Chris Fox is the best selling author of several books on Amazon including No Such Thing As Werewolves.
He used to be an iPhone and iPad app developer before transitioning to be a full-time author. He’s written several sci-fi/fantasy books as well as several helpful nonfiction books for authors.
In episode 52 week talk about Chris’s journey and how to find your target audience. If you haven’t listened to that episode I strongly recommend it.
Today Chris and I talked about how to get Amazon to sell more of your books by understanding how their data science and marketing systems work.
This was a great interview with a lot of information on marketing your books on Amazon.
Using Data Science to Sell More Books on Amazon
Data science is being used everywhere in the world today, especially on the Internet. Websites gather two types of data: anonymous data, and personal data.
Anonymous data is collected through the use of tracking pixels that track what websites you visit from the various links you click on.
Personal data is collected any time you set up an account at a store, website or a social networking site.
When websites collect personal data they’re not going to know you as a person, but they will be able to make guesses about your tastes and preferences as well as your buying behavior based on the information you give them when you set up your account.
Every website you visit, everything you purchase, and every interaction you have online is monitored and recorded. Using this information, data scientists can make informed decisions about who you are and what you like to buy.
The cool thing for authors is you can use data science to help you sell more books on Amazon—and the results can be huge!
The Martian: A Book Marketing Case Study
Andy Weir first wrote The Martian as serialized fiction on his blog. As he wrote it, he released the book one chapter at a time for free. By writing the book and interacting with his readers he amassed an e-mail list of about 10,000 people. When he finished the book his audience asked him to put it up on Amazon.
After he put his book on Amazon he e-mailed his list of 10,000 hardcore sci-fi fans that the book was available for $0.99.
Very quickly Amazon sold thousands of copies of The Martian. When Amazon’s data science algorithms kicked in, Amazon showed the book to more sci fi fans, and a lot of hardcore science-fiction fans bought and really liked the book. So Amazon began promoting it to other hardcore science fiction fans, and more people bought the book. This caused Amazon to promote it to more people which caused more sales, and the cycle continued.
Amazon’s data science algorithms have the potential to make a good or great book that is loved by a certain type of reader “go viral” and sell thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of copies.
The key to Andy’s success was he sent targeted traffic to Amazon (and he had a great book that readers loved). The reason that’s important is because the people who bought Andy’s book also bought other science fiction stories, and that caused The Martian to show up in the also bought section for people who bought other popular science fiction novels.
It’s important to promote your book to targeted readers who read books in your niche or genre. The first 100 to 500 sales of your book are very important because they train Amazon’s algorithm to find your ideal readers. You want to make sure Amazon is showing your book to the right audience—and if you send untargeted folks (like friends and family) to buy your book on Amazon, you could be shooting yourself in the foot.
If you tell your friends and family that your publishing a book on Amazon and they don’t normally buy books in your genre, that will lead to a poor conversion rate when it comes to people who click on your book from the also bought section. That will tell Amazon that your book isn’t profitable for them to promote so Amazon won’t promote your book.
How to Find Your Target Market
1. Start by making a list of the genres you’re interested in writing in.
2. Browse those categories on Amazon. Look to see how crowded that market is. The more competitive a category is, the harder it will be for a new author to break into that category.
3. Once you’ve satisfied yourself that you can break into that market, and that market has a large enough audience to be worth your time, buy 3 – 5 books in the genre and read them.
4. Make notes on genre conventions. See if there are similarities between the books.
5. Read the reviews of the books that you buy. Make notes of what people liked and didn’t like about the different stories. Keep those elements in mind as you design your story.
This article on how to become a bestselling author on Amazon talks more about the process of finding your ideal readers, with step-by-step instructions and examples.
Using Paid Ads To Market to Your Target Audience
Chris uses Facebook ads and Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads to help get his book in front of targeted readers.
He doesn’t have a budget for the first 30 days after he publishes on Amazon. During the first 30 days he wants to sell as many copies as he possibly can to help boost visibility on Amazon’s algorithm going forward.
He doesn’t recommend this approach to new authors, because it’s very easy to lose a lot of money when you don’t know what you’re doing.
Chris spends $2,000 a month on Facebook and Amazon ads when he’s not launching a book, and averages $3,000 on every month long book launch. He makes the money back on increased visability over the long term.
Chris’s approach to Amazon ads is to use every keyword he can think of. He often finds the best performing keywords are ones he doesn’t expect.
Here’s a tip: sign-up for an Amazon Associates account. That will allow you to create custom links so you can track sales and which ad campaigns they come from.
One important thing to remember about Facebook ads is the more that you can narrow down your audience, the better your conversions will be, and the lower your cost per click will be.
Another important thing to consider when using Facebook and Amazon ads is whether you’re marketing the first book in a series or a standalone book. When you’re marketing the first book in a series you can afford to spend more money because some of your audience will buy the next book in the series.
Writing to Market vs Writing Your Passion Project
Chris believes it’s possible to make a living writing stories without necessarily writing to market. He points out that however you create your stories, you have to find an audience for them. Amazon already has an audience of readers who you know will buy books. Because of the way Amazon has structured its store, this audience of readers is easy to study. You simply read reviews and look at the “customers also bought” lists.
If you’re going to write a story without studying Amazon’s marketplace first, you have to find your customers in different places. Chris has found it’s much easier to study Amazon’s marketplace and find readers who are looking for a certain type of book.
A lot of people want to write stories that cross genres or break genre conventions. Cross-genre books are much harder to market and sell because people who browse on Amazon don’t have anything to compare them to, and a confused customer is a customer who will not buy.
The Importance of Segmenting Your Audience
Chris writes for several audiences. He writes nonfiction books about how to sell more books as an indie author. He writes military science-fiction. He also writes urban fantasy.
He currently has nine different email lists. Having nine different lists allows him to make sure he is sending the right messages to the right audience.
He does do some cross promotion when it makes sense. For instance, he is currently doing a series of videos for his nonfiction readers about how to write a trilogy in 12 weeks. He’s doing that series about a new sci-fi military trilogy he is writing. This will get the word out among the people who like his nonfiction on selling books that he has military science-fiction available. People who really like science fiction will probably go and check it out.
Networking with Successful Authors
Chris attributes some of his success to the fact that he’s been able to network with several authors more successful than he is.
Chris has a simple networking technique. He searches for authors in his genre, finds their e-mail address, and then e-mails them with a question he wants answered.
The key to networking is to approach it like you’re building an important relationship—because you are. You should never e-mail an author and simply ask them to promote your book to their list. Always be thinking “how can I had value to this person?”
Approach your interactions with a willingness to learn and you will go far.
LinkedIn can be a great resource to help you find, connect, and build relationships with other authors and experts in your field. Here’s a free guide on how to use LinkedIn to build your network.
Links and Resources Mentioned in The Interview
Chris Fox’s YouTube channel. Here is where you can find the 12 weeks to a trilogy series of videos
chrisfoxwrites.com — Chris’s author website.
Write to market — Chris’s book about how to write to market
Six-Figure Author — Chris’s book on how to make six figures a year as an indie author.
No Such Thing As Werewolves — Chris’s sci-fi thriller containing werewolves.
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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.