By Tom Carter (Written exclusively for the California Writers Club Berkeley Branch)
Independently-published and POD authors have come to rely on a number of free online marketing tools to generate exposure and, in turn, sales of our books. Chief amongst such tools is blogging. Blogs are indisputable in terms of attracting potential customers to your book. I needn’t extol the virtues of blogging because, really, it’s obvious: every indie author should own a blog and be posting at least once daily. Kind of like how children ought to drink milk every day so that they grow up strong, consistent blogging is a requisite to your book’s success.
Perhaps some of you reading this have personal reasons for not updating your blog on a daily bases, such as time constraints or writer’s block, yet you still want to promote your book. If so, keep reading, because I am in a similar position.
I myself am unable to maintain a blog for two pretty darn good excuses. 1) I am a travel photographer and am often on the road, and 2) I have been based out of China for over 5 years, where blogs are, for all intents and purposes, illegal and blocked by the Great Firewall of China.
As the author of a new book that will debut in America this summer, I have been using my downtime to generate online interest and exposure for my book. I do not have an agent to help me attract publicity, nor has one penny been spent on marketing for my book; I am left completely alone to discover and utilize those free online tools that I still have access to.
The list of these promotional devices is endless, and have already been covered at length by no small number of SEO (search engine optimization) experts. Some of these tools work wonders, some require substantial financial or time investments and the rest are duds. What’s an indie author to do, then, if we want to sell books to people other than our family members and neighbors?
I certainly do not have the answer lest I write a whole book about it and get rich. However I do have a few newfound secrets to personally share with members of the California Writers Club Berkeley Branch – secrets that were right in front of me the whole time I was trying to figure out how to promote my book’s Amazon product page.
You see, for the past few months I have become slightly obsessed with creating Listmania lists on Amazon. The exposure Listmania provides each book on a list is invaluable. I didn’t know this at first; I was just making lists of my favorite books for fun. But after I saw how often my lists started popping up all over Amazon, and how my book was now appearing under “suggested reading” on other books’ product pages, I realized that Listmania was an untapped goldmine of free and effective book promotion.
Creating a list is not as simple or trivial as throwing a bunch of books together. Your list needs to be OPTIMIZED, and correctly at that; this is what I will be showing you how to do. Additionally, Amazon’s promotional tools are not limited to “lists.” They also include “tagging”, “voting”, “communities,” “images” and “Author Central”, each which I will explain in more detail.
By using Amazon’s free promotional tools in conjunction with daily blogging, I have no doubt of the possibility that your book will rise in sales rank. But even if you only have time to create a few lists, your book’s product page will, at the very least, begin to see increased traffic.
Next, I will introduce you to the wonderful world of “Listmania.”
Amazon’s “Listmania lists”
Listmania lists on Amazon were originally intended as an interactive tool for fans to tell other Amazon shoppers about their favorite books, movies, products, etc. But as I have discovered, lists can also be a great device for new authors to promote their own books. Lists appear at the side of Amazon’s search results, at the bottom of every product page, in Amazon’s customer communities (more on those later) and customer profiles (also later). Additionally, Listmania lists very often appear at the very top of Google’s search results for the categories it is listed under. This equates to massive (and totally free!) exposure for any book on a list.
Let’s make your first Lismania list:
1) Spend some time browsing Amazon, making note of 40 of your favorite books that are in the SAME genre as your own book. Use one of my lists as an example:
Many if not all of these books on my list are my book’s commercial competition. Why would I help my competitors get free exposure? Because I calculated it was better for me to take the lead in grouping our genre together and including my book in the bunch, than for someone else to make a similar list, but without my book. Plus, I actually like most of these books and don’t begrudge any of them their success.
2) As I either already own or am familiar with most of these books, it wasn’t hard for me to write a 200 character synopsis for each. You don’t HAVE to write anything for your lists, but your list will get more votes if it’s useful to other customers, so I urge you to write something. You will also have to think up a catchy title and list introduction.
3) To set up your own list, go here http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/listmania/toplists and click “Create Your Own List” at the top right corner. You MUST have an active Amazon account (meaning a registered credit card) to make lists, write reviews, etc.on Amazon. Type each of your 40 favorite books’ titles or ISBN numbers into the box. Write a synopsis and then click “Add another” until you are done. Be sure to include your own book somewhere in the list if you want to reap the benefits.
Should you want to change the order of the books, it’s easy to do with the arrows. 40 is the maximum items allowed per list. I don’t suggest making a list with under 20 items as it may get voted down by other members. Moreover, a list’s strength is multiplied by however many items appear on it. 40 items gets your list in 40 different search results. It’s simple math.
4) Press the “Publish” button and there you have your completed list. Congratulations. You will now see some “tag” categories. Click the relevant ones, or add your own unique tags. You get 15 total tags, and I highly suggest you use them all, as each tag is directly linked to Amazon’s customer communities (more on “tags” and “communities” in the following posts).
5) Herein is the most important point of making a Listmania list: VOTES! Your list will only be as popular as the number of votes on it. Lists with more votes are ranked higher by Amazon’s algorithms and will appear above other lists with less votes. Of course you want people to find your list, so go get votes! I’d say that even with 1,000 views, the average number of actual votes a list will see in its lifespan is less than 20. Not too many people go through the trouble of voting. That is why you should take advantage of getting votes from your friends at the California Writers Club Berkeley Branch book club. How to vote? Easy, though many people tend to overlook it:
List voting instructions:
At the top right of any list it says this:
Last updated: (date)
Read: X times
Rated: X out of X helpful
Rate it! Do you find this list helpful?
YES or NO
Obviously you will want to click YES. Then you will get a message that says: “Thank you for your feedback.”
HOWEVER – and this is important – leave the page OPEN for several minutes AFTER you vote so that your vote “sticks”!!! Then refresh the page to see that the “Rated” # has increased with your vote. Amazon doesn’t like voting and running, and lots of times your vote will disappear if you leave the page immediately after voting.
6) You also might want to promote your list by linking it to your blog, and to social bookmarking sites like http://digg.com/, http://www.reddit.com/, http://buzz.yahoo.com/ and http://www.propeller.com/. There are hundreds more (I use about 30 each time I make a new list), but those are the main ones that will help get your lists increased traffic, and also ensure it gets onto Google.
7) For any of you who are still skeptical of the significant effects of list building, let me show you something profound on my Amazon profile:
Click on the list that says:
“Breakout Books by Independently-Published Authors : A list of 40 items”
This is a list I recently made of books by fellow indie authors I have befriended on various internet forums. I compiled their works, then asked each of them to vote on the list, and also get others to vote on it as well. In just a few days this list has received almost 100 votes!!! and is now one of the highest rated lists on all of Amazon. This is a remarkable feat for a bunch of heretofore unknown POD books.
As such, every book on this list is presently receiving maximum exposure on Amazon. I can’t promise this exposure will translate into actual sales, but at the very least, now Amazon customers will know about these books. So I suggest anybody reading this go make a single list with books from all the authors at the California Writers Club Berkeley Branch book club and have everyone vote on it.
That’s it for Listmania. Wasn’t that easy?
Now for Amazon “tagging”
This post we will cover why “tagging” is also critical to your book’s success on Amazon.
Trade books released by big publishers have tens of thousands of dollars (minimum) behind them in promotions and advertising. Those books are instantly reviewed by Publishers Weekly and The New York Times and thusly have no need for further “grassroots” promotion by the authors themselves.
I am assuming that if you are reading this, you are an author without a “Big 6” publishing house marketing your book for you, and thusly will appreciate the tools that Amazon has graciously made available to us to give us a fighting chance against best sellers. Tagging is another such advantage.
Tags are like individual search categories that Amazon places a book into. Tags used to have a higher importance on Amazon than they do these days, but they are still quite valuable to books that do not have a high sales rank or many customer reviews. Why? Because the more tags a book has, the higher ranked it is by Amazon’s search algorithms. Moreover, tags link directly with Amazon “customer communities” (more on “communities” later). The book with the highest number of tags in that community gets placed at the top of the community. Also, Amazon tags are utilized by Google for their search results, which help get your book found online. And equally cool, your book will also start showing up under “suggested reading” on other book’s product pages.
1) Use my book as an example of successful tagging:
Scroll halfway down the page till you see:
“Tags Customers Associate with This Product”
The second tag is “Chinese Culture” (presently 119 votes).
Click on “Chinese Culture,” and it will take you to the “Chinese Culture” customer community. You can see four books: #s 1, 3 and 4 are written by Lisa See, a best-selling authoress. But who is #2? Lil’ ol’ me, ranked along side the famous Lisa See, how cool is that? And if I can get 35 more votes, I’ll be first! How to vote? How to get YOUR book tagged? Keep reading:
2) Go back to my book’s product page. You will see the first 10 tags. However each customer is allowed to “vote” a total of 15 tags per product. Check the little box next to 15 of them and that’s that. Now go to YOUR book’s page and add 15 tags that best fit its story and genre. Be sure to add a mixture of popular tags (like “Fiction” or “Romance”) with less-popular ones, like your name “Susan Smith” or something unique about your book, like “Purple Dogs”. Your original 15 tags can be deleted/changed by you at any time by simply by un-clicking the check mark.
3) If you want hundreds of votes on your book’s tags, you will have to start trading tags with other authors. It IS time consuming, but 10 minutes of voting per day for a month should get you a decent amount. Where will you find these kindly fellow authors, you now ask?
In addition to swapping tags with other authors at the California Writers Club Berkeley Branch book club, there are a number of “tag exchange” blogs and forums online. Some of them have become too large for their own good, such as:
which is free and includes a great deal of helpful info about tagging. It wouldn’t hurt to submit your book to them, though honestly I am just not seeing much reciprocation there anymore.
I personally prefer:
which are where I have received 95% of my tags.
4) The key to successful tagging is RECIPROCATION! If you add your book to an online forum of books to be tagged, you really need to play fair and tag all those other books. It can be over a period of weeks, but if those authors aren’t getting their tags, then they will complain and you will be outted as a freeloader. So be sure to tag back.
Tagging is quite simple, it just takes time to build them up. But once you do, it will increase your book’s exposure across Amazon by however many tags you have received, so don’t ignore this tool. And every time you get a customer review on Amazon, be sure to remind that customer to also “tag” your book (a prompt will show up after they submit their review). Most customers tend to ignore tags, which is why they are all the more valuable for indie authors like us.
Next post, I will explain in further detail the advantages of Amazon’s “customer communities.”
Amazon’s “customer communities”
We just learned about tagging, and if you remember, tags are directly linked to customer communities for each of those tag categories.
Let’s go back to the “Chinese Culture” customer community:
What the heck are we supposed to do here, you are wondering? Well for starters:
1) Communities are places to have discussions about any topic you want, though in my opinion most people don’t participate in Amazon discussions (except in places like the “photography” community where customers need actual technical advice for shopping). Still, any discussion you start from your book’s product page will be linked to a customer community, thereby giving your book added exposure. So, if you wanted, you could start a discussion for your book, e.g. “What’s the significance of Jane’s green shirt in Chapter 4, and how does that symbolism convey the author’s blahblahblah…”
2) You can also upload images of your book (or yourself or your pet cat or your sister’s new baby) onto a specific community. This helps ever so slightly in getting exposure for your book. Take a look at my images so you can see how I optimized them:
I have 4 images now, each one linked to a DIFFERENT customer community. Furthermore, I can write a description of each photo and link a product(s) to the photo (put your mouse cursor over the image to see the “product box”). This product box inextricably links my book even deeper into the Amazon algorithm, and as algorithms are all relative, every little bit counts towards something greater. You will also notice at the top right corner that customers can vote on each image. Once my book goes live on Amazon (debuts August 2010) I will upload images from the book directly onto the book’s product page.
3) And finally, you will want to fix up your Amazon profile page. Check out mine:
I’ve got a picture of my book, I’ve got a link to my official homepage, I’ve linked my book to a “wish list” and “favorites” category (at the bottom of the page). It’s all designed to generate max exposure for my book, just in the off chance that a customer stumbles upon my profile. Also note how I have a “real name” badge below my user id to authentic my profile. You can get that badge by pressing “edit my profile” and then “edit my name”.
Amazon’s “Author Central”
This topic should be obvious, but I am surprised how many indie authors neglect their author profiles on Amazon. Author Central is different than your Amazon customer profile. Author Central appears directly on your product page and gives you a chance to blog, mention in-store appearances, and upload a book trailer video. Maintaining your Author Central profile is vital to your book’s Amazon product page.
Check out my Author Central by starting at my product page:
Scroll down the page till you see my mug shot. Above it says “More About the Author.” Click.
Here we have the bio of Tom Carter, an enlarged picture and a one-book bibliography. Scroll down and you’ll see my video and my blog.
1) Blog: Amazon only allows 3 posts at a time. Older posts vanish forever when you update. You can either link your own blog’s RSS feed here, or write entirely new original blog posts. I am not much of a blogger, so what I did was reposted 3 of my favorite previously-published travel articles, which gives the viewer a general idea of what me and my book are about, along with embedded links to my homepage, etc. I’m going to leave these 3 posts here permanently. But if you already have a blog, simply link your RSS feed to your Author Central blog so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. An RSS feed will update your blog automatically for you.
2) Video: you can create your own book trailer using Windows Movie Maker (comes on all computers). My book is photo-intense, so naturally I used a collage of photos and mixed in some snappy Chinese pop music. My video is also on YouTube:
I highly suggest you make a book trailer for your novel, upload it onto YouTube and also Amazon Central. If it’s too technical and complicated for you, there are services that can help; Google search “book trailer” or ask a fellow California Writers Club Berkeley Branch book club author for assistance.
3) How to set up your Amazon Author Central profile? Easy breezy. Go to https://authorcentral.amazon.com/ and follow the prompt. It will take about a week for them to set it up, so get started today. After that, they outline clear instructions on how to upload a video, blog, photo, etc.
Amazon.com has become more than just a place to buy and sell stuff; they are emerging as an increasingly powerful player in the publishing industry, and there are even rumors that they may buy out one of the “Big 6” publishing pillars. They are involved with POD via CreateSpace and AmazonEncore, and their Kindle product is revolutionizing ebooks. Amazon.com is here to stay, so why not take advantage of the promotional tools they have provided us?
There is no guarantee that any of this will generate into actual sales, but I for one am convinced that a combination of active blogging + Amazon’s promotional tools will maximize your book’s exposure online.
I would appreciate hearing your comments or questions about anything I have written here. I’m learning as I go, just like you, so your feedback and advice are important.
Tom Carter, a San Francisco City native, is not an SEO expert nor is he selling any kind of how-to service. He is just an indie author trying to publicize his new photo book using the free promotional tools available to him online, and he felt compelled to share some of his new-found marketing secrets with his fellow Bay Area authors at the California Writers Club Berkeley Branch.
Filed under: Marketing Published Books | Tagged: Amazon communities, Amazon images, Amazon promotional tools, Amazon tagging, Amazon voting, Amazon's Author Central, Amazon's Listmania Lists, blogging | 13 Comments »