Book Discovery Strategy #6: Meeting Merchandizers

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Most of the book discovery strategies we’ve discussed on the Author Marketing Institute can be done from the comfort of your own computer. This makes sense because you’re marketing a digital product in a digital age. But since not all e-retail platforms operate using new digital practices, your success off of Amazon may require some travel and face-to-face interaction.

As we’ve previously mentioned, sales and popularity on Amazon is heavily tied into the website’s algorithm. You’ll be displayed on more searches if you sell more books at a higher price. You’ll stick higher up in the sales rankings if your sales are spread out over a few days. While Amazon does some editorial choosing for its Deal of the Day promotions, most of the books it features are part of an automated process. The other ebook retailers use some automation, but there’s also a lot more selection by members of each site’s merchandizing staff.

First and foremost, merchandizers for iBooks, Nook Press, and Kobo are likely to choose books that are already selling well. Unless you’re constantly ranking high on those platforms to begin with, you won’t get chosen during that stage of the game. However, if you meet and connect with these merchandizers, your face-to-face efforts may be well rewarded with prominent placement.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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Before Amazon dominated the ebook landscape, getting featured online or in a book store was the result of negotiations between a publisher and a book store or website. While Amazon usually doesn’t take payments for features of that kind, several of the other retailers continue to negotiate with publishers for online placement of books. If the non-Amazon retailers could get paid for every space on their site, then that’s likely what they’d do, but there are simply too many spaces available and too many readers hunting for their next fix. When the retailers figured this out, they began letting self-published authors jockey for space.

Non-Amazon retailers get plenty of emails requesting placement or marketing assistance, but you get a lot more impact from a face-to-face meeting. It’s easy to dismiss an email address to the digital wastebasket, but when you see a person and hear their pitch, you can’t help but want to assist. Even though reps at non-Amazon platforms don’t always have a gleaming reputation, these are people who love books and want authors to succeed. When they see that you’re an author who writes well, understands marketing, and wants to keep putting books into reader hands, you’ll be well on your way to a featured promotion.

As authors have experienced decreased revenue from going exclusive on Amazon, they’ve sought out improved earnings from the other platforms. While some tactics that work on Amazon like the use of keywords carry over to Apple, Kobo, and Nook Press, getting featured is the only surefire way to sell more books through the other retailers. It’s an absolute must for multi-platform success.

How Does This Strategy Work?

Meeting with merchandizers is probably the simplest of the book discovery strategies, but it will require travel, money, and time. The first step is finding out where the representatives of the various platforms will be taking meetings or setting up a booth. The major retailers like iBooks, Nook Press, and Kobo are a fixture at big-time conferences like Book Expo America and the London Book Fair. Since these events are so big and crowded, you may want to consider trying to strike up a conversation during a smaller conference.

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To find where the reps will be, start by emailing each retailer to ask. Kobo will be the quickest to respond with the most human attention, but you may be able to get the info you need in this manner from iBooks and Nook Press as well. If you’re unsuccessful, check out the list of speakers at writing conferences in your area. The events with a slight self-publishing focus are the likeliest candidates for merchandizing rep attendance.

Once you’ve found the closest conference that will feature representatives from the retailers, save up for your trip and take the necessary time off work. Depending on the size of the conference, you may need to schedule a meeting to get face time with the reps. In most cases, however, you can skip a presentation or two and go chat up the reps while most of the attendees are listening to the speakers.

You’ll want to know your pitch and have a set of business cards handy to distribute. You should know approximately how many books you’ve sold, and you should be prepared to bring up your book on a mobile device (on that retailer’s platform). The better your book looks and the better reviews you’ve obtained, the more likely it is that the rep will want to hear you out. Beyond the pitch part of the encounter, you should be ready to have a regular old conversation. Reps want to hear your story and know that you’re a human being, as opposed to just an email address. That way, when you follow up with them, they’ll remember exactly who you are.

After the conference, follow up with the rep as soon as you can. Make sure to provide any information the rep requested from you, such as your title, the link to your book, and any other marketing materials. Don’t be a pest, but make sure to follow up just enough to get your book featured. After you’ve secured the feature, check back in with the rep every couple of months to see if you can get your book back in a prominent place.

Who You Know

There are ways to connect with reps without meeting them in person. Perhaps you know a friend who has a connection with a rep, and this person can act as an intermediary for the two of you. But if you don’t have friends in high places, you’re going to need to make the effort to introduce yourself.

Beyond connecting with reps, you never know who you’ll meet at these conferences and other events. In addition to getting a foothold on the non-Amazon platforms, you may make other contacts who will lead to additional sales opportunities. The only way to make those connections, however, is for you to leave your living room and get your face out there.

Book Discovery Strategy #5: Social Media Events

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Facebook launch parties and other related events have been a fixture of the social media platform since its launch. Multi-Author Facebook Events, however, are relatively new, and when they’re done correctly, they can lead to a lot of new fans discovering your books.

Horror author Timothy Long discussed his zombie fiction Facebook event during a 2014 episode of Simon Whistler’s Rocking Self Publishing Podcast. Sell More Books Show Co-Host Bryan Cohen went on to take the events to the next level, running six events over the following year. What these events showed was that Facebook is a great venue for cross-pollinating readers from one author to another. It works well as an arena for author-fan interactions, and it can be used successfully to collect email subscribers and sell books.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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The Social Media Event strategy works for many of the same reasons that the Box Set strategy works. When you bring together a collection of authors who are willing to promote something, you end up with thousands of fans who hear about it. While it’s likely that not every author will pull his weight and not every fan will be interested, if the majority of people involved give it a go, your event will be popular and successful.

Authors participating in these events have noticed a bump in sales and subscribers. They make direct connections with new fans of the genre, and they bond with other like-minded authors. As in the box set strategy, the person putting together the event will spend the most time, but he’ll also get the most benefit. By directing attendees to a hub page on his own website, the event coordinator has the best chance of bringing in email subscribers and getting the word out about his own books.

How Does This Strategy Work?

As the coordinator, you’ll start out by reaching out to the top authors in your genre with whom you’re already acquainted. This is a good time to call in any favors you’re owed by your peers. It’s always smart to get a few big names on board before you begin to pitch other authors because it’s a sort of social proof that the event will be worth doing.

After you’ve secured some initial authors through your existing contacts, start reaching out to authors via email or the contact form on their websites. You’ll need to be very specific about the event, including promotion expectations, pricing expectations (if you’re doing a 99-cent sale), and the date of the event. You may need to email three to five times as many authors as you want to include to get up to your final number. If you can’t get many big names, then your target should be hard workers who have a small but dedicated fan base.

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Similarly to the box set, organizing the authors involved will be a little painful. Set up cloud-based documents to agree on times the authors will visit the event and what they plan on doing to promote. Giveaways are popular on events like these, so it’s smart to ask the authors what they’d be willing to provide early on.

Make the event and a related event hub page on your website look seamless and professional. Hiring out some art from Fiverr or other contractor platforms will usually do the trick. Make sure to have popups and tracking pixels enabled on your hub page to give yourself the best chance of bringing in new readers.

As the event draws near, get your authors to engage in their agreed upon promotions and spread the giveaways far and wide. If you’re already familiar with the platform, use Facebook ads to bring in additional targeted attendees. The last organizational hurdle will be getting authors to drop their prices for any event-related sales, and it’s worth following up a couple of times to make sure everybody does what they’re supposed to.

On the day of the event, interact heavily with all the readers who attend. This is your chance to make new fans, so you should always respond to comments quickly and charmingly. Throughout the day, pitch the author sale and encourage the other authors to push each others work. As the event comes to a close, draw winners from all the giveaways and invite readers to visit author websites. If all goes well, the authors involved should see a spike in sales, and you should have a fair number of new subscribers and Facebook users to target with your tracking pixel.

Active Promotion vs. Passive Promotion

Most of the discovery strategies we’ve discussed are relatively passive until you get people onto your email list. The Social Media Event strategy is the opposite. You’re connecting with authors and readers directly from the start. There’s something about having control over a process that makes this kind of marketing worthwhile. Instead of waiting and hoping that things happen, you’re the one in the driver’s seat. Since you have a limited number of hours every week, you probably can’t make all your marketing efforts active, but a mix of active and passive promotion will help you cover all the bases for the discovery of your book.

Book Discovery Strategy #4: Joining a Box Set

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Most of the strategies we’ve discussed so far in the Book Discovery series have been solo operations. This makes sense, after all, a large part of your work as an author is done alone. Now we’re going to get into a few strategies that require other people. If you have to work with someone to boost your books, it’s never a bad idea to ally yourself with the top authors in your genre.

When a group of authors all works toward a similar aim, it’s likely they’ll come up with something spectacular. That’s the beauty of getting a group of creative people together. The same can be true of marketing. By putting together books from a variety of authors into a box set, you not only provide a great deal for readers, you also combine everybody’s promotional prowess. Readers love the idea of finding new, undiscovered authors they can read. When every author in a box set spreads the word, you’re able to share your fans with your colleagues, and they can introduce their fans to you. It’s one of the most synergistic forms of book marketing there is.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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Before self-publishing hit the big time, most readers could only get the ebook version of their favorite books by shelling out $10 to $15. Nowadays, with the wave of 99 cent and $2.99 books out there, many readers expect a deal and it’s the only way to get your foot in the door. Box sets include multiple full-length novels in the same low-priced bundle, which makes them a steal for voracious readers who are looking to save a buck or two. Even if some of the books in the box set are available for free, the image and idea of over a thousand pages worth of words for a low price is often too good to pass up.

Since box sets are often priced low (99 cents or free seems to be the norm), you’re not likely to make a ton of money by being part of one. The real advantage of joining a box set is getting your book onto the Kindles of many readers who’ve never heard of you. The goal is to get fans of another author in the box set to read your book and buy the other books in your series. Since many well-promoted sets sell thousands of copies, you’ve got a good opportunity to get several dozen new fans (if not more) out of the endeavor.

How Does This Strategy Work?

The box set usually starts with a few authors in a single genre who want to put a set together. From a time investment standpoint, it’s usually best to join a box set others are already assembling, rather than putting together on your own. Organizing a set takes a lot of work and there are many headaches you may encounter along the way. If you join an existing one, you’ll simply need to submit the book you want to include and follow instructions. Brave souls who want to put a set together from scratch will need to take a lot more action along the way.

Getting into or starting a box set starts with connecting with the other authors in your genre. Facebook and Twitter are great places to make initial contact, and from there, you can ask for an email address or hunt it down from the authors’ websites. Unless you have a box set track record, you’ll likely get a lot of declines when you ask people to be part of a set. Many authors are busy, lazy, or some strange combination between the two. Be advised; even those who agree to be a part of the set may do the least amount of work possible in the slowest imaginable timeframe.

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Once you’ve gathered together some authors, it’s time to figure out all the administrative stuff. Ask yourself when you’d like the set to come out, what platforms you’d like it to be on, who’s formatting, who’s handling the cover, how the group plans on promoting, and who’s handling all the money at the end. While all these issues can be time consuming, the formatting- and money-related tasks will take the longest to figure out. If you think formatting one novel is a pain, then try dealing with a dozen. Unless you’re an expert in the subject, outsourcing is recommended.

You can’t really outsource the sales and money aspect of the project, unless you aren’t the one putting the set together. As the head of the set, you’re responsible for keeping track of sales, putting aside the money the set has earned, and splitting it between all the authors involved. Instead of splitting the money monthly, it’s a good idea to do it every three to six months. This way, you don’t have to spend so much time figuring out earnings and paying a bunch of PayPal fees along the way.

As the set is coming together, make sure everybody’s books link properly to the next books in their respective series. Since the entire point of the set is to get sell-throughs, it would be a shame if any of the books weren’t linked up correctly. As the coordinator, it can be like pulling teeth to get the proper links and materials from people, so you should set hard and fast deadlines with plenty of reminders to get folks on board. Setting up a private Facebook group will also help you make small announcements that don’t require constant emails.

It’s common practice to use paid ads to push box sets and taking the money spent out of the end earnings. Make sure you clear that point with authors when they first join the project. While BookBub won’t take multi-author box sets, many of the other email advertisers will. Use the five-day strategy of spreading out promotions instead of having them all fall on the same day. This will give your box set the biggest possible boost. Encourage the authors to also email out about the set to their readers around the time of the launch. Subscribe to all the mailing lists of the authors ahead of time, and politely nag the people who neglect to send out their message.

Since box sets take a lot of work and some upkeep, many coordinators put a limit on how long they’ll release the set. Some will only put it out for a month at most, while others will let them run indefinitely. Six months seems to be a common length for these projects to move as many copies as possible. Decide on a length of time early on in the process to make sure the other authors are on board.

Has The Box Set Fever Cooled?

Box sets aren’t as popular as they once were because you can now find multiple collections in every major genre. When the idea was more or less original, all you had to do was put the collection out and it’d stick in the Kindle Top 1,000 for months at a time. It’s no longer that easy, and putting together a set is no guarantee of success.

That being said, several box sets still appear on the USA Today and New York Times Bestseller lists nearly every week. Most of these sets are in very popular genres like romance, but you’ll see an occasional thriller or science fiction set make the lists as well. Making these big time lists is tricky business, but a box set with the right authors will almost definitely get the word out about your series to new potential readers.

If you’re putting together a set yourself, then you’ll have to spend a lot of hours setting it up. Dollars per hour-wise, it may not be worth your time, but the other authors in the set will appreciate your efforts, which could lead to future book discovery opportunities later on down the road.