When Reader Targeting Goes Wrong

Taking a non-scammy tangent from Saturday’s post, I’d like to talk about what happens when you target the wrong readers, because being too scattergun with promo can really hurt your book.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few months. Currently, I’m in the process of both updating Let’s Get Digital for a third edition and writing a book on the topic which is tentatively called The Reader’s Journey: From Strangers to Superfans – as well as working on a third, secret project for writers that is all about using a certain kind of targeting in a very specific way to build audience and drive sales.

And I’ve been putting all these theories into practice too, working with a bestselling author on their launches and promotions, with some pretty amazing results. More on that when I can share, but the cool thing is I’ve had the opportunity to test all sorts of fun things and play with a much larger catalog than my own puny collection of books.

In future posts, I’ll share some great examples of reader targeting and ideas on how to improve your own, but first it’s important to identify the problem – or where you might be going wrong.

This initial example is an extreme one but it’s illustrative nonetheless. I don’t know about you, but I learn just as much from looking at when something goes wrong, and why it goes wrong. Kind of like reading a bad book – sometimes I learn more from a bad one than a great one. Sometimes when you can see the seams, it’s easier to figure out why a story didn’t come together, and perhaps how it should have been done instead. At least for me, anyway.

(I won’t link directly to the book I’m going to talk about here, and will endeavour to make it unidentifiable, so forgive me for being vague.)

I stumbled across a novel on Amazon recently which had rather inartfully shoehorned the phrase “Game of Thrones” into its subtitle. This is what’s known as title-keyword stuffing – when you take what you think might be a popular search on Amazon (anything from a big genre to a famous author to a hot new release), and then shove it into your own subtitle somehow. The main reason people do this is that they hope it will give them more visibility when readers are searching for something insanely popular like Game of Thrones.

I’m pretty sure that kind of trick is against the Amazon Terms of Service, but that’s not what this post is about. Rather, it’s about targeting the wrong readers. Because the book using this wheeze was a historical novel. It wasn’t even fantasy.

Now, the ruse didn’t work – this particular book doesn’t appear in the first five pages of searches for “Game of Thrones” (I gave up after that). But let’s imagine for a moment it did, and lots of epic fantasy readers had purchased this historical novel.

What would have happened? Continue reading

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Scammers Break The Kindle Store

On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts.

The Kindle Store is officially broken.

This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action.

Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

I wrote at the start of June about how scammers were taking over Amazon’s free charts. That post led to a phone conversation with KDP’s Executive Customer Relations.

Repeated assurances were given that the entire leadership team at Amazon was taking the scammer problem very seriously indeed. But it was also stressed that the problem wasn’t quite as bad as I was making out, and that this stuff never hits the charts and remains largely invisible to customers.

I explained in detail how none of those contentions were true, that readers are leaving angry reviews under these books, which regularly hit the charts, and further that KDP has singularly failed to act on 18 months-worth of complaints.

Amazon asked me to compile more information for them – and I did that with a report submitted on Wednesday.

Clickfarming Your Way To The Top

Developments since then have made a mockery of the claim that this stuff doesn’t hit the charts as a book titled Dragonsoul by some unknown writer called Kayl Karadjian hit #1 in the store yesterday. The paid store, not free. Paid.

Authors immediately expressed skepticism – and for good reason. I don’t want to give a playbook on how to spot clickfarmed books, but this was a particularly obvious case. Dragonsoul had very few reviews. It had been out for 9 months with little or no sales history. There was no promo footprint either – it didn’t have ads on BookBub or elsewhere.

There was no Facebook campaign, the author only has 57 likes on his Facebook Page. In fact, the author seemed to have no platform at all – just a few dozen followers on Twitter, and no other discernible internet presence aside from a blog with 9 subscribers and a Patreon with no patrons.

Earlier yesterday, before its great leap forwards, Dragonsoul was languishing at #385,841 in the Kindle Store – meaning Kayl Karadjian was selling roughly one copy every fortnight or so.

And then he suddenly appeared at #1.

To say this was a dramatic increase in this book’s fortunes would be an understatement. Amazon has another chart called Movers and Shakers, which tracks the books which have made the biggest leaps up the charts in the last 24 hours (a tool which could be easily used to spot scammers, but I digress).

Check this out:

An increase of 38,584,000%! How does that not set off alarm bells in Seattle? Continue reading

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Amazon Has A Fake Book Problem

Fake books – powered by clickfarms – are gatecrashing Amazon’s charts. And despite being aware of the issue for well over a year, Amazon has failed to resolve it.

If you look at the Kindle Store Best Seller charts right now, and click over to Free Books, you will see that the Top 20 currently has five suspicious-looking titles.

None of them have reviews. All were published in the last week. They have no Also Boughts – meaning they have had very few sales. Each of these titles are around 2,500 pages long, seem to have duplicated content, and are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

What is going on here?

For over fifteen months now, scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a well-worn trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all – often by stealing an author’s original work and running it through a synonymizer – and then upload it to Amazon, thus avoiding the automatic plagiarism detectors. They make sure the “book” is as long as possible, but as they are enrolling the title in Kindle Unlimited, they keep it under the program’s limit of 3,000 pages.

These thieves make the book free for a few days, and then use a variety of banned methods to generate a huge and immediate surge in downloads – generally suspected to be bots or clickfarms or dummy accounts, or some combination thereof. These fake books then suddenly jump into the Top 20 of the free charts, displacing authors who have gone to considerable effort to put together an advertising campaign for their work.

As the Amazon staff tasked with dealing with reports of suspicious activity don’t seem to work weekends, when authors and readers report these fake books to Amazon, no action usually gets taken until the following Monday. By then it’s often too late, and these titles have returned to the paid listings, and the subsequent boost in page reads (which normally follows a free run), enables them to grab a huge chunk of the Kindle Unlimited pot – the same shared pot that all authors get paid from.

Sometimes Amazon zaps these fake books when staff return to work on Monday, and presumably then withhold KU payments (one hopes). But often Amazon takes no action and just leaves these titles up. And Amazon has had little effect in fixing the overall problem a full fifteen months after it was first made aware of the issue.

In fact, the situation has deteriorated to the point where these scammers are getting bolder in the face of Amazon’s increasingly lax attitude, often attacking the free charts during the week now also. Continue reading

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Who’s Pointing At You?

The Also Boughts on your page are an important indication of what readers are buying along with your books.

But those particular Also Boughts are only part of the story. What’s really important is which books are pointing back at you.

Let’s use my long-suffering book Liberty Boy as an example again.

As I explained yesterday’s post – Please Don’t Buy My BookLiberty Boy was dragged down into the ranking depths after having no Also Boughts for months thanks to an Amazon snafu. I eventually fixed that problem in a fairly crude way by running a 99c Countdown and throwing whatever ads I could get at it.

The promo itself did okay and sold a few hundred copies for me. But I didn’t target the campaign in an optimal way. If you look at the Also Boughts which appeared afterwards, I had lots of books outside my target category (Historical Fiction). This meant I suffered a dead fish bounce – i.e. no halo effect – something I’ll talk about more in a future post.

For now, just look at these Also Boughts:

Not a complete disaster but far from ideal. The first is a Western, the second is one of Mel Comley’s psychological thrillers, the third is a box set of two of my historicals (I think I ran that free at the same time to try and pair them), next is a mystery, and then, I think, some action/adventure. Bit of a hodge podge.

Glancing at your Also Boughts is a just a quick-and-dirty way to check if you have a problem or not. A bit of triage, if you like.

To dig deeper, you need to try and find out who or what is pointing at you in the Amazon system. What are you paired with? Amazon doesn’t make it easy to find this out, but there are two ways of doing it.

First, you can manually click on the books in your own Also Boughts, and then page through to see where you appear on their Also Bought strip – with closer to the front being better, obviously.

If I click through to that first title, Yellow Hair by Andrew Joyce, I’m nowhere in his Also Boughts. Which means some of the purchasers of Liberty Boy bought his book, but very, very few of his overall purchasers bought mine (the discrepancy probably being explained by his book outselling mine by a fair bit, and my only sales really coming from that promo period when they were likely featured on the same day).

The second title tells the same story. I know Mel Comley – she’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She has sold well over 1 million books. Should I be excited by her appearance in my Also Boughts?

No.

While she has a rabid audience for her thrillers, those people do not read historical fiction. There is no crossover, not in any meaningful terms. And you can see that in her Also Boughts – all similar books to hers, and mine doesn’t appear anywhere. The only reason she is in my Also Boughts at all is probably because we were on something like ENT on the same day and were likely grabbed at the same time by a bunch of dealhunters (and I haven’t sold much of that title since).

Checking the connections this way is a little time-consuming. There is another way to see, at a glance, the connections between your books and others – yasiv.com – which uses the Amazon API to give you a visualization of which books you are paired with. It’s a free tool which can be quite illuminating. And disturbing.

This is the hood where Liberty Boy is hanging: Continue reading

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Please Don’t Buy My Book

I’m just back from The Smarter Artist Summit in Austin, Texas. I won’t try and capture the magic of the event – Kobo Mark does an excellent job – but I would like to talk about the big takeaway: the dangers of Also Bought pollution.

Also Boughts are probably the most important aspect of the entire Amazon recommendation ecostructure. And also the least understood.

They are much more than a little strip under your book’s description – they power a huge chunk of the recommendations that Amazon serves to readers.

The Also Boughts are what tells Amazon that the readers of my non-fiction also like reading Susan Kaye Quinn, Sean Platt and Johnny Truant. Amazon uses this data to decide who to recommend books to – because Amazon is always seeking to show readers the books they are most likely to purchase.

For this reason, it’s important to monitor your Also Boughts. They can really help you, but also totally break you.

Case Study #1 – Great Success!

When I first launched Let’s Get Visible, I knew it was important to have the companion book Let’s Get Digital in the #1 Also Bought spot, and vice versa, so that when one title had a sales spurt, Amazon would recommend purchasers (new and old) the other one in the set. The launch plan was simple enough: tie the Also Boughts together, push both books as hard as possible, and then sit back as they both bootstrap each other up the charts, creating an awesome feedback loop.

In detail what I did was this: Continue reading

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This Free Tool Could Slightly Change Your Life

pandaad

You know I’m not one for hyperbole, but this free tool could slightly change your life. I also have news on a sale, a freebie giveaway, then something bearing a passing resemblance to a competition, as well as an interview, a guest post, and a gratuitous picture of a panda. Although is a picture of a panda ever really gratuitous? That question unanswered, and many more…

If you ever wanted to try my fiction, it has never been easier to do and you can pick up all three historical novels I’ve written for less than a dollar.

FinalLibertyBoyCoverLARGEpx400I’m running a Kindle Countdown Deal on my last release Liberty Boy, meaning you can grab that one for 99c from Amazon US, and a post-Brexit near-equivalent 99p from Amazon UK. Apologies to those living elsewhere, but please direct all raspberries in the direction of Seattle – they only allow Countdown Deals in those two territories right now. The 99c offer only runs until Thursday so get with the clickin’.

uncommonsoldiersThis one is a little more inclusive: Uncommon Soldiers is a twinpack of historicals containing my first book A Storm Hits Valparaiso and my second Mercenary. It’s available from all the Amazons and you get BOTH for free – as long as you download it before Friday. But hey, why wait.

There you go, three historical novels for less than a dollar. Buy early and buy often! We can even play a fun game. I make up at least one word for each book and try and slip it past my editor, who is way too sharp for any such messing. But she is easily bribed, so if you find all three I guess I’ll have to come up with some kind of cool prize.

As part of promo week, I’ve been appearing hither and tither and generally tarting myself all over social media. I have an interview over at Unusual Historicals – a great site if you like HF set outside the usual Tudors etc. – where I talk about the rebellious background to Liberty Boy, namely the lesser-known (and spectacularly unsuccessful) 1803 Rising, and why I chose that as the backdrop for my story. Continue reading

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This Is The Modern Publishing Business

asandfriendsnewScammers used to operate at the edges of the publishing business, but have wormed their way into its heart. And the entire industry is in denial.

An unintentionally revealing aspect of the tiresome Amazon-Hachette dispute was a series of statements from an organization purporting to advocate for authors’ rights. One of the heinous crimes Amazon was said to have committed was treating books like toasters.

With such a claim, Authors United was attempting to tap into a current of feeling about the commoditization of literature – as if Amazon was the first company to put a price tag on a book, and writers around the country were hitherto living off laurels and kudos. It’s tempting to suggest that other entities in the publishing business might be doing as well as Amazon if they also treated books like toasters and attempted to sell the bloody things, but I digress.

What this characterization by Authors United highlighted was that most precious of things: how the industry likes to view itself. Publishing, you see, is far above the rough and tumble of everyday capitalism. Publishers may make profits now and then, but only as an accidental by-product of their true pursuit: the promotion of literature. Without publishers there would be no books, of course, and we should thank the heavens that an eagle-eyed intern plucked Beowulf from a slushpile or the world would be very much the poorer. Continue reading

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