Book Discovery Strategies #1: Two Free Books

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Price has been a major point of contention among self-published authors since the publication of the first book through KDP. Through its royalty structure, Amazon guided authors to price their books between $2.99 and $9.99 if they wanted a bigger return. Pricing lower was usually reserved for special sales or shorter works. Since Amazon didn’t allow authors to price books for free outside of its exclusive KDP Select program, few authors considered the strategy behind free books until the discovery of permafree.

Amazon will price your book free if it’s free on other platforms. Google Play, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords will let you set a free price for your book, so if you publish a book there and then contact KDP Support to let them know about the price match, nine times out of 10, you’ll have a free book on the biggest ebook retailer in the business.

Getting your book free isn’t a strategy by itself. You need to use one or more free books to increase your chances of discovery. Nick Stephenson’s Reader Magnets strategy, which we’ll refer to as the Two Free Books model, got a lot of attention early this year for its ability to add more readers to author mailing lists at a rapid clip. By including a promotion for a second free book within your already permafree first book, you can increase traffic to your mailing list signup page and bring in a large number of new fans.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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One of the best ways to get traffic to any page is a free incentive. You’re more likely to click an ad, a link, or a banner if there’s something in it for you. That’s why 30-day free trials are so popular. Businesses are willing to risk people taking the free time or product and never buying for a chance to bring in new customers.

Free books bring in over 10 times as many downloads as paid books. If you can get your books onto the devices of as many people as possible, then you may be able to convert more readers to paying customers than you would have otherwise. By attaching one free book to another book that requires the submission of an email address, you’ll give yourself a better opportunity to connect with these readers.

How Does This Strategy Work?

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Once you’ve made a book permafree using the above price matching procedure, create a small advertisement at the front of the book. You can use a free tool like Canva to create an engaging promotion that readers can see before they even get to the first sentence. The ad should direct readers back to your mailing list signup page and promise a free book.

The back end of the second half of the process can be a little technical. Many authors use a WordPress plugin like OptimizePress to create a high converting mailing list signup page with an attractive clickable button. The landing page should promote the second book and doesn’t even need to mention the mailing list if you use the smart button technology of OptimizePress or some HTML wizardry. When a reader clicks this special kind of button, he’ll be directed to plug in his email address.

To set up the free download of your second book, you can use a combination of Amazon Web Services and an email marketing service like AWeber. AWS allows you to post free downloadable files for free up to a certain number of downloads. Simply upload your file and make it public. In the first email of an AWeber auto responder, you can include a download link to that file on AWS. Readers will get the link to the book upon confirming their subscription to your list.

What Makes The Strategy More Effective?

The Two Free Books strategy will make the greatest impact when you have multiple books in a series. You can make the first book in your series permafree on Amazon and the other retailers. From there, offer the second book or a related novella as the second free item readers can get from signing up to your mailing list. The more books you’ve written in a series, the better your chances of making this strategy work.

An author with only three books in a series can only sell the third book after readers check out the first two for free. Authors with five books in a series have three additional books to sell after readers start with the first two.

The Two Free Books Strategy also works well with the next strategy we’ll discuss, Securing Email Advertisers. Getting your first book featured as part of a BookBub promotion could net you a significant number of email subscribers and later sell-throughs to your other books. Once again, it’s all about the traffic, because 20,000 to 30,000 downloads will serve your mailing list ad to more readers, leading to more sign ups, and more sales.

The Question of Value

Some authors and pundits criticize the Two Free Books strategy (as well as the permafree model in general) because they claim it devalues books. It’s up to you how much belief you want to put into those arguments. Six-figure authors like Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson have added thousands of readers to their lists through giving away free books. Andy Weir, the self-published author of The Martian, first gave away his book for free until it became a huge hit. Now the movie version is coming out with Matt Damon as the lead. It can be hard to put months of hard work into a book and to see it up there for zero dollars and zero cents, but it’s currently one of the top ways to get more readers to discover your books. Keep writing stronger work, and eventually you won’t mind that your earliest books have the lowest possible barrier to reader entry.

Getting Your Book Ready For Discovery

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In our previous piece on book discoverability, we noted that the first part of readers finding your books revolves around traffic. The more people who come across your book sales pages and website, the better chances you have of making sales. We also noted that the second part of discovery is making sure your books are ready to be discovered.

Without necessarily categorizing it as such, we’ve talked a lot about discovery preparation on Author Marketing Institute. It’s essentially a matter of winning tiny comparison shopping battles with similar books in your genre. If someone is looking for a dark fantasy book by a new author, then he may compare your dark fantasy novel with another similar looking title. If you have significantly fewer reviews and your description sounds less compelling, then you’re going to lose out on that sale.

Aside from hiring out a top-notch cover designer, there are four key areas you can set up to make sure your book is strongly considered when readers discover your sales page:

1. Try to Get 100-200 Reviews

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Many strategies exist for book discovery, and having a lot of high-rated reviews helps nearly all of them. For example, when you’ve got to buy socks online, you’re probably going to pick the one with reviews that talk about comfort, elasticity, and a good deal. When a reader wants to buy a book, she wants the validation that dozens of other readers like her enjoyed your book.

Getting over 100 reviews on your book is not going to be easy, but it’s essential for one of the biggest book discovery tools of them all: BookBub. There was a time when you could get by with 50-75 reviews to get your book featured, but it’s getting harder and harder to meet the email marketing company’s increasingly high standards.

The rule of thumb with BookBub is to check the category you want to be featured in. Write down the number of reviews for the last five books featured. Divide them by five to come up with the number of reviews you’ll need. Depending on the category, you may need well over 200 to get your book into the mix.

2. Deconstruct Your Blurb

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In most cases, you shouldn’t compare your book to others in your genre. It’s psychologically unnerving to belittle yourself in the shadow of big bestsellers. Don’t compare your sales to the outliers of the industry, but you should most definitely compare your descriptions.

So many author book descriptions are the equivalent of the sock blurb: “Cotton foot warmers you can wear.” Fortunately, you’ve got a product that’s got a lot more to say about it than an ankle-length sock. Check out the descriptions of other books in your genre that are selling well. Borrow the framework that seems to work the best. Insert your own characters into that framework and then spice it up with some sensory adjectives. You want your readers to feel something when they read your books, and that same goal should be a part of your description writing.

Another thing to consider is Amazon’s recent experimentation with shorter descriptions. The retailer recently tested out only displaying two or three lines of a description before readers needed to click the “Read More” link. While it seems like Amazon has gone back to its old description style, you still need to consider how strong your first two lines are for mobile devices. Use a catchy tagline that makes readers want to read more. Employ short, punchy sentences and then see how they display on your phone or tablet.

3. Optimize Your Look Inside

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The first two pages of most paperbacks have got to be the most skipped in all of literary history. So few people care about the legal mumbo jumbo of the copyright information, that they’re bound to miss dedications and author’s notes in an effort to get to the first lines of the novel proper. The problem with copyright pages in an ebook is that they take up valuable room in your Look Inside.

The Look Inside is the preview function that allows readers to sample your book before buying. The more things you stuff in before the first line of your book, the shorter the sample readers get to peruse. Additionally, readers are more likely to click away when they can’t read your words immediately. That’s why you need to pare down your preface material to a bare minimum.

Trim your copyright to a few lines or place it at the back of the book. Keep your author’s note simple or insert it at the back. Include a small promotion for your mailing list before jumping right into the first chapter. From there, make sure there aren’t any surprises in the first few pages, like poor alignment or an alarming misspelling.

4. Put Your Email List on Autopilot

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As we’ve previously discussed on the site, you should link to your mailing list in the front of all your books. When you do this, your mailing list becomes part of the discovery process. If you’re the kind of person who sets and forgets your list, then you need a healthy auto responder sequence to guide new subscribers into your fan base.

You should use your own unique style to tell readers about yourself, show them where else they can buy your books, and ask them how involved they’d like to be with your efforts. Many bestselling authors have used auto responder sequences to get more sales, additional reviews, and even members of their advanced reader or street teams. Have at least a month worth of emails ready to go to anyone who subscribes to your list.

Traffic + Professionalism = Sales

The line has become more and more blurred between traditionally-published books and self-published books on the e-retail platforms. As a result, you have to work harder than ever to make your page look professional. When the book page is up to snuff, the traffic you send there through your promotional efforts will convert much better. Continue to refine your page as time goes on, and set a constant goal to make an incredible first impression on all your new readers.

What Is Book Discoverability?

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Authors, like many entrepreneurial artists, put a lot of value in tricks. They’re willing to sell books for free or set up a mailing list because they’ve seen other authors do the same thing. The problem comes when writers employ some of these tricks without understanding the basic concepts behind them. At their core, many tactics related to book marketing have to do with book discoverability.

At its center, book discoverability can be any one of a number of ways in which readers find your books. In the old days, book buyers only had a few ways to discover their next read. You could see a book on an end cap in your local Borders or you heard about the latest bestseller from a newspaper review. If you were self-published, you had essentially no chance of getting your book out to the public at large, though you could still do well enough if you brought traffic into your website. Now, the number of methods for book discoverability has grown exponentially, which is great for readers and a new challenge for authors.

Book Discoverability Broken Down

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We’ve already mentioned the methods of book discovery like BookBub, permafree series starters, and social media, on the dozens of posts throughout the Author Marketing Institute. Plenty of authors use these tactics incorrectly because they don’t understand how the process of book discoverability works. When it comes down to it, if your books aren’t getting discovered, it’s an issue of poor traffic.

When you aren’t selling books on Amazon, Apple, Google Play, etc., it doesn’t mean that those platforms aren’t working. One of your main issues is that you’re not getting enough traffic on your book sales pages. How did a social media platform like Facebook trounce Friendster? There are a lot of reasons why, but if you ask the question “how,” the answer is that it started getting significantly more traffic. More traffic means more potential readers and more sales.

The problem with traffic is the same issue that all people who host a website run into. There’s a lot of web traffic that you can’t control. Let’s say you have a day with an unexpected and unexplained sales boost. It’s very likely that you had an increased amount of traffic to your sales pages that day for whatever reason. You can’t control days like that, but that doesn’t mean the book discoverability issue is completely out of your hands.

Your First Goal In Marketing

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Being a self-published author is sometimes like working three jobs at once, and one of those jobs is in marketing. Your first goal as a marketer should be to bring more traffic to your pages. Whether a method worked for another author or not is irrelevant. You need to find ways to bring traffic to your pages so that more readers know who you are and start buying your books. We realize this seems incredibly simplified and obvious, but a lot of authors don’t seem to get it.

If you spend 40 hours a week posting to Facebook, but you only reach about 20 of the same people every time you post, then you’re missing out on the first step of marketing. Without traffic, you won’t get sales. It’s not Amazon or Apple’s responsibility to send traffic to your pages. You can’t assume traffic will come naturally of its own accord. It’s up to you to figure out how to send traffic to your book pages.

And Your Second Goal…

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Some authors take years to figure out step one, and when they do, there’s no telling how long their method for traffic-generation will actually last. In the midst of all this, authors must also consider the second step of book discoverability. Their book must look and be good enough to buy.

When readers discover your book, it needs to be ready for its starring moment. It’s painful how frequently writers focus on the first part of discoverability without thinking about the second. They’ll spend hundreds of dollars on a promotion without realizing they have three misspellings in their Look Inside or that their book description looks terrible on mobile devices. Without a strong cover, good reviews, and a compelling description, all the traffic in the world won’t do you much good.

Everybody wants a landslide of traffic and critical acclaim that puts them into the top one percent of all authors. They want to be an outlier, but there are plenty of writers who do well simply by following the rules of discoverability: get traffic and impress that traffic. The authors who understand this simple formula of book discoverability don’t need a windfall. They’ve got the basic knowledge they require to keep themselves at the top of the heap for the rest of their career.