How to Publish to a Global Audience
Over a decade ago, publishing options for indie authors were limited. Kobo, Nook, Google Play and Apple Books didn’t exist and only a handful of countries had adopted the eBook format. There weren’t many services designed to help authors publish and market their books either, so only a tiny portion of tech-savvy indies could reach non-Kindle eBook readers.
These days, however, the world is different. A modern author can write a book, access freelancers on Reedsy or Fiverr to make it look professional, publish in multiple formats, distribute them across the world to hundreds of retailers and promote them with targeted ad campaigns. What’s more, they can do this in just weeks, all without leaving their bed! In spite of all this innovation, though, the industry keeps developing.
Tech companies give more countries reliable internet access. Worldwide literacy rates improve, bringing more readers into play. Distributors partner with new international stores. There are more tools than ever, making everything about production easier, from dictation to eBook conversion. Yes, competition is fiercer, but the average newbie today has options that would have blown the minds of the early adopters of Publishing 2.0.
Global publishing has become possible for everyone, no matter their platform size or tech ability. Of course, the extra complexity brings challenges. A “wide” author – one that publishes on multiple platforms – needs to learn how to market to lots of retailers, but in return they get to reach millions of overlooked readers. Establish a presence with them while other authors tussle over the ever-crowded Kindle ecosystem and you could find yourself ahead of the game. Interested? Then read on for a selection of simple tips to roll out your global publishing empire.
You can’t sell everywhere unless you publish everywhere. After all, Amazon only has 13 Kindle Stores. That leaves 182 countries with nowhere to buy your work if you only upload your files to KDP. You might initially see the uncharted waters outside Amazon as an unnecessary risk and time-suck but there are ways to dip your toes into these mysterious reader-pools without risking your whole leg. Ultimately, whatever you choose will depend on your goals and circumstance.
Many writers, for example, have chosen to opt their books into the Kindle Unlimited (KU) scheme. This requires being exclusive with Amazon and means that Kindle readers can download their eBooks for free as part of a subscription programme. KU writers get paid for page reads on top of their regular unit sales and also enjoy extra exposure on the platform as a reward for their exclusivity.
How much this system benefits an author depends on a range of factors, not least genre. If you’ve tried KU and found your page reads to be negligible – say 10% of your unit sales income – then removing your books and publishing wide on sites like Apple Books, Kobo, Nook and Google Play might be a better option for you. You don’t have to publish directly on a hundred sites if you’re time-poor, either. Aggregators like Draft2Digital, PublishDrive and Smashwords make it easy to publish on multiple channels through a single portal, saving you time in return for a sales cut.
If KU makes up a significant portion of your revenue, like 70%, then that’s fine. You can keep your eBooks Amazon exclusive while publishing your other formats elsewhere. KU rules don’t impede you from publishing your paperbacks on Ingram Spark or your audiobooks on Findaway Voices. Both of those options will get your work catalogued on retailer websites but also in libraries, which can provide another valuable income stream.
One important factor to consider when publishing wide is that an advertising strategy that works in one country won’t necessarily work in another. For a start, not every country has access to every retailer. While you might have cracked the art of selling books on Apple to US readers through Facebook, running similar ads to English-speaking readers in some Middle Eastern or African countries will be a waste of time and energy. That’s because Apple Books doesn’t serve its entire catalogue to every country. There, you might be better off directing them to Google Play or Kobo where they can buy your books.
Likewise, if a retailer does serve a county, they’re not always a dominant presence. While Amazon rules the eBook market in the US and UK, in Canada Kobo wears the crown. Directing Canadian shoppers to your Kindle page will cause friction for many readers. You would lose fewer buyers and be more profitable if you directed them to the Kobo Store they love rather than try to convert them. Advertising wide requires a little contextual research but doing this will greatly improve your chances.
Segment Your Readers
You will often fare better if you also segment your readers. On a large scale, this means creating a few versions of your books to appeal to fans in different demographics. The process offers diminishing returns but it can be worthwhile if you focus on the most profitable markets or segments with a broad brush – for example, by country or gender. Before you do it, though, it’s wise to ask yourself, “Is a 20% boost in sales worth the extra workload?” If you’re tuning over six figures a month then it probably is, but at three figures with a handful of niche titles your time might be better spent writing a new book.
Traditional publishers have segmented the readers of their popular titles for over a century. Working systematically, they have rolled out IP rights, either working with partners or creating versions of their books themselves to appeal to different types of readers. Dialects, languages, children’s covers, adult covers – each version is registered using a fresh ISBN and requires an entirely different marketing strategy to maximise its earnings.
So why have indies started doing this? Simply put, having maximised their earning potential in “easy” English-speaking markets, some prominent authors have looked elsewhere to keep growing. Admittedly, this isn’t the most relatable scenario, but we can all learn from it nonetheless. That’s because segmenting your readers gets harder as your platform grows, so you should start as early as possible. You don’t have to pay for translations or a ton of cover variations. To begin with, your marketing strategy will be enough. In fact, tailoring your message for targeted batches of readers will actually improve your conversions and save you money.
Breaking your email list into groups should be the first task on your to-do list. Geo-tag the sign-up page on your website and you can sort subscribers by country. That way, you can test different subject lines and content to maximise your open and click-through rates per group. This extra work is a pain but it will make every reader feel like you’re catering to them, which will help you inspire loyalty and keep them engaged. Then, if you do create different versions of your future releases, your platform will be perfectly prepared to feed the right content to the right fans.
Translate or License Your IP
There are plenty of English-speakers in the world, but it isn’t the only widespread language. According to the language learning app Babbel, English is definitely near the top of the leader board, but so are Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish. While it’s true that many people are bilingual and open to reading in a second language, the best way to make a significant cultural impact is to publish books in a country’s native tongue. Just look at Mark Dawson and how well his translated books have performed in Germany.
Again, how you handle translations will depend on your audience size, time and resources. If your books are making decent money and you want to manage the process, then a DIY approach could be your best option. Otherwise, your alternative is to strike a translation deal with a publisher. This can be achieved by pitching to them at publishing conferences or by selling enough English books to attract offers. What constitutes as “successful enough” to warrant a deal will vary per author but, according to a translator who hosted a panel at The London Book Fair in 2018, publishers start to take notice when a book passes 50,000 English sales.
There’s no denying that publishing to a global market is more complex, but the rewards are growing every year. If the prospect daunts you, remember that you don’t have to be perfect from day one. Aim for baby steps with a long-term view and you could one day find yourself enjoying the rewards of your very own global business. Not bad for one storyteller with a laptop.
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