My experience selling a draft novel on the Amazon Kindle

The first draft of THE HOLE was, for about five months, available as an ebook on Amazon’s Kindle store.  I did this as an experiment: would an unrevised draft (a “beta book,” so to speak) both sell if priced low enough and act as a good means for gathering feedback for revision?  In short, the answer is “yes” for the first and “no” for the second.  What follows is my general experience of the Kindle process, from both a technical standpoint (how easy was it to setup?) and an economic (just how many did I sell, anyway?).

Publishing to the Amazon Kindle

Getting setup as an Amazon publisher is easy.  The only step beyond having an Amazon login account was to give them my bank information for payment (them paying me, that is–I didn’t have to pay them anything).  Adding books takes slightly more work.  Most of this consists of filling out forms (title, author, edition, description, price, etc.) and the bulk of the work is in formatting the manuscript for Kindle viewing.  I have to admit, this was probably more difficult for me that it would be for most.  The reason is, I do all my writing in an application called Scrivener. It’s very likely the greatest writing tool ever, but it also means that I have an extra step when I’m done of exporting to Word and then taking care of a bunch of formatting issues.  Authors working in Word, or any other word processor, to begin with will have an easier time of it.

Uploading the manuscript is a snap and Amazon does a good job making it look pretty enough.  If I were publishing something new, I’d spend a bit more time coming up with a nice PDF with better chapter headings and other shiny formatting bits.  On the whole, though, getting the novel into Amazon was far smoother than I expected it to be.

Selling E-books

I did not price the book at anywhere near retail, as I couldn’t imagine doing so for something that wasn’t yet retail quality.  On the other hand, I knew people enjoyed reading it–this based on the enthusiasm the web serialization had garnered–so I figured there was nothing wrong with charging a little.  After all, I do write to (eventually) get paid and the story was available for free to those who wanted to browse through my blog to read it.  Having it on the Kindle was value added.  So I set the price at $3.49.  Amazon knocked twenty percent off to $2.79.  That put the book firmly in the impulse buy category.

The novel has sold relatively steadily since publication, with a slight bump in October (people like to buy horror stories around Halloween, oddly enough).  “Relatively steadily” means roughly a copy a day–which is far better than I expected, actually, and an encouraging number for first outing.

Generating Feedback

My goal in making the draft edition available on the Kindle was two-fold.  Yes, I wanted to earn some money, and I succeeded in doing that.  But I was also hoping to turn the product’s Amazon page into a forum for reader feedback.  This hasn’t happened.  I’ve had four readers post reviews (three if you discount the one from my wife) and no one has started a thread in the book’s discussion area.  I’m not too upset by this, as it’s wonderful enough that people are actually buying and reading the book.  In the future, though, I’ll simply direct all feedback to my website.

Publishing to the Kindle has been–and continues to be–worthwhile.  I will certainly use it again the the future and I expect it to become a more viable income source as the number of folks out there with the device grows.  Amazon has a neat product on their hands and it’s one aspiring authors should consider embracing.

Update: As part of signing a publishing deal for THE HOLE with Permuted Press, I agreed to take down the ebook discussed above. The web version is still available, however, and I’m currently working on editing that draft for eventual print release (and ebook) release. If you want to know when that happens, just follow me on Twitter or fan me on Facebook and you’ll automatically be in the loop. Oh, and you’ll get notices about my new fiction, posts on writing and publishing, and more.

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65 Comments

  1. I found this article posted on reddit. Thanks for writing about your experience selling a novel on Kindle. I will keep Kindle in mind when I write a novel, someday. :)

  2. hi aaron – you should sign up at booksummit – it’s a social network for kindle owners, and you can talk 1 on 1 with people and get feedback on your book. There are already some authors doing this (see the forum) and it’s working better than simply waiting for reviews at amazon.

    – abhi

  3. hi aaron – you should sign up at booksummit – it’s a social network for kindle owners, and you can talk 1 on 1 with people and get feedback on your book. There are already some authors doing this (see the forum) and it’s working better than simply waiting for reviews at amazon.

    – abhi

  4. Hi Aaron:
    I posted a comment re: your blog post over at Teleread, but wanted to share w/ you more directly as well. I agree with you regarding your experience with trying to get reader feedback via the Kindle. For a few of our Kindle Books, we have included a link w/in the book to an online page (formatted to work w/in the Kindle experimental browser) asking for some basic feedback on the book and on the Kindle reading experience of the book. We’ve gotten nothing – and, Kindle did not make it easy to insert this kind of questionnaire into the Kindle process. Which is a shame, since interaction with readers, or between readers seems one of the more obvious possible benefits of a Kindle(or other e-reader)format book as opposed to your plain old p-books.
    It’s early in the game, and hopefully we’ll soon see these kinds of reader feedback/interaction capabilities integrated into the publisher side of ebooks.

  5. Thanks for posting this infor. I was just starting to research how to go about getting published on Kindle. Wish me luck!

  6. Hi Aaron:
    I posted a comment re: your blog post over at Teleread, but wanted to share w/ you more directly as well. I agree with you regarding your experience with trying to get reader feedback via the Kindle. For a few of our Kindle Books, we have included a link w/in the book to an online page (formatted to work w/in the Kindle experimental browser) asking for some basic feedback on the book and on the Kindle reading experience of the book. We’ve gotten nothing – and, Kindle did not make it easy to insert this kind of questionnaire into the Kindle process. Which is a shame, since interaction with readers, or between readers seems one of the more obvious possible benefits of a Kindle(or other e-reader)format book as opposed to your plain old p-books.
    It’s early in the game, and hopefully we’ll soon see these kinds of reader feedback/interaction capabilities integrated into the publisher side of ebooks.

  7. Thanks for posting this infor. I was just starting to research how to go about getting published on Kindle. Wish me luck!

  8. Hi Aaron:
    I posted a comment re: your blog post over at Teleread, but wanted to share w/ you more directly as well. I agree with you regarding your experience with trying to get reader feedback via the Kindle. For a few of our Kindle Books, we have included a link w/in the book to an online page (formatted to work w/in the Kindle experimental browser) asking for some basic feedback on the book and on the Kindle reading experience of the book. We’ve gotten nothing – and, Kindle did not make it easy to insert this kind of questionnaire into the Kindle process. Which is a shame, since interaction with readers, or between readers seems one of the more obvious possible benefits of a Kindle(or other e-reader)format book as opposed to your plain old p-books.
    It’s early in the game, and hopefully we’ll soon see these kinds of reader feedback/interaction capabilities integrated into the publisher side of ebooks.

  9. Thanks for posting this infor. I was just starting to research how to go about getting published on Kindle. Wish me luck!

    • Charlene:

      Good luck with it. Like I said above, it’s a surprisingly easy process.

      • Mary Conner

        I noticed that the published copy of your book has an ISBN. I’m considering publishing a novel on Kindle Direct and I was wondering how well you felt Amazon protected your rights as the author of the book. Did you feel like your work was more exposed to potential plagarism because of the medium, or did you feel like Amazon’s measures were sufficient?

      • Hi, Mary. I don’t think my book was more exposed to that sort of thing by being on the Kindle than it would’ve been published any other way. If someone wants to copy my book, they’ll do it, whether it’s in paperback or on the Kindle or anything else.

      • Mary Conner

        Thanks for the input. Kindle Direct Publishing seems like such a good opportunity for new/unpublished writers that I needed some feedback on whether it was too good to be true!

      • It’s definitely not too good to be true — but it isn’t a panacea either. You still have to work pretty hard to get people to actually buy your book. It won’t sell itself just because it’s on Amazon.

  10. Hi Aaron,

    My name is Claudio de Souza Soares, I’m a Brazilian novelist [http://www.santosdumontnumero8.com.br], system analist and editor of Pontolit, a e-zine about the impact of technology on reading and writing processes.

    I read about your experiment, and decided to share this learning experience with our readers. But I thought it would be better if you could write some words or authorize us to republish your article [we can translate it to Portuguese].

    Off course, we’ll link your site and book.

    Last month, for example, we published an article from Jeremy Dibble, of Legacy Libraries [LibraryThing.com].

    Waiting your response. Congratulations for your good job.

    Best wishes,

    Claudio Soares [http://www.pontolit.com.br]
    [http://www.twitter.com/pontolit]

  11. I loved your post about your publishing experience with Kindle. I am published with Grand Central but have often tinkered with the idea of publishing directly again and what I love about Kindle is that it cuts out the middle man.

  12. I loved your post about your publishing experience with Kindle. I am published with Grand Central but have often tinkered with the idea of publishing directly again and what I love about Kindle is that it cuts out the middle man.

  13. I loved your post about your publishing experience with Kindle. I am published with Grand Central but have often tinkered with the idea of publishing directly again and what I love about Kindle is that it cuts out the middle man.

  14. I’ve been wondering about this and appreciate you sharing your experience. I am curious: at $3.49, how much of that do you get per sale? Thanks.
    ~jon

    • J. M. –

      I make $1.22 per copy sold. So I get roughly a 35% royalty. And it looks like Amazon take whatever amount they discount from retail (since they’re selling it for $2.79, not the full $3.49) out of their cut.

  15. I’ve been wondering about this and appreciate you sharing your experience. I am curious: at $3.49, how much of that do you get per sale? Thanks.
    ~jon

    • J. M. –

      I make $1.22 per copy sold. So I get roughly a 35% royalty. And it looks like Amazon take whatever amount they discount from retail (since they’re selling it for $2.79, not the full $3.49) out of their cut.

  16. I’ve been wondering about this and appreciate you sharing your experience. I am curious: at $3.49, how much of that do you get per sale? Thanks.
    ~jon

    • J. M. –

      I make $1.22 per copy sold. So I get roughly a 35% royalty. And it looks like Amazon take whatever amount they discount from retail (since they’re selling it for $2.79, not the full $3.49) out of their cut.

  17. The mainstreaming of novel technologies creates opportunities, but makes evaluating success rather difficult. My personal benchmark, for a non-fiction educational book, will be whether Kindle sells enough copies to recoup any costs. A close friend, however, cautioned me that Kindle purchasers might be replacing traditional sales.

    How could one measure that? Is that something that can be determined? Any ideas?

  18. The mainstreaming of novel technologies creates opportunities, but makes evaluating success rather difficult. My personal benchmark, for a non-fiction educational book, will be whether Kindle sells enough copies to recoup any costs. A close friend, however, cautioned me that Kindle purchasers might be replacing traditional sales.

    How could one measure that? Is that something that can be determined? Any ideas?

  19. @abhi Thanks for letting me know about booksummit. I’ll definitely check it out. The Kindle user base strikes me as large enough to be pretty viable from a sales perspective, but also small and early adopter enough to make networking within it worthwhile.

    @Kat I agree, it’s unfortunate that the Kindle doesn’t seem to get the kind of interaction one would hope for. In the future, I’ll likely abandon the idea of using it as a platform for draft feedback and just focus on it as an ebook publishing medium.

    @Jeff I hadn’t heard of Grand Central. I’ve been looking around for a way to get the book available on other devices, too. My plan has always been to give away the web/blog version for free, but charge people if they want to read it in another format. Do you have any experience with Smashwords? They look to provide such a service.

    @Eric The opportunity costs of Kindle publishing are probably very difficult to measure. In my case, it was either Kindle or nothing, so any sales I make are benefits. But if the book sees print, then the cannibalization of sales becomes more of an issue. Though if the per-Kindle sale earnings are greater than the per-print sale earnings, then it doesn’t much matter. And Kindles 35% royalty is roughly twice that of traditional print publishing.

  20. This is definitely something I’m going to be looking into very soon. How many sales do you average per month?

  21. The challenge of writing for publication on the Kindle is that while the demographic is that of “early adopters,” they are adventurous with gadgets but not with books. People who buy the Kindle then want to download free books or those of bestselling authors like Stephen King. The availability of free samples alleviates this somewhat.

    • Libby, I’m not sure that my experience bears out your conclusion. I’m an entirely unknown author and I’ve sold a relatively strong number of books on the device. And, given that every link I’ve created on my site has included my Amazon affiliate ID, and given that that ID has tracked very few sales, my guess is that the majority of people buying THE HOLE aren’t coming to it from my site (people who read my site probably already read the book in its serialized blog form). Maybe people who are willing to try one new thing (the Kindle) are also willing to try another (my novel).

  22. The challenge of writing for publication on the Kindle is that while the demographic is that of “early adopters,” they are adventurous with gadgets but not with books. People who buy the Kindle then want to download free books or those of bestselling authors like Stephen King. The availability of free samples alleviates this somewhat.

    • Libby, I’m not sure that my experience bears out your conclusion. I’m an entirely unknown author and I’ve sold a relatively strong number of books on the device. And, given that every link I’ve created on my site has included my Amazon affiliate ID, and given that that ID has tracked very few sales, my guess is that the majority of people buying THE HOLE aren’t coming to it from my site (people who read my site probably already read the book in its serialized blog form). Maybe people who are willing to try one new thing (the Kindle) are also willing to try another (my novel).

  23. The challenge of writing for publication on the Kindle is that while the demographic is that of “early adopters,” they are adventurous with gadgets but not with books. People who buy the Kindle then want to download free books or those of bestselling authors like Stephen King. The availability of free samples alleviates this somewhat.

    • Libby, I’m not sure that my experience bears out your conclusion. I’m an entirely unknown author and I’ve sold a relatively strong number of books on the device. And, given that every link I’ve created on my site has included my Amazon affiliate ID, and given that that ID has tracked very few sales, my guess is that the majority of people buying THE HOLE aren’t coming to it from my site (people who read my site probably already read the book in its serialized blog form). Maybe people who are willing to try one new thing (the Kindle) are also willing to try another (my novel).

  24. I too have a book available on Amazon Kindle. How did you attract attention to yours. I feel like mine is just buried there. What other E book formats do you use? I haven’t been the best at marketing my book, I’m active duty military. What do you do to market yours besides the blog etc? Wishing you success.

    Jeffrey M. Hopkins
    author of
    BROKEN UNDER INTERROGATION

  25. I too have a book available on Amazon Kindle. How did you attract attention to yours. I feel like mine is just buried there. What other E book formats do you use? I haven’t been the best at marketing my book, I’m active duty military. What do you do to market yours besides the blog etc? Wishing you success.

    Jeffrey M. Hopkins
    author of
    BROKEN UNDER INTERROGATION

  26. I too have a book available on Amazon Kindle. How did you attract attention to yours. I feel like mine is just buried there. What other E book formats do you use? I haven’t been the best at marketing my book, I’m active duty military. What do you do to market yours besides the blog etc? Wishing you success.

    Jeffrey M. Hopkins
    author of
    BROKEN UNDER INTERROGATION

  27. Jeffrey,

    You must blog and blog and blog, linking to reviews of your books and including your book’s Amazon page in your signature. Some blogs:http://www.amazon.com/gp/forum/cd/discussion.html/ref=cm_cd_notf_thread?ie=UTF8&cdForum=FxBVKST06PWP9B&cdPage=29&asin=B000FI73MA&cdThread=Tx15UAKRX5252A#
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/forum/cd/discussion.html/ref=cm_cd_notf_thread?ie=UTF8&cdForum=FxBVKST06PWP9B&cdPage=318&asin=B000FI73MA&cdThread=Tx3IZAKD22TKOQ0#

    Also submit your book to book review blogs, like Literate Housewife. Avoid the mistake many make of hyping their own books (“My book, such-and-such, is a masterpiece of science fiction that will hook you from the beginning”) or quoting extensively from good reviews (especially if they’re from your friends). Just say what the book is about, how you came to write it, and link to the Kindle and any other editions (not your Web site) at the end. Good luck!
    Libby Cone
    Author, War on the Margins: A Novel
    http://tinyurl.com/5bcta4
    http://tinyurl.com/6y973d

  28. Jeffrey,

    You must blog and blog and blog, linking to reviews of your books and including your book’s Amazon page in your signature. Some blogs:http://www.amazon.com/gp/forum/cd/discussion.html/ref=cm_cd_notf_thread?ie=UTF8&cdForum=FxBVKST06PWP9B&cdPage=29&asin=B000FI73MA&cdThread=Tx15UAKRX5252A#
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/forum/cd/discussion.html/ref=cm_cd_notf_thread?ie=UTF8&cdForum=FxBVKST06PWP9B&cdPage=318&asin=B000FI73MA&cdThread=Tx3IZAKD22TKOQ0#

    Also submit your book to book review blogs, like Literate Housewife. Avoid the mistake many make of hyping their own books (“My book, such-and-such, is a masterpiece of science fiction that will hook you from the beginning”) or quoting extensively from good reviews (especially if they’re from your friends). Just say what the book is about, how you came to write it, and link to the Kindle and any other editions (not your Web site) at the end. Good luck!
    Libby Cone
    Author, War on the Margins: A Novel
    http://tinyurl.com/5bcta4
    http://tinyurl.com/6y973d

  29. Blogging works! I have heard from a publisher, and am waiting to receive their offer. Hit the blogs, folks!

    Libby Cone
    Author, War on the Margins: A Novel
    http://www.waronthemargins.com/
    http://tinyurl.com/5bcta4
    http://tinyurl.com/6y973d

  30. That’s great Aaron! Best of luck to you, too!

  31. That’s great Aaron! Best of luck to you, too!

  32. Miranda Knox

    I have a novel of 240 pages that I would like to post for purchase on kindle myself. It is a memoir of working and traveling on board a billionaire’s yacht.
    I thought this might be a great way to attract interest and get some editing tips as well.
    Is there a way to find out more information about the steps to selling an unpublished manuscript on Kindle?

  33. Miranda Knox

    I have a novel of 240 pages that I would like to post for purchase on kindle myself. It is a memoir of working and traveling on board a billionaire’s yacht.
    I thought this might be a great way to attract interest and get some editing tips as well.
    Is there a way to find out more information about the steps to selling an unpublished manuscript on Kindle?

  34. Miranda Knox

    I have a novel of 240 pages that I would like to post for purchase on kindle myself. It is a memoir of working and traveling on board a billionaire’s yacht.
    I thought this might be a great way to attract interest and get some editing tips as well.
    Is there a way to find out more information about the steps to selling an unpublished manuscript on Kindle?

  35. Lisa

    I just gotta say I love my kindle and the cheap books. My taste is a bit rough but I enjoyed “The Misogynist” by Emily Downs.It can be a bit vulgar at times. Be warned. But it's cheap.http://www.amazon.com/The-Misogynist/dp/B001V5J…She is the bestselling author of “Lisa Loves Girls”http://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Loves-Girls-ebook/dp…2 books for under 2 bucks. The kindle will own publishing.

  36. Lisa

    I just gotta say I love my kindle and the cheap books.

    My taste is a bit rough but I enjoyed “The Misogynist” by Emily Downs.

    It can be a bit vulgar at times. Be warned. But it's cheap.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Misogynist/dp/B001V5J

    She is the bestselling author of “Lisa Loves Girls”

    http://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Loves-Girls-ebook/dp

    2 books for under 2 bucks. The kindle will own publishing.

  37. What's particularly interesting about Kindle pricing is that, given the royalty rates and the fact that an author can entirely bypass the publisher's cut and printing costs, a book priced that low can yield as much or more per copy to the author than the traditional method. This moves books more into the impulse buy arena. My hope is that it also makes shorter works more viable from a sales standpoint. I'd love to see novellas make a comeback.

  38. What's particularly interesting about Kindle pricing is that, given the royalty rates and the fact that an author can entirely bypass the publisher's cut and printing costs, a book priced that low can yield as much or more per copy to the author than the traditional method. This moves books more into the impulse buy arena. My hope is that it also makes shorter works more viable from a sales standpoint. I'd love to see novellas make a comeback.

  39. Lisa

    I just gotta say I love my kindle and the cheap books.

    My taste is a bit rough but I enjoyed “The Misogynist” by Emily Downs.

    It can be a bit vulgar at times. Be warned. But it’s cheap.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Misogynist/dp/B001V5J4VO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1246301307&sr=1-2

    She is the bestselling author of “Lisa Loves Girls”

    http://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Loves-Girls-ebook/dp/B002EZZJ4Q/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1246298800&sr=1-7

    2 books for under 2 bucks. The kindle will own publishing.

    • What’s particularly interesting about Kindle pricing is that, given the royalty rates and the fact that an author can entirely bypass the publisher’s cut and printing costs, a book priced that low can yield as much or more per copy to the author than the traditional method. This moves books more into the impulse buy arena. My hope is that it also makes shorter works more viable from a sales standpoint. I’d love to see novellas make a comeback.

  40. bob

    looking for something a bit more specific.

  41. Sorry this wasn't what you were looking for, Bob. I'd be happy to try toanswer any specific questions you have, though, if you want to post themhere.

  42. Hi Aaron,
    Congrats on your success and thanks for writing about it.

    Did you publishing deal come about because of your Kindle sales or because of other work you were doing to promote/pitch it?

    Thanks,
    Julie

    • I’m pretty sure it was the latter. The publisher asked me about the Kindle sales when we were discussing a publishing deal and I passed along the numbers, but Permuted Press had expressed some interest before that. I’m sure the Kindle stats didn’t hurt, however.

  43. Hi, i just happened across your post of 2 years ago! I have finished a novel of 65000 words in the style of Michael Crichton-ish and just given a hard copy to my wife for comments-yikes! i was wondering whether or not you had had much success with Amazon since 2008 and if you would recommend this path. Harry

    • Hi, Harry. There’s not much in the way of updates since I wrote this because, shortly after the post went up, my novel was picked up by a publisher. As part of the publication deal, I had to take down the Kindle version (it’ll be back when the revised novel comes out sometime in 2011).

      That said, Amazon has sold a ton more Kindles since I wrote this post, so I can only imagine there’s more opportunity for success today than two years ago. I’d say “go for it” with your book and see what happens. Best of luck.

  44. BryanDoyle

    I’m a simple guy, no computer expert….so my question is, since people aren’t literally walking by and looking at books on shevles…where they can literally SEE something, how do you get people out there to notice your novel. There are (I don’t know) a gazillion books out there. What do you do, marketing-wise, to make yours stand out? I do have a book I just put up on kindle, but except for me personally telling someone I know, ‘Go to…’ I’m not sure how to move it. Be patient??? Is that the answer? Hit and miss?

    • MagnusBakke

      @BryanDoyle

      You set the price low. People will buy it. If it’s the first in a series, and it’s good, then they will buy the next volume, which should be a lot more expensive. Otherwise, the book will be suggested if people look at books that are similar to yours.

    • @BryanDoyle As a new author, you’re going to have a difficult time no matter what. There are lots of books out there and lots of new ones coming out every day.

      That said, what @MagnusBakke suggests is a good idea (I just did it with my new short story collection, in fact). I’ve also had luck telling people about my books on Facebook and Twitter.

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