A little while back it became vogue-ish for authors to gain exposure for self-published books by gaming the Amazon Bestsellers list. As I’m about to show you, however, that’s a short-sighted way to market your book and build your brand.
A better approach to getting eyes on your title is to build your own fan base from scratch. Sounds daunting but with the use of technology and social media it’s completely within reach for anyone who puts some hustle into the game.
I’ll explain that in a bit, but first you may be wondering what’s wrong with the Amazon Bestsellers List hack so many authors are so fond of using?
The Amazon Bestsellers List: how it works.
Through various tricks and a carefully-planned strategy, authors are able to make it onto the hot list compiled by Amazon showing visitors what’s trending in any given category.
Authors have been known to hack the Amazon Best Sellers by timing a book launch so that all sales occur on the same day, and through Amazon. Since the Best Sellers list is a list of what’s selling in the past hour, and it’s computed every hour, timing is everything.
Allowing customers to pre-order a book, then fulfilling the orders on the big launch day is one way authors have gamed the list. All it takes is enough sales to get your book on the list for a while and exposure should increase dramatically (whether that leads to actual sales is the question). Note that it helps to have lots of good reviews too, but they don’t affect your position on the Best Sellers list.
Since ranking depends on the number of sales relative to other products in your category, ranking on smaller lists is easier. Another way to sneak onto the list is choosing a small niche for your book category rather than something immense like “contemporary romance”.
But is getting your book on the list really that valuable?
What’s wrong: consider how people shop on Amazon.
Nobody visits Amazon searching for your book unless they’ve heard of it through word of mouth or as the result digital marketing. In fact, here are some interesting stats about how people decide to buy books on Amazon*:
- Almost half of book choices are from planned search by author or topic, meaning consumers found out about an author or book elsewhere and come to Amazon to make the purchase
- Hardly anyone browses categories to make purchases
- Best Seller lists only influence 17% of book purchases
So, winning with this strategy means you may see a temporary spike in sales while your book is on the Best Sellers list. But unless you can keep your book on that list consistently over time, it’s a short-sighted strategy and you may want to consider something more lasting.
Plus, even the spike won’t be as significant as most people think (see stats above). What really drives sales is building your own fan base.
Adopt an organic, long-term strategy for growth instead.
If you want to self-publish (and self-market) your book, there are three main marketing avenues: your own website, reader clearinghouses (book blogs, for example) and Amazon.
As you now know, Amazon is huge and it’s tough to get noticed, plus gaming the Best Sellers list only goes so far. In fact, Amazon doesn’t really provide marketing options that work for most authors.
Reader clearinghouses like fan sites and other club-style reader forums & blogs are good but like Amazon, they only go so far. If you do become a hit on fan and reader club websites, it’s always crucial to be able to direct your fans somewhere you control.
Ultimately what you want is to be in control. That means direct access to your fans and only your own website gives you that.
After all, wouldn’t you like to be able to email your fans about new releases, promotions, or future plans? Don’t you want to engage them? It’s a sure-fire way to cultivate a nice following and increase sales of future books.
You’ll need to capture email addresses to do that, and the only way to do that is to have your own website.
Your website should be the center of your publishing world.
An author site also serves as your home base for marketing, offering fans a way to get to know you in depth far beyond what’s possible on the Amazon Authors page. Besides, you have no control over your Author page on Amazon or any other website…you don’t own it. You could put all your effort into marketing on Amazon and it could disappear (not likely but possible).
Combine your website with a thoughtful and consistent presence on social media and now you’re really cooking at marketing. Same word of advice here though: you don’t own your social media content so always direct everything back to your website where you are in control, and where you can collect email addresses for future direct interaction with your fans.
Fifty Shades of Grey got big without using Amazon trickery.
Let’s face it; we can’t all be E.L. James, author of 50 Shades of Grey. Her self-published book became a hit and then a hit movie after she published it as a sleepy little e-book through a small Australian virtual publisher. Her book had enjoyed immense popularity through a Twilight fan fiction website, which encouraged her to seek a publisher.
Her publisher was so small they relied on word of mouth from book blogs and Goodreads reviews in the early days. Notice there’s no Amazon list-tweaking involved. Her writing was good enough to allow for a fan base to build organically, no tricks or algorithm-gaming necessary.
Organic, sustainable, and controlled by YOU.
Although we can’t all be E.L. James, we can follow her example and if your work is truly worthy, you have a shot at some success. Build your fan base through means controlled by you, and keep those fans for as long as you’re actively engaging them. It’s a long-term strategy for solid growth rather than the quick rush of temporary sales you may or may not get by tweaking your position on the Amazon Best Sellers list.
Sustainability and engagement- those are your goals and having your own website driven by active social media accounts is the way to achieve them.
*Source: Charman-Anderson, Suw. “Half of Amazon Book Sales are Planned Purchases”. Forbes. Retrieved 2/22/2016 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2013/02/20/half-of-amazon-book-sales-are-planned-purchases/#798263262bdf
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