Hitting the Amazon #1 Spot : The Marketing Plan

Killer Plan or Lady Luck Part III – The Marketing Plan

The next post in this series was supposed to be on formatting. However, I have been persuaded to skip that bit for now, because there are lots of books and bits of advice out there that are probably much more detailed. What people want to know, I guess, is how I got to number one – not how I formatted the book!

However, I will say this. The formatting of your book is seriously important. You need to look like a professional. A badly formatted book automatically shouts INDIE, and not in a good way. If you don’t know how to do this, I have already written a couple of posts here and here that will get you to the point where you are almost ready for Amazon, and you will at least have tidied your book in preparation for upload.

The other thing that I was going to talk about was the cover. Again – there is a lot of advice available in that respect. Sometimes people say the cover doesn’t matter. Don’t listen to them. Whilst people may not ultimately choose to buy your book because of the cover, it needs to attract their attention when there are twenty other books on the screen. So go the extra mile.

Now – back to what people seem to want. Marketing tips.

This is going to be broken down into a number of sections – and the first of these is The Marketing Plan, part 1.

WHY DO I NEED A MARKETING PLAN?

Well – you don’t need one. But I was asked what I did, and I produced a marketing plan. I had a very good reason for this. I found that I was spending hours and hours finding an absolute morass of information about how to market my book. The word morass was chosen with care: a quagmire, chaos, jungle. There was so much of it that I was spending hours flitting from one ‘good idea’ to the next – and not actually achieving anything. The only way round that was to try to pull together the priorities as I saw them, and put them in a plan. Something to stop me from mindless surfing. So my plan not only focused my mind, but it also set timescales for various tasks so that I didn’t get bogged down.

WHEN SHOULD I PRODUCE IT?

I got this bit very wrong. I didn’t even start until my book had been published. And even then, I didn’t do very much for the first six weeks, because of Christmas, travelling to England, not having my computer with me – all kinds of reasons. In an ideal world you will have a plan that includes pre and post launch of your book. There’s a lot that you can and should do before launch that will help you enormously.  Next time round, I will have my plan in place at least three months before the book is published, and some activities will be underway. In many ways, some of them are already underway based on the success of book one. But it’s not enough to sit back and just hope that it will all happen.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

So what do I mean by a marketing plan? Well, I can only speak for myself here. There are lots of ways of writing a marketing plan or strategy – and I am not an expert. I spent many years running my own company which has given me some insight, but I’m sure that what I did wouldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of the real marketing experts.

Channels to market

First of all, I started by identifying my channels to market. What does that mean? Well, it’s the route from the producer (author in this case) to the purchaser of a product – the route to market. For me, all sales are online. I don’t have a physical book, so I didn’t have to worry about any of those channels. Initially, I had two distinct channels to market – Amazon and Smashwords. I’ll come back to Amazon in a moment, as for me this has been the most influential. But I’ll start with Smashwords.

Smashwords is a channel to other sales channels. Through Smashwords, my book was made available to Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and a few others. So I had to subdivide this section of my plan into Smashwords itself as a channel, and all the other channels it serves. It’s not necessary to use Smashwords – you can go directly to each channel in turn, or now there are other companies that provide the same service. But I was new to this, and Smashwords seemed to be the option that people were talking about.

So now I have two main channels – Amazon and Smashwords – and a series of sub-channels, for want of a better phrase. (I failed to identify a couple of other opportunities – Google Books being one of them, and Waterstones (UK) being the other.) You may have other channels – so give it some thought, and write them down.

Channel influencers

Once my channels had been identified, for each of those channels, I tried to work out what were the biggest influencers on those channels. Amazon is the easiest example to use – and many of the others use similar techniques so I could carry them forward. I’m just going to talk about Amazon in this post, and for the other channels you can carry out a similar exercise.

The key to success on Amazon is visibility. That sounds obvious, I know – but then comes the task of working out the different ways of achieving that visibility, and there are just so many. It’s up to you to work them all out and how you will exploit them, but here is a list of those that I thought of.

  1. Being linked to others through “customers who bought xxx also bought Only the Innocent”
  2. Being high in the popularity lists for the genre for “New releases – last 30 days”
  3. Being high when selected by Average review in the genre for last 30 days (and then 90 days)
  4. Being listed as “books you might also like to consider”

So I had a list. What next?

I had to work out what I could do to influence any of the above.

The only way to influence (1) was to get lots of people to buy the book. But that alone wasn’t enough. Lots of friends and family bought it, of course, but a fairly high proportion didn’t have Kindles, so it wasn’t showing up at all in the (1) visibility option. This was just a matter of waiting it out, and relying on the next strand of my plan – my general sales and marketing plan. But if I’d had a sales platform before I started (see below), I could have solved this problem very early on.

In terms of popularity for the genre (2) it’s important to make sure the genres are correct. I had initially just chosen “thrillers” as a genre. But by going further down the chain of genre options, I was able to increase visibility. For example, when choosing the category “thriller” there are sub-categories, and I chose “suspense”. And under “mystery” I chose “British detective”. It is easier to get a chart position and increase visibility the deeper you go into the category lists, and from being practically invisible I suddenly got a chart position in British detectives. In this case, my early purchasers did make a difference, because now the visibility was based on popularity. I had enough purchasers in the first two weeks to be visible in the charts (albeit, very low down!).

One of the best ways for me was getting visibility was through some very good early reviews. As soon as my book was released, I gave away free copies to reviewers and luckily I found a few who were prepared to review it quickly. There are some that I sent it to who still haven’t reviewed it – but that’s okay. Some did, and that meant that when customers went to the recent releases, British detectives, and searched on Average Review – I was on page one.

And for point (4) the “you might be interested in” section, or “you might like to consider” I think that there are a number of factors, but don’t underestimate tags. At the bottom of your Amazon page there are tag options, and whilst a lot of people say these don’t do anything – I don’t believe it. Amazon wouldn’t include a feature that doesn’t do anything, and as an ex-computer programmer (many, many years ago!) I can say that we would often use similar devices for grouping items together. If a customer has bought a book with a certain set of tags, Amazon will use this information to match against other books with the same tags – the better the match, the more likely your book is to be viewed. But you need to chose tags other than “thriller” and “murder” because there are thousands of those. Try to find something a bit unique and specific about your book, and search for books which have similar tags. Are these books that you would want to be associated with? Don’t tag with another author’s name, though. They won’t have tagged theirs with their own name, so I can’t believe it will ever match up. Get people to agree with your tags if you can, or add more. The more closely your popular tags match that of another book, the more likely you are to be seen.

Another area to explore for visibility is the Listmania lists. Find some books that are similar in some way to yours, and create a Listmania list or two, with your book on there. But don’t just go for the bestsellers.  The bestsellers will be in so many lists that the chance of your list being shown is remote. Choose something a bit different about your book, and create a list around that.

This is step one of your marketing plan. Your channels may be different, but identify each one and how it works. Look at the influencers, and bear in mind that I have just scraped the surface here. You might identify others, such key positions for adverts, or Kindle Daily Deals, or free books. Look at what you believe impacts on that channel for you, and make a list. Then work out what you think you could possibly do to increase your impact in these areas.

Baby steps

Be aware that at this stage of the game, we are talking about small numbers. There may be a very small number of people who will find your book by – last 30 days – Crime – Mystery – British Detective – Sorted by Average Review. But it’s better than nobody finding it at all. All it takes is a couple of people who find your book to buy it – and for this to happen every day – and you are making a start. It’s about baby steps to begin with, that we can then build into bigger steps. This is not about instant success! If these purchasers have bought a whole shelf full of similar books, yours will start to be linked, and visibility will increase. So please don’t set your expectations too high at this stage of the game.

Looking good!

For those people who have noticed your book, what do they find? Is your Product Description professional and complete? Have you included some reviews? Make sure that you are registered with Author Central, and use the facilities on the US Author Central site to improve the look of your Product Description.You can use bold face and italics, and the styling carries through to your UK entry too (but the separate REVIEWS section that’s available on Amazon.com doesn’t appear in the UK). You access this from the Author Central welcome page. Click on Books, and then click on your book title. You will see that you can edit your description there. Make sure you include a picture of yourself and a biography, so that both you and your book seem interesting to potential readers.

And back to the big question – WHEN?

One thing that should be obvious from reading the above is that some of this can be done well in advance of launch. In the next post, we will be talking about the next section of the marketing plan, which is all about reaching your customers. And so much of what I’m going to talk about can be done in preparation. In fact, if you have created your sales platform in advance – ie you have a whole list of people interested in your book – you can use that to maximise the effectiveness of your channels. Just imagine that you have a few hundred people ready and willing to buy your book on day one. And just imagine if they are all devotees of the Kindle (ie they’ve bought lots of other books), fast readers and keen reviewers. Your visibility will shoot up right from the start.

So prepare your channel strategy, take some of the ideas from here, develop your own, and apply them to the other channels. How does iTunes work, and how can you get reviews on there? And the Nook? How does visibility work there? Don’t limit your thinking unless you are only publishing for the Kindle.

If you have already launched your book and done none of this – don’t despair! Neither had I. Your book will still be a good book in the years to come – there’s no rush, so don’t panic. Just take some time to give it some thought.

Phase II of the marketing plan is about customer engagement, and I hope to be able to complete it within the next week. If not, feel free to nag!

I love getting feedback, so please keep it coming – along with as many other ideas as you are prepared to add to the pile.

45 thoughts on “Hitting the Amazon #1 Spot : The Marketing Plan”

  1. Rachel,
    I can’t thank you enough for these posts. I’ve been in the screenwriting world and naively assumed that a lot more hard-won knowledge would transfer over. But the learning curve for self-pub is steep and I’ve felt like I was drowning in info. You are providing wonderful clarity.

  2. Hi Rachel. That was very helpful. Maybe you could tell me exactly how to place my book in the correct genres. I’ve published and republished my book (St Patrick’s Day Special) several times and picked out genres for it each time, but they never seem to stick. All I ever get is #whatever in paid kindle.

  3. JJ,

    Remember also that categories will not appear for your book unless you are in the top 100 of that category. My experience suggests that you should be in the top 100 of 1 or more categories at around #3000 overall ranking, but this will differ for genres and for sites (UK/US).

    Great stuff, Rachel. ;)

    1. That’s why it’s important to go to the lowest level of category. To get into the top 100 for thrillers, you need to be pretty high in the rankings, but less so the further you delve into the categories. It differs enormously across the categories, but there is an easy way to check. Go to the top 100 for that category, go to number 100 in that category, and check its overall position in the charts. This will tell you where you have to be to be seen in that category. For example, I just checked and to be number 100 in Crime, Thrillers and Mystery you have to be above number 343 in the whole of Amazon,, and about 780 to be in the top 100 for thrillers. But to be number 100 in Police Procedurals, you only have to be above number 7985. That is a huge difference, and is what I was talking about. That’s why it’s important to drill down, and some categories are considerably less popular than these – so a top 100 rating becomes easier.

      Hope that all makes a bit more sense now, and thanks for the feedback.

  4. Many thanks Rachel. This is really helpful to me, as I’ve admired your success and also am about to publish my first novel through the routes you mention. Your insight and professional opinion is invaluable and much appreciated!

  5. Great advice as always, Rachel!

    I have noticed that some indie authors play the category and sub-category game to the extreme by inserting their book into obscure categories which have nothing whatsoever to do with the genre or theme of their book. In some cases this ensures a listed position within that category, but perhaps at the expense of picking up readers not entirely suited to their target audience, and hence possible mediocre or even bad reviews. I have seen contemporary Grisham-style thrillers in Science Fiction Fantasy, which makes little marketing sense to me. My advice and experience is to stick to the categories and subs that relate to your book. This way you are maximising your exposure to those readers interested in your kind of book.

    Keith :)

    1. Hi Keith – I started this comment before, and it seems to have disappeared! I apologise if I gave the impression that an author should use inappropriate categories. That wasn’t the intention at all. But when I uploaded my book, I just selected “thrillers”. It was only later that I discovered that under Thrillers I could also select British Detective, and under Mystery I could also select Suspense. Both were relevant. So if you’re reading this – please be assured that there is nothing to gain by putting your book into the wrong category. You will just really upset people who buy it – and sorry if my post was in some way misleading. All I am suggesting is that you don’t stay at the TOP level of category, but you drill down into the lower levels. I hope that makes more sense, and thanks Keith for pointing it out if it was in any way misleading.

      1. LOL, Rachel … I think we got our wires crossed!

        I didn’t read anything like that into your original post – so relax! I just wanted to advise other authors to choose their categories carefully lest they end up in no-man’s land! Please forgive me if you thought I was inferring that you were trying to mislead or do anything at all underhand. It was not my intent! Your original post is sound advice; I just wanted to add my two-penneth clarification, that’s all. LOL! What are we like?!

        Keith ;)

        PS: I’ve been away to the Philippines for the last couple of weeks, but still intend to write the Guest post for you as soon as I get a spare hour.

  6. Rachel, thank you. Very insightful post, saved , me tons of time! In my experience the marketing is as important as the writing…. It’s what I call a 360 effort:) looking forward to more posts from you.

  7. This has been some fantastic advice Rachel, thank you for taking the time to type this all up. I’ve taken it all to heart and am focused on replicating your success with a novel of my own! Thanks again.

  8. Hi Rachel, Brilliant post, thank you!

    “If you have already launched your book and done none of this – don’t despair! Neither had I. Your book will still be a good book in the years to come – there’s no rush, so don’t panic. Just take some time to give it some thought.”

    This gives me hope. Just published my debut novel on Thursday. After the initial *surge* of 13 sales its going a bit flat. Need to try and build the momentum, but as you say, baby steps…

    Thomas
    https://www.facebook.com/TheEndOfAllWorlds

  9. Thanks for that, I have immediately compiled a listmania list of novels that are very like mine. They’re all indie and they’re all massively obscure but I’m pretty sure my readers would like the book I’ve recommended and vice versa.

    Following you too!

    Cheers

    MTM

  10. Wow thank you so much for such an inspiring post. Like others on here I found you via thecreativepenn.com. It is so refreshing to find someone willing to tell you exactly what they did and not just hint at it. I have written a couple of non fiction books but my heart lies in fiction so I have just published my first short story at 9000 but I haven’t got very far on the marketing plan. Thanks for the list above. If you know anything about getting reviews from Goodreads that would be fantastic. I have heard that is a great way to get real unbiased reviews but don’t know whether it is another rumour.

    1. edit – after I posted above comment I saw your post about the UK amazon kindle group on goodreads – I joined and spent almost the whole day over there – its addictive and everyone seems really nice :-)

    2. Glad you like it, Ellie. One of my key characters in my next book is called Ellie! She’s lovely! I don’t know how you get reviews from Goodreads members, but many of the people who review books are also members of Goodreads. If they do a review for you on Amazon, there is a reasonable chance that – if you ask them and provide all the links – they will copy the review into Goodreads. There are also a couple of forums for people who are looking for reviews. If you could find a forum (such as the UK Kindle forum) and offer free copies of your book to anybody who would like to review it, you might get some responses. I hope that helps.

      1. Thanks Rachel – some people over at Goodreads just bought my book and I didnt even ask them to :-) I think its a fantastic place although I need to be careful or I wont get any work done.

        Thanks again – have posted a link to your marketing post on my blog – dont have many readers yet as I am just starting out but hey we have to start somewhere :-)

        And yes us Ellies are lovely lol

  11. Great post! Can you elaborate on this: “Get people to agree with your tags if you can, or add more.” I’ve not seen a place where I can add to or agree with tags, but then I’m not sure where to look.

    1. Hi Seely. If you scroll down your Amazon page you will see details of your book, then What do other customers buy after viewing this book (assuming people have bought something else after viewing your book) and then it says Tags Customers Associate with this Product. If you go to the Only the Innocent page you will also see another section which makes no sense to me – about Only the Innocent “products” (I don’t know how people get stuff posted there!) but underneath are the tags, and you will get the idea.

      Choose some tags that represent your book, but try to get the wording so that it is the same as other well-known authors in your genre. People can tick these tags, so that when Amazon shows “similar products” your book might show up alongside a more popular book. Does that make sense? If not, email me and let me know.

  12. Hi Rachel,

    I am releasing my book in May 2013 and I found your post extremely helpful!!
    but as you mentioned in the article, ‘the importance of stop looking for options and just putting things down and trying the markting one by one’ I find it to be the heardest challenge for me at this very moment.
    I am confused about when is the right time to do what pre-launch and post-launch of the book. I have a laundary list of all of the niche ‘different’ marketing ideas. However I don’t know which one to attach first. (blogs? pitching to retail shops? getting reviews? book signings and tours) When is the right time to get started with which marketing and when you have a whole list of ideas what are some of the priamry things to keep in mind when prioritizing? When is the right time to reach out to bloggers and other social networkers to begin the conversations around promoting my book? etc?

    Please share your advice and wisdom!! Thank you!

    I am definitey subscribing/following you- thanks for the connect!
    Happiness and Smiles..
    Clara

    1. Hi Clara

      I’m sorry, I thought I had replied to this before! I am sorry, but I don’t think I can answer all your questions. I don’t even have the answers myself! All I would say is that you need to decide what the objectives are for each of your different marketing ideas – and that might tell you when you need to do the work. For example, if you want lots of reviews very early on, it’s worth contacting reviews well in advance of launch. But whether it’s worth doing blog posts and guest posts if people can’t actually buy your book (or pre-order if it is self-published) then that might be something that you want to set up now, but to do AFTER launch. I would just work out what you are trying to achieve with each idea, and when to do it might just all come together for you. I hope so.

      Best wishes

      Rachel

  13. Just found your post and wanted you to know you wrote it last MARCH and your comments were very useful for me! I did find a “morass” of information, but somehow your post cut through the conflicting advice with some very practical and specific steps to take. Thank you! I started by publishing short stories through CreateSpace, but I want to really learn these strategies when my historical novels are ready to go. Thank YOU, and I’ll be back to read more!

  14. Rachel,

    This is all very sound advice. Am about to launch a contemporary US Navy sea story/adventure with high courtroom drama, Steady As She Goes. Caine Mutiny meets The Poseidon Adventure.

    Do you have tips for where to find reviewers? Assume there are folks out there who love sea adventures who do reviews but not sure where to find them.

    Thanks very much for all you sound advice.

    1. I suggest you find a couple of books in your genre that have been well reviewed, and then google “book name review’ and see where they have been reviewed. That will give you a few people to start with. Hope that helps!

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