Michael Hyatt Has Something To Sell You

Michael Hyatt has successfully reinvented himself as an author and speaker – one of those quasi-experts on marketing who slowly morph into a life-coach type guru. It’s a well-trodden path and these guys all tend to present themselves in similar ways.

Here’s Michael Hyatt reclining among soft furnishings. Here’s Michael Hyatt enjoying a tender moment with his dog. Here’s Michael Hyatt projecting success with a shiteating grin for the ages. It’s almost easy to forget what he did. Almost.

In 2009 when Michael Hyatt was CEO of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, he was instrumental in the creation of WestBow Press – one of the first white-label vanity presses operated by Author Solutions on behalf of an established publisher.

The Naming

The shadiness began right from the start, with the choice of name. WestBow was already an established fiction imprint at Thomas Nelson, with titles still in print and stocked in stores, and it seems the idea was to either create confusion among store owners and book buyers, or to make newbies feel like they were getting a real book deal – a ruse as old as vanity publishing itself.

Here is what literary agent Rachelle Gardner had to say about that at the time:

If you search Amazon for WestBow, you’ll find books by authors like Ted Dekker, Karen Kingsbury, and Colleen Coble […] It seems like it might fool unsuspecting consumers.

The Launch

It’s instructive to look back at the 2009 launch of WestBow and re-examine some of the claims made by Michael Hyatt.

The first big one was that there was going to be huge growth in the sector. And like a dog-dirt sun-dial which is right once a day, Michael Hyatt was correct about that. Only 7 titles were published by WestBow in that first year, but by 2012 the yearly output had peaked at 3,869. With publishing packages costing up to $19,999, that was a serious amount of cash for Thomas Nelson, Michael Hyatt, Author Solutions, and Thomas Nelson’s new owner, HarperCollins.

(Michael Hyatt stepped down as CEO when the purchase of Thomas Nelson was announced in April 2011, but stayed on as Chairman until the deal completed in mid-2012).

The second big claim was that WestBow would be a legitimate alternative to traditional publishing. While self-publishing has firmly established itself as a viable option, vanity publishing most certainly has not. The only people making serious scratch from vanity publishing are the vanity publishing companies (and their traditional publisher-owners). Continue reading

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9 Ways to Improve AMS – Amazon Ads For Authors

More product searches start on Amazon than anywhere else, even Google. It’s the world’s biggest bookstore and by far the largest ebook retailer.

But Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) is still very much a work-in-progress, particularly the slightly pared-back version authors get to advertise books.

Self-publishers tend to focus on making books visible on Amazon. Aside from being a market leader, and having famed frictionless purchasing, there is another key reason why such a focus often gets the best return. Unlike other popular sites, anyone visiting Amazon is generally there for one reason: to buy stuff. You aren’t interrupting them while they share dank memes with friends, or search how fast a raven can fly during winter.

AMS is often referred to as “new” but it has been around for more than two years now. While AMS offers a variety of ads to third-party sellers which can increase app downloads, drive traffic to websites, or boost sales, we’ll specifically focus on the bits open to self-publishers: the Sponsored Product ads and Product Display ads for selling books.

AMS has seen an explosion in popularity this year, with a range of courses and webinars and books and workshops all promising to teach you how to be an AMS whiz. They are probably all over-egging it at least a little bit, because the platform is fundamentally under-developed, and hasn’t changed much from what was first launched in beta a couple of years ago (and I’m told it has implemented little of the feedback provided by beta testers).

Success on AMS is tricky to attain, frustratingly fleeting, and difficult to scale. There are some pretty basic flaws with the system that are holding us back from becoming better advertisers. Continue reading

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This Self-Publishing Course Is Free… And Great Too

When I heard someone was giving away a self-publishing course, I was a little skeptical, presuming it was either some kind of bait-and-switch or an opportunity for some hardcore upselling.

But I was wrong.

Iain Rob Wright has done something pretty amazing. He has created a pretty damn comprehensive course on self-publishing and marketing – over 50 hours of HD Video – and he has made it all free. Not the first bit free. Not free for a limited time. Not free if you also buy this, or agreed to be assailed by that.

Just free.

Iain had originally planned to charge quite a lot of money for it, but the idea didn’t sit right with him and just before launching he made the decision to make the whole thing free. The course is called Self-Publishing Mastery and you can enroll here.

You are probably skeptical. And you are definitely right to be generally skeptical. There has been an explosion in courses lately – some have a great reputation and are led by authors with a solid track record of both knowing their stuff and selling books, and others are not. Plus there has been an accompanying uptick in seamy sales tactics. It’s perfectly natural to be suspicious of someone claiming to be giving away all this content for free.

So I was suspicious. I checked it out first, and asked a few friends to do likewise. And you know what? There really is no catch.

There’s a teeny bit of upselling when you first enroll – a small bolt-on course on craft for those who haven’t finished their first book yet – and I think it’s quite cheap, something like $28. I’ve no issue with that at all, obviously. Seems like it would be useful to some people, and I know from experience that some newbies can get ahead of themselves and start guzzling down information on optimal KU strategies before they have finished their first novel *glares at 1.4% of blog audience*.

There’s also a few affiliate links scattered throughout – but once again Iain is upfront about that, mentioning that in the introductory video (a refreshing bit of transparency), and again the ones I checked seemed to be legitimately good products at a discount, and there was no hard sell. For example, he recommends Vellum but also shows you how to format your books for free. I generally have no problem with affiliate links once the products are legit and everything is disclosed, and this goes beyond that.

(Full disclosure: I’m not an affiliate of this course, I don’t know Iain at all, and I’m only recommending it because I think it looks good. The only thing I’m an affiliate of is Amazon. Any time I link to a book on here, it’s probably an affiliate link. Unless I’m a dumbass and forget, like I did with that scammer post which had 70,000 views *weeps*.) Continue reading

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The Visibility Gambit

Kindle Unlimited has received a fair bit of bad press over the last couple of years – some of it from me – but I want to balance that by looking at the positives.

Most pertinent is KU’s popularity with readers, meaning there can be huge opportunity for authors. Especially so if you make full use of the tools Amazon gives you, and understand that it’s all about visibility.

Enrolling in KU comes at a well-documented cost: exclusivity. But it’s the potential benefits I want to focus on today because some of that might be getting lost in the (well justified) complaints about scammers, transparency, and falling pay rates. Even though those rates have dropped by around 20% this year alone, KU is still paying out more dollars to indie authors than all non-Amazon retailers combined. And I think indies need to be selfish and do what’s best for them – whatever they decide that may be.

The other price of staying out of KU is arguably the bigger one: visibility. Each borrow is counted as a sale for rank purposes, and borrows can make up 50%-80% (or more) of a KU book’s rank – unless you are down in the telephone number rankings and invisible to everyone.

Borrows Cannibalizing Sales

When KU first launched the big debate among self-publishers was whether borrows would cannibalize sales – an important consideration when sales are more lucrative and puny humans tend to need food several times a day.

And it turns out they do, but of the books not enrolled in KU. Continue reading

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The Only Rule Amazon Truly Cares About

On Monday, I found out that some bug hit a German e-book site causing the reactivation of long-dead listings, including one of mine, putting myself and some other authors in breach of KDP Select’s exclusivity rule.

Amazon pounced into action and cancelled my Countdown deal which was scheduled for this week, screwing up a carefully planned promotion. And despite pledging to resolve the matter and restore the promo, Amazon has not done so.

I’m going to go through what happened in detail so you can be sure that I acted correctly at all points – because there is a lot of shadiness going on at the moment – but feel free to skim some of the details if you wish.

Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible had never been in Select, so I decided to throw them in for one term as an experiment at the start of July. It was a short-term play, I was curious to see what KU could do for these books. Once they were down from all other retailers, I enrolled them.

Visible had never been free, so I was particularly keen to see how it would perform as a virgin freebie in KU, so I set up my promo days for August 9 to August 13 and a concurrent Countdown Deal on Digital to run at 99c.

It’s usually a good KU tactic to run a free promotion on the first book of a series and a 99c Countdown Deal on the second. Both promos will feed into each other, and the step up from free to 99c is quite small so you will get a decent amount of sell-through. And as Digital and Visible are more akin to companion books which boost each other than a linear series which must be read in a certain order, there is no loss running that in reverse.

I bought ads on a variety of reader sites, drew up a Facebook campaign with a carousel ad pushing both books as the centerpiece, and planned some action on the BookBub CPM platform. I also wanted to push the deals myself on social media – figuring Visible in particular would get a lot of play as it had never been free – and then try and give things a final shove on this here blog, if I could shake off the virus that had been dogging me all month. In short, there were a few moving parts.

And then I got the dreaded email. Continue reading

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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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