Amazon Giveaway is Retiring. Now What?

Image from Shutterstock

NO MORE AMAZON GIVEAWAYS

October 10, 2019 will be the last day that you can run an Amazon Giveaway. (To do so, visit the product page for any eligible item at Amazon.com.)

October 17, 2019 will be the last day to enter Amazon Giveaways as a customer. Until then, you can find Amazon Giveaways here:

https://www.amazon.com/ga/giveaways

What will you do after that?

Authors can still create contests for free books through Goodreads Giveaways.

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway

I currently have a Goodreads Giveaway for my new Fun with Roman Numerals math workbook. You can enter my giveaway until October 7, 2019:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48192781-fun-with-roman-numerals-math-workbook

Pros:

  • Goodreads is a popular site for readers.
  • Giveaways generate interest, and almost all entrants add your book to their To-Read lists, which adds activity to your book’s Goodreads page.
  • The price per-book for a Kindle eBook giveaway is pretty reasonable if you choose to give away 100 books. You pay a flat fee for the giveaway price, but don’t need to purchase eBooks on top of that. (However, for a print giveaway, you do need to pay for books, shipping, and packing in addition to the giveaway fee.)
  • A successful giveaway can generate significant interest at Goodreads. I’ve run several dozen giveaways (mostly for print books) for books in my name and in pen names, with very often at least 1000 to 2000 entrants, occasionally more. Really popular coming attractions can generate heavy interest, though of course it’s not as easy to have that popular title.
  • You’re likely to receive some reviews at Goodreads (unless you only give away a few books). (You’re less likely to receive Amazon reviews from Goodreads Giveaways, but it does happen, just not as often.)
  • For a print giveaway, you can include a bookmark and a brief thank-you note, for example.
  • You can run a giveaway for a long period of time (like a month). Although you gain the most exposure on the first and last days, the days in between add up when there are several of them. (A recent newsletter from Goodreads, which includes tips for a successful giveaway, suggests having multiple giveaways leading up to publication.)
  • More people get the chance to enjoy your book. 🙂

Cons:

  • Goodreads Giveaways have a significant up-front cost. This is the main con, but it’s a big one.
  • For a print giveaway, you have to purchase author copies, pack, and ship them, in addition to the giveaway fee.
  • Not as many winners review books on Amazon as they do at Goodreads, if Amazon reviews are what you’re hoping for.
  • Currently, you can only run a giveaway for entrants in the United States and/or Canada, which limits worldwide exposure.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

The Amazon Giveaway Experience

 

AMAZON GIVEAWAYS

I’ve spent the past week entering a variety of Amazon Giveaways.

Note: As of October, 2019, the Amazon Giveaway program has been canceled. However, Goodreads Giveaways are still available.

Over the years, I have given away several books through Amazon Giveaways.

So now I have experience with both sides of this program.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

When I was browsing and entering the giveaways, here is some of what I experienced:

  • My first thought was that there are a ton of giveaways. Right now, there are 4000 results showing on 200 pages.
  • But one day, I actually browsed through the entire list in less than an hour. So even the giveaways that are hidden way back aren’t as inaccessible as they may at first seem.
  • There are a variety of products, and several popular products seem to land on the first pages. The value of some of the prizes is higher than I had expected.
  • If you look at the fine print though, you’ll see that the most popular products with the higher price points have much higher odds.
  • Products like books with lower price points tend to have more favorable odds. Some of the Kindle ebook giveaways have odds as good as 1 out of 100.
  • If you enter the giveaways, you quickly learn that some require you to watch a short video or follow an author. If you prefer not to do either of these, you start to look for the label, “No entry requirement.”
  • (Well, nothing prevents you from unfollowing afterward, except that you need to figure out how.)
  • Even if you don’t intend to rack up a large number of Follows, some of the books look so compelling… I followed a few authors I don’t know just because the covers really grabbed me.
  • You only see the picture and title. For a book, that’s the cover and title plus subtitle.
  • Sometimes, I was intrigued by a cover, but the cover and title didn’t really tell me what the genre was, and I didn’t want to take a chance and win a book that might not be in a genre that I read. (And it’s extra work to visit the product page to find out.)
  • In a few cases, the author/publisher had included a subtitle that clarified the genre. This was handy. In the best cases, the cover made this abundantly clear, so it wasn’t necessary.
  • For some products, if you lose the giveaway, Amazon offers you a discount if you proceed to make a purchase. So even if you don’t win giveaways, you can take advantage of discounts.
  • Only one time did I try to enter a giveaway, but receive a message that all of the prizes had already been claimed. With my luck, one second before I clicked the box, somebody else probably won.
  • However, if you come back the next day, you can easily run into a message saying that you didn’t win. That means you already tried to win that product previously. You need to remember which giveaways you entered previously in order to avoid this.
  • There is a simple solution: Look at the top right of the giveaways page for a link called, “Subscribe to never miss another giveaway.”
  • I wish I could tell you what it was like to win, but I wasn’t that lucky. (Maybe someone who has won before will be kind enough to describe this in the comments.)

If you really want to know what it’s like, go check it out. Here’s the link:

https://www.amazon.com/ga/giveaways/?pageId=1

THE AUTHOR’S/SELLER’S POINT OF VIEW

Here are some features that I like about Amazon Giveaways:

  • Your giveaways page shows you how many hits, entrants, and product page visits you’ve had. It’s interesting to compare the product page visits to the hits. It’s nice to get some data for how customers react to your book.
  • Setting up the giveaway is easy. Just visit the Amazon product page. (This works for products sold in the US store, anyway.)
  • Amazon fulfills the giveaway. You don’t have to do anything, except setup the giveaway (and pay for the products and shipping).
  • One time, a customer left a review saying that they discovered the book from the Amazon Giveaways page. That customer actually lost the giveaway and proceeded to purchase the book (I only know this because the customer left a review saying so). That was cool. (But I have no idea if anyone who has ever won an Amazon Giveaway has left a review. I would only know if the person happened to mention this in the review, but that part has never happened. However, a few Goodreads Giveaway winners have mentioned in reviews where they won the books.)
  • For paperback books, Amazon Giveaways are more cost-effective and also more convenient than Goodreads Giveaways. (However, if you give away 100 Kindle ebooks at Goodreads, since you don’t have to pay for the ebooks after paying the giveaway cost, it can be more cost-effective to run Kindle giveaways at Goodreads.)
  • You can require entrants to follow you at Amazon, if you wish. (Usually, I choose “no entry requirement” to maximize participation.)
  • Occasionally, there isn’t a winner. Personally, I prefer to have a winner; I want someone to enjoy the prize. But when there isn’t a winner, you got some free exposure. You can’t complain about that. (But for a Kindle ebook, you don’t get a refund. In that case, you need to run the giveaway again, at no added cost. Which gives you added exposure.)
  • A few authors have found creative ways to use giveaways. I don’t know if it’s worth doing, but I noticed that a few authors list a giveaway for a popular product, and require entrants to follow them. Suppose that your books is similar to Harry Potter in some ways. You could potentially run a Harry Potter giveaway and have entrants follow you. Those entrants potentially have an interest in books like yours. But some authors run a giveaway for an Amazon gift card or even a Kindle. Again, I’m not saying it’s worth doing (and haven’t tried it myself), I’m just noting that it’s been done.
  • You really need an effective cover. With thousands of results showing in a couple of hundred pages, by the time entrants reach your giveaway, your book cover really needs to call attention to people who may have an interest in it. I noticed some amazing covers while I was browsing. Book covers that aren’t so amazing, well, let’s just say that they often appear right beside book covers that look amazing.

Of course, you can always ask for things to be better:

  • Amazon Sellers who sell a variety of products (like housewares) can create promotional codes and offer discounts to entrants. They can also track their sales. But authors/publishers can’t.
  • It would be great if KDP authors/publishers could offer discounts to entrants who lose the giveaways and if they could track sales that result from the giveaway. I submitted this suggestion to KDP. If you have any suggestions (or if you also want to suggest the discount option), feel free to use the Contact Us button at KDP.
  • There are only a couple of options for the odds of the giveaway. It varies from book to book, depending perhaps in part on the value of the prize. The odds used to be much more flexible. I can see Amazon not wanting you to set outrageous odds that would prevent a winner, but why can’t we make the odds more favorable? For a few books, it’s not easy to get a winner. And if you want to have more than just a handful of winners, well you usually can’t make the odds favorable enough to give away 10 or more products in a single contest.
  • Entrants must be residents of the US or the District of Columbia. I believe authors can setup giveaways even if they reside in other countries, provided that they setup the giveaway from the US site, but entrants must be residents of the US. Maybe this is restricted from a legal standpoint; in some countries, the rules governing giveaways may add unnecessary complications. I’m sure someone in another country is thinking, “That’s not the case where I live.” Remember, if you want to make a suggestion to KDP, you’re welcome to use the Contact Us button.
  • Unfortunately, if you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you still have to pay for shipping/handling for physical prizes (but there are no shipping charges for Kindle ebooks) on top of paying for the prizes (and any tax). The shipping/handling is sometimes more than you might expect. (There was a brief period where it hadn’t been charging for shipping if you had Prime. Either that was a glitch that lasted a couple of weeks, or Amazon was testing that out and it didn’t work out well enough to maintain it.)
  • When I click the link to enter the giveaway, I just see the book cover and title. I don’t see the category or a description. Yet I’m often deciding, do I want to follow the author in order to enter this giveaway (because I’m not inclined to follow hundreds of authors just to enter giveaways, which of course makes the Follow more valuable)? It would be nice to see part of the description or the category. Of course, the curious entrant can still find these things by visiting your product page.

MY GIVEAWAY

Here is a link to a giveaway for my Grade 6 math workbook, ending on August 11, 2019:

https://www.amazon.com/ga/p/32efe68a5b58e615

If you enter, good luck.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Amazon Coupons (even on one of my books)

 

SAVE $1.00 WITH COUPON AT AMAZON (LIMITED TIME)

Have you seen those green (or orange) coupons at Amazon, where you can save a little money by clipping the coupon?

In search results, I sometimes see it in green highlighting, like Save $1.00.

On the product page, below where it says In Stock, I sometimes see Coupon with orange highlighting and a box to check next to green writing.

Be sure to click the box to apply the coupon.

I’ve seen these on a number of household items that I buy regularly, including Amazon Pantry and Amazon Fresh.

It’s nice to save a little money, and the coupon sometimes affects my decision on which product to buy (usually, when it wasn’t an easy decision to begin with).

Yesterday, for the first time, I happened to see one of these coupon offers for one of my books (the paperback edition).

I haven’t seen it for any of my other books yet, and this might not last long for the book it does show on. But it was a nice surprise.

Maybe Amazon is testing this out on a small number of books to see how it goes.

Discounts at Amazon have changed considerably throughout the years.

  • When I published my first book back in 2008 (wow, that was over ten years ago), there used to be 4-for-3 offers on many books (including mine, back then). I often bought 4 books at a time in those days. But then the 4-for-3 program disappeared. That was a pretty big discount, so it’s no surprise if it wasn’t sustainable.
  • Shortly thereafter, many books went on sale sporadically. There were times when many of my books were on sale, and times (like the holidays) where almost none of my books were on sale.
  • The new thing seems to be coupons to clip. (I like this idea better than, say, the Countdown Deal idea.)

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Word Search Puzzle for Book Lovers (Plus, How to Make One)

 

WORD SEARCH FOR READERS/AUTHORS

I made a word search puzzle for anyone who appreciates books.

Later, I will also show you how I made the puzzle.

First, here is the puzzle.

Here is the word list:

  • AMAZON
  • ANTAGONIST
  • AUTHOR
  • BESTSELLER
  • BLOG
  • BLURB
  • BOOKMARK
  • BOOKSTORE
  • CHAPTER
  • CHARACTER
  • CLASSIC
  • CLIMAX
  • CONTENTS
  • COVER
  • DESIGNER
  • EDITION
  • EDITOR
  • FANTASY
  • FICTION
  • FONT
  • GLOSSARY
  • GRAMMAR
  • HERO
  • INDEX
  • ISBN
  • JUSTIFIED
  • KINDLE
  • LEAF
  • MARGINS
  • MYSTERY
  • NICHE
  • OUTLINE
  • PAGE
  • PLOT
  • POEM
  • POET
  • PROTAGONIST
  • PUBLISH
  • QUOTE
  • READ
  • REVIEW
  • ROMANCE
  • SERIES
  • SETTING
  • SPINE
  • SUSPENSE
  • SYNOPSIS
  • TITLE
  • TRILOGY
  • TYPE
  • TYPO
  • UNIT
  • VOLUME
  • WORDS
  • WRITER

HOW TO MAKE A WORD SEARCH PUZZLE

I will show you how to make a word search puzzle in Microsoft Word or Excel.

I will focus specifically on Word for Windows, though Excel is very similar.

There are a few differences.

  • Word lets you enter the width of the columns and the height of the rows in inches so that you know they are exactly the same. The numerical measures for these values in Excel can be confusing, and unless you research what they mean you need to eyeball it. But you can still get them close enough that it doesn’t matter.
  • Word has a few formatting issues (like line spacing and cell margins) that can be problematic for the table, but I’ll show you how to deal with them.
  • If you’re trying to make a book, Excel can cause trouble trying to get predictable and consistent page margins, page headers, etc. on the final printed product. But a Word file with dozens of tables becomes a complex file prone to being slow to work with and becoming corrupt. For a book, if you can convert the tables individually into high-quality JPEGS (300 DPI) and insert these into Word (after researching the tricks to avoid having the pictures compressed), the file will be much more manageable. You can also separate the book into several smaller files and combine them together into a single PDF if you have access to Adobe Acrobat DC (not to be confused with the free Adobe Reader). Beware that many Word to PDF converters don’t have this capability, so find out what you have access to before working with a bunch of small files.

The first thing I did was come up with a list of related words. I made a list of words that relate to books, like “Kindle” and “poem.”

Next, I inserted a table in Microsoft Word using Insert > Table > Insert Table. My table has 18 rows and 18 columns, but you should pick the size that suits your table. If you need a smaller or larger table, you can easily insert or delete rows/columns as needed.

The default table has unequal column width and row height, so I adjusted this. I highlighted the entire table (but not beyond the table) and clicked the Layout tab on the top of the screen. I changed the Height and Width of all of my rows and columns to 0.25″. Depending on your font size, font style, and what suits your eye, you may need different values.

With the entire table highlighted, I also changed the font style to Courier New and the font size to 12 points on the Home ribbon. You can use a different font style or size. What I like about Courier New for a word search is that all of the letters are the same width. However, the font is a little light, so it’s not perfect. I suggest playing around with the font options, and print out a sample on paper before you commit.

There are two things you need to do in order to have good spacing and centering:

  • With the whole table highlighted (but not beyond the table), on the Layout tab select the center/middle alignment on the tic-tac-toe grid of icons in the Alignment group. This centers every cell horizontally and vertically, but it won’t be perfect unless you also complete the next step.
  • With the entire table highlighted, click the little arrow-like icon on the bottom right corner of the Paragraph group on the Home ribbon. This opens up the paragraph properties box. Set the line spacing to Single, and the Spacing Before and After to zero. Special should be set to None and the Indentation settings should be zero.

I put the CAPS lock on my keyboard since I prefer a word search with uppercase letters.

I started typing in words horizontally, vertically, and diagonally, forward and backward. I challenged myself to see how many words relating to books I could squeeze into the puzzle, and I managed to use words beginning with every letter of the alphabet from A thru W. It’s not necessarily the way to go; I just had fun doing it.

At this stage, my puzzle looked like this:

Next I added letters to the blank cells. I studied my word list, trying to create letter sequences that might make the word search slightly more challenging, and add a few letters that hadn’t been used much (like X). If you’re looking for BOOK and you see BOOI, for example, your eye and mind can get fixated on the wrong sequence and not find the right one as quickly. The more experience you have solving word searches, the more you learn about the kinds of things that affect you while solving the puzzle. But remember that other people may think differently.

Now I highlighted the entire table, went to the Design tab, clicked the little arrow beneath Borders, and selected No Border.

Then I changed the pen thickness to 1 pt (the default was 1/2 pt). If you plan to publish a book, Amazon KDP (for example) recommends a minimum of 1 pt for the thickness of line drawings.

Next, highlight the entire table, go back to Borders, and select Outside Borders. Your puzzle should look like this:

I zoomed in as far as I could and still see the whole table and used the Snapshot tool to take a picture of the table. (Pro tip: Make sure your cursor is below or above the table so that the cursor doesn’t show up in the picture of your table.) If making a book, you could change this to 300 DPI using image software like Photoshop. Beware that increasing the DPI isn’t magic: If it has to invent pixels, the picture may look blurry or pixilated. My computer takes 192 DPI snapshots, whereas some are much lower (72 or 96 DPI). I also have a very large monitor, so when I zoom in, I have a very large picture on my screen. Depending on your computer, you might get more or fewer pixels.

If your picture is larger in inches than you need, when you increase the DPI, if you also decrease the dimensions in inches, you might already have enough pixels that you don’t get a blurry or pixilated image. If you plan to make a book, you need to test this out, especially print out a page on a deskjet printer as a sample.

Since I just did this for my blog, not a book, I didn’t bother so much with this one.

Next I inserted the picture of the table into a Word file and added my word list to it, like the picture below. There is no particular reason that I put words on both sides of the table. I would recommend reading a few word search puzzle books and getting ideas for what formatting appeals to you.

Now there is the issue of making an answer key.

There are a few ways to go about this. You could just highlight the letters in the table and change the colors of those cells (for example, to a shading of 25% gray using the Design ribbon).

If you try to use Word’s drawing tools to create rounded rectangles, beware that some letters may actually move around and row heights or column widths may change slightly.

Well, there is a way around that. Insert the picture of the table into a new file in JPEG format (wrapped In Line With Text, on its own “paragraph”). Then you can make rounded rectangles and lay them over the picture without having to worry about the format of the table changing.

I created rounded rectangles (using Insert > Shapes) with a width of 0.18″. If you use a different font style or size, you may need a different width. For the diagonals, I clicked the little arrow-like icon beside Size on the Format ribbon (when the rounded rectangle was selected) and changed the rotation angle to 45 or 315 degrees.

I used a lot of copy/paste to make other rounded rectangles, trying to be consistent with alignment and positioning.

Here is the solution to my word search puzzle:

It would be very easy to make mistakes trying to make a word search puzzle book.

Beta readers would be great for creating a puzzle book, to help you catch important little details. They could also help you create buzz for your book.

There may or may not be demand for such a puzzle book, but if you really love puzzles, you would surely enjoy making the puzzles and sharing them with others.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

How Do You Search for Books?

 

INTRODUCTION

It isn’t easy to find the “perfect” book to read, and once you read that book, you need to find another.

This question is important from two different perspectives:

  • Customers want to learn about the best ways to find the books they are likely to enjoy the most.
  • Authors and publishers want to know the different ways that customers might search for their books to aid in their marketing strategies.

I will start out by listing common methods that customers use to search for books.

Then I will share a couple of creative strategies for finding a good book to read.

I hope some of my readers will add helpful comments. Don’t be shy.

HOW CUSTOMERS SEARCH FOR BOOKS

Following are a variety of book-buying habits.

  1. Browse bestseller lists. This is highly popular. The idea is that there should be some good books on these lists. Fortunately, for authors who aren’t yet this popular, this is just one of many methods that customers use. If you write an amazing book and succeed in marketing, then you might benefit from this method. Until then, focus on the other methods.
  2. Browse subcategories. This is also common. I’ve scrolled several pages through subcategories, so you don’t always need to land at the top to get noticed. But if your book is way back even in a very narrow category, there is still hope. How? Because some customers will combine methods, like first choosing a subcategory and then searching for specific keywords.
  3. Enter keywords. This is handy when you’re looking for a certain type of book that isn’t easy to find just by browsing a subcategory. If you want to find a calculus workbook with answers, you could type that phrase into the search instead of browsing through all calculus books (which will start out mainly with textbooks). If you want to find a mystery set in a certain era or location, you could use a search instead of browsing all mystery books. Authors and publishers need to choose their keywords wisely; spend much time brainstorming before finalizing these.
  4. Look for new releases. This doesn’t just help bestselling new releases. Many new releases get noticed when customers search for books some other way (like using keywords) and then click Last 30 Days or Last 90 Days on Amazon to help filter the results. It’s surprisingly common how many books sell fairly well for three months and then see a significant decline in sales, often because the Last 90 Days filter suddenly stops helping. You want to find effective marketing strategies before the three months are up to help the book succeed long-term.
  5. Book reviews. Not just those on Amazon product pages. If you find someone who regularly reviews books in your favorite genre who proves to be fairly reliable in their criticism, you suddenly hit the jackpot. It’s not uncommon for publishers to seek out bloggers with large followings who regularly review books, offering advance review copies. I know that some of my followers either review books on their blogs or have had their books reviewed on various blogs. If you’re reading this, you’re invited to leave a comment.
  6. Word of mouth. If you read a great book, do your friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and coworkers a favor: Tell them about the book. Great stories are meant to be shared. I love it when book titles come up in conversations.
  7. Book marketing. This isn’t so much about the customer looking for the book, as the authors striving to help customers discover their books. Customers discover books through marketing, so it can work. Often, it’s in the form of branding. A customer might see a book cover a few times over the course of months, then one day the customer is browsing for a book to read, remembers seeing that cover, and finally checks it out.
  8. Stores. While Amazon is amazingly popular and convenient, there are still bookstores and customers do browse through the shelves. If you have a paperback book, put together a press release kit and see if local bookstores (and other stores that sometimes carry books) may be interested in purchasing author copies directly from you at a discounted price. A customer who discovers your book in a store might wind up buying more of your books online in the future.
  9. Advertisements. Amazon does this very well. Over the past few years, many ads have been sprinkled onto product pages and search results, but these are fairly inobtrusive. For example, in search results the ads practically blend in with the other books on the list. Many customers do click on ads that interest them. The trick for authors and publishers is not to overspend for their ads, and to use ads just as one of several forms of effective marketing. It also takes a great cover, product page, and Look Inside to get the most out of the ad space.
  10. Indie books. I’ve self-published several books, as have over a million other authors. Like most authors, I’m also an avid reader. When I read, I often search for books by other indie authors. I like to support the idea of self-publishing and the companies (like Amazon and Smashwords) that have been instrumental in making this possible. Many other indie authors (and their friends and family) also search for indie books.
  11. Subscriptions and promotions. For example, many readers subscribe to BookBub, which provides a few recommendations for discounted books every day.
  12. Series, sets, anthologies, similar books. It can take a long time to find a really good book to read. If you can find a set of books to read, or a really long book to read, you are rewarded as a reader for your effort to find that book; you get more material to enjoy reading.
  13. What other methods can you think of?

A COUPLE OF CREATIVE WAYS TO FIND A GOOD BOOK

I have a couple of creative suggestions. These may not be popular yet, but perhaps one will be worth considering. Especially if you’ve spent hours using common methods, but weren’t satisfied with the results.

  1. Suppose that you find a thorough customer review on Amazon, the review really resonates with you, and after reading the book you feel that the comments were spot-on. Well, duh! You need to go back to that review, click on that customer’s name, and see what other reviews that customer has written.
  2. Interact with a variety of authors, see their personalities and their character, and see how well they write informal posts on social media. It’s surprisingly easy to interact with authors in this digital age. Sometimes, once you’ve “met” an author before reading a book, you read the book differently than you otherwise would have. A positive outlook can actually help you enjoy a book more. I’ve read some books this way, and it has often worked well for me.
  3. If you can think of any creative strategies to search for books, I’d like to hear them.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Marketing a Book when you’re an Artist (not a Businessman)

Image licensed from Shutterstock.

READING, WRITING, AND BUSINESS

Talented authors, especially in fiction, naturally excel with the art of writing.

Talented businessman (and women) who publish their writing have a distinct advantage when it comes to generating sales.

If there were only two books in the world, where one was written by a talented writer and the other was written by a talented businessman, if this was all I knew about the books, I would first want to read the book written by the talented writer.

It just seems to be a better fit, doesn’t it?

But when you visit Amazon, there aren’t just two books to choose from. There are tens of millions. And it’s hard to tell which of those may have been written by especially talented authors, and which are appealing more because of the marketing of businesspeople and which are successful mainly because of the merits of the actual writing.

Amazon dazzles you with dozens of brilliant pictures of book covers. You see bestseller lists which make you feel that those books must be selling well for a reason. Indeed, the reason may very well be marketing. You recognize the names of big publishers and popular authors who have succeeded in a very important aspect of marketing: They have branded their names into your brain.

Think for a moment. Can you think of any movies that you feel were so awful they should never have been made in the first place, yet somehow many people you know have actually watched it (and worse, may even talk about it, and not just to complain about it)?

It happens. Too often, it happens.

Of course, it happens with books, too.

The difference is that when you visit a theater, there are about a dozen newly released movies to choose from. When you visit Amazon, there are tens of thousands of books that have been released just in the past 30 days.

There are thousands of talented authors and thousands of wonderful books. Yet there are millions of books to choose from. And those that you would consider the “best” may not be so easy for you to find as a reader.

Such that even if you write a book that may be among the best books that readers in your genre would enjoy…

It’s very challenging for a talented author to get those books to sell.

Unfortunately, it might be better to be a good writer with excellent business skills than to be an amazing writer with absolutely no idea how to market.

But that doesn’t mean that a talented writer who lacks business skills can’t develop marketing skills.

It may grow very slowly. It may take a long time. There may be pitfalls along the way.

But any author can start marketing, and even if you just put a little time into a variety of marketing ideas here and there, you can continually expand your marketing net.

INDIRECT BOOK MARKETING

What is marketing? I like to think of it as “helping people in your target audience discover your book.”

I don’t enjoy business. I don’t like selling. But I do like helping people to discover my books. This definition works for me.

Before I had thought of this, marketing had seemed unappealing to me. Now I think of it in such a way that I enjoy the idea.

I don’t like it when salespeople interrupt what I’m doing to try to sell me something.

As an author, I try not to interrupt what people are doing to tell them about my book.

I prefer an indirect approach. There are a variety of ways that you can market your book indirectly.

  • People could hear about your book from someone else (other than you). If your book is worth recommending, you should consider how to get your book into the hands of people who might recommend it. Recommendations and word-of-mouth sales can be quite valuable.
  • People could first discover you, and then discover that you’re an author. One way to go about this is content marketing. For example, if you write nonfiction articles on a blog relating to your book, you could potentially generate daily search engine traffic to your blog, and then on your blog people will notice that you’re also an author. Simply end your article, Your Name, Author of Your Book.
  • People could interact with you, and then discover that you’re an author. You don’t even need to volunteer this. During most conversations, there are opportunities to answer questions like, “What do you do?” or “What have you done lately?”

The problem with marketing is that it isn’t magic.

You’re hoping that you can put forth a minimum of effort and generate hundreds of sales.

But the reality is that most successful long-term marketing takes time and effort.

Another problem is that you’d like to spend more time writing and less time marketing.

A possible solution is to spend a little time each day with marketing. It will add up.

Even if you market effectively, the results will probably come in far slower than you want.

Plan knowing that it may take much time. Be patient. Keep trying new things. Keep building your platform.

Try to keep the costs low (look for free options) unless you’re fortunate enough to earn enough sales that you can afford it without going in the red.

MARKETING BEGINS WITH THE CONTENT AND WORKS ITS WAY OUTWARD

It’s far easier to sell content that is amazing and that seems amazing than it is to sell content that’s just okay.

Step 1. Write content that is amazing. There are thousands of highly talented authors and there are thousands of amazing books. How amazing is your content? Is there some way that you could improve it?

Step 2. Make your content seem as amazing as it really is.

  • A book with an amazing cover seems amazing. A book with an okay cover doesn’t have nearly as much appeal. This is your chance to attract the attention of readers. Send the message that your content was worth putting a nice cover on it.
  • A book description that generates interest in your story helps the book seem amazing. (But don’t give the story away or readers won’t need to read the book.)
  • A book that quickly grabs the reader’s interest and holds onto it seems amazing. A book that loses the customer’s interest while the customer is just reading the Look Inside doesn’t sell.
  • A book that readers want to continue reading through the end, and then want to recommend to others really is an amazing book.
  • Typos, writing mistakes, formatting mistakes, etc. make your book seem far less amazing than it might really be. There are too many books on the market for customers to take a chance on mistakes.

Step 3. Get neutral opinions to help you assess the appeal of your cover, description, early chapters, and entire story.

The more appealing your book is from cover to cover, the more dividends marketing can pay.

From the business side of things, for too many books, 1 out of 1000 strangers who see the book’s cover will check it out, and 1 out 100 strangers who check the book out will buy it. For a book like this, you need 100,000 strangers to discover your book every day to sell an average of one copy to a stranger per day. Put another way, if your book is selling about one copy per day to strangers, there is a good chance that 100,000 see your book each day and that your product page is squandering a great deal of potential sales.

For a rare book that really has strong appeal from cover to cover, 1 out 10 strangers who check the book out will buy it, more people who see the book will click on it, and it benefits in other important ways, too:

  • It’s far more likely to generate many more sales from recommendations.
  • It’s far more likely to generate positive reviews from strangers.
  • It’s far more likely to generate sales from customers-also-bought lists.
  • It’s far more likely to generate good visibility on Amazon.

But first it needs to get discovered and get initial sales.

You still need good marketing. But the marketing is more likely to bring long-term rewards.

A SAMPLE OF MARKETING IDEAS

  • In the book itself. At the end, encourage readers to follow you on social media, visit your website, or sign up for a newsletter. List your other current and coming books. Offer a free sample (like a short chapter) of another book if it is similar to the current book.
  • Premarketing. For example, do a cover reveal to try to generate interest in your book before you publish it. Get beta readers involved in your book as you develop it.
  • Advance review copies. The idea is to give a free copy of your book, with the hope of obtaining an honest review in return. (Amazon doesn’t allow you to offer any other incentives other than a free copy of your book.) You can run an Amazon Giveaway or a Goodreads giveaway from your product page. An Amazon Giveaway is fairly inexpensive, especially with a small number of prizes. For ebooks, a Goodreads Giveaway is actually cost-effective if you give away 100 books (you don’t have to pay for the cost of the books, too; but for paperbacks you have to also buy author copies and pay to ship them yourself). Aside from giveaways, you can recruit people to send advance review copies to.
  • Start a blog. If you love to write, this is only natural. If you can write about nonfiction topics that relate to your book (even in fiction), short articles can eventually turn into a content-rich website that attracts daily visitors through search engines. Some authors write poetry on their blogs. Some make great photo blogs. There are many ways to engage an audience with a blog. If you interact with both readers and other bloggers, you can build a fairly popular blog.
  • Social media. You should have it (Facebook and Twitter at least). You should do something with it. At the very least, for those readers who enjoy Facebook and Twitter, you should have something for them. If you put the time into the social interaction aspect of it, you can make social media work better, but at least you should have something there.
  • The personal touch. Some authors are reluctant to try it, but the personal interaction (especially, in person, but online is better than nothing) can make a difference for an author who hasn’t yet built a following. Most people haven’t interacted with many authors in person. Even though the number of authors is rapidly going, many aren’t interacting in person. If a person interacts with an author and has a positive experience, the person is more likely to buy the book and also more likely to review the book or recommend it to others (but, of course, only if the content is that good). How can you setup local and regional opportunities to meet people in your target audience? It doesn’t have to be a signing (which may be hard to populate when you’re starting out). Groups of people in your target audience probably already exist: book clubs, senior centers, schools (for children’s books), and countless others. You just need to figure out how to get involved and take the initiative.
  • Bookmarks. I like these better than business cards. If the bookmark looks nice and doesn’t seem like an advertisement, it might actually get used, and then it will be a constant reminder about your book.
  • Promotions. Discounted (and even free) prices used to work more effectively with less effort. There are so many books discounted (or free) these days, it’s not easy to stand above the crowd. It makes it a challenge (like most marketing), but there is still potential. The big question is how to spread the word about your sale price. There are sites that can help, free or low cost, but not all are very helpful. Explore and hope you find a helpful one.
  • Advertising. This is tricky. Too many new authors spend too much and don’t target their advertisements as effectively as they could. When you’re starting out or when you’re not earning much in monthly royalties, you really can’t afford to overspend on advertising. Your ads compete with authors and publishers who sell many copies per month and so can afford to invest significant money on an advertising budget. So you have to be smart about it. Refrain from the temptation to bid high. If your ad isn’t performing well, it’s tempting to raise the bid. But effective ad campaigns often make effective use of keywords or other targeting criteria, plus have a great cover and highly appealing product page (including the Look Inside). Relevance is your best friend when it comes to advertising. With Amazon’s AMS (via KDP), for example, once an ad is deemed to rate high in terms of relevance (by getting a high click-through rate and a high sales frequency), it tends to perform better than other ads. In fact, such an ad can perform better at a lower bid (counterintuitively). If an ad rates low in relevance, it tends to perform poorly, even if the bid is raised high. When you set your keywords or other targeting criteria, you don’t just want popularity; you want strong relevance. It also helps to spend time brainstorming keywords (also worth doing before you publish).
  • Keep writing. Each time you publish a new book, you get renewed visibility with the last 30 days and last 90 days filters at Amazon. Many authors have asked, “What happened to my sales?” both 30 days and 90 days after publishing. Well, if these filters had been helping you (without your knowledge; how would you possibly know?), that could be the answer. Plus, you attract new readers, and slowly build a fan base. Few indie authors publish a single book and have great long-term success. Most effective indie authors have established a platform with several related books. If you can keep writing and publishing, as long as you’re getting some sales with each book, you should keep doing it. Most of us do it because we love writing so much that we just couldn’t stop, sales or not. If you’re not getting the sales, you need to rethink what types of books you should write, how to make the cover, how to write the description, etc. When things aren’t going well, you have to try making changes.
  • What are other indie authors who are having some measure of success doing with their marketing? It’s easy enough to find authors who are selling some books, and it’s really easy to find their blogs and social media. So it’s not hard to see some of the things that work for them.
  • Do you feel creative with your writing? If so, spend some time thinking how you might be creative with your marketing. Maybe a little creativity will attract some readers. Maybe you will think of a marketing strategy that isn’t overused (yet! it will be if it works for you and other authors find out) and be the first to adopt it. You shouldn’t be a one-strategy marketing machine (unless, of course, the first thing you try is a great success, then you should do it until it dries up). You should be exploring a variety of options that can help you widen your marketing net.

Even when marketing works, it often develops very slowly. Just because you don’t get any early results doesn’t mean you should give up.

Another important word is “branding.” You’re creating a brand. When people see marketing, they rarely stop what they’re doing and run to the store.

Rather, months later when they happen to be shopping for a product, people tend to buy a product that they’ve heard of.

You want your author name, or your book title, or your character’s name, or your series name to be something that people have heard of.

You want your cover to be something that people have seen before.

(In a good way.)

When that happens, you’ve succeeded in branding readers.

GIVE KARMA A CHANCE

I know, you’re eager to go market your book.

But first, spread the word about someone else’s book.

Maybe it will give you some good karma. Or maybe you just feel like being a good person.

You’d like a stranger to recommend your book to others.

So take a moment to recommend a stranger’s book to others. This will help you visualize what you want to happen to your own book.

Plus, you get to do a good deed.

I’m recommending The Legends of Windemere series by Charles E. Yallowitz (who has absolutely no idea that I’m mentioning his series today, although I have mentioned him in years past).

I finished the Legends of Windemere series and enjoyed it for the storyline and several of the characters which appealed to me.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

A Powerful Four-word Phrase for Writing

 

REALLY INTO YOUR BOOK

What all authors want is for readers to be “really into the book” (or story, poem, etc.)

It doesn’t matter whether you write for a small niche audience or a popular genre.

If you set out to write a book knowing that your market is small, you derive motivation with the thought that even though the audience may be small, they are really going to love your book.

If you set out to write a book intending it to be widely read among a large audience, you are more likely to be successful by striving to get readers “really into your book.”

It’s amazing how much a four-word phrase can help drive success.

  • It begins by asking, “What can I do as a writer to get readers really into my book?”
  • If you want this strongly enough, you will do the necessary research.
  • You will take your time with the writing and get it right.
  • You will go through numerous revisions. “No, they won’t be really into that.”
  • When many readers would be “really into your book,” you will probably feel it in your heart and know it in your mind.
  • You will want to iron out all the little mistakes. You will want the book to be formatted well. When the book is that good, you want to perfect it.

And then once your book feels ready, it can make a big impact after you publish it.

  • When readers are “really into a book,” they are much more likely to recommend it to others or write good reviews.
  • They want their friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances to similarly experience what it was like to be “really into that book.”
  • For such a book, you just need to get copies of your book into the hands of as many readers (in your target audience) as possible and sales will take off.

Most authors are readers, too. Remember what it feels like to be “really into a book,” and also think of the times that you weren’t. What will make your book like the former and not like the latter?

When you reach a part of the book that’s challenging to write… A part of the book that doesn’t involve your writing strengths…

Remind yourself that you want readers to be “really into your book,” and use this to motivate yourself to not only get through it, but to do it well.

If, after publishing, it seems like readers weren’t so into your book after all, try to learn why. What could make your next book better?

The next time you read a book… First, spend some time trying to find a book that you’re likely to really be into. Open the book with a positive attitude.

It feels great to be really into a book. Try to get into it and stay into it. You’ll enjoy it more if you can do this.

And the next time you really are drawn into a book, be sure to recommend that book to others so that many more readers can enjoy the experience.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

School not Meeting Your Child’s Needs? Amazon May Have a Book for that…

 

SUPPLEMENT THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM

As a teacher and a parent (and before that, a student), I’ve seen the different sides of the classroom experience.

Even with an exceptional teacher at a fantastic school with amazing students, it’s difficult for a class to fully meet the diverse needs and expectations of all the students and their parents.

A school curriculum is (ideally) designed to best meet the needs of the students.

But some students and some parents are looking for material that isn’t part of the curriculum (or isn’t covered as much as they would like).

There are a variety of reasons for this, such as:

  • advanced students looking for more of a challenge
  • parents who want to expose their kids to the way they had learned things
  • material that is no longer taught at many schools (like cursive handwriting)
  • parents who want to improve their teenagers’ chances of getting into a competitive university
  • students who are looking for books with clearer explanations and instructions
  • parents whose kids need extra help
  • students who need more practice
  • adults who wish to self-study or relearn old skills
  • students interested in special topics not taught in schools
  • people who wish to learn a specific skill
  • students who need to prepare for an exam
  • students hoping for a quicker way to learn a topic
  • lifelong learners

Obviously, no single book can meet all of these needs.

You can find some books that meet some of these needs in bookstores, but the market for these different types of books has grown far wider than what you can find in a bookstore.

Many students and parents have turned to Amazon, where teachers, tutors, instructors, and other educators are publishing a fast-growing variety of supplementary books.

Do you wish that your calculus course had included some more challenging problems? Or do you wish that there was a calculus book for people who want to understand what calculus is without having to take the class? Either way, or anywhere in between, you can probably find a book for that.

I published my first book back in 2008, and I have since published several math workbooks as part of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of workbooks. (I’ve also published a few science books.)

It started when I realized that my physics students weren’t as fluent in fundamental algebra and trigonometry skills as they needed to be. I thought to myself, maybe students could benefit from some extra practice.

It turns out that some students (and parents) were looking for such extra practice.

My books have developed considerably over the past decade, as I have come to interact with many parents and students who have used my workbooks. I continue to discover new ways that people would benefit from supplemental workbooks.

I’ve also discovered many other authors who are publishing supplemental material on Amazon. I don’t think of these authors as competitors. Rather, I realize that their books are very helpful. The growing number of supplemental educational books helps to attract students and parents to Amazon, and we all benefit from this.

Most people don’t buy a single educational book. They often buy several books. If not now, at some point in the future they will probably purchase more books. The customers-also-bought lists help customers find additional books, and later on Amazon will show customers recommendations based on previous purchases.

If you’re an educator who is thinking about becoming an author, if you want to write a textbook and have it adopted for classroom use, you probably want to work with a traditional academic publisher. However, if you’re thinking about preparing supplemental material, the road to publishing is simpler in some regards if you use Amazon KDP. At least, you should explore all of your options and decide what seems best for your book.

Either way, the goal is the same: Let’s help students learn. 🙂

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks

Book Giveaways in 2019

 

BOOK GIVEAWAYS

The two major book giveaway programs have changed considerably in the past couple of years.

Note: As of October, 2019, the Amazon Giveaway program has been canceled. However, Goodreads Giveaways are still available.

One nice feature is that both types of giveaways now offer Kindle eBooks.

Amazon’s giveaway program has undergone several significant changes. It’s convenient and now offers better exposure for authors who don’t already have a large following, but there are now fewer options to choose from. The overall cost can be quite reasonable, especially if you give away a small number of books.

Goodreads’ giveaway program is no longer free. However, it is cost-effective for giving away 100 Kindle eBooks. The print option, while fairly expensive per book, allows you to include the personal touch.

Both programs let you run giveaways in the United States. Goodreads now has an option for Canada for print books. It would be nice to see expansion at least to the United Kingdom and Australia (and any expansion with eBooks).

Obviously, Amazon’s program has Amazon customers, which is nice, but Goodreads’ program consists of many dedicated readers, and Goodreads winners are encouraged to leave reviews (at Goodreads), which is in some ways nicer. There are pros and cons of both programs. Neither program is ideal, and the programs make more sense for some books and authors than for others. The only way to really know for sure is to try it out.

AMAZON GIVEAWAYS

To run an Amazon giveaway in the United States, visit the product page of an item on Amazon.com, scroll down the page below the customer review section, and look for the option to setup an Amazon Giveaway.

  • You can give away print books, Kindle eBooks, Amazon gift cards, and most products on Amazon.
  • Amazon giveaways are fairly cheap. For a Kindle eBook, you just pay the current sales price (plus sales tax). If there happens to be a Countdown Deal in progress, it costs you even less. For a print book, you must also pay the shipping charges (though if you have Prime, you might notice a sweet reduction in the cost, as of early 2019).
  • The best new feature is at the bottom. Under Discoverability, choose Public to have your giveaway included in the dedicated Amazon Giveaway pages. For authors who don’t already have a large following, this helps strangers discover your work.
  • You can visit the Amazon Giveaway page here: https://www.amazon.com/ga/giveaways. There are currently 147 pages with 3500 giveaways. Not every product gets optimal exposure, but since many giveaways do result in hundreds of entrants (without added exposure), people are finding products here. There is an option to subscribe to the giveaways.
  • There are currently only two types of giveaways: Lucky Number Instant Win and First-come, First-served. If you’re hoping for exposure from Amazon, choose Lucky Number Instant Win.
  • The downside to Lucky Number Instant Win is that Amazon has greatly restricted the options for the odds of winning. Amazon will give you a few options, which varies depending on the product, and you must select one of the options. For many Kindle eBooks, the options are 100, 200, and 300. For some paperbacks, the options are 400 to 600.
  • If you’re hoping to give away a large number of products, you either need an extremely popular giveaway, or you need to have a large following of your own and then pick First-come, First-served.
  • Unfortunately, KDP books aren’t eligible for a discount, and the giveaway dashboard doesn’t show the number of sales. These options are for Amazon Sellers who sell products through Amazon Seller Central. Feel free to email KDP support and request that they add an option to discount KDP published books in Amazon Giveaways. It would be great if they did this.
  • You can gain valuable data by checking your giveaway dashboard. Divide the number of Hits by the number of Entrants. The smaller this number, the greater the percentage of people who checked out your giveaway proceeded to enter the contest. Divide the number of Hits by the number of Product Page Visits. The smaller this number, the greater the percentage of people who checked our your giveaway visited your product page. If 1 out of 2 people enter your contest, that’s much better than if 1 out of 10 people do. Similarly, if 1 out of 10 people visit your product page, that’s much better than if 1 out of 50 people do. These ratios tell you something about the marketing appeal of your cover and title (but it also depends on how well your book appeals to the giveaway audience, which isn’t a good fit for all books).

GOODREADS GIVEAWAYS

To run a Goodreads giveaway in the United States (or Canada for a print book), login to Goodreads and visit your Author Dashboard. One way is to scroll down to Your Giveaways and click the word giveaway where it says, “Listing a giveaway…” Note that your book (including the edition you need, paperback or Kindle) must first exist on Goodreads (if not, visit the FAQ’s to learn how to properly ask the librarians to add your book).

  • You can give away print books or Kindle eBooks (provided that you published through Amazon KDP). Print books are sometimes appreciated better, and they allow you to include the personal touch. However, giving away 100 Kindle eBooks is quite cost effective. For Kindle eBooks, you don’t need to pay for the books (you just need to pay the setup fee). For print books, you must purchase author copies and ship them yourself (or have each author copy directly shipped to each different address).
  • Check out the Goodreads giveaway page here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway. Compared to Amazon Giveaways, I like that it’s much easier to sort and search.
  • Your Goodreads followers and anyone who has already added your book to their Want to Read list receive notifications that your giveaway is available.
  • Your book will be marked as Want to Read by entrants (unless they undo this).
  • Approximately two weeks after the giveaway ends, winners receive an email reminding them to rate and review the book. They aren’t required to do this, but this does help. A percentage of reviews generally show up at Goodreads (but not nearly as many are likely to show at Amazon).
  • For a print giveaway, you can include a brief thank-you note. You can state that any review at Goodreads, Amazon, or anywhere else will be appreciated, but reviewing is optional (and you should note this in your request). You want to keep it short and simple. You don’t want to sound like you’re harassing the winners, or that you expect a certain star value (since each of these are violations of the policy, and likely will upset the recipients). The best thing is to simply ask for honest feedback.

BOOK MARKETING

Why run a book giveaway?

  • The contest gives you a chance to send a marketing message other than, “Check out my book.” Your message is more like, “Enter for a chance to win a free book.” There is potential here. Some authors are more effective at marketing than others, and thus are more apt to take advantage of this potential than others.
  • The real hope is for word-of-mouth sales. Few books (percentagewise) succeed at this, but for those that do, it’s well worth it. When a book has that magical content and really spreads well by word-of-mouth, every copy you can get into the hands of readers can really pay dividends months in the future. The best way to get word-of-mouth sales has to do with choosing your content wisely and preparing it just right. If you manage to do that, then giveaway copies help to jumpstart sales.
  • It can take several months for word-of-mouth sales to come (and for some books, it never happens). In the meantime, you want to create buzz about your book. You would love to have people talking about your book. Your giveaway and the marketing you do to help promote your giveaway can help with this. Some authors are successful at creating buzz, which helps to generate early sales.
  • Another hope is to get some reviews. Goodreads winners are pretty good at posting reviews at Goodreads (not nearly 100% obviously, but the ratio is often far better than random buyers who read the book), but it’s less common for them to also review the book at Amazon (though it’s great when they do). You’re getting review potential, and the Goodreads reviews are helpful (since readers at Goodreads are looking for books to read).
  • You gain some exposure. Several people who previously didn’t know about your book have seen your title, your name, and your cover. It’s a small part of the branding process.

If all you do is run a giveaway, and you don’t do anything to promote your giveaway, in many cases you probably wouldn’t feel like you got enough out of it.

If you promote the giveaway effectively, and if you also do much other marketing (and premarketing) to help launch your book, and if your content is spectacular, then you are far more likely to reap the benefits of the giveaway.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Changes to Amazon Product Pages, Reviews, Author Central, Etc.

 

AMAZON IS A DYNAMIC MARKETING ENVIRONMENT

Have you noticed a variety of little changes at Amazon recently? Following are some examples.

  • Customer reviews now display in a single column based on helpfulness. Previously, there had been a second column on the right (if you viewed the product page on a PC), giving the most recent reviews significant prominence. Now, the most recent reviews don’t automatically have more prominence than other reviews.
  • Amazon finally fixed the aspect ratio problem associated with Author Central author pages. Previously, when you clicked on an author’s profile at Amazon to open their author page, the cover thumbnails appearing in the top had all been forced into the same narrow aspect ratio, which distorted covers noticeably when they had a distinctly different aspect ratio. Now, if the cover is wider than the default, you get little gray bars at the top and bottom; the cover is no longer distorted.
  • In search results, at the top or bottom of a list, you often find 1-2 books (or other products) with a subtle Sponsored Products label. You also see Sponsored Products on product pages. These are actually paid advertisements, but the way Amazon did this makes them more effective than usual. Especially in search results, they don’t ‘seem’ like advertisements, since they fit right in. Many customers don’t even realize that there is a Sponsored Products label, and even if they do it doesn’t sound like an advertisement. Sponsored Products receive bonus exposure, now that there is a “Sponsored products related to this item” carousel just beneath the “Customers who bought this item also bought” carousel. If you publish a book with KDP, you can run an advertisement for your book via AMS (from KDP); this is available even for paperbacks.
  • There are other labels at Amazon that are changing. The Best Seller labels don’t always include the #1 before them any more, and in some instances they appear in orange, while in other cases they appear in blue. There used to be a #1 New Release label, then it changed to New Release, and today I don’t see new releases highlighted. I’ve also seen other labels, like for items included in a holiday and toy list.
  • Video Shorts display prominently on a product page, showing higher than the customer review section.
  • The options for Amazon Giveaways have changed significantly. There are now only a couple of types of giveaways with fewer options, but now there is less guesswork in setting one up and from the contestants’ point of view, the giveaways are much more standardized and all have a reasonable chance of winning.
  • Some products (even a few traditionally published books) let you clip a coupon. For other books, sometimes the savings are clearly highlighted in search results.
  • Amazon has really been pushing Audible audio books. You can create one using ACX, and even hire a narrator for your book (with the option of splitting royalties instead of paying up front). One of my credit card companies was even incentivizing Audible audio books recently.

What does this mean? Amazon’s website is a dynamic marketing environment for your book (or other product).

For several years, Amazon’s decisions have appeared to aim towards long-term success. A strong part of this has been long-term customer satisfaction.

Obviously, like any business, Amazon wants to earn profits, but unlike some short-sided business practices that I see all too frequently with other companies, Amazon often seems to make a decision based on long-term gains.

Another thing that sets Amazon apart is that, for such an enormous company, it often reacts quickly to change. This makes it a highly dynamic marketplace, compared to a traditionally much slower publishing industry.

These changes tend to favor customer-pleasing content and long-term marketing strategies. A book (or other product) that most customers really enjoy is more likely to be successful in the long run, especially if it gets good exposure in the beginning (an effective marketing campaign that goes beyond Amazon can help with this).

Sometimes, clever people figure out how to take advantage of the system, but since Amazon is dynamic, Amazon often catches onto this and finds way to make a change that hurts those who are trying to take advantage, and is more likely to reward good products long-term. Amazon has always placed a premium on its customer satisfaction metrics, and these metrics continue to evolve.

It pays to visit Amazon every few months (if you’re not already a frequent customer) to see how product pages, searches, etc. are changing. Knowledge is power, and it can impact your marketing decisions.

My recommendation to authors is to focus on writing engaging content that will satisfy your readers (better yet, write such amazing content that it is likely to earn you recommendations and referrals). The engagement part is important because you need customers to start reading and keep reading all the way through. There are so many other books, and so many other forms of entertainment, and your book is competing with those opportunities.

My second recommendation is to focus on long-term marketing strategies. Think long and hard about ways that might help your book continue to sell for many years, or ways to go about marketing that might bring you continued exposure for many years. Content marketing can help with this: For example, post short articles with helpful information (possible even if you write fiction) relating to your book, hoping to catch daily traffic through search engines. Effective long-term marketing strategies tend to be less susceptible to publishing dynamics.

If you tend to favor short-term promotional strategies, you really need to keep up with the latest changes.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides