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South African Authors – Should we give a damn about self-publishing on Amazon.com?

South African Authors – Should we give a damn about self-publishing on Amazon.com?

 

The January 2015 report on author earnings is enough to make most authors sit up and pay attention to the Amazon publishing machine. Headlines like 33% of eBook sales from Amazon.com are indie (self-published) authors or 40% of all dollars earned by authors on eBook sales from Amazon.com are earned by Indie authors all highlight the gradual shift away from the pure traditional publishing paradigm and highlight the success that can be achieved by authors not afraid of learning or experimenting with self-publishing.

This is so damn exciting for a community emerging from under the monopolistic blanket held by the big 5 publishers world-wide over the past few decades. Up until 2007 authors did not have a much of a choice but to collect rejection notices from publishers who, for business reasons, did not or could not accept their books for publication. Since 2007 however, Amazon’s KDP platform and its suite of other offerings aimed at Indie authors have had the author-community gripped in a wave of excitement.

 

The floodgates are open and the gatekeepers of the old publishing industry are no longer able to hold back the crowd of self-publishing authors from connecting with their readers!

 

Just to summarize, as Indie authors, Amazon now helps you by offering a broad range of services across the self-publishing spectrum, such as:

  1. Creating and selling eBooks through Amazon's KDP platform,
     
  2. Creating and selling an audiobook through acx.com (sorry South Africans – we can’t use this service yet)
     
  3. Purchasing the Audiobooks of our favourite authors from www.audible.com
     
  4. Creating Print on Demand (PoD) versions of your work by publishing with Amazon's Createspace platform. (For those who are not sure what PoD means or how Createspace works. )

 

So what does all this hype mean for Indie authors outside countries such as the US, UK and Europe?

I am very happy to say that right now, there has never been a better time for you as an author from Africa to (self) publish and share your story with the rest of the world, in the format that most suits you. In this article I will share the top five reasons why our Indie authors should be excited about current self-publishing opportunities. No excuses. (Aside from load-sheddingconfused foreign visitors read here)

The self-publishing landscape for you, the South African author – has never been more accessible.  Let’s have at look a the reasons why South African author’s should be self-publishing online:

 

Reason #1 - Amazon is starting to embrace our South African languages.

 

One of our unique attributes as South Africans is our ability so say “hello” in 11 official languages.

This range of languages means that authors who write in one of our smaller language groups such as, say Ndebele, are discouraged from releasing content in their native tongue and instead have to publish their writing in a language such as English to achieve any sort of mainstream publishing success.

Now before you get too excited, let me state that currently Amazon does not support all our 12 languages. Not even close. Click here for list of supported language for authors publishing through the Amazon KDP platform.

However, what I do hope you notice is that, as South Africans, aside from obvious option of publishing in English, Amazon will now also accept an eBook written in Afrikaans.

I hear you saying “Yeah – so what, that’s only 2 out of 11 languages” but let me stress that it’s a start. Afrikaans, for those readers outside our borders, is the third most spoken language in our country (more widely spoken than English). This means Amazon, by adding Afrikaans as a supported language for publishing an eBook, has just given potential “publishing contracts” to millions of potential self-published South African authors who previously did not have a hope of reaching an audience outside the country.

Authors wanting to self-publish their best-selling Afrikaans titles such as Deon Meyer’s latest release, Ikarus should load their MOBI format eBook file into the KDP platform as before. However, as seen below,  you are now able to select Afrikaans as a language-of-publication option.

(I have noticed that the review process after you have clicked “Publish” seems to take longer for Afrikaans titles than for English, roughly 24-48 hours.)

 

 

 

Reason #2 - Amazon has a vibrant Afrikaans community already.

 

This one really shocked me.

Browsing Amazon, I noticed that our Afrikaans language actually holds a very prominent position on two of Amazon’s eBook categories.

After glancing through Amazon’s categories I noticed two Afrikaans-only categories that actually ranked as the largest sub-category in their respective sections. That we have not heard more about these categories or indeed the Afrikaans authors who are using them to earn a living, is very unfortunate. (But a blessing for those authors who are ready to take advantage)

 

 

Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Foreign Languages : Other Languages

Afrikaans ranks as the biggest sub-section in the category above, with 2807 titles available at the time this article was written.

 

 

Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Literature & Fiction : Foreign Language Fiction : Other Languages

We also rank as the top sub-section here, with 1478 titles lined up for sale.

If our third-biggest language is able to hold top honours under the foreign language sections of Amazon, can you imagine the possibilities when Zulu (1st) and Xhosa(2nd) eBooks are welcomed into the Amazon shelves?

 

Reason #3 - Receiving Royalties directly from Amazon (and other platforms) is now possible.

 

One of the biggest ways in which South African authors have had their hands tied in the fight to self-publish at the same level as say, an American or UK-based writer, is their inability to receive payments directly into their bank accounts via EFT. Instead we had to wait, oh so patiently, as Amazon attempted to post us a cheque to reward us for our eBook sales (the cheque was also made out in USD). Needless to say, the cheques don’t arrive and the authors, dejected and broke, go back to “real” work assuming that nobody is buying their titles. 

This has now changed.

African authors are now able collect royalties directly from Amazon thanks to the interweb and great services like Payoneer and PayPal

Using Payoneer, I am now able to receive eBook royalties as if I was a citizen of the US. I simply applied for a Payoneer credit card via their website, and once this was received, was able to insert my newly opened Bank of America account details into the Amazon account section. I have now been receiving dollars into my American account, from Amazon, for a number of weeks. (Just be aware of the $29 annual fee  that caught me by surprise.)

 

 

I copied the account details seen in the Payoneer screen above, directly to my Amazon account and voila, within a week, my backdated royalties started being paid into my Bank of America account. The first payments were small amounts of a few hundred Rands, but the validation of receiving royalties for your hard work, cannot be over-stated. 

As Steven Pressfield states in A War of Art, these royalty payments, however small, help an author consider themselves a professional, rather than an amateur.

 

 

(Please just ensure that before you open your Payoneer account and the royalties begin flowing in, that you reduce your royalty taxes withheld to 0%)

 

Reason #4 - Createspace is recognizing authors who write in our native African languages.

 

I discovered this recently, the PoD service owned by Amazon, Createspace, accepts titles written in our African languages, including Zulu and Xhosa. This means that millions of (South) African authors are now able to print their paperback books at a cheaper cost, with a reach that extends internationally. I hope that this opportunity excites you as much as it does me. If not – click here for an alternative.

African authors are now able to publish books written in their mother tongues on an international platform. Not just any platform, but the platform

Welcome South Africa, to the rest of the world.

 

 

 

Reason #5 - South Africans are not publishing on Amazon correctly, leaving gaps for those who can.

 

The guilty-parties are those who publish onto Amazon ignoring good (digital publishing) practices, instead slapping the title into the shelf, fully expecting people to find the eBook title amongst the 3 500 000 (give or take a few thousand) competitors. These authors are generally the same people who ask, after a few months, why their sales reports seem as empty as a retail outlet after a black-Friday.

 

Let’s also have a look at some of the most commonly-made mistakes that authors (or publishers) in general make when loading an eBook on Amazon.

 

Mistake #1 – Publishing with AuthorSolutions/ AuthorHouse/ Partridge Africa

 

For those of you who might not know about the bad reputation of AuthorHouse or any of its many imprints held under the AuthorSolutions banner, read my blog post on the dangers of publishing with Author Solutions here. For those of you who spend thousands of Rand on over-priced services and get very little in return, serves you right. 

Never publish through AuthorHouse, or any of it's related imprints, like Partridge Africa, just don’t.

 

 

Mistake # 2 – Not creating an Amazon Author Central Profile.

 

 

Once your eBook is published and appears on the Kindle stores shelves, create your own author account. To create an author profile, pay a visit to Amazon Author Central (only setup your author profile on Amazon once your eBook is live.)

 

The Amazon Author page is a very powerful tool if used correctly.

Using the author page you can display the author’s:

  1. Twitter Feed, 
     
  2. Blog feed (via RSS) and 
     
  3. Upload videos relating to the author or book. (A book-trailer, for example)
    (Videos are not linked to YouTube and must actually be uploaded into the Author Profile)

     

The author is able to the upload a professional image and add some sort of text that describes him or herself.  For authors writing eBooks with risqué content, for heaven’s sake, create a fictitious author profile!

 

 

 

Mistake #3 – Selecting Very Large eBook Categories.

 

If you scroll down to the bottom of an eBook’s sales page on Amazon, you will find the categories that the specific eBook has been placed in. Let’s see what categories our unfortunate eBook author has been dropped in:

 


 

We see that the eBook appears in the Health, Fitness & Dieting and Self-Help categories. Let’s see the competition in those two categories:

 


 

Yes, you have read correctly. The publisher has loaded the unfortunate author in a large pond together with 211 420 and 90 963 other eBooks respectively.  So what are the author’s chances of standing out in a pond that big? You got it, virtually zero.

When authors load an eBook into Amazon’s KDP platform, you can choose only two categories, as seen in the next image:

 

 

 

Make sure you select at least one niche category that will help your title stand out. This is achieved not only through the initial category selection above, but also through careful choice of 7 unique keywords. For authors who, after loading your eBook very carefully, still manage to end up in very broad categories, this is not a problem – just email Amazon and ask to be placed in your ideal categories. 

Once logged into your Amazon account, sending Amazon support an email is only a few clicks away. I have on numerous occasions emailed Amazon and ask for eBook categories to be changed, removed or added. Generally it is a painless experience. The worst case scenario is that Amazon will ask you to update your Category/ keyword selection in the KDP backend.

 

Mistake #4 – Pricing your eBook too high.

This mistake is easier to understand when remembering that South Africans are very new to Amazon. The sweet spot for pricing your eBook is between $2.99 and $9.99, this earns the author 70% royalties. Pricing outside the sweet spot earns the author only 35% of the list price. 

Please, South Africans, don’t make the mistake of equating the paperback price to the eBook price. Follow the international trend, as a new (unknown) author entering the market, your prices should always be lower. Generally, fictional eBooks sell best between $2.99 and $4.99.

Don’t be alarmed when your pricing which you set at $2.99 appears as $5.69 when you view the eBook in the store. This is mainly due to the Amazon Whispernet surcharge. 

Readers from the US, UK and other “first world” countries will still buy the eBook at the intended $2.99.

 

Read more on the Amazon Royalty Structure here.

 

Conclusion

 

The playing fields for self-publishing authors using Amazon and other platforms have never been more level.

Are you going to use this knowledge to achieve success in self-publishing?

 


 

South African Book Fair - 2015
Interview with an Author - Lyn Pickering