D is for Discoverability

If there’s one thing that indie writers like to talk about when they talk shop, it’s “discoverability”–how to make their books stand out so that readers can discover them. You don’t have to spend much time on author blogs or writing forums to find some pretty intense discussions about this topic. For those of us trying to make a living at this gig, it’s something we constantly obsess about.

So what’s the best way to boost your discoverability? What works, and what doesn’t? If I had the answers to those questions, I could probably make a lot more money writing “how-to” books! However, here are a couple of books I’ve found that do an excellent job answering this question.

The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success is an excellent resource for ebook marketing ideas that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. The book won’t cost you, either–it’s available on Smashwords for free. The author, Mark Coker, is the founder and CEO of Smashwords, and he wrote this book to help Smashwords authors succeed. Definitely worth giving a read.

Let’s Get Visible is the other book on discoverability that I’d recommend. For this book, David Gaughran collaborated with a number of other indie writers from KBoards to figure out the best ways to work with Amazon’s algorithms. It’s an excellent book that explains some of the best practices for free giveaways, price pulsing, and choosing keywords and categories.

Those are the two books I’d recommend. There are other good ones I’m sure, but there are also a lot of scammy marketing books that are just out there to take your money. These ones aren’t scam books at all. Without getting any benefit from the authors of these books for saying it, I can vouch from experience that their advice is pretty solid.

So what’s worked for me personally? I can point to a few things:

  • Writing in a series. If your books are grouped together by series, then readers who enjoy one of those books are more likely to try out another. They’re less likely to read one book and forget about it because all of the books are connected. In this way, each of your books helps readers to discover the others.
  • Give some books away. Readers love free books. They’re a lot more likely to try out a book by an unknown writer if it’s free than if it costs any money at all–even as little as $.99. I know a lot of writers don’t like giving away their books for free, but if you’ve got ten other books that readers go on to buy after reading the first one, it’s worth a lot more than having eleven full-price books that no one ever buys.
  • Make the first book in a series permanently free. That’s what I did for Star Wanderers, and the strategy has worked extremely well. Before that, I had a couple of short stories and non-series books that were perma-free, but none of them gave my other books much traction. But with Star Wanderers, it’s easy to see that the first book leads to the second book, the second book leads to the third book, etc.
  • Don’t let your price become an obstacle to new readers. The principle behind perma-free + series that makes it work is the sales funnel, where you try to spread some of your books as widely as you can in order to funnel people to your other books. But if your first book is free and all the other books are priced so high that price becomes an obstacle, readers are bound to get irked and drop out. I’ll say more about this in P is for Pricing, but one thing I’ve learned is that it really helps if you’ve got a lot of low-priced books that readers can move on to after picking up your free stuff and before moving on to the higher priced stuff.
  • Write and publish lots of books. It wasn’t until I had maybe fifteen books out that I started to notice that my entire catalog was working together. When my Star Wanderers books sold well, I saw more sales of my other books too. When you have enough books out, they work together to sell each other. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that on average, one person with fifteen books out sells more than fifteen people with one book each.
  • Book blurb, cover, metadata. That’s the trifecta–if you don’t hit all three of those, nothing else you do may ultimately matter.

And of course, there’s the most important thing of all: write a damn good book. If your book sucks, all the discoverability in the world isn’t going to save it.

When you’re an indie writer, it often feels as if publishing a book is like tossing a message in a bottle out into a churning sea. You have no idea where your book is going to end up, and the marketplace is as wide and as menacing as a stormy ocean. Lots of books sink to the bottom of that ocean, where no one ever finds them. But plenty of other books stay afloat, selling a copy here or a copy there–just enough to stay up at the surface. And eventually, the winds of the marketplace cast it up on a distant shore, where it’s discovered by a fan.

But here, the analogy breaks down. Because unlike a beachcomber who finds a message in a bottle, a fan doesn’t have to wait for your next book to come to them–they can go out and find them directly. So the more books you have out there, the greater the likelihood that they’ll eventually be discovered. And if they’re out in the marketplace for long enough–out where the potential fans can discover them–then eventually they will grow into their natural audience.

That’s been my experience, at least. There are a lot of other things that I’m experimenting with now, but these are the things that I know work for sure–at least for me.

Author: Joe Vasicek

Joe Vasicek is the author of more than twenty science fiction books, including the Star Wanderers and Sons of the Starfarers series. As a young man, he studied Arabic and traveled across the Middle East and the Caucasus. He claims Utah as his home.

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