That headline is true. But is it truth?
We're jaded, right? Bombarded by marketing every day, we turn a blind eye to all the "Look At Me, Me, ME" headlines. Until one pops up that hits our hot button. That promises to help us write better, attract an agent, get published or gain a huge audience. Deep in our hearts, we know better than to be reeled in by such claims.
Tenet One of good marketing is to not make false claims. There are laws against that, even if you're happy to ignore ethics. But what's the definition of "false?" As Cyrano so aptly put it: "...a lie is a sort of myth, and a myth is a sort of truth." Marketing spins its gold in shades of myth.
Readers see a headline about a book being on a list and, while they might not be persuaded to buy, it makes a favorable eyes-on impression. Being "on a list" legitimizes not just the book but the buyer's purchase of that book. It makes buying less-risky behavior. What the casual reader will never ask is: Which list? They're happy just to register the statement at face value.
But you're not a casual reader. You're reading beyond the headline. Not because you give a rat's patooty about which lists, but because you want to know how YOUR book can get on those lists, too—am I right?
You've probably read about the importance of metatagging everything you do online for better SEO—search engine optimization. Amazon in no different. When you upload your book, Amazon lets you choose two categories (genres/subgenres) out of a set of predefined tags. So even if, like mine, your novel set in the Dark Ages is a cross between women’s fiction and historical fiction and features strong romantic elements as well as war, you can only choose two pre-set categories for it. The good news is Amazon lets you input more key subject tags—these of your own making—limited only by a ceiling on the total number of characters you can use.
Input your subject tags wisely! They serve two purposes. The first is to help buyers find your book. That means a couple of the tags may just be a word that people might input into the search field when they're looking for a book like yours. I included "knights" and "Camelot."
Category tags are predefined by Amazon.
Subject tags are defined by whoever uploads the book.
They can be anything, limited only
by a predefined total character count.
The second purpose is one you can use to your marketing advantage: subgenre lists. My novel, Spoil of War, is part of the King Arthur canon. People reading historical fiction will likely use "Arthurian" as a search word, so I created these related tags: Arthurian romance, Arthurian fiction, historical fiction Arthurian. Romance readers, though, would likely refer to the time period as medieval, so I included a "medieval" tag. Include multiple ways of phrasing your subgenres if you can. Because here's a secret: Your rankings on the bestseller lists depend on EXACT phrasing of these tags—"99 cent" and "99 cents" may well return different results.
By creating areas of smaller markets for your book using subject tags, your book is no longer competing with the entire Amazon catalog but just its designated genres. That could mean anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand books.
Now, Amazon has a nifty little filter for its book searches. The default filter for whatever term you enter is "relevance." I have no idea how relevance is determined; part of it is based on words in the title and description, of course, but it also somehow changes with number of sales. It’s good to be relevant, because few readers will ever filter the first results they get. It can only help your relevancy rankings if the title you input contains the search words. For example, I deliberately included the tagline "An Arthurian Saga" in my title.
By changing the "relevance" filter to "bestselling," the search engine will rank the books returned in your results by whatever calculations Amazon uses to determine bestselling rankings. You can also produce lists that include all books in the Amazon store or just those in the Kindle store. (Barnes and Noble has a similar search, only they use the term "top matches" instead of "relevance.")
So that’s how I manipulated Spoil's way onto 10 of Amazon's bestselling lists. And since anyone can go out and reproduce these lists for themselves, my conscience is clear in touting the book's status on them, with the caveat that these lists change hourly.
With a little planning on the front side and scrolling through search results on the hind end, no reason why you can't also spin the rankings in your favor, as well.
But this only works for books selling hundreds of copies daily, right? YOUR book that's selling only a couple of copies per day doesn't have a snowball's chance of appearing in any impressive-sounding category. *Snort* Smoke and mirrors, folks. Amazon rankings are calculated using historical and current sales. I launched Spoil of War on March 31 and sold 37 copies on the US site, 13 copies on the UK site, and 11 copies through B&N in April. For May, as of May 20, I’d sold 32 copies on Amazon US, just 3 on Amazon UK, and 10 at B&N.
I tracked my rankings from May 18 to 20, and you can see the shift in rankings that only 1 or 2 purchases per day can produce.
Now that I've got the numbers to brag with, I just need to figure out how to reach more readers to let them know that buying Spoil of War is a non-risky, community-sanctioned purchase. Everyone must be buying it. It wouldn't be in those top-100 lists otherwise, right?
True or truth? You decide.
In the corporate world, Phoenix Sullivan was a professional writer and editor for 23 years. She blogs at http://phoenixsullivan.blogspot.com, a site to help writers hone their queries and synopses, and a place to show off the beasties on her small farm in North Texas.