This week brings news of Boyd Morrison who got a book deal based on his Kindle book sales. This book deal did not happen in a vacuum: Morrison had a literary agent already in place – i.e. publishers didn’t just suddenly notice his level of sales and offer him a book deal. The story is that the book was sent out by his literary agent and it wasn’t picked up. After Morrison’s book, The Ark, started become a Kindle phenomenon, his agent thought about trying to sell the book again, and on the strength of his Kindle sales Morrison got a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster to release The Ark in hardcover and another book in the series. The book is described as:
A relic from Noah’s Ark gives a religious fanatic and his followers a weapon that will let them recreate the effects of the biblical flood, and former combat engineer Tyler Locke has just seven days to find the Ark and the secret hidden inside before it’s used to wipe out civilization again.
Most certainly, it has the scope and feel of The Da Vinci Code, like the novels of Jeremy Robinson, another self-publishing success story. The novel is another example of publishers looking at self-publishing sales to give a writer a book deal – but it is the first time this has happened with the Kindle. Given that Kindle recently lowered it’s price to $299 (still too expensive, but going in the right direction), more and more people will be using the Kindle. But even though the Kindle is composed of niche users – as opposed to mainstream book buyers who might only buy $5.00 paperbacks – the publishing industry still sees this consumer base as a good window into a book’s possible success in the greater market.
So every writer is asking themselves: How can I do this? First you need to get your book into the Kindle store. You can use Smashwords uploader, which will convert a document into .mobi format. It’s not recommended that you only sell a Kindle book via Smashwords, as most Kindle users will obviously go to the source to purchase Kindle books: Amazon. Converting a document to Kindle isn’t always as easy as it sounds, so there are conversion services available.
Using the Digital Text Platform, any writer can upload a book directly to Amazon’s Kindle store. The lowest an independent author can set a book is $.99. A new criticism of Kindle is that only mainstream traditional publishers can set their books for free, whereas self-publishers cannot – making self-publishers’ chances that much more difficult. But still, $.99 is dirt cheap compared to print prices, and given there are only (currently) 300,000 titles available, there is much less competition than in the print market.
Promoting a Kindle Book
In the Gizmodo article it says, “Morrison made a name for himself through frequent participation in Kindle online communities and self-promotion online.” Here are a few places where writers can promote a Kindle book, aside from personal websites. Boyd Morrison also offered his book for free on his personal website, but has since taken the book down from both his site and Kindle since the book deal.
1. Mobile Reads: Share your e-books made specifically for the Kindle (in Mobipocket format). Generally, Mobile Reads is a great resource for ebooks, especially if you’re having troubling formatting or reading an ebook.
2. The Book Corner @ Kindle Boards: As with any forum, just promoting yourself without actually adding to the discussion is not going to be met with great acceptance and friendliness.
3. Amazon’s Kindle Community – People post book reviews and commentary on the Kindle, and authors can get involved – again without overpromoting.
I asked Boyd Morrison about his experience with the Kindle – how he marketed his book and how often and he answered:
I didn’t use Smashwords to upload my books to the Kindle. I simply converted my books to HTML format and uploaded them myself to DTP.amazon.com. It kept the Microsoft Word formatting of my novels intact, and they looked great on the Kindle (I’m a Kindle owner).
The three discussion forums where I promoted my books the most were Kindleboards.com, Mobileread.com, and Amazon’s own discussion forums. Readers on those boards are always looking for something to read (after all, it’s why they bought a Kindle in the first place), and I priced my books for under $2 so that they would have an incentive to take a chance on an unknown author like me. Then word of mouth took over. Response to my novels was incredibly enthusiastic, and once people started buying them, my books started climbing the Kindle store bestseller lists, which in turn put them in front of more potential buyers, creating a positive feedback loop. Then the reviews started coming in, and they were overwhelmingly favorable, with all three books averaging 4.5-5 stars, which convinced more people to buy them. Unfortunately, we readers can be jaded sometimes, believing that an unpublished author getting many five-star reviews could simply be relying on friends and family to act as shills for them, but I can tell you that 95% of the reviews I received were from people I’d never met.
I tried to keep my promotional notices in forums low-key and respectful. No one likes being bombarded by advertisements, and it can be a huge turnoff if authors pepper the boards with announcements, constantly bumping their threads to the top. In fact, most of the forum threads about my books were not started by me, but by readers, which was quite an honor. My favorite Amazon forum thread started by a reader was titled “Boyd Morrison rocks!”.
It didn’t hurt that my novels had wonderful blurbs from bestselling authors like James Rollins and Douglas Preston, both of whom I met years ago at the Thrillerfest conference.
Last but not least, self-published authors should spend some time on a well-crafted book description and polished book cover art. Diane Whiddon-Brown of Novel Website Design designed my covers, and they looked great next to all of the bestselling books that my novels were listed with.
All that being said, when it comes down to the bottom line, you have to have faith that your work will speak for itself. You can’t force or plan positive word of mouth. It just has to happen, and I was lucky enough to experience that with my books.
Lessons from this for self-publishers is that Boyd Morrison had high-profile blurbs and a literary agent, so it’s not entirely a rags to riches story, more like a fairly well-dressed to riches story. But it still bodes well for how traditional publishers are viewing self-released work. Readers are becoming the gatekeepers.
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About Henry Baum
Author of The American Book of the Dead, which won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." Also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Henry was a finalist along with Alan Moore and Dr Brooke Magnanti for his novel " God's Wife" at for Best Writer at The Erotic Awards London UK in 2013. He lives with his wife Cate Baum in Los Angeles. He is the founder of SPR. Visit henrybaum.com for more information.