How many authors put true blood, sweat and tears into writing their books. Hours of research, editing and re-editing, proofreading and formatting. Finally their book is ready to publish and then it is all systems go.
Friends and family are enlisted to help promote the book, reviews are sought and provided (hopefully of the verified purchaser variety) and some initial sales are made. Then the ideas run out, the social media buzz goes quiet and what looked like a promising start seems to wither on the vine……sales stop altogether. Months go by and there isn’t a single sale.
So what do you do now, Give Up?
For a hard copy book sitting on the shelves of book stores, this would have been the death knell, the books would be removed from the shelves to make room for more popular varieties, books that are actually selling. Even publishers and bookstores need to make a living and a book that is not selling does not turn a profit – they have to go.
Traditional publishing is where books, printed in large quantities at equally large cost, must either sell or become door stops. Also if the demand for these books has waned, a commercial decision has to made about whether a further print run is likely to result in a profit or it is simply time to take them out of print.
But that is not the case for ebooks or print on demand, there is no physical stock to carry or to take prime spot on a bookshelf. These books sit on a virtual bookshelf that is of unlimited size and are always, as they say analogically…..in print.
Authors and publishers of ebooks and print on demand books have a huge advantage over traditional publishing for this reason and that is why you must never give up promoting books that are still available in digital format or can be printed on a one off basis at reasonable cost.
It has to be said, the best chance you have of taking a book to best seller status, with Amazon in particular, is in it’s early days after initial publication, getting a second or third wind underway is always more difficult. But not impossible.
Marketing ebooks successfully is about having a marketing plan, one that takes into account the initial launch and then, equally importantly, ongoing and long term promotion.
Initial Considerations for Marketing eBooks Successfully
eBooks are like any other products that need to be sold, they have to appeal to a specific market and be visible to that market. So how do you do that exactly?
First of all, whether you are writing a reference or a fictional book, you need to think about exactly who will want to read your book. In many ways that is easier to do for reference books, because you are writing about a topic of specific interest and if you do it well, so that you answer questions and solve problems, then there is a good chance with enough visibility that people will buy those books, especially in a highly sought after topic.
Fiction is a little more difficult because they are made up stories, but they still need to be approached in the same way. For example, if you are writing for children, young adults, lovers of horror or action adventure. The book should be written to appeal to those audiences and not alienate them in any way. For example you cannot write a children’s book and then include some explicit sexual content, a bit of an extreme example admittedly but used to make the point. Mistakes of this type will mean you cannot market to your intended audience. So when you are writing a book, stay true to the theme, if it is intended for young adults or is in a specific genre try and make sure it meets that objective for the entire book.
Identifying Search Keywords
The second aspect of book marketing is about visibility, or being found by your target audience. Here there is a need to consider a little bit of search engine science i.e. it is necessary to think about how people search for books on the Internet, even on sites like Amazon or Kobo.
One of the simplest ways to find a book is to search using specific words. In search engine world, these are called keywords (or sometimes tags). It is always a good idea to identify keywords that people use to search for books that are relevant to your book. One way to do that is to make a list of keywords that you think are relevant to your book and then go to an Amazon site and start to type those words into the search box. Below there is an example of how Amazon use predictive text, based on previous searches, to try and lead you to the product you are searching for.
You don’t know how many people type the specific search terms listed, but you do know they are real searches that have been entered previously. So if you can find the best ones i.e. the ones highly relevant to your book, you can list them ready for potential use confident in the knowledge that people are using those terms to look for products. I say products because the searches relates to all of Amazon not just books, so just be sure you are selecting book related terms.
The second part of this exercise is to find out how much competition you are up against. So when you have your list of keyword phrases you should go back to Amazon and find out how many search results the keywords return.
You can see from the result for the search term ‘The Whistleblower Affair’ that there are 49 results for that term.
Why is that important?
It is important because that is the number of books you are competing against for that specific search term or keyword phrase. What you should be trying to do is to find a mix of low to medium competition, especially for a new book. In other words you want to be more visible in the search results and a way to ensure that is not to be competing against too many other books.
Clearly as you make more sales, get more reviews and achieve more success for your book, your sales rank will increase and then you can consider going up against more competition. But until then it is better to operate in the low to medium competition arena.
A further aspect of this exercise is ensuring that your book is associated with a search term or keyword phrase. There are a couple of ways for doing that. The first is to use an allocated ‘search keyword’. Amazon allow you to add seven search keywords to your book details when you add it to the bookshelf. When you do this you will always be returned for that search keyword in the search results, the critical aspect though is in what position?
This, as previously alluded to, will depend on the competition you are up against. Both in terms of how many but also in terms of sales rank. Amazon like to push books that are selling to the forefront, for obvious reasons the better sales rank books will be returned first. So the fewer books you are competing against the more likely it is you will be listed in a more visible search position.
The second way to get your book associated with a search term is to use those search terms in titles, headings and descriptions. There is no guarantee with this method, but it is a way to get your book listed beyond the seven allocated ‘search keywords’. Don’t be tempted just to stuff keywords into your descriptions and titles however, because you still want to appeal to a human audience and not alienate the people who actually buy the books. Just use this technique if it can be done naturally and, even better, provide you with an attention grabbing title or description.
Amazon allows independent publishers to select 2 categories from their large list of available categories. This is another key area for gaining much needed visibility. The best way of gaining a good position in a category is by being specific rather than adopting general categories. As with ‘search keywords’ you need to consider what is relevant to your book and how much competition you are up against. The reasons are once again to try and ensure you get that critical level of visibility where enough people actually see your book and are hopefully drawn into making a purchase.
Take ‘Romance’ as a category for example, you can see here that there are 170,462 books in the romance category. That is a lot of competition and unless your book is a top best seller it is unlikely that it will ever be given the light of day if this category is chosen.
Military romance on the other hand immediately brings the competition level down to a more reasonable 3,186 books in competition. Still a big number but at least a half chance, if you get some sales, of being visible and there are other categories with even less competition. But remember you book does need to fit under the category chosen, so go for the at least one category that is relevant with the least amount of competition and select another that is possibly even more relevant but has more competition. That way you get a good mix for advancing the number of potential sales and for ensuring you gain at least some visibility.
Also don’t constrain yourself to fiction only, if your book is relevant to a non-fiction topic and that looks like a better opportunity, give it a try. If it doesn’t produce any sales you can always change it after a reasonable trial period.
Why this is important, for Amazon anyway, is that you may be able to achieve the much coveted top 100 listing, that gives your book higher standing and extra visibility through being included in list promotions for Amazon’s best sellers.
If your sales are flagging or have dried up completely it is not too late to go back to basics and if you haven’t performed these exercises then why not do it now? You may just stumble on some way of sparking sales, even if it means a new title, description or choice of search keywords and categories. It really is never too late to get these basics right.
More information on successful book marketing can be found in these articles:
- Goodreads – the best social media site for authors
- Reasons books don’t sell!
- Publishing books that sell
- Effective book descriptions
- Why some books sell and others don’t
- Marketing a book online