Discoverability and New Authors: How to Find Readers for Your Books

by Marylee MacDonald, November 21, 2018 in General

“Discoverability” was a new term to me, but I heard it at the Digital Book World conference, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. “Discoverability” perfectly sums up what authors feel when they finally get their book finished, edited, and uploaded to Amazon. “I wrote my book! Yeah, me! But, uh oh, now what?”

Every day, new authors upload 1000 new books to Amazon. That’s a round number, but you get the idea. How can you, a new author, hope to get anyone to notice your book and, better yet, buy it? How can you keep from getting discouraged by your sales figures or lack of reviews? Well, the answer is that every new author faces a daunting challenge. That challenge has to do with discoverability.

girl on beach

It’s a huge step to go from writing a book to putting a book out there in the world.

What Doesn’t Work

I’m going to briefly cover a few tactics in bookselling that worked a while back, but that may not work so effectively now. I’m just going to “bullet-point” these. If you want to know why I don’t think they’re effective, please leave a comment, and I’ll share my reasoning.

  • Twitter
  • Normal Facebook posts from your personal account
  • E-mails to friends
  • Blog tours
  • Direct sales through attending live book events, such as farmers’ markets or book fairs

Each of these means of connecting with potential readers has different reasons for not working well, but believe me, if you want to sell books in volume, you had better consider using the strategies below.

When you want to sell books in quantity you need a marketplace that includes the following:

  • a ready supply of people who actually read;
  • an online store where people already have a shopping mindset;
  • a marketplace that allows you to target the kinds of readers who would enjoy your book.

So, let’s look at the three places writers are having the most success today.

Bookbub Ads

When it comes to discoverability, Bookbub outperforms any other site. The site delivers books to readers who then have a chance to discover you, even if your name isn’t “John Grisham.”

With 1 million readers, Bookbub also definitely meets the “large audience” criteria, meaning that authors will most likely see a spike in sales. And, even if you didn’t get that many sales, at least a Bookbub ad will lead to greater name recognition, a good thing for authors who intend to write more than one book.

Over the years Bookbub has grown in popularity, and authors had to apply. It was said that an author needed 100 reviews to be considered. Sometimes, Bookbub would ask authors if they wanted their book sent out to subscribers in India, a huge market of English-speaking readers, but not necessarily the market most authors would think of going first.

Bookbub also asked authors to deeply discount the price of their book. Although that reduced the per-book payout, sales frequently ran into the thousands. The sales numbers made the Amazon “number of books sold” page go crazy.

Bookbub

Bookbub has proven to be one of the most effective means for writers to get their books into the hands of readers.

As Bookbub’s popularity grew, they became even more selective. It was hard for all but the most determined self-published authors to get their books approved.

Now, there’s a second and easier option. Instead of being a “featured deal,” you can bid—auction fashion—to have your book placed at the bottom of the Bookbub daily e-mail page. Furthermore, you can specify what kinds of readers you wish to target. You can also use Bookbub to advertise to other platforms where Bookbub has a presence, e.g. iTunes, Kobo, Amazon, and Google.

Discoverability and Amazon Ads

Amazon Advertising used to be called AMS, Amazon Marketing Services. In shifting authors from Createspace to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), Amazon has also made it easy to “begin advertising.”

You know those little books that show up below the book you’re considering and that say “Sponsored Ads”? Well, those are created using Amazon Advertising. There’s a link right on your KDP dashboard that will help you get started. When your book appears as a sponsored ad, either below the book you’re looking at or in a sidebar, your book is truly “discoverable.”

The good thing about these ads is that you don’t need design skills. Use Amazon’s templates. You can either set these ads to run beneath books/authors similar to you or you can bid on keywords.

I wouldn’t advise you to go into this blindly. Ads based on keywords are going to cost you money, but in the long run, this is undoubtedly the most effective way to drill down and have Amazon show your ad to people who are already shopping for books like yours.

For more on how that works, I can highly recommend Dave Chesson’s KDPRocket software and course. His clear videos will have you putting together your own keyword list in no time. Then, as he says, you must test it. These Amazon ads must be monitored, because you’re basically opening your wallet and letting Amazon’s search engine find you readers. Here’s a YouTube segment about his approach to Amazon’s realm of keywords and sponsored ads.

After you run an ad, it takes a few days before Amazon begins reporting back, but when it does, you’ll see the following:

  • which keywords resulted in clicks (meaning someone clicked on your ad);
  • which keywords resulted in sales (meaning which people then bought your book;
  • what the total cost per click was;
  • your total sales from the ads;
  • your total cost per sale (also expressed as an “ACoS” percentage).

The KDPRocket app shows you how to set your bid price. Ironically, bidding high ($1) might not result in your book showing up at the head of the line of sponsored books. Amazon’s goal is to make their client’s shopping experience a good one, and so they evaluate your offer based on relevance. If they think your book will be relevant to a particular buyer, they’ll feature your book, even if you’ve set a lower bid price—let’s say of 15 cents. It’s critical that you learn how to bid so that you don’t overspend.

What keeps this endeavor from being a budget buster is that you can set the amount you’re willing to shell out. A $5/day budget is a good place to start. When you’ve discovered which keywords work for you, then you can turn the others off.

Experiment, and you’ll make sales of full-priced books.

Facebook Ads

Facebook has a bad reputation of late because of the amount of data they collect. You wouldn’t necessarily know how amazing and specific it is unless you’ve set up an Author page. To do that watch this YouTube video.

After you’ve set up an Author page, you will have access to Facebook’s Ad Manager and to its Business Manager. When you’re backstage in Facebook, you can target your ads to very specific audiences.

For instance, I might want to find readers who enjoy books by Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood. My subscribers who write women’s fiction might look for folks who enjoyed Hunger Games or Girl on a Train. When you’re in the “Audience Insights” section, you can see the age ranges for audiences you might want to test out. In the above examples, the audience for Munro and Atwood is going to skew older than the audience for the two books.

With Facebook you can target readers very specifically, but you can also do a number of other amazing things:

  • create ads that lead to an external page, such as your landing pages or Amazon book page;
  • create ads that capture a reader’s email address right inside Facebook, so you can follow up later (know as “retargeting”);
  • set ad objectives to get clicks, sales, likes, or e-mail subscribers;
  • target readers who have expressed an interest in authors similar to you;
  • target members of book clubs;
  • target readers who have visited your website or certain pages on your website;
  • use “lookalike audiences” to find millions of potential readers based on criteria that you specify;
  • create a Facebook tracking pixel that can be embedded on landing pages;
  • show people video ads, images, slideshows, or even animated photos.

If you’re an author, you may have already begun to develop an e-mail list. One way that list can come in handy is with Facebook. If you have a thousand people on your list, you can upload those e-mail addresses to Facebook, and Facebook will find folks with similar interests.

After you have created a custom audience, Facebook gives you a ton of data so that you can see which ads are effective and which are duds.

Just one word of caution. Do not use Facebook’s “promote your post” feature. They will charge you a lot, and they will have total control over who sees what you have to offer. No. If you’re going to advertise on Facebook, learn how to do it right so that you don’t waste money.

One reason for running ads on Facebook is simple: You will increase your discoverability. It’s said that folks must see a product or author seven times before they decide to buy. With Facebook you can get that exposure.

Is it as effective as Amazon in selling books? Maybe not. On Amazon people have their wallets open. Facebook requires them to take an extra step. You may be skeptical about the payback. However, as you hone in your target audience, you will find readers in sufficient numbers to make it worth your while.

Again, this isn’t a “set it and forget it” task. You will have to learn new skills. But, you know who’s really good at all this stuff? Romance writers. They’re killing it, and as a result, they’re selling tons of books. Start with $5 a day and scale up slowly, always testing to see if the additional money is making a difference in your sales.

Now where can you get some help in putting together ads like this? Mark Dawson has a program called Ads for Authors. He only opens this program for enrollment a couple of times per year. It’s open now and for the next week. If you don’t want to invest in this class, however, Mark and James Blatch, his co-host, have a ton of free information on YouTube. There are also many other free videos on YouTube that can tell you how to get going with Facebook ads.

The important thing about all of this is to not let it overwhelm you. If you think of this as playful and creative, then you can quell some of the dread-of-marketing that wells up. The day after Thanksgiving could be a good day to make a start on learning these new skills. Learn them one at a time, not all at once. When you find readers you wouldn’t have found any other way, you’ll know it’s time well spent.

Get Email Updates!

Sign up now and receive a weekly email packed with writing tips, contests, and inspiration.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to ConvertKit ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

+ posts

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel, and BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, a short story collection. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and many other awards. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State. She has been a Writing Fellow at Arizona State University and has taught workshops on literary editing.


4 Responses to “Discoverability and New Authors: How to Find Readers for Your Books”

  1. Unfortunately, for self-published authors, Bookbub is beyond our pay scale, as are Amazon ads and Facebook ads don’t work. I am sorry for being a naysayer but thems the facts! Why do you say blog tours don’t work. Oh, and FB won’t plush posts from an authors page unless the author pays for the push. Thank you.

    • Hi Tinthia,
      You’re correct that the above options cost money and that blog tours can be free, especially if you participate in a blog tour organized by an author support group such as RWISA. Here’s an example of one that’s going on right now. Ron Yates’ RWISA blog tour

      I’ve actually paid for a blog tour through TLC Blog Tours, but that was a few years ago, and I’ve learned a lot since then. The point is that blog tours are fine for selling books in small numbers, and if you organize the blog tour yourself or do a guest post on another blog, it’s free. However, many of my author friends have found that advertising on Bookbub brought a significant spike in sales. Those sales continued after the end of the ad. I’m also a member of a couple of private groups, and so I have access to data for authors who are using Amazon Ads and Facebook Ads. Setting up both streams of revenue takes a bit of study, meaning you have to learn how to create custom audiences. Otherwise, you are wasting money. But, if you do it right, it should be possible to sell books in larger numbers than one could hope to achieve on a blog tour. It should also be possible to sell enough books to more than cover the cost of the ad. I’ve been experimenting with both of these, and I will let you know what I find out. I guess I can be the sacrificial lamb!

  2. Lea says:

    Why do you say blog tours don’t work?

    • Hi Lea,
      Great question. A few years ago blog tours worked more effectively than they do now. My perspective is that blog tours take a lot of work for very little result. From your question I’m guessing that blog tours are something you’re considering. I want to give you some guidance about how to do them successfully, and without spending a lot of money.

      Here’s the run-down. An author has to figure out which blogs to contact. Then the author must send a digital file so the blogger has time to read the book and get a review ready to post a review. Sometimes, the author must also prepare a short article to go along with the review or giveaway. All this has to be done quite far in advance of the pub date, and for maximum effect, all the blogs on the tour need to appear within a one or two week period. By “maximum effect” I mean that if you want to see your author ranking go up on Amazon, you need to time it so that people buy books in a particular period. If sales are too spread out, your rankings won’t rise appreciably.

      There are additional problems. Most bloggers have fewer than 200 followers, and it would be a miracle if all those followers bought a particular book. They’re grazing, let’s say, not sitting there with their spoons in hand. On Bookbub or Amazon Ad Services, you can get impulse buys.

      Additionally, I know that many new authors hire a service to organize a blog tour. That service can cost quite a bit of money–$500 being fairly common. They’ll do the legwork and find reviewers, but the reviewers they find may not even particularly like your kind of book, so you’re spending money, but are not likely to see hordes of new buyers flocking to your buy page.

      If you want to organize a blog tour, here’s what I recommend. Go to the Book Blogger List (http://bookbloggerlist.com/) and find bloggers who review for your category of book. Copy 10 to 20 of the urls into your word processor. Then, jump over to http://www.Alexa.com and use their Audience Overlap Tool. Enter 10 of the blogs and see how much audience overlap there is. Is that your audience. e.g. people you imagine reading your book?

      Alexa has other tools that let you see how many followers a particular blog has. You can use those tools to find blogs that have larger audiences. Then, and this is key, become a regular follower of that blog. Leave comments. Share articles. Let the blogger know you are a “regular” and that you appreciate what they’re doing. Ask questions, the way you did here. After you’ve “shown up” for the blogger, that person is a lot more likely to recognize your name. If they recognize your name, you’re more likely to get a “yes” when you request a review.

      What will be the result of this? Well, I have done guest blogs for a good many sites, and also done those blog posts during the very crazy book launch window. I have sold maybe 1 or 2 books as a result. (That’s per blog.) Is that worth it? Vor new authors, it might be. You might well find a reader who looks forward to your next book, or you might discover that the person who left a comment that they’d buy your book actually wound up storing your book on their Kindle, but never reading it or posting a review.

      All of the above takes time and energy. I think Facebook ads, Bookbub, and Amazon Ad Services take less time and energy and yield more sales.

%d bloggers like this: