Ian Moore explains how a marketing strategy can boost self-publishing sales on Amazon – and can benefit traditionally published authors too.
If you want to make a living from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), received wisdom says that ten books equals a salary. When first I read this on an author forum, ten books seemed a tall order – but I liked the idea insofar as it implied that earning a salary was within my control. Writing ten books was something I could do.
Today, with hindsight, I can say the claim is axiomatic to the extent that you must bring other skills to bear on the task. In my case, as a professional marketer turned amateur author, you might say I was up a creek – but at least I had a paddle!
Like the eponymous river, Amazon sales begin as a trickle – for them to become a flow you need a systematic marketing plan, with Amazon at its heart. Here are my strategy and tactics described in ten essential stages.
1. Write what will sell
Think of yourself as a publishing enterprise. Ask – will your writing sell? Don’t invent a genre, write for an established audience, a commercially viable market segment. Promotional channels want to know your genre, while readers might give you three seconds to tell them your writing is for them. I tested four diverse novels for 12 months and it was the one within the best-defined genre that gained traction. (It was ‘Detective Mystery’: not what I had hoped to write!)
2. Think global
Of Amazon’s visitors, 67.5% live in the USA. Americans read for almost six hours a week (10% more than Brits) – and many of them love British writing. Most of the best promotional channels, such as BookBub, are US-oriented. KDP will automatically make your ebook available in 13 territories. My sales profile is 55% USA, 30% UK, 10% Canada/Australia, 5% rest of the world.
Kindle Unlimited borrowing is growing exponentially in India, where reside the most avid readers on the planet.
3. Set up a Goodreads author profile
Apart from being one click away from Amazon (its owner), Goodreads is an invaluable source of marketing data, reader feedback and author-generated advice.
Promotional tools include Goodreads Giveaways: for $119 you get 100 copies of your ebook sent to interested readers. About half of them will become your friends/followers, and roughly a quarter will leave ratings/reviews. You get access to their profiles, and some will communicate with you directly. Another 40 will shelve your book as ‘to read’.
4. Define your reader
This is a tenet of marketing: you need a bullseye target customer. As you begin to gain feedback, Goodreads will furnish you with this profile. Mine is Darlene from Las Vegas, 55, grown-up kids, husband in entertainment industry, hobbies quilting and pet Alsatian, chronic back problems, Anglophile, church-going, dislikes profanity/gratuitous sex/violence, voracious reader, eclectic but prefers mysteries. She reads 200 or more books a year. I know how to write for her.
5. Write the next book in the series now
The world’s most powerful book marketing tool is the fabled Amazon algorithm and it loves a series. It is free – and yet there is no marketing communication you can buy that is more effective. When you load your first ebook onto KDP, give it a series name and number. Ninety days before your second book launch, load it onto your KDP account (use the text file of your first book, nobody can see it). Make sure it’s #2 in the series! Amazon will start promoting book 2 to buyers and browsers of book 1, and to people like them. My launch day typically dawns with over 1,000 pre-orders.
6. Stay narrow
Self-published authors anguish over ‘going wide’ – distributing via Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, B&N, Google etc. My take on this ongoing debate is that the limited extra sales are not worth the significant extra effort. Amazon controls about 80% of the market. Books exclusive to Kindle Store get five free promotion days per quarter, and enrolment in Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library – ‘borrows’ which can double your income.
7. Avoid social media
Don’t waste time and energy pestering fringe audiences who are detached from the shopping experience. (I would only be tweeting if my surname were Rankin, and not for reasons of sales.) Your Goodreads profile and your Amazon author pages are the only websites you need. Why would you set up an expensive shop in the wilderness when you can have a free stall in the bustling market place? Goodreads has 75 million members who love books, and Amazon 2.6 billion visits per month.
8. Keep within three clicks of a credit card
This is the secret of Amazon’s success. Ease equals sales. Advertising legend David Ogilvy said that for every responded-to mailshot another half-dozen gathered dust on the mantelpiece, marked ‘to reply later’. Apply the same principle to your choice of promotional communications. An article in a newspaper or magazine will feed your ego but starve your wallet. Promote online, to people who are thinking about books now – and only if you can include a link to your book’s product detail page on Amazon.
9. Promote free offers
One of the most overlooked marketing principles is that you can’t change consumer behaviour by advertising (we reject messages that tell us we’re wrong). Instead you must engage in what the marketing profession calls ‘sales promotion’ – make an offer. I give away two books for every one I sell.
You can offer free ebooks at no cost via Amazon. The (mainly American) ebook promotion specialists allow you to offer books for up to 10 cents. BookBub is the big daddy of these – but they are very selective until you have proved your worth to them. I was first accepted on my 13th application. My most recent campaign in September cost $569 but I got 50,000 new triallists at 1.1 cents per potential reader. As a bonus, sales of my series (and audiobooks) spiked, and generated incremental income worth more than four times the cost of the activity.
10. Mix with advocates
You can actively build a network of friends and followers and influential contacts on Goodreads (and, increasingly, on BookBub and similar ebook discovery services). But I make a rule never to ask for a sale, and never to ask for a review. Behave like a reader and post reviews. (Share your unique perspective, you are an expert on your genre.) Tell your followers about your free offers and giveaways. Exchange your successes (and failures) on author forums.
There are over half a million authors on Amazon – but the Kindle Store exists to maximise profit by selling books, not to build authors’ careers. That said, Amazon likes authors who make selling easy. Recruit new customers for Amazon – give Amazon something these customers want to buy again, like the next book in the series every six months – and Amazon might provide you with an income that keeps your writing ambitions on course and your finances afloat.
This article was originally published in The Author, Winter 2018
About Ian Moore
As a marketer Ian Moore created award-winning campaigns for brands like Andrex, Beck’s and Cadbury’s, working and lecturing in over 40 countries. He is author of Does Your Marketing Sell? (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and, since 2013, the self-published Inspector Skelgill detective series.