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Self-Publishing a Book in an Obscure Niche: Is It Worth It, or a Complete Waste of Time?

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I have several streams of income. One of the main ones is self-publishing. The others are online teaching (developing/selling ecourses); writing for clients; and affiliate marketing in case you’re wondering.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Here’s the site’s affiliate disclosure policy for full details.

I posted something alluding to this when I was interacting in an online affiliate marketing group I belong to, and Debbie Gartner sent the following questions. With her permission, I’m posting – and answering – it here. Debbie wrote:

I originally started my blog for my flooring business 5.5 years ago. You can find me at TheFlooringGirl.com. I built it over time, and it did very well.

I have 2 ebooks that I already created on my site. They haven’t done so well. (part of that is probably because I’m not doing the best job promoting them (but that’s another topic).

Someone suggested publishing one on Amazon as they get way more traffic. But, I’m concerned that people on Amazon aren’t looking for flooring…they are there to buy stuff. But, then I thought, maybe that doesn’t matter if the numbers are high enough, and they are good at cross selling, etc.

I started to look into this a few months ago (although I got a tad confused at they had 2 options or something…but I can prob. figure that stuff out). And, they said it needs to be 100% unique content/not written anywhere else. So, I kind of put this to the back burner as I had so many other things to do.

The q’s are really a) does this even make sense for me to give this a try or is it a total waste of time due to my niche. b) any recommendations on pricing (based on my niche topic and/or any experience you’ve had).

Following is my answer based on self-publishing almost 100 ebooks (fiction and non-fiction) since 2002.

My Answer

I’m going to take Debbie’s questions one by one.

I. RE “maybe that doesn’t matter if the numbers are high enough, and they are good at cross selling, etc.”

This is EXACTLY why it is a good idea to self-publish a book – no matter how tiny your niche or whether or not it leads to sales.

For years, I only sold my ebooks on my site, because when Amazon first started its self-publishing platform, you needed an ISBN number.

Do You Need an ISBN Number When You Self-Publish?

To go off on a little tangent here – if you know anything about publishing, you know those suckers aren’t exactly cheap.

While the initial outlay is not that much, the cost can skyrocket quickly because with ISBN numbers, each updated version of a book requires a new ISBN number.

I update my ebooks all the time and I didn’t want to have to pay for a new ISBN number each time I did so. Also, each version of a book requires a different ISBN number.

So, for example, if I published the ebook on SEO writing in ebook format, and paperback, then I’d need one for each media version. That’s why, back then, I said “Bye Felicia!” to self-publishing. It all seemed confusing, unnecessary and annoying, so I just wrote and uploaded my ebooks to my site.

A lot of other self-publishers must have felt the same way because Amazon stopped requiring ISBN numbers. I uploaded my first one to the ‘Zon in December 2008 – and haven’t thought about ISBN numbers since. As an aside, I’ve had exactly one book that was published using an ISBN number. That one was given to me by my sister, who’d bought a pack of 10 of them.

In my opinion, there is never a need for an ISBN number as a self-published author. You will read accounts on the web on both sides of this issue, however, so I suggest doing some reading on your own to decide what’s right for you. Following are a few posts you can start with.

ISBN for Self-Publishers: Answers to 20 of your Questions

Why You Don’t Need an ISBN (And What You Should Invest In Instead)

Do You Need an ISBN for Self-Publishing?

When you upload a self-published book to Amazon and other outlets without an ISBN, they assign your book a number similar to an ISBN – for free. I’ve just never seen the benefit of having an ISBN number as a self-published author, but again, that’s a call you have to make for yourself.

FYI, here’s a list of all of my books on Amazon; one traditionally published book — the rest are all self-published.

3 Benefits of Self-Publishing a Book on Amazon

Now back to why and how self-publishing can help you sell more – even when you don’t sell very many copies of your book.

A. Helps You to Cross-Sell

I’d been self-publishing non-fiction, how-to books for over a decade (since 2002) before I published my first fiction (romance) title (2013). And to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that my fiction sales helped my non-fiction sales. This is the first benefit.

I think a lot of it was people were curious about me as an author, and also, my blog is about making money writing – any kind of writing. So when they read my story (always include an “About the Author” page in your book and on your website, of course), they were like, “Hmmm, I’d like to have this kind of mobile career. Let me see how to start an online writing career, or what it’s like to write and sell romance novellas for a living.”

Of course, these are non-fiction titles.

B. Increased Site Traffic

The second benefit to self-publishing a book on Amazon is that it gets a lot of traffic, so it gives you increased visibility across the web. So even if your book is not selling like gangbusters, you will likely see an increase in traffic to your site. This is because you’ll likely show up in search results when people type in a keyword phrase for your book.

I can’t tell you how many times people have said, “I saw your book on Amazon, then went to your site and … blah, blah, blah.”

Debbie’s in a narrow niche – flooring. So, if she has good SEO for some high-traffic keywords pertinent to her niche, she’ll likely pop up in search results – on Amazon – if she has a book there. And most likely, the Amazon result will be before her own site.

This is not a bad thing, because of the following, which is the third benefit of self-publishing on Amazon.

C. Credibility

There’s just something about the fact that you write and publish a book that lends more credence to you as a business person. People think, “Well she/he must be legitimate. Look, they wrote a book. It’s right there on Amazon.”

This is most often not a conscious thought; it’s subconscious. You appear right there on Amazon beside all these best-selling authors. Little ole you! These are more self-conscious seeds planted; one more nail in the coffin of who you are as an online businessperson – one more good, sturdy, credibility-affirming nail!

So even if you are selling zero copies of your ebook on Amazon, having it up there is beneficial on a number of fronts.

II. Does this even make sense for me to give this a try or is it a total waste of time due to my niche?

I think this was pretty well covered in the response above, but to repeat, yes, it’s worth it to put it on Amazon.

Interestingly, I’ve had one freelance writing client (a business success coach) who hired me to write ebooklets for her to publish to Amazon to increase her visibility on the web, and lend credence to her biz. She put the book on her site as a free download; in essence using it as a lead magnet.

I do the same with the lead magnet for this site. It’s offered free to subscribers, and sold for 99 cents on Amazon (I need to update the copy there). For me, this book is less about sales and more about brand visibility.

And FYI, if you’ve written a book, anything you earn from it is gravy once it’s done – so why not upload it, no?

III. Any recommendations on pricing (based on my niche topic and/or any experience you’ve had)?

Oh lord, how to price a self-published book is a book in and of itself!

It depends heavily on niche, page count, competition and a few other variables I’m sure I’m missing. My advice is to do some research to see what other books – in your niche on that specific topic (if you can find one) – are selling for. If you can’t drill it down to the specific topic of your book, at least only look at those within your niche. Then, I’d separate these out by self-published authors and traditionally published authors.

By the way, this is NOT because I think traditionally published books are any better than self-published ones. The reason I recommend this is because traditional publishers tend to price their ebooks higher (foolishly in most cases in my opinion). So check to see what other self-published books in your niche are being priced at.

Pricing Your Self-Published Book on Amazon: 4 Things to Keep in Mind

1. Royalty Cut: One thing you should know is, you get 70% of royalties for all books priced between $2.99 and $9.99. It’s why you see so many books within this price range. Anything above or below this, and you get a 35% cut.

2. Experiment: You can change pricing (and anything else about your book) as often as you like with Amazon. So don’t be afraid to experiment with pricing if you set it at one price and it’s not selling. I’d say leave a price alone for at least 30 days when you first start out.

Then adjust accordingly.

3. Can’t Outprice Amazon: As in, you can’t sell your book for one price on Amazon, then a lower price someplace else (eg, your site). The price on Amazon always has to be the lowest. You can sell it for the same price at other outlets, but not a lower price.

4. Determine Your Priority: As in, are publishing for money, or for visibility and traffic. You still want to try to price your book right, but you’ll be less worried about sales if you’ve self-published for reasons other than to make money.

That’s why the lead magnet book for this site is priced at just 99 cents – the lowest price you can offer on AMZ (besides free).

How I Price My Self-Published Ebooks on Amazon

For my non-fiction, I’ve been in my niche for years (since 1987). Hence, I know my audience; I know what they’ll pay and what they won’t. Most of the time, to be honest – based on all of this experience – I go with my gut a lot.

Even with all of this experience though, sometimes I get it “wrong.” So I simply adjust the price as I see fit. I used to have all of my non-fiction titles on Amazon, but over the last couple of years, I removed a lot of them because I only want the content available from my site. I use Amazon basically as a traffic driver and brand builder. Again, I’m speaking about my non-fiction titles here.

As for my fiction (romance) titles, I don’t sell these books from my website, so when I upload them to Amazon, it’s for the express purpose of selling. The reason is, I think people are less hesitant to buy “raunch” from a personal (ie, non-big-box retailer) site.

Also, they can download the titles right to their Kindle (or whatever e-reader they have) from Amazon. Even though you can offer ebooks in the same format from your site, most people already know how to download directly from Amazon to their Kindle. They might not know how to download a mobi or epub file from your site to their reader. These are just my opinions, of course.

Now, to the last question Debbie posed …

IV. They [Amazon] said it has to be 100% unique content/not written anywhere else.

I’ve run into this issue with Amazon before. They unpublished one of my ebooks because it had portions of blog posts – from my site – in it. What Amazon means by this is, they don’t want you plagiarizing the material of others and publishing it as your own. This is a HUGE problem on the site.

I got my book restored to the site by proving that the content was indeed mine. I sent them links to the original blog posts, as well as to my online bio.

Not for nothing, this is where it helps to have a deep footprint on the web. A lot of my content is plagiarized, but because I’ve been around so long, it’s invariably not hard to prove that I’m the original author of a piece if push comes to shove.

So feel free to use content that you’re the author of. I wouldn’t make it a huge part of your book, because AMZ might still decide NOT to publish your book because the content is free (ie, on your blog) elsewhere. But, if you want to recycle some posts, do so. I’d also advise doing just a bit of rewriting to make it unique if it’s going to be more than 25% of your book.

And this is not a guideline set by Amazon; it’s just my personal insight.

Conclusion

Publish, publish, publish away on Amazon (and other major outlets). These days, I think every blogger should have at least one book on Amazon. There are just too many benefits not to.

I hope this insight helps, and good luck on your self-publishing journey.

P.S.: You Already Blog, Right? Why Not Earn More From It? Here’s One Way I Do It.

P.P.S.: Get 4 Ebooks for One Low Price — The Ultimate Self-Publishing Package!

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    Comments

    1. Cool. I’m going to add some links to one of my client’s sites. She has already published 2 books.
      Debbie Gartner recently posted…The Biggest Flooring Mistakes Sellers Make … According to RealtorsMy Profile

    2. Wow, this is awesome, Yuwanda. What a thorough response. You even included some benefits I hadn’t considered.

      The cross promotion is a big one, so you really may get 1 + 1 = 3, after writing the 2nd one. And, you made me realize that I can write other ebooks on other topics (i.e. including my new website which isn’t flooring related).

      One question for you. If you are an Amazon Associate, are you allowed to link to and promote your own ebook on Amazon?
      Debbie Gartner recently posted…The Biggest Flooring Mistakes Sellers Make … According to RealtorsMy Profile

      • I’m glad you found the info helpful Debbie. I tried to be thorough (told you it was long). LOL! 🙂

        In answer to your question, yes you can link to and promote your own ebook on Amazon. See this very detailed post for more info, which states:

        Authors often think it’s against the rules to use affiliate links for their own books. It isn’t. What is against the rules is using your affiliate links when you buy things for yourself. It’s perfectly okay to make commissions on your books when other people buy them. This is true when you sell Kindle books, too.

        In response to the question, “Can I link to my Kindle book via the Amazon Associates program?” Amazon says:

        Yes, the Amazon Associates Program provides vendors specially formatted links to Amazon on their websites in exchange for advertising fees when their visitors follow the links and place an order. Anyone with a website may apply for our Associates Program, although we do have certain requirements that may prevent a site from participating.

        So that’s another way for you to earn as a self-published author with Amazon.

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