Friday, 11 November 2011

Self-Publishing Tips & Tricks #3: Marketing, The Basics

So you've written your book, polished it until it shines, got a killer cover, a great synopsis and you're pricing strategy is all  worked out. What next?

Once you've come down from the giddy high of seeing *your* book for sale on Amazon (and everywhere else on the web) you need to start thinking about how other people are going to find it. There are over 850,000 books in the Kindle store alone, so the chances of people stumbling onto your masterpiece all by themselves are remote. Certainly they won't stumble in great enough numbers for you to be able to tell the boss where he can stick his day job.

First things first, tags. These can be found on your product page on Amazon, about half-way down. The tag section looks like this:

Those are my tags for Blood & Ash. You can add up to 15, so get going. Start typing them into the box, and make sure they're relevant. As you type Amazon will second-guess what you're writing, and also show you how popular your tags are. Don't forget to check this out: is 'vampire' more popular than 'vampires'? Remember that the more popular a tag the more likely that people will be using it as a search term, but also the further down the list your book is going to appear. You want a combination of general tags and more specific ones.

Once you've added your tags they will be linked to your book and bring it up in any search that contains those key words. Each tag will have a little (1) after it, showing that one person has tagged the book with that phrase. Here's where you need friends. Don't get involved in tagging threads, Amazon dislikes them and if you've suddenly got 50 people agreeing with all your tags it just waves a big red flag over your book. There is a fine line you need to tread because every vote for a tag bumps your book further up the relevance list for a search of those key words, but too many and it looked like you're another desperate indie. You can see on my tags that I've got 14 people tagging Blood & Ash with 'fairies', eight tagging it 'gay' and the rest have 13 votes.

The eagle-eyed among you will also notice that some of the boxes are ticked, and some aren't. Those are my tags on my book (fairies, fantasy, gay). The full list of my tags is below, the majority of which are not among the most popular. You will also notice that Blood & Ash has a total of 23 tags. This is where you play a very, very sneaky game. Once you've got someone else to vote on a tag and the lovely number changes to (2) you can untag it yourself, and the tag will remain attached to the book. This means that you can add another. And another. And so on. You can technically continue this ad infinitum, but I wouldn't encourage that. Tags are first and foremost meant to be relevant. There is no point in tagging your book as a space opera if it's a historical novel. The trick is to attract readers who are interested in your book. Don't just tag for the sake of tagging. Again, stand on the shoulders of giants. Find the bestselling books in your category and see what their tags are. Some people tag their books with the titles of other books, or other author names (e.g. a horror writer might tag their book Stephen King). It's a common technique, but not one that I like to use. It's a personal decision, and you can always disagree with me.

Reminder: as with all things Amazon, .com,, .de and .fr all count separately, and you will need to repeat your tagging game on each and every site.

So now your tags are sorted. What next? Amazon has a great system that allows you to saturate your reader with information. Is it overkill? Not at all. If they've clicked on your product page and read the synopsis you've got their attention, but maybe they're still not sure. Some people need a little extra push. Most people won't read any further than the synopsis, but you're a fool if you throw away a chance to add a bit extra where you can that might get you some additional purchases. This is where Shelfari comes in. It's an Amazon company, so if you've got an Amazon account you're already a member. Here you can add all manner of additional information about your book, and some of it will display automatically on your Amazon book page. Here's Blood & Ash's as it appears on Amazon:

This shows anyone who's interested that this book is the first in a series, of which three are available. Great if they land on Fire & Ice (book 3) first! It also tells the reader that there are 6 main characters, and shows a description of the first three. The character descriptions allow me to expand on the synopsis and expand on each character's motivation, and also hint more at what happens in the book. (BTW for the purpose of this blog I have cut off the end of each line to make the picture fit, it doesn't just stop like that on Amazon!) You can add more stuff on Shelfari, including quotes, awards, the first sentence, contents, glossary, themes, etc etc. It's up to you how far you go, but Amazon will filter out what it considers the most pertinent information and only displays that.

Your author page is also important. It gives readers a chance to see who has written the book, learn a little bit about you, and it also gives you a landing page where all of your books are listed. To set up yours go to (don't forget to make separate ones for US, UK, DE and FR!). On your product page it will show your author picture and have a link to your author page:

On your page you can add a description about yourself and your work, a full list of all of your books will appear below it, and on the right is a really handy tool that will link into your twitter account and any RSS feeds from blogs, facebook etc. which automatically update. This means that readers can find you on social networking forums, and if you've got a blog or a fan page somewhere they can also jump straight to that, too. The hardest thing you have to do as an author is get readers interested in you, not just your books. So someone likes your first novel ~ great. Now get them following you and they'll probably buy your second and third, too. I've hooked up my twitter account, the RSS from this blog, and also the RSS from my facebook fanpage. Every time I tweet, or blog, or comment on my facebook page it goes automatically to my author page. Just remember to keep it interesting! It gives your readers (fans!) an at-a-glance update as to what you're up to, which is especially useful if you're gearing up to a new release.

Finally, look at what else Amazon provides for its reader community. As an author, steer clear of the reader forums. I cannot stress that enough! In my experience the forums are pretty hostile, no doubt because they're all bored to the back teeth of indies popping up in threads and shilling their own books. I do participate as a reader, and I must admit I've gritted my teeth when in the middle of an interesting debate someone has posted "buy my book!" without attempting to engage. If you think that's marketing, you're already lost. Instead, consider the lists. At the very bottom of your product page Amazon will display lists relevant to your book's genre:

See that 'create a guide' link at the bottom? Go for it! Make sure your books feature prominently within it. Obviously include other books that are relevant (remember in authorship there is no competition ~ no-one is making a reader pick one book and never buy another ever again. Other sales in your genre help you, not hinder you!) The better your list, the more people will take notice of your recommendations, including your own books. Make several lists. Make dozens. Each list provides a link to your book page, and each link is worth its weight in gold when it comes to SEO (which we will get onto in due course). If people get down to this part of a product page either they've already bought that book, loved it and are looking for something similar, or they're not convinced and they're not going to buy it. Either way, your presence in a list at the bottom of a relevant page is going to help you.

So now you've got tags, a Shelfari account, an author page, and your book appears in a number of lists. The tags and lists are going to be what get people to your book, then when they're there Shelfari will bump up your sales numbers, and the author page keeps your readers coming back to find out more about you and your writing. All the basics are in place for you to succeed. Lesson #4: Advanced Marketing, coming soon...

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now


  1. Some excellent advice. Thank you for sharing.

  2. All these marketing posts were very helpful. I really appreciate you posting. It does feel like it's nearly impossible to rise out of the sea of obscurity right now!

    Eric Fisher

  3. It's not easy. This is the stuff that no-one warns you about when you start self-publishing. I learnt the hard way, so I thought I'd try and save others the trauma!!


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