There’s a great deal of information out there to be sifted through to market your book well – but there’s also a lot you could be taking on board that could do your book more damage than good. Cate Baum busts some of the myths of indie book marketing and what you should do instead.
1. You are joining author groups to share your book, hoping for sales
If you join an author group on Facebook or Linkedin expecting to gain sales by posting your book release news, you’re looking in the wrong place. You will see these groups are flooded with ads for new books, and can look like a place where new books go to die, given the covers and comments on some forums, and there is little evidence of reader interest. You may get some pleasant comments and moral support but that’s about it. Your time is better spent elsewhere.
2. You are unwittingly relying on other amateurs for marketing tips
Many author groups lazily rely on their members to post tips, calling it a “guest post.” rather than a member blog post. Don’t take these to heart without plenty of research. At SPR, we have seen articles professing the secrets of the book universe that are actually full of misinformation.
Make sure that any advice you take is from someone who has actual professional experience in that area, and not just another indie author or someone jumping on the bandwagon. Also, check that author’s sales on Amazon. If they are not flying high, it probably means their advice is pretty useless. You can check their sales historically using NovelRank. You’ll find experts like Derek Murphy, Michael Bunker, J.A. Konrath, and Tim Grahl have consistently hit #1 with their books.
All non-author founder experts should state qualifications on their site. If not, steer clear. You can read about SPR’s teams on our About page, for example. It doesn’t count if they say “years working in the industry.” See if there is real evidence of achievement. Even some well-known author “experts” are just self-published authors using their website to lever sales for themselves, so be aware of this when looking into companies that profess indie author “knowledge.” How current is their indie publishing knowledge? Have they only worked in traditional publishing, or do they work professionally with indie authors every day? What is their day job? Does it relate to indie publishing in a direct way? If not, why are you listening to them?
3. You are targeting other authors and not readers with your paid ads
When choosing your target audience for Facebook ads, don’t add interests such as, “writing” and “ebooks” or you will end up serving your ads to other authors instead of readers. Use words like “reading” and “offers” to find people who read, and who want to know about online offers and discounts.
4. You are using the wrong techniques to find keywords for Amazon
There is a myth going around at the moment, unfortunately heralded on many so-called “expert” groups, that claims the best way to find keywords for your Amazon blurb is by typing in what you think your readers will search for in your search bar on Amazon. This is entirely wrong for many reasons. This technique is highly damaging to your book’s marketing campaign.
If you are logged in to your Amazon account when you do your research, or possibly if you are using the same computer or location, Amazon remembers what you searched for. This shows up preempted in your search bar. Therefore, if I am searching for books about ghosts in London during the writing of my book, when I come to search for keywords, if I type, “Ghosts” into my search bar, Amazon will always show, “Ghosts in London” as a suggested search phrase. This does not mean everyone else has been searching for this term! Just you!
I often hear people talk about SEO on Amazon. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Amazon’s search engine is built on a traditional catalogue model with a search function to make you buy products. Google is not a finite catalogue of items added to a shop inventory.
Google is a search engine serving the whole Internet, completely obsequious, and non-biased for the most part when serving results, because it wants to refine your searches in order to serve you more ads that you will click, making them money. Amazon is active in pushing for sales from search, and will serve results in a way that profits them best for sales. They do, they will, and they can change listings according to what sells best.
For Amazon optimization, it is simply a case of working out 1. your competitor’s keywords 2. what words Amazon uses to list your book – that is the category 3. what readers search for when looking in that category.
Lucky for you as an author, there’s no secret to keywords or categories.
Amazon publishes these category lists and keywords on their site, so you don’t need anyone to give you any other technique. It just becomes a case of getting very good at using the given tools. The main take-home is that Amazon only shows what is in their shop. Using words Amazon recommends is the best way to show up in results, so no need to get tricky. In fact, doing so could damage your book’s visibility, not improve it, especially if you use brand names or other people’s author names, repeat words in phrases, and ignore the recommended filter words, as suggested in some of these so-called advice columns, but bloggers just keep churning out the myth.
As for competitor keywords, you can jump rank by making sure you use the same words as your competitors. We recommend you use Kindle Spy* to examine how categories are working that very minute for your competitors, or Kindle Samurai* to discover these words. By adding these words, you are making sure you are at least coming up in the same results page as your competitors so you don’t lose any ground. Note the most important place to put your keywords is in your Title.
Reader searches are completely at the mercy of Amazon’s catalogue – and also Amazon’s own agenda for sales and special offers that will override anything else at any time. Keywords are therefore not as important as they might be on Google because of the fact that Amazon wants you to spread out and discover new things to buy, not close in, which is why they keep their book page admin very structured indeed.
While going really niche with keywords can work for something people know about but cannot remember the title, such as typing “Lena Dunham girls biography” would bring Lena Dunham’s book “Not That Kind Of Girl” up first, because the reader wants that exact book, it’s likely with self-published titles that nobody is searching for your exact book. You need to get discovered during a search for books in general, something like “thrillers in London.” These are called “generic” search terms, and aligning these with Amazon’s catalogue and other popular book terms is going to do much better for you that tailoring search terms just to your book alone.
Finally, here’s the kicker to bust this myth a little wider open – Amazon also uses other factors equal to keywords to rank products. Here’s a quote from Seller Central:
“Factors such as price, availability, selection, and sales history help determine where your product appears in a customer’s search results.”
So, nothing to do with the words in your description, then…in fact, there is a whole surprising world of factors I will talk about in a later post.
5. You are getting the wrong people to leave reviews for your book
The best way to destroy your Amazon account is to swap reviews with other authors, ask friends or family to leave reviews, or pay for reviews on Fiverr or Elance. All of these reviews are considered biased on Amazon. These days, Amazon delete accounts they think are leaving fake reviews incredibly mercilessly. Note that Amazon considers a review “fake” if the person leaving the review knows you in real life, or has a reason, such as being paid directly, to leave a favorable customer review.
Getting real customer reviews is hard, but do remember you only need a few to show others what the product is like to help sales. Between 10-40 is fine, and not all of these have to be five-star reviews. There is no evidence you can’t rank if you haven’t got ten thousand reviews, and more to the point, also no evidence to show that Customer Reviews lead to sales, given that they are left after reading, and not before. Services like our Bestseller package or BookBub use mailing lists to readers to garner sales and reviews. This is within terms of service, and will get you reviews fast.
6. You rely on a mailing list for sales
Unless you are already blogging when you publish, or you have a highly-trafficked site or business, it’s going to be hard to get someone to sign up for your newsletter. If they do, they are probably going to be friends and family you have already pestered to death about your book in real life. If you do manage to get a few takers, you are selling one product, once. How many emails do you think you can send before they unsubscribe? I would think three times sending out the same message would be your cutoff. Then what? There are many advice columns on leveraging a mailing list, but unless you truly have free content, goodies, and entertaining pieces to share that readers look forward to, you’re looking at a lot of groundwork for little return if all you have is one or two books so far.
Look to reach people on a one-time, high-impact basis, not hitting the same group over and over again with the same message. Why? Imagine your mailing list readers get your first email, and half buy your book, half decide they aren’t going to. That means when you keep sending out your emails, this group is dead to you for new sales. By trying new audiences each time you publicize, and doing this on a less frequent basis will get you a higher level of sales in controlled time periods that you can start analyzing to develop a sales strategy that you can really use to sell books.
In my next post I will be uncovering the real factors that affect sales on Amazon, and you’ll be shocked how few have to do with the wording of your book page – all right now accessible, free and readable online methods for all to see on Amazon’s guide pages. And yet, the self-publishing industry pushes the myths of secrets and hidden fortunes when all the information is available. More indie publishing mythbusting to come.[*affiliate links]