This is the fourth entry in a 10-part series in which I detail the entire experience of self publishing my book. The goal is to offer tips and strategies so you can learn from my successes and mistakes. This week: Amazon optimization.
After taking about two weeks to incorporate the edits I received from my BookBaby editor, I was ready to take the plunge and move forward with the rest of my order. I called my Publishing Specialist, Patrick, and we had a very helpful conversation in which he explained everything I needed to do to upload my manuscript and enter all the design and distribution information. I will detail all of that in the next post, because before I moved forward with all of that, I contacted Smith Publicity for my third and final consultation.
According to Patrick and my Smith contact, Emma Boyer, most people who order the Amazon optimization consultation with Smith do so after their book is already published — probably because they are unsatisfied with their sales or their search engine ranking. There is nothing wrong with that, and if you are already published and want to boost your Amazon sales, it’s not a bad thing to do. (Like BookBaby’s other marketing consultation services, which I detailed in my second post, the Amazon optimization consult costs $399 for a one-hour phone call.)
However, a better time to have this conversation is before you upload your manuscript to BookBaby. Not only is it better to do it right the first time, so you’re firing on all cylinders right out of the gate, but it will save you the hassle of trying to fix it later on. Although Amazon is designed for authors to be able to change almost every part of their listing, if you are publishing through BookBaby, you have to ask BookBaby to make these changes for you. (My book isn’t published yet, so I can’t speak to how much of a pain this is or how long it takes. BookBaby is certainly happy to do this for you, and according to Emma, her clients who have used BookBaby have had no complaints, but I thought I would mention it.)
OK, so let’s get down to the details.
My entire phone call with Emma centered around the seemingly unexciting subject that is metadata. Metadata literally means “data about data,” but in terms of publishing, it is essentially all the information that will help readers find your book.
Obviously, Amazon is hugely important to authors. BookBaby makes your books available in many different bookstores, but Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in the distribution room. This means you need to focus your attention on optimizing your metadata to get the best search results for Amazon’s search engine algorithm, and their rules are ever-changing and they often don’t make sense.
When you’re listing your book with Amazon, either through BookBaby or directly with Amazon, you will be asked to enter up to seven keywords. This may be the most important thing you have control over in terms of improving your search results. (A “keyword,” by the way, isn’t just one word, it is typically a two- to four-word phrase.)
According to Emma, Amazon doesn’t treat books any different than any other product. The same way you create a listing for your book is the same way someone creates a listing for selling dog treats. Knowing this, it’s good to step back and think of your book as a product, and the best way to do that is to think as an Amazon consumer would.
Go to Amazon and shop for something other than a book. As you type words in the search bar, Amazon will give you a bunch of suggestions based on popular searches by its customers, so you can see what keywords people are using to find that item. If I am looking for a pond filter, I type in the word “pond,” and these terms will pop up: “pond pump,” “pond filter,” “Ponds cold cream,” etc. Add the word “filter” and you’ll see more targeted suggestions, “pond filter media,” “pond filter for koi ponds,” etc. If you were selling pond filters, you would want to make a note of these suggestions to use them for your Amazon keywords. The same is true for your book.
I have written a humorous young adult fantasy novel. If a customer were searching for a book like mine, what would he/she type in? Well, if I type “humorous young adult,” the first thing that pops up is “young adult humorous fiction.” “Funny fantasy books” is another. My book, The Dragon Squisher, features dragons (believe it or not). If I type in “dragon,” I get a bunch of “dragon ball z” suggestions. If I add “fantasy” I get “dragon fantasy books.” That seems like a good keyword.
But there are other ways customers look for books. For example, Emma mentioned that if she were trying to buy a book for her niece, she might type in “book for five-year-old about kindness.” With that, a bunch of great-looking titles show up that seem to perfectly meet that criteria. So, rather than just focusing on the big picture, try to think about what themes may make your book different from other books of your genre and include keywords that might help readers searching for a book like yours. Maybe your book is a mystery but it also deals with LGBT issues, or perhaps you have a romance novel that also deals with addiction, or historical fiction that deals with coming-of-age issues, etc.
Lastly, think about books that are similar to yours. Try various searches and if those books are showing up, use those keywords for your book.
If you have ever struggled with a query letter, you will have a sense of how hard it is to write a good book description. Not only are you trying to craft an utterly compelling sales pitch for your book, you are also writing text that will be used for the Amazon search engine.
The best thing to do is to look at descriptions for titles similar to yours. Keep in mind that only the first 60-70 words are going to fall above the fold, or above the “Read more” link. This is the most important part of your description because people don’t usually click on that “Read more” link. So these 60-70 words need to be the right 60-70 words to sell your book.
Here’s a good description I found for Ghost Story by Jim Butcher:
Chicago wizard Harry Dresden gets a taste of the dead life in this novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.
In his life, Harry’s been shot, stabbed, sliced, beaten, burned, crushed, and tortured. And after someone puts a bullet through his chest and leaves him to die in the waters of Lake Michigan, things really start going downhill.
Trapped between life and death, he learns that his friends are in serious trouble. Only by finding his …
Fans of the Dresden Files series are going to buy this book anyway, but if you just happened upon this description while browsing, it would be hard to argue that those 61 words aren’t compelling.
Formatting tip: Most authors bold the first sentence of their description. Also, Emma told me to mention my book’s title in my description (to improve search results) and to make sure it appears in italics. (Amazon’s algorithm doesn’t know it’s a title unless it’s in italics.) BookBaby’s system doesn’t currently allow you to format your text in this manner, though Patrick assured me that once my listing is up, BookBaby can format that text for me.
Learn from my mistakes
When entering your book description on BookBaby’s website, you have the chance to write a short version (up to 2,000 characters) and a long one (up to 4,000). Amazon will include your longer description, and this is a good place to include your keywords. Experts recommend you include two or three keywords for every 100 words in your description. Honestly, I was so exhausted by writing and rewriting my description I didn’t have it in me to write a 4,000-character one.
My advice: take your time and do it right. If you think you’re going to be able to crank out a great book description in an hour, think again. Plan for a couple of days. Write it. Rewrite it. Give it to someone else to read. Rewrite it again. Run it through Grammarly to make sure there are no errors. Then enter it on Amazon or BookBaby.
This is how books are “shelved” on Amazon. You get three categories on Amazon. Give yourself as niche a category as you can so you can get a better ranking. My book is never going to be in the Top 100 in Children’s Books or Fantasy Books, so I need to get into a smaller category where I’m much more likely to get it in the Top 100, which makes Amazon push it more, which snowballs, etc.
Here’s a good example: William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins. Now, Collins’ subject matter is a US President, but Harrison is not exactly Lincoln or Washington, so just listing it under the U.S. President category is unlikely to get results. But she uses her categories wisely. Her book is listed thusly:
- U.S. State & Local History (rank #1512)
- U.S. Presidents (rank #374)
- War of 1812 History (rank #18)
It’s that last category that led me to discover her book.
Her above-the-fold description, by the way, is pretty compelling:
The president who served the shortest term―just a single month―but whose victorious election campaign rewrote the rules for candidates seeking America’s highest office
William Henry Harrison died just thirty-one days after taking the oath of office in 1841. Today he is a curiosity in American history, but as Gail Collins shows in this entertaining and revelatory biography, he…
Note: If you want your book to be categorized as a children’s, teen, or young adult book, you will be asked to provide an age-range. For example, for teen and YA, the minimum recommended age as is 13-17 years old. Amazon will double check this as they are particular about children’s books.
Once your page is up… Double check it to make sure everything is the way it should be. Mistakes happen and you want to catch them ASAP.
Add links around the web!
While Amazon often changes its algorithm and it can be hard to know exactly what it uses for its searches, according to Emma, if people reach your page from links outside of Amazon, it boosts your book’s relevance. So when your page is live, post links to your Amazon book listing everywhere you can — from Twitter, Facebook, your website, author bios on guest blog posts — and encourage people to click on them.
Customer reviews are the number one thing Amazon shoppers look at, so whatever you can do to make sure you have good reviews the better. That means asking your friends and family to review your book as soon as it’s published. Verified reviews — meaning those by customers who purchased the book through Amazon — count more than unverified reviews. Be sure to tell people who are reviewing your book NOT to include a phrase like “in exchange for” (as in, “I am reviewing this book in exchange for a free copy provided to me by the author”). Amazon will consider that review invalid.
If you get blurbs or professional reviews, there is an editorial review section on Amazon, which is in your control. If you get a review or a blurb, be sure to reach out to BookBaby and ask them to put it in this section.
Like my other consultations with Smith, this phone call offered a ton of value. If you can only choose one of the three Smith consultations (Book Marketing Planner, Social Media, and Amazon Optimization), I would choose the Book Marketing Planner, which is going to offer you the biggest and most personalized bang for your buck. But there is no denying that having an expert help you drive sales on Amazon is invaluable. (Of course, my book’s not up yet, so we’ll see how good the results are. I’ll update this page when I have some data.)
Read the rest of the series:
Stay tuned for more adventures in self publishing. Still to come: design, printing, print on demand, and more. Comment below if you have any questions about any part of the publishing process, or if you feel like I left something out. And keep an eye out for my humorous YA fantasy novel, The Dragon Squisher, coming this Fall.
(Follow me on Instagram at authorscottmccormick!)
Tell your book’s story with metadata
How To Work With A Self-Publishing Company
Your Book As A Product, And Other Takeaways From The Creative Penn Interview
Choosing The Best Categories For Your Book Sales on Amazon
Book Reviews: The Ultimate Word Of Mouth Promotion
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