Paying it Forward Into the New Year

This time last year I was flailing around, trying everything I could think of to find readers for my newly self-published novel. I did the usual Facebook events and .99 cent sales and joined every online group I could find. I was active in Amazon Author Discussion boards, Kindleboards, Yahoo groups, and anywhere else I thought readers might be. The reviews I was receiving on the book were really positive but I couldn’t reach that next level in terms of finding more readers. My background is sales and marketing and I know my way around the internet, but even with all my efforts I couldn’t hit the big numbers that other Indie authors were achieving. In the first six weeks I sold about two hundred books but I knew many of those were friends and family, and other authors who were kind enough to buy it and support me. I was happy to get my work out there but I wanted to find random readers who didn’t know me, and when I checked the Kindleboard monthly listings and saw there were Indie authors selling thousands of ebooks a month I knew that either I had a book that wasn’t going to sell or I was doing something wrong. So, I contacted Robert Bidinotto, and that’s when I learned about “paying it forward”.

I didn’t know Robert, but I’d read about him. He self-published “Hunter” and through an Amazon promotion sold tens of thousands of ebooks in December 2011. So, I emailed and told him I had a book that I thought was pretty good and that it was getting lots of five star reviews, but I was struggling to reach the next level in terms of finding readers. And, I bought a copy of his book and gifted him one of mine. I could never have imagined what would happen next. Not only did he email me back, he looked at my book, my product page, my synopsis, all of it, and made some invaluable suggestions. And, he was kind enough to tell me the truth in terms of what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. He “paid it forward” in a way that I’ve tried to emulate ever since. And, with that in mind, I’ll pass along some of the suggestions he made to me in the hopes that it might help you start the new year on a positive note by finding new readers for your work.

1. Change your cover image.

The first cover I had for MY TEMPORARY LIFE was not good. It gave the impression that my book was a spiritual story and it’s not. It’s a coming of age/romance/suspense. I found a free cover through Createspace’s site when I released the print version, and I used this as the ebook cover also. You can also make your own cover, again for free, using Rich Meyer’s very informative tutorial right here.

2. Change your synopsis.

I had someone else write my synopsis for me. I’m very very bad at writing blurbs of my own work. I just can’t do it. Robert Bidinotto, again utilizing that true “paying it forward” philosophy, wrote me a new synopsis. The blurb he wrote for me was much more effective than what I had. Have a beta reader or a friend write your synopsis if you’re struggling with it. Besides the cover, this is the first impression a reader will have of your work so it’s very important.

3. Make sure your work is formatted and edited correctly.

Mine wasn’t. I had some formatting errors. So, I had it changed. I paid someone to do it because quite frankly I didn’t want to put the time into learning how to do it. Editing is even more important. There are editing errors in lots of books, even if they’re traditionally published, but I don’t want to be “that guy” who has errors throughout his work. I hired an editor for my first book, and for my new one. Professionalism is incredibly important and I don’t want “Indie” to be confused with “Amateur”.

4. Utilize Amazon’s Tools.

This is the point I want to spend some time on, and I’ll break it down so that it’s easier for you to understand than it was for me. When Robert mentioned this, I googled “Amazon’s Tools” and “Utilizing Amazon’s Tools” and all I found were other authors asking-“How do you utilize Amazon’s tools?” I suspect they’d either been reading Robert’s blogs or had been in contact with him. Amazon’s tools are of course the tools they offer that help you broaden the scope of your book description. The more effectively you utilize them the more space you get on the virtual shelf. I’ll list some of them for you.

a. Tags
These are the things at the bottom of your Product Description page. You can pick a tag that describes your work and helps readers find the specific type of book they’re looking for. For example, my novel takes place in Scotland and Canada and it involves bullying, and, it’s a hero story. So, some of my tags are: Scotland, Canada, Bullying, Hero, and Inspiration. And, of course there’s the obvious-Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, Adventure, Coming of Age, etc. There’s a “Tag Cloud” beside the bar where you type your tags into. The cloud shows you the most popular tags that are currently being utilized. Use it. I found out over Christmas that one of the popular tags was “gift ideas”. So, I dropped one of mine and changed it to “gift ideas”. And, if I am doing a free promo, I use “free”, “free kindle” and “free ebook”. During Black Friday I used “Black Friday deal” also. There’s a provision where readers can agree or disagree with your tags and add tags of their own. This will show you the tags that are working and the ones that aren’t. I freshen up my tags from time to time and I watch the tags that are being added to my book so I can get an idea of whether readers are finding it, and how they describe it, too. It’s also very important to remember that Amazon has other sites. Don’t forget to add tags to .ca, .co.uk, .de, and all the others too. This is especially true when you’re running a discounted price or a free promo. When I did my first free KDP Select promo in February after receiving Robert’s advice and implementing his suggestions I made it to #1 on the overall Free rankings and I stayed there all weekend. I’m sure the “free” tags made a difference in terms of getting the word out to readers and pushing me to the next level.

b. Author Central.
Use your Author Central page and keep it updated. This is something I was not doing. Now, I have it linked with my Twitter account, I have posted a video on there, and I update it if I have a book signing or some other in-person type event. Author Central introduces readers to you, the author, and if you utilize it wisely it will help develop you, as a brand. Yep, whether we like it or not, we’re a brand, and that’s also something we have to work on. KS Brooks does her usual excellent job on Author Central in this tutorial.

c. Shelfari

Utilize Shelfari. Shelfari is a way you can communicate with your readers. It is time-consuming to enter all the information, but I know that it’s resulted in new readers finding my book. Because of Shelfari there are actually discussions about segments of my book between readers on my product page. Plus, some of them even point out their favourite passages in my book. There’s a section of Shelfari where you enter character details and information. I received an email alert one morning, shortly after entering my book info, telling me that a reader had added other minor characters to my book description. So, characters from my story that I didn’t think were important had been added by a random reader. And, that’s happened more than once since I entered my information. And, I’ve had emails from readers thanking me for taking the time to put the info into the Shelfari system. That’s when I knew it was important. I released my second book a couple of weeks ago and you better believe I entered the information from the new book into Shelfari right away. Again, KS Brooks gives an excellent instruction on Shelfari right here.

d. Reviews
Reviews are important to some readers. When I’m deciding whether or not to commit to a book I always look at the reviews. Now, I realize that the readers writing the reviews might have different ideas of what makes a book readable or enjoyable than I might, but I still want to gauge what the general consensus on a book is before clicking on “buy”. When I began receiving emails from readers giving me their thoughts on my book I always asked for reviews. I prefer to receive positive reviews, of course but that doesn’t always happen. The important thing is that readers are talking about my book, so any opportunity I get, I ask readers to give me an honest review. If you look at some of the top-ranked books on Amazon’s listings you’ll see they aren’t necessarily the best reviewed books but they do have lots of reviews. I think if readers are at least talking about my work then to some extent it’s worked, it’s had an effect, and the more reviews you have then the more your book is being discussed (and downloaded).

These are the main points that were made to me, and I can tell you that the above suggestions helped turn my book into a more professional product. Today, MY TEMPORARY LIFE, is a consistent seller and new readers download it every day. Earlier this year, it reached #6 on Amazon’s overall rankings and stayed in the top ten for a little while, too. And, I don’t believe that would have happened if Robert and other authors hadn’t helped me, and if I hadn’t actually made the changes that needed to be made. I wish you tons of success in the coming year and I encourage you to pay it forward yourself and help our community of Indie writers be known for our professionalism and co-operation. I wish you a very happy and prosperous new year!
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Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the administrator of BookDoggy.com and writer of seven published novels. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. You can learn more about Martin on his Amazon author page.

40 thoughts on “Paying it Forward Into the New Year”

  1. Thank you, Martin! I need to make similar changes, especially since I’m running out of paperbacks and want to correct all errors before producing a second edition. Thinking of changing my cover, too. ONWARD! Happy New Year to All.

    1. You’re very welcome. I think the key is that we have to keep becoming better at what we’re doing. When I released my second book last month it was much easier than the first and I know that the end result is a more professional product than the first book.
      Happy New year to you too!

  2. Thanks for paying it forward. It’s something I always try to do too because so many authors have helped me. You have some great info in this post and I, for one, am checking the list against what I am doing now. 2013 will be a great year – best of luck to you!

  3. Great post, Martin. I think the ethos of paying it forward among indies is not only raising the level of marketing, but the average quality of the product. It’s a win/win for both authors and readers.

  4. Your generosity is appreciated.

    Finding out what works and what doesn’t is what counts to indie authors. All the promotion in the world does not sell books, but a fabulous product with the right ‘market face’ might. The most important point I found here is that you do not have a section e. that reads “promote more”.

    Well done.

    1. Thank you, Roseanne.
      Section e might be “Promote more efficiently” or “Promote more professionally” but that’s a whole other article, isn’t it. I appreciate your thoughts.

  5. Idiom is an odd thing. I honestly didn’t know what ‘paying it forward’ meant until I’d finished your article, AND the comments. 🙂 I’ve learned some very important things today. Thank you.

  6. Holy Hannah! Thank you so much. I currently have my first Novella on Amazon and have just been fumbling along. I’ve gotten 15 great reviews and it seems to be picking up steam. However, I’ve made numerous huge mistakes. The first was and is the cover. I also jumped the gun and put it up before the editing was perfect. Putting up this tutorial is one of the kindest things I’ve seen in a while. Thank you so much. I wish you much success. You deserve it. Hope one day I can pay it forward:)

  7. Thank you Martin, your help and encouragement has made my self publishing trip a much shorter and less painful one. I’m currently paying it forward with friends who are in the final stages of writing and I will continue to implement what I call “The Martin Crosbie Paying it Forward” process whenever I can. I really enjoyed reading your books as well. All the best to you for 2013. Cheers.

    1. Good stuff, David. The network of like-minded friends that we have in our lives is what’s going to help us reach the next level of success, and I know you’re well aware of that. Happy New Year to you, too.

  8. Working on shelfari now. Does anyone know what to do when your author name does not come up as one of the ones in the drop down menu?

    1. Ian, it’s been a while since I’ve entered my info into Shelfari. I’d suggest checking out KS Brooks tutorial on it or post your question in the masterkoda.com Facebook group. Someone there will be able to answer your question. Good luck.

  9. Wonderful post. I always try to help others as so many have helped me. Only today I said to someone if they need help, let me know. He thought I was just being polite. I told him no, if I could help in any way let me know.

  10. Martin, This is one of the best posts I’ve seen in some time. Sorry I didn’t get to it sooner. You’ve laid out, step by step, all the keys to success with Amazon. Great Job! I’m going to get going on a couple of points that I’m lacking in.

    Thanks for this.

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