Friday, September 27, 2013

Sell More on Amazon: Understanding Keywords, Categories, and Amazon’s Algorithms

Most of us know Amazon as one of the biggest online stores where you can get everything from the latest tech gadget to your favorite book. But what many don't realize is that Amazon is a search engine and subject to many of the same algorithm rules that sites like Google and Bing subscribe to.
When you want to expand your visibility in search engines, you start to look at things like keywords, tags and content. The rules aren't that dissimilar. If a product or book is getting traction on Amazon, it will trigger their algorithm, which then kicks in their internal promotion. What does Amazon's internal promotion look like? It's not that different from a real brick and mortar store really.

Let's say your local Gap Store is seeing a sudden surge of turtlenecks, which were previously stuffed in the back of the store, maybe on a small table by the dressing rooms. The store recognizes that these are selling and moves the turtlenecks to the front of the store so more people can spot them. What happens? They start selling even more. Now the store decides to pair them with something. Let's say a pair of cargo pants. Great! They add them to the table and update the mannequin display. The pants sell now nearly as well as the sweaters. Do you see a pattern here? This is what happens with Amazon, too. Triggers such as keyword searches, categories and spikes in sales that last longer than 48 hours start to ping Amazon's algorithms and the next thing you know, your book is showing up as a recommended buy and top of searches. The more you sell, the more Amazon wants to help you sell. Makes sense, doesn't it?

SEO and Your Amazon Page

In most cases it's easier to optimize a non-fiction book than a fiction book, however, when it comes to categories your fiction book may likely do better. (We'll look at categories in a minute) Why are non-fiction books easier to optimize? Because there are fewer of them.

So what is Amazon optimization, really? Well, it's your Amazon page (the actual book page) and your Amazon Author Central Page, both of which can be enhanced using keywords, reviews, pricing, and picking the right categories.


First, let's take a look at keywords. What many authors and sellers don't realize is that much like Google, Amazon has a fantastic keyword tool. Most of you have probably experimented with typing in a keyword in the Google search bar and seeing their suggestions pop up. Amazon has the same search/keyword function. For example, if I type "selling books" into the search bar, it pops up quite a few search suggestions, one of which is "selling books on Amazon."

When you input that search term (selling books on Amazon), my book, Selling Books by the Truckload on Amazon comes up on the first page (a good thing). When I was trying to decide what to name it, I did this search and looked at all of the titles that popped up. Many of them were just titled: Selling Books on Amazon (smart authors) which digs right into the keywords and that's what you want. That's why you want to run this search.

The goal of this exercise is to either use this search when you're titling your book, or if your book is already out there, you can use the keywords in your book's description. To do this on your own, you can either type in a keyword string, or even better, type in a single keyword and see what pops up. So, let's say you have a book about cooking. Type the word "cooking" into the Amazon search bar and you'll see lots of suggestions such as "cooking for one" and "cooking for two," you can then incorporate these keywords into your book title, subtitle, or description. I would suggest doing this for each keyword associated with your book. You can do this same search using Google's Keyword Tool on their Google AdWords page. Keep in mind that for your book description, you can only use 7 keywords or keyword strings, and there's no reason why you can't also use popular author names. I've used author names in keywords often and it absolutely works.


If you've ever picked a category for your book and eBook you may have noticed that they don't always match up. When I first encountered this I thought I was mistaken, turns out I wasn't. Whether it's a glitch or done intentionally, the categories for books and eBooks aren't the same. But there's a simple way to fix this, more on this in a minute.

Ideally when you're picking a category you don't want one with a broad, busy market. Ideally you want a category that's narrow. Why? Because Amazon's algorithm is pinged when a book hits the top of a category. For example, I was coaching this author about her romance novel and though she wanted to be top of category in contemporary romance, the category was just too cluttered. Instead I suggested that she put her book under dramas, which was a sub (sub) category of contemporary romance. The category (at the time) had only 81 other books in it, so getting her book to the top of that list wasn't an issue. Doing so triggered Amazon's internal system and the next thing you know her book was coming up high in Amazon searches, being recommended to readers, and being pushed on the pages of other, very high-profile romance novels. The thing with categories is that while it's tempting to put your book into a massively obscure category, you need to make sure that the category is one that belongs with your book, meaning don't put your business book under a category that's dedicated to some other specialty even if there are only three other competing books.

Some experts say that Amazon can pull your book altogether. I'm not sure this is quite accurate, but I have seen books get moved to the "appropriate" categories if the author decides to shuffle the book somewhere just so it will hit top of market. Ready to start exploring the Amazon categories? Here is the link that's essentially the hub to all of the Amazon categories:

Of all the work you do placing your book on Amazon, adjusting the keywords, etc., this might be the most key piece of marketing you can do so dig around in this list and make sure to put the book in the most narrow category you can. This will benefit your book tremendously. Also, as a potential reader previews your Amazon page, it's also eye-candy to see low book ranking, meaning books that are in the top ten of the category. When I polled readers I found that they didn't care what the category was, in fact most times it didn't register. But when they saw #10 or #1 on a book page, it was often very helpful in making a sale. You see the ranking on the Amazon page, about halfway down.

Two final notes on categories, the first is that categories change. Dramas, for example, are no longer a sub-sub category in romance. I don't know why Amazon does this but I suspect that shuffling around these categories is helpful to their internal system. Finally, I mentioned earlier that Print and eBook categories often differ. When you find the category you want for your book, the first thing you may want to do is go to your backend and make these adjustments, i.e. change this category.

However if your eBook is in the KDP system (Kindle Direct Publishing) you'll need to email them through your Author Central Page. Just hit the "help" button (again from within your Author Central Page) and email their staff. Most of the time you'll find the email is responded to and the category adjusted within 24 hours. They have a great response time, even better than through their publisher help page. If you don't know what the Author Central page is just click here: You just use your Amazon login to access your page. Everyone has one, whether you've claimed it or not.

Other Ways to Trigger Amazon

There are a variety of other things you can do to help trigger the internal sales system at Amazon. eBook promos can do that (meaning freebie books offered through Amazon) but the eBook freebie days have to be promoted in order to be effective. How do you make your eBook free? It's all done through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). You get up to five freebie days but I would only recommend using two or three at a time. Promote the book heavily on those days. Why? Because a high spike on freebie days can really benefit your book overall. I've seen momentum carry through from freebie days and trigger a quicker climb up the ranking once the book goes back to a paid version.

Also, price and category switching will help to shake things up, too. What this means is that you play with the pricing, moving it high and low again every 6 weeks or so. Also, you can shuffle a book in a category frequently, too. Though I'd recommend doing it just once every six weeks.

The idea is to send enough "juice" to your book through triggers that Amazon recognizes and responds to. Typically, though, you can't do just one of these items recommended, you'll need to do all of them - but not necessarily at the same time. I recommend you start with the keywords, then the category, then you can experiment with eBook promotion, category flipping and vary the book pricing. Give the process a week or so to "take hold" and then see what your efforts leverage in the way of visibility. The good thing about Amazon is that they don't limit you to the number of changes you can make. Good luck!

Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free e-zine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Poetry and Prose Corner September 2013

For Labors Unheralded

Heaven bless the working man,
Or woman, as the case may be,
For labors that have built a nation,
Made it strong,
Kept it free.

Day by day endures the trek,
Spaghettied byways
Ceaseless days of repetition,
Watching with frustration growing.

Even while complaints may linger
As the endless hours drone,
Though his ire may peak aplenty,
He will never take it home.

Home to where his world makes sense,
A different kind of recompense,
Where labors wear a sweeter flavor
Sheltered by a picket fence.

Dennis S. Martin
Lulu Storefront:


As we learn to welcome
all aspects of life
Storms and beauties of nature
personal pleasures and strife
We’ll find our human form
can do more than first appears
Our form can resonate and dance
to music of the spheres
Can dream of new creations
that benefit all beings
And broaden cosmic consciousness
beyond the bounds now seen

From the prologue to Leonard Goodwin’s new book, Echoes in the Universe: A Spiritual Memoir available at


For as not yet
to know the grandeur
that in this world
this life may come to pass,
I content myself
with this aspiration of hope,
that when herein lies a
life that has passed,
love hath revealed itself
in the image
of you and I.

Richard (James Michael Pontes)

Dear Dad

White knights are hard to come by these days,
So often blemished or misaligned.
But shortsighted memory
Is always forgiving
And the foresight of hindsight so often is blind.

So I never flinched as you donned your armor
And rode out to battle with dragon or beast.
Against famine and foe you defended our castle,
Returning the bounty,
Providing the feast.

Relentless, tenacious, untiring in effort,
Your fortress impenetrable, or so it seems.
But I see your heart, taste your will,
Touch your feelings,
See through your eyes as you strive toward your dreams.

Often profane,
Ready to ire,
Firm when the situations demand,
Yet soft as a feather
And quick as a heartbeat
When favors have need of a helping hand.

When I needed a hero
You took the stand.

Dennis S. Martin
Lulu Storefront:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Historical Creative Non-Fiction ~ A Long Journey Pulls into the Station for Author-Waitress Betsy Thorpe

by Deborah Wilbrink

The Day the Whistles Cried: The Great Cornfield Meet at Dutchman's Curve is the true story of America's worst train wreck, a 200-page work of creative nonfiction. Even the title reflects the six years of research that Thorpe invested. “A cornfield meet is railroad slang for train wreck! This mother of all train wrecks took place in the cornfields along White’s Creek, and may have been the foundation for the phrase.” Two passenger trains collided on a curve just outside of Nashville in 1918, killing 101 people.

Tracking down descendants of the “One Hundred and One Victims” to interview and spending long hours in archives, Thorpe gathered a ton of primary material. With a background in folklore, Thorpe had set that career aside years ago to honor her late husband’s commitment to music, wherever it led them. She set those skills to work in research and writing on her hours off from a shift at Shoney’s. Boiling down over 5000 pages of research notes into 200 pages of riveting reading was her biggest challenge. Most rewarding? “Seeing people’s names in a list of who died in a 1918 newspaper; then watching them come to life before my eyes, as I discovered what they did for a living, why they were on the train, their families. It’s the story of a time gone by, told through these real lives, not just a train wreck. On the trains rode two men out for a day of fishing; domestic workers; a potential governor of Tennessee; illiterate laborers headed for DuPont, among many others. As their stories unfold, so does the story of those turbulent and changing times. “Victims” no longer, these people have their lives vindicated at last.” The book, illustrated with photos of the day, will be “Published by Westview,” a Nashville publisher.

Fans of Titanic and those interested in disaster stories, history, Southern culture, and railroads can find the book for sale in January of 2014. Plans for publishing are set, with Thorpe using KickStart, a funding website which will launch her project with special rewards for small investors, beginning in September. The busy waitress-turned-author is ready to read excerpts from the manuscript and stoke the flames of excitement now. Thorpe is an adroit marketer, arranging events this month: a tea at Belle Meade Plantation, last sight for many on the train; a press conference on the steps of the former Union Station, now a hotel; and a tour of the train wreck site, now on a greenway, led by the author. For those invested in long-term projects, and “keeping the day job,” Thorpe is a model author. Keep up with her travels as a first-time author at her Facebook page, TrainWreck.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

WITS Book Reviews September 2013

Title: Born to Lose
Author: P. J. Thomas
ISBN: 978-1-4787-0617-5
Genre and Target Market: fiction; crime
Publication Date: 2013
Book Length in Pages: 249
Reviewer: Sarah Moore

I have written my fair share of book reviews over my career in the world of writing and book marketing, but today I will begin my thoughts on the new release Born to Lose by P.J. Thomas in a way that I believe is a first for me. I am offering a disclaimer.

If you are in search for a novel that is written with eloquent prose that immediately strikes you with its artistry, this is not the book for you. Born to Lose is presented in a way that jolts the senses and, if your reaction is similar to mine, makes you uncomfortable. At first you may question the rough style of the sentence structure and the manner in which the characters interact. But, as you become more invested in the story and personalities walking through it, I believe you soon will recognize the author’s incredible skill at creating just the right level of uneasiness with his readers. You are not meant to read this book snuggled into an easy chair with the intention of drifting off to sweet dreams. This book is one of powerful and disturbing grit that comes to life more clearly with every passing chapter.

Born to Lose shares the troubled life of Sammy Lamonte, who reveals in the first two pages that he was given the wrong date of birth on his birth certificate due to drunk inspection by those completing the paperwork and then discovered at an early age that the man he thought was his uncle was really his father. Like the title of the book indicates, Sammy presents such an introduction of himself to lay the groundwork for his lifelong struggle with the intense feeling that he cannot trust his own birthright identity. In order to fill that void, he comes to find refuge at the local soda shop in his hometown of Buffalo amongst friends with nicknames like Louie Scabs and Sneaky Pete. After failed attempts at success in school and then the military, these neighborhood friends become his collaborators in criminal activity that soon drives him into the dark world of mob bosses and hit men.

In Sammy Lamonte, author P.J. Thomas displays great talent in creating a ruthless killer who evokes sympathy and a connection with his loneliness. He parades multiple women into his apartment, sometimes more than one at a time, but never succeeds in winning back the love of the one girlfriend who ever really mattered to him. He shoots police officers and friends and casual bystanders all with the same sense of duty and detachment, but also shows flashes of contempt for his deadly calling. He plans elaborate heists that take months to develop and that employ technology and precision in timing that only a person of strong intellect could pull off. Much as the character Tony Soprano earned his humanity with viewers during those moments in which he exposed his soul to his psychiatrist, Sammy Lamonte becomes a three-dimensional man who proves much deeper than the typical mob caricature.

I am even more impressed with Born to Lose and the violent lifestyle it portrays because this is not the first work by P.J. Thomas that I have had the pleasure to read. Each novel has had a distinct crafting to it, with descriptive phrasing and character dialogue that seem perfectly suited to the environment into which the author wishes to lead his readers. I could not pick up a novel by Thomas and immediately recognize its content as belonging to another by the author. This is an indication to me that Thomas offers great attention to every element of his craft, refining it in each instance to share a specific and unique message.

To claim that I am an expert in mob stories would not be accurate. But in Born to Lose, Thomas took me on a journey with Sammy Lamonte that led me to a greater understanding how a young man can, when presented with a disconcerting home life and a lack of focus or purpose and a group of sidekicks who are ready to embrace the more unsavory side of life with you, turn to a life of crime for acceptance. While written about a young man of two generations ago, Lamonte’s story is one that could be told about teenagers in homes across our country today. It is startling and graphic and makes for a book that sticks in your gut long after you read the troubling end.

Title: First Semester Physics Survival Guide: A Lifeline for the Reluctant Physics Student
Author: Dr. Teman Cooke
Publisher: Three Friendships Company (July 28, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0989320502
ISBN-13: 978-0989320504
Reviewer: Dana Micheli

If someone Googled “reluctant physics student,” the first thing they would see is my picture…at least, that’s what they would have seen before I read Dr. Teman’s Cooke’s, First Semester Physics Survival Guide: A Lifeline for the Reluctant Physics Student. When I was in college, just the thought of those complex equations made me want to run for the nearest Organic Chemistry class. So one can imagine my surprise when, while reading Dr. Cooke’s book, I did not run; nor did I stay and cry and pull my hair out (as I have in the past when dealing with anything involving numbers). Instead, I stayed, I read, and I understood.

Yes, understood. Dr. Cooke does not dive headfirst into the scary equations. Instead, he focuses largely on the concepts behind them, using very accessible examples, not from a laboratory, but from everyday life. The physics became part of a larger picture that I could visualize and learn from contextually. Only then does he ask the student to apply these concepts to problems. By that time, I was no longer scared by the equations; I was curious to work through the problems and see how they played out.

Ultimately, however, the book’s largest success lies in its tone. In a word, hilarious. Can you say you’ve read a physics book that made you laugh out loud? I can. It’s like being in class with that favorite teacher who not only makes you forget you hate the subject, but makes you realize that you actually like it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to Launch Your Own PR Campaign

by Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D.

Kicking Off Your PR Campaign with a Campaign Theme

Start your campaign by developing your campaign theme. This theme is something you can sum up in a phrase or sentence, much like the title of a book. Think of your theme like a news story headline–it’s a statement to quickly attract consumer interest.

For example, when Apple first brought out the Apple computer, their campaign focused around the notion of being different from the PC–it was the computer for “the rest of us.” Other examples of a theme are Verizon’s campaign of “having more phones in the network than any other service” or “having a more reliable network with fewer dropped calls than any other network.”

You can have multiple campaigns, but for each one, center your message around that theme. It’s like having a headline and subheads. Then you tell the story in the rest of your message.
The particular theme you choose should also be one that resonates with your selected target market.

Determining Your Target Market

Your target market is the group of consumers who will be most receptive to your product or service.  Your campaign theme should appeal to them. Thus, you need a match between your message and the group it is aimed at.

Don’t think your product or service will appeal to everyone. That’s too broad. Focus on the segments of the market which will be most receptive. Then, that focus will help you determine the best media and approach to use to reach that market.

This analysis of your market may mean you should review the name you have picked for your product, service, or PR campaign. Maybe you might want to choose a better or more compelling name or even use different names to appeal to different markets. So be ready to go back and reconsider your initial choices if necessary.

This willingness to review and revise is crucial, because sometimes you may think you have chosen a great name. But if you do some market research and get feedback, you may discover that others don’t relate to or like the name. So it may be better to change it early on than to hope you can change people’s attitudes and opinions, which are often difficult to change.

Linking Your Product or Service to the Daily News

If you can tie your product or service to what’s going on in the news, that can help you get publicity, because your product or service seems more timely and relevant, rather than just another new product, service, book, or whatever. So look at what’s happening in the news and how can you be an expert to comment on what’s happening or how your product or service might provide an important and unique benefit.

For instance, if you want to promote a humanitarian song, rather than directly promoting the song, promote some of the ways the song been used in different groups or how the song’s message ties into something in the news, such as promoting awareness of the immigration crisis which is very much in the news.

Promoting a Niche Product or Service

If you have a niche product or service, figure out what is your niche market, so you can direct your PR towards that market. By the same token, pick out key words to appeal to that market, and any time you do a mass mailing, feature those words in the mailing. Likewise, pick the particular media that serve that market.

For instance, if you have a product or book that appeals to managers, direct your PR to the business media. If it is a product or book that appeals to women consumers, direct your PR towards consumer publications or feature editors who cover topics that appeal to women. The more you can target the media, the better it is for your product or service.

Using Promotional Events

One way to promote your product and services is to create a special promotional event around it.  Some ways to do this are:

Create tie-ins with other groups, so you might do something on a larger scale.

Contribute part of your earnings for the event or product sales to a charity, whereby a certain percentage goes to that charity.

Put on a free event so that people in the media would feel more comfortable promoting it because it’s free. If you are charging, say $10 at the door, even if that’s to cover your costs for food and supplies, the media will think it’s a commercial event which you should advertise. So to maximize your publicity appeal, make your event free.

Find a way to make your event stand out and be unique.

Because we’re in a very celebrity-driven culture, if you can get a celebrity or a high-profile spokesperson to appear at your event or endorse your products or service, you’ll increase your credibility and appeal. Sometimes celebrities will appear at an event or provide an endorsement for free, if they really like what you’re doing. Other times they may want a certain fee or percentage of the door charge or of sales.

If your event or the sales potential is a large enough, a percentage of the door or sales may be all you need and you may not have to offer a guarantee or pay out anything upfront. Or connecting your event or sales to a charity may help you build sales as well as get celebrity endorsements, since some celebrities pick out charities they are particularly interested in. So if you can connect your event or activity to a charity that may be a way to gain the participation of a celebrity who is committed to that cause.

Often you can find restaurants and hotels for your event for a low price or free, because the restaurant or hotel expects increased business from the people you bring.

For example, I did some events at the Monsoon Café on the Promenade in Santa Monica with about 100 people at each event, and they only required a $100 payment for the use of a large banquet hall and a $100 guarantee for the bartender’s tips. Most of what we collected at the door -- $10 each – went to buy hors d’oeuvres for the group. So the payments from the attendees easily covered the $100 fee, plus most people bought drinks, which reimbursed the bartender. So it was a win-win for all.

Now, due to the recession, many restaurants and bars are hurting, so they are more likely to give you the space for nothing, if it looks like you will bring them a large number of customers.

* * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books, specializing in work relationships, professional and personal development, popular culture, and social trends. This article is adapted from DOING YOUR OWN PR, which is published by Arrow Publishing for the Apple iPhone and iPad and by ASJA Press/iUniverse as a paperback. She is also the author of USING LINKEDIN TO PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS OR YOURSELF, 17 TOP SECRETS FOR KEEPING YOUR JOB OR FINDING NEW WORK, and SELLING YOUR BOOK, SCRIPT, OR COLUMN. She is the host/producer of the radio show CHANGEMAKERS and a script writer/film producer, with several projects in development and post-production. She writes books and scripts for others, and consults with writers on how to write, publish, and promote their own books. Her websites are and

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Editor's Corner September 2013

Welcome to the September 2013 Edition of the Writers in the Sky Newsletter!

I once read an interview with Jodi Picoult, the bestselling and very prolific author known for her novels about family, love, and moral relativity. Picoult was talking about her writing process, and added that, “When I don’t write for a few days I get predictably crabby.” Sound familiar? As I’m sure many of you could attest, once you’ve been bitten by the writing bug, you don’t want to do anything else. Of course, not everyone has the luxury to write whenever they want; most authors hold day “day jobs” while writing their books.

Nowadays, with the bulk of the marketing responsibility sitting firmly on the writer’s shoulders, many find themselves juggling several full-time jobs: marketing one book, writing the next (hopefully), and working that pesky day job. This topic (namely, writer overload) is often discussed on Aspects of Writing—a radio show about all things authoring. There are always several great takeaways from the show, and this week was no different. The guests were discussing their marketing techniques, and while they each have their personal style, the consensus was that marketing can be tougher than writing the book itself. The takeaway this week: Do not let a tough marketing week affect your writing. If your sales are less than stellar, do not let that discouragement spill over into what you are creating for the future. Get out your outline, notes, or vision board and remind yourself why you were inspired to write the book in the first place!

Happy September, everyone, and as always, happy writing!

Dana Micheli
Writer and editor, Writers in the Sky Creative Writing Services

Writers in the Sky is a team of ghostwriters, editors, and book marketing specialists committed to the craft and business of writing. We work with our clients on all levels of the publishing process from editing and manuscript assessments to book formatting and marketing. So whether you are a first-time author or a veteran of the craft, let Writers in the Sky help you get your book out into the world. We also provide assistance with résumés, business documents, and academic essays. For more information, visit

Friday, September 6, 2013

What J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith Can Teach Us About Author Platform

by Joel Friedlander

The literary world was shocked this past week by the revelation that J.K. Rowling, one of the most famous authors in the world, had written, sold, and published a crime novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the name “Robert Galbraith.”

Weeks ago there were some readers who thought a well-known author was behind the book, like this one on Amazon:

“This book is so well written that I suspect that some years down the road we will hear the author’s name is a pseudonym of some famous writer.”

Some thought that Rowling should be allowed any leeway she likes, considering that her level of fame can sometimes be a burden, as from this commenter on Google+:

“This way she gets to test her writing instead of her marketing or brand.”

There was no secret that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym, and this device is often used by authors who want to try writing in a new genre, for instance. Here’s the way Galbraith was described by Little, Brown, the book’s (unsuspecting) publisher, on its Amazon page:

“Robert Galbraith: After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. ‘Robert Galbraith’ is a pseudonym.”

So why does this all matter, and what can we learn from it?

Reviews, Sales, Platform

What really caught my attention about this story was the fate of the book so far in its publishing journey. It came out in April, and the publisher obviously believed enough in the book to commit resources to launching and promoting it, despite the fact there was no author to help out.

Reviews from major media were glowing. Publisher’s Weekly called it “stellar,” Booklist “instantly absorbing,” and Library Journal, “engrossing.”

Is there a self-publisher who wouldn’t like to get reviews like that? And if you did, don’t you think you’d be ready to go to the bank with all the sales you’d make from these mighty media recommending your book?

Don’t get up from your desk just yet. As it turns out, the book sold poorly, moving only 1,500 copies before the news broke about who was behind Robert Galbraith.

Stopping right here for a moment, how do we understand that great reviews like these don’t automatically lead to book sales? How’s that supposed to work?

Former agent Nathan Bransford weighed in with his opinion:

“It just goes to show how fleeting commercial success is in the book world. Take away those magical series of events that result in bestsellerdom and it’s just another well-received crime novel that fails to catch fire.”

And his conclusion:

“Even J.K. Rowling can write a good book that drops into the ocean and barely makes a ripple.”

But I’m not so sure that’s the lesson to be drawn from all this.

And why did Rowling, who can create a bestseller with every single book if she wanted to, go through all the trouble of this exercise? Here’s what she had to say on the new Robert Galbraith author site:

“I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.”

It’s the Platform, Honey

You can see that Rowling’s motivation was entirely for her own benefit as a writer. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and writers should stretch themselves when it seems right to do so. Take chances and try new things.

But she didn’t do it for her readers; it was more to escape from their expectations, and maybe to escape the kind of scrutiny that greeted her earlier foray into contemporary fiction.

Would The Cuckoo’s Calling’s sales have eventually picked up? Would word of mouth kick in at some point as more and more people discovered the new writer Robert Galbraith? We don’t know.

What we do know is what every indie author already knows: platform sells books.

Your author platform—all your readers, all the people who give you credibility and trust and attention—are crucial to indie authors’ success.

My opinion is that it was the complete absence of any platform for Robert Galbraith, the lack of any fans, anyone who cared about him, the lack of anyone willing to host him on a blog tour or help him set up readings at bookstores, or a tribe that would greet his long-awaited first book with enthusiasm that held back sales of what’s obviously a well-written book.

Your platform—or your tribe, your fans, your readers, your subscribers, whatever you want to call them—are the people who care about you, who will help you succeed, will cheer you on and pass your book around their own networks.

Trying to publish a book without an author platform makes the task infinitely more difficult. And even though there are still people, like J.K. Rowling, who built their platform solely by publishing, they are the exceptions.

For the rest of us, building an author platform is how we invest in ourselves and the books we’re going to publish.

Without it, even J.K. Rowling herself couldn’t sell many books.

And with it? When the news broke, The Cuckoo’s Calling went to #1 on Amazon, and has stayed there ever since.

We have to acknowledge that it’s possible to create enough sensation to sell books that have no author, but that’s not what was happening here. Rowling wanted the book to succeed only on its merits and without any connection to her.

Of course, as indie authors, we could have told her the best test to really see if your well-written book has what it takes to escape from obscurity: self-publish it. Now that’s a test.

What do you think about building a platform to sell your books? Is it working?

Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, an award-winning book designer, and an accomplished blogger. He's the founder of the Self-Publishing Roadmap online training course, and a frequent speaker at industry events where he talks to writers about how the new tools of publishing can help them reach and inspire their readers.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

WITS Announcements September 2013

As a subscriber to Writers in the Sky Newsletter, you are entitled to share your announcements with our readers. See guidelines at and send your material to us before the 24th of each month to make the next month’s issue. Anything posted in the WITS Newsletter is also shared with our blog readers at

The Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest is open to anyone who loves expressing innermost thoughts and feelings into the beautiful art of poetry or writing a story that is worth telling everyone. Write a poem or a short story for a chance to win cash prizes! All works must be original. Visit our website for details:
Yvonne Perry and her cousin Jenny Bates Meadows-Sauls are almost finished with the writing of their family history and genealogy. Their book titled Angels Among Us ~ The Living History of the Georgia Family Descending from Charlton and Nancy Bates is expected to be published in October 2013. See for details.
Read the first chapter for free and then decide if you want to download the 3-hour-long MP3 audio book of More Than Meets the Eye ~ True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife for only $7.00.
Each story in The Sid Series ~ A Collection of Holistic Stories for Children focuses on life skills such as environmental awareness, helping others, being true to one’s self, overcoming fear, and following inner guidance.
Whose Stuff Is This? Finding Freedom from the Thoughts, Feelings, and Energy of Those around You is a guidebook for empathic people who have been unknowingly carrying energetic burdens that belong to someone else. See all purchasing options at
State of Appreciation is a free weekly online newsletter that blends practical and spiritual approaches to enhance personal power and self-realization. This publication offers empowering articles, gifts, and free contemporary and classic empowerment downloads at
If you are looking for someone to create an original piece for your book cover, you might want to connect with Diane Daversa on Facebook:!/pages/Diane-Daversa-Fine-Art/109782219119036.
Shifting into Purer Consciousness ~ Integrating Spiritual Transformation with the Human Experience is about how to embrace multidimensional frequencies, lessen physical and emotional symptoms of rapid spiritual ascension, and offers tips to make the ascension process easier and quicker.
If you have had a really strange spiritual experience and can't even begin to explain what might have caused it or why it happened, you will find comfort and information to help make sense of it in Yvonne Perry's new book, Walk-ins Among Us ~ Open Your Personal Portal to Cosmic Awareness.

Coaching Podcast

We Are One in Spirit Podcast allows for people from all walks of life to discuss their spiritual journey and life—transforming experiences that remind us that we are all one in spirit. Uplifting, enlightening, and insightful topics include healing, empathy, intuition, spiritual/psychic gifts, metaphysics, soul development, afterlife, spirit communication, and more. The metaphysical shows are archived at feed:// You will also find us on iTunes. Please subscribe to the We Are One in Spirit mailing list to receive the call log-in information:

This month’s interactive calls include group coaching for empaths on September 12 and for walk-ins on September 26. Both webinar conference calls are at 8 PM Central Time.