Getting to the Top of the Charts on Amazon Kindle

by Joel Friedlander on May 27, 2010 · 10 comments

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Today I’m pleased to have a guest post from author Zoe Winters. Zoe is a prolific author in the Gothic Romance genre, a prodigious blogger, and a contributor to Publetariat and Indie Reader. She’s also a fierce advocate for independent publishing.

This week two of Zoe’s self-published novellas hit #1 and #2 in Amazon’s Kindle store for Gothic Romance, quite an achievement for any author, let alone a self-published one. I asked Zoe to tell her story, and here it is.




Joel asked me to write a guest blog about getting to #1 and #2 in Gothic Romance on Amazon Kindle for my novellas: Kept and Claimed. I’m never one to turn down an opportunity at self-promotion, so I said sure! Also when someone else asks me to toot my own horn I can say: “Well, they asked me to talk about it.” So I look less like an egomaniac this way. Though, possibly not, since I’m letting you all in on my evil plans.

The Ten-Year Plan Takes Shape

I released Kept originally at the end of November 2008. The plan was to start building platform and newsletter subscribers. I gave Kept away free on my site (you can still get it in PDF here: Kept ) and a few other places.

zoe winters self-publishing indie publishing amazon kindleI also put it on Amazon for 99 cents (’cause they won’t let indies give things away). I thought it wise to get my name into the Amazon system, so when I released something else I would have some platform built.

I had a bunch of people naysay me. “You shouldn’t self-publish. You need to have a NY publisher. How do you know you’re good enough? Blah blah blah.” But the NY thing never appealed that much to me, and even when I was on that path I couldn’t motivate myself to work very hard at it.

I started Twitter and Facebook accounts, and I’ve been blogging for about 2 and a half years now. At first I wanted to keep it quiet that I was self-publishing. I was afraid people would prejudge me instead of letting the work speak for itself. But I got so excited about what I was doing I had to share it with people.

I was suddenly excited to get out of bed in the morning. I saw it as a big adventure. The goal being . . . how high can I climb . . . as an indie? Not as some means to an end. And I’m still asking that question. Where I am now . . . sure, a lot of people are starting to quote me, and use me as an example of a successful indie, but I’m 1.5 years into my 10 year plan and if you think I’m stopping now or resting on my laurels, you’re smoking the wacky weed. I’m just saying.

As I learned things about being indie, I shared them with others. I got into debates on blogs and forums, ’cause I’m a loudmouth and I can’t help it—I don’t know how to shut up. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, as I’ve probably gotten into arguments that made me look like a horrible person and didn’t do me—or my platform—any favors. But each time I’d meet someone on the same path as me, and it would feel worth it.

By being so outspoken I’ve managed to get people behind me. Over time this has led to my involvement with Publetariat, IndieReader and guest blogging over at Self Publishing Review. A big part of my platform has become my “rah rah indie” thing. And probably particularly because I don’t WANT a NY publisher. Due to this, I don’t really care what they think about me (should they inadvertently stumble upon me) and it’s made me free to be uncensored.

Agents Come Calling

I received an email from an agent asking if I wanted a call to talk about representation. But . . . I like being indie. I like being in control. I’d sell foreign rights some day if someone ever asked, I mean it’s not like I can translate my own book into German or something. But the only way I’d sign a NY contract is if I was absolutely in the power chair.

Only way that would happen is if I succeeded wildly as an indie. So NY is fairly irrelevant to me. I’m just doing my thing and don’t want to have to give up rights to things that I can manage better myself. Such as my digital rights. I’m not sure there is enough money on the planet to convince me a NY publisher is wise right NOW for me. Even if I wasn’t a control freak. I’m not having my rights tied up for 7 or more years while they overprice my ebooks and make it impossible for me to succeed in the digital world.

Low-cost ebooks, with e-readers on the rise, are one of the best platform-building tools available to authors since . . . ever. Why on EARTH would I let a publisher hobble me in that area? Part of doing as well as I’ve been doing so far is that I have a direct line to my readers, and I don’t have to wait for someone’s permission to do something that is common sense.

When I released Kept on Kindle there were close to 300,000 books in the Kindle store. Now there are over 500,000. Over the past year I’ve become absolutely convinced that ebooks are the future. Being well-positioned now is wise. The longer someone waits, the harder it will be to succeed. I already feel like I’m behind sometimes.

Slowly, Kept started climbing in ranks until it was consistently under 2,000, then under 1,000. Then I released the second novella, also for 99 cents, called Claimed. Claimed was out for a week before it dropped under 1,000 in ranking and Kept’s sales bumped up.

As of this writing, my lowest overall Kindle sales rank for Kept has been 209 but it normally hangs out in the 300′s. My lowest for Claimed has been 444, but it normally hangs out in the 500′s. I’ve sold almost 6,000 copies of Kept now on Kindle. (But almost 1,000 of them will be this month alone. So it was a very slow build at first.) And I’m consistently #1 and #2 for Gothic Romance right now.

It All Comes Together

I think a lot of factors have converged . . . my loudness in the indie community and willingness to debate things with people. It’s funny how many male fans I have for my fiction, and it’s paranormal romance. But a lot of them met me through my whole rah rah indie thing. They liked something I said on a blog, then they got curious. Then they inevitably wrote the Amazon review that starts with: “I don’t normally read romance but . . .”

While my cover art for the novellas was done by me and “not” professional, they still have been eye-catching enough to “get the click.” (Though future books that will be released in print and E will have pro designs.) I don’t want to say I’m a good writer. Other people can say it but I’m not allowed to. Just like someone can’t self-reference as “pretty.” It’s narcissistic. But I do know that there is “something” about the way I tell a story that is grabbing people.

And believe me, I don’t take it for granted. I’m grateful for every one of my readers.

Three Things You Need to Succeed

Good book + Good packaging + Good marketing = Good results.

If you aren’t getting good results either one of the above is “off” or what you’re writing is good, but has limited appeal. There is a pretty big market for paranormal romance, so out of the gate I already have a bit of an advantage if I can write and package well. Romance also has a big market of ebook readers. So another perk for the genre I’m writing in.

I just released Mated, but as of this writing, Amazon still doesn’t have it totally processed and for sale (by the time you read this, it probably will be), so I can’t comment on how Mated is doing just yet.

So that’s the story up to now. I’m very excited by what I’ve done so far, but . . . I still want to take over the world. That’s part of the ten-year plan, after all.




Thanks, Zoe, that’s quite a story, and you deserve the success you’ve had. I’m sure this is just a beginning for you. For readers who want to find out more:

The Weblog of Zoe Winters – Zoe’s author blog. Warning: Some of the conversations on this blog are “R” rated.

In the Kindle store: Kept, Claimed, Mated

Takeaway: Being an indie author means you are in charge of your own publications, make your own plans. You can be a success, and the time to get started is now.

All Amazon links in this article are affiliate links.

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    { 8 comments… read them below or add one }

    Kait Nolan May 27, 2010 at 8:15 am

    Having seen Kept from before you released it, it’s been so exciting to see you build momentum. And motivating enough that you got me to hop on the indie train myself. I’m a year and a half behind you, but watch out woman, I’m a-coming! :D

    Reply

    Mayowa May 27, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Amen Zoe.

    I’m a big fan of writers exploring ALL avenues of publishing before making a conscious decision of which one to pursue.

    Congratulations on making it to the top and good luck.

    Reply

    Zoe Winters May 27, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Kait: I live in fear of the day you bypass me!

    Thanks, Mayowa! It’s a long way to the top, but I’m making good progress!

    Reply

    Jason Letts May 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Joel, nice pick for a guest blogger. I’d seen Zoe’s name around before, but wasn’t aware she was indie.

    Zoe, your success is admirable, and I hope you continue to climb. After checking out your website, I’m surprised you don’t vend your books directly from there (not the free one) in addition to Amazon and other sites. It seems like it would not only increase your margin but generate more action on your site. Have you thought about doing this? I’m sure Amazon appreciates that you haven’t.

    I’ll actually be releasing a book in the young-adult genre in a week or so. Any advice or words of wisdom for those of us just starting out? Thanks for sharing your thoughts here with Joel!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Just wanted to thank Zoe again for telling this story, and doing it in an engaging way. And thanks, Jason, I’m always interested in indie publishing stories.

    Reply

    Zoe Winters May 27, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Jason,

    Hey, I don’t sell off my own site right now mainly because any sale I get off my site that I could have gotten off of Amazon doesn’t help my Amazon rankings. And Amazon is a force to be reckoned with. I may do it, but I’m ambivalent about it. Not sure I’d have enough people wanting to buy directly from me.

    Also my loud mouth seems to float a lot around the Internet. I think it’s funny you didn’t know I was indie cause usually I’m all “Indie rah rah.”

    re: advice: Be social. Network. Join conversations. Let people get to know you. You’re selling you first, your book second.

    BUT… I am still learning all this myself.

    @Joel Thanks for inviting me!

    Reply

    Vincent Nguyen May 27, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Thank you for your inspiring post Zoe.
    I commend your strength and endurance during the course of your “indie” journey. :-)

    I have written down your 3-step success formula and putting it to practice now.

    Thank you Joel for inviting an energetic friend like Zoe.

    Reply

    Zoe Winters May 28, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Thanks, Vincent!

    Reply

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