In a perfect world, each person who bought your book would review it online, building your cachet and sending your title higher in search results. Then, based on that exposure, more people would buy your book and each write reviews of their own.
Of course, it doesn’t happen that way in real life. The majority of people who read your book won’t review it. So how do you get those initial reviews that drive demand and make your book show up earlier in search results? Simple: You give away free copies in exchange for honest reviews—which occasionally means that you’ll give away a copy in exchange for a negative review. Sadly, that’s inescapable, as is the fact that no one who receives a promotional copy is obligated to write a review. Even with professional reviewers, there’s no guarantee.
The easiest way to distribute these free copies is through your blog or Twitter account. Try hosting a simple giveaway. Encourage people to enter by answering a question correctly or simply by sending you their mailing address, and then randomly select one (or several) of them to receive a copy—and don’t forget to sign it before you put it in the mail. The only downsides to this exceedingly easy method are those mentioned above: the recipients are under no obligation to write a review, and you have no control over the tone or content of that review if they do decide to write it.
Many publishers have their own book giveaway sites targeted at bloggers and reviewers. Niche publishers are especially likely to use their sites to develop relationships with reviewers interested in their authors’ work. Ask your publisher whether they have such a program; they may be able to send out promotional review copies with no work on your part. (If your publisher is Greenleaf, I can answer that question for you right now—we do use of a variety of giveaway sites, and we are currently working on a way to offer giveaway copies to consumers through our Facebook page.)
Goodreads is another great forum for giveaways, and it’s especially effective, since you’re putting your book the hands of enthusiastic readers. Amazon offers a great paid promotional review service—Amazon Vine—through which the site’s top reviewers are recruited to review your book. When one of these reviewers writes about your book, it stays at the top of the book’s Amazon page forever, giving your book some extra credibility (assuming the review is good). This is another method that can be greatly simplified by having your publisher do it for you. It does have a few setbacks, though: you are required to give away a minimum of twenty-five books as opposed to sending one out to each potential reviewer, and second, Amazon Vine reviewers choose what they want to review. To some reviewers, getting your $20 book for free may not be as enticing as getting, for example, a $250 vacuum for free.
The Internet is chock full of other means for you to get your books out to interested reviewers—explore some of them and decide which ones best suit your audience and align with your goals. And don’t sweat the occasional bad review. Fifty Shades of Grey has plenty of one-star reviews on Amazon and no love from literary critics, but E. L. James seems to be doing just fine.
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Are you using Amazon Author Central? If not, why? It’s an excellent author-friendly tool that can be used to promote your book and your platform that only takes minutes to setup. If you have more than one book, it’s a central location where an Amazon shopper can find your entire bibliography in one place. How’s that for an easy way to cross-promote your work?
Amazon Author Central allows authors to create a custom profile that customers then use to learn about the author and make purchases. The content you can place on your Author Central page includes:
- A bio—Tell readers a little bit about yourself so they'll connect with you as a person.
- Photos—Include your author photo and any other images your readers may like to see, perhaps your workspace or things that inspired your writing.
- Video—Want to get that trailer up on Amazon? Uploading it here only takes a few minutes!
- Events—Want to drive traffic to your speaking engagements and readings? Advert them here.
- Blog feed—Linking your blog to your Author Central page is just another way to grow your list of blog followers and give readers more of what they want: a connection to you as an author!
- Twitter feed—Extend your social media outreach even further by displaying your tweets on your author page.
Recently, Author Central began providing weekly sales data from Nielsen BookScan (a service that tracks sales of print books in stores across the country) for free to authors who sell their books on Amazon. You can view your sales data in a variety of ways. Amazon gives you a basic total from BookScan and shows how many units more or less you sold compared with the previous week. They also visually display your most recent four to eight weeks of sales data on a map of the United States. Alongside that display you will find a list of geographic areas from New York to Los Angeles and the number of books you sold in each.
Access to BookScan data can help you determine whether your publicity efforts are paying off, and tells you what markets you have the most demand in so you can amp up your promotion accordingly.
Finally, for those who like to keep tabs on their Amazon sales rank, the sales data tab displays a line graph of your book’s sales rank history on Amazon and tells you what your current rank is. As with all sales rankings on Amazon, the data is updated hourly.
You can also use Author Central to modify the description of your book listing on Amazon or write a message directly to your readers.
We encourage all of our authors to create an Amazon Author Central page. Even William Shakespeare has an Author Central page. It has to be cool.
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Your website offers the unique ability to sell directly to consumers. However, not everyone is comfortable providing their credit card information on an unfamiliar website. People may also wish to use a rewards membership with their favorite bookseller to buy your book. Therefore, it is wise to supply multiple purchasing options in addition to your own personal online store.
Bookstores may also check your website to see if you are supporting them by including them as a purchase option, so if you want to give your distributor its best shot at getting a corporate buy for your book, be sure to include purchase links to the corporate bookstore chains. If you want to get support from the independent bookstore community, then you'd better also link to IndieBound. Of course, there is the bookselling beast that is Amazon.com, but be careful not to irritate bookstores by linking only to Amazon. Sign up for the affiliate programs of the aforementioned retailers for easy linking options and to get yourself an extra little piece of the pie.
Here are links to the most common bookseller affiliate programs:
If you want to build strong support in your local market, you might also consider linking to specific bookstore websites in your area. The more purchase options, the more likely your website visitors are to buy!
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2007 was fun, wasn't it? Between Judith Regan, O.J. Simpson, Amazon's Kindle, the AMS bankruptcy, and James Frey vs. Oprah redux, there was plenty of shock, titillation, and Schadenfreude to go around. (We're pointedly excluding a certain boy wizard. Months later, we're still fatigued.) But bigger than any one of these stories was the industry's continued march into the brave new world of technology.
And yeah, yeah, years in review are so rampant come January, but 2007 wasn't just any year. It saw the digital world and the book world become slightly less uncomfortable bedfellows. Shelfari, LibraryThing, and GoodReads brought social networking to book lovers, e-books continued their long and arduous journey to popular consumption, and publishing in general proved itself more savvy online. That's not to say the more disturbing trends didn't continue---independent bookstores dropped like flies (although MySpace came to the rescue in a few instances) and the battle to keep book review sections in newspapers raged on as literary bloggers multiplied. Before moving into exciting, uncharted 2008 (ready for 979 ISBN prefixes?), the Big Bad Book Blog presents a brief overview of some of the more interesting developments of 2007.
- Wowio.com, an ad-supported site that offers free e-books, officially launches when it strikes a deal for one hundred of Oxford University Press's titles.
- The Last Messages, an epistolary novel for the 21st century, is published in Helsinki. It consists entirely of text messages.
- Amazon invests in Shelfari, giving the online bookshelf social site a huge boost.
- HarperCollins and Random House launch competing widgets, allowing readers to browse inside their titles from blogs and other sites. Random House now has over 600,000 widgets on 2,000 sites, according to Publishing Trends.
- Microsoft differentiates Live Book Search, its online book search program, from Google Book Search. What's the difference? We respect copyrights, Microsoft says.
- Random House starts a book club in the Second Life "metaverse."
- Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, compiles an audiobook from her popular podcast, which she proceeds to sell on iTunes. She also appears on Oprah, so this must've been important.
- Macmillian sees huge viral marketing success for Quirkology. A video clip supporting the book reached 800,000 viewers, according to Publishing News.
- The Espresso Book Machine, which prints books on-demand in a matter of minutes, is unveiled and later installed in the New York Public Library.
- Roberto Bernocco releases Compagni di Viaggo, a 384-page novel the Italian author wrote on his cell phone.
- First annual O'Reilly Tools of Change conference is held in San Jose, California.
- Simon & Schuster launch bookvideos.tv, which features interviews of over 40 authors.
- Richard Charkin, head of Macmillan in the UK, steals laptops from Google’s BEA booth, saying he’s just playing the same “trick” on them they play on authors with copyrighted work.
- Microsoft adds copyrighted material to its Live Book Search; Google offers co-branded book search to member publishers of Google Book Search.
- Penguin joins the e4book initiative, announcing plans to ask all business partners transact business completely electronically in 2008.
- Pioneering a new university publishing model, Rice University releases Images of Memorable Cases, one of the first titles in its return to publishing after a ten-year hiatus. The book is formatted digitally by Connexions, and available in a hard copy from print-on-demand company QOOP.
- Amazon finally releases the much buzzed-about Kindle, hoping to jump start the e-book market. EV-DO capable and reportedly quite functional, the device sells out in a matter of hours, although it received mixed reviews from some sources---primarily for its hefty $399 price tag. Many find it "ugly."
- Conrad Black's myriad fans are delighted when he begins using the Margaret Atwood's LongPen, a device that allows him to sign books remotely by way of a touchpad connected to an "autopen" in the store. Black was unable to promote his Nixon biography as he was confined to his Chicago home before being sentenced to six and a half years in prison for fraud and obstruction of justice.
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Amazon.com is the hands-down leader in the online bookselling marketplace. And---although it's notoriously difficult to speak with a living, breathing human being---Amazon prides itself on meeting its customers' needs. What's the easiest way to drive sales for your book on Amazon? Easy: maximize the content on your product page and optimize your chances of coming up in search results via Amazon's internal search engine.
You've heard of optimizing your website, optimizing your web presence, optimizing your blog, etc. The point of this optimization is to increase your visibility through various online search mechanisms. While self-contained, Amazon is a powerhouse search engine in its own right. Despite being a retail site, it should be treated as a search engine from an online marketing standpoint. Think about it: what's the first site you go to when searching for information on a book?
Amazon, of course. Remember that on top of its own strong brand, Amazon powers the virtual marketplace of Target.com, AOL's Shop@AOL service, and, for a short while longer, Borders.com and Waldenbooks.com---just to name a few.
To leverage Amazon's search power, a major component of your online marketing strategy should involve making your Amazon product page as informative, search-optimized, and consumer-friendly as possible. It has been our experience at Greenleaf Book Group in optimizing Amazon pages that the product's rank improves as it collects additional content. Whether search suggestions, tags, inclusion in Listmania lists, and so on have a direct effect on the sales rank formula is unclear; it's more likely that books with more detailed pages and links to the title information from outside pages simply attract more buyers. Regardless, ensure that your product page does a good job of representing your product with no detail spared.
Amazon offers many features to enhance your title listing that, when properly implemented, can increase page views and potential sales for your title. Understanding and executing these programs has been historically time-consuming work, but since Amazon is a content-driven site, the benefits are clear. The more visits you get to your book detail page, the more popular your book will become in the eyes of the Amazon internal search results algorithm. The Amazon algorithm favors the most popular items, so if two different products match a user's criteria, the more user-popular item will show up first. Our Amazon optimization work has uncovered some powerful tools for influencing Amazon search results, as outlined in very basic terms below:
A tag is most easily described as a keyword or category label that a user places on a particular product. Tags appear on book detail pages and will help users find book on Amazon within a certain category or genre. Each link increases your exposure on Amazon.
Listmania! lists are different groups of products that a person finds interesting. Each list can cover any type of category and helps other Amazon users discover your favorite products. These lists are rotated on various search result pages and on individual book pages. A popular list will appear on the product pages of all the books it mentions. The more popular the list is, the more exposure the products within your list will receive. Take the time to carefully research the other books on your list so you are more likely to appear before your target reader.
So You'd Like to . . . Guides
So You'd Like to . . . Guides are a way for you to help other customers find all the items and information they might need to discover something new about an interest or hobby. The guide includes a short, informative article targeting consumers interested in your genre and is connected to your book's detail page and to other similar bestselling books. These guides are more detailed and informative than the Listmania! lists.
Reach out to your friends and family to write reader reviews for your title. Reviews boost the exposure of your book detail page because the Amazon algorithm examines the number of reviews and the review ratings when determining exposure levels. Greenleaf Book Group makes a listing of the top-rated Amazon reviewers available to its clients. Reviews by this elite group are weighted more heavily in the system. Ask your distributor if such a list is available to you so that you can solicit these powerful tastemakers' reviews for your title.
Amazon also has a way for users to help customers find items and to provide tailored information on product pages via Search Suggestions. Like tags, this tool requires some front-end thought and research on your part. Search Suggestions can:
- Associate an item with a search phrase so the item is more likely to be shown whenever anyone searches for that phrase. This is helpful for items that may be associated with a person, genre, or theme that may not appear on its product page
- Explain the relevance of your suggestion to searching customers and have your explanation and your name appear in search results
- Add information to the product page, which is tailored to the customer's search
Amazon.com is constantly evolving. Take advantage of the features outlined above, and be on the watch for new offerings to increase your exposure (or hire an expert in the field to do this work for you). This will increase the number of eyeballs on your product's page and result in additional sales. Amazon has millions of registered users and continues to lead the pack in online books sales. And in Amazon's realm, there's no such thing as too much information.