the big A being a continual factor in that success. Let’s go a step further and ask whether it’s possible to become independent from any external book seller (Smashwords, Barnes, Kobo, Apple, etc.).
I love the ebook game. I love it, and I hate it as well. I love it because there has never been a better time for me to write and get paid for it. It’s virtually assured on some level, that by writing something, I will get paid for it. Not just paid once, but over and over. It’s a very cool time for writers. A very cool time for Fook.
But, as Buddhism teaches, this could all be a temporary state of bliss.
The bottom could drop out at any time. The current 70% commissions Amazon pays out on $2.99 books wasn’t tapped out on stone tablets. It’s malleable. Very malleable, maybe. We’ll likely see how much so in the next couple years. But, it need not be that long, as Amazon could start changing the commission plans in the very near future – months or weeks. Realistically, it must change, little stays the same online.
What was once a nice payday for even sorry-ass writers, like myself, can become half a nice payday… or worse.
I hate the idea of relying on someone else for my success. Right now I’m reliant on Google and Amazon for sales of my books, as well as money coming in from other angles. If your livelihood is online you’ll almost always be relying on some site to bring you buyers, that is until you become your own self-sustaining brand.
You don’t search Google for Amazon, you just type amazon.com in your browser. If I want to see what changes to the Apple Air have occured, I type apple.com. If you had a favorite author, you would know her website. If your fans loved you – they would know your website. When your brand is known there is no need for Google, and even Amazon.
I am VERY reliant on Google. If Google ever changed substantially – I could go from prosperous to phosphorus as fast as the push of a button and subsequent uploading of their latest algorithm. All that would be left of Fook would be the fading glow of five-figures, a number previously big enough to live on.
Amazon has a pretty good monopoly on ebooks. They have all the email and physical addresses, phones, of all the buyers of my books. I have none of this crucial information for my readers, unless I happened to pull some in over at my personal sites from ads in my own books.
If I didn’t have Amazon – at this moment, I’d make just 18.75% of what I do now from the sale of books. Amazon accounts for 81.25% of my income as a writer of books.
That’s quite a chunk. That’s a controlling chunk. Basically Amazon can tell me what’s up. I am Mike Fook, one of Amazon’s thousands of male and female bitches. If you’ve read this far, you probably are too. Welcome to the club. Ruff-ruff?
Is there any way to change this?
I’ve been thinking about this a little bit. It would take a massive effort on my part to even come close to selling 50% of what Amazon sells for me effortlessly. If I sold 50% of the same number of books Amazon sells, but I do without having to pay commissions, I’d be able to call that success enough and go for it.
However, knowing as much as I do about search engines and bringing traffic to my own sites – I think it would be:
1. Impossible to sell even 50% of the books Amazon sells for me – even working my ass off on my own sites for 5 solid years.
2. Not worth the effort in the end. Even if I could reach 50% of sales I’d still be better off sticking with A and busting my ass writing books, not worrying about my own websites. I think even if the commission rates went down as low as 50% to authors, it would still make sense to forget about playing the search engine game – and just write books for Amazon.
Seems like a no-win situation. I mean, it’s a win of course – I am making a living. It’s a win on Amazon’s terms though. I’m basically stuck there, and so are you.
Unless you are one of those writers that is killing it on Amazon and other channels right now. If you are smart, you could start pulling over significant numbers of your readers – to your own websites. You can sell Kindle formatted books from your own site, as well as any other format you want.
If your readers love your stuff – you can give them just one source for it – your sites. If you have enough readers – you can pull away from Amazon and keep the other 30% of your profits as well.
There’s something to be said for this approach – loads really.
Once you have readers buying at your site – you have the email and addresses, and other demographic information as you wish. Your direct marketing efforts to these readers that love you can bring in sick money. Repeatedly.
If you had a strong list of 4,000 readers that loved your books… you could probably sell 1 out of 4 of them – a $2.99 book each year. That’s $30,000 in income for the year. That’s enough for half of you reading to be relatively happy, with the idea that you’ll be expanding that list every year through your marketing efforts.
Not bad, right? What if you wrote 4 books that year and sold one out of 10 people all 4 books?
What if in addition to that, in the same year, you also sold one of out 8 people three books, one out of 5 two books, and one out of 3 at least one book?
I don’t know what the hell you’d make because I made the scenario impossible for me to put numbers to – but, you’d be making truckloads of money off just 4,000 people that loved your books.
You’d have total control over your list. These 4,000 people would know exactly where to find you. They don’t need Amazon or Google, Facebook, or Twitter to find you – they know your website. If Google closed down – you wouldn’t care. If Amazon started giving 10% commissions to writers – you’d laugh yourself sick at your good fortune.
I have had this branding idea in my head since day 1 when I started my first book. I chose Mike Fook for a name because there isn’t a person reading this that would remember my real name – I’m sure of that.
Create a name for yourself that is just like this… short, powerful, easy to remember, and funny. Here are some suggestions:
Now that I think about it… IkeFook.com would be nice. Ahh, hindsight – right?
So, breaking away from Amazon – by creating your own brand – can work. It would take a lot of effort to create a list of 4,000 rabid fans for some of us – myself included. I think it would be a 5+ year project, and I’m not all that motivated to spend that much energy on things other than writing books.
If it was a year’s effort – yeah, I’d get started. If it was a two-year workfest – maybe. I’d consider it.
Five years? Hell no.
For you though, you might be able to pull it off in a year. If you are selling a couple thousand books each month at Amazon and other channels – you could maybe pull it off in a year, two years.
1. Create an easy to remember domain with WordPress… www.joekonrath.com, just for instance.
2. Put a number of pages in your ebooks all designed to get readers to go from reading your book they bought at Amazon, to seeing something else on your own website. Free offers, deals, club membership, whatever… be creative and do whatever you possibly can to get someone to sign up on your site and give you the all-essential email address.
3. Create heaps of value on your site – so readers keep coming back to check out what you have to offer. Give, give, give, give, give, and don’t ask for anything on the site that costs money. Have order pages for your books – sure, but don’t ask people all the time to buy this or that. Just provide value – and give until way beyond where it hurts.
4. When you have new books come out – start releasing them first at your website – and for whatever price you wish. Don’t release them at Amazon at the same time – you’re in control. You MUST give your loyal group of readers the books first. You must create a special relationship with them. Maybe hold off on releasing your books elsewhere for 1 month… 2 months. MAKE your readers come to your site for the goods. Later, release on Amazon if you want. Choose a higher price at Amazon than you sold the book on your site for originally.
5. The goal is to use Amazon, Apple, Smashwords, Barnes, Kobo, and the rest of these giants – to provide you with 4,000 customers that will buy from you at your site because they adore you. The goal is to ween away from Amazon entirely, or just give them the scraps – allow them to sell the basic version of your books – and you sell the special packages, the books with bonus chapters, multiple endings – etc.
I would gladly give Amazon another 20% of my commission if they gave me all the information on buyers of my books. GLADLY. The power, the meat, is in the value of the customer long-term.
If your readers can keep getting your books by suckling Amazon’s teat – guess what?
Right, your teats get no suckling.
Go do your best to get both teats seriously suckled. Stop at nothing until you have branded yourself and your fanatical readers know exactly where to find you and purchase your books at a discount when they’re first released… at your website.
Stroke your readers and they’ll continue to suckle. Long-term sucklers = sick money in your pocket.
Ok, I’ll stop – I’ve gone way too far with this…
[Image by istolethetv at flickr.com]