At Written Word Media, we are always thinking about how we can provide authors with better information to help their careers. We often get the question, what is the difference between a six-figure author and a part-time author? Earlier this year we mined our data to distill the difference between Financially Successful Authors and Emerging Authors. Today we’re talking directly to author Adam Houge who consistently makes six-figures with his books year after year. In this interview, Adam covers effective book marketing strategies, the Amazon Algorithm and much more. Adam has authored over 100 books in niche genres (Religious fiction, Non-Fiction) where it is often challenging to generate sales at scale. His marketing recommendations are useful for all authors looking to increase their earnings. Enjoy!
Adam, how do you think about book marketing? Give us a mental model of your thought process.
For me, marketing comes down to two simple concepts: traffic and conversion factors. Boiling marketing down to these two concepts is useful because they are easily understood and therefore easily controlled. Once you understand them and know how to employ them, you can take your author career to the next level. I define traffic as the readers that you send to your sales page (aka Amazon Page) when scheduling a launch or promotion. The more targeted your traffic, the more sales you will receive. Conversion factors are the factors of your book that dictate how much of that traffic will convert into paid readers. You can also think of these things as the package or product that is your book.
That’s a great way to think about it, but how can authors actually drive traffic?
Traffic comes from three places:
- Highly related niche blogs and websites
- Your fan base (email list and social media)
- Book promotion services and book blogs
Niche blogs are less impactful at directly driving sales than book blogs and your own fan base. The most effective way to take advantage of traffic is to offer a lead magnet, such as a free eBook, to readers who sign up for your mailing list. If you do an author interview for a blog or write a guest post for a blog, be sure to mention your free content. Those who read the post will become intrigued by your free book offer and sign up for your email list, where you can engage them during your book promotion. Although the traffic may only be a trickle to start, many trickles can be turned into a stream of traffic over time.
Using this strategy, I sell thousands of dollars of hardcover children’s books every month. It took a little time and effort at first, but after getting the spotlight on some decent-sized blogs, my traffic and audience grew quickly. The best part is that the marketing was free. No matter your budget, doing this can work through time to help grow your audience. That said, you should focus your attention on book blogs and your fan base during a book launch or price promotion.
Many authors have either no fanbase or a very small following. In your opinion, what’s the best way for an author to build their fanbase?
There are two key ways to increase your fan base:
- Links in the front and back matter of your books
- Paid advertising
Remember that “lead magnet” free eBook that I mentioned earlier? By putting a link which references the free eBook that readers receive upon subscribing to my list in the front of an eBook I have quadrupled my email subscriber rate compared to placing the link in the back of the book. Do you really want to wait for your reader to take a month to read your novel before prompting them to sign up to your email list? With the link in the front readers sign up the same day they buy the book because they see the link in the “look inside” feature and they are immediately available to begin marketing to via email.
I am confident that random browsers who look into your book through the “look inside” feature (example) but decide not to buy, do sign up after seeing the free book offer, allowing you to market to them again and again down the road. Using these tactics on Amazon I have nearly 10,000 email subscribers to date.
Facebook, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and AOL ads are the paid channels that you can use to grow your audience through paid marketing. Bing ads automatically integrate with AOL, Yahoo, and Windows phones, expanding reach, but Facebook has been the lion in the room, providing more subscribers than any other paid method. Paid ads do require an up-front investment that may not be feasible for new or part-time authors.
Your audience should be grown slowly over time, with the biggest bursts occurring just before your promotions. A subscriber’s highest open and click through rates happen within the first month of signing up, so you want one of the first emails that they receive from you to be one that matters. This leads to bigger results because you have a more responsive audience than other authors who continually spend a flat budget on ads.
You mention book promotion services and book blogs as number 3. How do you leverage those?
If you have money to spend, book blogs and book promotion services like Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy and Bookbub are where you should begin. If you are just getting started, then it’s likely that your fan base is small and the biggest lift you’ll experience will come from the book promotion sites.
Spending like a six-figure author doesn’t mean you’ll make money like one. It takes a lot of trial and error to solve the mystery of which audiences will be the most responsive to your ads. If you’re new, the best results for the lowest cost will be found through the book promotion sites.
Alright, let’s shift gears and talk about your second tenant of book marketing, which you call Conversion Factors.
These are my conversion factors that impact sales during a launch:
- Book cover
- Sample (“look inside”)
- Price Point
- Writing to the Market
The power of these conversion factors grows as the audience grows. Let’s say, for example, that you send 100,000 people to your sales page on launch day. If 1% buy your book, you’ll sell 1,000 copies. Pretty good, right? If we focus on the aspects of our books that will increase conversion, you might be able to convert 5% of that same audience into paid readers. How much would you sell? 5,000 copies on day one. With this many sales, after a new book runs its course on the Amazon algorithm, it’ll likely be on the USA TODAY list and maybe even other best-seller lists. By changing your strategies around the conversion factors of your books you can change your entire career.
If you’re spending money on book promotions, it makes sense to optimize the whole package of your book so you can gain every sale possible. Every sale counts when it comes to ranking on Amazon’s algorithm, so the volume of sales matters.
Walk us through some of the conversion factors and what authors can do to improve them.
Your title should grab your reader and include genre information where relevant. Use descriptive, specific words that people will be searching for.
Your book cover should be eye candy, and engaging. It is worth spending the most you feel you can afford on a good cover design. If that is Fiverr with some customer edits that bring the price up a little, do that. If that is a professional designer, then you know you are going to have the best cover for your book.
It can take hours to write a book description, but the effort is worth it. Your description is not a place to literally describe the book. It is a place to hook the reader. By hook, I don’t mean to pique their interest. You want the description to grab them by the head and shake them while screaming, “HOLY COW, BUY ME.”
An epic description creates epic sales. Remember that and apply it.
After from the description, the sample will be the first thing your customer will ever read from you, so make it the best you’ve ever written and draw them in! Hook, hook, hook!
For best results, hook them with the first sentence, again before that page ends, and again at the end of the “look inside” feature.
This way after reading the “look inside” the reader says to themselves,“Oh my gosh! What happens next?” not “Hmmm . . . that was interesting.” Leave them hanging with enough interest that they must purchase the book to satisfy a burning curiosity.
The lower the price point during your promotion, the more books you’ll move, which means you’ll sit higher on Amazon’s algorithm. The optimal normal price depends on your genre. Some genres, such as religious nonfiction, struggle to gain traction above $2.99 due to a small audience and extremely high competition.
Free KDP select days still work. For example, I just had a launch on July 17 and gave away roughly 50,000 ebooks by the end of the promotion. The result? 500 books sold from my back list during the promotion, and 300 paperbacks sold. Then my book hit the top 400 in the store and #1 in my genre when it went back to paid. My book is still nearly 1,000 in sales rank three weeks later. Before the promotion, my book was 50,000 in the store. I’ve already made my money back and am making a profit on a free promotion.
Writing to the Market
The previous five factors mean little if you haven’t written your content to market in some fashion. I love writing, but I’ve found that it is best to write what I love, while making the story follow the direction that my target audience desires. Regarding nonfiction: when I have a point to get across, I start with a book concept that readers are currently buying and then shift the information in the direction of what I know they need to hear. The result? I wrote what I wanted and got nothing but five stars and incredible sales.
Even JK Rowling expressed regret in having Hermoine Granger and Ron Weasley marry. As authors, we may fall in love with an idea, but it’s our fans who buy our books. So how do you think it would make them feel if they influence the characters in your book to marry or have an otherwise positive outcome in the direction of the reader’s opinion? It isn’t just our story; it’s the readers’ story. Write what the readers in the market are buying and the sales will come to you naturally.
Amazon gives less visibility to books that receive frequent 1-star reviews, so if you want a promotion to go well, make sure your book’s content is top quality. Editing isn’t explicitly a factor at launch, but it will matter later concerning how your title is reviewed, and thus how it ranks on Amazon’s algorithm. It is worth it to get an editor so you don’t fall victim to a 1-star nuclear fallout. Give yourself (and your readers) what you deserve—a well-edited book that sticks on the algorithm.
You talk a lot about Amazon’s algorithm, how important is understanding the algorithm? Will it really help authors sell more books?
Absolutely. All of these factors tie into how Amazon’s algorithm works. Your ultimate goal for all promotions should be to influence the algorithm and rank highly on Amazon’s charts. Your email list can sell a thousand books, but those will only be sold on day one. After that, you can never sell that book to those subscribers again. By ranking on the charts you are accessing thousands of new readers. Do this successfully enough, you’ll continue selling until this time next year. Understanding this concept will help you build book upon book into a full-time or six-figure income.
Consider each book like a small passive stream of income. Each extra book will result in a bigger paycheck for you, putting you closer to achieving your dreams as an author. However, they only bring in enough money to matter if they rank on the charts. As your old titles slip off the algorithm, you should give them a major promotion to bring them back up to the top again.
How does the Amazon Algorithm work?
Their algorithm is the central focus of Amazon’s business and remains one of the most enigmatic. It is the center of all Amazonian marketplace evolution. When you understand the algorithm and how it changes, you will be able to position yourself for continued success. All that is required is the desire and ability to adapt.
I can’t specify the mathematics of the algorithm, but I can give you examples from what we observe. Amazon gives visibility to books based on sales over a 30-day period and based on hourly sales.
The sales rank is the hourly portion of the algorithm. Your position provides visibility in a variety of places such as the best-seller list, the popularity list, the search engine, the hot new releases list, and also-boughts on product pages, just to name a few.
Most of your visibility is going to come from the 30-day average of sales through time. Amazon gives less weight to abnormal spikes and more weight to continuous ongoing sales.
For example, if a book were to sell thirty books per day for thirty days, it would be ranked higher (in the long run) in the algorithm than a book that sold nothing for twenty-nine days and then sold nine hundred on one day. The spike is “buffered” by Amazon’s system, which means that they decrease the sales total by a percent before dividing it out over the 30-day rolling average.
In the past, some merchants employed shady launch companies who spiked their sales and left shell 5-star reviews. These merchants would then experience a heavy lift on the algorithm and garner thousands of dollars before receiving enough 1-star reviews to eliminate their sales. As a result, Amazon created this “buffer” to stop these launch companies.
However, this makes it difficult for anyone to launch a book using the tactic of a one-day launch. Before the buffering system was in place, an author could spike their sales for one day, rank highly, and then attempt to keep the rank up with a few blog promotions. This no longer works well due to the “buffer” that’s in place.
As unfair as this may seem, Amazon’s goal is to provide the best experience for their buyers, and they don’t want bad content to be pushed to their customers. The “Buffer” is Amazon’s way of rewarding books that seem to have organic, authentic popularity.
How do you recommend authors keep up a slow trickle of sales in between their spike days?
Facebook ads are a useful tool in this new world. Since the algorithm currently favors a trickle of sales that builds up around your spike days, you can generate the slow trickle by starting with a low daily budget on Facebook ads and and increasing it gradually as you see results. Staggering paid promotions can also help maintain the trickle. For example, if you run a Bookbub ad to get a spike on a Monday and then follow it with a Bargain Booksy promotion on the Thursday, you will have 2 spike days (Monday and Thursday) and 3-5 trickle days (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) from the halo effect of those promotions. Both spikes and trickles are necessary to keep the sales coming in.
Reviews are significant in the algorithm’s reckoning. If a book doesn’t receive any reviews after the launch, its rank will drop compared to titles with reviews. If it has 5-star reviews pour in over a day or two, it may help a little, but like sales, it’s the accumulation of 5-star reviews slowly over time that dramatically increases visibility. It is paramount to avoid 1-star reviews, as they will stunt your rank. This is why it is important to pay close attention to the Conversion Factors listed above.
The solution is simple. You need a launch strategy that can help you play to the algorithm’s rules while convincing your dedicated readers to leave positive feedback. To launch a book the most effectively, you need to maintain a trickle of sales around larger spikes. Do this and you will stay high in the algorithm’s visibility up as a result.
Thanks for taking the time to share all this great information. Where can authors go to learn more?
These perceived characteristics of the algorithm come from my own experience after nearly two hundred book promotions and promotions of other authors I know. I have distributed nearly two million books between paid and free launches and have been making six figures year after year. I have put together my launch strategy into a free educational video series, which features three very short but information-dense videos that can help you immediately make a difference in your book launches.
You can find them here: http://www.thefanbaseformula.com/freebooksy