Skip to content

On Bookselling: Targeting Your Market

This week I’m talking about turning Kindle-published books into bestsellers. I’ve done it, and I’m sharing some secrets to how you can, too.

Essentially, they boil down to this:

Get really lucky, and watch in astonishment as your numbers start to climb.

Of course, if I really felt that way, I wouldn’t be writing this blog at all, let alone this series. Yes, the e-book market is erratic, but that doesn’t mean we’re totally in the dark.

O, Glorious Amazon!

The fact of the matter is that is the most powerful tool indie writers have ever seen. Probably the most powerful tool any writers have ever seen, given the amount of rewards they offer.

The last three decades have seen a major dwindling in the always-slim amount of resources publishers have spent on marketing books. It’s become the author’s responsibility to establish a platform, tour and promote, and generate sales. That’s been a punishing trend for writers.

But then Amazon came along and became a major promotional force for writers. Amazon wants to sell books to readers. Amazon doesn’t much care about promoting this publishing house or that author brand. They just want to find the actual title a given reader will buy, and put the opportunity in front of him.

That has been huge for self-published writers. I’ve sold over a thousand copies of Taming Fire now, and that’s because Amazon has been advertising the book to many more thousands of readers.

There’s no way I could have afforded to pay for that kind of advertising, and there’s certainly no way I could have targeted it as narrowly as Amazon did. But Amazon put my book in front of the readers who were most likely to want to buy it.

And as I said yesterday, with Taming Fire I did everything necessary to make sure that, once those readers saw the book, they recognized it as one they wanted.

The Fumble

And that brings me back to the questions I was asking yesterday: What did I do right with Taming Fire, that I did wrong with Gods Tomorrow? Some of it may be inscrutable. Some of it may be pretty boring (I spent ten months polishing my promotional process between the time I released one and the other). But when it comes to the things I described above, I made a pretty obvious fumble with this one.

First…it’s a hybrid novel.

  • It’s science fiction, but it’s near-future and takes all the whiz-bang technology for granted, instead of playing it up in big ways.
  • It’s a mystery, but I spend a lot less time in crime labs and deep introspection than I do in chase scenes and conversations.
  • It’s a thriller, but only after Katie solves the puzzling mystery. The really exciting action doesn’t start until about halfway through the book (and nobody actually gets shot until the very end).

There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. Science fiction is usually more of a setting than a story type. Mystery/thriller hybrids are popular. And Gods Tomorrow couldn’t really be anything other than what it is–and the people who do read it generally tend to like it.

Still, all of that complicates the sales message. Taming Fire is high fantasy. That’s all it is. Gods Tomorrow is a hybrid three layers deep, and it fell on me try to market that monstrosity when I had zero experience with that.

That made the cover a real challenge, but I’m thrilled with the cover we ended up with. It took some trying, but we got one that conveyed what the story is.

The biggest problem was the product description.

No, that’s not true. The biggest problem was the title. I’ve spent ten months now at war with myself over the title Gods Tomorrow. It’s brilliant…if you know what it means. For someone scanning over six little thumbnails in the “People who bought this book also liked…” row at Amazon, though, it’s usually going to give the wrong impression.

Then I realized last week, to my horror, that I had a paragraph on the first page of the book that not only complicated that confusion, but essentially established the wrong impression as Fact.

It was a clever little turn of phrase, but it made the whole book seem like it was definitely going to be some sort of Christian Fiction (and not even the sort of Christian Fiction that Christians would want to read).

The Fix

The beauty of digital publishing is that it’s cheap, easy, and fast to fix these sorts of mistakes. I discovered that problem on Monday night, and by Tuesday morning I’d corrected that paragraph in the prologue and uploaded the replacement to all my digital outlets.

But I also spent a lot of time thinking about the product description. Our Marketing Director Joshua was here a couple weeks ago telling you guys about writing strong descriptions, and I couldn’t help wondering how the lagging sales of Gods Tomorrow fit into that. So I went and reviewed what I had.

  • It described the setting.
  • It explained the story situation.
  • It introduced the characters.
  • And it said almost nothing about the plot.

That’s exactly the opposite of what Joshua recommended! So I dove back into it. I got Joshua’s help. We pulled in a couple outsiders to provide feedback and we tweaked it some. And here’s what we ended up with:

We abandoned privacy and turned databases into something like gods. They listened to our prayers. They met our needs and blessed us with new riches. They watched over us, protected us, and punished the wicked among us. We almost made a paradise.

But there were those who tried to hide from the databases’ all-seeing eye. They used their wealth or power or intellect to turn themselves into ghosts within the endless archive. For years these ghosts have used their anonymity to perpetrate atrocious crimes and slip away unscathed. And now someone among them may go further still. Someone wants to bring the system down.

The only thing that stands in his way is the FBI’s understaffed and overwhelmed Ghost Targets section. The agent on the case is their newest rookie, Special Agent Katie Pratt, and she’s in over her head. The first day on the job gives her an unsolvable murder that ultimately leads her to the greatest threat these gods have ever seen. Can one desperate woman prevent the downfall of her entire society?

That’s quite a bit different. It contextualizes the title and dives into the plot. Any0ne who bothers to read those hundred words will understand why the book is called Gods Tomorrow (and why the series is called “Ghost Targets”), they’ll know what kind of adventure they should expect (near-future science fiction, mystery turning into a thriller), and they can decide, quick and painless, if this is a book they would like to read.

And wouldn’t you know it, my sales have tripled in the few days since I made that change. The system works. You just have to do your part.

One Response to “On Bookselling: Targeting Your Market”

  1. Heather says:

    That is amazing, that you can fix it so easily! Glad sales are improving for you.