How To Create Amazon Kindle eBooks - Useful Advice For 2014
I’m going to shed light on a really fun online business I started a couple of years back. I am the proud self-publisher of 40 children’s e-books which made me more money than some people’s annual salary without putting in near to 40 hours a week and I barely wrote a word and never drew a single picture.
Like Justin Bieber, it started with YouTube.
It started with a humble beginning back in when I was in university. I was watching a YouTube channel that I liked (Search “King human” if you want to check him out). He talks about different businesses that he or other people he knows have tried or are currently running. In this particular video he was talking about one of his subscribers who was publishing books on Amazon and making decent money. He had some $10 video course on how to do it so I thought, “What the hell, worst case I’m out a beer or two.”
It ended up being one of the best purchases I have ever made. The course didn't really teach how to make big money on Amazon, it showed you how to set up a publisher account, format and upload your books. Scratching my head not really knowing what to publish, I thought business books would do well. At the time, I was running a small lawn aeration business in between school years and was knowledgeable enough to put together a beginners 101 on the business ins and outs.
Within a week I wrote a 30-something page book, hired a freelance illustrator off Fiverr to design the cover and uploaded it to the Kindle marketplace. I thought, “that was easy” and that the sales would just funnel in and I’d soon quit school and become a millennial millionaire like all the stories you see on social media. Watch out Tim Ferris, my next book is going to be called “The Zero Hour Work Week.”
Alas this level of wealth never materialized, I knew deep down it was too good to be true but a guy can always dream.
Stop dreaming, start building.
However, I did expect more than the three sales it made! Self-publishing is tough. Although it doesn’t sound like much, there is something about actually creating a product and having people from around the world purchase it that really gained my interest. I was hooked. I published a couple more business books. I tried a couple other niche markets such as various “how to” guides and specialty food cookbooks because everyone is a foodie these days right?
These books did not do any better than my first, talk about real struggles.
Even though I didn’t see much success in terms of sales, I was still motivated by the idea of creating a portfolio of books and kept looking for an idea that would sell. It was after watching another video about e-book creation and a different marketing approach that I finally started to see something lucrative with the whole Amazon Kindle e-book business.
The World of Minecraft.
It turned out I was going about it the wrong way in the first place, how cliché. Instead of creating e-books on topics that I liked and knew about, things that apparently don’t sell well, I was supposed to be creating e-books on topics that potential customers were interested in. Who would have known!? After this epiphany I started researching the Kindle market to see what was currently trending; what type of books were topping the charts? That’s when I dabbled into the children’s book market, yes kids’ books! Specifically books on a popular game called Minecraft. There was a clear indication of high and rising demand for such books, as there were already ones in the market selling like crazy. I thought, why not? Let’s give this a shot!
Leverage what exists and make it better.
I remember the first one I made was on tips and tricks for the game. To be fully transparent, I never really heard of Minecraft before, let alone play it and was about to publish a book on it. I headed over to YouTube to see what all the hype was about. I still don’t really understand this game but after watching a couple videos on “Minecraft tips and tricks,” I figured I had enough material to put something together. So I wrote down what I heard and what I saw from the videos, put my own spin on it, got a cover designed on Fiverr and uploaded my first children’s book in the same day.
I ended up publishing a bunch of how to guides for the game but what eventually became the highest earning books in my portfolio were children’s adventure stories based looselyon The World of Minecraft. I had the process systemized through simple outsourcing. I would come up with an idea and send it to a ghost writer who crafted an engaging short story. Next, I’d send the completed story to my graphic artist who would do the illustrations and design an awesome cover that appealed to kids. You really can judge a book by it cover, especially kids’ e-books. I would take the mostly-complete book and input marketing material, format it and upload it to Amazon. Once on Kindle the last step was to advertise it on my twitter, Facebook and to email distribution list. Having it systemized like this made it so easy to create new books quickly and efficiently. Over the course of a year I was able to put out 40 children’s adventure books, check some of them out here. Things were going great, so I thought.
Hit me once, I stay in the game.
The first hit that I took wasn’t a deal breaker as it didn’t kill the business. It was a mere flesh wound. Amazon created a new membership program for their readers called “Kindle Unlimited” which gave readers the opportunity to borrow unlimited books from a “library” of books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited for a monthly subscription fee, instead of buying individual books as a one off. As a publisher, agreeing to have your books added to the exclusive Kindle Unlimited library meant a couple things. First, you are no longer getting paid per individual sale of your book. Instead you are receiving a percentage of a pot of money (determined by Amazon on a monthly basis) divided among all authors that have signed up to be a part of the program based on the amount of borrows your book received in which customers read over 10% of the content. Second, you are agreeing to have your books available solely on the Amazon Kindle marketplace. Seeing that I was only selling on Amazon, and being part of the program gave a few Kindle Unlimited exclusive marketing tools, I figured it would be best to join. I started to see the majority of the competition joining and to stay competitive I felt it would be the best decision at the time.
The program had virtually killed all figures I used to receive from individual sales. These new “borrows” became the new method in which customers were consuming reading material. The amount received per individual sale had been ~$2.10 and now per borrow via Kindle Unlimited I was receiving roughly $1.80/borrow. The result was a 30 cent loss per unit, not a deal breaker but obviously something I was not thrilled about to say the least. Less money more problems.
Hit me twice, I’ll feel some pain.
The second hit came a lot harder. I don’t know whether it had something to do with Microsoft buying Mojang, the company that created Minecraft, but around the same time, they became a lot stricter with their copyright rules and enforcement. I received an email saying that they are no longer being lenient when it comes to “unofficial products” and that in order for me to keep the books in the marketplace I would have to take out a bunch of content such as certain names inside the books, words from the title etc. These were search engine optimization (SEO) terms I needed to attract readers as it would let them know, “hey, this is a book based around Minecraft, you’ll love it!”
I ended up complying with everything they asked and I spent a couple days going through all the books changing what I had to and re-uploaded them to the Kindle store. Note, this was probably the most work I had to put into this business. I did it myself since I didn’t trust anyone to outsource this to as the risk was too high to lose out on a lucrative business, even if my returns were lower. It’s all about getting your slice of the pie in the end.
All this work and the updated books didn’t yield the same results. Certain words I had to remove in the title had been really helping with the SEO of the book. For example, when people used to search “Minecraft book,” my books would show up. Now that key words had been removed, the books fell from the first page of search results to the tenth plus page. This meant that in order for readers to find and purchase my books, they had to go through at least ten other pages of similar products. No one has time nor interest to search that far in.
Hit me three times, I’m out.
After the second blow I figured it was time to try a different market. I still wanted to create children’s books and since I had a streamlined system in place for content creation and graphic design, I figured there had to be another hot game out there that I could create loosely based books around. I was right, I created more products, sales picked right back up and the money was flowing like the “good old days” once again. Then the third and final hit literally knocked me out. Nothing could have saved me from what Amazon decided to throw at me. It was kind of like the Mortal Kombat “finish him!” move to my business.
It turned out that Amazon wanted to, yet again, change the way they paid their publishers to increase their bottom line and push out authors who were putting crap content out there. I could write a whole new article about this alone, it was frustrating that others trying to beat the system took guys like me out with them.
While the majority of my portfolio consisted of children’s books, averaging 35-40 pages per book, getting paid fraction of a penny per page didn’t really help me at all. It couldn’t even buy me a weekly coffee at Starbuck let alone Tim Hortons. In fact, it made it not worth continuing with the business at all.
And that was it, I exited the business of self-publishing children’s e-books. What a fun ride, it’s hilarious to look back and see the print copies I had on my desk and to think people saw value in something I created and were willing to pay for it. It was rewarding as silly as you may think it was.
Value trumps all.
When you start a project or business I firmly believe that you should make sure there are a limited amount of uncontrollable variables that could hinder your success. Looking at the business I built, there were a few key uncontrollable variables that I failed to consider. My business primarily depended on the fact that the Amazon Kindle market, as well as the game of Minecraft, stayed relevant. There was nothing I could do as a small self-publisher to prevent either of these markets from tanking. I had to deal with the problem of getting out of the Minecraft market by switching to a different popular topic and saw all Minecraft books profitability drop drastically overnight. Second, the fact that Amazon changed the way they paid their publishers twice while l was in the business was another factor I had no control over. In the end it ended up killing the business. It’s a pretty crappy feeling having to accept the end of such a fun and lucrative business but there was nothing I could have done to salvage the business model from the uncontrollable variables affecting it.
Before you start do your research, look at the big picture and think long term. Examine and see exactly how many variables your business is dependent on and make the decision if it’s worth it to invest in it or not. In hindsight, if I could have done it all over again, instead of only publishing 40 books, I would have tried to create as many as I could have, 400 if possible. This is only because each product was very inexpensive to bring to market and my track record showed each product turned profit within the first month. If the business involved expensive investments, or smaller yields and the same amount of uncontrollable variables I probably shouldn’t have continued. If you notice that certain factors are playing against the success of your business, factors that you have no means of influencing, sometimes the best decision is to cut your losses and invest your time and money into a new project that you have more control of.
Learn, live and move on to the next one.