Alexander Niehues (aka Alex Newton) worked as a senior management consultant in the corporate world for 20 years before quitting his career to work at home in Stuttgart and founding K-lytics.
In this podcast episode, Newton explains:
- How to use analytics to sell more books
- Why he relies on outsourcing and contractors
- What non-fiction authors can do to earn more money
- The types of books that sell a lot on Amazon today
And lots more.
Read the related post on Forbes
Bryan Collins: Would you like to sell more of your nonfiction books on Amazon? Hi, there. This is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. This week, I spoke to Alex Newton of K-Lytics. And K-Lytics is an interesting company and that it shows you how to optimize your book so it sells more on Amazon. And you can also use K-Lytics to figure out what type of books and particularly nonfiction books you should be writing.
Bryan Collins: Now, Alex began a career in the corporate world before leaving to set up his own business which helps self-published authors. I started by asking Alex why he set up K-Lytics in the first place.
Alex Newton: Well, when I first started, that was a very, very selfish reason. I spent 20 years in corporate life. My traveling around the world, working seven days a week, 24 hours a day sort of, it felt like this and my little daughter was born. She was by then three years old and I really looked at myself and say, “Look, there has to be another way apart from the corporate life. Is there any way of earning money from home?”
Alex Newton: And at that time, obviously, that were the big buzz words like passive income and all these sort of things and where I find by the way, passive income is a big misnomer. What I now have is active income but it's earned from home by hard work and that's when I sort of started figuring out, “Okay, there has to be a way online.”
Alex Newton: How did I get into the publishing side of things? Well, my career, before I went into top management consulting, I did spend time in publishing and then it was, right at that time, was like the big Kindle gold rush time. I think today is the 20th anniversary of Google and we have 11 years of Kindle. And back then, when Kindle was like three, four years old, there was a big gold rush type of feeling.
Alex Newton: I went at that time into Amazon and earning money online and said, “Well, first of all, let's go into publishing myself.” But I was a very fact-based person. I started looking at book pages. I started looking at Amazon sales ranks at genres, fiction and nonfiction and started figuring out, if you start looking at the data in a smart way, you can tell exactly what's trending, what's going up, what's going up, what is selling and what is not crowded as a space yet.
Alex Newton: And that's when thing came to things. First report about 30 main genres on Kindle and I gave it to a couple of authors and say, “Hey, cool. Can you do this on subcategories?” And I said, “Yes,” and it progressed and that's how K-Lytics was born. Basically, it stands for K is Kindle and Lytics is for analytics so that's how it was born, K-Lytics, market intelligence for authors and publishers.
Bryan Collins: And I've used some of your reports to change how I position my nonfiction books on Amazon. How do you think it can help writers sell more books in a way that they might not necessarily be able to do by themselves?
Alex Newton: Well, there is two stages to the use of the data, more like the strategic angle, that you basically look at the book market with always like 5,000 genres that you have on Kindle and take a look at, well, what is actually selling and what space is not overly crowded. Where is there still a favorable ratio of demand versus supply and where can you still earn some money?
Alex Newton: Now, that angle is not to mean that you should bend yourself. I never recommend there's these buzz words out there like “write to market” and these sort of things and I say, “Look, don't bend yourself.” If you write nonfiction, you usually write for authority, to prove authority and ideally also to make money on the side. When you do that, you still have to write something where you're really knowledgeable because there are so many, say, junk books out there in the book market of who want to be experts.
Alex Newton: The first angle is select the market where there … I'd never say success is guaranteed. That's impossible but my philosophy is show me those book markets and book market niches where the odds of success are substantially higher than in the other parts of the book market.
Alex Newton: How do you sell more books? First stage is strategic. You select the book market where the odds of success are over proportionally high. The second part to the equation is either you already have a book or once the book is there, it gets very tactical. And that tactical end of it is Amazon offers you to put your book into various categories and the categories offer you visibility, and categories play together with keywords so that becomes a very technical subject.
Alex Newton: But basically, the categories are part of the metadata of a book and help discoverability to your readers that browse the site or search the site. And there, knowing which categories to put the book in can also help increase like the technical odds of success.
Bryan Collins: So, looking at your reports, one thing that struck me … This is probably something I've noticed in the Amazon store as well is that romance books, thriller books and so on sell vastly more than a typical nonfiction book.
Alex Newton: Yes, that is true and I think there is reasons to that. First thing is when Kindle was born as a device, if you look at who typically purchased a Kindle … Now, I don't have exact data on the demographics of Kindle owners. Only Amazon has but when the market evolved, it was the perfect present that you give you mom for Christmas and when I got on the plane, it always seemed to be the typical Kindle reader is whatever female between 40 and 60 years old. If you're a young guy now, no offense taken if you also own a Kindle.
Alex Newton: But the fact is right now, the number one genre on Kindle is romance. Then you have mystery-thriller-suspense. Then you have sci-fi, fantasy. Then you have teen young adult. Then you start getting into like self-help, business and money, business and investing these sort of titles. But you're completely right, the bulk of the sales, the volume is driven by romance and my hypothesis is apart from the fact that also in the print business, these are major book markets especially in the thriller-suspense, the demographics behind the typical Kindle owner or device owner or eReader is probably in a way that you have naturally a high demand for romance books.
Bryan Collins: What's the nonfiction writer supposed to do?
Alex Newton: Well, nonfiction writer has a couple of avenues to take here. First of all, saying that romance, mystery-thriller-suspense, sci-fi is the bulk of the market does not say you cannot be successful in nonfiction. Take business and money or take self-help, also there you still have trending and attractive niches. We've seen things like personal transformation, certain self-help niche is still trending up.
Alex Newton: Now, the one thing you have to consider though is ebook is not the only avenue to success and we had an analysis of all the bestseller list on Kindle as to what is the format penetration of the overall bestseller list. What has ebook earned? What is hardcover? What's paperback driven? Now, whilst the first genre as I mentioned, romance MTS and sci-fi, they have all ebook penetration of like 70% to 90%.
Alex Newton: When it comes to business books, for example, we measured like 24% ebooks, then in business book, it's another 27% hardcover, another 17% or so with paperback. And then you have actually also by now quite a reasonable share almost 30% of the bestsellers being audio. If you look at self-help, the picture is even more extreme although the book market supply is completely swamped in the ebook and the Kindle world. When it comes to the demand side, also here, print is still a very important channel.
Alex Newton: As a nonfiction author, the data can be very, very helpful still on the ebook market to engage what's trending up, what's trending down, what's working. But when it comes to the distribution, my first advice would be also look into print and also look into audio especially if you're into business books. And the next step is what are you actually writing for as a non-fiction author? Do you write to earn money with a book or do you write to showcase and prove authority so that you can … But you earn your money elsewhere.
Alex Newton: And I don't want to generalize or overgeneralize but I think in many, many book market niches, take for example, even if you go away from business and money, there are very obscure, very tiny niches in the ebook market, crafts, hobbies and home. My famous example is how to grow bonsai. You type bonsai into Amazon, immediately, it turns up a book with the number one bestseller badge and that number one bestseller badge is not overall in the store but it applies to the category the book is in. In that case, it is gardening and horticulture, growing bonsais or something, right?
Bryan Collins: Yeah.
Alex Newton: And that book as the number one bestseller immediately jumps into your eyes the minute you type in that keyword into the search box. If you then look at the real storewide sales rank of the book, it's around whatever, 50,000, 60,000 so whatever two or three copies a day. The author is never going to get rich with the book.
Alex Newton: But if that person whatever has a gardening company or a bonsai online shop, it's a completely different matter. My other big piece of advice to a nonfiction author would be use the book to prove authority but use then that authority to monetize other channels whether it is your coaching business, whether it's your consulting business, whether it's your other online product, information product, you name it. That would be my piece of advice for nonfiction authors.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, exactly like creating an online course. And I supposed that brings me to something I'm interested in if you're a nonfiction writer or if you're somebody running a business, you got to spend all your time or a certain amount of your time writing and creating. So how do you go about balancing that with the time you might need to run a coaching practice, for example, or create an information product like an online course?
Alex Newton: Right. Now, especially the nonfiction side of the business, I think, it renders itself to a large degree to outsourcing. Even if you look at the big nonfiction business books that you see in the airports, hardly anybody of these people wrote the book, him or herself. They may have had the idea or they may have had the outline. They even may have used, dictated their thoughts while doing a walk in the park and structured the book. But then they will have hired a ghost writer.
Alex Newton: Especially in nonfiction, I think you have to look into outsourcing part of journey and if you say no, outsourcing the actual writing so that you have more time for the marketing or your coaching business is not your thing. You say, I'm owning the content. I want to write. Then that's a perfectly fine decision too but then you have to free up or hire capacity to help you then with the other parts of the business which are exactly, well, who's maintaining the website? Who's taking care of the information products? Who's taking care of the book marketing side of the business?
Alex Newton: In the long story short and I also learned it the hard way myself, the day has only 24 hours a day and you don't want to spend 24 hours a day neither writing nor working and doing the publishing side of your business. You have to find helping hands to scale the business. Otherwise, the whole thing is not set up for a success.
Bryan Collins: What tips based on your own experience would you give somebody who wants to try outsourcing for the first time?
Alex Newton: When I personally took the outsourcing journey, first of all, first piece of research is, well, what are my sources of potential freelancers and the second you Google outsourcing freelance productivity enhancement, obviously, you're pointed to the big platform starting from Upwork to the low-end provider such as fiverr.com, you name them. And obviously, there are many niche-based ones in between. Take design, 99designs for designs and all these sorts of things.
Alex Newton: The sources are known. What I can suggest though is two things that many people I find don't tell you. The one is because you also at the start look at price, you are probably tempted to go for a cheap resource and that's fine for the beginning, but what you want to build is also a bit like a strategic relationship.
Alex Newton: What I did in my business when we started outsourcing is, first of all, you have to use a professional process, not just write free emails or a very short description of what you want to have on these platforms. I actually took more what I did also in my corporate life like … These are like three pages of specific specs. This is what I want and you have it in two parts. One like for pre-qualifying candidates and then one a deeper description for when you actually want to find the right person.
Alex Newton: And the other thing what I did, we built into the hiring process, almost like this is the task. And the people we now work with, you know what happened? They were like two or three candidates who basically delivered the product without having even been hired. How cool is that?
Alex Newton: While I was still honing the task specifications, I already got back a reply from a person on the Philippines, “Hey, I completely understand what you have, here is like a mock up. Here's like the pilot, so to speak.” And I looked at it and said, “Wow. You know, you're hired, full stop.” And then you started running with it.
Alex Newton: So, what I'm saying is try to build into the process where you let the person do like a little part of the work, either paid or they may even do it as part of the hiring process. It depends on how competitive that hiring market is, obviously. But that's a good thing to do.
Alex Newton: And then the second part is while this may look a little bit more opportunistic at first, you very fast will find people who are proactive, who understand what you want to have. I can't tell you how many times I've written as, to be blunt, while the one guy already delivered what you wanted without even having been hired, the other person, by comparison, wrote to you the fourth email whether he or she could have more description and just didn't understand what the task was.
Alex Newton: That's the one part and then once you have that, try to think strategically about the person you're working with, not just transactionally. And that helped us a great bit because the part of the outsource is we now have our highly qualified and they've been working for us now for two years and more. And it also then gives you a little bit responsibility because we're literally feeding the family over there and it's completely a win-win.
Alex Newton: I could never pay such level of qualification if I pay the work here in the West. One may say, “Yeah, so you're not helping our society here.” But I say, “Yeah, but we live on planet earth and I'm feeding a family and kids over there in the Philippines and they're very grateful for it.”
Bryan Collins: So, it sounds to me like you've taken some skills that you may have even acquired in the corporate world, for example, delegation and collaboration and apply them to setting up your own business. Are there any other skills like that, that you've either taken from the corporate world or perhaps are there any skills that you have to develop once you set up your own business that you maybe didn't have before?
Alex Newton: Well, reality struck once I got an entrepreneur, and so there's that second part very definitely, because especially I lived in the corporate world and while being a management partner in a consultancy, you are automatically also an entrepreneur. You have to take care of your staff, keep them busy, keep them utilized. Yes, there were skills in terms of delegation, getting work organized, getting tasks split up so they can be done faster.
Alex Newton: That all helped, but the one thing that any entrepreneur will probably tell you that corporate life doesn't teach you especially if you're in consulting, you can always tell the client, “Look, this is what you can do. You have option A, B, C, and D and here are all the pros and cons. And you can analyze things to death,” but you're not taking the decision. As an entrepreneur, you're faced with decision taking like every day, every minute, every hour of the day.
Alex Newton: So, that's certainly a skill I have to develop and actually leave behind the comfort and the luxury of analyzing every problem. You have to develop on certain things a certain gut feel. Having said this, I see way too many entrepreneurs and startup companies who go by gut feel, and this is where the rigorous corporate process helped me a great deal to apply them also to yourself and say, “Well, well, well, wait a minute. Before you spend that money, what it's going to do to your business? What's the return on it? Are you going to see back?” I think that's where things helped a great deal.
Bryan Collins: And, Alex, from reviewing, I suppose, your reports for K-Lytics and from what you were telling me there about when you were a consultant, you strike me as somebody who's quite comfortable with reviewing large amounts of data and then developing an ability to focus on what's important in large amounts of data. Do you have any maybe advice for somebody who might be struggling to focus the most important particularly if they're feeling overwhelmed by all the information that's coming at them whether from a boss or from statistics about their books, for example?
Alex Newton: Right. You raised a very important point here because in today's world, I mean there is data and information overflow. People get swamped. If you're an author to stay in the industry and you start doing your own Facebook or Amazon ads and then they give you data, and you're swamped with key performance metrics. That's usually not the home turf of a writer and you can get easily overwhelmed.
Alex Newton: For me, I spent 20 years as you would say, weeding through data, aggregating it and then we always had … Jokingly, we said, “The good analysis aggregates the data in a way that it can be understood by a child, a grandmother or a corporate CEO.” All of them react the same way if they see things that are too complex and they spend more spending the time on figuring out what it means than taking action on it and going with it.
Alex Newton: If you feel overwhelmed by today's information overflow, also back to the outsourcing side, you wouldn't know how many smart data people are out there in the outsourcing market. Now, there is two types of them. Ones are like just the doers who can do the number crunching for you. But you will also have people whom you can ask, “Well, what does this tell you?”
Alex Newton: And so if you're not into numbers, try to find somebody who can help you with it. It is absolutely affordable. You have great many engineers and programmers and controllers out there in India, Pakistan, Philippines who are highly trained and can totally help you with the analytics of your business.
Bryan Collins: That's good advice. And I suppose one last question, do you work longer hours now that you're running your own business or do you work longer hours when you were a management consultant?
Alex Newton: Now, the irony is I work longer. But the big distinction is every hour I spend more, I completely feel I'm working on my own dream and not my company's or employer's dream or a client's dream. Now, working for clients was great. You really enjoyed doing projects when you felt your part of the client organization, you're working them as a team and that's a great mission and a great source of satisfaction.
Alex Newton: But if you start being successful at working at your own dream, I think the one thing I'm now learning is you have to totally discipline yourself in a way or let your wife beat your head with a saucepan to spend more time with the family because that's where the whole idea started. If you ask me, well, where did I fail?
Alex Newton: Honestly, I started doing this to spend more time with the family. Well, I have to be honest, I spend more work hours. However, I have the office here in the rooftop of our house and for the last four years, I've seen my daughter every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I lost all my, whatever platinum cards with the airlines and frankly, I don't want to have them back in return compared to what I have now. Yes, longer hours but much more fun and a way more time with the family.
Bryan Collins: I get it. And, Alex, if people are interested in finding you or K-Lytics, where should they go?
Alex Newton: Very simply type in k-lytics.com. And that's the home page. If you want to get in touch with me personally, just write to firstname.lastname@example.org in the subject line, attention Alex, it will be channeled to me. And I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.
Bryan Collins: I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes Store. And if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join and I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.
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