Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do You Know How To Sell?

by C.J. West
Last week I attended a webinar on e-book marketing and was really struck by something the presenter said. “Amazon knows how to sell stuff and they don’t care if they sell your book or James Patterson’s book or a toaster.”

Amazon is a marketing machine and they flex their muscle for big guys and little guys alike.

The immediate contrast for me was Smashwords. Don’t get me wrong, I love Smashwords. They convert and distribute books amazingly well. But I’m thinking of the Smashwords storefront. It doesn’t sizzle. At all. If you buy something from Smashwords, it’s because the author sent you there on a mission. You bought the book because you really wanted it. You weren’t sold.

A few weeks back I told you about the owner of a small store who turned her back on me to sell a customer something by one of the industry heavyweights. Four different books actually. Her reputation with the customer was too important for her to take a risk on me. The only way she would sell one of my books was if I brought the customer to her store to purchase it.

This model does not work. If I have to find the customer, bring them to the store, and sell them the book, what on earth do I need the store for?

At that point in the seminar I realized two things.

First, Amazon can help me reach well beyond my established audience.

Second, I’m the Smashwords of author marketing. Bear with me and I’ll show you what I mean.

There are two groups of people who buy my books. People who have read my work and their friends. My audience has grown steadily, but it takes time to read a book. Sometimes readers have a novel on their TBR pile for a year before reading. By the time they read and recommend that one, I’ve written three more.

When I say I’m the Smashwords of author marketing, I mean that I’m selling books to people who have already been convinced to buy. I could sell them my books at Smashwords or even in that little indie bookstore because they really want a particular book and they are going out (electronically or physically) to get it.

To be successful, we need to captivate folks who are casually browsing. Most authors have turned their books face out on a store bookshelf, but what have you done to make your books stand out on the digital bookshelf?

This week I’ve made great strides and I’ll share some of the things I’ve done.

The most important real estate I own is twelve pages on Amazon that describe my books and allow readers to buy them. This week I revved up the copy on all twelve pages with quotes and improved the readability.

Next, I evaluated my keywords and categories. I discovered that some had been entered incorrectly. Some of my keywords were laughable in SEO circles. I fixed those and by doing that I hope to improve the chances of being found. Remember, when readers are searching millions of times, any minor improvement can mean a perceptible change in sales.

In the next few weeks I’ll be evaluating my covers. I’m thinking about rebranding my entire line of books, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. We’ve all heard dozens of times how important covers are, but until this week I never realized how much my covers could be holding me back. Covers need to captivate the casual browser and mine just don’t do that.

Finally, the most important thing was to run an Amazon KDP free book promotion. Last week I gave away Addicted To Love for 5 days. It hit #2 in the Free Kindle Store. Since my last blog here at CFC, I have “sold” over 65,000 copies of that book alone.

In the coming months I hope to shed the marketing doldrums and add a whole lot more sizzle.

What have you done to make your books stand out?

CJ is giving away 12 Kindle Fire e-readers this year and will be offering several free books. If you’d like to be advised of his free book promotions sign up for his newsletter or enter the Kindle Fire contest at


  1. What a great topic CJ. These are questions I ponder every minute of every day! I just released my first novel a few days ago and and running into all kinds of roadblocks (more on that during my regular posting next Tuesday). Honestly, I have no idea what I am doing and I don't have any reader/fan base to tap into. I am literally an unknown in the publishing world. I think the points you bring up are excellent though. We are largely a visual species and most people make quick judgeemnts on appearance in 3 seconds or less. This means that our appearance is very important. Figuring out the most appealing "look" is the challenging part and it takes time I'm sure. For my part, I am trying to sell an "experience" as well as a story. It is why I created a FB page for my heroine. My hope is that certain fans will appreciate the opportunity to interact with her in between novels. What you are doing right now is called an "audit" in forensics. You are re-evaluating your look (i.e. the evidence) based on accumulated data (sales/traffic) and that's a healthy thing for all authors i think. Your new covers will bring a new look and thus a new appeal to potential readers. I applaud your wilingness to re-brand. It's like updating the color scheme in your house. Sometimes you have to re-tool for the times. Thanks for sharing this important information.

  2. I agree with your points, although I'm still waiting to hear whether all this "free" stuff via Amazon's Select program actually carries over. So far, more people have told me it's an instant boost with little carryover than those who have seen an increase beyond their norm. It's really too early to tell, because as you pointed out, your books might be on TBR shelves and it could be a year before someone reads it and decides to buy more.

    Although I've seen lots of these Amazon promotions, since I don't have a Kindle, I don't pay attention to them. Yes, I sell most of my books via Amazon, and they've been helpful when I've had problems, but I'm still a "cast a wide net" person.

    That being said, I'm trying the Nook First approach with my next release. They have a new program, and it seems to be a better target for readers--more personal attention, and more exclusive. And it's only 30 days, so I don't feel that I'll be cutting readers off from accessing my books for very long. To me, 3 months is forever.

    But who knows what works? I'll be watching to see your reports.

    As for covers, I've just created (ok, my cover artist did it) the cover for the third book in my Pine Hills series. (and coincidentally, I've shared his process on my blog today)

    And I think my comment might rival your post in length!

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  3. Tom,

    Yes we are a visual species aren't we.

    For those of you who haven't read Tom's book, I'm reading it now and it is fabulous.


  4. Terry,

    You are the second person who has mentioned B&N's Nook First program recently. I will check it out, but I have had very little success with Nook readers.

    As for sales carrying over... yes they do!


  5. That must have been quite a webinar! I'm always looking at ways to improve my marketing, but keywords (and how to use them effectively) are still a mystery to me. Maybe I need to take a webinar.

    I'm intrigued that B&N has come up with a competing "exclusive" program. But since I earn most of my money from Amazon, it will continue to have my loyalty.

  6. I'm all ears. It's easier to read about all of this marketing stuff when you don't have a dog in the hunt, but I'm getting close. To tell you the truth, it kind of upsets my stomach.

  7. Peg,

    Uncertainty is opportunity. E-books have created a tremendous opportunity for us to entertain lots of people and make a living in the process.

    I am tap dancing everywhere I go this week. You are going to love seeing your dog join the chase!

  8. LJ,

    I'm intrigued by the B&N program, but to date they have done almost nothing for me. I'd like to sell books to Nook readers, but I can reach Kindle readers so much more easily.

    I'm not sure if I will stay Amazon exclusive or if I will feature books over at B&N.

    Time will tell.

  9. I must admit your Amazon page looks great Mr. West. I popped over to Author Central and noticed many changes I could make. Yesterday I beefed up my book description.

    I'm working on updating my lame bio too. It seems like there is always something different you need to try. I'm right there with most of you, I don't see the free book helping toward me future sales. Plus, my last outing on Amazon was horror, and now I write mystery and thrillers. Big change.

    Congrats C.J. West and good luck. Thanks again for a great post!

  10. Congrats on your success, C.J.

    You bring up some very good points. I think we're all going through the same process right now. The times are changing faster than we can blink, and most of us are just rolling with the punches.

    But one thing that remains consistent is the importance of covers, which is why I'm so picky about them and why I drive my artist positively crazy while she's creating them.

    Despite its controversy, the Select program has proven to be a big shot in the arm for many authors. I have heard others say it didn't work as well for them, but I can only speak for myself. Since entering my latest title, I've sold more copies during the past month than my first book sold in a year--and that one did rather well. Why did it work for me and not others? I don't know. Maybe it was because I combined the program with a number of other things. Or maybe it was just plain luck.

    In any event, I enjoy seeing so many indie authors make great strides and find success, and I hope it continues.

  11. Thanks Madison.

    I hope the post helps you spruce up your Amazon page!

    The free book was a real boon to me and I will be doing it again very soon. Next week in fact.


  12. C.J.
    You've made some excellent points. With more than 50 books (fiction and nonfiction) now at Kindle, mine and a dozen of my late husband's, and many of those through Smashwords, Amazon Kindle sales numbers are much greater than the Nook, Kobo, etc. I have gone exclusive with Amazon on four of my books so far--and it has been very successful. I do not do all 5 days at once. 2 days free has worked well the first time on each book, then I watch the sales position and a month later another 1 day. May do the remaining days before the 90 days is up. Will see. This formula is working well for me, and I'm delighted that the sales on my other books have also increased.

    I've redone several covers and I believe that has helped in sales.

    I find it humorous that B&N is doing an "exclusive" after everyone has been raising such a rukus over Amazon's exclusive opportunity for suthors.

    And I am very happy with Amazon--exclusive or not.

  13. Great post, CJ, and all kinds of interesting comments! You've been very active and creative - and learned a lot in the process, no doubt! Glad to hear your efforts are starting to pay off! I'll be looking for your books!

  14. There's a new marketing person for the Nook program, and things are slowly moving forward. Yes, over 80% of my sales come from Amazon, but I can't bear to 'abandon' that other 20%.

    Nook First is far more exclusive than Kindle Select. B&N also has a 'showcase' feature for authors with new books coming out in a continuing series. They're not doing the "anyone can participate" approach. Instead, they have fewer books with more visibility. At least I hope so when mine hits the system. And after 30 days, I can sell it wherever I like.

    And maybe I have a soft spot for the underdog. Or maybe it's because I have a Nook, so I'm going to look in that direction simply because that's where I buy all my e-books. (Sorry, you Amazon only folks)

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  15. Thanks everyone. I really appreciate all your insites. Although I have written and published professional books (WW Norton)on psychology, this is my first psychological thriller (mystery). What fun! Great reviews. I have just placed it on KDP but have little knowledge as to what to do next. What works to publicize it? Is my cover okay? How do you know? Advice appreciated.

    A novice.

  16. Anna,

    Your buy button doesn't work.

    I like the cover, but you don't seem to be advertising the Kindle book.

    You should highlight that. The price difference from paper to e-book is huge. The e-book will sell 100 to 1.

    Find me at

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