Watching a discussion on Twitter about how bestsellers are chosen in both trad pub and self pub via the dedication of resources (i.e. marketing budgets). This can happen in a wide variety of ways, from ARCs to promotional copies and actual advertising, but the more money you throw at something, the more likely it will become a bestseller.

And that’s not wrong. Especially when it comes to trad pub, it’s rare for books without a good marketing budget to become bestsellers. There are the surprise hits, of course, but the vast majority of work is ‘created’ via the choice of marketing budgets. 

If you recall my previous post about writing to market and yourself, that marketing / promotional circle is important. Without making it bigger, your total sales will be small unless you manage to get word of mouth rolling.

However, let’s talk about exceptions and options for discoverability that aren’t as obvious and might work with smaller budgets.

Writing into Smaller Genres

One of the biggest issues with writing these days is that many genres are chockful of books. Especially now that ebooks are available, the backlist of available books keeps increasing at an exponential rate.

However, at the same time, there are ‘new’ genres being created all the time. Or, if not new, old genres that are underserved.

LitRPG was one in 2015-2016 as a new genre that grew up and became highly in demand. By 2017, books started flooding in. Writing into that genre at the time meant you received a ton of sales, if your book was correctly discoverable (to be covered below).

Another genre that grew in demand  was the ‘magical academy’ sub-genre in SF&F.  Now, obviously, this was / is an old genre. Harry Potter is a magical academy series. However, it got really ‘hot’ in 2019 and readers were desperate to find more books. That meant anyone writing into that genre increased their chances of sales. 

Writing into underserved markets is a great way to get sales, since you’ve moved into a smaller pond that is stocked much less. You just have to get ready to grab the food when the readers are tossing it in.

Discoverability in Book Retailer Sites

That’s great, but how do you make sure your books show up in the right place? Well, for the most part, that is a matter of:

– blurb keywords

– search keywords 

– cover image fit

– categories 

Of these, categories and keywords (blurb and search) will help ensure you get found in the right searches or categories, while cover images make sure when you are found, you ‘look’ like the right kind of book.

What are keywords?

Keywords are basically the search terms a retail store search engine would use to find your book. The more interesting question is – how do you find them? 

At its base, keywords are the terms you or any other individual, would use to find a book of that kind. If you wanted a book about plumbing, you would not type in ‘cat hairballs’. You would instead put ‘plumbing’ in. You might, if you had a specific problem or expertise level, add things like ‘novice plumbing’ or ‘starting plumbing’ or the like. 

That’s basically keywords at the most base level. Terms that individuals use to find your book.

The easiest way to figure out terms that individuals use is through the retail site. Most retail sites autofill common terminology. There is software that does the same, offering various terms and number of search results. Google also offers such data for free for their search engine. 

Once you find the most common searches, you then often branch out. The software that give you number of searches is useful. Now, some people would recommend finding similar terms, like if you were doing plumbing, you might add ‘DIY’ or ‘Electricity’ or ‘sewage’ to it, since these are similar topics which you might get results from.

However, it’s worth noting that search engines (both in Amazon and Google) are more sophisticated now and often discount search results that don’t do well. So you could put electricity in there for your book about plumbing, but once no one clicks on your book, it’ll eventually stop showing. Or stop showing with any degree of accuracy.

What about Categories?

Book categories are rather self-explanatory. It’s worth noting that Amazon allows you to add up to 10 categories, for each type of book. So you can e-mail them to add your book to other categories. However, do note that they can and will decline adding your book to categories that are not relevant (see above about right terms). There’s a ton of explanations out there on how to do that, so I’ll leave you to do the searching.

More importantly, it’s worth noting that by being in the right categories when you launch (and after), you end up on the various bestseller list.

Now, in Amazon, those bestseller list are broken into two sections – New Books (books released in the last 30 days) and Bestsellers (everything else). This means that books who are newly released have a good chance of ranking in the ‘new books’ section, especially in certain categories where competition is low.

You can see this happening with some books and authors where they ‘game’ the system by adding themselves to unrelated categories which have low competition. An example is adding a book to the ‘Stargate Media Tie-In’ book category, which has not had many books released in it at all and certainly, none in recent times (officially at least). 

This has the advantage of allowing you to become a bestseller and gaining that yellow tag. That can increase number of clicks and potentially sales, due to social proof uses.

Not recommending this, but it is done and something people should know of.

(Btw – there’s also a free list, for both new & regular bestsellers that is separate. It’s why putting your book free and then switching over to paid after you give away tens of thousands of books doesn’t work as well anymore).

Lastly, we should discuss cover images and blurbs.

Covers don’t help in making your books more discoverable directly (in searches, etc), but do affect discoverability in two ways:

– firstly, when your book appears on search results, it is the first thing most people will see. It thus drives clicks, which will affect how often your book is shown in subsequent searches

– and secondly, it also affects clicks and sales when on other book product pages for ‘also boughts’ and ‘also viewed’ scrolling sections. We’ll talk about those later.

Blurbs help with discoverability with keywords, since anything you type in the blurb is a potential keyword for searches. It’s why at one point, you see people keyword stuffing at the bottom of the page, hoping to increase searchability for those terms. I’m not entirely sure it is useful, or even highly relevant anymore, but it is a tactic. I do not believe Amazon does any major discounting of product pages based off keyword stuffing from what I’ve seen, however, it will reduce your clicks and searchability if your book (and cover image) is not relevant. 

Also Boughts & Also Viewed and other Product Carousels

Another way your book can be found is via the above product carousels. These are often automated and use an algorithm to indicate relevance and placement on the carousels, but it breaks down into this:

– also boughts come from people buying your books together or from previous shopping experiences from said customers

– also viewed are when individuals bounce from product to product

– also reads (in the Kindle App) obviously come from other books that people have read.

Of those, as discussed, your cover will make a big difference in whether someone will click through, increasing the number of also viewed and (potentially) also reads.

However, also boughts require a little more ‘massaging’ if you will. One of the major problems new writers create for themselves is making their friends & family buy their new book. Sometimes, it’s no more than an announcement and well meaning friends and family members buy the book.

However, this can be detrimental for the books also boughts. If your friends and family are all scifi readers and you released a scifi book, that’s not so bad. But what if they are romance readers?

Your also boughts, instead of being flooded with science fiction books, are now flooded with romance books. You show up on other romance books also boughts (because that’s what was bought normally by these customers!). 

Instead of having science fiction readers being directed over, you instead have some romance readers who look at your work and then move on, not being interested. Amazon, realising that you aren’t getting sales or clicks, reduces your visibility. Removing your chances of growing some organic sales.

The most common suggestion then is to find your actual customers, whether it’s pushing out to social media channels and groups or via targeted mailing lists to get your book into the right also boughts and also to have your own product page showing the right work.

Now, all those are the major ways of gaining discoverability for your product on the retailer sites.

Much of the tactics you’ll see talked about to move the needle in sales work on pushing up discoverability on these retailer sites, which then, hopefully, provide additional organic sales over and on top of those promotional tactics.

However, we haven’t even discussed non-retail site discoverability and this entire post is a little long. So we’ll end this here. 

Questions about this portion?

Like the business blog post? Want to support me writing more of them? Want to read ahead (2 weeks) of others? Become a Patron and choose the $2-tier to be able to read the business posts only and ask questions about the business side of writing.

Become a Patron!