How Amazon helps authors promote books
If you decide to publish books independently you should rely on Amazon as your primary marketing mechanism. But making your book available at Amazon is just the beginning. The next phase is promoting the book month after month, and Amazon can help you.
There are many reasons for the success of Amazon in helping authors sell books. David Gaughran, a book marketing professional and an indie author, has a very good book titled Amazon Decoded based on studying Amazon since 2011 and applying lessons he has learned. He details the inner workings of how Amazon has achieved marketplace dominance, but he is quick to state that he doesn’t know everything about Amazon.
Here’s a simplification of what he believes: One reason for the Amazon success is because a rising sales ranking over a few days stimulates the Amazon algorithms to recommend the title to likely customers in the same genre and category. Then, for three or four weeks, Amazon pushes the recommendations to likely customers while they are on the Amazon site and by sending follow-up emails.
Everybody knows that Amazon algorithms examine book data on the site 24/7 and update the sales ranking hourly for each category and sub-category based on paid sales and Kindle Unlimited downloads. That means that Amazon knows exactly how many individual titles people buy in which market niche, the price, how many readers post reviews, and how readers rate the books they buy and read. All that also affects popularity and relevance.
So, how can authors trigger the Amazon algorithms to promote a book? Gaughran recommends using price discount promotions for Kindle versions to reach more potential readers, increase downloads, and get more reviews.
If your promo produces increasing sales over four days, Gaughran says Amazon begins promoting your book by recommending it to customers interested in the same categories. His research and experience indicate that it takes about four days of sustained increased sales before the Amazon algorithms start engaging.
Gaughran’s book discusses in detail his promotion strategy for his clients and for his own fiction and non-fiction books, and he includes examples. It involves running each promotion for several consecutive days and telling everybody you know about the promo, especially email contacts and newsletter subscribers and blog followers. It doesn’t necessarily require buying ads on Amazon or social media or paid promo sites, but he says that can help.
No other book retailer has the market potential and marketing savvy that Amazon has, and nobody does it better. Amazon in the USA has an estimated 8 million titles in more than 13,000 categories and sub-categories, each with a Top 100 Best Seller list. The New York Times reports that some industry analysts say Amazon accounts for more than half of all books sold in the US market, and nearly 70 per cent of eBook sales.
Adding your paperback, Kindle version, and audible version to the growing list of Amazon titles enables you to make your book available far beyond personal presentations, book signings, and other events.
Personal perspective: If you’re an indie author, you can use expanded distribution from Amazon KDP to try to get retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, and IndieBound to market your books. The B&N site boasts of having 6 million titles, but I’ve had very few online sales.
To test my visibility on the B&N site, I searched it this week for titles about “retiring and living in Mexico” and the search resulted in only three titles. I was delighted that one of the titles is the 2011 paperback version of my self-published book I Love Baja! with true tales about expats living on the Baja peninsula in Mexico, and which has an overall Amazon sales ranking close to #1,000,000.
What amazed me is that the B&N site did not find a popular paperback version in the same genre for a 2019 anthology with 27 real life stories of other expats living in Mexico, which has an overall Amazon sales rank close to #100,000. It’s self-published by Janet Blaser, one of the 200+ authors in the Facebook group Mexico Writers that I help administer.
So, I used the ISBN 9780578446226 to search B&N for her 2019 anthology but the title wasn’t listed. Here’s the popup message resulting from my B&N search: “Sorry, we couldn't find what you're looking for. Please try another search or browse our recommendations below.” Instead, it recommended bestselling titles in other genres by J.K. Rowling, Lee Child, John Grisham, Frank Herbert, and Tatsuki Fujimoto.
That’s just one example of how Amazon creates visibility for indie authors and Barnes & Noble doesn’t. Another example is that I don’t recall receiving any emails from B&N recommending books even though I’ve had a B&N account since 2010.
To me, Amazon algorithms that promote books is a high-tech advancement over the old days when knowledgeable staffers in bookstores offered to help customers find books they might want to buy and pulled books from the shelves to show them. Those days of helpful bookstore employees are gone or disappearing.
Nowadays, most bookstores leave customers to browse shelves alone and interact only at the checkout counter to process a sale. During the past 10 years, only a couple of clerks at independent bookstores have asked me at checkout for my email contact information. Sometimes, I receive an email invitation to pay $25 or more to hear an author presentation, but I don’t think the stores ever sent me an email suggesting other books to buy.