The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

The benefits of going wide as an author – Kevin Tumlinson, Draft2Digital

There are times when you might forget that there’s a world beyond Amazon.

It’s easy to do. The KDP Select Global Fund makes being exclusive to Amazon pretty attractive, after all. It eases some of the burden on an author’s shoulders—you can earn a little bit just for the pages that are read, so that even if a reader doesn’t like the book, you still get something in the transaction. And there are other perks, as well—some authors find their core audience in the Kindle Unlimited ecosystem.

But most authors (and believe me, I’ve talked to a lot of authors) didn’t get into this business thinking, “Gee, I can’t wait to only be read by people who own a Kindle!” Most saw themselves standing behind a podium, sharing the stage with the likes of Stephen King or Lee Child or John Grisham. Most saw themselves hitting the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists.

You don’t get to that level on one platform. Reaching that level of success means increasing your reach, making the effort to reach out on a global scale.

There are a number of benefits to ‘going wide’— branching out from Amazon.

 EMERGING MARKETS

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Africa largely skipped the desktop revolution.

While in the United States people were debating the merits of Mac versus PC, and computer manufacturing saw an explosion and a rapid evolution from desktop to laptop to mobile platforms, an enormous population in Africa had never even heard of computers. They had no notion of desktop publishing. No clue about the internet.

And then someone introduced the smartphone into the ecosystem.

Just like that, a revolution emerged. People who had limited access to water could now research how to drill for fresh groundwater and build windmills from bicycle parts, to power pumps and irrigation systems. And those who had no access to books suddenly had a virtual Library of Alexandria right in the palm of their hands.

Think about that.

From zero to a million, with the swipe of a finger, and suddenly a new and voracious appetite for knowledge springs up.

Amazon doesn’t serve that particular market. There’s no real profit to draw them there, just yet. African villagers don’t tend to have much (or any) money, after all. But as they gain access to the internet, they also gain access to the free resources online that allow them to build businesses of their own, to crowd source startup funds using Patreon and Kickstarter campaigns, and to participate in a global economy, using their innate industriousness and their wealth of time to get up to speed quickly.

Annnnnd boom. A brand new market, eager for knowledge, for stories, for anything that can help them change and improve their lives, emerges on the world stage.

It would be insane to not want to reach out and tap into that live-wire current, with intellectual property that has virtually no overhead, but can bring in tiny trickles that lead to big streams.

In other words, charge 99 cents for your book, and sell it to a few hundred million people, and you’re going to do alright.

DIVERSIFICATION MAKES YOU BULLET PROOF

Business is a funny thing. Even the very best business can fall to pieces without much warning.

My wife and I are fans of British television, and we recently watched the series finale of “Mr. Selfridge.” If you’re not familiar with the story, the gist is that the real-world, American-born Mr. Selfridge was the creator of one of the most successful department stores in all of the UK. Despite huge opposition, Selfridge built his store to be a new model for the industry—he literally redefined certain aspects of the business, including such innovations as moving the perfume counter out onto the main floor of the store, and encouraging shoppers to browse rather than forcing them to either buy or get out.

Selfridge had a few personal problems that eventually led to his being ousted from his own business—a move that took him from industry leader to sideline spectator in a single afternoon. He never saw it coming. Neither he nor his most loyal employees ever even considered it.

Selfridge, who was a paragon of business savvy for most of his career, saw his empire wrested from him with the dashing of a signature, and he never recovered.

The interesting thing: Selfridge’s was a diversified storefront. It had tons of merchandise in a variety of categories. But Selfridge himself had all of his eggs in the department store basket (for the most part—there are nuanced exceptions). And that was what led to him being vulnerable, to losing his authority over his own business, and to be ousted while someone else got to carry on with his name and his life’s work.

So let’s look at Amazon for a moment:

Authors who are exclusive to Amazon are beholden to its rules. And they have absolutely zero control over those rules—Amazon can choose to change its terms of service (TOS) at any moment, without warning and without recourse on the part of the authors. It’s happened before.

Recently, Amazon decided to crack down on an oft-ignored rule in the TOS, which prohibited the use of affiliate links in email. For quite some time, Amazon had simply turned its gaze from violators of this rule, and in that time several small businesses emerged, helping readers discover new authors and new books. These companies built their revenue streams based on Amazon’s affiliate links, and they did rather well.

And then, without warning, Amazon decided to start enforcing the rule. And just like that, dozens of small businesses were no longer in business. They’re primary source of revenue dried up in an afternoon.

Amazon had allowed the infractions to keep building up, because these services were funneling customers their way. But the moment it was no longer strategically advantageous to allow it, Amazon put a cork in it.

And here’s the lesson we have to learn:

Amazon will do what’s in the best interest of Amazon, always.

For a brief time, that may line up with what’s best for you as an author, as well. Certainly, having access to the KDP Global Fund is a perk for authors. Many authors have businesses that rely on that income, even up to 100%. But the program itself is a loss leader—meaning that Amazon really doesn’t make any money directly from eBook sales. They use that business to keep funneling customers into their more profitable revenue silos. Eventually, however, that will stop.

I’m not Nostradamus. I’m not gazing into a crystal ball or reading tea leaves or consulting the spirits. I’m looking at Amazon’s history when it comes to businesses like this one, and I’m considering the fact that at a certain level there will, by necessity, be an equilibrium, and the bubble will burst. Overnight, those authors relying solely on Amazon will lose their primary revenue stream, and they’ll start right back at zero.

Exclusivity with Amazon is a nice revenue booster. No question. But while you’re building that business, you’re not building the backup you’re going to need. Authors who have been in the Amazon ecosystem for years have spent zero time building up a presence and a platform outside of that ecosystem. So when it crashes, it’s game over.

The smarter play is to think in terms of the long game.

If you leave KDP Select, you will reduce the level of income you’re getting, no doubt. It’s going to take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get back to that level in the ‘outside world.’ But what you’ll build, by going wide, will be much more stable, much tougher, and much less prone to collapse than relying on Amazon alone.

The smarter business decision is to go wide.

YOU CAN EARN MORE MONEY

There, I said it.

Being in the Kindle Unlimited library has a huge perk: More money, faster.

I’ve been there. I’ve seen my revenue quadruple in a month, because I pulled titles from other storefronts and went exclusive. But I also saw a lot of my readers—subscribers on my mailing list who were loyal and trusted me to provide great stories—write to tell me that they were incredibly frustrated that all of my new books were only on Amazon, which meant they couldn’t read them.

Bad press. Bad reputation. It made me suddenly very small.

Like a lot of authors, I got into this business to go big. I wanted name recognition. I wanted invitations to speak at conventions and banquets and award ceremonies. And now, as a KDP Select author, I was doing alright financially, but not meeting any of my other life goals.

I was still a nobody on the global scene.

I’m not exactly Lee Child now, but I can say that my platform is a bit more diverse, and my reach is a bit longer. I have readers in hundreds of different countries now, including several that Amazon hasn’t yet touched. And as my work trickles and crawls and spreads, the cumulative effect starts to make a big difference in my income.

Ultimately, there’s a bit of a ceiling on the number of readers you can reach, in a given amount of time, on Amazon’s platform. And that’s because, unlike out in the ‘wild,’ when you’re locked into one ecosystem you inevitably face competition.

I tell authors every day that there’s no such thing as competition in the publishing industry. If someone picks up the latest book by James Rollins, they aren’t choosing his book instead of mine. They’re choosing his book for now. I still have a shot at capturing that reader, who may enjoy reading both Rollins and Tumlinson.

There’s no competition, because reading books isn’t a zero sum game. If a reader chooses one book, it doesn’t destroy all the other books, so that they are never an option.

If there’s competition for anything in publishing, it’s competition for attention. And on that playing field, ‘clever and creative’ can put you on equal ground with ‘spends the most money.’

So on the whole, there’s no real competition in the publishing industry in general. But in any given specific ecosystem, competition is a natural byproduct of exclusivity.

In biology, all life forms in a closed system compete for resources. That’s the nature of a closed system. It’s inevitable that I will compete against another author for placement, for attention, for the limited time and limited money that a reader has to spend. And where I could be on more or less equal footing out in the ‘wild,’ due mostly to the diversity of readers, when I’m in an aquarium I’m limited to only what Amazon is willing to feed me.

Give me wide open spaces.

A wider pool of potential readers means far more opportunities to capture interest. There are fewer limitations, and more avenues for revenue.

To put it bluntly: The world outside Amazon is much, much bigger than the world inside Amazon.

By it’s very nature, going wide offers more revenue potential than exclusivity—given time.

That’s the thing that really sticks a lot of authors. There’s simply no denying that the way to fast income is through Amazon. You’re marketing efforts will gain much bigger returns in a shorter timeframe. That’s really attractive.

The only promise that can be made, however, is that given enough time your global distribution can outpace that exclusivity. If you can be patient, and use that time to build your platform (including your mailing list, your ad campaigns, and any other resources that let you talk to your audience), you’ll eventually net returns that make it all worthwhile.

PRO TIP: Use the time to write and publish as many books as possible. Even without any other marketing, having a huge library of books available will help you increase your income—first incrementally, and then exponentially.

The more you know.

YOU CAN STILL BE EXCLUSIVE

For those of us who built our revenue streams on the back of Amazon, it looks kind of bleak when we consider moving. But there’s a way to do this strategically that will help ease the pain while still protecting you as you grow your platform.

Let’s break it down into easy steps:

  • Determine your 80/20—You may be familiar with this phrase, but just in case, what you want to figure out is what 20% of your books is bringing in 80% of your revenue. If you don’t happen to have multiple books, the answer is “my book.” And it’s more of a 100/100 rule at that point. But that’s ok … this plan is still going to work for you, with slight modification.
  • Move the other 80%—You know what makes you the most money, so let’s keep that 20% of your work right where it is. Keep the marketing going, and keep the revenue coming. Take your less productive books out of exclusivity, though, and move them into a broad solution. Now you have a body of work out there for people to discover, at least, and that’s a start.
  • Write more books—This is just the Prime Directive for authors, frankly. Write more books. Then write more. And finally, write more books. But now, as you publish, put those books into your broad solution, again and again. And if you only had one book at the beginning of this, all you’re really doing is skipping the second step. More books means more revenue opportunities, so keep it coming.
  • Promote your new platform—Place Facebook ads, share Universal Book Links (UBLs) on social media, go on podcasts, do guest blog posts—do all the things you can think to do to tell the world your work exists, and encourage everyone to go read it. The best marketing advice you’ll ever get is “go to where your customer lives,” which means “focus all your effort on reaching your customer/reader where they spend the most time.” Do that. Over and over.
  • As wide revenue increases, move the rest of your books—Do it one at a time. As you replace the monthly income of one book, move it to wide distribution. And keep doing that until all of your books are wide.
  • Use exclusivity as part of a strategy, not as your business model—You can launch a book as exclusive to Amazon, and utilize their promotional tools. You can benefit from page reads, and garner tons of reviews. But use that exclusivity like a surgical instrument. Just like any good marketing campaign or product development strategy, you should plan for obsolescence. Use exclusivity as a tool for making more money faster, and then get your book out of that small pond and into the greater ocean as soon as you can.

And that’s it. That’s how you use Amazon exclusivity to your advantage, while continuing to build a wider, more stable, global platform for your work.

It won’t be as easy, I’ll admit. It will feel frustrating, as you see other authors making a lot more money, a lot faster. But in the end, you’re trading in short term gain for long term success, and that has always been a winning strategy for any business.

DRAFT2DIGITAL CAN MAKE THIS EASIER

I’ve specifically avoided mentioned Draft2Digitial to this point, because all the advice above is completely unbiased, and unaffected by this little ‘pitch’ at the end. You can stop reading right up to this header, and you’ll have gotten some world-class advice for phenomenal author success.

Go ahead … go … it’s ok. I still love you.

But if you want make this whole thing a lot easier, then stick around for a second.

Draft2Digital helps you go wide by making it ridiculously easy. Upload your manuscript and your cover file, enter a bit of information, and hit ‘publish.’ And the world belongs to you.

When I was invited to become the Director of Marketing for D2D, I already knew all of this about the company. They have set up this business specifically to help authors to overcome some of the biggest, gnarliest pain points around. And they do a phenomenal job of it. I was a fanboy for years before I became part of the team.

Recently we introduced Universal Book Links, or UBLs. These are available free of charge at books2read.com, and they give you some nice perks, including:

  • The ability to create a unique, customized URL that leads readers to every online storefront that carries your book. One link for you, every store online for them.
  • The ability to see data about how well your links perform, including the stores that more of your readers prefer.
  • The ability to instantly update your existing links with brand new storefronts, so that your links never expire. Use them on everything from email campaigns to printed materials, without worrying that they’ll one day stop working.

There are more benefits, and more uses, but you can already see how handy these things are.

And they are FREE. Always. Even when you register for an account, they’re free. Just like that.

So check out Draft2Digital for the ability to instantly go wide with your books, and check out Books2Read to start creating Universal Book Links (or UBLS as we call them) for promoting your work and making yourself more discoverable. These are some of the best decisions you’ll ever make for your author business.

But regardless of whatever else you do, start making plans to go wide and exist the exclusivity of the KDP ecosystem. Trade short-term, limited success for long-term, unlimited growth, and you’ll find that you’re in a better place than you could ever have imagined. And short of a global boycott on eBooks, you’ll  never have to worry about waking up to the nightmare of your business being shut down by the whims of someone else.

Kevin TumlinsonKevin Tumlinson is a self-published author with more than 30 novels, novellas, and non-fiction books in his catalog. He is also the Director of Marketing for Draft2Digital—a company absolutely bent on author success. Find out more about Kevin and his work, plus get three of his best books for FREE when you register at KevinTumlinson.com, and get a start on going wide with your own work at Draft2Digital.com.

1 Comment

  1. Hey Kevin! Great article. I have been listening to you on your podcast and the interviews on the various other podcasts catering to authors. I totally agree with your advice. Although I have only one book at the moment, I can see the benefit of going wide. I tried with that one at first, but navigating all of the upload frustrations with different storefronts ticked me off. Draft2Digital seems like a godsend for authors. I will have to check it out.

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