Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Working with Amazon.com

Much of the merchandising that we’ve examined over previous weeks has to do with the book as its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), feathered out around the edges with paraliterary addendums (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  But what about retailers?  Is there any work to be done there, when it comes to merchandising your self-published book?

Yes, absolutely!  Each retailer–including Amazon and Barnes & Noble–has its own built-in set of perqs and pitfalls, as well as its own custom-developed features designed to set it apart from the herd and create a better, more salable product.  I’m going to start with Amazon because it is, for better or worse, the most recognizable name in book retail and self-publishing right now.  And since it now owns CreateSpace, Amazon is even more a force to be reckoned with.  You want a starting point for launching your merchandising strategy?  Start with Amazon.

And, handily, Amazon has created a system which makes it easy to centralize all of your hard labor in merchandising.  It’s called “Author Central,” and every author gets one, whether you’re in the business of publishing physical books or ebooks or both.  Author Central allows you to create a biography, list your books, connect your blog and social media feeds, and generally create a polished platform for presenting yourself to the reading public.  Most of us know how to centralize our own personal digital presence using apps or other programs that condense down all of our different presences–Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Flickr and Goodreads and Skype and iMessage and blog feeds from WordPress and Blogger are so interconnected that a post to one will ripple out through the others without any additional effort.  Author Central allows you to centralize your public presence in much the same way.  Readers will have incredible access if you take the time to set it up right early on–take advantage!

The second feature of Amazon you can use to your benefit is the book page.  Every book you publish through or list on Amazon will have its own unique book page, and the more information you input, the more findable you will be, as Amazon’s smart algorithms scan and index them to generate their internal linkages.  (Those “If you like …. you might try …” recommendations?  They happen because authors maximize their use of book pages and Author Central, among other things.)  The book page also has the power to make or break a reader’s decision to purchase–the more eye-catching, the more polished your book page, the more likely a reader is to click a button and buy your book.  It’s never a bad idea to use high-resolution images, strongly written excerpts, blurbs, book trailers, and the like.  It’s also worth checking into Amazon’s various “deals” features, including Amazon Associates and the Kindle Countdown promotion, though you must be willing to sacrifice some revenue in the short term by running specials to do so.  Amazon also allows you to offer pre-orders on your Kindle books, which is handy for generating preliminary interest.

The long and the short of it is, Amazon sells so many books because its interface and its algorithms really, for the most part, work well.  Now, Amazon may not always be working for you, the self-published author–and especially you, the brand spanking new self-published author without a wide reading base–but for the majority of authors, Amazon is the Starbucks of the indie book world.  It works well for most people, and exceptionally well for a few why pull the right strings.  Which isn’t to say it’s an irredeemable system–after all, just as Starbucks made mostly-delicious whole-bean coffee affordable for most people, Amazon has created a mostly-viable self-publishing program and made it possible for most authors to sell books through it.  It’s well worth studying their model before you decide how else you can elevate your game!

“Thinking outside of the box” will only take you so far if you think book trailers and social media connectivity is avant-garde.  You can bet that once a feature comes built-in with a company like Amazon, it’s assumed that these are just the “done things.”  They’re no longer innovative–they’re expectations. To be truly creative in your merchandising, you’re going to have to take the box apart and play to your strengths.  Do the “done things,” yes, but also the undone things.  What isn’t everyone else up to?  There may be an unexplored opportunity there. ♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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