You can still make money self-publishing on Amazon but you have to keep up with the changes.
It’s been a while since updating the blog on my self-publishing business and honestly, it’s because it took me a while to find the answers myself. Those of you following the blog know I love self-publishing as one of the most passive income sources and it was my first real online income stream.
But Amazon has been making changes that mean it’s been harder for small independent publishers to make money.
As with all businesses, you have to step back occasionally and reassess if it’s worth it and how to make as much money as possible.
How Much Money can You Make Self-Publishing?
Don’t get me wrong, you can still make good money self-publishing but you have to grow with the changes on Amazon.
Over the past five years, I’ve made over $98,900 from 12 books published on Kindle, paperback and audio. It was the first real source of income from my online business in 2015 and the #1 reason I was able to keep the work-from-home dream alive instead of going back to the office.
And despite the problems with self-publishing we’ll talk about later, the monthly income has really grown this year.
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Are Self-Published Authors Being Pushed Out of Amazon?
If you haven’t seen some of our other posts on how to start self-publishing or why everyone needs to publish a book on Amazon, make sure you check those out to get started.
I still believe everyone should publish a book but it definitely has gotten more difficult lately.
Of the $17,300 I’ve made in the first six months of 2020, $11,200 of that income has come from one book. That leaves just over $6,000 spread across 11 books or an average of about $92 each per month. That’s still not a bad average for each book, each month considering I don’t have to do any work but sales have definitely slowed down.
I spent the last six months researching and brainstorming reasons income has been weak on Amazon. Between looking at my own books and talking with other self-published authors, it comes down to three problems.
First is the higher cost of Amazon ads. It used to be that I could spend about $20 a book each month and get $70 in sales that would help keep the books ranked. That meant about $200 a month in advertising costs but well worth it on the extra income.
Over the six months to last April, that number has jumped to $470 a month and seriously dented net income from the books.
Advertising for books and other products on Amazon has become so competitive that cost-per-click has jumped and you really need to manage it or your total costs will skyrocket!
Another problem is a consequence to the Quality Reporting function Amazon started last year. This allows users to report quality problems with books including grammar, images and other issues.
Sounds like a great resource and definitely needed on the platform. Unfortunately, it’s also opened up a wave of spam quality reports created by competitors to hit the ranking of other books.
I’ve had books published on Amazon for five years and never once received an email or question on quality. Now I have to respond weekly to ‘quality issues’ on the books, usually reports of low-quality images. The images are all high-quality but that hasn’t stopped other authors from reporting an issue to get Amazon to limit distribution on the books.
Finally, beyond these two problems is there is just generally more competition for books than there was five years ago. When I first started self-publishing, there were about four million books available on Kindle…now the estimate is closer to 40 million!
How to Keep Making Money Self-Publishing on Amazon
It’s still definitely worth it to self-publish your books. Even if self-publishing income was half of what it is, it would still be worth it considering the effort it takes. I can create a book in less than three months with little work beyond my normal blog writing and then put the books on auto-pilot making a hundred or more a month.
On the higher ad rates to promote books, I went through and changed all the maximum cost-per-click for each keyword. I also deleted poor-performing keywords and just generally cleaned up my ad account.
This has helped reduce the monthly ad spend to $170 total over the last two months. That’s the great part of Amazon Marketing, it’s very detailed so you can change different factors to optimize your ads. The ads aren’t selling quite as many books but it’s still profitable.
There isn’t much you can do about the false quality reports against your books. I set an hour each week to respond and have removed many of the images from the books so there isn’t as much to claim against. Most Kindle books don’t even have images so it’s not a big loss if you don’t include them.
The increase in competition just reinforces the idea of having a solid book launch plan before your book goes live on Amazon. This and a plan for driving a few sales from your blog each month was always necessary but is even more so now. A simple launch and continuous blog plan will still keep your books ranked and making money on the platform.
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You can still make a great income self-publishing books on Amazon but you have to keep up with changes on the platform. It’s really no different from any type of business, it’s just that Amazon authors didn’t need to worry about it until now. You could pump out the books, send a few sales to Amazon each month and your books would stay ranked to make thousands. Now you have to treat it a little more like a business, checking in each week and managing your books.