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Replay 2012 | Why Promoting Your Book Online is (a bit) Like Fight Club

12 Dec

It’s that time of year again, and I’m not only dragging out the Stuff I Found While Procrastinating Online Gift Guides, but also replaying some of my most popular “self-printing” posts from the last twelve months for those who might have missed them first time around. Today’s replay is about the difference between what works and what doesn’t when it comes to promoting your book online (which I wrote after the 20k night-time charity walk sprained ankle incident, so the advice that follows is decidedly codeine-infused…)

The first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.

And the first rule of effectively promoting your book online is that you do not promote your book online.

By which I mean, you do not blatantly promote your book online.

(Yes, it’s a tenuous link but let’s just go with it, okay? It’s Monday, and I have a sprained ankle.)

Some self-published authors take offense at being told that they shouldn’t regularly send out tweets like “My book, YOUR EYES ARE GLAZING OVER, is on Amazon now, just $2.99. PLEASE RT! OKAY? THANKS!”, or that they should avoid working the title of at least one of their books into every comment they leave on someone else’s blog, or that they shouldn’t send e-mails to people they don’t know or don’t know really well trying to flog their book because, even if it’s done manually, it’s still spam. (For a lesson in what not to do with e-mail and your book, read this.) They want to do things their way, and that’s fine. But the reason I’m suggesting not to do it that way is because that way doesn’t work.

Did you hear me? IT DOESN’T WORK. So yes, of course, you’re free to do whatever you want. But personally, I’d rather just do stuff that is at least likely to work.

The reason it doesn’t work is because people aren’t using social media because they love being sold stuff. They’re using it, I think, for one or more of the following three reasons:

  1. Because they want to be entertained
  2. Because they’re looking for specific information
  3. Because they want to connect with other people (connect as in virtually meet, but also as in relate to).

From what I’ve seen over the past two years, both in trying to sell my own books and watching what other self-published and traditionally published authors have done to try to sell theirs, is that your promotional efforts have to have a value of their own, and that value has to satisfy one or more of the demands in the list above. Online promotion works best when the book actually comes second to the content’s main objective.

[You: Say what now?]

To put it another—hopefully clearer—way, your goal should be to improve the internet, above all else. Make it a better place than it was five minutes ago by writing a great blog post, posting a funny tweet, using a tweet to direct your followers to a great blog post you just found, uploading a video that helps people perform a task, uploading a video that makes people laugh while they’re procrastinating to keep from doing that task they’re supposed to do… You get the idea. Adding a mention of your book to this content might also sell a few copies of it for you, yes, but that’s secondary. That’s not the most important bit. We need to create stuff to put on the internet that would still be something useful and worthwhile even if we took the selling books bit out of it.

Book trailers—good ones, anyway—and other book-related videos are a really effective way to demonstrate what I mean. The video above, Love in the Time of Amazon, is one of my favorites, and I showed it at Faber Academy and Inkwell Writers earlier this year to demonstrate this very point. Yes, this is a book trailer that’s advertising the authors’ books. But if you took that away—if you just imagined for a second that this was just for fun, and that those are actors and those books don’t really exist, and you took away the information at the end—it would still be a video you have a little giggle at. It would still be a video you post on your blog, share with your Facebook friends and/or tweet a link to. Especially if your friends are published authors, because we can so relate. (And so—added bonus—connect.) It’s been viewed over 8,000 times, I saw countless links to it on Twitter, I’ve posted about it myself several times and it got picked up by high-traffic sites like Media Bistro.

My own video, How Much Editing Backpacked Needed, has been viewed over 1,000 times and passed around numerous editing and writing blogs. It’s about my book Backpacked, and at the very end of it, there’s some info about the book. But if I didn’t name the book that was being edited and took that info at the end out, the video wouldn’t lose any of its value. It would still have the same number of views and have been passed around and shared just as much. Because this isn’t a video about me wanting you to buy my book. This is a video that, first and foremost, contains useful information and/or is interesting.

This blog post and my other “self-printing” themed posts contain information that some people might need. Fun, chatty tweets that bemoan the pain of having to put words on paper are something any writer can relate to, and over time we might make a connection with the person writing them. Anything that makes us laugh, mutter, “Hmm. Interesting…”, holds our attention for longer than a few seconds or could be considered “just for fun” falls into the entertainment category.

And after they’ve entertained, informed or made a connection, they’ve also informed a new person that our book exists, which is the first step is getting someone to buy it. (Making them interested in the book is the step in between.) Obviously the number of people who know our books exist is far greater than those who actually buy it, but as the first number increases, so does the second.

Am I silly enough to think that everyone who reads this blog post is going to run straight over to Amazon and buy up all my books? No. I don’t think that anyone is going to run over there and buy one of them. I’m not trying to open and close the deal in the same shot. My main priority is to make this a good blog. I genuinely love this blog, and I’m prouder of it than I am of some of my books. (Don’t tell them that, though.) So above all else, I want new people to keep discovering this blog, and I want the people already reading it to keep doing so, and I want everyone to find it useful with a side of occasional giggles, even if they don’t like pink.

Below that on my list of priorities is selling my books. Over time, a very small percentage of blog readers become book readers, but because I have a lot of blog readers, that’s enough for me to feel a little thrill every time I check my KDP units-sold-to-date report (which I do at least four times a day).

How do blog readers become book readers? These are some of my theories:

  1. They like the way I write; they want to read more
  2. They want to get my book to see how it’s turned out (after reading about its production)
  3. After hanging around here for ages, they read the About page or My Books, and one of my books catches their eye
  4. They buy a book of mine as a thank you for me helping them with their book (through my posts)
  5. One of the above, combined with me telling them I have a free promotion on, and perhaps reading one for free leads them to buy another one.
  6. Then they might write a review, recommend me to a friend, etc. etc. leading to other, “outside” sales
  7. After reading this blog from the beginning and following me through the release of four books, they just can’t resist my Jedi mind tricks anymore…
Let’s say that instead of writing blog posts, I just stuck up a picture of a book of mine up here with an Amazon link and a price-tag. And I did that every day, without fail and without deviation. Where do you think I’d be then? I’m pretty sure I’d have zero blog readers. But yet people treat Twitter exactly in this way, and expect not only people to stick around and put up with it, but also to go buy their books. Put down the crazy juice and have a cup of coffee instead. May I recommend this which I’ve been trying out this weekend:

(I could write a whole other post about how after Starbucks VIA, every coffee maker in town ran off to produce their own instant-made-from-actual-ground-beans product, and then rushed it onto the shelves in a silver cylindrical container, offered it at half-price as an introductory offer to get people to buy it and then encouraged refilling of the container with slightly less expensive “eco” refill bags, which no one was encouraged to do because it’s so damn expensive that you’re far better off hopping from brand to brand, picking up the half-price containers as they become available. But I won’t.)

Think about it: what does you tweeting “Another 5* review for MY BOOK on Amazon! Here’s the link so you can go read it and marvel at the praise I have received...” achieve out of those three? And no, it doesn’t fall under information, because the information has to be useful. If you’re going on a blog tour and you have five guest posts lined up to send to your kind hosts, ask yourself: are these posts good by themselves? Are they likely to entertain, provide information, have readers relating to them, or is the only point they make something like buy my book and buy it now?

Let’s return to the word rule. You—I—can’t really say “never do this” or “as a rule, don’t do that.” Sometimes you have to tell the internet something, even if that something doesn’t achieve one of our three aims. There’s little point, for instance, in your book being free for Kindle for a few days if you can’t tell people about it. (Although, in my opinion, the opportunity to get a free book falls into the information category. I’m slow to admit this thought because I JUST KNOW that someone will take it a step in the wrong direction and assume tweets on the hour, every hour about how his book is “just $1.99″ falls into the same category. IT DOESN’T.) And what if you get a review from like, someone amazing? What if your writing hero says she likes your book, and says it on the internet? You couldn’t keep news like that in, even if it doesn’t do anything but make the rest of us sick with jealousy. So sometimes, it’s okay to break the rules, or not follow the principles. But only in extreme moderation. Because remember, the hard sell doesn’t work. No one is listening to it, because that’s not why they’re there.

Over time, what’s considered valuable information will also change. For instance, if I pick 1,000 people at random and tell them that I’ve released a new book and go buy it now, please, thanks, I’d probably get into trouble for spamming or at the very least, waste my time. But what if those 1,000 people had already read a book of mine, and signed up to a newsletter so they could find out about my future releases, and they were happy to hear from me because they were fans of my work? Then “my book is out now!” becomes valuable information to them, because finding that out was exactly why they signed up to the mailing list. BUT—before you bring it up—this isn’t the same as me following you on Twitter. I didn’t follow you on Twitter to be constantly told about your new book. I’d like to know if you have a new book, sure, but I want it to come on the side of the real reason I’m on Twitter in the first place: to be entertained, informed or connected.

A few final points:

  1. Before you take a dump on this, don’t bother. It seems like every time I draw attention to something some other author did to promote their book that I thought was fun or funny or clever or some other good word, someone or someones then feel the need to take a dump on it in the comments. This annoys me in the same way people who look down on other people for watching reality TV annoys me, which is A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT, because in saying this, you’re saying that if I don’t like the same things as you, I’m somehow inferior. It doesn’t matter if Love in the Time of Amazon didn’t make you giggle, or if you’d “never buy a book just because you saw a video about it.” This isn’t about you. This is about the book buying public at large, of which you are just one in a sea of millions. Don’t focus on the video I’ve used to demonstrate my point. Focus on the point itself. And you want to take a dump on that in the comments, feel free.
  2. Modeling yourself on exceptions to the rule isn’t helpful. For every bit of advice I dispense on this blog, in Self-Printed or in person at a workshop or something, someone manages to find an example of an author who has done the opposite and been successful. “Hiring a professional cover designer because the cover could make or break your book? What about that guy who’s sold a trillion e-books since Tuesday? His covers are terrible. Looking at them makes me feel like I do when I eat eggs benedict while hungover and on a boat in rocky seas…” etc. etc. You can find an exception to the rule for absolutely everything. But where does it get you? As I said in a post last week, we all know stories about writers who got book deals in strange, serendipitous ways. They sketched an idea for a novel on the inside of an old Cornflakes box, their kid brought it to school for arts & crafts, the teacher happened to read it, mentioned it to her sister who happened to work for William Morris, and by the end of the following week the writer had a book deal, foreign rights sold and a movie option in the works. How nice for her. But don’t you think that querying in the usual way would give you a far greater chance of success than scribbling on cereal boxes and sending them to school with your kid?
  3. After writing this post, I’m no longer sure the title is relevant. But hey, I’ve a sprained ankle and am doped up on codeine and some weird ice-cold gel that apparently seeps into your muscles through your skin (which, I’ve been wondering, is sure to work better on people skinnier than me, right?) so, whatever. Or whatevs, as the kids say.

Click here to see a list of all my self-printing posts in chronological order.

Twitter DOES Sell Books—Just Not Directly

31 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. This being the last day of May, today’s the last day! (Sniffle. Sniffle.) Fear not, after this I’ll go back to posting about… well, pretty much the same kind of thing, really. Especially since I didn’t have time to fit in my “arguments for higher e-book prices” posts. Anyways. You can catch up here

The arguments for Twitter not selling books usually go something like this:

  • People do not want to be sold things on Twitter and therefore trying to sell them things will only lose you followers
  • Mr X (Arrested Development flashback!) had 10,000 followers but when he released his book, he only sold 500 copies of it. If Twitter sold books, it would’ve been 10,000 sales.

But I think this is applying the wrong set of expectations. In arguing that 10k followers should ideally equal 10k sales, you are treating Twitter like an advertising campaign, and gauging its effectiveness by its conversion rate. But it’s not an advertising campaign—it’s a social media tool. Twitter is about networking, and networking does sell books.

I’ve been using Twitter since October/November 2009. In my Twitter infancy, I was obsessed, and never very far from my tweet stream. Then as I got to know people, I got chatty and even formed some “real-life” friendships. Nowadays I pop in and out, but mainly use Buffer to tweet interesting links, which is what I love about Twitter. And since October/November 2009, here are some things that have happened to me whose root cause can be traced back to Twitter:

  • I sold books. The first month of Mousetrapped‘s release, almost everyone who bought a copy—and we’re talking paperbacks—was a Twitter friend. I presume that since then, a few other people I’ve “met” on Twitter have bought a few copies of my books as well.
  • I connected with people in the industry. I’ve met countless writers, editors and other publishing types through Twitter, and have gone on to meet many of them in real life too. It helps of course that Ireland is a small place, but still, it’s nice to walk into a room of writing types and recognize more than a few faces! One of them was Vanessa O’Loughlin (@inkwellHQ). Through Vanessa, who owns Inkwell Writers and founded Writing.ie…
  • I have been featured in national newspapers and magazines, interviewed on national radio, and…
  • I started doing speaking engagements. She gave me my first one, at the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference back in October 2010 (when, totally unprepared, I stood at the top of the room in jeans, holding scribbles on a legal pad!) and most recently, she organized my first solo event, Self-Printing: Everything You Need to Know To Self-Publish Your Book, in Dublin last March. Thanks to another Twitter friendship, I was also asked to do Faber Academy’s first ever self-publishing workshop at Faber & Faber in London last February. Ben Johncock (@benjohncock) was doing a social media course for them when adding on a day of self-publishing came up, and he suggested me. (Coincidentally he was also able to check with another Twitter friend of mine, my editor Sarah, that I could do the job—she’d seen me speak at the One Stop conference. Another another Twitter friend, Averill, suggested me for a speaking engagement in Belfast because she too was at the One Stop. Just as well I brought my A-game that day, eh?!)

Twitter is a glittering industry party you can attend without leaving your house. It’s packed full of writers who can help take away some of the loneliness and solitude that invade a writer’s life. And you never know what opportunities may arise from the people you meet on there. And in all these ways, Twitter can help you sell books.

But Twitter is not a billboard. The people there aren’t an assembled audience in an informercial studio. As I said in Why Promoting Your Books is (a bit) like Fight Club, “MY BOOK, NO GIVES A RAT’S ARSE, $2.99 ON KINDLE PLEASE RT PLEASE RT PLEASE RT” type tweets won’t get you anywhere. Doing that is like wearing a giant sandwich board advertising your book to the glittering industry party and, while you’re there in it, walking up to everyone and shouting in their face about your book.

Rest assured you won’t be invited again.

Twitter is a networking tool. It’s about building relationships, connecting with people. I think it’s the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career, and it’s a whole lot of fun too. Use it right, and it could become the same for you.

The observant among you may have noticed a shiny new book in my sidebar. If you’re thinking of buying it, DON’T YET! (Even though, if I may say so, it’s superb value and very pink.) It’s going free tomorrow, so just wait until then. 

Selling Your Self-Published Books: The First Steps

30 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Only a few short days left and then I’ll go back to… well, posting about very similar topics, actually.  Anyway. You can catch up here. Today we have a guest post from my blogging friend Alison Wells, who has released her first self-published fiction, Housewife with a Half-Life (LOVE that title!) under the name A.B. Wells. I asked Alison to do this because although she’s an experienced (and highly acclaimed!) writer and blogger, she’s only just joined the self-publishing world, so I thought it’d be interesting to hear about the whole selling books thing from her perspective. 

“I’m an infant on the path of self-publishing, having published my space comedy Housewife with a Half-Life as A.B. Wells on the 8th May. It’s been a steep learning curve and particularly when, having put all the work in writing the book, getting it edited and making it the best it can be, then it comes to actually selling the book, getting people to know about it.

Perhaps there’s a level of naivety or blind optimism about the self-publisher starting out. As writers we’re all about the writing, how to get words on page, finish the thing. We come to a decision to self-publish for whatever reason, we find out how to format, upload, choose a service go with, we press publish and it’s out there, then… For any of you who are parents (and for me as a mother of four) publishing your own book for the first time reminds me of becoming a first time parent. It’s all about the pregnancy, how to get through it, how to nurture yourself. We find out what we can about the actual birth but it’s all abstract till you get there. But then the day comes and the baby arrives and we um, realise we um, forgot to read the bit about how to take care of it, how to bring it on.

I think for many self-publishers this is where we are on the selling bit. Woohoo! We have a book out, it’s born but we forgot that it needs nurturing, we need to put effort in to help it reach its full potential. I’m talking here about the self-publisher who a) wants to put their writing into the world i.e. reach an audience and b) perhaps (if it’s not too mercenary a thing to say about the ART of writing) make some money out of it.

So publishing is just the first step, we need to get our business heads on and try to make our book visible. Would you go into a major bookstore with one copy of your book and stick it on a shelf and hope someone saw it? Yet as new self-publishers this is sometimes what we do.

These are some of the things I’ve learned about selling since I started out:

1)     You need to create anticipation for your product. This might start out years before through your blogging, posting examples of your work so people become familiar with and fall in love with (hopefully) your writing. You can also have a pre-launch build up. I’ve been on Twitter since 2009 and people have had a chance to read my writing and blog posts. My blog has over 46000 page views and I also blog for Irish writing website www.writing.ie. So at the very least people knew I existed and were positive towards my endeavours.  On the day of the launch one person tweeted to say that they bought the book purely on the basis of enjoying my tweets. In the longer term I prefer the kind of sale made from engagement with readers rather than sales tricks. I want to offer an all round valuable experience to readers.

2)     You need to create awareness that your book exists. Have a launch, particularly an online one if you are focussing on online sales. Do pre-launch posts about your books publication journey. Generate activity around the launch. I did this by having a short writing competition which drew a huge number of people to my blog with Housewife with a Half-Life as the prize. I had a prize for retweets of my launch news on Twitter. I had a Facebook event which people could share for my ebook launch. I’m also going to have a paperback launch with Goodreads giveaways on June 6th with a blog tour and I’ve agreed to have a real paperback launch in a well-known Dublin shopping mecca with newspaper publicity surrounding that. Reviewers are very important. I got an established author to give me a blurb for my back cover and I’m contacting reviewers through sites like the Indie Book Review  to do reviews. This is a longer term strategy, these reviews can come out over time and maintain the momentum of the book.

3)     You need to find out about KDP Select Free days. There’s a lot of debate about this at the moment. If you publish through Amazon, by signing up to Amazon’s KDP select you can choose to make your book free on certain days. For some already established self-publishers it can result in huge downloads, great Amazon rankings (and thus visibililty) and subsequent sales surges but the science is patchy. I was involved in a major British event (National Flash Fiction Day) so I ended up giving my book away for free for a day just a week after its launch. I got to #231 in the overall Kindle sales rankings on UK and #8 in sci-fi (beside Jules Verne) and to number #724 in Amazon.com. For me having this early free day was experimentation and awareness building. Generating sales is a long term thing (or I believe it should be). It’s an interplay between awareness of you as an author, through blogging, your book, through promotions, articles and reviews. There may be activities you do that generate initial awareness but it may take a couple of rounds before people actually go out and buy your book.

4)     Book selling is a business. John Locke has sold millions of e-books but he treats it like a business and invests a large amount of money on advertising. For the typical self-publisher funds may be tight but there is an element of speculating to accumulate. Some advertising is free or low cost. You can list your books with services and sites such as Pixel of Ink, World Literary Café and the Book tweeting service. These are services I will continue to explore and use in conjunction with more long term awareness building.

Housewife with a Half-Life is only just launched and the first phase of sales were mainly to those who knew me. With paperback and real world launches still in the offing, I hope through online and real world articles & events such as readings to widen my audience and reach and raise awareness levels to the point where both my book and me as an author are of interest to readers. It seems to be the case that the initial e-book bubble where competition was low and sales could be made more easily is gone. Authors will have to add value for readers through blogging, posting examples of work, special offers, additional material but more than anything by making your book a quality read in the first place. My strategy in selling Housewife with a Half-Life will be a combination of clever marketing tactics and old fashioned value.”

About Housewife with a Half-Life

Susan Strong is a suburban housewife who is literally disintegrating. When Fairly Dave, a kilt-sporting spaceman arrives through the shower head to warn her, she knows things are serious. When she and her precocious four year old twins, Pluto and Rufus, get sucked through Chilled Foods into another universe it gets even messier. Where household appliances are alive and dangerous, Geezers have Entropy Hoovers and the Spinner’s Cataclysmic convertor could rip reality apart, Susan Strong is all that’s holding the world together.

In this madcap, feel-good adventure, Susan and Fairly Dave travel alternate universes to find Susan’s many selves, dodge the Geezers and defeat evil memory bankers. From dystopian landscapes and chicken dinners, to Las Vegas and bubble universes, can Susan Strong reintegrate her bits and will it be enough to save us all?

The ebook is available on Kindle on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk. A paperback will be available in June!

About the author

What is a housewife to do when she becomes 42? Write a book about life, the universe and everything. A.B.Wells is the mother of four children age 11 and under, three of whom are that particularly alien species called boys. As Alison Wells her more literary writing has been shortlisted in the prestigious Bridport, Fish and Hennessy Awards and she’s been published or is about to be in a wide variety of anthologies and e-zines, including the Higgs Boson Anthology by Year Zero, Metazen, The View from Here, Voices of Angels by Bridgehouse and National Flash Fiction day’s Jawbreakers. She recently won the fiction category of the Big Book of Hope ebook with a flash fiction medley and has a litfic novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities on submission. She blogs for the popular Irish writing website, writing.ie in the guest blog: Random Acts of Optimism. One of the as yet unsolved mysteries of the universe is whether the B in A. B. Wells stands for barmy or brilliant.

I say it’s brilliant. Thanks so much Alison! We’ll have you back any time. If you’re not already reading Alison’s blog, you should be! Especially if you’re a fan of flash fiction. Check it out here. 

Hit and Miss with KDP Select

29 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated, and we can’t talk about selling self-published books without mentioning KDP Select, the Amazon program that encourages you to include your book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and lets you promote your book as a free download for up to 5 days as an incentive. 

Ah, KDP Select. Quite the contentious issue, it seems. I’ve blogged about it before in, ahem, Why I Won’t Be Blogging About KDP Select (ha!) and So… [Innocent Whistling] About That KDP Select.

Personally I like KDP Select. I think it’s a great way to promote your book and a surefire way to find new readers. But it really only benefits you if (i) you have more than one title for sale and (ii) you sell almost all your books through Amazon, so taking them off other channels—Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.—isn’t going to lose you any significant number of sales. And as for Amazon being the Dark Lord of Greedy Capitalism, crushing independent bookshops with their feet while robbing money from authors’ pockets with their hands, I’ll say again: none of this is mandatory. You don’t have to enroll in KDP Select. You don’t have to self-publish with Amazon. You don’t even have to self-publish. So stop throwing your toys out of the playpen and channel your energies into something worthwhile.

And remember: the KDP Select exclusivity period is just three months. Your book has to be exclusive to Amazon, yes, but only for the length of time you’re enrolled in the program, and you can enroll for just three months if you like. After that you can do what you like. I’ve been playing with KDP Select for a while now and I plan to play with it a bit more over the summer, but from September I’m going to change my tactics and go for full distribution. That is, I’m going to sell my books through as many channels as possible, which will of course exclude me from using KDP Select.

The first time I did it, I was just dipping an uncommitted toe into its dark and potentially murky waters. I enrolled a Kindle-only combination title of my two travel memoirs called Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too. This was not a title that ever sold well, mainly because it was only a buy two, save a dollar special offer kind of thing; in three months I’d sold just 26 copies. But I thought that maybe KDP Selecting it would increase sales of my other books, or at least lead to more customer reviews. After promoting it as free for three days, 193 copies were downloaded from Amazon.com and 209 copies were downloaded from Amazon.co.uk. When I used my remaining two free days a few weeks later, a further 217 copies were downloaded from Amazon.com and 117 copies were downloaded from Amazon.co.uk.

In other words, hardly anything to write home about.

But Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too was a bad guinea pig. Results Not Typical, my novel that wasn’t selling anywhere near what I’d hoped, was a much better one. This time I did all five free days together, and between Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, there was about 3,600 downloads. Paid sales picked up and stayed strong for three or four weeks afterwards, but there wasn’t any long-term benefit, it seemed, from KDP Selecting the book.

I was frustrated. Everywhere I turned online, there was a KDP Select success story for me to read. Self-pubbed author on the verge of giving up enrolls their book and sets it to free; author wakes up the next morning to discover there’s been 20,000 downloads over night; between subsequent paid sales and borrows, author can afford to buy a brand new car—with cash. So why wasn’t it working for me?

I’d tried KDP Select with a book that wasn’t really a book in itself but a combination title. Then I’d tried it with a book that wasn’t selling at all, but would only appeal to a certain sector of readers. What would happen if I tried it with a book that was already selling, that had been selling consistently since its release (although without setting the world on fire)? I would never consider trying it with Mousetrapped or Self-Printed, because those two books do sell on other channels like Smashwords. So that left just one book: my second travel memoir (and my personal fave out of my books), Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America.

It seemed that one thing played a huge part in whether or not your free promotion days translated into success: luck. Just like self-publishing as a whole, you’d need at least some luck to succeed. My advice to self-publishers had always been to do everything you can to maximize the factors that are within your control, so that when/if luck arrives, you’re primed to take full advantage of it. In other words, make luck your only variable. But I hadn’t made luck my only variable. I hadn’t done anything at all, in fact. I’d just set the book to free and mentioned it a couple of times on Twitter. What would happen if I did everything I could to make my KDP Select free promotion days a success? What if I got a bit strategic?

I’d already decided that I was going to take the “selling” themed blog posts I’d stacked up and publish them all in May, making it “How To Sell Self-Published Books Month”. I’d got the blogging blahs in April and had been really lackadaisical with my posts; I wanted to make up for it and thought having a series would be good motivation. I suspected that some of the posts would have a high share value, and would get tweeted, reblogged and shared a lot—and that many of the people who would see these posts would never have heard of any of my books before and might quite like the opportunity to download one for free. So instead of randomly picking my free five days, I’d make them coincide with these blog posts. I also tweeted about it and told my newsletter subscribers and Facebook fans about the offers.

Since I last did KDP Select, Amazon has added separate columns to its “month to date unit sales” that show free promotion downloads (from KDP Select) and free price-match downloads (for when Amazon sell your book for free because you’re selling it for free somewhere else), which makes the numbers a whole hell of a lot easier to keep track of. And this time around, I had some nice numbers.

From Amazon.co.uk, anyway. Over the five days, Backpacked was downloaded for free 6,958 times. It reached #4 on the overall free Kindle charts and was #1 overall on the Kindle non-fiction charts. Once it went back to paid, the good news kept coming. In April, I sold a paltry 44 Kindle copies of Backpacked on Amazon.co.uk. But so far in May, I’ve sold 431 of them—and two weeks after I ended the free promotion, sales are still going strong.

Amazon.com wasn’t anywhere near successful, with only 738 free downloads. And here’s a cautionary tale: KDP Selecting Backpacked left me much worse off on Amazon.com than I’d been before. On the Sunday after it went back to paid, it was #67,587 in the Kindle store and #52 in Books -> Latin America. Before it went free, it had consistently been in the #3-5,000s and was occasionally #1 in the same category. Today—just over 3 weeks later—it’s around #36,000 and #6. I’ve still sold more copies of Backpacked than I did the month before though, which is not something I quite understand. (How can I be selling more copies but have a lower ranking…?) But from what I do understand, KDP Selecting Backpacked on Amazon.com, at least, was a bad move.

Last week I set my novel, Results Not Typical, to free. Results is the worst performer of all my books, despite having been the subject of the greatest promotional efforts at time of release. It just seems that people don’t get it, or get it and aren’t interested in it. As I said above, the last time I set it to free, it was download just over three and half thousand times, mostly from Amazon.com. This time it was downloaded 15,972 times from Amazon.com and 4,568 times from Amazon.co.uk—obviously a lot better than the last time it went free. BUT, there’s been no subsequent increase in paid sales on Amazon.com, although there has been a moderate bump on Amazon.co.uk. From what I’ve seen with this book before though, this won’t last.

Here’s an interesting nugget though: sales of my other two books, Mousetrapped and Self-Printed, have increased across both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, more so on Amazon.co.uk. Overall, sales are up across the board. But remember that as well as two different KDP promotions, I also got Freshly Pressed, which brought loads of new people to this little pink blog. In April, there were 17,000 hits on my blog. So far this month, there’s been over 50,000. So maybe that’s what has contributed to a rise in sales, not KDP Select. It’s hard to tell.

So what does all this mean?

My conclusion is: sod all. It means nothing. It doesn’t point to KDP Select being a good thing, but it doesn’t point to it being a bad thing either. It all comes down to luck, and that luck might just as easily swing out of your favor as it may into it. I think the only certainty is uncertainty: KDP Select can’t be relied upon to boost your sales, especially since the whole algorithm change back in March, which Amazon started weighing free downloads at approximately one tenth the value of paid sales. (That’s what I understand of it, anyway.) But based on anecdotal evidence (read: people telling me), reading and enjoying a free book does tend to lead to the purchase of other books, if they’re available.

If you asked me do you recommend KDP Select?, I’d say, yes, but only if you have more than one book, or you do it to launch a book, and only if you do it strategically, i.e. make it coincide with something that will ensure that a lot of people find out your book is free. I don’t think I’d recommend pulling your book off other channels to take advantage of it anymore and I have my doubts about who actually reads these free books. My guess is only a minority of the downloads actually get read. Maybe we should also start to think outside the box to come up with new ways to use it—next week I’m releasing an e-book of blog posts, and I’m going to use KDP Select to give it away so everyone who reads this blog already can get it for free.

Have you used KDP Select? How did you get on? Have you used it since the algorithm change?

Why Promoting Your Book Online is (a bit) Like Fight Club

28 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Only a few short days left and then I’ll go back to… well, posting about very similar topics, actually.  Anyway. You can catch up here

The first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.

And the first rule of effectively promoting your book online is that you do not promote your book online.

By which I mean, you do not blatantly promote your book online.

(Yes, it’s a tenuous link but let’s just go with it, okay? It’s Monday, and I have a sprained ankle.)

Some self-published authors take offense at being told that they shouldn’t regularly send out tweets like “My book, YOUR EYES ARE GLAZING OVER, is on Amazon now, just $2.99. PLEASE RT! OKAY? THANKS!”, or that they should avoid working the title of at least one of their books into every comment they leave on someone else’s blog, or that they shouldn’t send e-mails to people they don’t know or don’t know really well trying to flog their book because, even if it’s done manually, it’s still spam. (For a lesson in what not to do with e-mail and your book, read this.) They want to do things their way, and that’s fine. But the reason I’m suggesting not to do it that way is because that way doesn’t work.

Did you hear me? IT DOESN’T WORK. So yes, of course, you’re free to do whatever you want. But personally, I’d rather just do stuff that is at least likely to work.

The reason it doesn’t work is because people aren’t using social media because they love being sold stuff. They’re using it, I think, for one or more of the following three reasons:

  1. Because they want to be entertained
  2. Because they’re looking for specific information
  3. Because they want to connect with other people (connect as in virtually meet, but also as in relate to).

From what I’ve seen over the past two years, both in trying to sell my own books and watching what other self-published and traditionally published authors have done to try to sell theirs, is that your promotional efforts have to have a value of their own, and that value has to satisfy one or more of the demands in the list above. Online promotion works best when the book actually comes second to the content’s main objective.

[You: Say what now?]

To put it another—hopefully clearer—way, your goal should be to improve the internet, above all else. Make it a better place than it was five minutes ago by writing a great blog post, posting a funny tweet, using a tweet to direct your followers to a great blog post you just found, uploading a video that helps people perform a task, uploading a video that makes people laugh while they’re procrastinating to keep from doing that task they’re supposed to do… You get the idea. Adding a mention of your book to this content might also sell a few copies of it for you, yes, but that’s secondary. That’s not the most important bit. We need to create stuff to put on the internet that would still be something useful and worthwhile even if we took the selling books bit out of it.

Book trailers—good ones, anyway—and other book-related videos are a really effective way to demonstrate what I mean. The video above, Love in the Time of Amazon, is one of my favorites, and I showed it at Faber Academy and Inkwell Writers earlier this year to demonstrate this very point. Yes, this is a book trailer that’s advertising the authors’ books. But if you took that away—if you just imagined for a second that this was just for fun, and that those are actors and those books don’t really exist, and you took away the information at the end—it would still be a video you have a little giggle at. It would still be a video you post on your blog, share with your Facebook friends and/or tweet a link to. Especially if your friends are published authors, because we can so relate. (And so—added bonus—connect.) It’s been viewed over 8,000 times, I saw countless links to it on Twitter, I’ve posted about it myself several times and it got picked up by high-traffic sites like Media Bistro.

My own video, How Much Editing Backpacked Needed, has been viewed over 1,000 times and passed around numerous editing and writing blogs. It’s about my book Backpacked, and at the very end of it, there’s some info about the book. But if I didn’t name the book that was being edited and took that info at the end out, the video wouldn’t lose any of its value. It would still have the same number of views and have been passed around and shared just as much. Because this isn’t a video about me wanting you to buy my book. This is a video that, first and foremost, contains useful information and/or is interesting.

This blog post and my other “self-printing” themed posts contain information that some people might need. Fun, chatty tweets that bemoan the pain of having to put words on paper are something any writer can relate to, and over time we might make a connection with the person writing them. Anything that makes us laugh, mutter, “Hmm. Interesting…”, holds our attention for longer than a few seconds or could be considered “just for fun” falls into the entertainment category.

And after they’ve entertained, informed or made a connection, they’ve also informed a new person that our book exists, which is the first step is getting someone to buy it. (Making them interested in the book is the step in between.) Obviously the number of people who know our books exist is far greater than those who actually buy it, but as the first number increases, so does the second.

Am I silly enough to think that everyone who reads this blog post is going to run straight over to Amazon and buy up all my books? No. I don’t think that anyone is going to run over there and buy one of them. I’m not trying to open and close the deal in the same shot. My main priority is to make this a good blog. I genuinely love this blog, and I’m prouder of it than I am of some of my books. (Don’t tell them that, though.) So above all else, I want new people to keep discovering this blog, and I want the people already reading it to keep doing so, and I want everyone to find it useful with a side of occasional giggles, even if they don’t like pink.

Below that on my list of priorities is selling my books. Over time, a very small percentage of blog readers become book readers, but because I have a lot of blog readers, that’s enough for me to feel a little thrill every time I check my KDP units-sold-to-date report (which I do at least four times a day).

How do blog readers become book readers? These are some of my theories:

  1. They like the way I write; they want to read more
  2. They want to get my book to see how it’s turned out (after reading about its production)
  3. After hanging around here for ages, they read the About page or My Books, and one of my books catches their eye
  4. They buy a book of mine as a thank you for me helping them with their book (through my posts)
  5. One of the above, combined with me telling them I have a free promotion on, and perhaps reading one for free leads them to buy another one.
  6. Then they might write a review, recommend me to a friend, etc. etc. leading to other, “outside” sales
  7. After reading this blog from the beginning and following me through the release of four books, they just can’t resist my Jedi mind tricks anymore…
Let’s say that instead of writing blog posts, I just stuck up a picture of a book of mine up here with an Amazon link and a price-tag. And I did that every day, without fail and without deviation. Where do you think I’d be then? I’m pretty sure I’d have zero blog readers. But yet people treat Twitter exactly in this way, and expect not only people to stick around and put up with it, but also to go buy their books. Put down the crazy juice and have a cup of coffee instead. May I recommend this which I’ve been trying out this weekend:

(I could write a whole other post about how after Starbucks VIA, every coffee maker in town ran off to produce their own instant-made-from-actual-ground-beans product, and then rushed it onto the shelves in a silver cylindrical container, offered it at half-price as an introductory offer to get people to buy it and then encouraged refilling of the container with slightly less expensive “eco” refill bags, which no one was encouraged to do because it’s so damn expensive that you’re far better off hopping from brand to brand, picking up the half-price containers as they become available. But I won’t.)

Think about it: what does you tweeting “Another 5* review for MY BOOK on Amazon! Here’s the link so you can go read it and marvel at the praise I have received...” achieve out of those three? And no, it doesn’t fall under information, because the information has to be useful. If you’re going on a blog tour and you have five guest posts lined up to send to your kind hosts, ask yourself: are these posts good by themselves? Are they likely to entertain, provide information, have readers relating to them, or is the only point they make something like buy my book and buy it now?

Let’s return to the word rule. You—I—can’t really say “never do this” or “as a rule, don’t do that.” Sometimes you have to tell the internet something, even if that something doesn’t achieve one of our three aims. There’s little point, for instance, in your book being free for Kindle for a few days if you can’t tell people about it. (Although, in my opinion, the opportunity to get a free book falls into the information category. I’m slow to admit this thought because I JUST KNOW that someone will take it a step in the wrong direction and assume tweets on the hour, every hour about how his book is “just $1.99″ falls into the same category. IT DOESN’T.) And what if you get a review from like, someone amazing? What if your writing hero says she likes your book, and says it on the internet? You couldn’t keep news like that in, even if it doesn’t do anything but make the rest of us sick with jealousy. So sometimes, it’s okay to break the rules, or not follow the principles. But only in extreme moderation. Because remember, the hard sell doesn’t work. No one is listening to it, because that’s not why they’re there.

Over time, what’s considered valuable information will also change. For instance, if I pick 1,000 people at random and tell them that I’ve released a new book and go buy it now, please, thanks, I’d probably get into trouble for spamming or at the very least, waste my time. But what if those 1,000 people had already read a book of mine, and signed up to a newsletter so they could find out about my future releases, and they were happy to hear from me because they were fans of my work? Then “my book is out now!” becomes valuable information to them, because finding that out was exactly why they signed up to the mailing list. BUT—before you bring it up—this isn’t the same as me following you on Twitter. I didn’t follow you on Twitter to be constantly told about your new book. I’d like to know if you have a new book, sure, but I want it to come on the side of the real reason I’m on Twitter in the first place: to be entertained, informed or connected.

A few final points:

  1. Before you take a dump on this, don’t bother. It seems like every time I draw attention to something some other author did to promote their book that I thought was fun or funny or clever or some other good word, someone or someones then feel the need to take a dump on it in the comments. This annoys me in the same way people who look down on other people for watching reality TV annoys me, which is A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT, because in saying this, you’re saying that if I don’t like the same things as you, I’m somehow inferior. It doesn’t matter if Love in the Time of Amazon didn’t make you giggle, or if you’d “never buy a book just because you saw a video about it.” This isn’t about you. This is about the book buying public at large, of which you are just one in a sea of millions. Don’t focus on the video I’ve used to demonstrate my point. Focus on the point itself. And you want to take a dump on that in the comments, feel free.
  2. Modeling yourself on exceptions to the rule isn’t helpful. For every bit of advice I dispense on this blog, in Self-Printed or in person at a workshop or something, someone manages to find an example of an author who has done the opposite and been successful. “Hiring a professional cover designer because the cover could make or break your book? What about that guy who’s sold a trillion e-books since Tuesday? His covers are terrible. Looking at them makes me feel like I do when I eat eggs benedict while hungover and on a boat in rocky seas…” etc. etc. You can find an exception to the rule for absolutely everything. But where does it get you? As I said in a post last week, we all know stories about writers who got book deals in strange, serendipitous ways. They sketched an idea for a novel on the inside of an old Cornflakes box, their kid brought it to school for arts & crafts, the teacher happened to read it, mentioned it to her sister who happened to work for William Morris, and by the end of the following week the writer had a book deal, foreign rights sold and a movie option in the works. How nice for her. But don’t you think that querying in the usual way would give you a far greater chance of success than scribbling on cereal boxes and sending them to school with your kid?
  3. After writing this post, I’m no longer sure the title is relevant. But hey, I’ve a sprained ankle and am doped up on codeine and some weird ice-cold gel that apparently seeps into your muscles through your skin (which, I’ve been wondering, is sure to work better on people skinnier than me, right?) and it’s Monday. So, whatever. Or whatevs, as the kids say.

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Don’t You Forget About Me

22 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. First, I poured a bucket of ice-cold water over your dreams in Read This First (which, thanks to Freshly Pressed, is the most popular post ever on this blog), and then explained why I think you should go guns blazing for the launch of each book instead of waiting until you’ve a few to sell in One at a Time. This week I’m presenting my Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books, which is based on how I think I’ve managed to sell my own books over the last couple of years. You can catch up here

[Apologies for the lateness of this post. I wrote it on Friday morning, lost half of it thanks to a silly mistake on my part and then didn’t have a chance until now to re-do it. Still, better late than never, eh?]

Oh, happy day: you’re selling books. A few of them, at least. But now that you’ve done the whole launching your book thing and you’ve made sure that no one could possibly escape your Amazon listing without being convinced to click that “Buy” button, what’s next? Personally I think you should have two goals from here on in:

  1. To do something everyday that informs at least one more person of your existence
  2. To aim to get every reader who encounters your book first to come join your online platform afterwards. 

From Book to Blog

If we have achieved our goal of getting Amazon to practically sell our books for us (and especially if we’re using things like KDP Select), chances are that most new readers will never meet us (as in, our blog or tweets) before they read our book. But wouldn’t it be nice to have them around the next time we release a book? So encourage readers who only know your book to come visit your blog afterwards. Put a URL at the beginning and end of your book. Maybe put some extra material on your website (photos, an extra story, a story about writing the book) and link to it after “THE END” so the reader has a reason to visit. Ask them to tweet you as they’re reading the book, or to say hi to you on Goodreads (Facebook for books; join if you haven’t already) after they leave their review. The beauty of e-books is that the links can be live, so all the reader has to do is click.

From Blog to Book

We know that only a fraction of our blog readers will end up buying our book, but they can’t do it if they don’t know about it, right? So a few cover shots in the sidebar and a page dedicated to your literary offerings is a must.

Can I just say this though? STOP WITH THE POP-UPS. My pet hate is visiting a website and having a big thing (I don’t know the technical term; let’s use thing) popping up and blocking my view of it. This thing is usually an advertisement for something that I have to enter my e-mail address to get, and the only way to get rid of it is to find the tiny “x” that closes it in the top right-hand corner. I understand the theory: no one visiting the website is going to miss it. But here’s the practice: my computer is on its last legs and my broadband is slow at the best of times. This thing makes loading your website even longer, and I don’t have the patience. So I either (i) add you to Google Reader so I never visit your site again—which means I never see any of the stuff in your sidebar, etc. or (ii) I don’t bother at all, and never visit in any way, shape or form again. It’s like when hotels cover the desk space with a load of stuff: guest directory, stationery, magazines, etc. It looks nice and seems sensible in theory, but what is the guest going to have to do when they arrive? Find somewhere else to put it so they can actually use the desk. Next time you’re considering adding a “welcome” pop-up window, think of your visitors. Please.

E-mail = Cockroach

When I was a teenager, everyone I knew was on Bebo. Was on what? you say. Exactly. There was also a time when everyone was on MySpace which, with its flashing HTML LCD trip design, is probably why so many people I know of my generation are getting glasses these days, myself included. Yes, it’s hard to imagine a world where Twitter and Facebook have fallen by the wayside, but it could happen. And just like a cockroach surviving a nuclear winter, the only thing we can be certain of surviving the downfall of today’s social networks is e-mail. Regardless of what happens, I’m pretty sure that ten years from now, I’ll still have an e-mail address.

So it doesn’t hurt to have a mailing list where readers can sign up to be informed of your next release. I recommend MailChimp, which is free to use if a bit tricky to navigate. Invite people to sign up and then send out maybe 3-4 newsletters a year. To see how its done, sign up for crime writer Karin Slaughter’s newsletter. (Trust me on this.)

Bonus Material

A year and a half passed between the release of Mousetrapped and its sequel, Backpacked, as I hummed and haahed about whether or not to self-publish another book. But I didn’t want all my readers to forget about me in the meantime, so I came up with a plan: More Mousetrapped.

The idea was simple. I’d spent a year and a half in Orlando, but I hadn’t written about every last moment of it in Mousetrapped, because it would have been about 500 pages long. I had a few stories—incidents, really—that I could’ve added, but didn’t because it would’ve been too long and they in themselves wouldn’t have warranted a chapter. So instead, I started a mailing list, and once a month I’d send one of these newly-written, exclusive stories to everyone on the mailing list. I put a link at the end of the e-book so if readers wanted more, they knew where to go to get it. And of course, when Backpacked came out, I was able to tell this list about it.

I don’t do this anymore, but next month I’m going to take the More Mousetrapped stories, bundle them with some other previously unpublished Mousetrapped-related stuff and offer it as a 99c “bonus material” e-book. This will also extend my “shelf space” on Amazon, making it slightly easier for people to discover me.

Yes, that is the sound of me patting myself on the back…

Think Outside the Box (Or Off the Page)

The beauty of self-publishing (and especially self-publishing e-books) are the many different ways you can use it to your advantage—ways that publishing print books confined to a specific price range just don’t allow. Here are some ideas I’ve had, some already done and some coming soon:

  • As I mentioned above, I’m going to take the More Mousetrapped stories subscribers received last year, bundle them with some other previously unpublished Mousetrapped stuff and release it as a 99c e-book.
  • When I published Self-Printed, I took three main sections out of it—Publishing an E-book, Publishing a POD Paperback and Building an Online Platform—and released them as $1.99 e-books I called Self-Printed Shorts. (The full book was $4.99.)
  • In the next few weeks I’ll be releasing a 99c e-book of all my self-publishing themed blog posts called The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated: Caffeine-Infused Self-Publishing Advice. I’m going to do KDP Select right off that bat so readers of this blog can get it for free. After that, who knows? Having the book on Amazon might bring me blog readers and as the content in Self-Printed is also totally different, maybe even throw a few sales that way as well.

I’ve even played around with POD paperbacks although, cost-wise, I wouldn’t recommend it. I sold signed copies of Backpacked from my website when it was first released, and every pre-order also received this adorable little preview of Results Not Typical.

Paid Advertising

Other than a test run with Facebook ads that had a budget of $15, I’ve never paid to advertise my book, but I’m seriously considering doing it in the run up to next Christmas (the time of the year when the majority of books are sold). If it’s targeted paid advertising, I think it has a chance of boosting your sales.

Don’t just pay to stick a cover of your book up somewhere. Get strategic. Facebook ads, I found, were a waste of time, because people are not on Facebook because of books. But that’s the only reason why they’re on Goodreads, and Goodreads operates a similar pay-by-click advertising service. (Have you used it? Let us know in the comments how you got on.) I know a lot of authors who’ve had success with a Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship, and then there’s genre-specific blogs and book review sites who offer banner and sidebar advertisements.

Just do your research and make sure advertising is a worthwhile investment before you hand over the cash.

Be Useful

I don’t want to destroy your faith in humanity, but our number one priority is always ourselves. Subconsciously or otherwise, we’re always asking, what’s in this for me? So if you want your blog (and, by extension, our books) to be successful, make yourself useful. The most popular blog posts on this site are all instructional, all posts that help other people self-publish. I really enjoy writing them, and people enjoy finding the information they need. We’re all winners.

Perhaps you don’t have this type of blog, and you can’t—or don’t want to—write posts like that. That’s fine. But make sure what you’re writing aren’t diary entries. Make sure there’s something in there for other people. Write with the door open, as Stephen King says. Make sure you’re ticking one or more of the “Why Everyone is On The Internet” boxes: information, entertainment, connection. And make sure you’re doing it with practically every post.

Diaries are for you. Blogs are for everyone else.

Another Book

And what to do next when you’ve done all that? Write another book, of course!

So to recap, my Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books (very basically) involves:

  1. Building an online platform—a blog as your hub, Twitter to make connections and drive traffic, Facebook because you might as well (and it’s a good way to rope in your friends and family)
  2. Slowly but surely—and without any spammy Jedi mind tricks—assemble a band of loyal supporters, some of whom might even buy your book just as soon as it comes out
  3. Getting these loyal supporters excited about your book by blogging about it and involving them in the process (e.g. get them to help you decide on a cover, etc.)
  4. Making all your online homes party central for the week of the book’s release.
  5. Maximizing your presence on Amazon by using Amazon Author Central to dress up your listing, etc.
  6. Continuing to produce quality content (that either provides information, entertains or makes a connection) and never forgetting about the guy or gal who’s been reading your blog since day one and will never ever ever buy a book of yours, i.e. keeping up your end of the bargain
  7. Think outside the box (or off the page)
  8. Get started on writing your next book.
Get it by e-mail by subscribing to this blog or follow me on Twitter (@cathryanhoward) for links. 

Selling Self-Published Books: The Amazing Amazon

17 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Last week I poured a bucket of ice-cold water over your dreams in Read This First (which, thanks to Freshly Pressed, is the most popular post ever on this blog), and then explained why I think you should go guns blazing for the launch of each book instead of waiting until you’ve a few to sell in One at a Time. This week I’m presenting my Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books, which is based on how I think I’ve managed to sell my own books over the last couple of years. You can catch up here

In Newly Self-Published Book World, everything is going to plan. We’ve built an online platform, make some blogging and tweeting friends and launched our book in a week of virtual celebrations—and all without annoying the guy who has been reading our blog posts from day one only because he enjoys cyber-stalking us. (Although come to think of it, it might be alright to annoy him.) You’ve done an awful lot of work already, but the real slog is only just beginning. Because now you have to keep the momentum going. Now you have to make sure your book can tread water for long enough that its head always stays above the water line on Amazon, instead of sinking down into the black depths of the abyss where not even the most determined Kindle owner will ever find it.

The Amazing Amazon

Very few self-publishers manage to sell books without focusing on Amazon, and fewer still manage to sell books without relying on Amazon at all. (I can only think of one self-publisher who’s been a success on Smashwords alone.) Now some self-pubbers get their knickers all in a twist about getting into bed with such a capitalistic juggernaut of a corporation, but if you don’t like it, don’t do it. But really don’t do it. At all. If you hate Amazon and like to blame them for crushing brick-and-mortar bookstores, complain about them making oodles of cash off you, the poor writer, and believe that when the four horsemen of the Apocalypse appear, they’ll arrive packed in an Amazon-branded brown box, then don’t self-publish your book with them. It gives me a pain in my eyeballs when self-publishers moan about the company who has allowed them to sell their work on the biggest online book store on the planet, promptly sends them the proceeds by cheque once a month and, in some cases (including my own) enables them to make a living without leaving the house. Without even getting dressed, some days.

(Okay, most days.)

It’s either complain and don’t publish, or publish. This isn’t a pick ‘n’ mix. And anyway chances are those knickers you’re getting in a twist have a corporate logo’s label sewn into the back of them, unless you made them yourself.

(Ew.)

So quit your whining and let’s get to work.

All Roads Lead to Amazon

The aim is to send everyone who wants to buy your book to Amazon, because here, if a tree falls in the woods it always makes a sound. A sale increases your visibility on the site, which increases the chances of someone else discovering it, which increases the chances of another sale. A sale leads to a sale, if you’re lucky.

This is easy to do: make every link to a place where your book is for sale a link to Amazon. If you have a list of places, for instance, where you can buy the e-book versions of your books, list all the Amazon sites first. If someone wants to buy your paperback, encourage them to go to Amazon—not your CreateSpace e-store, or Lulu’s website. If you want to be really strict about it, don’t order any stock to sell to family and friends and get them to buy your book online instead. But only on Amazon, naturally.

My Amazon Author page.

Get an Author Page

Go to authorcentral.amazon.com and sign up for an Amazon Author account. Then go to authorcentral.amazon.co.uk and do the same there. An Amazon Author page is essentially a page of your own on Amazon where you have an opportunity to share some information about yourself, add a feed to your blog and Twitter account, list upcoming events and even upload videos and photos. It also gives the customer somewhere to go where they can see all your books listed together.

Which is great. But that’s not the real reason we’re signing up for Amazon Author Central.

The product listing for In the Woods by Tana French. Yes, the reviews are great, but what’s the book about? The blurb is buried towards the end. Click to see a larger image.

Maximize Your Listing

A few months ago I attended a talk by an editor of literary fiction and during it, she shared her thoughts on self-publishing. One of the things she recommended self-publishers to do is to hire a professional copywriter to prepare their “blurb text” for them, i.e. the description that goes on the back of your book and, subsequently, appears on your Amazon listing. She said that once that had been entered it couldn’t be changed, and that it went out to every catalogue, online retailers, etc. and remained the first thing the potential reader read about that book forever more. She said that as it often had to be done well in advance and sometimes even before the book was completely finished, it was the most difficult aspect of publishing a book to get exactly right.

Listening to this, I could barely keep the grin off my face. Because I knew that, on Amazon at least, you can change this information whenever you want, however often you want. And you can add stuff to it. And you can even put in some formatting. Because through your Amazon Author Central account, you can add to, subtract from and endlessly update your product listing.

This is an area where—for once!—I’m going to call out traditional publishing for getting it wrong. It’s easy to see why they get it wrong: they have hundreds if not thousands of authors to worry about, whereas the self-publisher can devote as much time as they’d like to fine-tuning all aspects of their own books. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this, along with things like release schedule and pricing, is where you, the self-publisher, has the edge. You can make your listing stand out, and make it look better than its traditionally published peers.

My Backpacked listing, after I used Author Central to spruce it up. Click for larger.

Through Author Central, you can:

  • Edit your product description (the blurb). You have a lot of space for this, I think 4,000 characters, but don’t be tempted to use it all. Or even use half of it. A short, snappy description of no more than 300 words is ideal. You can also use italics and bold formatting, which you can’t do when you’re entering this stuff from the back end in KDP or CreateSpace. Use sparingly, but definitely use.
  • Add editorial reviews. These are extracts from reviews written by trusted sources, e.g. bestselling authors, respected individuals in their field (for non-fiction) and book review sites and book bloggers. DO NOT put quotes from Amazon customer reviews here; they mean nothing and make you look like an amateur.
  • Add an “About the Author.”
  • Add a “From the Author.” This can be a little spiel about why you wrote the book, or what makes you a good person to write it (for non-fiction).

Editorial reviews and my About the Author on Backpacked‘s listing. Click for larger.

Seeing Other People

Next week I’ll be posting about KDP Select, which enrolls your book in the Kindle Owners Lending Library and lets you promote your book as free for up to five days out of every ninety. To do this, you have to give your e-book exclusively to Amazon for the whole ninety days. You can’t even have a PDF download from your own website, and of course Smashwords is out.

It’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in Amazon’s basket, but I think doing it for a short space of time is okay and might actually be beneficial in the long run. I’m releasing my next book in November, and this is my plan for it:

  • Exclusive to Amazon for 3 months so I can enroll in KDP Select. I’m thinking I might offer it as free for the first 3 days of its life, so my blog readers, Twitter followers, newsletter subscribers, etc.—who’ll be the first to hear about it—will get a chance to read it for free in exchange for putting up with me for all this time. Also it’ll be my third travel memoir, the third in the series, so the 3 days ties in. Clever, eh?
  • It will only be available in e-book for those same three months, or until the end of January 2013-ish if I’m releasing in November. Think of the e-book like the hardback; it’s main purpose is to build momentum that will hopefully translate into sales when the paperback comes out later. Also I’ll have a few paychecks from the e-book before I have to pay for things like a full paperback cover, proof copies, etc.
  • At the end of the ninety days exclusivity with Amazon, I’ll upload the books to Smashwords for full distribution and release the paperback.

(NB: Of course on other online retailers like Barnes and Noble and iBooks, there is also an argument for sales leading to more sales. But it is much easier to do it on Amazon, where—for now, anyway—the majority of e-book readers are browsing for their next buy. And you have Amazon Author Central to help enhance your listing, which you don’t have on the other sites. And you have KDP Select. So for a starting off point on this selling books adventure, you can’t make a better friend than Bezos.)

In order to blog about KDP Select next week, I’ve been experimenting with it this week and last. Today my novel Results Not Typical, goes free on all Kindle stores for five days. Download it, tell your friends, etc. etc. It’s a satire about an evil slimming company and what happens to them when one of their prototypes goes missing. Let’s just say I’ve done plenty of research. And it comes with a Backpacked preview. Download it from Amazon.com here and from Amazon.co.uk here.

Tomorrow: things like paid advertising, bonus material and mailing lists. Basically all the things that will have you tugging on the pants leg of the person who just finished one of your books, wailing “Don’t forget about me, okay?”.

UPDATE: Due to a technical issue, by “tomorrow” I mean Saturday evening. And by “technical issue” I mean “I lost the blog post after re-instating the wrong revision and don’t have time to re-do it until I settle down to watch The Voice on Saturday evening.”

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