How to Publish a Free SciFi eBook
Self Publishing Blog
Copyright 2015 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
Publishing Free Science Fiction on Kindle
There are two ways to get your SciFi novel offered for free on Kindle. The first and easier way is to join the Kindle Select program, which allows you to pick five days to offer the eBook for free every 90 day contract period. The main advantage of Select is that the book will always be free for Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited subscribers, but Amazon will pay you when they borrow the book, approximately six tenths of a penny per page read. That may not sound like much, but for the average science fiction novel, it's more than $2.00, or more than you would earn selling the book for $2.99. The main drawback of Select is your books must be exclusive to Amazon (unless you are a famous SciFi author).
The second way of getting your science fiction offered for free on Kindle is to NOT join Select, publish the book elsewhere (Barnes and Noble, Apple, Google Play) and get the price in that store set to $0.00. If your book is selling enough copies on Amazon, usually a sales rank in the 20K range will do it, Amazon will notice in one of their weekly updates and price-match the book to free. This is known as the "permafree" method, since your book is free all the time. The advantage of having a book free all of the time on Kindle is that you'll get regular, steady downloads, so if it's book #1 in a series, you have a chance to promote the later numbers. My author site includes a page of the top perma free science fiction ebooks which anchor a series. The main drawback is that free "sales" on Amazon only count one hundredth as much as paid sales in their ranking algorithm, which means that your book will not appear on Also Bought lists of popular paid science fiction novels, even if you are getting more downloads than they are.
The ironic thing about offering free books is that they require paid promotions in order to generate large numbers of downloads. Another advantage of Select and promo days over permafree is that the Select book is generating real sales outside of its promo period, so it's usually much more visible in the Amazon catalog, and when it flips to free, many more people will find it. Combined with paid promotions on Kindle reader mailing lists, which you can't run all the time anyway, it's common to see science fiction novels from unknown writers pop into the top 100 free Kindle books on Amazon for a day or two during a promotion. During that time, they probably get more downloads than a relatively popular permafree book gets over three months. The main gamble is whether or not you can line up enough meaningful promotions for the Select book. A single promotion from BookBub will probably get you top 100, ENT combined with another decent list might do it, but otherwise, you need to run a half a dozen quality promos on the same day if you want to see thousands of downloads.
The main competitive wedge you have on Kindle is price. That's how self published science fiction writers have managed to compete heads-up with the major trades, and there are a dozens of self published science fiction writers who are earning a very good living selling a mix of 99 cent and $2.99 ebooks. The 99 cent price is critical to getting sales up and running from an unknown fiction writer, as opposed to nonfiction, where readers often have limited choices for a particular niche subject. Many authors err by believing that there's no difference between a 99 cent cover price, of which Amazon pays the author 35 cents per copy sold, and a $2.99 cover price, of which Amazon pays the author $2.09 per copy sold, due to the royalty rate changing from 35% to 70% at the $2.99 level. But 99 cents is the magic price where readers are willing to take a gamble, at $2.99, they don't want books from unknowns. So while you make six times as much per copy sold at the higher price, until your book gains traction, it won't sell a tenth as many copies as at the lower price, and you'll almost completely eliminate any chance of having a serious bestseller. Don't forget, you are also competing with free promotional books from major publishers, an option Amazon doesn't give new self publishers.
I usually write a major new article about eBooks for my blog around once a month, and I'm happy to answer questions about eBooks on those posts.
Science Fiction eBook Publishing and Amazon Kindle
eBook publishing has evolved so rapidly since I first posted this page in 2001 that I just deleted the original and started over from scratch. First, a brief background about my eBook publishing experience. I've been publishing online since 1995, my original business model was to give eBooks away for free in the form long web pages and to make money selling books that I printed locally. The website got a huge number of visitors, but I didn't make much money. So I leveraged my book marketing platform to become a trade author, and wrote a number of books for McGraw-Hill between 1996 and 2004. But I remained convinced that eBook publishing would be the best way for authors to become independent and when I started publishing my own books again in 2002, I put quite a bit of time and effort into looking for ways to sell them electronically.
The first breakthrough came with Amazon when they started selling PDF eBooks around 2004, and for the next couple years, I earned an extra $500/month by selling eBook versions of my paper books through Ingram Distribution, which got them into the Amazon store. After Amazon ended that program in preparation of their move to Kindle, I started selling PDF eBooks from my own website, using eJunkie.com as the fulfillment service. I chose eJunkie because they didn't have a funky legal agreement like some of the other download services, and they charge just a flat $5/month fee to handle the downloads you can sell using a third party payment system. I use PayPal for the payment system because they have a terrific international presence (I've sold eBooks in 87 countries to date) and because I had used them for years for direct paper book sales. I don't use any restrictive DRM applications, I'm just selling Word generated PDF files and allowing printing, though my license agreement limits the purchaser to printing a copy for personal use. The eBook sales are proportional to the web traffic, and sales total over $50,000.
I still recommend building a website to market your science fiction books if you are serious about creating an independent income stream from your writing, but Kindle, Nook and iPad do offer an alternative ecosystem for authors. The main reason for a website at this point is to gather e-mail addresses from your fans so you can notify them of new releases. I've stuck strictly with Kindle, in part because it's so simple (you can just upload Word files if you don't want to bother with HTML) and in part because I don't believe in diluting sales across too many platforms. While diversification in business is important, I get diversification through my direct eBook sales and print sales. If the only publishing you are going to do is eBooks on the big retail platforms, then I would suggest adding either Barnes&Noble Nook (via Pubit) or Apple's iStore after giving Kindle a running start. Kindle is the biggest eBook store in terms of sales (the majority of iPad users shop for eBooks in the Kindle store), and marketing in the Amazon store is driven entirely by sales.
The more you've sold on Kindle, the more you will sell on Kindle because Amazon will promote the books for you. Selling on other devices to customers who would otherwise have bought in the Kindle store ends up hurting your profile across all eBook readers when you are starting out.When you sell PDF eBooks directly, they should be formatted just like printed books, and in my case, I allow customers to print the PDF, which works especially well for overseas buyers who really want a hard copy but didn't want to pay (and wait) to have a book shipped from overseas. But when you sell eBooks on Kindle, the formatting is far from critical, you just want to put in spaces between paragraphs and chapters. The reason it doesn't matter is because the Kindle readers change the font size and even the page orientation according to their eye strength, the time of day and what book they are reading. Kindle doesn't allow fancy formatting for that reason, and worrying about the limited formatting you can do is just a distraction for fiction publishers. Readers want well written and well edited novels without typos, there's no need for a table of contents or fancy navigation since fiction reads from start to finish.
Both Nook and iPad support fancier formatting than Kindle. Nook supports the ePub standard, and iPad supports regular graphics, which is why glossy magazine publishers are so enthusiastic about the device and other tablets. But the vast majority of the eBook market is electronic versions of print books, which means pure text for fiction and a limited number of illustrations for most nonfiction. So don't get caught up in complications that will add nothing to your bottom line when you're starting out. Go straight from Word to PDF if you are selling eBooks from your own website, and go straight from Word to Kindle for the Kindle store. The place to invest your artistic talents for Kindle is the full color cover, especially for fiction. For Kindle nonfiction, I've been knocking out my covers in Microsoft Paint and I don't believe it matters a bit one way or the other. But fiction is highly competitive and the cover is probably the most important selling point after the price for unknown authors in the Kinde store.