Kevin Kruse didn’t get into independent publishing for the money. He sees it as a way to reach more people with a message that falls into a tight, narrow niche in the Amazon publishing ecosystem.
“I’m trying to make an impact on others’ lives,” he said. “I don’t know that writing books is the best way to do that, but it’s one way to reach thousands of people with a message.”
So far, he’s authored a total of five non-fiction books:
Now, let’s get to the question, How does he do it?
Kevin Kruse and the Secret To Getting Book Reviews
Rather than write a book about everything he knows about time management, Kevin Kruse decided to interview other successful people and let them talk about time management. This is a great strategy for journalists and anyone else who wants to deliver real value from the experts (especially if you aren’t the expert).
Kruse published “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management: The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs” on October 11, 2015 and within six weeks the book had 185 reviews and 4.9 stars on Amazon. It rose to #27 in one e-book category and #31 in another. Kruse himself has an author ranking in the top 100.
“Book reviews are hard to get,” Kruse said. “It goes back to building up your reader list over time.”
He starts looking for readers within the subject area of his book as he begins the writing process. Then, a month before publication, he asks them to join his “street team” and sends them a free copy of his e-book with a request to leave an honest review at Amazon. If they actually leave a review, he’ll send them a paper copy of his book for free.
“Each book has launched with more reviews than the last because my list is getting bigger. ’15 Secrets’ got 96 reviews within 24 hours,” he said.
80/20: A Look at Kruse’s Winning Publishing Strategy
It starts with a passion.
“A lot of people try to find a moneymaking category and write for that category,” Kruse said. “I can’t do that.”
Instead, he picks a topic he has some experience in, does some research on that topic, then sets about to dominate that category. He focuses on the 20 percent of the process that will earn him 80 percent of the results. For that reason, he has historically only published in paperback through CreateSpace and in the Kindle. But for his latest book he is experimenting with Draft2Digital to make the book available through Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. So far, it’s too early to tell how that’s working for him.
Some of his books sell better in paperback, others in the Kindle. Either way, Kruse understands that having a paperback version of his books increases the sales for his Kindle titles.
“It adds credibility to my listings,” he said. “Having a higher-priced paperback copy makes the Kindle book look like a better value.”
Though he’s tried Scrivener, Kruse likes writing in Word due to its simplicity. It’s also easier to push his manuscript to and from his copyeditors.
“When I was young and dumb,” he said, “I made the mistake of uploading a manuscript that I swore on my life did not have any typos. Within 24 hours of publication I started getting low-starred reviews. Everyone was pointing out the typos.”
That’s why he used two copyeditors for “15 Secrets”. Both of them are highly proficient in editing, with master’s degrees and experience working with national publishing houses. The second copyeditor found typos and other mistakes the first one didn’t. Then he sent his book to beta readers and they found more typos.
Another first Kruse tried with “15 Secrets” is publishing it as an audio book.
Each book has launched with more reviews than the last. ’15 Secrets’ got 96 reviews within 24 hours.
– Kevin Kruse
Besides copyeditors, the other thing he spent money on is cover art. He’s tried Fiverr and local graphic designers, but for “15 Secrets” he decided to use 99 Designs and ran a cover design contest. For $299 he received 50 designs for his contest and had his e-mail list subscribers choose the best cover.
“That’s more than I’ve ever spent on a cover,” he said, but he added that he won’t do that for every future book. “If you have a good graphic designer, you’ll get a quality cover for less than what you’ll pay at 99 Designs.”
More important than the cover, he said, is the title of the book. Kruse tested a dozen potential titles with Facebook ads to see which title would get the most clicks. After receiving hundreds of votes, he chose the one that would be most engaging based on the ads he ran.
“I knew that I was engaging my fan base and stimulating their interest in the book itself,” he said. So, the Facebook ads turned into a key part of his pre-sales strategy.
Total production expenses related to “15 Secrets” include $299 for the cover, $200 for each copyeditor, and some money on various ads to promote the book in the first week of launch. He spent between $5 and $50 each on half a dozen or so different promotional campaigns, which turned out to be a profitable enterprise.
Kruse’s Costly Pre-Launch Lesson
For Kruse, the most important thing about launching a new title is assembling his street team.
“I assume a 50% response rate,” he said. “I wanted 100 reviews, so my goal was to get 200 people on the street team.”
Kruse set about to find reviewers by looking at other titles within the Amazon category he wanted to target. He found top Amazon reviewers and contacted them to ask for a review.
“Of readers who left a review for David Allen’s Getting Things Done, half of those people will say ‘yes’, and about half of those will go on to leave a review,” Kruse said.
Kruse doesn’t use pre-orders because he said the sales during the pre-order period don’t accumulate for launch day. He wants to rank as high as possible on launch day and focuses instead on what will increase chances for that happening. Another way he influences that is to link to his Amazon sales pages from his website rather than sell directly from his own site.
“If you type in ‘time management,’ my book is No. 1,” he said. “That’s where I want to be, therefore I send my sales to Amazon so they like me and my rankings are higher.”
One promotional strategy he used but found to be time consuming was setting up a separate website for the “15 Secrets” book. He uses it to give away a free paperback version to buyers willing to pay shipping & handling. He did this prior to the book going on sale at Amazon and found that it diluted his Amazon orders.
“I wanted to see if I could sell people an online course,” he said. “If people were willing to pay the shipping & handling, it would be a good indication they might care enough about this topic to pay for the course.” He saw mixed results.
The strategy worked for getting buyers, but Kruse found that he was paying for the cost of printing his books, which proved to be higher than necessary because the book is 300 pages. It would have been better had the book been published with a lower page count—like, 100 pages, he said.
He also found that offering an immediate upsell helped him pay for the Facebook ads he ran on launch week. He offered a digital copy of the book to buyers who purchased the paperback version from his website.
As a third step, he offered, on the back end, a free webinar once a week for personal coaching.
“The good news is, I received $10,000 revenue for this online course,” he said. “The bad news is, I spent almost $10,000 on a Facebook ad consultant who got me nothing.”
Kruse got better results from the Facebook ads he wrote himself, and that was a hard lesson to learn. Now, he’s delivering his course but spending loads of time on creating the materials for it.
“I am looking forward to having this course online next year, so I’m learning how to market it on Facebook,” he said. “So far, it hasn’t been worth it, but it didn’t cost a lot of money. It cost time.”
Launching ’15 Secrets’ Using the 80/20 Rule
This one book could make $50,000 in royalties in one year. I’d rather have one or two doing that than 10 earning $1,000 each.
“It was definitely a good strategy,” he said, “but I wouldn’t do it all the time.”
He also used Buck Books, Books Butterfly, and a Fiverr called bknights. But he swears by his street team, which he said began posting on social media for him immediately when “15 Secrets” went live. With those 200 readers and fans working for him, his book shot up the best selling charts with little self-promotion.
In fact, Kruse didn’t promote the book himself until two days after launch. Then he started writing guest blog posts, posting to his Facebook author page and his personal account wall, LinkedIn groups, and Twitter, and also to independent author groups on Facebook.
“When you’re active on groups,” he said, “all you have to do is say ‘I launched my book and here’s what I leanred’. People will buy your book if they think it’s valuable.”
Another thing Kruse did was let the influencers he interviewed for the book know the book was ready for promotion. They helped promote the book, as well.
“I try to interview as many influencers as I can,” Kruse said. “Once an influencer is in the book, they’re going to help you out and mention your book through their social media and e-mail channels.”
Finally, after one week, Kruse notified his e-mail list of the book’s availability. That caused a huge spike in sales and drove “15 Secrets” even further up the best seller list.
Rather than follow the crowd and offer his book for free on launch day, Kruse borrowed from Steve Scott’s playbook and launched at 99 cents. Quoting Scott, Kruse said, “If you have a list, you don’t need to launch at zero. Just tickle the zon,” a slang phrase for feeding Amazon’s algorithm. “Tickle that Amazon algorithm every day.”
A few weeks after launch, he raised the price to $3.99 for the Kindle and $17.00 for the paperback version. Kruse prices his paperback high enough that the Kindle version seems like a good deal. But he doesn’t have a problem playing with prices and seeing if sales drop when he raises the Kindle version by a dollar. That’s how he moved from the $2.99 price point and found that it didn’t affect his sales at all. He has since raised the Kindle price to $4.99.
Kruse isn’t the kind of author you should expect to publish a new book every week or every month. Instead, he takes his time, writes a good book (once a year is often enough), then spends the next year promoting it.
“This one book could make $50,000 in royalties in one year,” he said. “I’d rather have one or two doing that than 10 earning $1,000 each.”
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