With Kindle DP just about anyone can upload an eBook and have it on sale in the Amazon Kindle Store within 24 hours. Demand for the Kindle device is rising – and Kindle eBooks are now outselling paperback and hardback books combined.
As with everything you’ve got the ‘scammers’ and ‘get rich quick’ crowd trying to muscle in. I wrote a post about this back in May:
That post led to an interview by a Reuters journalist. Which led to an article that got worldwide syndication talking about people who were creating low quality eBooks out of unedited PLR content. Fortunately Amazon has now closed that loophole.
But Kindle DP remains a revolutionary publishing platform – and earlier this year it really came to my attention when a self-published guy called John Locke sold his millionth Kindle eBook. He also released an eBook called How I Sold A Million eBooks in 5 Months.
And then my buddy Sean Platt – who blogs at www.ghostwriterdad.com – came out with his own variation of creating a fiction based business using Kindle. His model is really elegant – and I really like it.
Sean has written an eBook with his writing partner Dave Wright called Yesterday’s Gone. What he’s done that immediately made me sit up and take notice, is release the book in six episodes. And the episodes are published periodically. (Initially it was monthly. Then it changed to every three weeks. For ‘Season 2’ it’s going to be weekly). The individual episodes are available for $0.99 – and the compilation is available at $4.99.
The moment I saw this model in action I loved it. And I asked Sean if I could interview him about the process. Because it’s not just applicable to fiction – as you’ll see.
1 So How did you come up with this Kindle fiction model?
Like most ideas, it didn’t come all once, so much as it was a combination of many different ideas coalescing in unison.
Serialized fiction goes back to Dickens, and Arabian Nights long before that, so neither Dave or I invented it for Yesterday’s Gone. But we saw a huge window worth climbing through. Modern consumers are buying bite-sized content, and that blended nicely with how we wanted to tell our story.
As far as constructing the model itself, we knew what we wanted our initial price point to be and what we would charge for the full season, then constructed our story around that scaffolding. That was the yin. The yang was matching our six episodes to the model established by Stephen King’s “The Green Mile,” which also had six issues.
We knew we would have a pilot and a finale, and that each episode would stand on its own as far as excitement, intrigue, and overall completeness. On TV, episodes must stand on their own, even if they’re part of a much longer story arc. Ours did, too. And like TV, our scenes were written out of order and then edited together.
2. How does the Amazon ‘Ranking’ algorithm work (e.g. Reviews, Lists, Recommendations etc)?
Amazon and Google are similar in many ways. Both are search engines, even though Amazon’s search is intended for buyers, and they both want their searchers to be happy. That means delivering the best possible results, with both relevance and quality. Like Google, Amazon goes where people go. Make sure you’re delivering superior content that people will talk about, both on Amazon and with their friends, and Amazon will reward you with higher placement.
Also like Google, no one knows exactly how Amazon’s algorithm works. What we do know is that Amazon loves reviews which come from verified buyers, they can sniff out fake reviews, and social media links do count.
If people are liking your Amazon page and linking to you on Twitter, Amazon will notice. I don’t know how much this affects your ranking as a ratio, but it clearly does. Social conversation will have an ever increasing impact, which is another reason I believe serialized fiction will do especially well as time goes on. People love to talk about what they’re thinking about. The open loops and cliffhangers of Yesterday’s Gone and all serialized fiction, when done well, will lead to readers thinking about the stories, even when they’re not reading.
3. What steps are you taking to ‘goose’ this along?
Amazon is a search engine, so if you build your publishing strategy around keywords, you will have an easier time getting found. But this doesn’t work nearly as well with fiction because you don’t name stories things like, “Scary Monster Story!” though I have thought about it!
Because of Amazon’s massive page rank, it easy to get your keyword-based book to perform well in searches. So while we’ve used this keyword strategy on our nonfiction titles, we’ve pretty much ignored it for Yesterdays Gone which doesn’t have a keyword title, or fit neatly fit into a searchable genre, at least not in a way where we would have any serious chance of meaningfully outranking the competition.
The natural promotion we’re doing for the title will send links to the Amazon page, which will let Amazon know it’s a book people care about. That helps goose our results quite a bit, I imagine, though it’s impossible to know for sure.
4. How are you promoting YESTERDAY’S GONE outside of Amazon?
Exactly like I am right now. By doing interviews and guest posts, having profiles, trying to be out there – all over the place and all at the same time. I’ve had a lot of email lately, “You’re everywhere!”
I have to be. If I’m not everywhere, it’s not enough. You crush it on Kindle, only when everyone’s talking about you. And everyone’s not going to talk about you unless you’re everywhere. As soon as Dave and I finished the first season of Yesterday’s Gone, we knew my full-time job would be promotion for the rest of the year.
We’re talking about it on our own satellite sites such as : Ghostwriter Dad, Writer Dad, and Collective Inkwell. But our focus is on interviews and guest posts, such as the ones we’ve done with Jonathan Fields, Copyblogger, and Jane Friedman.
5. On Copyblogger you mentioned that you ‘borrowed’ techniques from some episodic TV. Can you expand on that a little?
Oh yeah, sure, great question!
TV is a visual medium, and books are different, of course. But we love the BANG! openings and cliffhanger endings of serialized television, along with writing our scenes out of order, then editing them together. This made for fun, efficient writing.
While beginnings and endings are important, the main thing we cribbed from scripted television was the flow. The pilot sets the stage for the season, and every episode for the remaining season leads to the shocking cliffhanger finale, which whets your appetite for the upcoming season.
That’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Yesterday’s Gone, and precisely what I believe we managed to do!
6. What other writing devices did you use/discover/invent specifically to take advantage of the Serial Fiction.
Our focus with Yesterday’s Gone was to craft a story that was clear and concise, with intelligently articulated open loops. We wanted to make sure the season worked as a whole, and like other great scripted serials, left enough questions for the upcoming season, while closing enough loops for the reader to feel satisfied.
Copywriting has really helped immensely. The job of a copywriter is to keep their reader glued to the page, all the way to the end, where they can then take action.
Our story starts with a BANG, like a headline, compelling promise, or opening hook, and maintains pace until the cliffhanger ending. In essence, our ending is a call to action, and that CTA must be compelling enough to make the reader feel like inhaling the following episode.
Sure, if you don’t like the book, you won’t buy the next one. But then again, if you don’t buy the next one, we didn’t do our job as writers. If people aren’t buying after the first episode, we failed.
7. Season 2 is set to be released one episode a week….what prompted the change in publication schedule?
We were originally monthly, then three weeks apart. But these were both wrong. That publishing schedule doesn’t fit the format. Serialization is church, and should be weekly. Can you imagine a serialized TV show surviving with one new episode each month, or even 3 weeks apart? No way, we get impatient when our shows break for two weeks worth of repeats.
Weekly makes sense. We need to write them ahead of time, then release them on schedule. Like TV.
8. Can you sketch out the Kindle publication process – and how easy/difficult it is?
I’ve talked with many self-publishers and everyone has a different way of doing it. At the time of this interview, we have 19 titles on Kindle, each went differently. We’re refining our flow daily.
Having said that, this is how I would define it at the moment:
We produce a rough draft, good enough for an initial edit. Once it returns from the editor, Dave and I give it a final once over, adding a dedication and pages at the back of the book which either lead readers to other titles or prompt them to review the book on Amazon. Once this is finished, the title gets dropped into the Kindle queue, where it waits in line for layout, cover design and final upload to Kindle.
We are doing everything except the edit ourselves, which is horribly inefficient. We can’t wait for this to evolve. There are many people who can design covers, then do our editing, layout and uploading to Kindle. Unfortunately, we’ve been moving too fast to build that team. Soon, though. It’s high on our list.
9. Do you have anything built into the eBooks to get people from reading the books in their Kindle to heading over to your website and getting them onto a list so that you can send them notifications of upcoming books?
Absolutely! I’m a big, big believer in audience engagement. I want readers, and fans. That’s the number one take away from my first three years online: an engaged list is essential to growth. I want to notify my readers as soon as we publish Season 2.
I’d love to get emails from my favorite authors, so as long as we’re not abusing the privilege, I believe readers will enjoy what we put in their inbox.
We also use our books to send people to our sites where they can know us as people, and maybe discover some of our other work. This is especially important for us as a small publishing house with varied interests. The Inkwell currently publishes everything from children’s poetry to gory horror, with writing and social media books in between. An odd mix, but we’re the common denominators.
10. Do you plan to publish just stuff by yourself and David or once you’ve build up your list do you plan to get other writers on board (the ghostwriter dad’s ghostwriter LOL!)
Absolutely. I love working with other writers. I came up as a ghostwriter, and taking other people’s words from good to great is one my favorite things in the world to do. Also one of the things I’m best at.
I see myself as a publisher as much as a writer. Publishers celebrate writers. Collective Inkwell is a publishing house, and while David and I are the biggest authors there now, that might not always be the case.
In addition to Dave, I have co-authored books in the works with Danny Cooper, Tracy O’Connor, Danny Iny, Lori Taylor, my wife Cindy Platt, and even my daughter Haley. Of course I want to publish stuff all by lonesome as well, but above all, I am a collaborative writer.
11. How can this Kindle Fiction model be applied to Non-Fiction?
Another really great question! I’ll answer by example.
I have a book called Writing Online. That book has 18 individual chapters, each relevant to becoming a prosperous writer: marketing, building a list, blogging, social media, work habits, etc. The book is fat with advice, but depending on where you are in your online journey, you might not need it all. Yet, it was the book I had to write, the one I wish I’d read three years ago when I first started, because reading Writing Online three years ago would have saved me two years of struggle.
You can buy an album on iTunes for $9.99, but you can also buy individual songs as singles for $.99. We’re applying those principles to our books. Writing Online’s chapters are available as $.99 singles, so if you want to learn SEO but don’t care about Twitter, you can buy the SEO primer for $.99.
This is a win for the reader more than me, since at $.99 Amazon keeps 65% and I’m splitting my $.35 with the Inkwell and Dave. Yet, some people who buy the single will also buy the book, which is $4.99. It’s a great deal, and if you’ve already bought one and are thinking of buying more, moving to $4.99 for everything is a smart decision. On that $5 our percentage moves to 70% and we make $3.50.
12. Again on Copyblogger I saw you mention that John Locke didn’t start marketing until he’d got five books listed. What’s the marketing point for you guys with this serial fiction model? Are you waiting for Season 2 before you hit the straps or are you building your audience now.
We’re at that point now. We need to push this as fast and hard as we can right now, so there’s no slowing down until it’s done. We want an active and engaged audience for Season 2 when it premiers in January. We were going to stick with a delayed publishing schedule, but figured there was no point in building anticipation for an audience that didn’t exist yet. We’re gathering as many readers as we can, and trying to encourage those readers to “be a goner.”
For us, Yesterday’s Gone is a new way of writing fiction. For readers, it’s a new and more exciting way to read it. Anyone who likes Stephen King or LOST, or stuff that’s just chock full of awesome, will 100% dig it.
Here’s the first trailer:
And here’s the brand new trailer. This is actually debuting here!
More About Sean Platt And David Wright And Yesterday’s Gone
Sean Platt and David Wright’s Yesterday’s Gone is a title worth paying attention to. Whether you’re a reader, writer or marketer, it’s a potential game changer, well worth following. You can start by buying the Yesterday’s Gone pilot for $.99, or get the full “season” for just $4.99 and keep the smile on your face for a week. If you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, click here to become a “Goner,” and get exclusive chapters with shocking endings, and a ringside seat to our behind the scenes marketing.