by Anne Janzer
What do you do in the hours or days after your book is published? If you’re like me, you start looking at the sales numbers or Amazon ranking. Is anyone buying it?
Checking your Amazon ranking or Kindle sales numbers can become addictive, if you’re not careful. It’s like Candy Crush for authors – you get a small dopamine hit every time the sales go up.
But when those first book launch or promotion sales level off, it can be disappointing. We all want people to buy our books, and that initial surge felt so good! So, we go looking for ways to move more books. The Internet is filled with ideas.
In chasing the short-term book sales, we can inadvertently harm our long-term results.
Here are three common traps that authors fall into. The first two are fairly specific to Amazon, because for many authors, most royalty numbers come from that big bookstore in the clouds. The third is common to everyone who has a brain.
1. Dominating the Wrong Categories
My book The Writer’s Process combines guidance on writing process with cognitive science concepts. The ebook distributor Pronoun (now shut down) used to send me category recommendations. Every month, Pronoun would suggest that the book would rank very well in the category Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing > Erotica.
That’s right, I could have totally owned the category for writing erotica.
Maybe. Perhaps it would have risen to earn the “best-seller” label for a day or so.
Alas, the book has absolutely nothing about erotica in it, and I suspect that it would disappoint buyers looking for genre-specific advice, like The Ultimate Guide to Writing Erotica for Profit.
A quick glance at Amazon shows many books appearing in strange, unrelated, and little-populated categories. I assume that the publisher hopes to earn a “best-seller” label in an uncompetitive slot.
Putting your book in an ill-fitting category hurts your book’s long-term prospects in a few ways:
- It attracts the wrong buyers.
- If people buy it and are unhappy, they might return the book or leave negative reviews.
- (Amazon-specific) If enough people buy it, mistakenly or not, the “Also Bought” books that appear underneath your book won’t reflect your real audience.
Had I chosen to go with the erotica category, then the erotic “Also Bought” books that appear under The Writer’s Process might have confused the geeky, cognitive-science-loving or process-driven writers I am trying to reach.
There’s nothing wrong with picking a niche category and dominating it, as long as that category fits your book and your target audience. But if you’re choosing the lawn bowling category just to get an empty “best-seller” adjective on your name, think twice. You’re feeding the wrong kind of data to Amazon, and in the long term, that makes it harder for Amazon to recommend the book to the right potential readers.
2. Promoting to the Wrong Audience
Book promotion sites promise to send dozens, hundreds, or thousands of potential readers to your book – especially if you discount the book or make it free.
The top dog in this field is BookBub. If you manage to earn a “Featured Deal” on BookBub, it will promote your book in an email that goes out to millions of readers. Millions! Authors swear by these deals.
But landing a Featured Deal on BookBub is very competitive. Sometimes BookBub may counter-offer with a less competitive category – one that’s broader or less specific to your ideal audience.
Do you take it? You’ll still get a lot of sales. But BookBub’s high volumes of sales are dangerous. You’ll feed Amazon with thousands of data points of THE WRONG AUDIENCE DATA.
This problem plagues other, less massive promotion sites. If your brand-new doesn’t have much purchase data, even a few dozen sales from the wrong buyers can mislead Amazon. You might get people who buy the book only because it’s free or heavily discounted, who otherwise wouldn’t touch it. That’s not your ideal audience.
Amazon may start recommending your book to other people, like those discount buyers. They won’t buy when the book is back to full price.
Selling large numbers of books to people outside your core audience teaches Amazon to market the book to the wrong people – the ones who won’t love or refer your book to others.
(Hat tip to David Gaughran’s wonderful new book Strangers to Superfans for helping me understand this problem with off-kilter book promotions!)
I’d much rather spend money getting my book in front of people who are going to love and recommend it. For the cost of a BookBub promotion, I could buy 100 author copies and mail them media rate to 100 people whom I think will find it valuable and recommend it to others like them. Yes, it’s more work – but it might lead to lot more sales in the long run.
The third danger has nothing to do with Amazon and everything to do with what’s going on in your head.
3. The Psychological Toll of Chasing Quick Wins
When you chase short-term sales, you’re thinking about numbers and revenue. But your long-term success depends on human behavior. Remember, sales numbers are the result of human behavior.
The more you focus on the numbers, the less you’ll think about your readers. And over time, that affects your writing and your attitude toward potential buyers.
Several psychological studies have demonstrated that thinking about money has a negative effect on empathy.
In one study, researchers from Harvard and the University of Utah primed participants with thoughts of money through simple word games. Some participants crafted sentences using words related to money, while others used neutral words. The subjects were then given a series of questions about ethical scenarios. Those who had been primed to think about money chose less ethical responses.
If you spend all of your time focused on sales rather than your readers’ needs, it may affect the way that you interact with readers. You’ll become one of those authors who are always selling rather than serving. Readers can sense this.
To develop a long author career, balance the short-term sales with long-term strategy. You’ll need sustainable approaches to book marketing that will grow organically. When you do invest in promotions or short-term campaigns, do so in a way that supports your book’s sustained growth.
If you’re interested in creating sustainable book marketing strategies, join me at the BAIPA meeting in the afternoon of June 9 for an interactive workshop on this topic!
Anne Janzer is an award-winning indie author. In her previous career, she was a marketer; her marketing manifesto Subscription Marketing is in its second edition and a best seller in Japan. She’s also an armchair cognitive science geek, as you’ll discover if you talk with her long enough or read her book The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear. She combines those interests by speaking about book marketing. Find more at annejanzer.com.