Self-publishing: about selling on non-Amazon platforms

This morning I was listening to the Creative Penn podcast in which Joanna talks to Mark Levefre, the director of Kobo Writing Life.

Kobo has a special place for me, because it was the first platform where I started selling more than coffee money. That was pure luck, but lately I have been selling quite well on all non-Amazon platforms, and in the interview, Mark confirmed a few points that I had also noticed about selling on non-Amazon platforms.

Anyone who knows me will also know that I am a big proponent of being “wide”, meaning: selling on all retailer platforms where possible. This is the opposite of being in Amazon’s Select program, which requires you to be exclusive.

That’s not to say that I don’t play with Amazon’s toys every now and then. I like poking things to see what happens.

But it means that the bulk of my work will be available everywhere I can make it available.

A good many people complain about not selling much outside Amazon, so here are some of my thoughts about selling on non-Amazon platforms.

Other platforms are about the global reader. In many countries in the world, you can’t even access Amazon. Those people can only buy at Kobo or Google Play. Last months sales from Google Play featured countries as varied as Poland, Ireland, the Philippines, Switzerland, Finland, New Zealand and Argentina. There are many more people reading in English outside the US than there are inside it.

Other platforms are about commitment. I’m a Kobo reader. When I go to someone’s page on Kobo and I see a half-arsed selection of just a couple of their minor titles there, I know that that author is not committed to selling to me. I go and find another author.

Other platforms are about slow building and few spikes. It takes a long time to build up a sales history on some platforms. If you flip-flop in and out of Select, you start from scratch each time. Once your books have built up this sales history, they will sell themselves pretty much without your involvement.

Other platforms are about tailoring. I can’t comprehend why writers do their best to optimise their listings on Amazon, and then just plunk their books on other retailers (with the same blurb and same keywords as on Amazon), and expect the books to sell, without making ANY effort whatsoever to tailor their books to the site, and often without having looked at the site and what makes it tick.

If you have no real commitment and spend no effort advertising your books on other sites, you can’t expect to sell.

But, some people say, if I take my books out of the Select program, I make so much less money!

That may be true for some (it certainly wasn’t for me), but selling everywhere is not primarily about money. It’s about security, because if you’re exclusive with Amazon and don’t show consistent commitment to other sites, then when Amazon sneezes, you’ll be in bed with glandular fever for six months.

Selling on other platforms is also about taking control of your audience. It’s about learning to create your own sales rather than relying on retailer algorithms to do it for you (or, all of a sudden, to stop doing that for you overnight).

To try to go wide out of panic after a sudden downturn is the absolute worst time to do it. You can’t be in a hurry when you go wide. You need a lead time before you see the significant benefits.

How to sell on non-Amazon platforms

People are constantly surprised to hear that Amazon doesn’t take up the lion’s share of my sales. They often ask how to get sales on those other platforms. Of course I do not have the definitive answers, but here are some thoughts about selling on other platforms.

It’s a big world out there

Amazon is very US-centric. When you sell at other platforms, you’re selling to the entire world. There are more people reading English outside the US than inside it, so there is great potential, if you can get it.

When you go wide, actually go wide

List your books everywhere, and if a new platform opens, list early. I was one of the first writers to register at Kobo. The month after I registered my book was pulled from the then small pool of self-published writers and put on display. I’m still reaping the benefits of that today. If you’re going to jump, jump early. You want to be a new fish in an almost empty pond.

When you go wide, advertise wide

I often see people complain about the lack of non-Amazon sales, yet when they link to their books (Twitter, Facebook, forums, website), they’ll only list Amazon links. If you want to sell books on other platforms, you have to be willing to advertise them there and to mention links to those books on other sites. As for formal advertising, there is an increasing number of sites that will include links other than Amazon.

Genre and reading preferences outside the US

Every country is different. Some types of works are not as attractive to non-US readers. For example people in Europe and Australia are less squeamish about sex but have more trouble with violence. They may like different subgenres and different types of covers. Study reading preferences in various regions to see what sort of book does well in which country.

Study the sites where you want to sell

The talk is all about Amazon algorithms, well, these sites have algorithms, too. Learn about them by studying the movement of books through their listings. You’ll find that there is less churn. This means books have a harder time breaking in, but once they are in, they will have an easier time staying there. How does each retailer site list their books? What sort of books are in the top 100 of your genre? How much do they cost? Look up some books like yours. Do you notice anything special about the listing?

Pricing

Amazon is a bargain bin; other sites, in particular Kobo and B&N, do better with premium pricing. Just look at the top 100 in your genre. What are the prices like?

Write series, make the first book free

It’s not a sales gimmick and doesn’t work wonders. But it does allow readers to sample your work. If they like it, they will go on to buy the rest of the series, as well as your other work. This tactic has worked for as along as humans have bought and sold things and is not going to go anywhere soon.

Patience

This is the most important ingredient. It can take months of building up before you see anything like regular sales on some sites. You can use some advertising to help it along, especially if you have a free book. If sales disappoint, don’t forget to check your listings on those sites. Does everything work? Is your book in the right categories? Does the cover show properly?

A month, or three months, isn’t enough to build your sales. I appreciate that some people can’t afford to lose money on their Amazon borrows. It’s up for everyone to decide if that is worth it. The thoughts in this post are for those who have already made the decision that going wide is a good long-term strategy.

But once sales start rolling, they’ll keep rolling with fairly little help from the author.

How to sell on non-Amazon platforms was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants