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.
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.
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).
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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