Like John Snow and Sergeant Schultz before him, I know nothing about marketing a book. Anticipating the release of my first book, Gates of Fire and Ash, I developed a woefully inept marketing plan and forged ahead like Wile E. Coyote in pursuit of the elusive Road Runner. I’m here to share my experience.
Remember I know nothing, so I read what other writers had done and what the gurubloggers had to say. Pronounced Goo-Rub-Loggers, a gurublogger is an internet blogger that claims to know the answer. The answer to what you ask? Oh, I’m glad you asked. The answer to anything that gets you to generate revenue on their site. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to bloggers making money from their sites. I’m opposed to bloggers using teasers and snake-oil techniques to sell high dollar items or provide useless information in order to collect impressions and clicks for advertising fees. At any rate, I came up with the “plan.”
My plan was pretty basic:
- Have a good cover
- Prepare a catchy description
- Use social media effectively
- Obtain reviews
- Pick perfect Amazon categories & keywords
- Try Amazon Marketing Services
- Spend as little as possible
I can confidently state that Step 7 was accomplished. I’m less sure of the others.
I’m not a graphic designer, and Step 7 precluded hiring one. I cobbled together a cover with a good deal of help from my Myrddin Publishing friends. I spent $29.00 for a couple of photos and at least two dozen hours working with an old copy of Photoshop Elements that had come bundled with a long gone printer.
Did I get a good cover? I don’t know, but it was good enough.
It is harder than you might think to write a book description. It’s supposed to encourage people to click Add-to-Cart using just a sentence or two. Lines that capture one person’s fancy may be a complete turn-off to another. The truth of this became clear when I asked for feedback from writers and non-writers. In the end, I went with the majority vote because I agreed with it.
Social media will make your book the key that unlocks the door to success. I’m not so sure about that, but many gurubloggers seem to believe it and are willing to share their hard-won knowledge for a free pamphlet and a paid subscription. My social media effort was limited to making a few posts on Facebook letting folks know that the book was coming and announcing its launch on Amazon. What about Twitter and the other sites, you might ask. I don’t know a Twit from a Ter and even less about the others. I didn’t have the energy to find out. Oh, I unintentionally “boosted” one of my launch adverts on Facebook. It cost me $7.00. I probably could have gotten a refund but decided it was a cheap lesson look before I click.
Reviews are the lifeblood of successful independent authors. Get as many reviews as possible and as quickly as possible is the mantra. If you succeed, the magicians at Amazon will brew a potion in their algorithmic cauldron that brings readers to the altar of your product page. So, I solicited people to read an advance review copy (ARC) of the book hoping to get reviews. I sent out emails to my friends (some are now former friends) offering a free copy in return for an honest review. I also made the offer on Facebook as part of my clever social media marketing plan. I received ten acceptances to be an ARC reader. Five of them posted a review on Amazon. They averaged 4.5 stars, though. Oh, well. I tried.
Amazon Categories & Keywords
Categories and keywords are supposed to make it easier for readers to find my book by browsing. Think of it like the sections of a physical bookstore says Amazon. Excuse me, a monitor and mouse have nothing in common with a physical bookstore. I don’t believe readers browse in the physical sense. They can’t, there are too many books, 1.8 million titles by one account. Still, I played the game.
Amazon’s help screen: Selecting Browse Categories, includes this quote, “During title setup, you’ll select a BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) code. The codes you choose, along with your selected keywords, are used to place your book into certain categories, or browse paths, on Amazon.” I didn’t actually select a code number. Instead, I picked from an outline of options. For example 1. Juvenile Fiction > Action & Adventure > General, or 2. Fiction > Science Fiction > Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic. I need to mention that none of my options seemed to fit my book.
Keywords are different. I created them thinking they’d be a good way to help readers find my book. I’m not so sure now. They may be more import as a way to narrow the books I’ll be compared against for sale rank purposes. My story intentionally excludes magic as a plot element, but it involves a quest to find a cure for a disease. I used quest as one of my seven keywords. Amazon included my book in a Sword & Sorcery subcategory as shown here, (2241 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery). It turns out that using the keyword quest triggered the classification. I’ll be changing that soon.
Amazon Marketing Services
Amazon receives a piece of the action from the sale of each book. I have no problem with it because I can publish a book on Amazon without spending one dollar. Zon even offers me free tools to help.
Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) is one of the few ways it can get extra moola from me. Remember I know nothing, but I wanted to try AMS to boost the visibility of my book. AMS offers two types of advertising: Product Display and Sponsored Products. In a nutshell, Display ads appear on a competitors Amazon sale page.
Sponsored ads appear in search results.
I tried Product Display first. The $100 minimum budget scared the hell out of me, but I was feeling confident and went for it. Twelve days later, I terminated the ad. The AMS report showed that my ad had been displayed 17 times. Each display being an “Impression” on the Big A reports. Sadly, no one checked-out my book by clicking or tapping on my ad. Clicking or tapping is reported as a “Click”—clever. The cost to me was $0.00 because I only had to pay for clicks, not for impressions.
Unimpressed with Product Displays, I tried Sponsored Products next. Sponsored ads let me pick search words that AMS calls keywords. Why did Amazon choose to use keyword for two distinct purposes? Seriously, if you know, please tell me. But, I digress.
If a reader used one of my AMS keywords to search for a book, my ad might appear to them (an impression), and if they clicked on my ad I’d be billed for it; a daily budget limited my risk.
I played with the system because I know nothing. Initially (2/26/18), I let Amazon pick my search terms. It chose 35 terms and over 12 days generated 792 impressions and 24 clicks. Amazon’s report (see below) implies that the ad generated $8.99 in sales at the cost of $3.89 for a healthy 43% cost of sale percentage.
In truth, the $8.99 was for the purchase of a paperback by a personal friend and had nothing to do with my ad. I made three more attempts using search words generated by KDPRocket. KDPRocket analyzes Amazon data to find terms that buyers have used in the past. In theory, I could do it myself, but it would take many hours, if not days, to find as many terms as KDPRocket can in minutes. At $97.00 it’s not a cheap program, but it saved me many hours.
Each of my attempts used at least 250 search terms but was generated with different beginning criteria. As I hope you can tell from the table, I didn’t sell enough books to pay for KDPRocket. However, about 200,000 prospects saw my ad. Marketing is about building brand awareness more than generating current sales according to my Marketing Professor who is probably dead by now.
Spend as little as possible
Excluding KDPRoceket, I’ve spent less than $50.00 so far to create and market my book. Am I happy? No. But, I’m not unhappy either. I’m experimenting and haven’t finished yet. I see KDPRocket as an investment more than an expense and can use it for future projects that may be more profitable. Actually, profit isn’t my motive. I hope readers will enjoy my writing, but they must find it to do that, which is why I’m making an effort to advertise.
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Copyright by David P. Cantrell 2018