The Internet is throbbing with “SEO Social Media Marketing Specialists” bursting to tell you how you messed up your author website by adding a link! Google penalties are coming to get you! You’ll be excommunicated from the INTERNET if you DO NOT ADHERE TO SEO GUIDELINES! Oh my god, the FTC are coming for you too? Six-figures fines? And don’t get me started on Amazon. If you don’t do the ten thousand things here listed, you will be PENALIZED by Amazon, and your book will become nothing, NOTHING I tell you! You may also find that you are hounded via email, on forums and other such places being told you are leaving “link litter”, “spamming” and all kinds of other horrible, technical rules. I tell you, it’s a minefield run by technical whizzes who know it all! How the heck can you sell your book?
Well, I’m here to tell you a secret. You can forget all about Amazon, Google, ‘SEO experts’ and ranking algorithms if you do one simple thing: Act like this part of the Internet doesn’t exist. Let’s just pretend that everything you do from now on is about communication, and not passive slapping of links and information to a bunch of people you cannot see. Why? Well, there’s this point of saturation, and it’s coming your way. You see, everyone in a book group is now an “author.” Everyone on a reading forum is an “author.” There are no readers in the groups that allow you to post your links. Because writing a book is the new blogging.
In the 90s and 00’s people who wanted more than a quick group email to make them feel connected started writing on Blogspot, Livejournal and Blogger. Now they have also been completely soaked out by boredom and the fickle mind of the Internet fanatic, we are now onto writing a book. I am not saying that you, dear reader, wrote a book as a form of blogging, but many, many “authors” have done just this, in order to feel a little kudos and to get that old ego massage that the Facebook “like” just doesn’t scratch any more.
So what can you do to get ahead of this dank and crowded place of a thousand badly-written books crowding on the same merry-go-round of bad book covers and terrible storylines?
Here are some truths
Creating A Mailing List – Offline – May Get You More Sales Than Online Forms and Forums
Go to your local library and do a reading, or perhaps visit some local book fairs. You will find that people happily sign up for your newsletter if you offer some perks, such as a free chapter to your new book via email. At the end of a day at the LA Book Fair, for example, I had 500 + signatures. That was around 1000 good, qualified email addresses straight to book fans who may buy my book for 99 cents if I give them a free opening chapter. The only online connection? The email and link to buy the book.
SEO is Guesswork, and Always Will Be
Even Google don’t know what their algorithm is up to, because it relies on factors beyond any one person at Google’s control, such as unseen events and how much effort and how much conversion, i.e. how many people like something enough to click on it, is being put into a link. But sometimes, a website is pretty terribly executed and the product is so good it ranks anyway. How do I know? I used to work for a Google company, in SEO. It’s really a set of ideas for making your website appear better in Google, and maybe you can beat competitors. But as an author, you would have to find those competitors. Who are they? Are you going to be aware of a new book out next week called the same thing as yours that has a six-figure marketing campaign behind it? Of course not, and neither could any SEO “expert.” There is a set of commonsense rules that seem to have stayed the same since forever, that are as follows:
- Have a clean, fresh template and use minimal imagery and text to give a good feel to your site.
- Use keywords that pertain to your content in text, “romance book” for example. Don’t overcrowd, make them pertinent.
- Have good, clean meta text for your description and site title. Here’s link to Moz about it.
- Make sure links to your book are direct and clearly marked as sales links, i.e. “Buy my book on Amazon by clicking here.”
Anything else is just a bunch of twenty-somethings arguing about tech stuff at a media agency that serves beers and Skittles on a Friday at your desk. How do I know? Worn the T-shirt. If people spent their money on solid, clean websites designed by proper designers from the beginning, they would have no issue with Google at all. I saw clients, big blue-chip clients, waste millions on re-designs all the time, because their designer hadn’t done the basics years back.
There are authors out there with frankly embarrassing websites given their amazing sales power, and it doesn’t matter a jot. Why? Because their book is amazing. Google Suzanne Collins and take a look at her site, for example.
Even Matt Cutts, the founder of Google, has been telling everyone to stop seeing Google as their god, and to start engaging with their customers offline to build link power. Why? Because Google doesn’t take engagement numbers into consideration – comments and clicks will not be part of your popularity seen in ranking on Google. So if that is true, who cares about Google and SEO? You need to do something else to sell books.
You Don’t Need Social Media To Sell Books
If you have an author website, or author page on Amazon or Smashwords, you can sell books by getting out to talk to book fans and readers. If you can work on building your mailing list at every opportunity instead of building your Twitter or Facebook group, you will have dedicated readers rather than appearing as a flash in a feed that is scrolled by in less that a second.
And no, Google doesn’t consider Facebook and Twitter either.
You don’t need people to like your Facebook Page or follow you on Twitter. You need them to buy the damn book.
Amazon Will Not Penalize You Unless…
- Your book is bad quality in editing or content
- Your book is plagiarizing another work
- Your book is offensive
- Your reviews are faked by you
Google Will Not Penalize You Unless…
- You are adding links to your website that someone paid you to post, and they have nothing to do with your website’s content (“I made a Million Bucks…” type links.)
- You have hidden links that are in white on white or are not underlined or clearly marked to show that they link to somewhere else
- Your website is hacked and contains malware or junk that can infect other sites
If you are to be penalized by Google, if you have Webmaster Tools or a good web host such as Bluehost, you will receive at least two weeks’ notice to fix this, and usually the offending item is quarantined by your provider. So no horror stories here. Just a lot of outrage and horror to urge you to pay for SEO and social media services, when actually you can fix anything like this for free following your provider’s instructions, or get them to do it for you.
FTC Will Not Penalize You…
Probably at all. If you are a little author site selling your book, minding your own business. What the FTC are going after, are people who advertise products on their blog or YouTube site but don’t declare that they are paid to demo and advertise the product. That is NOT YOU.
Book reviews are fine too, even if you pay for them, and do not come under the main advertising guidelines as the scaremongers would have you believe. There is another batch of rules for this, and I talk about that here.
Linkedin Groups And Facebook Pages Are Run By Very Peculiar People Sometimes
Let’s talk about that narcissism again. You see, it seems that people are addicted to the Internet, because they can talk to an unspecified amount of people and say whatever they like. I’m doing it now (But I get paid to. It’s my job).
So it follows that some sad and oppressed beings, people with a little more than the usual digital experience, run book groups, and then lay the law down like they own the social platform itself. It’s like that awful teacher at school who gets to do the playground duty and starts acting like a dictator in a frenzy. That’s what you will encounter. Some groups have so many rules about posting and engaging that they actually have another page that you have to join just to read the rules.
Well, that’s not what running a social group is about, is it? So think, is this group friendly, or is it going to be a massive pain to have every word or link I post bullied and picked at at every turn? If this happens to you, leave the group. What I have found is that the groups that have this many rules are very passive groups, and usually there are one or two “group admins” who keep picking on everyone until nobody posts. They may have a lot of members, but after a while you’ll see the same two or three posters and realize “oh, this is a narcissistic situation.” Nobody will buy your book here. Leave the group.
Open groups, or groups that pertain to organizations, such as ALLi are the best to get in with. These groups will be chatty and inclusive, and you may find takers for your book here.
Most Of Us Are Becoming A Social Media Sisyphus
Sisyphus was punished by having to roll a massive rock to the top of a hill. When it rolled back down, he had to push it up again. While many forums and groups look like “you can post your book here!” you are probably posting your book on a site where everyone else posts their book, and then they leave. If you don’t want to keep going to the effort of posting a link and doing all the courteous blurb, then DON’T. Who cares?
Spending the time you would do this in researching the best places that you can drive to in a two-hour radius to give a free book reading with a glass of wine for all guests is going to garner at the least a few sales, and maybe the ever-important mailing list emails. Give it a try. Abandon that massive old rock of posting links.
Expanding Your Mailing List With A Referral Gift Is Easy To Do
Now you have a basic mailing list, you can expand it by offering a contest prize draw to everyone who refers a book-reading friend. Maybe the prize is a reading in that person’s home, or a signed book. Maybe you can give away a Kindle or a hamper. You’ll soon have many more emails on your list to delight and entertain for next time. By crafting a sweet and great newsletter every so often you will keep that reader on board. Try signing up for Michael Bunker’s newsletter to see a really great example of this.
One To One, Not Faceless Mass Works Better And Always Has
Calling someone on the phone, or door-to-door selling has been known to be an effective way of getting sales. If you apply this to your book sales, you can see some worth in it. What if you see someone in a cafe reading a romance novel? If you could have a bookmark flyer at the ready showing off your romance novel, you could recommend your book to them. Shake their hand, give them a smile.
Now, imagine that same person scrolls through a book group online. They spend less than a glanced second at your link. By printing up some simple flyers with your book on them and a book sales link, you can both grow your mailing list and sell a book. Now, imagine you approach ten people like that a day. Would that boost your book sales more than the time you spend posting links?
Building Partnerships Can Build Your Audience
Maybe there is an author you admire who writes the same books as you. Could you contact them? Maybe you can offer your list this author’s book, and they could offer yours to their list?
Reviews Won’t Matter If You Sell Books Offline
Most of the books I buy from self-published authors I buy at book fairs. If an author has taken the time to set up a stall and talk to their readers in person, then I’m willing to bet they cared enough about their writing to create a good book. I’m not standing in a campus or a field somewhere Googling their book. I’m not looking them up on Amazon. I’m doing the old-fashioned back-of-book browse, having a conversation. But what are the odds I’ll leave a review later on, having met the author? High, very high. And the odds I left a nice review? High. Because I met the person who took the time to present their work to me, and it made me feel good, and maybe I want to boast that I met the author. Readers are narcissists, too, it turns out…
Well-Placed Links and Solid, Simple Presentations Win Out
Getting yourself a few solid, well-placed professional webpages, review site pages and group links on good book sites for readers such as Goodreads are incredibly valuable as opposed to a mountain of bad, repeated links on every forum and page that will have you. Act like a professional author, and you will appear to be offering a work of quality and integrity.
So the take-homes?
- Forget trying to be cool online. Do your own thing, and use the tools you want to use with confidence, and without fear
- Concentrate on networking with real people in the real world. That’s where you make solid connections
- Don’t spend your life posting links to a faceless crowd. Engage one-to-one
- A quality product will benefit from a well-chosen set of links and pages instead of a bunch of badly constructed slapped-on sells
- Use a clean, simple website that talks directly about your work and keeps on-topic
- Google is not God, and neither are group admins.