Keeping The Narrow Way

Why is Amazon tempting?

There has been an ongoing debate in the writing community about the value of “going wide.” This term means you are spreading your books out among as many vendors as possible. On its surface, it sounds like a no brainer. However, for new authors, it can mean the difference between gaining momentum or finding yourself struggling to get your books noticed.

The real question behind this dilemma is whether or not to use Amazon’s KDP Select. Those who sign up for the service must use Amazon exclusively for their ebooks for ninety days; thus, the term “going narrow.” That is a long time if you want to put your book up on Barnes and Nobel, Kobo, or other locations.

On the other side of the argument is Kindle Unlimited, which allows its members to read your stories for free, while Amazon pays you a small royalty, emphasis on the word “small.” Since most new authors deeply discount their books or give them away for free, a small royalty sounds good. Also, Amazon allows discounts and giveaways and provides all sorts of tutorials on how to be successful on its platform.

Given the success rate of Amazon authors compared to its competitors, it is a tempting offer.

I have tried both the wide method and the narrow. I still believe the narrow option is best for authors with fewer than six books. The exception would be seeing your book shoot up to the bestseller charts not long after its release. At that point, you have the momentum to go as wide as you are able.

When you look at Amazon objectively, their price points for services and royalties are still better than many other book vendors in the industry. Most other companies offer smaller royalties than Amazon and provide fewer services. Does this business model help boost Amazon to a monopoly? Yes. However, the way to fix this issue is not to avoid Amazon; the solution is for the other services to up their game.

So, if you are a new author, let me strongly encourage you to adopt Amazon early on. Yes, there are around one million consistent authors on its platform. Yes, you will have to learn how to master Amazon’s marketing services. The alternative is to perform these same tasks for all of the other platforms out there. If you have released just one or two books, you may want to spend more time writing your third instead of mastering Apple Books, Kobo, and others. The choice is yours.

But I Don’t Want To Wait

Are you a patient person? If you want to become a writer, you need to become one.

Do you know what I hate more than waiting? Nothing. I think if everyone is honest, nobody likes to wait. In case you are wondering, I’m not a millennial; I was born back in 1966. When I went to college in the mid-1980s, computer science classes in college still taught punch cards. I remember life before microwave ovens, and I even remember when color television was starting to become more mainstream rather than something the wealthy could afford.

That still does not change the fact that I despise waiting. For me, this is about control. I can control the moment I am in, but I am unable to control the future, I can only wait to see what the future brings. Why is this important? Because the speed of writing is a lot about waiting. If you are like me, it is hard to accept the waiting periods.

When you first start a book, there is a lot of activity; research, drafts, self-editing, and probably some serious rewriting and possibly even changing plot points, if you write fiction like me. However, all that changes when you ship your book to your beta readers. Depending on its length, you could be waiting around two to four weeks for a response. Yes, you can start work on another book, but I have discovered that it is a bad idea.

You need to focus on creating the first copy ad ideas for your new book and map out your advertising strategy. A lot of this work is more mental and may look to the outsider like daydreaming. Finally, your book returns, you make your changes and send it to your editor. Now you have another month. At this point, it is back to advertising and beginning to plan out the launch.

The book returns for more self-edits and cleanup. Finally, you send your manuscript to the proofreader, interior designing, etc. etc. At this point, you may think, “Where is the waiting?” It is right now. Much like fishing from the bank with bait, you sit and wait and watch. Your ads need to run for a couple of weeks to see if they will begin to catch on. You sit and wait on your keywords to take hold over the next sixty to ninety days. You may do minor tweaks, but there is a lot of waiting.

For me, I used this time to start another book; in some ways, that was a good tactic because I needed more books released. Today, I have two novels and two short story collections for those efforts. However, my sales have been anemic as I did not focus on my sales strategy. Also, many of my readers informed me that the hectic pace is making it hard for them to keep up with my books. That is important because a frustrated reader will eventually give up.

Waiting is hard. Do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes. Slow down, take the time to do the marketing and love each book like it is the last one you will write. Taking the time to focus on advertising will ensure a greater audience, and frankly make writing more enjoyable.

Do Not Ignore Those Non-Mandatory Fields

Your due diligence does not stop once your book is published.

What is more exciting than updating the metadata on your books? Everything. Metadata is one of the most overlooked pieces in the publishing process. If you are a new author, or if you were a beginning author, your first one or two books probably went something like this.

You finally finished your edits, cover design, proofreads, interior design, and you are finally ready to get your book published on Amazon and possibly Ingram-Spark, or a book aggregate. You pull up your back of book narrative and paste it into the online description. You may use KDP Publisher for your keywords, or you may have manually crawled through Google to make your searchable list of words. Finally, you figure out your price points and bam, you are ready to go.

Except, you are not ready. Some relevant fields should be filled in, or filled in after the initial launch excitement subsides. One of the most important is your contributors. This information goes overlooked, and if you are self-published, these fields can be a significant differentiator. Many readers assume self-published books are slapped together by people who want to get a book up on Amazon and hope to grab some of the self-publishing pot. So, adding in your editor, and any other contributors shows you are a serious author, and your book is of professional quality.

Also, you should review your description and keywords. Once your core readers have bought your book, you need to attract new readers, and the depiction that made sense to your existing circle of readers may have little attraction to new ones. Do not be afraid to update your short and long descriptions. The beauty of books is that they usually do not age out as fast as other products so that when these updates are seen they draw in new customers.

Although everyone mentions this last part, it always deserves to be mentioned again. Update your keywords. I would recommend reviewing them every six months. However, if you initially slapped down your best guess, take the time to research what people are querying on. I used Publisher Rocket (Formally KDP Rocket.) I have found this to be a beneficial tool and have no issues recommending it.

Finally, make sure you update all your platforms. For me, these include Amazon, Ingram-Spark, and Bowker. Not every site offers the same metadata fields in the same format, so do not plan on a simple copy and paste across platforms. Take your time; it is worth your effort.

An Unsurprising Outcome

Before you create your plan A, be sure you have a plan B.

There is nothing like a significant technology failure to throw your plans entirely off schedule. That happened to me just over a week ago. Despite my knowledge of computers and the sounds of a dying water cooler, I continued to push my machine until the pump died, rather than servicing the device at the early signs of trouble.

So, instead of being down for a couple of days, my sick computer sat among wounded compatriots at the local repair store for a week. To make matters worse, I had to reinstall everything from a backup once my hardware was returned.

Many books and articles talk about the necessity for proper maintenance of machines. Yet, we all seem to ignore this sage wisdom when it does not suit our given situation, and such efforts always end in the same fashion, disaster. So, I won’t sit here and write that you should learn from my mistakes. Instead, I will say that you should be sure and backup everything you work on as a creator.

Also, there are the proverbial unknown consequences. These include a break in the rhythm of my writing and videos. Additionally, there are delays caused by interactions and discussions that have to occur with software companies when activation keys reach their limits. There are always consequences to our actions beyond what we plan.

I want to sit here and type that I have learned my lesson, but I am quite sure something else will come up. Do yourself a favor, always have at least a plan B, because at some point you are going to need it.