There they were. Those two words you thought would never happen. Six little letters. You type slowly and reverently:
The act of completing a novel is huge. Of the billions of people on the planet we are in a very small, select group of Homo sapiens. Soak up the ambiance because shortly you come to the next gargantuan phase of your book: publishing.
You can have your book published on Amazon within a few days. You can use their cover designer for free. You just upload the pdf, collect your ISBN and POOF you’re published. You can do it in your underwear, or less. Clickity clack – baddaboom baddabing. AUTHOR!
Ooooooor, you can compose a query letter, a synopsis and prep a few select gorgeous pages of your work and try courting the shy and elusive literary agent or traditional publisher. And then await the rejections! I am in a group on Facebook that celebrates the Rejection Letter. Mostly they are pre-written form letters and ironically sometimes contain typos.
There is also a deep, dark secret that transpires at bookstores and libraries the world over. [TRIGGER ALERT] Every bookstore and library participate in the culling of books. Books — pages toiled over and written in blood by a writer — get DUMPED. Sometimes the get purchased by paper recycling company, some take truckloads to the land fills. It’s gruesome. Mass graves for literary endeavor.
I’m at a cross-roads. I’ve completed my novel. I can testify that it is definitely “not bad”. It’s a literary fiction manuscript. No vampires. No spacesuits. It’s about….well, here you can read about it and see what I mean. I had this intense urge to get my manuscript through my editor’s process. I had a drive to finish, to get those pages to Amazon. And then once I was all done I sat with my novel…digitized into a pdf…and I became suddenly aware of relegating my book to the culled pile. Or worse, it never gets to the culled pile because my three friends didn’t have money to buy it and it just sits there, a victim of a lack of marketing and distribution.
Some reports suggest that less than 1% of authors on Amazon create revenue of $50 per day or more. But wait! Use Ads!! That’s right, start paying for your novel to be placed more successfully. It’s maddening.
So here I sit with my little pdf, working on pdf #2 and I’m considering all of the above. I believe I am going to wait for traditional publishing.
Self publishing? Need an ISBN? CreateSpace will give you an ISBN for FREE! Woo hoo!
But wait, if CreateSpace or other POD’s give me an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) – what’s the drawback? ISBN’s assigned to you by CreateSpace are “CreateSpace Assigned ISBN’s”. In other words it’s a place holder used only within Amazon marketing matrix.
But there are some options if you use CreateSpace:
The option above, CreateSpace Assigned ISBN
Custom Universal ISBN (for $99)
Or you can provide your own ISBN purchased from an ISBN broker
Holy Crap…$99! That’s expensive…isn’t it? Actually for a universal ISBN, no – it isn’t. Arguably, the top ISBN broker is a company named Bowker. They sell a single ISBN for $125. The feature that most people use at Bowker is their group purchase option. They sell ten ISBN;s for $295, 100 ISBN’s for $575 or 1000 ISBN’s for $1500.
Why spend the money?
With a CreateSpace (or other POD) you are not the publisher, they are. Your book may immediately be disregarded by bookstores and potential reviewers as a vanity press project. I know when I was shopping my novel around to book stores they wouldn’t consider it if it had a CreateSpace ISBN.
If you own the ISBN, you can move your book to a different printer if needed. Let’s say sales start taking off and you want to have copies on hand for book signings, you will have to pay CreateSpace the retail value for books. You cannot move it to a private printer for a run of prints to stock your book fair, book signings or public events. You will need to pay Amazon for your book!
Lastly, buying your own ISBN’s means your book is listed with many retailers, libraries, Bowker Books In Print, Bookwire, as well as online services like Google Books, Apple’s iBooks, Chegg and the New York Times. Having your own ISBN gets your book OUT THERE!
So with my first novel coming out next month, I’m going to purchase ten ISBN’s. If anyone associated with IntrovertPRESS wants their own ISBN I’m happy to share. I would even be open to pooling resources or using crowd-sourcing to raise fund for ISBN’s. If you use your own ISBN, you can use IntrovertPRESS as your “publisher” so it looks like you are a traditionally published book.
The origin of IntrovertPRESS is a selfish one. Upon completing my novel and not having a traditional publishing contract I was faced with the Indie Author conundrum:
I wrote a book
I now want to sell the book
Commence bashing head into desk
It’s a bit like getting yourself all gussied up on a Saturday night and then hoping a date will materialize at your door. It is infuriating, even Carrie had a prom date.
So I created IntrovertPRESS to accomplish a few things:
Make me feel like I’m actually DOING something to market my book
Give my book a traditional publisher feel
Create a network to put my book in front of buyers
Garner a peer review of my novel until I land a qualified industry review
In addition, I’m going to purchase my own ISBN so I can put my book on local bookstore shelves. The local paper has agreed to do a book review of my novel, so — assuming it is positive — my book will have a local push. If anyone else is interested in purchasing ISBN’s for their work, the costs are far more reasonable when you purchase in bulk:
$125 – 1 ISBN
$250 – 10 ISBNs – if IntrovertPRESS buys 10, super cheap to IP members
$575 – 100 ISBNs – super cheaper here!
$1000 – 1000 ISBNs – super cheapest…ISBN’s all around bartender!
Apparently buying ISBN’s is like buying mayonnaise, the 5 gallon vat of condiment is cheaper in bulk — and so it goes for literary birthmarks.
Respond if you are interested in joining our band of merry authors.
The thoughts come to me about my next victim. I know where she goes for coffee after her run. I know where he picks up his fifth of Bourbon after work. I see the silhouette of a family playing board games at their kitchen table through their drawn shades. I have groomed them all with love and care.
I know my weapons. I know how they feel in my hand. I see them on my basement table, gleaming in the light from the single exposed bulb shining down from the ceiling.
It’s just a matter of time now. I know their routines. I know the date they will die. I know which weapon will undo their lives. I know I will kill them. I revel in the upcoming slaughter. The woman I kill slowly. The man I kill quickly. The family — oh that precious, sweet family — I will kill one at a time starting with the youngest as the others watch.
It’s my passion. I savor their struggle at my hand like I the salty taste of a fine caviar on my tongue. People die to sate my longings. Their pain, to me, is sublime beauty
I am a serial killer.
Or perhaps I should say, my character is a serial killer…
I’m a writer. It’s a life like no other. I sit at a table with a laptop and in the doing create worlds and creatures, give birth to nations, and dwell upon the profound. When my pen slows down I consider the giants of my craft for advice…
“I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly.” – Oscar Wilde
Dear Oscar, indeed you are right, and everyday I work toward that goal. I wonder if you ever felt as though you were utterly acquainted to your own self.
“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.” – Dorothy Parker
Never my dear, for you are my muse!
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’m a conspiracy analyst. – Gore Vidal
Mr. Vidal…you would squeal in delight for the morass that is American politics.
“Courage is grace under pressure.” – Ernest Hemingway
Indeed it is and I try to clutch such grace, though I fear I lose grip from time to time.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou
Maya, oh Maya, had I had this wisdom in my youth I would have been much safer, but would lack the stories I am compelled to tell.
If your book is on Amazon, your primary goal will be to sell more books on Amazon. Selling books on Amazon is all about optimizing for the Amazon algorithm. Sound complicated? It can be, but don’t worry we have 5 easy-to-follow steps with detailed instructions that will help you make the most of the Amazon Algorithm.
The Amazon Algorithm Explained
Before we get into the steps, let’s explain the algorithm a little bit. The job of the Amazon algorithm is to best serve Amazon customers (aka readers) who are searching for something, AND to make relevant recommendations to Amazon customers on products they may like.
In order to do it’s job, the Amazon algorithm needs lots of data (called data inputs) about each product (which in your case is a book). The more data about your book the algorithm has, the more it will surface or recommend a product to a customer. When it comes to books, the primary inputs the Amazon algorithm looks for are: Keywords, genres, reviews, sales, downloads, sales rank, and browse activity. To optimize your book on Amazon, you need to optimize all these inputs for the algorithm. In this article we will show you how to do that so you can sell more books on Amazon. Now let’s get started!
1. Write a Comprehensive Book Description
Your book description is an important component in educating the Amazon algorithm (and human readers ) on what your book is about, and who will enjoy reading it. Below are the elements we recommend that every good book description has:
Accolades – If you or your book have won any awards or distinguishing titles (like bestseller), be sure to mention that in your book description. Anything and everything is worth mentioning. Now is NOT the time to be bashful about your accomplishments.
Comparables – Language that compares your title to best-selling authors and titles will let fans of those popular authors know that they should check your book out next. The basic construct is “if you like [famous book] then you’ll like [your book], but you’re a writer, mix it up a bit. Here’s an example from Sleeping Giants, where they use “In the tradition of…” to drop a few well-known books and authors into the description.
Emotional, gripping language – Be sure to use language that is evocative. Make readers feel something by simply reading your description, and leave them yearning for more. One strategy is to use the first few sentences from a particularly gripping scene in your book which tends to work well. However, don’t limit yourself, you can write evocative questions “Will she make it to the volcano in time?” or statements “Find out if Mike is truly her soulmate or if he has an alternate motive”, But don’t limit yourself to cliches; now is a good time to be creative.
Keywords for your genre – Different genres have different tropes that readers learn to look for. For example, in romance, HEA (happily ever after) stories are popular. If there are keywords that you know readers in your genre are going to be looking (and searching) for, be sure to include those in your description.One thing that you don’t want to do in your book description is to give away the plot. Don’t make it into a spoiler-filled trailer for your book. Instead, tease readers with just enough to make them curious.
2. Research your Categories and Keywords
Both categories and your keywords are important inputs to the algorithm and serve to help new readers discover your book when they are browsing Amazon. You set both your categories and your keywords in your Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account.
Let’s start with categories. On Amazon your categories are basically your genres, and you can only pick two for each book. When picking a category, be sure to pick the ones that most closely align with the content of your book. In Amazon’s own words:
“A browse category is the section of the Amazon site where users can find your book. Think of the browse category like the sections of a physical bookstore (fiction, history, and so on). You can select up to two browse categories for your book. Precise browse categorization helps readers find your book, so be sure to select the most appropriate categories for your book.”
Why is this important? Well, these categories are the basis for Amazon’s charts. You want the category to match the type of reader you are looking for. If you are writing a spy thriller, don’t pick romance as a category (even if there is a romantic element to your book) because readers browsing the Romance charts are not looking for spy thrillers. In order to see where your book will best fit in, peruse through the top charts for your potential categories, and see where your book would be the best fit. In the example below, we logged into our KDP account (kdp.amazon.com), selected the book we are working on (in our case a Non-Fiction Thanksgiving Cookbook), and scrolled down to the categories section. We then navigated down the categories and checked Seasonal and General under Cooking. This means that our book ranks first in those categories.
Next up: keywords. Optimizing your keywords is a fancy term for picking words you think people are going to search for. Imagine you are a reader, and you go to Amazon to find a book, what will you type in the search box? Get inside the mind of the reader and think about what words to add that will make your book easy to find. You will want to do two sets of research for keywords for your title.
First, you will want to research the main keywords that are associated with your book’s subject matter. These are the words that you will want to use in your title and on your book description page. Keywords that you use in your title will show up in the URL for your book, making it easier for your title to show up in searches for those words. In the example below, when a reader searches for Thriller, the algorithm knows that Hit for Hire is a possible result it can show the reader as Hit for Hire contains “thriller” in the URL, the title and the description.
To do this research, you can use the free functionality of KWFinder, or, if you’re running AdWords, Google’s keyword planner.
For example: Let’s say you’re writing a book on How to Make Dog Treats. When you search for related keywords, “Homemade Dog Treats” has almost 10 times the number of searches (aka Search Volume) that “How to Make Dog Treats” does. This means that you will want your title and book description to use the phrase “Homemade Dog Treats”.
Second, you will want to research the Amazon specific keywords that you will enter for your book. You get to choose just seven keywords for your title, so you want to choose them wisely. Dave Chesson over at Kindlepreneur has a fantastic step by step guide on how to research and select keywords that will allow Amazon to sell your book for you.
Amazon also has a useful resource on how to set keywords for your title, and they recommend focusing on five types of terms:
Setting – for example, “1800’s France”.
Charactertypes – for example, “single dad” or “veteran”.
Characterroles – for example, “female sleuth”
Plotthemes – for example, “coming of age” or “family saga”
Storytone – for example, “dystopian”
When your book is categorized under the correct genres and supplemented by the correct keywords, Amazon will do a better job of getting it in front of the right readers.
3. Get Reviews
We spoke above about how adding a review to your book description can help make your description more engaging to readers. More broadly, having many book reviews gives readers confidence in the quality of your work which will result in more readers purchasing your book. Book reviews are an important input to the algorithm, so this is another area where it’s worthwhile to focus. In our research, we found that the number of reviews is more important than the overall average review rating (as long as your average rating is over 3.5 stars). This means having 25 reviews with an average rating of 4.0 is better than having 5 reviews with an average rating of 5.0 stars. There are two key strategies for getting reviews for your titles:
Ask Your Readers – Do you have a mailing list? You should. If you don’t read our article about email marketing for authors. When your book comes out, email your readers and ask them to help you build reviews. Additionally, always include a link in the back of your book that asks readers to leave a review.
ARC (advance reader copy) Reviews – If you really want to make the most of reviews, try to get them before your book comes out on Amazon. How? Reach out to your most engaged readers and ask them to leave a review in return for an ARC. An ARC is a copy of the book you provide to readers BEFORE the book is actually published. This way, you are lining up reviews that can be posted to your Amazon book page on the day your book launches, and you don’t have to wait days, weeks, or even months, before gaining enough reviews to make a difference.
4. Update your Author Page
Once you have your book listing squared away with a good description, appropriate keywords, and favorable reviews, it’s time to take a look at your Author Page. Amazon gives authors the opportunity to set up a page that acts as a central location for all of their titles on Amazon. You can set up your author page through Author Central. The author page provides more valuable information to the algorithm: which readers follow your author page, which readers browse your author page, which other titles are in your catalog. On your author page you want to have:
A compelling biography – Tell your story in an engaging way. Why do you write? How long have you been at it? What is your inspiration? Do you have a pet, is it cute, and what is its name? These are all questions to which readers want to know the answer.
A professional author photo – It is worth getting professional headshots done so you can have a professional grade photo to feature around the web, It lets readers know that you take your writing, and the business of writing, seriously. Do a google search for local photographers in your area and plan on paying about $100 for a professional portrait. It may seem expensive, but it’s worth it.
All of Your Books – If you have all of your titles linked to your page, then it is much easier for readers who have found and enjoyed one of your titles, to find more!
Book Trailers or Other Promotional Videos – Amazon lets you link in all sorts of content. If you’ve paid to have a book trailer produced, be sure to feature it here.
Feed to Your Blog Posts – If you have a blog, be sure to sync it up with your author page. This way readers who discover you through Amazon can then discover your blog and all of its fun book news as they peruse your books on Amazon.
+Follow Button – If readers are “following” you on Amazon, then they get an automated alert every time you publish a new book. That’s nifty.
Social Media and Website Information – Be sure to link to your other presences around the web so that readers can follow you there as well and see what all you’re up to!
Customize your URL – Make sure that your URL has your author name in it, so that your Amazon page shows up when people search for you on the web.
5. Drive Sales and Downloads of Your Book
The final step to sell more books on Amazon is to generate the data inputs for sales, downloads, and sales rank. To achieve this you will need to market and promote your book. The goal of promoting your book is to:
Drive sales of your book – Good marketing will help drive sales / KU borrows of your book, or free downloads if your book is free. The algorithm is more likely to recommend books that are being downloaded or purchased by readers.
Make your book start showing up in also-boughts. – On every page on Amazon there is a section that says “customers who bought this also bought”. When you promote your title, your book will start showing up in this section on other book’s pages, increasing the numbers of readers who will discover your title. If you do not have enough readers browsing your page, then the algorithm won’t know which similar products to link with your book.
Make your book start showing up on the top charts – Amazon ranks the eBooks they sell according to popularity. When a title is downloaded by a large quantity of people, it will show up on the Amazon Best Seller chart. Many readers come to these charts to discover new books, so if you’re ranking here, you’ll be getting in front of plenty of new readers. Getting in front of new readers means that more people will buy your book, which means that ranking on the charts will help increase your sales rank, which is another input for the algorithm. You can wait for your book naturally to get on the Best Seller chart, but after working with thousands of authors, we’ve found concerted marketing is the best way to get on these charts.
At Written Word Media, we’re huge proponents of running price promotions. It’s one of the things we do best, and we know it works. We recommend running a price promotion and promoting your title to our large audiences of new readers. With over 600,000 readers across Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy,Red Feather Romance, and NewInBooks, running a promotion on one of our sites will be sure to get your title into the hands of readers.
It requires time and effort to optimize your Amazon presence. We understand that for authors, time not spent writing can be difficult to find. However, this is an investment worth making. Amazon is one of the most important places to sell your book, and if you follow these five steps you will have taken the first steps to sell more books on Amazon.