Authors: Pretend You’re the Customer


Try to put yourself in the shoppers’ shoes. See their perspective.

Search for your book on Amazon. (When it’s first published, the ‘Last 30 Days’ filter on the left, once you’re searching in Books—not All Departments—will help you find it with a wise choice of keywords.)

Study this page of search results. Look at the thumbnails, titles, subtitles, authors, publication dates, and review tallies. For customers browsing on Amazon, this is how they will first see your book. How does your thumbnail look among these others? Try different searches that pull up your book.

They Aren’t the Competition

Realize that these are complimentary titles, not competing titles. Only a fool would view the other titles as obstacles to selling his or her book. (Unfortunately, there are some fools out there.) Rather, these similar books are opportunities for sales. Books tend to sell together as teams much more than solos. It’s usually not the case, “Which one do I buy?” but, “Which books will I buy?” and weeks after the purchase, “Where can I get more like those?” Those Customers Also Bought lists are valuable marketing tools.

Fools who succeed in thwarting the sales of similar titles often shoot themselves in the feet because fewer sales for that team means fewer sales for each title on that team. You don’t get to pick your team; similar titles form their own teams.

Well, you do have control over the packaging. The way to get on a different team is to study a variety of books similar to yours. Look at the covers, blurbs, biographies, product pages, reviews, look insides, and sales ranks. Your packaging needs to be a good fit for your book’s content, but it can also put you on a better-selling team (however, wearing the uniform of a hot team while not having content to match will be a disaster).

What Are You Looking For?

As an author, you love your book, you’re focused on your book, and you’re focused on sales. When you shop for books, you tend to be selective and critical.

Put yourself in the mindset of the shopper:

  • Does your thumbnail appeal to you? Is it easily readable? Do the key words stand out? Do any parts of the cover bother you, even slightly? Pretend you know nothing about the book: Does the cover depict the right content?
  • Does the blurb grab your interest and engage it throughout? Do the words flow well? Does anything bother you?
  • Check out the look inside. How does the cover look on your pc monitor in this large size? Is it pixelated? Do you see any problems here that you don’t see in the thumbnail? Does the front matter, including the copyright page, look professional? (Compare with a variety of other books.) Does the beginning grab your attention? How do the words flow?
  • Also check out your photo and biography. Imagine you don’t know yourself. Do these make a good impression? Does anything bother you?
  • Consider the book as a whole. Will it meet the readers’ expectations? Will it seem like a good value? Will it please the target audience? Is it likely to produce word-of-mouth recommendations?

You should do this every few months. Sometimes you catch a few typos when you haven’t read something for a while. Sometimes your future self can be a little more objective or critical looking back at your former work.


No matter what, though, it’s still your book. While you need to look at it, and need to try your best to be objective, you can’t look at it with the same perspective as a customer.

You really need feedback from other people. Friends and family can give you some, though that won’t likely be completely objective either. However, someone may offer you some helpful suggestions or show you something useful that you hadn’t realized. Try to find people who can be objective to look at your thumbnail, cover, blurb, look inside, and product page. Have them search for your book and see how your thumbnail compares to others. Have them read a few other blurbs and compare those with yours.

Honest feedback can be quite valuable. It can also be self-contradictory. It won’t all be helpful. You’re faced with the task of determining what is worth changing and what isn’t, with the problem of being biased toward things that reinforce what you’d like to hear. However, if you hear the same thing repeatedly, you should be thinking that many customers are apt to feel the same way.

About Me

I’m Chris McMullen. I have a Ph.D. in physics, but don’t let that scare you. I love to read and write. If you just look around my blog or at the books I’ve published, you’ll see that I love to write. I’ve come to understand and appreciate the marketing aspect, too. I didn’t like it when I first started publishing, back when I naively thought marketing meant salesmanship and advertising. Now that I realize that marketing is more about branding, showing that you’re a person and not a name, and letting your target audience discover your passion—and more meaningful and subtle things like these—I’ve come to enjoy it. I hope to reveal the enjoyable and fascinating side of marketing—the parts that aren’t so obvious—to other authors. Focus on this side of marketing, and you may find yourself more motivated to do it, the process more rewarding, and hopefully better long-term results.

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

12 comments on “Authors: Pretend You’re the Customer

  1. Excellent advice and I wish more squirrels would follow this advice. It is too bad when new squirrels complain about their sales and yet put out a less than worthy product before the public. Great advice for squirrels everywhere….sorry I was looking at your card….

  2. Yup very good advice. It is the same logic why you see clumps of similar stores built together (like fast food restaurants) turns out by grouping like that it helps all the stores sales rather than having their own isolated territory. (Hmm come to think of it Malls are built around that idea entirely).

    • The challenge is to find the magical keywords relevant to your book, for which your book will actually be visible in search results, maybe not in Books, but at least in a narrow subcategory. Usually, a subcategory, keyword, and filter (like Last 30 Days, when the book is now), help narrow the results down considerably so that at least ‘you’ can find it. Time and sales can help a book become more discoverable.

      • You are so right. I have messed about with the keywords but I still haven’t managed to find the magical ones that make it instantly visible. I have learned so much this year though, that I am excited to have so much to work on next year. I am really hopeful that I can take all of that knowledge forward with me and build on it. Fingers crossed! 🙂

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