Can You Sell Your Books in Bite (Byte) Size Chunks?

by | May 23, 2019

By Lee Foster

Every author wants to sell books, but making that happen is not getting easier. If you discuss this with your more truthful author comrades, you may find them dividing into two groups: the optimists and the pessimists.

The public may want your book content, but may not want to buy your whole book. There may be one or a few chapters in your novel that many folks love. There also may be some special sections in your nonfiction book that your fans appreciate.

Would offering your book in small bites rather than the whole enchilada be a beneficial strategy?

My Personal Example: Northern California Travel

My personal experience in spring 2019 with one of my books is an example. That book is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. It is a travel guidebook on Northern California. Sales of the printed book and ebook this spring were modest.

However, the book is 30 chapters, and each of those chapters is also available online on my website www.fostertravel.com as a discrete chunk.

One chapter is titled “Spring Wildflower Adventures in the San Francisco Bay Area.” That single chapter, 1/30th of the book, received 6,987 voluntary reads, mainly as recommended by Google Search, in the three months February-through-April.

Folks seem to want to consume one bite (byte) of my book, but not buy the whole book.

How to Benefit from Online Small Bites of Your Book

When consumers are not gorging themselves on triple-decker consumptions of your book, how do you benefit from these diet bites?

It begins with some Google Adsense ads around your content. I earn about $1 from Google for every 200 people who come to my website. This is not a land-office business, but it provides me with some incremental protein. Private ads and sponsorship opportunities have also arisen.

I think it is wise also to allow a viewer of a chapter to download it as a printout and as a PDF. I had my website design person, Jeffrey Samorano, set up a good PDF download plugin capacity for my 500-plus articles on my website. I believe we need to serve our readers, and the reader might like to “clip” the chapter article to their phone or computer and read it later.

Your book chapter online can carry links to buy your book. The purchase is just a click away when an impulsive fan reads or rereads your article and decides to buy.

When you begin thinking of how your reader likely wants your content, some other ideas may spring to mind. For example, I have this book translated into Chinese and selling in China. I get some sales each month in China. Why burden a Chinese reader to struggle with the book in English?

The Future of Small Bite (Byte) Reads in Amazon and Apple

Amazon offers consumers unlimited reads of books enrolled in its Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) program. I am not in this program because I don’t like the “exclusivity” requirement. I want my books to be available everywhere. Your strategy may vary.

It would be interesting to hear from you if you have fared well in KENP. Are you earning significant income from KU (Kindle Unlimited) and KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library)?

I want my books to be available everywhere, including in Apple iBooks. All my books are in Apple iBooks. Interestingly, Apple, if you are following the news, now pushes ahead with a $9.99 all-you-can-read Apple + menu of magazine content. Will books be added next?

The new Apple program, ironically, may “save” many magazines that would otherwise go out of business. Maybe Apple will end up saving some authors also from utter desperation.

Accepting the Difficulties in Selling Books

However the future goes, there will be dark moments in the souls of many authors as we wrestle from time to time with the optimist versus pessimist impulses in our spirit.

Not all of our books are destined to achieve a performance as glorious as Michelle Obama’s Becoming. It is reported that she now has more than 10 million sales worldwide in all formats. Michelle Obama causes hope to spring eternal in authors.

Some negative forces at work need to be factored in to expectations:

  • The actual numbers of sales for the average book are rather small. Think very small, perhaps only 100-250 sales per book, and maybe that is per year or even per lifetime of book, depending on the citation.
     
    Brian Jud, an informed observer of book selling, wrote in April 2019 that, “According to BookScan, 93% of all new books do not sell more than 100 copies. Perhaps thinking about different ways of selling your books might be necessary, or at least considered.”
     
    Google “How many copies does the average book sell?” and you will see some variations in the answer, but the news is challenging or depressing, depending on your current resilience. Statistics can be tricky. Maybe 250 copies the first year and 3,000 copies over a lifetimes is a reasonable expectation.
     
  • Your book, once sold, may sell again and again with no benefit to you. After you sell the first thousand copies of your book, it will pop up forever on Amazon through third-party sellers. The third-party sellers may be happy to recycle your book for $1 and postage. When folks die, their libraries with your book may go to the Goodwill, which will actively sell every book at whatever low price moves the merchandise.
     
  • Even if you are the author/publisher, the only source of “new” books, others with used books may declare them new and undersell you. Amazon does not seem now to favor you as the publisher of record, even if you are POD with Amazon for the printed book.
     
    My experience has been that Amazon will feature the “new” book offer at the lowest price and will not parse the word “new” in detail. Amazon will earn income on all sales. Amazon will encourage all sales. And, of course, Amazon can change its practices tomorrow.
     
  • Your book may have been out for a while, and the low hanging fruit has been harvested. An author who wants to sell books must continue to reach for a new audience. Only some authors will be willing to accept this challenge.
     
  • The competition in your genre of book may be overwhelming, and the genre as a book may no longer be viable. This can be a sensitive issue in some sectors, including my world of travel journalism and travel books.
     
    For example, I have had travel photos in more that 300 books published by Lonely Planet, a leader in the travel book publishing industry. However, Lonely Planet has gone into sharp decline. Lonely Planet sold itself, starting in 2008, to the BBC for $190 million. BBC sold LP in 2013 to NCS Media, an American firm, for $77.8 million, a catastrophic loss for the owners of BBC, meaning the citizens of the UK. Lonely Planet recently suspended publication of its Lonely Planet magazine. The trend is not encouraging.

So as not to leave you in a cloud of depression, I refrain from further news, at this time, on the challenges of selling books.

Adjusting to the future

An agile author will accept the challenges and adjust for the future. There are breakthrough opportunities. Technology can cut in multiple directions, and some will favor the author/creator.

I am personally what might be described as a guarded optimist. Survival of the fittest and those most attentive to change and its possibilities will be the norm.

Possibly consider the bite (byte) size approach to presenting and selling your book content as articles on your website, initially funded by surrounding ads. As an author, incremental protein may save you. You may be perceived as lean, but not at all mean.
 
Photo: BigStockPhoto. Amazon link contains affiliate code.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

10 Comments

  1. Clark Shelton

    I would love to see a “how to” article on how best to serialize a completed novel into “parts” on Amazon similar to what Hugh Howie did so successfully with Wool. This would allow a reader to only purchase the first part for a dollar or two rather than invest in $9.99 or more for the entire novel. If the reader liked the first portion they could buy the second portion etc. for another $2 each OR at anytime purchase the entire novel with a credit discount off the full novel’s price. Has anyone tried this?

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Thank you Clark. This is a good question. I have not done this, so I am hoping that someone else will speak up with their experience.

      Reply
  2. Ruth Schwartz

    Lee, this is a great article, with so much more than just about serializing content. And I was reminded of something that Carla King is using for her book, leanpub.com. She offers her regularly updated book on self-publishing there and asks for payment with a sliding scale. And I remember that leanpub also is set up for serializing.

    What do you think about offering chapters via other media, like leanpub or medium.com or even patreon.com?

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Thanks, Ruth. I think all these forms are worth exploring and then reporting back to the tribe on the results. Personally, I don’t have any experience with these options. But we all welcome you or Carla sharing with us your thoughts and results on these strategies.

      Reply
  3. Jules Older

    Thanks for this, Lee. Helpful and clear, as always.

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Thanks, Jules. For those of you who don’t know, the team of Jules and Effin Olders is effective on an aspect of this “bite size” matter. See their work at https://www.julesolder.com/about_us/
      One interesting thing they do competently is what they call “mini movies,” which you can see on YouTube. They are expert in this short form.

      Reply
  4. Maggie

    I agree with you on content in bite sized chunks particularly for non-fiction. I think that has been the case for quite some time. I remember when Time-Life Books effectively stopped writing books and started marketing content. They take all the content they have and remix it into “new” books.

    What I’m not so sure about is if this works in fiction. There was an episodic fiction that was then packaged as a novel for a while about five years ago, but then it seems to have dried up in the major marketplaces. Short stories have never found an income-generating market for most authors and collections are only slightly better. Have you heard of anyone successfully trying this with fiction?

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Thanks, Maggie, for your comment. We know that, historically, the serializing of fiction was important for folks such as Charles Dickens. In more recent decades, Armistead Maupin’s novel Tales of the City was serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle, became quite popular, was gathered into books, and is now a Netflix movie. So the possibilities are out there, for fiction and non-fiction writers, using their own blog/website structures (with email alerts on newly published elements) and the external structures of more traditional publishers. In my own case, I have a modest number of followers (some of whom have signed up for notices) who know that each Wednesday or so I publish at http://www.fostertravel.com a new or refurbished travel article. The trick seems to be to set up a consistent pattern of timing and a predictable content that folks want to see. Perhaps others viewing your comment will have more thoughts on the fiction possibilities.

      Reply
  5. Becky Parker Geist

    Enjoyed this post! Thanks, Lee and Joel! This is similar to an approach I’m using with some of my audiobook author clients who have long books that they want in audio but which becomes very expensive to do all at once. Right now we’re producing a YA sci-fi novel where we’ll produce episode 1 and heavily promote it to see if we can effectively reach this new author’s audience and then see if it makes sense to do the next then the next. Keeps the cost and risk low for all parties.

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Dear Becky and All:
      Becky, you make a good point. This approach to bite size content promotion of our books should include our “sound” books. Note to all: I have done this myself, with Becky’s help. Becky, who specializes in audiobooks, did an audiobook version a couple of years ago of my travel/literary book Travels in an American Imagination: The Spiritual Geography of Our Time. This book is about 25 worldwide destinations in my travels and how, it seems to me, we live in both the most wondrous and most horrific time ever to be alive. The audiobook now exists, and I also published the audio chapters (25 units) on my website http://www.fostertravel.com. You can do a Search “travels in an” and see this, all 25 chapters. I would welcome hearing more from Becky on how a new approach to “books” might be a podcast start with units, podcasts gathered to an audiobook, then make a print book and ebook version of the audiobook. We need to be flexible and provide content, fiction and non-fiction, to an audience in the manner they welcome.
      Thanks, Lee Foster

      Reply

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