Kindle and Amazon Search Results

Over the next few postings I’m going to examine the following screen shot that I took on Amazon when I entered the phrase “successful authors self publishing” into the Amazon search box on August 11.  Sorry the graphic is so small; I had to make sure it could fit in this narrow column on this blog template.  Basically, this is showing the first nine results of the search phrase.   The 8th book is missing its cover image. There is an advertisement in the lower left-hand corner. And directly above the advertisement is an Amazon “promotion” for listmania lists.

Since we’re currently on the topic of the Highly Effective Kindle edition, I first want to draw your attention to the double exposure my book, The Highly Effective Habits of 5 Successful Authors, is receiving on the first page of this search results screen.  I mentioned in a previous post that the $0.35 I make every time the Kindle edition sells is merely icing on the cake, and not particularly important to me.  What is important is that when applicable search terms are typed into the Amazon search engine, my book cover appears TWICE.  This, I feel, is one of the true benefits of the Kindle edition and is a concept I discuss to some degree in my book Sell Your Book on Amazon.

Getting a book to place on Page One of any Amazon search is an art onto itself, and there are many techniques and tactics an author can employ to reach such objectives.  The value, therefore, of having a similarly-titled Kindle edition is that once you reach that objective on the search page, you are receiving “two bangs for your buck” through the visual repetition of your book cover and book title.

It’s hard to say whether The Highly Effective Habits of 5 Successful Authors is the very FIRST thing your eye gravitates to on the screen shot above.  After all, it’s fighting for attention from the red ad in the bottom left corner, which has the advantage of being the single largest graphic image on the page.  It’s also fighting for attention from those two obnoxiously bright yellow cover images along the left-hand side (and more on that in a future post).   But among the actual results themselves, it might be fair to say my book attracts the most attention.  Certainly it’s competing with the bright red Self-Publishing Confidential cover (which is an effective color AND an effective title); but my book has three things going for it that my “competitors” don’t – and by competitors, I mean the other books listed in this particular search, all of which are vying equally for the customer’s attention and dollars. Those 3 advantages are:

  •  there are two of the same graphics in the top 10 (thank you Kindle edition)- repetition matters
  • the cover graphic isn’t white – see how book #1 and #6 get completely lost?
  •  the cover graphic is significantly bigger than all the other covers on the page

So we’ll discuss each of these elements of this screen shot in future posts…

The Highly Ineffective Habits of Barnes & Noble

I like Barnes & Noble. In fact, as a writer myself, it probably doesn’t come as a shock to learn that I love all bookstores. But times haven’t been kind to the traditional bookstore since about 1995 or so. That is when Amazon.com came into existence and slowly (quickly) began changing book buying habits. Now, the physical locations of Barnes & Noble bookstores are becoming more of a liability than an advantage; and much like Blockbuster was forced to examine its business model in the wake of NetFlix, so too is Barnes & Noble starting to recognize the forward-thinking of Amazon from behind the 8-ball.   In fact, at the beginning of August, Barnes & Noble announced that it was “on the block” and looking for a buyer. Read the interesting article in Fast Company here.

Interestingly, even such news comes with a silver lining. Barnes & Noble’s digital business (its website at bn.com and its Nook) continues to grow and, along with Amazon.com’s growing market share, further supports the notion that distribution-on-demand with self-publishing companies like Outskirts Press is not only a viable solution but is on its way toward becoming the de facto standard for how books are distributed and sold.  And with both Nook and Kindle versions of e-books up sharply, authors are well advised to offer not only paperback/hardback editions of every book they publish, but electronic versions as well.  

To support this changing landscape, Outskirts Press recently introduced its Amazon Kindle edition on an a la carte basis to authors seeking this electronic solution regardless of where they published their hardcopy book.  And in the coming months, Nook and iPad services should follow suit.   I could take a moment here to vent about Apple and its monopolistic aggregation agreement briefly (not to mention their cencorship habits) but …. I think I’ll wait until a different post to open that can of worms.  After all, I’m still in the middle of discussing the Highly Effective Kindle edition, and will continue with that topic in more logistic detail next time…

The Highly Effective Kindle Edition

How clever. The title of this blog posting has a double meaning. For one, I’m announcing the Amazon Kindle edition of our new Outskirts Press book The Highly Effective Habits of 5 Successful Authors.  And two, the Kindle Edition IS a highly effective tool for book marketing, and I’ll discuss why and how in the next post.

But first thing’s first.  Within 72 hours of ordering our own Amazon Kindle Edition option from our Outskirts Press website, my Kindle edition was up on Amazon and available for purchase on all the Amazon Kindle devices worldwide.  Not bad for $99.  And I had the option of earning either 30% of the retail price, or 70% of the retail price, as defined by Amazon.  

The benefit of ordering this service through Outskirts Press rather than… say… any other publisher… is that Outskirts Press does not take ANY of the split.  Amazon pays you directly, so you are getting whatever Amazon sends to your bank without any skimming from us. You see (and this is one of the secrets to our publishing success) we pay 100% author royalties, and in the case of e-books, there isn’t a production cost. So Amazon takes their share and the author takes the rest.   No wonder so many authors, regardless of where they published, are using our new a la carte Amazon Kindle Edition service from the new Outskirts Press store. Click here for more details.

Since I wanted as many readers as possible to read this latest book, I set my Kindle retail price at the minimum of $0.99 and as a result, the 30% royalty option was selected for me.  You see, Amazon requires a retail price between $2.99 – $9.99 to receive a 70% royalty. In most cases, I would encourage authors to set their Kindle price at $2.99 and receive 70% (roughly $2 for every sale).   At 30% of $0.99 I’m receiving a whopping thirty-five cents with every sale, but in my opinion, Kindle sales are currently just icing on the cake.  The real motivation is to drive Paperback sales, and I’ll talk about that in a future post.  

Heck, for a limited time, for my blog readers, I’ll GIVE the e-book of The Highly Effective Habits of 5 Successful Authors away.  Click here to read the e-book for free  (and in a way cooler method than on the Kindle, too!).   Or if you prefer the Kindle edition, click here to get it from Amazon for $0.99. In return, just do me a small favor and compose a positive review for it on Amazon.    See, soliciting reviews is an important component of any book marketing strategies and often times you may find that you have to “give the book away” to get reviews.  That’s the beauty of e-books – they’re inexpensive to give away and yet they still (hopefully) prompt participation in the review department.

There is more to discuss about the Highly Effective Kindle edition, and I’ll cover more next time…

Sell Your Book on Amazon – Second Edition updates

For those of you who purchased the first edition of Sell Your Book on Amazon and are wondering whether it is worth buying the second edition, here is a quick rundown of the major changes. I already discussed in a previous post the cover changes, table of contents changes, and indexing changes — although none of those changes apply to the actual content of the book.

The first major change was Amazon’s migration from AmazonConnect to Author Central and how that affects methods for updating your bibliography, your author profile, your blog, and other features on Amazon.  Some of those features previously existed in your Amazon account profile and others previously existed on the product sales page for your book, like the blog, for instance.  With Author Central, much of the specific functionality geared toward authors was consolidated in one place. Does this mean you can focus solely on Author Central now, instead of your Author account profile?  No, because Listmania, Guides, Reviews, your signature header, and other important elements of Amazon promotion still exist in your Amazon account profile.  Author Central just means that now you have to keep two different accounts updated. Isn’t that nice?

The second major change involved Amazon’s launch of the Kindle and Amazon’s subsequent migration from their previous ebook system to their current Digital Text Platform system. Do I recommend a Kindle edition for every book? You betch’a.

Other smaller changes were made to bring the second edition in line with current Amazon guidelines and functionality. These include:

  •  minor alterations to the recommendations I make regarding reviews in light of Amazon’s guidelines changes
  • minor alterations to the process for creating a Listmania list in light of Amazon’s guideline changes
  • minor alterations to the process for creating an Amazon Guide in light of Amazon’s guideline changes
  • several minor alterations to the Book Detail Page chapter in light of moderate changes Amazon made to the sales detail pages — mostly involving analytic information available for the book after it undergoes Search Inside scanning
  • minor alterations to the procedure for using tagging and “search submissions” for promotion since Amazon has since migrated all manual search submissions into their tagging engine
  • alterations to the BXGY promotion since Amazon no longer offers that to non-Advantage members
  • minor alterations to the Publisher’s and Book Sellers Guide analysis since that page is largely out of date even on Amazon’s own site

That’s about it. So if you want to purchase the second edition of SELL YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON, click here.

Sell Your Book on Amazon – cover tactic

Previously I discussed some of the cover issues to consider when publishing a book and marketing it on the internet, particularly Amazon.  I encouraged authors to consider altering the cover image they submit to Amazon to utilize a greater percentage of the “space” Amazon allocates for the image.

Let’s look at an actual example, using my book SELL YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON

Most people won’t search for your book by title or by your name. They will search on Amazon for a keyword or phrase that captures their interest. One of the very popular keyword phrases I optimize for is “book marketing.”  When conducting that search on Amazon today, my book appeared number 10 in the listings on the first page, as shown below:

It comes in directly below The Frugal Book Promoter and two places above Jump Start Your Book Sales.  But I’ll bet your eyes naturally gravitated to THOSE two books first, prior to mine in the image above.  Well, that’s not good — at least, not for me.  The white in my cover gets lost within the white of the webpage, while both those covers are bright. In fact, they’re yellow… hmmm, I wonder why that is…

Granted, The Frugal Book Promoter and Jump Start Your Book Sales are both very good online covers because, surprise surprise, they’re about book marketing, too!  The authors are experts in doing exactly what they’re doing for their own books.   My point is, in all likelihood, your book won’t be competing with marketing experts.  If your book is about bank financing, your competition may not be online marketing savvy, but that’s all the MORE reason to take steps to make YOUR book about bank financing outshine the others, right?

But which image does your eye gravitate toward in this next screen shot? It’s the same search for “book marketing” on Amazon. The titles are all in the same order… I’ve simply adjusted the image that comes up for my book cover:

My image is almost twice as big, which makes the title stand out more, and I’ve replaced the white with a bright, obnoxious yellow to attract attention.  I’m not trying to win any design contests here on Amazon — I’m trying to sell books!

This is an Amazon marketing option we’re considering offering to our authors, so we’re in the process of guinea pigging it — yes, I’ve made that an active verb again — with all my books and then keeping an eye on the Amazon Sales Ranking to see if it makes a statistical difference…

There are two problematic elements to this that we’re currently ironing out. The first is that the “larger” image gets degraded a little bit if Amazon adds the “Look Inside” graphic for Search Inside the Book books.  The second is that the Kindle edition graphic, in my opinion, looks too similar to the paperback and hardback editions on Amazon.  Sure, Amazon adds that little “kindle graphic” on the detail page. But I don’t think that’s good enough.  For example, due to the “look inside” graphic outlined above, you will notice on the screen shot below, that the Kindle edition of my book actually looks MORE appealing than the paperback.   There might be some situations where that’s preferable, but this isn’t one of them.

Hint: the first book is the paperback edition and the 3rd book is the Kindle edition.

Amazon Kindle demos

Speaking of Amazon, sales statistics of their Kindle device indicate that “boomers” represent the largest group of Kindle purchasers.  Theories for this range from “disposable income on the slightly expensive device” to “weakening eyesight that benefits from the flexibility Kindle affords in terms of font-size.”

While creating a Kindle edition of a hardcopy book represents a growing segment in the publishing and self-publishing industries, this second theory represents an equally appealing opportunity that, thus far, has not proven as popular — large print editions.

The median age of America (in fact, the world) is increasing. And with an increase in age often comes a decrease in one’s ability to read small print. Large print editions represent a great opportunity for already-published authors to “write it once, use it twice,” which is a motto I repeat during my speeches and presentations.   One manuscript, two books, two different target markets….

Give incentive for people to buy your product or service

Whether you are promoting a book or promoting a company, you need to give people incentive to buy.  Just making it easy isn’t quite enough (although it is an important component).  Not only must the purchase process be easy, it must be urgent.  You create urgency through the use of promotions, discounts, or other incentives.

One of our competitors does this very well. They inflate their prices to $13,000 so they can offer a $7000 discount.  Do authors fall for this? Of course.  It looks great on a Flash banner; and it is a savvy person who can look past the flash — pun intended — and identify the true value, or lack thereof.

Books sell better with incentive, too. The most typical incentive is a discount or a “sales price” and in the majority of the cases, this type of promotion is handled by the retailer rather than the author herself.  Amazon does discounting very well.  They discount books in a variety of ways.   Not only will they often discount a single book by eating into their own margin, but they also pair similar books together and then offer discounts if the customer orders BOTH books.   My book Sell Your Book on Amazon discusses how authors can use this functionality of Amazon to their advantage.

Navigating the Amazon Sales Ranking

In a previous post I discussed my book SELL YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON’s climb up the Amazon Sales Chart as a result of specific marketing tactics. I included the following graph, which we charted on the day of the campaign:

There are some interesting things to notice about this cart.  For instance, you will notice how rapidly the ranking climbs from 15,000 to 3,000.  And then, again, you will notice how quickly it climbs from 1000 to 200 (the difference in scale notwithstanding, of course).  But also notice how slowly it climbs from 50 to 29.  This is probably obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: The closer you get to a #1 ranking, the more books you need to sell. 

One section of my book discusses the Amazon Sales Rank in detail, and the information may be helpful when looking at the above chart, so I’ll include it below:

First, the disclaimers: Since the algorithm Amazon uses to generate its sales ranking is proprietary, the details contained herein are extrapolated from research and field tests. The resulting consensus finds Amazon’s system to provide marginal sales data at best.

To whit, read Amazon’s own definition of its system, slightly paraphrased from their FAQ: “The Sales Ranking system exhibits how books are selling. The lower the number, the higher the sales. The calculation is based on sales and is updated each hour to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold. We hope you find the Amazon.com Sales Rank interesting!” This last sentence seems to indicate Amazon’s own perspective on the importance with which the sales rankings should be viewed.

You’re not supposed to find the sales rankings informative or helpful. You’re supposed to find them interesting.

In actuality, the process is somewhat more convoluted than they let on. The ranking does not depend solely upon the actual number of books sold, but rather, on a comparison against the sales figures of the other books in their database (all 5 million+ of them) within that same hour. Simultaneously, a trending calculation is applied to arrive at a sales trajectory. So, hypothetically, a book that held a ranking of 2,000 at 2pm and 3,000 at 3pm, might hold a 4,000 ranking at 4pm, even if it actually sold MORE books between 3-4 than it did between 2-3.

Current projections and historic sales information also play a key role in these calculations. In fact, the predictive nature of the Amazon ranking system is what makes it possible for a newly-released book to outrank an older established title, even though the actual sales figures for the latter far exceed the former.

That said, sales history takes a back seat to current sales rankings. Sales projections and trending take an active role here, which is why a book’s ranking can leap from 900,000 to 200,000 in the span of 24 hours or less. Does this mean the book has sold 700,000 copies in 24 hours? Absolutely not! What it does mean is that recent activity (i.e. purchases) for that book is trending higher than those 700,000 books it just surpassed. But, don’t get excited just yet; since the activity of those 700,000 other books range from slow to stagnant, one or two orders are sufficient to catapult a ranking.

If a book’s ranking breaks into the top 100,000, the sales history calculation starts to rear its head, which is why a “phenomenon” book has a hard time maintaining a high, legitimate ranking. A phenomenon is defined by a book that leaps from the high hundred-thousands into the lower thousands (or better) in the span of 24 hours or less, usually due to some concentrated marketing initiatives. Since Amazon’s sales history for that title doesn’t support the leap, the spike occurs and then quickly drops again.

HOW DOES ALL THIS TRANSLATE TO ACTUAL SALES FIGURES?

Since the data is recalculated all the time, it’s impossible to arrive at accurate, cumulative sales figures, although those figures are applied to the algorithm during the calculation. No, to get a very rough idea of the actual number of books being sold, the sales ranking has to be dissected dynamically, with the same immediacy as the ranking being calculated. In other words, chart the ranking of the book at the same time every hour for 24 hours and then divide by 24 to arrive at its average daily ranking. Do that for seven straight days to arrive at its average weekly ranking.  You can do it all month long to arrive at its average monthly ranking. The longer your average timeframe, the more accurately your sales ranking will reflect “reality” (as opposed to a spike or dip in sales).

Are you a best-selling author? Part 2

A common question is, “How many books do you have to sell to become  a best seller?”

Well, it depends upon the list.  Another way of saying that is, it depends upon what you’re “comparing” your sales against.  While my Sell Your Book on Amazon is “officially” an “Amazon Best Seller” I will say that Outskirts Press has published many books that have sold more copies than Sell Your Book on Amazon in any given month, and many of them don’t refer to themselves as “best sellers.”   In fact, today on our Self Publishing News blog, our top 10 best sellers from 2009 are announced.

I will also say that a “best-selling” book doesn’t always translate to high revenue or high sales. In fact, those two criteria do not have to be connected at all.  We have other “official” Amazon Best Sellers who sold enough books to reach #1 in their category on Amazon for a period of time, but didn’t sell enough books to become one of our top 10 best-selling authors in that month.   We have other books where authors earn $20, $30, $50 or more for each copy of their books that Amazon sells, but the content is very niche.  As a result, their quantity of sales are never statistically “high” enough for them to be considered “best sellers” but we still send them impressive royalty checks. If their goal was to receive impressive royalty checks, mission accomplished. And then we have other authors who receive impressive royalty checks AND are best sellers in their category.

Authors have different goals when publishing a book. Some want to be famous; others want to make a lot of money; others want to share a message with the world; and still others want to attract the attention of an agent or New York publisher and get “picked up.”  We have helped authors reach all these goals, and that is part of our goal at Outskirts Press. Most authors’ goals fall into one of these four major categories, and being a “best selling” author is simply a by-product of, or a catalyst to, reaching one of those other goals.

Are you a best-selling author? Part 1

Some of my previous posts have already touched upon the caveat that should exist with the term “best-selling author” since different lists from different retailers have different values and different processes for creating the list.  An argument could be made that the only true way to define a “best-selling” book is based upon the number of copies it has sold.

As both the president of a self-publishing company and an author, I am in a fairly unique position of being able to see my own book sales, compare it with my Amazon Sales Rank, and then do the same for the 5,000+ other books that have been published through Outskirts Press.   I talk about this a little bit in Sell Your Book on Amazon, because I feel it’s a unique perspective.   And since I have an opportunity to share a unique perspective, I feel obligated to do so.

And here’s my perspective: If you have an “Amazon Best-Selling” book, you should be proud.  All things taken into consideration, that’s an amazingly hard feat to accomplish.   With the proliferation of books being published nowadays (500,000+ a year), it’s been said that publishing a book isn’t all that impressive anymore. Excuse me? There are over 6 billion people on the planet.  If you’ve written and published a book, no matter how you’ve done it, you’re in the minority. 

With the “best-selling Amazon campaign” it’s been said that being an “Amazon best seller” isn’t all that impressive anymore. Excuse me?  There are 500,000+ books published every year.  If your book was/is an Amazon best seller, no matter how you’ve done it, you’re in the minority.  And books that are Amazon best sellers still attract attention and kudos from publishing traditionalists like editors, agents, and conventional publishers.  These people are scanning the self-publishing ranks looking for their next authors/clients, but maybe no longer due to the strength of the book and the promise of its sales potential. Now I believe it is because an author that can “become an Amazon best seller” themselves has successfully demonstrated his or her ability to leverage/monetize their platform.  And that’s what is valuable to all publishers and agents — an author who not only has a platform, but can turn that platform into book exposure and book sales. Just having a list of 500,000 to million people to conduct the “campaign”  is impressive to publishers and agents, not to mention composing a “pitch” compelling enough to get a large number of those people (most of them strangers) to purchase something.  Like I said before, it’s all easier said than done, and that’s why being an Amazon best seller is a hard-earned, noteworthy status. We have many authors at Outskirts Press who have accomplished this, and it is a milestone in their continuing book promotion efforts.