Leave a comment

Top 5 Things I’ve Learned About Selling Ebooks

Guest Blogger: Kessie Carroll

There are a few things that go without saying, so I’m not detailing those. Namely, the story and editing have to not suck. The cover has to be awesome, with high contrast and readable text at thumbnail size. Without those two things—you know, having a QUALITY PRODUCT—you’re not going to sell a thing.

Now, on to the tips!

As of today, I’ve self-published three novels, a novella, and three short stories. I’m experimenting with different genres, pricing, and promos. My sales are far from epic, but I’ve had enough to see patterns. I will now divulge my Solomon-like wisdom. Your mileage may vary from mine.

1. Free Works Best at Launch

When a book is new, it still has that shiny new cover and smells nice. So you run a free promo so all your friends can grab it and review it (hopefully). This also serves to boost your rankings on Amazon’s Free store. Sometimes that carries over into the Paid store, sometimes not. It depends on the book.

E-book reader and variety of books

Illustration by sgursozlu • Fotolia.com

I’ve found that the more often you make a book free, the less copies it moves and the fewer reviews it gets. Diminishing returns. Write the next book. Which brings us to …

2. Short Sells Better Than Long

There’s all kinds of depressing statistics showing that people’s attention spans are shrinking. But that’s good for writers.


Short-form stories are making an awesome comeback. If I remember correctly, a novella falls between 20-40k words. The last Nick Sparks book was 45k.

This means you can write MORE stuff FASTER. Short works are easier to edit, critique, and beta read. You can revise them faster. People can read them quickly.

Amazon has entire categories for short stories. They sort them by time: 30-minute reads, and one-hour reads. My short stories wind up in those, sandwiched between episodes of romance manga serials. I wish I were kidding.

Because …

3. Series Sells Better Than Stand-Alones

We all watch TV, right? Episodes where our heroes fight monsters, solve mysteries, develop relationships, and deal with metaplot. They usually end on a cliffhanger or twist that keeps us waiting for the next installment.

Series are like that. That’s why J. K. Rowling outsold Diana Wynne Jones and became a household name, and people only know Howl’s Moving Castle because of the movie. Series gets readers involved. They want to know what comes next. They want to see their heroes grow and change. It’s why series romance sells like Furbys at Christmas—people feel like they’re friends with these characters and want to spend more time with them.

That’s why serials have come back in a big way. This is how to write a serial:

Three episodes, 20k each

Release them three weeks apart

This is your “pilot episode.” Cliffhangers in between each episode. Wrap up the story in Book 3, but leave it open for more if it takes off.

Bundle the episodes and sell it as a box set. (This is where people make money.)

And by the way …

4. Kindle Unlimited Rocks for Short Stories

KU is a subscription service. Ten bucks a month gets you all you can read from the KDP Select library. If your book gets borrowed, you make about $1.30. And of that borrow was on a 99-cent book? Profit!

But people have to want to read your book in the first place. Which is why you need to know that …

5. Some Genres Are Hotter Than Others

Go to Amazon and browse the Kindle categories. Drill down into your favorite genre. There are more and more categories with fewer and fewer books in them.

If you publish to a tiny category and hit No. 1, Amazon will boost your visibility in the other, bigger categories. Visibility means sales (if your cover doesn’t suck).

Check the best sellers. See what categories they’re in. Often they dominate a few little ones and one big one. Read them. See what they’re doing right.

Now see if you can write something as engaging as those best sellers. If you keep it short, you can throw it out and see how it does.

WARNING: Only write stories you love. Because that one that you hate will be the one that takes off, with rabid readers waving their wallets and demanding sequels. Hugh Howey just threw Wool out there and it went nuts. Good thing he liked it enough to turn it into a serial.

Indie publishing is wonderful fun. You can try things quickly and capitalize on success. If something sells? Write more of it! Advertise that sucker! If it doesn’t sell? Try something else.

The market changes all the time. Watch the hot summer movies and the hot TV shows. People often want books like them. Right now, sci-fi is hot: Ender’s Game, Gravity, Interstellar. The Martian is going to be a movie, too. That’s my personal experiment—a sci-fi serial aimed at the little categories. Will it sell? Only way to find out is to write it.

For further reading, check out The Creative Penn on Marketing Vs. Sales.


Kessie CarrollKessie Carroll is a prolific writer of lots of genres. You can find her at her blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: