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Juggling with jelly - a self-publishing journey

Everything you never needed to know about getting your book sold on Amazon.

It is almost three years to the day since I published my first book on Amazon.

The journey has been a metaphor replete with long and winding roads, learning curves, and rollercoasters. But a few of my readers have shown interest in the process and, after precisely 730 days and nights of research, trial and error, mistakes, and missteps I can now proudly claim to be a (somewhat) financially successful author.

A writer capturing his ideas


So you want to write and sell a successful book?

Many of us have an idea for a book. The trick is getting that idea down on paper and then finding a way to get your bestseller into the hands of the eager proletariat.

My time came after I had retired from a well-paid job in the United States and attempted to move the family to Altea in Spain. The idea itself was sound. The planning was solid. What we had not factored in was the timing. COVID-19 spread like a...well like a virus in front of us. It plagued our every move, closing airlines and frontiers in equal measure. Our journey from the USA to Spain suddenly spawned into quite the adventure.

We fled Spain to shelter in the UK and the idea for my first book was born. I always thought that I might be able to write a book. It was time to put my money down and prove I had it in me.

Well, I wrote my bestseller - what next?

Manuscript done! Several rounds of editing and proofreading later, I was ready to publish. In my early, wonderfully naive, and youthful days of becoming a writer, I used the tools that Amazon provides. They have a basic file convertor that takes a Word document and creates the ePub file you need for Kindle, and even a cover creator to get your title, image, and author name out there amongst the other 32.8 million other titles that Amazon serves up to the waiting public.

A few mouse clicks later and there she was. My first book — published. You can see my first attempt below.

The cover wasn't awful. But it's not great either. The fonts are simple and the picture is a home-taken snap.

I ran some adverts on Amazon and threw some money away on Facebook Ads. In the first three months, I sold a few copies. 14 to be precise. I added the book to Kindle Unlimited and got a couple of thousand-page reads. I was thrilled! I would sit in my study hitting the refresh button on my Amazon sales dashboard again and again, and either groan in deepening despair when the numbers had not changed, or whoop in wild ecstasy if I got a new sale.

Three years later on, the book is the same book. It has a new cover but other than that, the only updates to it have been to correct a couple of typos that stoically avoided a thousand rounds of editing.

Three years later I have sold close to a million page reads and nearly 3,000 ebooks and paperbacks.

So something happened, what was it?

The biggest and most important factor in those numbers is that most of those page reads and sales came in the previous six months. In order of importance and impact on sales and revenue, these are the changes I have implemented.

#1 — More titles

I know — it's a whopper. But this is the numero uno game changer for any author. It is the one variable in this tangled bowl of spaghetti that makes up the publishing industry that I 100% control. Since January 2021 I have published a further seven books. Two more in the initial travel memoir series. Three books in a series that tell tales of some motorcycle adventure trips I made in the 1980s and two full-length novels. You can check them all out on my website.

Website banner for andycwareing

#2 — Optimise assets

With multiple books in series you can start to do some clever stuff. I have smart universal book links (UBLs) in the back matter of each book. The UBLs point to the next books in the series. They are smart in that the links know which country you are in so the potential buyer gets auto-directed to their local Amazon store. They each contain my Amazon affiliate code, so I get affiliate revenue as well as the proceeds from the book sale.

Advertising starts to become both scalable and profitable for books in a series. I can afford to lose a few bucks on book one because, hopefully, the reader will also buy book two and three and maybe even look into the rest of my back catalogue.

This year I created box sets, or omnibus editions of the two series. The bundles are priced lower than the individual books so I gamble on giving a pound or two away in exchange for that proverbial bird in the hand.

I now use Canva for covers and Atticus for book formatting - much more professional.

Amazon giveways keep the ball rolling on Kindle Unlimited page reads.

I hate to give a book away, I'm a penny pinching old bastard deep down, but it's the only time that Amazon will step in and promote. For each book given away, I generally get a boost in page reads and hopefully sales from books two and three.

#3 — Keep learning

I have had a website since day one but it has always been a loss leader for me. Recently, based on some advice and research in some author's FB groups I moved from Wordpress to Wix and haven't looked back. Wix offers ecommerce out of the box, and since November I have been adding direct sales to my figures. Direct selling gives me back the 60% royalty that Amazon normally takes from me. Now I can discount in whichever way I choose and still make a bigger margin than sales via Amazon.

An indie author needs to be prepared to be tweaking Amazon categories, keywords, and blurbs. Changing covers and making sure fonts are on target for a given genre all make a difference. Make a change — monitor the effect. Be prepared at all times to change it back.

Running ads, creating A/B tests and tweaking budgets and bid amounts all create change. But, this is key, it all has to be done slowly. Slowly, but with intent.

The graph below gives a visual idea of incremental improvements in revenue generated across the last three years. The colours represent an individual book's contributions.

Sales chart showing growth of book sales

#4 — Keep innovating

So, what's next? In 2024 I intend to release another three books. I haven't decided exactly what yet but at least one of them will be another travel adventure book based on my experiences in the USA.

I am going to add audiobooks for my collection to the website and offer ebooks for my two novels.

And lastly, at least for now, I am continuing to cross-promote. My goal would be to get the readers of my travel memoirs to read the motorcycle adventure series and vice versa and to get more people to read the novels.

I hope you enjoyed the post. The last three years have been frustrating and thrilling in equal amounts. Email me if you have any questions. If you are not yet a reader give a book a go. If you have tried one series — try the other!

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Dec 28, 2023

Very generous of you to share your hard earned experience. Well done for not just making it work for you, but for actually sitting down and writing and getting your ideas out there. Bravo.

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