ORGANIC BOOK MARKETING
I take a long-term approach to book marketing.
My goal is to generate periodic sales over the course of several years.
I’m more interested in how well the book sells years after its release than how well it says when it makes its debut.
Granted, a book often gets its best traffic in the beginning, so anything you might do to improve that could be a significant boost.
But if you can get the book to sell consistently for years instead of tailing off, time can provide a huge boost of its own.
That’s the potential of organic book marketing, if you can pull it off effectively.
Organic book marketing also doesn’t tend to be depend as strongly on the latest marketing trends.
There are some fundamental marketing strategies that work long-term even in a dynamic market, whereas short-term strategies tend to be trendy.
We’ll consider several aspects of book marketing, and what it might mean to be organic.
As a customer shopping for products at Amazon, if you read customer reviews, would you prefer to read organic reviews? I would.
What makes a review organic?
It can’t get any more organic than this:
- A customer discovers a book.
- The customer takes the initiative to review the book.
- The customer leaves genuine feedback for the book.
Amazon considers a review to be more organic when the customer discovers the book on Amazon.com and the review shows the Verified Purchase label. Amazon’s new machine-learning algorithm, which determines which reviews get more exposure, favors a Verified Purchase.
The machine-learning algorithm looks at more than just whether or not the review is Verified. For example, it also looks at Yes vs. No votes. There are multiple factors. In general, most of these factors favor organic reviews.
Obviously, when a customer discovers a book in a bookstore, reads the book, and leaves a review on Amazon, it’s just as organic. Although it won’t have that Verified Purchase tag, potential customers will see an honest opinion to help them with their purchases.
Even if the customer discovers the book because the author employed effective interpersonal marketing skills, it’s still an organic review if the customer leaves unbiased feedback. In fact, customers are more likely to review a book having interacted with the author.
The problem, of course, is that customer book reviews often come at a very slow rate. It can take 100 to 200 sales, on average, to get a single review. (These numbers may vary considerably, depending on subgenre, for example.) And if the book is selling one copy every few days, that may very well seem like never.
And some book promotion sites, like BookBub, require a minimum number of reviews.
Thus, authors are tempted to look for less organic methods of seeking reviews.
Most customers think they can tell, to some extent, organic reviews from inorganic ones:
- Suppose a book has a sales rank of 1,000,000, was released 30 days ago, and already has 20 reviews. It may seem suspicious.
- Organic reviews tend to show a degree of balanced opinions, and a few tend to be off-the-wall. There is a certain variety of opinions and the expression of them typical of Amazon.
- Checking out what else the reviewer has reviewed can also seem to tell a tale.
Amazon’s SEO can probably tell organic reviews from inorganic ones, to some extent. (Even if it doesn’t do this well now, it probably will in the future.)
If you can find effective ways to generate more sales, that will help to generate more organic reviews.
And then there is always review karma. This philosophy is to post reviews of books you have read, and hope that the universe returns the favor.
But that’s different from swapping reviews with fellow authors, which is not organic (and Amazon may choose not to support).
The idea behind content marketing is to post valuable content for your target audience on a blog, website, or social media.
Organic content of high quality can generate significant traffic long-term, and is less susceptible to the latest trends in SEO.
In fact, SEO trends tend to adapt toward identifying organic content and eventually penalizing any SEO tactics that aim to “fool” search engines.
Also, organic content is more likely to please its target audience, and result in organic followers.
And no followers are better than organic followers.
An organic follower is someone who discovers your content, enjoys it or finds it helpful, follows you, and is actively aware of your future articles over a long period of time.
My free WordPress blog just passed 300,000 views. It generates about 1000 views per day, presently, with most of the visitors discovering articles through search engines. And if you look around, you can find many other sites far more successful than mine.
It takes months to make content marketing work, but if you deliver valuable content to your target audience, there is much potential to get 100+ strangers to organically discover your site every day.
This is what organic book marketing is all about.
When several people you have never met advocate your book on your behalf, organic book marketing can pay big long-term dividends.
But while it can be the best kind of marketing a book can get, it’s extremely hard to generate.
To get valuable word-of-mouth sales, referrals, and recommendations, you have to approach book marketing backwards.
Short-term book marketing says you need a great cover, then you need a blurb that hooks, then a Look Inside that compels the customer to buy the book, and last on the list is the actual content.
Organic book marketing says that the most important part of the book is the content, and everything else revolves around this.
Fiction authors need storytelling talent. Nonfiction authors need compelling information.
All authors need to write in a way that pleases readers.
And the book needs to be well-edited and formatted in order to be worthy of a recommendation. But the content is still foremost.
True, nobody will enjoy the book unless they first discover it, so the Look Inside, blurb, and cover figure into this.
But the approach is to first develop compelling content that will pay long-term dividends, and then build the packaging around that.
Organic book marketing also tends to be favored by Amazon SEO.
For example, many customers search for books by typing keywords into the search field at Amazon.com.
There are several factors involved in determining the order of search results.
Some of these factors specifically favor organic book marketing.
For example, when customers search for books by keyword, click on your book, and then purchase your book, that organic sale establishes relevance for your book with that keyword.
The more organic sales you generate through keyword searches, the more exposure your book gains this way.
That’s why it’s so important to research (by that, I mean type a variety of keywords into Amazon, to see not only what’s popular, but where you have a chance of standing out among the crowd) which keywords have the best potential to give your unique book exposure.
If your keywords also appear organically in the title, subtitle, and book description (especially in bullet points)–though repetition may not help (other than the keyword from your keyword list matching a keyword in your description)–this may help your book compete in keyword searches (but remember, there are other factors too).
A keyword dump in your title or description will backfire. That’s not organic at all, and customers see that something is fishy. If you want to sell books, your title and subtitle need to make sense, and the description needs to read well and hook the reader without giving the story away.
Amazon wants to have satisfied customers. Amazon’s algorithm can tell such things as:
- How well does this book sell when a customer discovers it for the first time on Amazon?
- How satisfied are the customers who buy this book?
- How many customers who buy this book go onto buy more books like this one?
- Maybe it can even differentiate among customers, i.e. which kinds of buying history appears to be a better fit for a given book.
When a customer is searching for a book on Amazon, obviously Amazon would prefer to show customers books that perform well in these areas.
For this, you want to have a good conversion rate, which means the cover > blurb > Look Inside need to correlate well and be quite compelling, but you also need good customer satisfaction, but delivering exceptional content.
An organic approach to book marketing oriented around these points can pay significant long-term dividends.
WHAT WRITERS REALLY WANT
Many authors say things like: “I’d rather spend my time writing than marketing.”
Organic book marketing places more emphasis on the writing.
For marketing, there are ways to go about it that appeal to writers, like preparing content-rich articles relating to the topic of your book or writing content-rich emails for a newsletter (which allows you to send an announcement for your next book when it comes out).
Much of organic book marketing consists of writing your next book and writing content for your site or email newsletter.
Not 100%, though. You also want to widen your marketing net. But you can devote a little time each week to this, while still putting most of your time into writing.
You also need to do a little personal marketing, especially in the beginning, as that personal touch can go a long way toward getting the ball rolling in the beginning.
Organic book marketing can start out very slow, with no guarantee that it will ever pick up.
If sales do start out very slow, it takes strong faith in your writing to keep believing that the content is compelling enough to pay off several months down the road, if only you can weather the storm, keep writing, and drive enough initial sales to eventually get there.
But this approach does let writers focus on what they love to do most: write!
Write happy, be happy. 🙂
Copyright © 2016
Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers
Click here to view my Goodreads author page.
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Chris – your reblog button isn’t working for me again 😦
I have no idea why that happens. But it’s the thought that counts. 🙂
Did a linking post instead Chris 👍
Thank you, Chris. Works just as well. 🙂
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Reblog button not working for me either! Great article though. Any advice on being organic but still doing something to draw attention to yourself (besides the waiting game of being discovered)?
That depends on your goals. One could do premarketing, trying to grow a fan base before you publish, emphasizing areas likely to attract readers looking for quality organic content. Like describing, or better yet, showing specific details where you go the extra mile to perfect the storytelling or develop characters.
In the beginning, personal interactions can help a new author create initial interest, or going back, really involving beta readers (especially organic) has potential to get you a spokesperson, someone you don’t know is helping build buzz for you (cross our fingers that they don’t oversell, creating unrealistic expectations).
And writers tend to be creative with their keyboards. They can be creative with their marketing, to peak their own interest in doing some of it, and the creativity might attract a little interest. Let the passion show, and readers might follow that passion. Good luck. 🙂
I like your ideas about showing specific examples of what I’m doing with my writing – I’ve been “kind of” doing something similar, but perhaps not to a big enough extent. I’m getting to the point where I want to start being able to create excitement for my book, but I absolutely hate binge-advertising on Twitter and the like, so I’m trying to this the right way. Really, I probably need to do more research on how exactly this is all done… but so far, I just keep blogging and being as real as I can as myself. I don’t feel like I’m very creative with marketing ideas, but maybe that’ll change when I get into it and understand more of what I’m doing.
Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions!
Dear Chris: You made me happy today, when I have been sad. You said it takes 100-200 sales, typically, to get a review. I just got my 11th (which feels like a tiny number) after being out for three months – and maybe 100 sales, if that many (in my first year, PC earned 25 dollars and change).
I take the long view, too, but have gotten sort of discouraged at the pace – when you drop down into the millions in rank, how is anyone going to find you?
Don’t disabuse me if I’ve gotten the statistics wrong (they may not apply to launches) – let me be happy. And grateful to you.
I think your blog, and how much you show commitment and expertise in the writing, would help you with your review ratio, and apparently it does.
Books in the millions do get views, but the conversion rate can go down. Unfortunately, there is a customer bias based on rank. It only takes one sale to jump into the low 100,000’s, so it’s not permanent. I have seen books rise out of the depths after months and gain traction, so even if things get slow, there is always hope.
The release of a new book sometimes helps. If things get too slow, a little marketing may be in order to refresh the sales. I think it’s too soon for you to panic or become discouraged, and you have several positives to help you focus on writing the next.
(I hope I haven’t changed your state of happiness. I feel you should still be happy.)
Nope; still happy.
Book 2 will take two years more. My mind laughed at me when I suggested I could do two scenes a week and finish it in a year, and I promptly got sick for a week.
I don’t care – it will get done, and then Book 3: the story won’t be finished until then, and, if the good Lord gives me life, that’s what I’ll be doing (PS I’m not THAT old).
I know how most indies do everything – I’ve been reading the SP blog for well over four years now, and paying attention.
I’m also aware I fit in NONE of the categories.
But I don’t stress about any of those things – the words from readers have been awesome.
Now, all I have to do is snag me more readers from my tribe – and we’ll be fine. But it won’t make one bit of difference to me finishing, and doing the very best job I possibly can.
Apparently, I’m a ‘finisher,’ and every time I ask myself if this is what I want to finish (about once a month), the answer is Yes.
Thanks, as always, for the encouragement.
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Chris, Another interesting article. Thank you. There are 2 points I would like to raise with you. First, you state “Amazon’s new machine-learning algorithm, which determines which reviews get more exposure, favors a Verified Purchase.” Have you any evidence for this? I see plenty of reviews that are not verified that rank higher than a verified one. So when could I expect a verified purchase review have a higher priority than a non-verified one? Example; Review A is non-verified with 5 helpful votes; and Review B is verified with 4 helpful votes. Would the verified review really take priority over the one with just a few more helpful votes?
Second: you bring up an interesting discussion when you say “The more organic sales you generate through keyword searches, the more exposure your book gains this way.” I agree with this and my tests show it to be true. However, I believe many authors use links with keywords very wrongly. For example, there are a number of tricks authors use to try and influence the Amazon search engines. I’ve seen many authors asking me to click on a link that contains their book title and keyword.
So for an author wanting to rank high for the keyword “romantic comedy”, the syntax of the link would end along the lines of:
The theory here is that the more people who use this search phrase, the higher your book will rank for that searchword it contains.
Sounds pretty convincing – right?
OK. Here’s the catch. I know very few people who have shown me the results from using such links. Most people don’t even know how long it takes Amazon to refresh its search engine results to see if this technique really works. So let me now throw a spanner into the works. Assume a person uses the search word “romantic comedy” and buys a competitor book called “50 Shades of Pink and Blue”. While 10 people you send the link to clicked on the link, but did not buy your book.
Which of the books do you think Amazon will rank higher? Your book that people visited 10 times and scored a big fat zero sales, or the other book that just got 1 visitor but achieved an impressive 100% conversion rate to sale? Remember, Amazon is driven by sales. Eh? … I think Amazon would favor your competitor’s book.
Do you agree?
Thank you for your detailed comment.
Regarding machine-learning, here is my post from when Amazon introduced this: https://chrismcmullen.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/changes-to-amazon-customer-reviews/. (Also, find a link to a c/net article on it therein.) It weighs together several factors, and, as usual, Amazon doesn’t tell us exactly which factors are given how much priority.
I agree with you regarding keywords. If several customers find a book via keyword searches, but don’t click on the book, the poor conversion rate will establish the opposite of relevance, and the book will thence rank lower in search results. I’m not a fan of using the link that includes the keywords. Partly is for the catch that you mentioned. But also, surely Amazon could determine, if it wished to, whether a customer actually searched on site or reached the page from offsite via a link. I would think they would want internal searches to factor into their keyword SEO. But even if it doesn’t work that way now, they could change it in the future. I like to plan my marketing long-term. So I’d hate to have several links running around on the internet that wind up penalizing a book years down the road.
Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.
Thank you. 🙂
Hi Chris. Just found your blog as I was searching for this very thing. I’ve heard the very best marketing tool on Amazon is to write more books, though that isn’t always possible. But my question is this: for all the sophistication of Amazon in SEO, internal or otherwise, why is their reporting so horrible? If I’m spending time on external sites promoting my book, and those result in sales (or not), wouldn’t that be good information to have in the KDP reporting window? Why not have reporting for which of your keywords on your own book are converting so you could swap out the losers? Or at a minimum give us the option to allow Google Analytics code on our books so we can do it ourselves. So much of marketing books is a black box, especially for those of us just starting out with no sense of historical trends. Apologies if you’ve addressed this before–I’d bet you did as you get into such excellent metrics.
Definitely, it would be beneficial to have such data. We get a little data advertising with AMS via KDP, which shows that they could easily enhance reporting…
Visibility on the web is very important for authors and as you mentioned an important way to generate visibility on the web is to be creating great content. Authors have a leg up on everyone else here because writing great content is what they do!
That’s a great point. 🙂
Kristen/David – I agree visibility is important. I’m just wondering if other authors here have opinions on the best ways to get visibility. For example, I just paid for a blog tour promotion that generated over 45,000 clicks from about 25 blog sites. You would think that would increase visibility but I have no idea how much visibility this creates for me on Amazon. For example, I see no extra sales of my book during the social media promotion. So I’m curious, with all these new social media (blog) links to my book on Amazon, what effect would you expect it to have on making me visible on Amazon? Will my “searchword” ranking go up on Amazon? Does Amazon even care about how many inbound links my book on Amazon has?
Visibility is a great thing, but if you cannot measure it, how do you know it’s working?
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“Short-term book marketing says you need a great cover, then you need a blurb that hooks, then a Look Inside that compels the customer to buy the book, and last on the list is the actual content.
Organic book marketing says that the most important part of the book is the content, and everything else revolves around this.”
I think I’ll take my chances with organic book marketing. Thanks for sharing.