Monday, December 26, 2016

Plan Your Marketing Approach In Advance - Narrow Your Audience First

Indie and self-publishing authors often take two approaches to marketing their books, neither of which are very successful. Many authors are more than happy to upload their files to CreateSpace and Amazon KDP and let Amazon do it's magic. I've been guilty of that myself.

Others don't like the idea of marketing their books. It seems somehow, beneath an author. 

If you want to make money with your writing, you must accept the fact self-publishing is a business and treat it as such.

If you don't like the idea that self-publishing, or being an indie author, is a business, then you need to stop and ask yourself do you want your books to be read or readers to find and fall in love with your stories?

Besides, marketing for authors is not the same as large corporations. In fact, I have learned the hard way, it shouldn't be.

Large corporations engage in massive campaigns designed to create brand awareness. They have time and money individual authors will never have. Can you really answer the question of which commercial convinced you to buy that pair of running shoes? Or what made you decided to be a Mac instead of a PC?

On the other hand, I bet you can point to a specific add or promotion that led you to a small or medium sized business that solved the exact problem you needed solving or pointed out a book to you that was exactly what you wanted to read.

Amazon, yes, the giant Amazon, engages in both types of marketing and do it extremely well. In fact, they are so good at pointing out books we want to read to us that as authors it is tempting to leave all the work to Amazon.

Let me point out why neither approach, doing nothing at all or leaving it all to Amazon, is not a good idea. Both approaches fail for some of the same reasons.

First, ask yourself, how does Amazon know what I want to read?

It collects data and it's algorithm's figure out what you're interested in over time. The more data Amazon can collect, the better it can predict what you will be interested in considering buying.

If you do nothing to promote your book, nobody will ever discover it. If nobody discovers it, how can Amazon collect any data about your book?

What's more, you want the right people to discover your book. If Amazon gets the wrong data, it will suggest the book to the wrong readers. Nobody will buy your book and Amazon will move on, letting your book fall in sales ranking, never to be suggested again.

Chris Fox, in his outstanding book The Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books, points out the need to drive early sales and reviews for your book to a targeted niche of customers. This way, Amazon can hone in like a laser on the right niche of readers!

Using the broad marketing approach like major corporations is like simply scattering seed everywhere. Some of the seed will fall on fertile soil. The rest won't. When it comes time for the harvest, the farmer won't have enough to live on for the year.

Zeroing in on your ideal reader and doing everything you can to drive early sales and draw reviews from those very readers gives Amazon the right data to target the largest possible audience of ideal readers for your book.

Having said that, how does an author identify the ideal reader?

For my non-fiction books, it was easy. I knew exactly who my reader was, what problems needed to be solved, what the source of their pain was and the jargon they spoke. I still missed the mark at times and in doing so, missed readers and sales.

Fiction is even more difficult, at least in my mind.

To get the process started, you have to research who your intended reader is. I had a good idea for my non-fiction books. I had at best a fuzzy idea for my novel.

Knowing I had to zero in on my target audience before I launched my novel prompted me to try to find ways to identify my ideal reader.

The Predator and The Prey is a mix of SciFi and Hardboiled Crime Noir. 

When I started the novel, I had no idea if there would be an audience for a cross genre story like mine. I counted on the fact the cult TV show Firefly, a Space Western, found an audience, even if too small and too late. If the millions of Browncoats out there found Firefly, there has to be some readers who love The Maltese Falcon AND Star Wars.

But how was I supposed to identify the actual reader who would want to read my story?

CreateSpace requires the selection of a BISAC, an industry standard category to fit your book into. The closest BISAC category The Predator and The Prey falls into is Fiction / Mystery & Detective / Hard-Boiled.

It's certainly written in the style of books that fall into that category and my protagonist, Inspector Thomas Sullivan is as cool and ruthless as Sam Spade or Lt. Harry Callahan of Dirty Harry fame. The problem is, I don't know if readers who enjoy that type of book will want to read a crime noir story with a science fiction twist to it.

The BISAC categories for Science Fiction and Fantasy don't include an option for Mystery & Detective/Hard-boiled. This led to a series of e-mails back and forth with CreateSpace who finally provided me with good advice on how to get The Predator and The Prey listed under Science Fiction and Fantasy as well. The one catch, I have to wait until the book has been published and listed on Amazon.

Why is that an issue? Remember the targeting of early sales to specific readers? The need to garner those all important positive Amazon Reader reviews as early and frequently as possible? That missing category will delay readers who may love my book from finding it, providing Amazon with the data it needs to find other readers in the same niche.

More frustration.

I moved on to Amazon keywords. Here was where I found a way to zero in, regardless of Category to the ideal reader for my book! CreateSpace will allow you up to five keywords and Amazon KDP seven. The only problem was I didn't know what keywords to pick. Here is what CreateSpace had to say about keywords:

Not much help. Here's what Amazon KDP says about keywords:

Still no closer to having an exact idea of how to narrow my search for the best keywords.

Fortunately, I stumbled across a great blog post by Dave Chesson, the Kindlepreneur! This led to a software program named KDP Rocket. I reviewed this in an earlier blog post on The Self-Publisher's Notebook.

KDP Rocket sells for $67 and was money well spent in my opinion. Keep in mind, I've wasted a lot of money on a wide range of gimmicks and scams, so I hope I'm not leading you astray if you decide to purchase this product (I am not an affiliate for this product).
The learning curve is not terribly steep. In a short period of time you can start researching keyword results based on data from Amazon. After several hours of doing this, I had a long list of over 100 keywords with data about each keyword.

I shortened the list to ten and finally narrowed it down to seven by testing all ten. By typing in the targeted keyword I was able to generate Amazon search results for each. Using the Check the Competition feature I researched each of the first titles that Amazon pulled up.

I was delighted to discover there is a market for SciFi Crime Noir Thrillers!

This entire approach took some time on my part. Hopefully, by sharing the process I went through I will save you hours of thinking and surfing the net to arrive at the same point I did.

Armed with my two Categories (well, one category and the knowledge of how to get CreateSpace to get Amazon to add another category) and lists of keywords, I am that much closer in my marketing plan to being able to target those niche readers for my book when it goes on sale.

Despite the fact the files for both versions of the book, POD and ebook, have been finished, checked, double checked and are ready to upload, I am glad I have waited to publish until I had a better handle on the marketing for the book.

If you found this post helpful, please take a moment to nominate by novel, The Predator and The Prey, on Amazon Kindle Scout. If the book gets enough nominations, the "Scout Team" might consider purchasing the Kindle/ebook rights!

The process will take less than a minute. Just click here to nominate my book! You'll need to use your Amazon account.

I described this process in an earlier blog post.