Amazon Decoded – Resources

Hi there! Here are all the resources mentioned in Amazon Decoded, and a few extra ones!

IMPORTANT NOTE: this page isn’t quite complete yet. Almost all the initial content is in place, except for more on this launch plans and promo plans from the end of the book. Those are coming soon, and I’ll also be making all this prettier and easier to navigate, as well as continuing to add more in an ongoing way, based on your feedback – so bookmark it, and add your questions/requests below!

Oh and if you somehow stumbled on this private page for purchasers of Amazon Decoded, I recommend picking up a copy. Really, you will be missing all the good stuff if you just try and crib from this page, and will probably end up doing everything ass-backwards. It’s less than five dollars, and it’s just nugget after nugget for anyone wanting to increase their Amazon sales. Get your purchase links here.

Amazon Decoded promo graphic

Knowing who you are writing for and what appeals to them is critical to success. Ensuring that you have a solid conception of your Ideal Reader and that your presentation and packaging is aimed squarely at them is so important, but also beyond the scope of Amazon Decoded. I have two great resources to help you though.

Strangers to Superfans is an entire book on understanding your Ideal Reader and mapping out what I call The Reader Journey – your target audience’s journey from strangers to superfans. It helps you identify all the different stages in that process, where blockages might be, and how to optimize every single stage. Not just packaging and presentation either, so I think you’ll find it very useful.

Strangers to Superfans - A Fresh Approach To Marketing - Out Now

But if you want something a little more visual and more focused specifically on the presentation aspect, then Check out Chapter 2 of my free course Starting from Zero which goes through that process and has some helpful videos too. Enroll here.

Also, this blog post on Reader Targeting should prove useful.

Reader Targeting blog post

I promised some screenshots to show you the value of Visibility Marketing – of designing promotions where you seek to get four or five days of consistent sales. This point is often misunderstood so an example should illustrate things nicely.

If you enroll in my free course Starting from Zero you will actually see me go through graphs like this and explain them in great detail. But a screenshot should also do the job.

This is a promotion I ran last year which generated significant sales – over 2,000 of them. So it was successful in that sense. However, it was a failure in terms of getting Amazon to take over and do the selling for me because too many of those sales happened on Day 1. The promotion was front-loaded.

Unbalanced Promo screenshot

What you really want is to have consistent sales even if that means accepting a lower rank and less visibility in the charts. Consistent sales is what convinces Amazon to really start recommending your book. You are shooting for a pattern like this.

Balanced Promo Sales Pattern screenshot

And your reward is this: making serious money in the post-promotion halo. The size of that halo doesn’t just depend on how many sales you get during the promotion, but also how consistent they are – which is the part that most people screw up. Because it’s hard! But even getting it half-right can bring great rewards.

Post Promotion Halo screenshot

Hitting everything on Day 1? Less so. Those 2,000+ sales were nice, but if I had arranged that promotion better, I would have made much more money in the few weeks afterwards, instead of what turned out to be a short-lived incursion into the charts. Hitting #200 or whatever in the Kindle Store might feel good and might give you bragging rights, but it doesn’t mean much when you are already out at #10000 or so in a week and heading south fast.

I’d rather hit #500 in the Store and maybe fade slowly to #1000 or #2000 and then hang around there for a few weeks and really make some money.

This point is crucial so if it’s not clear to you, jump into my free course Starting From Zero and check out Chapter 4 – particularly Lesson 4.5 (Building a Promo).

There are many rubbish Sales Rank calculators out there but the Sales Rank Calculator from Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur is properly good. It’s very accurate, in my experience, and I’ve been tracking how Sales Rank maps to sales for years. Don’t mess with the rest…

Sales Rank Calculator from Kindlepreneur

I sometimes get asked so let me state it clearly: the only place where you can see a breakdown of all the Amazon categories is on Amazon itself. One of the easiest ways to nose around is just go to the Top 100 for the Kindle Store and then start clicking away on the left and diving in to different niches.

If you are looking for that nifty tool which tells you all the categories you are in (or for any book in the Kindle Store), you will find that here.

Finally, Amazon now explicitly states you can have up to ten categories. This includes Kindle and Book categories, and you get ten for each Kindle Store – just in case there’s any confusion. The process to add them is below.

Note: you will see books with more than ten sometimes. It doesn’t seem to be a very “hard” limit right now, but I think you are better off capping it at ten in case Amazon does proactively decide to strip any of yours out, and randomly picks your most important category.

This process for adding more categories is super boring, but extremely important and you only have to do it once. You can only pick two categories on upload, so pick the two most important, and then use this process below to get a total of ten categories on your book. You can do this via Author Central or KDP, and I’ve outlined the steps for each.

via Author Central

  • Identify the full category path for each of your preferred sub-categories. By this I mean actually write out Kindle eBooks > Mysteries, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Political for each of your target categories, rather than just Political Thrillers – you will need this in a moment.
  • If you have an Amazon Author Central account, and you should, then go to Amazon Author Central Help here (or look for it in the top right of the nav bar in Author Central). If you don’t have an Amazon Author Central account, then scroll down below to see the process for adding categories via KDP Support.
  • Select “My Books” from the dropdown, then “Update Information About A Book,” then “Browse Categories,” and, finally, “I want to update my book’s browse categories.”
  • Note: ignore the help pages which Author Central links to at this point, they are out of date, and incorrectly say that Amazon only allows 2 categories. They now allow up to 10.
  • Underneath that, select Email or Phone – whichever is your preference. I personally prefer email as I can update categories on all my books at once, and it’s easier than reading out the category path on the phone, but I’ve also done it by phone and that works well – it’s faster, in fact.
  • If you select Phone, have your list of chosen categories ready – with the full category path or they won’t add them for you. If you select Email, paste those full category paths into the box, along with the ASIN number of the respective book you are talking about.

Note: this process will only update categories for you in the US market. For other important markets for you (like the UK), you can add those via this process also, but you will need to specifically indicate in the email to Author Central (or in the phone call) that you also want to add categories for other markets. And you will need the specific full category path for those markets too as the Kindle Store is broken down a little differently in each country.

via KDP Support

I personally find the customer service at Author Central far superior, but I’ll detail the process for doing this via KDP also, just in case. It’s pretty similar.

  • Identify the full category path for each of your preferred sub-categories. By this I mean actually write out Kindle eBooks > Mysteries, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Political for each of your target categories, rather than just Political Thrillers – you will need this in a moment.
  • Log in to your KDP account. Click the Help link in the top right, then the Contact Us button in the bottom left of that page (they don’t make it so easy to find). This is the direct link, if you can’t find it.
  • Underneath “How Can We Help?” select the first option “Amazon product page” and then “Update Amazon Categories” right underneath.
  • An email template will appear. Add in the ASIN for your book, and then the full category path for each category you want added.
  • Ignore the section on removing categories.
  • Repeat this for each desired international market (do the UK at minimum, but check the full category paths for those stores also – they are different).
  • Click Send message, and Amazon should sort this out for you in a couple of days. Note: depending on where you are in the world and what time of day it is, you may have the option of doing this by phone – it doesn’t matter which way you do it. Phone tends to be faster, but don’t expect the changes to be instant. They might still take a day or two to process fully.
  • Those categories tend to take effect reasonably quickly, but as with anything Amazon, glitches can delay things, as can any customer service response time etc. It’s a bit of a pain, but you only have to do it once, and the benefits just keep accruing.

Just remember the most important thing: always keep it relevant.

These days, you don’t need to repeat metadata in your keywords and you don’t need them to add categories either (use the above method instead) which 100% frees them up to increase your search footprint.

You can totally figure out your keywords on your own if you want to. Just remember what I said in Amazon Decoded about how systems use natural language these days, and how testing keywords in the Amazon search box – and taking note of what auto-suggests as well as the results – is the way to go here.

A tool that can remove a lot of the legwork there is a nifty thing called Publisher Rocket which is from Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur (affiliate link).

It costs $97 for a lifetime license so it might not be an auto-buy with that kind of price tag. Definitely don’t spring for it if you have trouble paying for much more important things like editing and covers and so on.

But if you do have the budget, it’s a fascinating tool, and will generate lots of excellent keywords for you in a jiffy. It is great for giving you estimates of how many people are searching for certain keywords (and, really, I was genuinely suprised at some of the numbers here – in both directions).

What’s really cool is it will show you how competitive a given keyword is – i.e. are you going to have to sell like crazy to appear near the top of the search results for that term? Or will more modest sales do the trick?

The great thing is you can use Publisher Rocket to find little pockets of opportunity – keywords which have a heavy search volume, but very little competition.

And, of course, if you are getting into Amazon Ads, this can really help generate lots and lots of keywords for you – just be very careful to then take the step of winnowing that list down and removing unsuitable terms. That’s really important.

For me though, I was most interested in generating regular keywords, seeing how people actually search on Amazon, and getting a feel for my different categories. It’s worth it for that alone IMO.

If you want to check out some of the Publisher Rocket tutorials before you make a purchase, you can do that. There’s a bunch of videos there that give you a very clear idea of what the tool is like and whether it will be suitable for you.

Plus, there is a 30-day money back guarantee if you decide it’s not for you.

Speaking of search, if you really want to go down the geekhole on the topic of keywords, this is Dave Chesson’s article on the fascinating experiment he conducted recently around keywords in book descriptions (that’s the same guy that made Publisher Rocket).

And if you are still struggling to identify useful keywords after reading the above (and Amazon Decoded), then try this approach, again from Dave Chesson. I should note that his advice is applicable and useful whether you buy Publisher Rocket or not – that just cuts down on some legwork and gives you additional insights.

The approach is independent of the tool. Just FYI.

Wild tangent here but if you want to look into the work of Dr. Jennifer Lynn Barnes on the topic of power words in book titles, and associated neurocreativity goodness, follow her on Twitter or Tumblr, or, particularly, check out some podcasts she has appeared on – like this episode of the Red Sneaker Writers podcast – or where other authors – like Joanna Penn – discuss her work. All that will have to suffice until Dr. Barnes releases her much-anticipated book on the topic!

Remember you won’t see this fully if you aren’t in the USA (for example, the buy button at the top might be missing, or all buy buttons might be absent), but here’s a screenshot of what they look like so everyone knows what I’m talking about.

This is a properly formed series page for a series where I don’t own any of the books. You will see each book in the series has an individual buy button, but there is also a prominent buy button to grab all the books at once, right there above the fold.

And here is another properly formed series page, but for one where I own two of the books, and don’t own the other two. You will see that this “Buy All” button up top updates to reflect the cost of completing the series – which is very nifty… and very powerful when you start running ads to these pages. (Well, your own pages, not someone else’s!)

Oh my, is there a topic which causes more unnecessary angst?

Let me be clear: if your Also Boughts are borked (beyond a temporary scrambling after a BookBub Featured Deal or a free promo – which tends to right itself in an update or two) then you have a genuine problem. One which is worth angsting over as it is quite hard to fix, and it means you have been aiming at the wrong readers.

First you need to… stop doing that. Then you need to fix it by putting together a bigger promo than the one which messed up your Also Boughts. Not always easy. I’ve even had to do the nuclear option myself before so I do feel your pain.

Also Boughts “disappearing” from your page, however, is not a good reason to be fretting – I respectfully suggest. Some very loud voices have been insisting that this means Amazon has stopped organically recommending books and that it is all pay-to-play now (and I’m sure it’s a coincidence these people are selling expensive courses on Amazon Ads, but whatever).

It’s not true. My book should prove that the entire recommendation engine is blissfully unaffected by the status of Also Boughts on your page. But if you are not yet convinced read this detailed blog post on Also Boughts and set your mind at ease.

Ah, the most mysterious bit of the Kindle Store: Popularity. And I really don’t blame most authors for struggling with this as it is quite opaque. Even finding the Popularity list is quite tricky. So let’s tackle that first.

Go to Amazon.com and click this button in the top left.

Select “Kindle E-readers & Books” from the drop down.

Select “Kindle Books.”

Now you are on the Popularity list.

Doesn’t look like much does it? But if you scroll down a little, beyond those personalized recommendations, you’ll see a genre breakdown in the left-hand side bar which you can explore.

This is the Popularity list for Thrillers, for example.

And just to show you how different it can be from the Best Seller list (in terms of content, not just presentation), here’s the Best Seller list for Thrillers snapped at the exact same time.

Note that differences are more pronounced in some genres than others – more in Amazon Decoded on why, and what this all means for you, of course. I just wanted to show you – visually – what I was talking about. Which is still tricky to do in an ebook in 2020 for some ungodly reason…

I’m a wide author – at least for all my historical fiction and non-fiction – just so we are clear. (People sometimes assume otherwise because I’ve managed huge Kindle Unlimited campaigns for others in the past and, errrrr, wrote this book I guess.)

If you are interested in my idea that there are essentially two marketing models emerging for authors – depending on whether they are wide or exclusive – and authors really need to adapt their approach accordingly, you can read about that here. It’s a blog post adapted from a talk I gave at a conference in Florida back when it was possible to leave my house.

I give specific marketing resources below when talking about launch plans and the like, but generally speaking a wide author will need to lean much more on email marketing (definitely grab my freebie Following below), BookBub Ads – the best ad platform for wide authors, and things like cross-promotion, group promos, box sets, and generally wooing retailers and the like, again, when it is actually possible to interface in public again!

If you sign up to my mailing list, we regularly cover all these issues (and KU-specific topics). And you get a free copy of my guide to building an effective reader-capturing platform as part of the welcome package, which will really get you going with email marketing and help you set up all the nuts-and-bolts. I also have an eight-part series on email marketing for beginners which you will get access to after joining my list. So consider signing up here.

Amazon-exclusive authors can use all those promotional tactics too, of course, but tend to lean more on ad platforms as they can afford to be more aggressive – as they are getting both the added cream of page read income, and higher royalties on discounted books when doing a Countdown Deal.

Obviously, exclusive authors will gravitate towards Amazon Ads, but they shouldn’t discount Facebook or BookBub Ads – which I have used to great effect on gigantic Kindle Unlimited campaigns. I think many exclusive authors make the mistake of approach that page read grab in the wrong way (and discount a venue like BookBub as a result). This is a mistake – and this video will break down why.

Call them deal sites, promo sites, reader sites, ad sites – it’s up to you. But here’s my curated list of recommended deal sites which I keep right up to date. I’ve broken them down into sites which are recommended for freebies, discounts, series pushes, genre specialists, and even things like listbuilder promos. Check it out here!

Best Book Promo Sites 2020 author marketing

I have a bunch of recommended resources here for each platform. But before we get into specific platforms, this post will teach you about Comp Authors and why determining yours is critical to succeeding on any ad platform and also why you need different comp authors for each venue. Below that, I have specific resources for each platform.

How to find your comp authors header image

Amazon Ads

My favorite resource – by a mile – is Robert J. Ryan’s excellent guide book Amazon Ads Unleashed. Next on my list to try is another guide book, one highly rated by lots of people who know their onions, and that’s Deb Potter’s Amazon Ads for Authors.

Along with myself, both of those authors are members of this Facebook Group, which was founded to cover Amazon Ads, but has since expanded to cover Facebook Ads also. Lots and lots of great info in there from people who really know what they are talking about.

This is important because charlatans abound in the world of self-publishing these days, and the topic of Amazon Ads attracts them like no other. Be. Careful.

And then this free course from Reedsy is good for the basics.

Facebook Ads

For more advanced users, Jon Loomer is the best resource I’ve found, although keep in mind he’s a general marketer, not book-specific, so you will have to parse his advice accordingly.

For less experienced users, I have a pretty great 12-part introduction to Facebook Ads which you will get access to if you sign up to my mailing list. It’s free, yo.

For everyone: I’m going to be diving into the world of Facebook on my new YouTube channel soon, so make sure you subscribe to that. Here’s a taster: a tutorial on how to make your own Facebook graphics (you can use this approach for BookBub also). No design skills needed!

BookBub Ads

This is my favorite ad platform for a bunch of reasons, and it’s especially useful for wide authors, and hitting those pockets of readers outside of America and the world of Amazon. No other platform allows you to do that with such ease; it’s a godsend. BookBub doesn’t have the scale of Facebook, of course, but it is over ten million hungry readers and the conversion rates on BookBub Ads beat the pants off everything else.

I wrote the book on BookBub Ads – literally. I also made a free ten-part course for Reedsy. And then outside The Wonderful World of Me, BookBub has a pretty stellar set of resources.

I’ll also be doing some videos soon on my new YouTube channel breaking down BookBub Ads so make sure to subscribe to that. I’ve already recorded one guide to the interface (below), but there’s more to come!

Newsletter Ninja is the bomb. Read it and do everything she says, and you will be an email whizz in no time. Seriously. I’m living proof that the leakiest of vessels can be turned around.

I’ve also written some posts on my blog which will serve as a good introduction to the possibilities with email. Like this one.

email marketing blog post header

And then if you sign up to my own mailing list (meta alert!), I have an eight-part series on how to get started with email marketing.

But read Newsletter Ninja if you are only going to do one thing here. Seriously. It’s that good, and she’s a genuine expert. Not one of those chintzy, ersatz so-called experts like myself.

My brand new course – Starting From Zero – is completely free and will show you exactly how to put together a promotion which works with the algorithms instead of against them.

Free Self-Publishing Marketing Course - Starting from Zero with David Gaughran

Warning: this course is more aimed at beginner-to-intermediate authors, and doesn’t teach you how to use Facebook Ads or BookBub Ads or anything like that, but it will show you how to create a marketing plan which can push a whole series at once, and where Facebook, BookBub, deal sites, your mailing list, list swaps etc. fit into the overall plan, and how you actually execute the launch.

So even if you want to skip the bits on self-publishing and branding and platform-building because you feel you have that down, you can do that and just jump right to the part on putting together a marketing plan.

It’s free to enroll, and you can skip ahead as you please!

Pop them below and I’ll answer when I surface from The Writing Cave. Warning: sometimes I get deep in there.