Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales | Posted on 04-03-2013|
Amazon isn’t the only place to sell your ebooks, and I’ve had some luck with Apple and Kobo of late, but it remains the big dog in the house, and most of the questions I get in regard to book sales (as in, how do I make more of them?) center around Amazon.
Amazon has made some changes in the last year that have had an impact insofar as what works and what doesn’t for getting noticed over there. Let’s go over those first, because I still see people telling authors to do these things.
What’s not working at Amazon any more?
At the end of 2010, when I was getting started with e-publishing, people had the option to tag books with keywords at the bottom of a sales page. For example, my first Emperor’s Edge novel was tagged with fantasy, steampunk, high fantasy, and a few others. In theory, the more customers who tagged a book as, say, “steampunk” the more likely that book would turn up in an Amazon search for steampunk.
Believing this to be true, a lot of authors exchanged tags with each other (I’ll tag your book with whatever keywords you wish if you tag mine.) As you might imagine, Amazon twigged to this. My understanding is that it may have worked back in 2009 or so, but even by the end of 2010, the tags didn’t seem to mean much.
As someone who came into publishing with some Google SEO experience, I fiddled with descriptions and such to see what worked on Amazon, and putting your keyword in the book title spot seemed to count for a lot more than anything to do with tagging. (Today, that still works, but read the rest of my post before you try that, because Amazon seems to be cracking down on keywords in titles now.) As you might notice if you try to tag a book, it’s been phased out as of this writing, so it’s not even an option. Maybe Amazon knew the only people using the feature were authors.
I just did a search for steampunk in the Kindle Store, something I haven’t bothered to do for a year or more, and EE1 comes up 6th. It’s the first book in the results that doesn’t have “steampunk” stuck in the title. I don’t think it’s in the book description either (it’s really not a typical steampunk book, so I never plugged it as such on Amazon). So why does it come up? I’d guess Amazon is looking at all the content on the page (title, blurb, and reviews) to come up with a book’s keywords. In my case, it must all be coming from the reviews. Also, I believe sales rank + total reviews are taken into consideration (though not as highly as a keyword in the title as the books placed above mine don’t have a lot of reviews).
I want to point out that very few people seem to shop for books on Amazon by plugging keywords in the search box, especially when it comes to fiction, so it’s really not worth agonizing over this stuff anyway.
2. The “Post-Free KDP Select Bounce”
As you probably already know, KDP Select is a program authors can opt into at Amazon. In exchange for making their ebook exclusive to the site, Amazon will enroll it in the Prime lending library, allowing authors to make money from borrows. Authors, however, have largely been enrolling because the program allows one to make an ebook free for up to five days a quarter (author’s choice of when), thus making timed sales and giveaways practical. For the first half of 2012, authors who made their books free and advertised on external sites were able to get huge numbers of downloads (thousands, if not tens of thousands in popular genres) and, for a while, Amazon was counting those as highly as sales. When an ebook returned to its regular price, it would shoot up the sales ranking charts and start appearing in Top 100 (often Top 20) category lists all over the place, thus affording it great visibility at Amazon. This resulted in previously unknown authors getting huge (paid) sales for weeks afterward, like go out and buy a new car huge sales.
Well, Amazon wised up and started making those free downloads count for a lot less. Here’s an interview I did with fellow indie Ed Robertson (someone who tracks stats on Amazon with a passion) last year that discusses this in further depth. I caught him on a recent interview on the Self-Publishing Podcast, and it sounds like what he said last May is holding true thus far.
3. Using other authors’ names in your book description
This wasn’t as wide-spread a phenomenon as the others we’ve discussed, but every now and then you’d come across an author who wrote something like, “for fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and X, X, X authors” in their blurb. Some of these may have been innocently added, but more authors (especially those listing a chain of authors) were likely hoping that their book would come up in searches for those other authors.
I doubt this was particularly effective anyway, but authors doing this are apparently starting to receive cease-and-desist emails from Amazon. (I first saw such a letter posted on the Kindleboards, but can’t find the link to the thread now, so please let us know in the comments if this has happened to you.)
4. Using keywords in the title field
If you checked out my steampunk search when we were discussing tags in earlier, you probably saw that this still works. Most of the books that appear on the first page of the search results have “steampunk” somewhere in the title.
But I’ve again seen emails posted on the Kindleboards about Amazon cracking down on this practice. It sounds like it’s okay if the keyword is a legitimate part of your title (i.e. it’s on the cover of your book) but not if it’s an afterthought tag stuck on when you’re filling out the upload wizard. As of now, only some people have received letters, and there are still many examples of it being done in the Kindle Store, so it may just be something the quality assurance team is checking on an individual basis.
5. Easily finding big venues for advertising your free ebooks
While the KDP Select post-free bump may have been seriously downgraded, there are still perks involved in giving away a lot of free ebooks at once, especially in a Book 1 of a series (I just ran a promotion myself and have been seeing increased purchases of my Books 2-5 of late). Not only do the people who see the ad see your book, but, for a time, your book will appear at the top of the free charts, thus giving random folks browsing on Amazon more chance of running across it.
Amazon, however, recently made some changes to its affiliate program, threatening to punish (by denying affiliate income) large blogs/forums/mailing lists that move 20,000+ free ebooks in a session. Most affiliates will be unaffected by this, but for the big guys, i.e. the folks with whom we’d wish to advertise, they’re having to go back to promoting more non-free books and limit their freebie plugs. From what I’ve heard, this includes ENT, Pixel of Ink, and the Kindleboards at the least (please correct me if I’m wrong about any of these, or let me know if there are other big sites effected), meaning it’ll be harder to get advertising for your free ebook going forward. As of yet, Bookbub doesn’t seem to have changed its policies.
So what the heck IS working for gaining book visibility at Amazon right now?
Sorry, this has been a lot of gloom-and-doom stuff so far, folks. The good news is that the legitimate stuff that’s always worked (releasing good books, gradually building up a fan base, collecting readers’ email addresses for a mailing list, and promoting the next book to those loyal readers while continuing to collect new ones along the way) still works and should always work.
Everything I’ve talked about up above has really been one form of gaming the system or another. Hey, you can’t blame an author for trying, right? But in the end, it’s very hard to build a lasting career over tricks that work one day but don’t the next. You certainly wouldn’t want to quit your day job until you had that mailing list of legitimate fans built up, giving you some certainty that you’re going to sell at least X number of books each time you release a new title.
But, as far as book promotion in 2013 goes, here’s what I’ve done that’s still working and a little of what I may try going forward:
Having some work available for free and putting it out everywhere — Right now, My first EE ebook is available for free at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Apple, Sony, and Diesel. The first three EE audiobooks are free at Podiobooks and iTunes. They’re also in Audible (not free). I’ve recently started posting my fantasy novel on Wattpad in a serialized version. I vaguely remember posting free work to Scribd, Feedbooks, and other big sites that accept freebies too. The more places that people can stumble across your work the better. I’m mulling over ways to get my “brand” into app stores soon too.
Advertising where it’s effective — It’s hard to get into Pixel of Ink and ENT right now, and, as mentioned above, it could become even harder for those advertising free ebooks (I’m not above advertising a non-free one and ran a campaign for Encrypted not that long ago). Bookbub, though, is really delivering for folks right now, despite high prices in popular categories (I guess I’m lucky — or is it unlucky? — that SF/F isn’t as popular). It takes a certain number of reviews and some solid “pro” cover art to get in, but they don’t book more than a month out, so it’s easier to time promotions. When I start in on my next series (this fall, perhaps?), I’ll probably revisit Goodreads advertising too (if you check out that post, keep in mind that it’s over two years old — most of the tips should still apply but I’ll want to update it the next time I start a new campaign there).
Writing more books — This is the best marketing you can do, and it’s the thing that makes advertising and some of the other time-consuming methods of promotion more “worth it.” When you have a whole series out, or multiple series, there’s a chance that a new reader won’t just buy one book from you; they’ll buy a set, maybe even everything you’ve got. It’s also what makes it possible to make a living as an independent author. If you sell 300 copies a month of a $5 ebook, you’re making a thousand dollars. Not too shabby. Now if you have 20 books that sell 300 copies a month, you’re earning six figures a year. 300 sounds like a ton when you’re starting out, but it’s maybe a 15,000 sales ranking at Amazon right now. That means 14,999 books are selling more copies than that this month, many of them belonging to independent authors. You could be up there one day, if you’re not already.
All right, gang, I’ve rambled on for long enough, and my next book is waiting to be written. If you have any tips or want to comment on the ways of Amazon, please do so below. Thank you!