I know many authors who recoil at the very thought of promoting ebooks. I suspect the reason is that many authors think promotion equals endlessly tweeting “Buy my ebook!” The good new is: that is not what I mean when I talk about effective ebook promotion. The bad news is: effective promotion is more complex and takes a lot more work. Fortunately, it can also be a lot of fun. It’s kind of like throwing a really great party. It takes planning and attention to detail, but once the party begins, it should be as fun for the host as it is the guests.
Promoting Ebooks with Social Media
Or: Why Tweeting “Buy My Ebook” Doesn’t Work
Many people think BS (Blatant Self-promotion) doesn’t work because it’s obnoxious. Well, it is. It’s also boring. But the main reason it doesn’t work is because it’s marketing directed at human beings. This approach is the modern day equivalent of snail-mailing postcards and doing book signings. Authors did this in the past because it was about the only thing we could do. It was also a fairly futile waste of time and money. We did it, though, because we were powerless to do the one thing we knew would have a significant impact on our sales nationwide: Co-op dollars, baby.
Before I can explain how social media has helped to level the playing field, I need to dip into how things work in the traditional publishing world.
Placement in the Brick and Mortar Bookstores
If a publisher is behind a print book enough to pay co-op dollars for special placement on an end cap or special display in a major bookstore chain, that title is going to sell many times more copies than a title that is simply shelved on an aisle.
Search Engine Optimization Gives Co-op Dollars a Run for the Money
The reason indie authors are storming the bestseller charts at Amazon is because the Amazon search engine has leveled the playing field. Yes, publishers can still pay to have their titles displayed prominently on all the ebookstore Websites, but indie authors who understand SEO can use certain strategies to push their titles up the charts—which gives a title the same exposure in the e-world as special placement does in the print-world. Some authors do this instinctively without really understanding how or why their ebooks are taking off. Well, here’s the key:
The #1 Rule to Effective Ebook Promotion is to Market to the Search Engines First, Human Beings Second.
Notice I said engines, plural. That’s because there are many and they each work differently, because each one was programmed with different algorithms. An algorithm is a mathematical equation that controls how the search engine will organize whatever it controls. I’m going to cover three groups of search engines that authors need to understand to promote their ebooks effectively.
Bookstore Search Engines
The Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Sony search engines control the order ebooks are displayed to potential buyers. They display ebooks in two main ways: the charts, and the also boughts. While algorithms are closely guarded secrets, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that B&N’s search engine skews things in favor of the traditional publishers while Amazon does not. That is one of the many reasons indie authors have an easier time climbing the charts at Amazon than they do at any of the other ebookstores.
Internet Search Engines
Google is by far the big daddy in this world. I could go on for pages and pages about Google SEO, but the Internet abounds with information. All I’m going to say for now is if you want to succeed as an author (whether you’re going indie or you’re with a traditional publisher), you need to educate yourself on how to improve your Website (or blog) SEO. If your Website SEO is low, you are missing an important element in your promotion platform. It’s like having a three-legged table and snapping off one of the legs. It’s not going to stand.
Here are some of my older posts that might help. Keep in mind these posts were written years ago about my old Website. They are not about my current site. My current Website is an excellent example of effective structure. Pay particular attention to where I have my newsletter subscription box and my social-networking links. Again — on my Website — not on this blog.
Social Networking Search Engines
The main one at present is Facebook. Twitter is so straightforward, there’s no need to go into it with this post. As for Pintrest, I haven’t delved into that world yet, so I’ll save it for later. With Facebook, though, authors need to have a page, not just a profile, and they need to learn how to read and use the insights that Facebook provides. Your goal with Facebook isn’t just to increase your number of likes. It’s to improve the percentage of people you engage which will improve your overall reach. Study your insights to understand what type of posts engage the people in your network.
In the coming weeks, I will delve into each of these components more deeply, but here’s my main point with this post:
Using SEO Increases Your Ebook Discoverability
The things you do outside of the bookstore search engine that increase your SEO on the Internet and in the world of social networking will drive traffic to your ebooks within the bookstore, which will improve your ebook discoverability. So, if you’re wondering, “Is it really important for me to be active on Facebook and Twitter?” Yes! You don’t have to be a master at both, and most authors tend to prefer one over the other, but yes, you do need to have a presence in some form of social networking.
As for the question, “Do I really need to spend the money—or time—to make my Website more effective?” Again, yes! Notice I said make it more effective, not make it prettier. Making it pretty is about branding. That’s the human element. Search engines don’t care what your site looks like. So, for the purposes of this conversation, your Website needs to be attractive to search engines, not human beings. And it needs to drive traffic to your social networking sites as well as have buy links.
Think of your overall Web presence as portals into the bookstore.
By overall Web presence I mean your Facebook page, Twitter account, Website, blog (if you have one), guest blog appearances, newsletter, and any advertizing you do. But these don’t just drive traffic to the point of purchase. They need to drive traffic to each other, so they all grow together.
How SEO and social networking improve your ebook placement in a bookstore.
When promoting ebooks, your goal shouldn’t be “sell more ebooks.” That mindset leads to authors sending out those obnoxious “Buy my ebook” tweets. Which is basically like handing out bookmarks to strangers on the street and asking them to go search down the loooooong aisle where your ebook is shelved spine-out and please buy a copy.
Your goals should be:
- Increase traffic at your portals by improving your Internet SEO (and engaging readers once they’re there!), which will…
- Increase traffic to your product page inside the ebookstore, which will…
- Lead to sales, which will…
- Improve your ebook placement (i.e. discoverability) inside the ebookstores, which will…
- Lead to more sales, which will…
- Improve your ebook discoverability even more…
When you improve your discoverability, you’re basically moving your ebook from being buried halfway down that long aisle to an endcap. Do a good enough job at this process, and the search engines will place your ebook smack-dab in a display at the front of the store. In other words, through savvy social networking and effective SEO, you’ve just done what authors could never do in the physical world of print books and brick-and-mortar stores: You bought special placement.
Grant it, the hardest part of the process is to simply get it started, but once it starts, it can build on itself and takes on a life of its own. So, focus on the process (increasing traffic) and the end result (selling more ebooks) will take care of itself. Yes, you will still post updates about your writing, new releases, and any special promotions you’re doing, but the bulk of your interaction with readers will be as a cordial host chatting with guests at your party.
So when you think about ebook promotion, don’t think about a megaphone. Think about a party horn. Make promotion a good time, not a sales pitch.