You know that saying – your book is your baby? What if I told you that this is true in more ways that one?
Your book is a “baby” during the first month after it goes Live on Amazon. But what does a “baby book” even mean?
A baby book does not differ much from a baby human in several ways.
First, human babies have a family but they have no friends (yet). Likewise, book babies have an author, editor, etc. but the books that appear on their page on Amazon are more like strangers that bear no relevance. In the first days, no books appear, so your book has zero friends (sorry).
Second, what happens during a person’s baby years will define much of their character and life path. Similarly, your book’s first baby steps will have a huge effect on its future.
Enough with this baby talk.
Before you go on reading, you must (absolutely must) open your mind to the idea of Data. I wrote the word Data with a capital D because if you want to give your baby the best chance it’s got, then you must start thinking of Data as some sort of deity. That’s the bad news (one God is enough – I think).
The good news is that you don’t have to collect or even understand the data. Being in the position to do so would give you superpowers – no doubt. But you just want to raise your book baby. And for that, all you need to do is respect the Data – especially when, your book is still a baby.
Here is why you should respect the Data.
Data will decide the other books that your book will get to hang out with. Data will decide if and where your book appears on Amazon’s pages, including search results and Amazon pages of other books. I am referring to the “Customers also bought” and “Customers also viewed” sections that make Amazon such a great place to research products.
Data will also decide if and to whom your book is promoted to via Amazon emails and on-site recommendations. These recommendations are completely customized for each person. They are Amazon’s bet for what it thinks you would love to buy and enjoy next.
Data will basically decide the future of your book.
Data will make a decision about your book quite fast. In fact, Amazon’s recommendation system will pigeon-hole your book faster than any other AI or human I ever could.
That’s because Amazon has the most advanced recommendation engine and the most relevant data in the world. If you think about it, Amazon did for retail what Google did for search. They tamed the beast that is Crowd Knowledge, and they made it work for their customers. Google used backlinks to do it and give the most relevant search results. Amazon used the browsing, buying, reviewing and (more recently) eBook reading activities of their users to make product discovery easier and more fun.
Google and Amazon have been doing this sort of stuff forever.
When other retailers took notice and started replicating Amazon’s recommendation systems – there was only one way for Amazon to stay ahead of the game. They had to make their recommendation engine the best. In Amazon’s terms, better meant faster and more accurate.
They designed algorithms that can “categorize” people, behaviors and products with as little data and as little time as possible.
It means that Amazon will decide what your book is about, who it might interest, and what other books it relates to, in the first month after its publication – in other words, while it’s still a baby.
Why can I not tell Amazon what my book is about?
Wait a minute, you might say – doesn’t Amazon decide what the book is about from the keywords I enter in KDP? What about the categories I so diligently selected? What about the title I spent one year coming up with?
The answer is – yes, but.
Do you remember Altavista? It was a search engine that decided if your page should rank for specific keywords based on how many times that keyword was on your page. Altavista is not relevant anymore. Amazon does not want to be Altavista, obviously.
Who visits your book page on Amazon.
Who buys your book.
Who returns your book.
Who reviews your book and the rating they leave.
Who actually reads your book (if a Kindle book) and how far do they get.
What other books that person browsed/bought when they browsed/bought your book.
What other books that person has browsed/bought/returned/reviewed/ read in the past.
That’s a lot of data if you ask me. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to mangle through all of it?
Amazon will take all this data about your baby book and make a citizen of it. Amazon will decide your book’s social circle, its role in society and, ultimately, its salary. Amazon will decide if your book becomes successful or a nobody.
And most of that happens during the first month.
Can you not make Amazon change its mind about a book later in its career? Yes, you can. It’s just much harder and it requires more of everything. So you better get it right from the beginning.
The question then is, how do we give our book the best chance it’s got? How do we set it on the path to success?
The answer is three words (only).
Quality Over Volume.
The people that visit your book page and most importantly, the people who buy your book during the first month, will give Amazon all it needs to judge it – perhaps, for eternity.
So, if your book is about assembling satellites and 200 science fiction fans buy it, none of who is an engineer… guess what! Forget those NASA dudes – they will never see it.
If 200 random people who share nothing but their humanity buy your book, Amazon’s recommendation system will have nothing to work with. Your book will only show up when somebody searches for the title or for a title keyword – if you are lucky.
Ask me if I would prefer that 1000 random people buy my book, or that 100 fans buy my book and I would choose the second bunch any time. If I have just launched my book, I would rather have nobody buy it than 1000 random people.
That’s because I want my book to have a long life.
For that, I must aim at quality first. Volume will come gradually as a result.
You need a different marketing mindset. Aiming for volume and aiming for quality are two different strategies.
Volume might require a book description with a wide appeal. Quality requires a description with a narrow and focused appeal. The same goes for Amazon ads. If you were going for volume you could use a high-profile name, i.e. for fans of Dan Brown. Quality means that you must target smaller who write in the same super-niche category as you do.
Above all, you must sell your book to people who like this kind of book. I call these people “fans”.
If these fans also happen to read a lot, all the better! I call fans who read a lot “serial readers”.
Advertising to fans and serial readers gives Amazon more data to play with and draw insights from. Think about it for a second. Which customer is more useful to Amazon? Somebody who buys a Dan Brown and Steven King novel every year, or somebody who devours a book every two days or so. These people have no option but to buy from the smaller names and they do.
Promoting your book to these readers is as important as NOT promoting your book to the wrong audience.
So, what about giveaways and free KDP days? If you can give free books as gifts to people you know will like your book, by all means, do so. However, making your book free and advertising on various sites to get downloads does not make sense during the first month. You are only going to pollute your data with freebie seekers, and you will most likely lose money even in the short term.
$0.99 offers can work if you also promote them to a highly targeted audience. Serial readers consume a lot of content and they will jump on a good deal. However, you still must make sure your promotion targets the right people.
Sounds like a lot to do, doesn’t it? Having the right mindset and actually making this work is a different story. Here are some tips to get you started.
Put your book on $.99 sale in KDP. You can also set the price to $.99 but you will only be getting 35% back, whereas with your book on sale you can still get 70%.
Buy 100 gift copies of your book. You must buy each copy individually (I know it’s a pain). You can also buy them in bulk but you will not get Verified reviews if you do.
Every time you buy a gift copy, have it emailed to yourself.
You should now have a list of 100 links.
The list must include people that love the genre of your book. How did you collect the emails? Is it likely that non-fans joined the list? If you are not sure, can you curate the list and filter out the non-fans?
Select the top 100 fans of your list.
Send each fan an email with the gift link. Make sure you let them know this is a gift and ask them for a review if they liked the book.
Most people will accept the gift. Some may even leave reviews. Either way, you will have achieved your goal of having a highly targeted audience get your book.
It’s better to do this in the first days after your launch. If you do it later, you might need to give away more books.
You must put in the hours to manually find true fans. Don’t post a giveaway as this will attract freebie seekers. Instead, go fan hunting on forums, boards, and Facebook groups.
Always send a personal message and ask a user if they want to receive a free copy before sending them the link. Avoid telling them it is an Amazon gift link from the beginning. Anybody would be happy to accept an Amazon gift link as they can exchange it for a gift card of the same value, i.e. they don’t have to actually get the book (in this case, you also lose the royalties).
Setup Amazon Sponsored Product ads and target specific books that are in the same genre. Avoid targeting keywords and categories as these may attract the wrong buyers. Instead, target competitor books and bid on the higher end of the suggested bid range.
Make sure your ad copy attracts the right audience.
Chances are you will be losing money with these campaigns. That’s ok. Your goal, for now, is not to run a profitable advertising campaign. Your goal is to break into the “also-bought” neighborhood of these target books and become their friend.
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