Last time on my Self-Printing Bookclub – which, I should point out, isn’t really a bookclub; it just sounds nice – I didn’t glean anything but frustration from Dan Poytner’s Self-Publishing Manual. This week we’re at the other end of the moral scale with the very ethical Aaron Shepard and his popular self-publishing book, Aiming at Amazon: How to Publish Your Books with Print on Demand and Online Book Marketing on Amazon.com, and hoping for something a little more useful than a rant about agents, publishers and bookstores.
Things are off to a good start with the author’s CV. Shepard is an award-winning children’s author who has written several books about this ‘new business’ of self-publishing, he created that god-awful obsession for published authors, Sales Rank Express, and most importantly, he makes a living from selling his self-published books, many of which are about self-publishing. He’s even been in The New York Times. Shepard’s ideal student is about to produce their non-fiction book using a Print on Demand service like Lulu or CreateSpace, is computer literate and willing to focus solely on online sales. Shepard has nothing against bookshops, per se – he simply points out that it’s far, far easier to shift copies of your book from a free listing on Amazon.com.
As writers, we tend to stumble blindly into the business of online bookstores. Our relationship with our listing begins with a flutter as we see our very own book up there for other people to buy – or ignore, as the case may be – and then descends into obsession and paranoia as we stalk our sales ranks and reviews like… well, something you’d stalk. If you were… you know. A bit crazy. But as a POD self-publisher you can optimize your book for Amazon sales, add value to your listing and help prospective readers to find your book.
Among Shepard’s suggestions are:
- Designing your book with Amazon in mind, e.g. picking a title and subtitle that will make your book easy to find, creating a cover that is readable as a thumbnail as opposed to pretty and publishing in one format.
- Making the most of Amazon, e.g. sign up and utilize Amazon’s Author Central, add additional content to your listing and set about collecting reviews.
- Monitoring Amazon, e.g. watching your sales ranks, your ranking in search results and the titles your book is paired with.
- Channeling your sales to Amazon, e.g. linking to your Amazon listing from every available place.
- Refreshing and updating your book and your listing’s content on a regular basis.
- Practicing good Amazon etiquette.
While some of it may sound like nothing more than common sense, Shepard provides the technical information needed to carry out these practices correctly and effectively. And he practices what he preaches: Aiming at Amazon is itself self-published and its back page even tells you the specifics – its interior was produced in MS Word on a Mac, its cover was made using Adobe InDesign and it was printed by Lightning Source. Best of all, there is no mention of schemes that artificially push your book into Amazon’s bestseller lists, other than a condemnation of them. Shepard comes across as honest, likeable and brimming with common sense – a fine example is on page 45 when under the heading ‘Write a Great Book’ is the opening line, ‘This is a step that many self publishers neglect.’ Ha! Anyway, I, for one, am willing to listen to him. He could even ghost write my Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing: How To Self-Publish Your Book Without Proclaiming Death to the Traditional Publishing Industry, Saying “Gatekeepers” Every Other Sentence and Generally Coming Across as a Paranoid Loser, come to think of it.
Even if you don’t want to completely ignore bookstores, Aiming at Amazon is still a valuable reference. Many of its tips and insights would be helpful to all writers with books on Amazon, not just those who self-published with a POD and not even just those who self-published.