One of the subjects I frequently get emailed about is authors asking me how to promote their book using SEO. SEO Help has been on the Amazon best-selling charts for 79 weeks since it was published. At the time of writing it is#32 at Amazon.co.uk, #36 at Amazon.com and #54 in Amazon.ca. Online Marketing Help is #27 at Amazon.ca and in the top 50 in the UK and the US and Brilliant SEO is at #65 in the UK a full dozen days before it even became available to buy.
The argument goes, I suppose, if there is something to know about book promotion I probably know about it.
Well, search engine optimization is no magic bullet when it comes to book promotion but there are two facts which every new and even established authors need to take into account: First 68% of all purchasing decisions (and this has to include books) start with online search and second eBook sales have overtaken paper book sales on Amazon by a factor of almost two-to-one.
The web has become the starting point for many of the things we buy and, more often than not, it also becomes the end point as an online transaction for hard or soft goods takes place and the sales loop is closed. It looks like the publishing revolution for authors is finally here. So, how do you capitalize on it?
The easy things first. I have been involved in writing and publishing since 1987 and I have seen the process of getting books to the market from both ends of the publishing divide, as a writer and, at a later stage, as acquisitions editor for a publishing house. What has remained with me is that no matter the marketing budget available or the manpower that’s thrown at the promotion of a book, if the book itself does not really answer a need which the reader has, then you are wasting your time.
If it’s fiction it had better be gripping, well-written and following (or subverting) the tropes of its genre. If it’s non-fiction it needs to answer a need the reader has for the know-how the book contains. Anything that’s written by a celebrity, for a trend, in order to capitalize on something fast, has a short shelf-life and if sales are not made really quickly then they are not made at all.
Provided you can really be the harshest critic of your book I can now share with you some of the tips which helped my books rise to the top of Amazon despite the fact that there are over seven million titles available.
Provide Clarity for your Book Title
I am a writer first and most other things second. My inclination has always been to be clever with my titles because it appeals to the writer in me. Before I ended up with SEO Help: 20 steps to get your website to Google’s #1 page I experimented with ‘Top Dog: How to beat everyone online, Top of the Pile: SEO dynamics and the slightly more esoteric Competitive Yours: Google love and how to get it. What made me change my mind is that I was writing SEO Help in direct response to many emails I was getting from new webmasters asking me the questions I have covered in the book and I decided to field-test it.
The trials showed that the titles were really not working so I chucked the journalistic nuances and went straight for a descriptive title which said exactly what the book was about.
I have followed the same approach with Online Marketing Help: How to promote your online business using Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other Social Networks and Brilliant Search Engine Optimization: What you need to know and how to do it.
Incidentally, I also noticed that Tim Ferris author of The Four-Hour Work Week and The Four-Hour Body uses the same technique with the former called: The Four-Hour Work Week: escape 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich and the latter called: The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman. Tim Ferris, apparently, gets his titles after doing online research on search trends which is as good a way as any to capitalize on search and SEO.
Make Sure You Have a Web Presence
This will definitely mean a website. My own, at the moment gets over 10,000 visitors a month on a 10% incremental month-on-month growth. Visitors from countries as diverse as Fiji and Iceland and many of the webmasters from these countries go on to buy paper copies of my books or download them from my website or Amazon Kindle.
In order to achieve that presence I maintain content on HelpMySEO which is truly practical in value and which will not be found anywhere else. It is also the place where I use keywords related to my book titles.
Have a Means for People to Follow You
apart from the usual Twitter, Facebook, RSS, YouTube and MySpace links I also provide a means for people to register and be notifed via email when content on the site changes.
Be Present Elsewhere
On the web, these days, presence counts. Apart from my own site, speaking engagements, online workshops and the content I create on a daily basis for HelpMySEO, I also write for Technorati, Social Media Today, Bizoomi and a dozen other websites where I provide, fresh, original content on the online marketing and search issues I feel passionately about.
As a writer your strength is writing. Use it. Think about content which is unique, fresh and powerful and then write the hell out of it in a way which is compelling and adds real value to the debate. Don’t forget to link back to your website. Technorati alone sends me over 2,000 visitors each month.
We live in unique times. Readers are not just potential customers they are also invaluable when it comes to feedback and guidance. Use Twitter and monitor it with a product like TweetDeck. Engage fans in Facebook and always reply to emails no matter how pressed for time you may be.
I have been privileged, in the past, to learn from many who were generous with their time, help and expertise and I always do the same. Many of the questions I field on email, for example, could be answered by a cookie-cutter reply of ‘Get my book’ but I never use that. Instead I read carefully every email and reply fully, investing time, energy and knowledge. In return I have helped some people who have gone ahead and become great fans helping me promote my books and website. Forum posts, links, user-generated content and mentions of your book in Tweets go a long way towards helping you promote your website and name which, in turn, help your book sales.
In your marketing of a book today, your publishers will probably carry 10% of the load. The rest is up to you. Think how you could do it if you wanted your book to be discovered. My partnership with United Hosting, for example, provided a free copy of SEO Help to every new webmaster.
It helped people who needed help the most and helped me introduce myself to an audience which was new and yet directly whom I needed to reach.
Marketing a book, as an author, on the web can often be a little disheartening and certainly it is very tiring. Work out a plan which includes creating content on your website and publicising your name through marketing elsewhere and stick to it, even if you are feeling tired, the sales of your books are down and you think you are not getting anywhere.
The web is a funny place. It takes a certain amount of energy to kick-start everything but once you do you will often find that your name (and fame) get spread in places you could not even imagine (I had a webmaster from Borneo working on a dial-up connection email me once on an issue concerning redirect chains). I doubt that I would have been able to achieve this had I given up on days when fatigue and poor visitor numbers or sales made me feel like a tiny voice in a very large wilderness.
In marketing your book the first temptation is to believe your own hype. Resist. Be yourself, a person like any other with a certain degree of knowledge or expertise which sets them apart. This will require you to actually reveal your personality and yourself in ways which many writers do not often like to do.
The web is a very impersonal space with a very personal means of connecting. It pays to remember that people respond to people better than they respond to products. Show them who you are and let them decide whether to like you or not.
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