5 Things I’ve Learned from Publishing My First Novel

Hey guys, Ryan here. As many of you know, I released my debut novel, Gods of the American Wild, two months ago. I wanted to take some time today to talk a little bit about what I’ve learned from my first self-publishing experience.

1. Reviews are Hard to Get

The book has tens of thousands of pages read, more than enough downloads to have reached the top ~2000 on the paid store for a brief time in April, and yet there are only 5 reviews so far for the book, which has a call to action to review in the back. From what I’m told by other authors, you can expect 1 review per 100-200 paid purchases, or 1000 free downloads. This is a tough spot, because reviews are so important to increasing sales conversions from the Amazon page. To be competitive with other books on the market, having 20-30 reviews should be a good starting point.

2. Starting with a Free Promotion is Not Worthwhile

I spent the first seven days and a huge amount of my launch enthusiasm on a free promotion, the idea being I wanted to get the book in the hands of as many people as possible to increase its store ranking and get reviews coming in. I used my once-per-3-months Kindle Select sales promotion for that. Unfortunately, what I learned is that the free book sales ranking, even when it’s a sales promoted free discount, is completely separate from the paid store rankings. Imagine my shock when the sale ended and it went from being #4 in its category (free) to #4000 (paid) overnight. The free promotion did get pretty huge traction, about a thousand downloads, but from that only a few reviews popped up — however because they got the book for free, the reviews didn’t receive the ‘verified purchase’ label. Thankfully, they were incredible reviews.

Looking back, though, the first seven days would have been better served by making the book $0.99.

3. AMS Ads are Good, but Deliver Slowly

For all the advertising I’ve done on the book, Amazon Ads had the best return on investment by far. I get about $0.70 back for every $1 I spend. Not ideal, but not bad either, considering the ads also appear to increase my Kindle Unlimited reads. The only downside with AMS ads is it’s very difficult to scale them. On Facebook and Twitter, if an ad has traction, you can increase its budget and accelerate the pace of the ads very easily. On AMS, however, you could set a daily cap of $1000 if you wanted, and it’ll still only deliver $4-5 worth of ads a day. The only method you have for scaling them is to duplicate the same keyword sets with new ad copy or add more keywords, which may not be as high quality as the keywords that are delivering sales and could potentially dilute ROI of the ads.

AMS also has very limited analytics for analyzing its ads. Not only is it missing basic metrics, like CTR, although you can calculate that on your own, it’s missing any kind of tools to help you get an understanding of the demographic that’s successfully converting to sales from page visits.

4. There are Lots of Fake Book Promotion Sites

There are at least 100 sites I found that claim to promote new books to hundreds of thousands of followers on social media for the low, low price of $20-$100. Almost 100% of them are sites that look like they were made in about 5 seconds on a default WordPress install, and when you go to their ‘thriving’ social media channels, you see follower rates and page likes in the hundreds of thousands, but abysmal, near zero engagement. Oftentimes the only followers who appear to be real people are clearly people who paid for the service, and the same can be said about the few people who engage with the posts. Considering how prevalent follower purchasing is, and how legitimately popular, well-known people often have follower counts far below these unknown services, the only rational conclusion to draw is that you’re paying for exposure to a bot army that won’t buy you book.

5. Kindle Unlimited is Totally Worth It

Making a decision about Kindle Unlimited is one of the first things you have to do when you move forward with the publishing process. It gives Amazon exclusive rights to the ebook for a limited period of time, but the book also gets enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program, which is essentially Netflix for books. The money I’ve made through KU far outpaces the money I’ve made through direct sales. This could just be my personal experience, or could be a side effect of being a new, unknown author, but nevertheless, it’s the case. My theory is perhaps that people are hesitant to purchase a book they don’t know enough about from an author they’ve never heard of, but the readers on KU are more hardcore and also have less to lose since the book is free, and as a result, are more likely to take that chance.

So that’s it, those are five lessons I’ve taken away from the first month. Surely there will be more to come!

Ryan is a writer from Los Angeles, California. Follow him on Twitter here, and be sure to buy his new book, Gods of the American Wild.