How to Sell Books Wide
As readers, we know there’s more to the book trade than Amazon. Even if you aren’t old enough to remember a world before it, you’ve probably experienced a physical bookstore or visited a library with family or friends. Indeed, these experiences might have shaped your passion for writing in the first place. But despite knowing that more exists, it’s easy as an author to forget about the other retailers when KDP is responsible for a huge percentage of your income.
Relying on any single company for your career, though, is a precarious game. It makes sense if you’re a newbie learning the basics, or your readers mainly exist there, but constantly being at Amazon’s mercy makes for a risky long-term business model. Publishing wide – making your work available on all platforms – by comparison enables more control and ensures relative stability. The problem is that these benefits come with increased complexity, first on the publishing front and then in terms of marketing.
Let’s assume, though, that you’ve already overcome the first hurdle. You’ve published wide. Now what? Gaining traction on wide platforms isn’t typically easy. Smaller stores lack the same levels of traffic as Amazon so scaling becomes a challenge. Plus, without equivalent in-house marketing systems, they also lack the same discoverability potential. Fortunately, however, there are ways to drum up early readers outside of the biggest bookstore. Succeeding simply requires you to think more creatively and embrace holistic marketing practices. Today’s blog post includes a selection of tactics you can use to help you begin the process and start selling wide.
Tell Your Readers
When you first expand your publishing goals to include wide retailers, gaining traction can be difficult. Many retailers don’t deliver much organic traffic. Plus, you can’t send much yourself because your existing social media and newsletter audiences will likely be made up of Amazon shoppers. As a result, you have limited ability to drive readers to wide stores. It’s a vicious circle; you can’t get wide readers to encounter your work without strong sales, and you can’t generate strong wide sales without accessing wide readers. That said, you probably have more power than you realise.
Let your existing readers know that you offer your books everywhere and some will inevitably switch their buying habits. The only reason many buy exclusively on Amazon is because that’s the only place they can get books by their favourite authors. To optimise your efforts, you could even create and share universal book links (UBLs) to allow readers to choose their preferred store instead of being directed to Amazon. Books2Read provides excellent UBLs for ebooks, Story Origin offers audiobook ones, and you can use Genius Link to create paperback UBLs. By announcing that your books are available everywhere and providing UBLs, you’ll remove a lot of the friction that stops readers buying them from wide stores.
How much effort do you invest into promoting your books on Amazon vs wide retailers? Limited by time and mental bandwidth, many of us direct all our effort and advertising dollars towards Amazon without even realising it, yet still get frustrated when we don’t sell elsewhere. It’s easy to notice this behaviour when you only run AMS ads but more subtle with other advertising strategies. For example, do you embed an Amazon link or UBLs in your Facebook ad buttons? Do you target Kindle readers with your copy or do you use more inclusive language? When you stack email promo sites like Bargain Booksy and Robin Reads, do you only provide Amazon links for their subscribers? Do you only base your ROI on Amazon metrics?
You can’t expect to sell books on wide retailers if you neglect them. So, next time you launch a new marketing strategy, keep your wide retailers in mind. Try testing Facebook ads on Kobo or Apple readers for once. Perhaps use a more inclusive call to action like “Read Now” instead of “Grab It on Amazon” and include a UBL. Offer email promo sites as many store links as possible. Provide reviewers with a selection of places they can review your work. And when you track your marketing results, remember to factor in reviews and sales from wide retailers, no matter how small. The trickle will grow if you persist in being an inclusive marketer.
Newsletter Swaps with Wide Authors
These days, most authors have a reader email list. Newbies might only have a handful of disengaged subscribers while bestsellers can manage more than 100,000 active ones. What authors of all sizes have found, though, is that their newsletter doesn’t just help them sell their own books; it also gives them bargaining power to help them access the audiences of other writers. No ethical author would ever share their subscriber data but many routinely participate in “newsletter swaps” – a practice in which authors feature each other’s books in their newsletters. Those who swap en masse with extremely similar writers often find this strategy highly effective, especially during book launches and discount periods.
Without being given specific instructions, many authors default to featuring Amazon links alongside a peer’s book. Target authors who also publish wide, however, and you can limit this sort of behaviour to help you break out of the Amazon-dependency cycle. Most wide authors will happily feature a UBL if you provide one, which encourages their more diverse mailing list audiences to purchase on alternative retailers. You can find wide authors to help you by browsing your genre on Kobo, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble or Google Play and contacting their authors on social media. Facebook also has wide-focused author communities, including Wide for the Win, who encourage ethical author marketing and distribution tactics that include the whole of the industry.
Co-Work with Wide Authors
A huge portion of the writing community recognises the value of pooling resources, sharing knowledge and collaborating on projects. As a result, many authors work together to crack new markets, whether they be emerging retailers or geographical territories, instead of living in a state of bitter competition. As a team, you can direct more readers and overcome greater challenges. You might not feel like you have a lot to contribute if you’ve historically only grown an Amazon audience, but what you lack in knowledge and audience you can make up for in work ethic when collaborating with wide authors. Do a lot of the heavy lifting and many will happily work with you.
Depending on your goals and the time at your disposal, you could co-write a whole series with a single wide author or co-produce a story bundle with multiple friends. Or, if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of creating shared intellectual property, you could run a simple group promotion instead. In this case, nobody has to license any rights or hand over publishing control to a project manager; participants can just direct all of their readers to a multi-book promo page and reap the benefits of getting extra eyeballs on their work from everyone involved.
Many people confuse the two, but merchandising differs from marketing. Whereas you market your books to drive readers to a store, retailers themselves use merchandising to promote a product in their store or on their website to existing customers. You’ve probably seen merchandising in action if you’ve ever passed cash register islands at a bookstore chain or encountered a “Daily Deal” promo on Kobo’s home page. You rarely hear about a merchandising deal outside the store but, as a visiting shopper, you can’t avoid them. They’re effective at helping you enter new markets, because getting a merchandising deal allows you to reach the customers of that store even if you can’t personally send any traffic their way.
How you apply for merchandising is different for every company. For instance, Kobo offers a selection of seasonal and genre-based deals you can opt your books into every month. Draft2Digital and Publish Drive make similar offers to their users. Apple Books, meanwhile, don’t publish a public menu of merchandising deals. Instead, their reps manually collect information on books that interest them and contact authors with feature opportunities. It’s only after they’ve established a connection that you can then pitch your books yourself for future merchandising opportunities. Making yourself known to the humans who select books for merchandising slots can take time, but it’s worth the effort.
Make no mistake; building a diverse audience is harder than narrowing your focus to one store. That said, diversifying does result in more financial security once you get wide retailers and their readers behind your books. You may take a hit in the short term, but you’ll eventually consider the long-term peace of mind a more than adequate return on your investment. And that’s without considering the unexpected career opportunities that can arise from having a presence on every major platform.
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