One of the best features of self-publishing an ebook is that ebooks are truly global. You can download them anytime, anywhere in the world–without worrying about shipping and handling fees either! As I understand it, if you upload your book to Amazon.com, anyone, anywhere in the world can buy it, even if they don’t live in the United States.
In contrast, when you traditionally publish a book, there’s a lot of haggling over territorial rights. Someone in Australia might want to buy your traditionally published ebook from Amazon’s US store, but won’t be able to, because their IP address isn’t an American one.
The idea that someone in Australia or India or Egypt could download my ebook with just a few clicks boggles my mind. It’s also incredibly exhilarating to think that I can share my stories with people from around the world, hopefully bringing a smile to their faces.
If you, like me, are excited about the global potential of ebooks, not just in terms of sales numbers but also in terms of sharing your story with as many as people as possible, you’ll want to do the most you can to take advantage of a global marketplace.
Here are 7 tips to help you sell your ebooks globally:
- don’t enroll in KDP Select
- Sell directly through Smashwords
- Link to more than Amazon.com on your website
- translate your marketing blurb
- translate your entire book
- be careful with product names & trademarks
- don’t let ebook prices in your country automatically dictate your overseas prices
Selling Ebooks Globally Tip #1: Do not enroll in KDP Select
The ebook market abroad is going to explode. It hasn’t yet, but it will. In Mo’ Indie, Mo’ Money: Can You Make a Decent Income by Self-Publishing, I quoted Mark Coker, who first opened my eyes to the global possibilities of selling ebooks in The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success:
Another driver for global growth is the rise of low-cost smart phones. Billions of ebook-ready smart phones are already in the hands of customers around the world, and each year these devices are getting smarter, cheaper and more connected.
Five years ago (2007), I traveled to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Most people there didn’t have running water or electricity, but they had cell phones.
Imagine billions of smart phone users in Africa and India and every other corner of the globe, all carrying online bookstores in their pocket. These new book readers can sample, discover and purchase low-cost ebooks with a couple clicks.
For the first time ever, global ebook stores will make it feasible and cost-effective for authors and publishers to distribute every book to every country. An author in India can upload a book to Smashwords this second, and within minutes customers in Norway, New Zealand, Czech Republic or Tanzania can sample or purchase it.
Such instant, global distribution of books is impossible with print.
As these nascent ebook markets enter their exponential growth phases, it’s only a matter of a few years before ebook sales grow to account for 25 or 50 percent of their respective markets. As an indie author or publisher, this global market is within your reach today.
When the ebook market does explode, you want to be in a position to take advantage of all the opportunities a truly global marketplace affords. You can’t do that if you’re limited by the exclusivity requirement of Amazon’s KDP Select Program, because you’ll only be able to sell your ebooks through Amazon.
Admittedly, Amazon’s pretty much wrapped up the US market, with approximately 60% of the market share. According to Dave Carnoy of CNET.com, Barnes and Noble has 25% of the market, with Apple trailing with 15%. As far as the good ole USA is concerned, Amazon is the lion.
If Amazon continues to provide the amazing customer service that they’re known for and to use its algorithms to benefit customers, then it’s likely Amazon will remain dominant. But you never know what could happen in the future.
Even if Amazon continues to be the lion of the US market, the global market is up for grabs. According to Wired.com, Kobo is Amazon’s number one competition.
Among the major e-book retailers, Kobo is unusual in that it was conceived as a multinational enterprise from the start. After starting as the Shortcovers e-book division of Canada’s Indigo Books (now Chapters Indigo), Kobo was spun off in 2009, becoming a joint investment of Indigo, Borders, REDgroup, and Cheung Kong holdings. Now its partners include WH Smith in England, Swindon Books in Hong Kong and Fnac Books in France.
Even with Borders’ demise, Kobo still draws support from a broad network of established first-tier booksellers and other retailers. It’s steadily growing in sales of both e-books and e-readers. And earlier this month, this global partnership and e-book platform was purchased by Rakuten, a giant global e-retailer sometimes billed as “the Amazon of Japan.”
Rakuten has been a smaller but significant player in digital publishing in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. Now, all of Rakuten’s existing and future digital book and media operations worldwide will be consolidated under the Kobo brand. This is a very big deal.
Kobo was envisioned to be a global player from its inception. What does that say to me? A lot of smart people have invested in a product which they fully intend to dominate the foreign ebook market. Although Kobo isn’t that big in the United States, it’s huge in Canada, and it’d be foolish to underestimate how far they can go overseas.
Right now, the overseas market is anyone’s game. So why keep all your eggs in one basket? True, Amazon could very well end up being the dominant player overseas too. They already have an established online presence in Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom to name a few. And they’ve recently launched Junglee, which tailors to Indian online consumers…but it’s still way too early to tell.
Plus, Amazon could change their royalty rates–the 70% rate only went into effect two years ago. Before that, publishers received about half that.If Amazon changes their royalty rates again, you could lose a significant chunk of your income–unless you’ve built up other avenues to sell your ebooks.
Selling Ebooks Globally Tip #2: Sell directly through Smashwords
Once I was able to remove my romantic comedy novel from KDP Select, I had always intended to make it available on Kobo and Barnes & Noble. But, to be honest, I was a bit on the fence about selling directly through Smashwords, an independent retailer of ebooks founded by Mark Coker.
Don’t get me wrong, Smashwords seems to really have an author’s interest at heart. And Coker’s Style Guide is still the best one out there to learn how to format your manuscript into a proper ebook. Since Mark gives away his incredibe guide for free, it only seemed fair to give his company an opportunity to make a profit by selling my ebook directly through their site.
My hesitation was mostly due to two factors: I wasn’t sure my target audience used Smashwords to purchase their ebooks. Secondly, I’m a bit of a website snob, and the Smashwords interface is very bare bones.
But I changed my mind when I read the comments of How to Improve Your Ebook Sales on Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and iTunes on fantasy author Lindsay Buroker’s website. It was this comment by Anke Wehner which really struck me:
I’d like to second the link problem. I can even understand it when someone doesn’t put three labelled links in a tweet, what with the character limit. But when there’s enough room, giving just one link seems really short-sighted. It’s happened to me several times that in a blog entry advertising it or on the official site of the book there was only a link to amazon, but some digging found the book at Smashwords, too – and if it is available at a site where everybody with either a credit card or a paypal account can buy it, no matter where they live or which ebook format they prefer, why in the world would you not link to it?
I’ve had a Paypal account for years before I got a credit card to use on international sites that didn’t accept Paypal. Credit cards are not nearly as ubiquitous here than they seem to be in the US.
Growing up in America, where plastic is as ubiquitous as B-list celebrities, it had never occurred to me that in other countries, a good number of people might not make online purchases with a credit card. Unlike other online ebook retailers, Smashwords accepts Paypal.
I don’t want to miss out on a sale because of a misguided notion that everyone has a credit card. Do you?
Lindsay’s article also inspired my next point:
Selling Ebooks Globally Tip #3: Don’t just link to Amazon.com on your website
Lindsay Buroker, the author of the article Anke commented on, recommended that you list all the sites where your ebook is available for purchase.
I’ve noticed that a lot of authors only include links to Amazon on their sites, and similarly they focus their social media efforts on directing people to Amazon. You can’t do that and then wonder why you don’t sell anywhere else!
You don’t know where your readers like to purchase your ebooks, so make it easy for them to find the online retailer (Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Diesel, etc) they do like to use. For those of you worried about keeping those sales links “above the fold,” there’s plenty of ways to organize your links to keep them at the top of your webpage, even if you list all of them.
Here’s one way to do it, by Lindsay Buroker:
The only reason you wouldn’t want to link to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords is if Amazon’s algorithms is a part of your marketing/selling strategy. What do I mean by that?
Selling on Amazon is like a positive feedback loop. When you make enough sales, your book starts to gain steam in Amazon’s algorithms, which will then suggest your book to consumers in the “Customers Also Bought” section of their site, among other places. The free advertising through algorithms gains you new sales, which in turn boosts your standing in the algorithms, so that you get more exposure, netting more sales. Gotta love that positive feedback loop!
To get that initial surge though in the algorithms and get them to take notice of your book, it has to sell decently well to begin with. In that case, it makes sense to drive your customers to Amazon by linking to it exclusively on your site. Considering Amazon dominates the US market, it’s not a bad strategy. But if you’re taking this global perspective to heart, you might want to rethink that plan.
If you’re hellbent on the Amazon algorithm strategy or if you’re still enrolled in KDP Select and have no intention of leaving the program, at the very least, make sure that your website has links to ALL of Amazon’s storefronts, not just the American one. One of my favorite examples is from Juliette Sobanet’s website:
Selling Ebooks Globally Tip #4: Translate your marketing blurb/synopsis
You might get more readers from other countries to try your book if your book’s description is written in their native tongue. This is just an idea off of the top of my head, so to be honest, I’m not sure you can tweak individual book descriptions, depending on where your book is sold. (Does anyone have any experience via Kobo or Apple? Please share in the comments!)
As far as Amazon goes, you can create individual accounts for each Amazon storefront, and modify your book descriptions accordingly. So for example, I can sign up for an Amazon.fr account and then use a book description written in French to sell my novel. If you decide to do this, make sure it’s very clear that your book itself is in English (or whatever language it’s written in), even if your book description is not. Bolding that line might be helpful.
Most people probably don’t bother with this, mostly because they haven’t got a translated description of their book ready to go, and also because with all the other accounts they’ve got going on (self-publishing, website/blog, social media, etc), it seems more trouble than it’s worth to create yet another one.
But if you do decide it’s worth the effort, then you may even take the plunge and follow the next tip to dominate the global marketplace…
Selling Ebooks Globally Tip #5: Translate your whole book
The decision to translate your entire book into a foreign language shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s bloody expensive, and there are no guarantees whatsoever that anyone in that country has the remotest desire to read books on the topic you’ve written about. (Of course, if your sales are already decent without a translation, it stands to reason that a translated version of your ebook will sell even better.)
Doing some research on the culture and mores of various countries might give you a clue as to whether or not your subject matter will be well received in that country. For example, a novel about infidelity might sell very well in France, but offend a good portion of Indian readers. Alternatively, maybe the humor in your ebook just doesn’t translate well into another language.
One way to tell if your ebook is palatable to citizens of another country is by examining a list of bestselling books in those countries, either through the websites of online ebook retailers or by bestseller lists published local in newspapers and magazines. You can also investigate if a traditionally published book with similar subject matter as yours was translated into other languages.
The best way to find out if your book has a market abroad is to make friends with people in the foreign country you’d like to sell your ebook in, preferably someone who loves to read the genre you write. Thanks to Twitter, this shouldn’t be so hard.
Obviously you can’t hold two or three people accountable for the reading habits of an entire nation, but if they’re avid booklovers, they should have a good idea of what will go over well and what won’t. More so than you, at least.
On that note, I think my book, The Triumphs and Travails of Talisman Turner, would sell very well in India. It’s funny and romantic, but has no explicit sex scenes. (And three of the characters love Bollywood films.) If someone wants to be my beta-reader and tell me how it would fare there, I’d be glad to send you a free copy!
The best part about selling a translation of your book is that it should make you feel more like a traditionally published author. A large part of the the excitement of getting a book deal is the prospect of having your book read by someone else in another country–and in their own language. This way, you can have the same experience, but still keep a larger portion of the profits!
Indie author David Gaughran has come up with a unique way of creating translations of his work–a profit sharing model between him and the translator. He’s just released a French translation of his self-publishing guide, Let’s Get Digital, that way.
Profit sharing isn’t for everyone, however. In this dialogue on self-publishing by JA Konrath and Barry Eisler, Dean Wesley Smith, who’s no slouch when it comes to self-publishing, argues that you should never give a percentage of your royalties to someone else:
Pay a day job labor fee to have someone for a set price do the things you don’t want to learn how to do yourself, such as covers and launching and so on.
One time fee.
NEVER PAY ANYONE A PERCENTAGE OF YOUR PROPERTY.
…I don’t have the will, the tools, or the time to go out and do yard work, but that does not mean that to get someone to do yard work on my property, I need to give away an ownership right in my home. That kind of thinking is old writing thinking that was forced on us by publishers and the agent model.
…But, alas, writers are short of money all the time and it seems logical to give away a percentage to keep out of cash flow binds and get things up quickly.
Personally, for me, the accounting aspect of the profit sharing model seems like a nightmare…but it may be the most feasible way for you to get a translated version of your novel into the ebook market!
Selling Ebooks Globally Tip #6: Be careful with product names and trademarks
While certain products and trademarks might be a part of your everday life, not everyone around the world may be familiar with them. While you can get away with references to McDonalds and Coke, which have, unfortunately, permeated every corner of the globe…other brands are not so common.
Take Pinkberry. You may be in love with their awesome frozen yogurt, but will someone in Australia, India, or Spain know what you’re referring to? A British author may love to write about grandmothers slathering their bread with Marmite, but will a reader from Dallas, Texas know that Marmite isn’t jam, but a savory spread made from brewer’s yeast?
Of course, frequently, writers naturally explain what a trademarked product is. For example, say I was writing about going shopping at Burdines which is the Florida equivalent of Macy’s. In one line I mention Burdines, in the next I can describe how grateful my heroine felt to be inside the air-conditioned department store.
Because of the context, anyone who reads my book will know what Burdines is, even if they’ve never had the pleasure of shopping at the store. When you’re evaluating your books for their global appeal, make sure that all your product names are explained in a similarly natural way.
Here’s another example, this one from the romantic comedy, Indian Maidens Bust Loose, by Vidya Samson, only the context explains a local delicacy, not a product name:
I made the connection between Bharti and the bowls. “Mango shrikhand?”
Naani lifted the cover on one bowl and nodded. “Only two bowls.”
“Good sized though.”
Soon we were in her room, eating spoonfuls of the dessert in secret, closing our eyes and making satisfied sounds.
While I do use trademarked products as much as the next author, I have to wonder why are we giving away free advertising for a company to begin with? Sure, there are some companies you love (LL Bean, your return policy is AMAZING), but in other mediums, product placement costs money. In the movies, it costs thousands of dollars. How much is a big corporation paying you?
All writers also have to be cautious that they’re not using product names out of laziness. As Rennie Browne and Dave King observe in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (a guide I highly recommend):
One form of repetition we’ve seen more often in recent years is the use of brand names to help characterizations. The mention of what type of scotch your hero drinks or what kind of car your heroine drives may help give your readers a handle on their personalities. But when all your characters glance at their Rolexes, then hop into their Maseratis to tear out to the house in the Hamptons, where they change out of their Armanis and pour themselves a Glenlivet–you’ve gone too far. You don’t want to sound as though you used a Sharper Image catalogue for a thesaurus.
Selling Ebooks Globally Tip #7: Don’t let your local price determine your foreign ebook price
In Coker’s Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, he also mentioned that in Australia, hardcover books sold for $45-$50 US dollars. My jaw almost dropped to the floor. I had no idea the disparity between book prices in the US and in the Land Down Under would be so great.
When you’re deciding at what price to sell your ebook, do a little investigation. Try to learn what the common price is for a paperback book in the foreign country you’d like to sell your ebooks in, with a focus on prices of books in the same genre as yours.
If you self-publish through Kobo’s Writing Life, they make it easy to adjust your global prices. For example, if you set the price of your ebook to $4.99 US dollars, Kobo will automatically convert that price into other currencies such as the Australian dollar, British pound, Euro, Hong Kong dollar, etc. However, you can manually override these conversions and establish a price readers in those countries are accustomed to paying.
YOUR TURN: What are your tips for selling ebooks in a truly global marketplace?
Globe by Somegeekintn
Marmite by pyntofmyld
Did This Article Help You?
Did you find this article helpful? Consider showing your thanks by downloading one of my books for you or a friend.
Both are romantic comedy novels where romance and psychology collide! More details below:
The Triumphs and Travails of Talisman Turner
Talisman Turner has just been dumped. It's not her. It's not the guy. It's the Red Sox.
Tali's ex-boyfriend believes sacrificing their relationship will reverse the curse plaguing his beloved baseball team. Tali's determined to reverse a curse too--the one haunting her sorry love life. She's betting on the psychology theories she studied in college to do it.
But falling in love is not a science...
Talisman Turner Minds the Gap
Perennially single Bostonian Talisman Turner has finally found the perfect boyfriend. Graham Salisbury has broad shoulders, blue-gray eyes, a sexy British accent, and an affinity for Bollywood films.
But...he lives in England. So, dreams in tow, Tali relocates to London...where, she discovers, you don't need an ocean to create distance. Secrets work just as well.
Can she bridge their gap?