Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spoil of War Cracks 10 Amazon Top-100 Bestselling Lists: How YOUR Book Can Too!

That headline is true. But is it truth?

We're jaded, right? Bombarded by marketing every day, we turn a blind eye to all the "Look At Me, Me, ME" headlines. Until one pops up that hits our hot button. That promises to help us write better, attract an agent, get published or gain a huge audience.

Deep in our hearts, we know better than to be reeled in by such claims. But if we didn't harbor that tiny spark of hope, we probably wouldn't be writers.

Tenet One of good marketing is to not make false claims. There are laws against that, even if you're happy to ignore ethics. But what's the definition of "false?" As Cyrano so aptly put it: "... a lie is a sort of myth, and a myth is a sort of truth." Marketing spins its gold in shades of myth.

For example, Spoil of War has indeed cracked the top 100 in 10 different lists. Readers see that headline and, while they might not be persuaded to buy, it makes a favorable eyes-on impression. Being "on a list" legitimizes not just the book but the buyer's purchase of that book. It makes buying less-risky behavior. What the casual reader will never ask is: Which lists? They're happy just to register the statement at face value.

But you're not a casual reader. You're reading beyond the headline. Not because you give a rat's patooty about which lists, but because you want to know how YOUR book can get on those lists, too -- am I right?

You've probably read about the importance of metatagging everything you do online for better SEO -- search engine optimization. SEO theory can get deep -- don't worry, I'm not going there. I'm going to keep it simple. And limit the discussion to Amazon. When you upload your book, Amazon lets you choose two categories (genres/subgenres) for your book out of a finite set of predefined tags. So even if your book is a noir mystery set 300 years in the future and features robots and a strong romantic element, you can only choose two pre-set categories for it. BUT after you choose your categories, Amazon lets you input more key subject tags -- these of your own making -- limited only by a ceiling on the total number of characters you can use.

Category tags are predefined by Amazon.
Subject tags are defined by whoever uploads the book.
They can be anything, limited only
by a predefined total character count.
Input your subject tags wisely! They serve two purposes. The first is to help buyers find your book. That means a couple of the tags may just be a word that people might input into the search field when they're looking for a book like yours. I included "knights" and "Camelot."

The second purpose is one you can use to your marketing advantage. For our noir mystery above, you might have chosen "mystery/thriller" and "romance > suspense" as your two pre-set categories. For the subject tags, you'll want to choose terms like "noir" and "science fiction". And THEN you want to break down your categories/genres even further. And include multiple ways of phrasing them if you can. Because here's a secret: Your rankings on the bestseller lists depend on EXACT phrasing of these tags -- "99 cent" and "99 cents" may well return different results. You also want to get as specific as possible without getting so specific that no one will search by that term. For example, "science fiction noir" rather than "science fiction noir robots."

Spoil of War is part of the King Arthur canon. I figured people reading and writing historical fiction would likely use "Arthurian" as a search word and tag. I wound up using these related tags: Arthurian romance, Arthurian fiction, historical fiction Arthurian. On the other hand, I assumed romance readers wouldn't refer to the time period as Arthurian but as medieval, so I was sure to include a "medieval" tag.

By creating areas of smaller markets for your book using these tags, your book is no longer competing with the entire Amazon catalog but just its designated genres. That could mean anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand books.

Now, Amazon has a nifty little filter for its book searches. The default filter for whatever term you enter is "relevance." I have no idea how relevance is determined; part of it is based on words in the title and description, of course, but it also somehow changes with number of sales (for instance, Spoil was #1 in relevance for Arthurian fiction on Friday after a sale. No sales overnight and when I thought to pull a screen capture Saturday morning, it had slipped to #3). Somehow, Spoil has ended up in the top 10 relevance searches for several lists. If I had even fewer scruples than I do, I could certainly tout those #1 and #2 spots as "Amazon lists." As it is, because few people will actually filter the results differently from what they get the first time, I'm thrilled at how frequently Spoil is returned in the first page of results under the relevancy filter.

But I play a little more fair. You can change the "relevance" filter to "bestselling" and the search engine will rank the books returned in your results by whatever calculations Amazon uses to determine bestselling rankings. You can also produce lists that include all books in the Amazon store or just those in the Kindle store. Barnes and Noble has a similar search, only they use the term "top matches" instead of "relevance."

So simply by including relevant tags and then checking the search list results, I've manipulated Spoil's way onto 10 of Amazon's bestselling lists. And since anyone can go out and reproduce these lists for themselves, my conscience is clear in touting the book's status on them, with the caveat, of course, that these lists change hourly.

Now, Spoil of War is also currently #20 in relevancy and #6 in bestselling under the search term "Camelot" in the Kindle store. I suppose I could claim that as another Top 100, but it doesn't feel as legitimate as terms like "Arthurian fiction," does it? Ultimately, your own conscience must guide you in how to use the statistics.

So with a little planning on the front side and scrolling through search results on the hind end, no reason why you can't also spin the rankings in your favor, as well. It also helps the relevancy rankings if the title you input contains the search words. I happen to have "An Arthurian Saga" on the cover. I could have as easily left it off the cover and simply made it a part of the title when I input the info about the book.

But this only works for books selling hundreds of copies daily, right? YOUR book that's selling only a couple of copies per day doesn't have a snowball's chance of appearing in any impressive-sounding category. *Snort* Smoke-and-mirrors, folks. I shared my April sales at the beginning of the month. On Amazon, I sold 37 copies on the US site and 13 copies on the UK site. As of noon Friday (May 20), sales on Amazon for May were 32 copies in the US and just 3 copies in the UK. (I've sold zilch through Smashwords this month, and 10 copies on B&N so far.)

I tracked my rankings on and off Wed, Thur and Fri, and you can see the shift in rankings that only 1 or 2 purchases per day can produce. B&N works a little differently on the front end, but you can see I actually have my highest ranking (#5) with them, substituting nook for Kindle, of course. (Yes, I was procrastinating writing for the sake of this research, but see! Pretty chart! Pretty colors! In brand too!)

Now that I've got the numbers to brag with, I just need to figure out how to reach more readers to let them know that buying Spoil of War is a non-risky, community-sanctioned purchase. Everyone must be buying it. It wouldn't be in those top-100 lists otherwise, right?

True or truth? You decide.


Landra said...

I'm really excited for you, and now to add my purchase to the pot and increase you ranks.

I think it's great that your book is rising within the ranks of anything, by golly toot that horn!

IMO if you are having success with the metatags then why not cater other marketing efforts (Social Media wise and so on) to these groups via facebook advertising and twitter?

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Deep sigh of satisfaction. Great. Wonderful. Superlatives ensue.You give me hope. Maybe time to dust off The Miky Way, The Poison Milk Scandal.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Landra: Ack! Identity crisis. OK, Slush=Landra from now on. Actually, for writers, I think a name, real or pen, is the better way to go anyway.

So, was that YOU who bought the book yesterday? ;o) Thank you! Actually, I had 2 sales. Yay!

I submitted this post to Eric over at Pimp My Novel in hopes he'll choose it as one of his guest posts. And I'm tweeting it (thanks for the retweet!). There's SO much info out there on marketing; I want to bring a different approach and some real-world stats to anything I say about it. And coming up with new angles on simple approaches isn't easy!

@Mac: I'm not sure about the reach of Amazon and B&N, and whether you can market through them in Thailand. However, an ebook is a terrific vehicle for a novella, so maybe Amazon will be in the Asean markets by the time you've got the story dusted off and polished up.

Simon John Cox said...

This is a really interesting post, Phoenix. I haven't really got my hands dirty with Amazon, so I had no idea that there was this much scope for filtering and tagging...and that this could generate marketing claims (true) of top ten rankings.

Well done!