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Discoverability and the joys of e-book marketing: part 1 of 2

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The good news about e-books?  Anyone can publish one, for free.  People have said this is a revolution bigger than the invention of the Internet.  It’s more like the invention of printing.

Here’s a story.  Long ago, before Kindle and the Internet, I had a novelist friend who had published four books.  He must have been ecstatically happy, right?

Wrong.  My friend was miserable.  He complained that his publishing house was not marketing or promoting his latest novel.  He had sold only a couple of hundred copies.  Luckily, his wife had a full-time job, so he did not have to rely on his income as a full-time writer.  His present publisher was his third; he kept looking for a new publisher who would promote his books properly.  So far he had had little success.


This story goes to the heart of the problems which today face people who publish e-books themselves on-line, notably on Amazon – like, for example, my short story The Two Rooms.  

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is a fantastically powerful tool.  In theory, it means anyone can publish anything they want, on-line, for free.  If you manage to sell any copies, Amazon will take a cut – usually between 30% and 65% of the cost of the e-book – for making this possible.  KDP does not allow you to charge less than US$ 0.99 for an e-book.

It is, arguably, wonderful that, unlike a traditional publisher, Amazon does not attempt to quality-control what people are publishing; or to choose only material which it thinks is a realistic commercial proposition.  The barrier of “finding a publisher” or “finding an agent” has disappeared.

Traditional publishers are still struggling to come to terms with what this means for their business models.

But e-books present challenges, too.  Amazon does not offer the kind of editorial help which traditional publishing houses used to deploy to ensure, for example, that a novel had the highest possible standards of plot and protagonist before it was published.  We see the value of that help in many famous series of modern novels, where the first in the series is often taut and gripping; while subsequent volumes in the series become flabbier as publishers decide that the books will sell anyway on the strength of the first volume or the author’s fame.

This absence of pre-selction also points to a problem for readers, for whom the abundance of e-books on line means they have even more trouble than before identifying which books are any good.

Most important for authors, however, Amazon does not automatically help with marketing and promotion.  An individual publishing an e-book effectively lobs his or her cherished work into an invisible dark pond containing literally millions of other publications, all of them available on-line through Amazon.  Basically you’re in the same position as my novelist friend: you’re published, but no-one knows about your book.  How can the author make sure people find his or her priceless prose amongst all the books on-line?

This is known in the trade as “discoverability”.

Amazon and many other independent organisations offer ways in which you can promote your e-books.

I have been trying these out this month.


Here are some snippets from what I’ve found out already.  As of today, 17 August, as a result of this month’s promotions:

– the first book in the Hotel Stories series, The Two Rooms, surged to No.73 in the UK “Kindle Store Women’s Humor Top 100 paid” (sic) list (these rankings change hourly, and The Two Rooms may have been higher in the past without me noticing: between starting and finishing writing this post, it fell from place 73 to place 93);

– the second book in the series, The White Blouse, stormed up to No.18 in the UK “Kindle Store Women’s Humor Free Fiction” list;

– by far the most free downloads – of The Two Rooms – were the result of that book being picked up by an independent “hot deal” promotion agency, purely by chance;

– all the time you’re busy promoting your book on-line, you’re not writing new fiction.

My follow-up piece, Discoverability and the joys of e-book marketing: part 2 of 2 analyses how well the marketing tools worked, and some lessons learned.

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