One of the most exciting things about this whole self-printing business is seeing your book appear on Amazon for the first time. There follows much squealing, gazing at it adoringly and emailing a link to it to all your friends. (And some enemies. Maybe.) But before Amazonitis can truly take hold – before you enter into a dark world where you obsessively track your sales ranking, become enraged by your ‘Frequently Bought Together’ partner and dispute that anyone who read your book would also read something like sTORI Telling by Tori Spelling – you need to do some work. Amazon is an enormous beast, complicated and churning and disorganized, but it’s one you’re going to have to tame if you want to sell books because, as a self-publisher (and especially as a POD-ing one), Amazon’s global bookstore is your biggest opportunity to do so.
Things You Should Have Thought About Before Now
Remember back when we made our little baby? The information you carefully typed into CreateSpace (or whoever you used) under ‘Title Information’ has now become your Amazon listing under the heading of ‘Editorial Reviews,’ word for word and exclamation mark for exclamation mark. Let’s hope you described your book in an appealing way (I used the exact text that’s on my back cover) and posted an ‘About the Author’ paragraph that includes your blog URL or the book’s official site.
As a POD-er, you determine to some extent what categories your book is listed under. I chose ‘Travel -> United States’ and Amazon, somewhere along the line, further categorized me into ‘States -> Florida -> Orlando’, ‘Regions -> South Atlantic’ and ‘Florida -> Disney World.’ But be careful. One of my main competitors in the I-worked-in-Walt-Disney-World genre is a book that was released by a former Cast Member only a few weeks before mine – a book that was traditionally published, has an author with a platform and a review by A.J. Jacobs. He doesn’t know how much he’s helped my sales ranks (which are all relative) by categorizing his better-selling book – for a reason that perplexes me – as a biography of Walt Disney.
Once Your Listing Goes Live
As soon as your listing appears, get cracking on adding to it as much as you can.
1. Sign up for Author Central. Not signing up for AC is just laziness. Why wouldn’t you? It takes about five minutes and afterwards you’ll have your own Author Page on Amazon.com. Upload a photo of your lovely self, a longer bio, a video (your book trailer) and link to your blog posts (including one, if you’re thinking straight, of your first chapter. Kindle readers can sample; why can’t their print friends?) It’s a free and convenient opportunity to promote your book, so get to it! (Amazon.co.uk also have an Author Central program but it doesn’t include all of the same features.)
2. Upload customer images. Presuming you have an Amazon account (i.e that you’ve purchased from Amazon.com in the past) you can upload images. These are displayed in thumbnails below your book’s cover image. I uploaded some scenes from Disney, Floridian beaches and Kennedy Space Center, which help give potential purchasers a clearer idea of what the book is like.
3. Tags. Again, presuming you have an Amazon account, you can tag any book, including your own, as you see fit. Amazon will then ask other visitors to your page if they agree with these tags and if they’d like to add any of their own. Tags help people find your book, so chose carefully. Imagine if you were trying to find a book about what your book’s about, but you didn’t know for sure whether or not one existed. What would you search for? For instance if I was looking for a book like Mousetrapped, I might search for things like ‘working in Disney World,’ ‘moving to Orlando’ and ‘J-1 visas.’
4. Link all editions. Amazon should link your print and Kindle editions, but they may not. Contact them through Amazon Central to have this rectified as soon as possible.
5. Get reviewed. Reviews are a tricky, tricky area. Self-published authors aren’t going to get anywhere near the same volume of reviews as traditionally published books get, and they won’t get them from such esteemed sources. As a self-published author, you have to rely on the individuals who buy and read your book. I, personally, try not to solicit Amazon reviews. I encourage people who’ve read the book to review it by way of tweets, a mention on the blog, etc. but I don’t give people books in exchange for it. If I do give free books to bloggers or book reviewers, I also stress that they are under no obligation to even mention on their site, let alone review it, let alone review it favorably. I could write a whole other post about reviews, but let me just say this: the best course of action is to be honest. Don’t get involved in your reviews. If I land on a book on Amazon with a slew of five star, over-the-top reviews that tell me little about what the book is about or like but wax lyrical about how fantastic the author is, then I’m going to know something’s up.
Buying Your Own Book and Other Craziness
There are currently a number of books floating about out there that claim they know how to make your book a bestseller on Amazon. Most of their “ideas” are unethical, dishonest and devious, involve buying copies of your own and work off the principle that pushing you into Amazon’s bestseller list for a few hours is going to lead to thousands of sales. I’ve also heard miniature versions of these schemes, such as buying your book with a bestseller, say, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Twilight. Do this enough and your book will be ‘linked’ to that bestseller, making it more visible around the site.
I think you need to ask yourself just what it is you’re out to achieve, because if you find yourself ordering copies of your own book at retail price, then something has gone wrong somewhere.
Aiming at Amazon
Somewhere in between tagging your own book and having 50 of your nearest and dearest order a copy from Amazon within the same sixty minute window is a whole host of other things you can do to improve your Amazon sales without selling your soul to the devil, and Aiming at Amazon by Aaron Shepard will tell you all about them. While I don’t buy into his approach entirely – he advocates ignoring bookstores and bookshelves completely, focusing instead entirely on Amazon sales – he does have some great ideas and, more importantly, morals. He also practices what he preaches; Aiming at Amazon, along with Shepard’s other books, are all self-published using POD.
Monitoring Amazon: Sales Ranks
There are two great sites you can use/abuse to monitor your sales rankings on Amazon sites. Because sales ranking are updated hourly and are all relative, a single sale can easily shoot you up a couple of hundred thousand places. You want to be there when you break the top 100,000, don’t you? Sales Rank Express is actually the brainchild of Aaron Shepard and NovelRank is its flashier, more functional friend. Both monitor all Amazon sites. (Yikes.)
What’s a good sales rank? Well, the lower the number, the better. What’s really important is your sales rank over time and not just at 5.32pm Tuesday when two people happen to buy your book at the same time. Shepard says that if you can stay in the Top 10,000, you’re onto a real winner. (He estimates a book in the Top 5,000, for example, is selling around 250 copies per month.) Top 50,000 equals a good performer, Top 200,000 a respectable effort and anything beyond that… well, don’t do it for the money.
He also says that even if your book is well-written, well-produced and well-received, it will can take a year for it to reach its full potential, due to Amazon’s “success feeds success” model. (For example, the more people buy your book the higher up the search results it’ll appear and so more people will find it and so more people buy it.)
So I’m not going to start worrying just yet.
Next time on self-printing promotion: Fantastic Forums (Friday).