How to Profit from Your Content by Thinking Outside the Book

by Joel Friedlander on March 11, 2014 · 21 comments

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By Jason Matthews

I remember feeling liberated after publishing my first novel on Amazon and Smashwords. Almost miraculously, within the first hours of release a few sales happened. This came after years of investing effort, tears and money to get the novel written, so those initial sales exhilarated me enough to share the news with anyone who would listen.

During a phone call that evening, my dad said, “Now you can sit back and watch the orders roll in.”

He’s right, I thought. Those books are going to sell themselves.

I’ve been wrong countless times, but that moment was a milestone in the bad assumption department. I later realized a constant marketing effort would be required to sell my book, even in discouraging amounts.

It’s not enough to write a great book, unless yours is so hypnotically contagious that everyone insists it’s a must-read. You will also need to market well or suffer the author’s greatest fear: obscurity.

Eventually advice from writing sages enlightened me: the secret to selling books—and I was not thrilled to hear it—write more books!

Easier Said Than Done?

Um, okay, easier said than done, especially when the first book took several years. Anyone who’s written a full-length book knows how taxing it is. Those three little words, write a book, roll off the tongue with ease but performing the task can be a Herculean effort.

An author may feel spent after producing one, two or even three books, and then she is told to produce another. Is there ever an end to it?

Unfortunately the rule of thumb says no; an author must continue to write new content. This has always been the case, but the advent of digital publishing has taken it to a higher level.

Every year the total number of authors and books grows exponentially while the number of readers remains about the same. To stand out from the crowd, an author needs a larger platform, and more books.

Reminiscent of the cliché, best of times and worst of times, Dickens’ opening paragraph for A Tale of Two Cities perfectly illustrates the indie author dilemma.

Creating New Content

But wait, there is some good news—or at least advice that’s more pleasant—and a clue exists above. Instead of only focusing on writing more books, think about creating new content.

While I agree that having multiple books is paramount, creating new content is a close second and has hidden benefits. Let’s discuss some less intimidating projects that can accomplish this goal.

Here are some non-full-length-book examples of writing new content:

  • short stories
  • blog posts
  • guest blog posts
  • articles and essays
  • novelettes and novellas

And hey, if you have more books aching to be expressed, by all means go ahead and write them. But you may want to mix it up, do other projects simultaneously that are faster and also help you market existing titles while the next book comes together.

Think of it like an athlete cross-training to get stronger overall, even though he excels in one sport.

Short Stories

Most authors have short stories that were written years ago. If you have a few and they’re just sitting around doing nothing, those shorts are wasted opportunities for content and marketing. Why not get them on Smashwords and then Amazon for free?

Ebook readers download freebies far more often than they pay for books, and when readers discover a good author they often pay for the next book on the menu. I don’t have many short stories on Amazon, but the free ones I have there get downloaded in bunches, and sometimes those readers buy my other books.

At present, Amazon won’t let you set a price of free (the minimum is 99 cents), but they have a price-match guarantee. Since Smashwords does let you price a book for free and distributes to Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc., then Amazon will price-match your book to free as well.

All you need is to format those shorts stories and get a simple cover made. The results may be a pleasant surprise.

Blogging

Blogging is a fantastic way to create new content. Blogs provide a venue to write about anything, and you can update them whenever you have time.

I’ve written more words in blog posts than in all my books combined—they’ve been the driving force for strangers around the world to find my articles and then books.

Blogging also gives literary freedom. Many of my successful posts have been on topics that aren’t my specialty, like things I find interesting about the National Football League. However, for topics that are a specialty, like self-publishing on a budget, a blog is ideal for regular articles.

Perhaps the subject matter of your books could be the foundation of your blog. The other nice thing about blog posts is that people will find you via search engines for a range of new keywords.

“I always feel better as soon as I begin writing—it’s the starting part that is so hard.”—Click to Tweet

Guest Posts

If maintaining a blog feels like too much commitment, write “guest posts”—articles for other people who have blogs on similar subject matter. Or you can submit articles and essays to online publications like Ezine Articles or Technorati.

Novelettes and Novellas

What are novelettes and novellas? They’re longer than short stories and smaller than novels. Novelettes are usually 8,000 to 20,000 words, and novellas go from there to around 50,000 words.

It’s all subjective, but many readers prefer shorter works these days as reading time is scarce. Amazon has created Kindle Singles where authors can submit these shorter works for review and price books between 99 cents and $4.99.

Remember to include:

  • links to your website and/or social media
  • links to your paid books

It amazes me how often authors forget to add these links—for all of the content you create.

Start Writing Now

Whether you’re writing more books or creating new content, procrastination will still creep in. It’s an odd thing: have you ever noticed how hard it is to start writing, but that once you’ve begun, it feels wonderful?

The timer sounds reminding you to get going, but you may find yourself cleaning doorknobs, rearranging a closet, doing anything other than sitting at your desk. At moments like these remind yourself, I always feel better as soon as I begin writing—it’s the starting part that is so hard.

I make an effort to write new content one hour a day—that’s it. Not a lofty goal compared to most authors, but this is actually a mind-trick to get the juices flowing.

One hour is mentally easy to commit to, and once the hour has passed I usually keep going. And even if only one hour of writing happens, it’s amazing what comes together by the end of a month.

If you have a day job and a tight schedule, make a goal to write for 20 minutes. Even 20 minutes a day can lead to surprising results in just a few months. A mountain can be climbed one step at a time, even with baby steps, and books can be written a few paragraphs at a time.

7 Tips to Help with Creating New Content

  1. Write content that supplements your books especially in a blog.
  2. When writing on other subjects, use keywords wisely.
  3. When releasing new content, let readers know via your social media channels and email subscribers.
  4. Encourage conversations. Pose questions, even if it’s aimed at broadening the topic in a humble way. What have I missed? Please share your input.
  5. List all of your books in the beginning and at the end of your books.
  6. The digital versions should have working links, especially the Amazon Kindle version. For other retailers, you can link to your website, blog or social media page. Make it easy for readers to find your books with one click if possible.
  7. Include the first chapter of the next book in a series at the end of your book, and also include a link to purchase.

Have you tried writing new content to sell your books? Tell us in the comments.

Jason MatthewsJason-Matthews- of eBook Success 4 Free is Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He is also a novelist, blogger and self-publishing coach. He works with writers around the world through every phase of book creation and marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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    { 20 comments… read them below or add one }

    Jason Matthews March 16, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Smart questions, Niki. I’ve mostly declined guest-blogging opportunities unless the site is very well managed and in line with my subject matter, like this one. My lesson came after an article I submitted to an acquaintance got completely butchered and posted to her blog, which annoyed me to no end. What you said is a great way to start: discussing possibilities with blog owners of sites you enjoy. There are also sites like http://myblogguest.com/ that have forums to help put the right people together and articles with thorough advice from people who do it regularly like here: http://moz.com/blog/five-steps-to-finding-the-right-guest-blogging-opportunities. You can also ask the people you respect most in your social media circles.
    If you do it, my advice is to only do it for a site that is run professionally or to host writers you respect. Matt Cutts of Google is on the record of not being a fan of guest-blogging that appears to be done to extend your links as they see that approach as spam.

    Reply

    niki March 15, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    Thanks for this great article. I really like the idea of guest blogging, but, I was wondering how to approach others. Do I offer a reciprocal arrangement or compliment their blog and offer to guest, or ask them to guest first on my site and then hope they ask me in return?

    Appreciate your insights.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews March 15, 2014 at 8:30 am

    My sympathies, Richard. This is the age we live in as writers, with more content being produced than ever before and the need to stand out. During your impending studies, identify things that might work for you and give a few a try while keeping the others on the back-burner. If you’re looking for authors who might be willing to do review exchanges, you may try asking around in Facebook groups especially with authors in your genre or subject matter. Amazon has removed some reviews from authors reviewing each other, but not always, so try not to go about that approach full force as could be interpreted as “gaming” the system. I know that’s not a fair way to say it, but Amazon has removed reviews in the past for that reason.
    Another idea is to make offers regularly for free ebooks in exchange for a reader’s review. Hopefully some people will respond.

    Reply

    Richard G. Stevens March 15, 2014 at 8:17 am

    I am giving up my much-needed one hour’s writing time to read everything that will help me get my two novels off the ground. I know that I should take the opportunity everywhere [including here] to spread the word but being an archetypical non-trumpet blowing Englishman makes it a difficult process. Even the word ‘blogging’ makes my stiff upper lip quiver with distress; I have now resigned myself to a writing-related face book page and have taken the domain name richvens.co.uk so as to do something – something – but what? That’s why I’m reading everything available to guide me across the stony ground of self-publishing to the promised land. Just some review out of the blue would be helpful. I read somewhere about teaming up with other authors so as to exchange reviews but how should I go about finding these folk with time on their typing-hands to give me a leg up? Ok here I go, expecting the heavens to open up and a big booming voice to utter ‘Stevens – that’s just not cricket – leave such verbosity to our colonial cousins!’ Anyway my two offerings to an unwilling readership on Amazon KDP are ASSURANCE and MiSDirection. End of commercial, but not the end of my need for help and a little encouragement.

    Reply

    Greg Strandberg March 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    I think a factor might be reviews and sales. When I got my fantasy book perma-free it was after a promo that got the book about 20 sales. This was when it was getting maybe 2 a month before. At the same time I got some reviews in for that book.

    Both of those things knocked that book up in the rankings big time, and I think that caught Amazon’s attention a lot more than giving them the links (with that book I’d been the only one trying to price match it through the links on the Amazon product page).

    When they saw a book moving maybe some algorithms or something came into play, which searched that book and found it on other retailers, thus reducing the price to zero. None of us really know what goes on behind the magical Amazon curtain, however, so who knows?

    With the current book I’m trying for I’ve got 1 review, but barely any sales. I’ve got lots of free downloads on Smashwords, and actually got a sale and return on Amazon this week, I think because the person found it free.

    So what to do? I don’t know. If my earlier theory is correct than a promo might do the trick. Other than that I think it’s just me putting in those links every once in a while and hoping they pick it up.

    Reply

    Royce Day March 12, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    That’s about right. I always notice a slight bump in sales when I release a new work, and my top ‘sale’ every month on Amazon is short story “Good Landing”.

    OTOH Blogging seems to make little difference to my sales, though that’s probably because I still use LiveJournal primarily.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews March 12, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Royce, blogging is one of those that can be hard to measure. I still believe it’s a useful thing to have even if you’re not seeing immediate results. Time always helps with blogging. Also it takes the pressure off to just make posts when you can or when inspired. I don’t believe you have to blog weekly (or more often) as some people recommend.

    Reply

    Alana Woods March 11, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Good suggestions, Jason. When it comes down to it, it’s a matter of constant plodding–just keep going.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews March 12, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Cheers, Alana. I’ll keep plodding along with you.

    Reply

    Frances Caballo March 11, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    This is a great post, Jason. I write nonfiction and I hadn’t considered releasing any of my short stories individually. But maybe once I polish them, I will. I’d just never thought about it in terms of the content I tend to write and release. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Reply

    Jason Matthews March 12, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Thank you, Frances. Polish them and get them out there. I think you’ll be surprised how often freebies get downloaded. Hopefully it leads to some sales with your paid books.

    Reply

    Hedonist March 11, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Great article, Jason! I’ve already started doing some of the things you mention, though I’m still struggling with creating content 1 hour a day. In an effort to get more of my work out there, I’ve written short stories, guest posts, and the occasional opinion piece on my own blog. In addition to releasing short stories as freebies (some of which are not quite yet price-matched, but rather works in progress), I’m looking into getting some accepted into collections featuring other writers to help discoverability as well, so that might be a tip for others to try. :)

    Reply

    Jason Matthews March 11, 2014 at 11:14 am

    That’s a really smart addition to this list: collections with other writers. A good way to make a small contribution and benefit from the collective community. Thank you, H. :)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 12, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Have to agree about collections, especially for the busy author. I had a chance to participate in several, and you can “claim” all the books you are a contributor to. Thanks for the input, Hedonist, and to Jason for a post that really gets you thinking about your own content production.

    Reply

    Greg Strandberg March 11, 2014 at 2:13 am

    Some good points.

    I certainly wish it were as simple as Amazon just price-matching a book to free when other retailers list it as free. I think most authors know that’s just not the case, however.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews March 11, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Delays can happen, Greg, especially when the price difference hasn’t been brought to Amazon’s attention using the Tell Us About a Lower Price feature that is on the product page. If no reader uses the feature and an author waits for Amazon’s bots to detect the price difference, it can take weeks or even months. If someone else (a reader or friend) uses the Lower Price feature, it usually gets done within a few days.

    Reply

    Greg Strandberg March 11, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I’m sorry, but that’s just not the case.

    You can have dozens of people put in all your links and Amazon will make the choice to price-match or not based on their own secret criteria.

    Perma-free isn’t some magic bullet you can just turn on and off as you see fit.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews March 12, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Hi Greg. It sounds like maybe you or an author you know has had trouble getting a book made free at Amazon? Interesting. I’ve done it twice myself and many times instructing other authors and never had a problem with it aside from it sometimes taking a bit longer for an author in the UK compared to one in the US.
    As per the “magic bullet” analogy that gets “turned on and off as the author sees fit,” that’s not what the article recommends. Once an ebook is set to free it should remain there forever. The article mentions using Smashwords and its distribution partners (Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc) to establish the book for free at many venues before getting Amazon to price-match it. I could have been clearer by mentioning an author should use the Tell Us About a Lower Price feature to accelerate the process. Thank you for bringing that up to clarify.

    Reply

    Greg Strandberg March 12, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Believe me, I’d love to get another perma-free book. I set my $0.99 ESL book to free right when it came out last month. I posted on my ESL website, asking people to enter the links into Amazon. They did so, I know this.

    I did it everyday for weeks, and yet my efforts and theirs have produced no results.

    Amazon chooses which books to price-match. It can see people entering links, but if it’s a book or an author they don’t care about, well, they do nothing.

    I guess my question would be, therefore, how long do you and others keep entering in those links expecting something different to happen?

    Jason Matthews March 12, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Greg, I would try again with new friends, and I would give them the links to your free book at 2 direct Amazon competitors like Barnes & Noble and Apple, not at Smashwords or some other (less competitive) retailer. I’m skeptical that Amazon would allow employees to decide which books and authors they care about as you mentioned–it seems likely they would have more interest over which competitors offer the book for free IMO.
    Now that I’ve looked at your books, I see you’ve been successful setting the price to free for The Jongurian Mission at Amazon. It’s obviously not a KDP Select book since it’s available at the other major retailers. Since you were able to set that book to free and are having trouble with the ESL title, what other factors might go into that difference other than employees deciding which books they care about?

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