As a writer, yesterday I earned a commission of $1.60 for an “ultra-high-density external battery pack.” Yes, that sentence does make sense — if you know how to use the Amazon Associates Program to boost the revenue from your books.
Here’s what happened: A visitor to one of my websites clicked a link to the Amazon sales page for my book, 101 Weird Ways to Make Money. After adding a copy to his cart, he continued shopping. The link to the book’s sales page includes my Amazon affiliate code, so not only did I earn a royalty from my publisher, but Amazon paid me a commission for the book as well as anything else the visitor bought within 24 hours, which in this case included that battery pack.
If you haven’t taken advantage of Amazon’s Associates Program to earn royalties from your links to your books — and other products — you’ll want to get started.
How Amazon Associates Works
When you sign up for Amazon Associates, you’re paid 4 to 10 percent commission for sales you refer to Amazon using your affiliate links (the URLs that include your unique tracking code). The exact percentage depends on the types of products sold and your sales volume for the month.
Of course, you can earn commissions by linking to any product on Amazon (more on that in a moment), but as an author your first goal is to squeeze more profit from your book sales. Every time you promote your books on your website or blog, make sure to use your affiliate links.
Here’s an example for traditionally published authors. Suppose the cover price of your book is $19.95, and Amazon is currently charging $14.95 (their price often changes and its generally below list price). When a visitor clicks the link on your blog and buys a copy from Amazon, you’ll get at least 59 cents (4 percent) as a commission — in addition to whatever the royalty is from your publisher.
Self-published? If your ebook sells for $5.99 in the Kindle store, you’re probably already earning a royalty of $4.19 (Amazon pays up to 70 percent), which is great. But why not also get an extra 24 cents by linking to your book with your affiliate code to earn a 4 percent commission? And if you sell enough books, you can do even better.
For example, if you sell more than six items through your referral links in a month, your commission goes up to 6 percent. Notice I said “items,” because the people who buy your books will also buy other things while shopping on Amazon, and you earn a commission on those sales as long as they occur within 24 hours (or longer if the visitor adds an item to her shopping cart and returns to pay later).
Some items have set rates, while others’ rates fluctuate based on volume. Here are some examples of the set rates from Amazon’s Advertising Fee Schedule:
- Grocery products: 4 percent
- Instant video products: 6 percent
- Headphone products: 6 percent
- Jewelry products: 10 percent
- Game downloads: 10 percent
How much money can you earn?
I receive a royalty of $1.50 from my publisher for each book I sell, so if I also get a 77-cent affiliate commission (6 percent when Amazon sells my book for $12.95), that’s a 51 percent boost in revenue per book. I don’t sell 100 copies weekly like I did back when the book first came out, and most sales now aren’t through my links, so that extra revenue has dropped to less than 10 dollars each month.
On the other hand, after replacing regular links with my affiliate links years ago, I haven’t had to spend one extra minute to keep making that extra money.
Then there are those “other” sales. Once I started using this strategy, I was surprised to see that on top of the affiliate income for my books, I was making another $30 monthly in commissions for other items people bought after arriving at Amazon through my links. That too has dropped as sales have declined, but hey, every little bit helps.
The payoff can be bigger than my experience indicates. “On average, I make a few hundred dollars each month from my affiliate account, because every time I link to my books from my website I use an Amazon Associates URL that’s got a tracking ID attached,” said Paul Jarvis in a post at Forbes. A few hundred dollars a month is a few thousand dollars a year — not a bad payoff for taking a few minutes to set things up the right way.
Playing by Amazon’s rules
Authors often think it’s against the rules to use affiliate links for their own books. It isn’t. What is against the rules is using your affiliate links when you buy things for yourself. It’s perfectly okay to make commissions on your books when other people buy them. This is true when you sell Kindle books, too.
In response to the question, “Can I link to my Kindle book via the Amazon Associates program?” Amazon says:
Yes, the Amazon Associates Program provides vendors specially formatted links to Amazon on their websites in exchange for advertising fees when their visitors follow the links and place an order. Anyone with a website may apply for our Associates Program, although we do have certain requirements that may prevent a site from participating.
One of those “certain requirements” is that you live in an approved state, a list that fortunately includes all but five states. According to the Associates Program Operating Agreement, the only states where you can’t participate are Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Missouri and Rhode Island.
If you happen to live in one of those states you’re out of luck . . . almost. You still can sign up for the Books-a-Million affiliate program and send your readers to their website to buy your books. You’ll get a 5 percent commission on sales made within 30 days of the customer using your link to arrive at BooksAMillion.com.
Read up on the rest of Amazon’s rules. You can’t use affiliate links in emails or PDFs, for example, and Amazon requires you to disclose on your site or blog that you are “a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.” Getting your affiliate account closed means your extra income stream is gone, and it’s easy to make a mistake. In fact, I may have used my affiliate link in my newsletters once or twice before realizing this was against the rules.
What does the law say?
As an advertiser (which is essentially what you become), you also have to be aware of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations. For example, the FTC Guidelines say you have to disclose the fact that you might receive payment when visitors use your links to buy something, and they provide these more specific suggestions:
- Place the disclosure as close as possible to the triggering claim.
- Preferably, design advertisements so that “scrolling” is not necessary in order to find a disclosure.
A simple disclosure might look something like this:
Disclosure: This website may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to.
Some bloggers put a statement at the bottom of each page, while others just provide a link there to a disclosure page that has the more-detailed information. That has apparently been enough for website and blog owners to avoid trouble with the FTC so far, but it also appears that neither practice is in complete compliance with the regulations, so you may have to put that disclosure a bit closer to the links. (I’m not a lawyer, though, so you may want to speak with one to make sure you’re covered.)
Of course, you could be very clear and label it “My affiliate link to my book,” or even say something like, “Do me a favor and use this link to check out my book, so I can make a commission if you buy it.” (Editor’s note: Since we published this post, it sounds like Amazon has started discouraging this type of wording.)
How to make more money with Amazon Associates
It’s possible to make even more affiliate income while promoting your books. One method is to share the sales pages on social media using your affiliate code. This is tricky because it is against Amazon’s rules to shorten your affiliate URLs and they may be too long for Twitter, or might be shortened automatically on Facebook.
Fortunately, Amazon provides a way to share your book’s sales page on Twitter and Facebook while using your affiliate tracking code. Go to your book’s sales page while logged into your affiliate account, then use the “share” tab at the top to post to Twitter or Facebook. Here’s a simple tutorial that walks you through the process.
Another way to get an Amazon-approved short link is to search for your book from your Associates home page. See the yellow “Get Link” button? Click the arrow next to it and choose “Shorten URL with amzn.to?”
I discovered another creative way to boost your affiliate income in a Kindle publishers’ forum. “One thing I’ve done is post product links to the equipment that I or my fictional hero use in the books. Things like knives, optics, tents and such,” said one user.
For example, he says he made an 8 percent commission on a rifle scope that costs over $2,000 — that’s more than $160 from one sale through his affiliate link!
Letting your book’s characters sell things for you is a neat trick! Unfortunately, the consensus of Kindle forum users is that it’s against the rules to include affiliate links in Kindle books. Many authors get away with it and Amazon has not fully clarified the matter, but a safer strategy might be to have “character profile” pages on your website, with affiliate links to each character’s favorite products. You could then link to those profile pages at the end of your book, or link to a “more information” page on your site.
Finally, your readers probably value your opinion, so why not have a list of your favorite books by other authors on your website or blog? Of course, you’ll link to all of their books using your Amazon Associates links.
Will you join Amazon Associates?
The program offers a way to boost your income from book sales. More than ever writers have to be marketers anyhow, so why not add affiliate marketing to your plan? You’ll at least make more money from your own books, and perhaps profit from recommending other books and products as well.
Do you use affiliate links to promote your books?