When Reader Targeting Goes Wrong Marketing

Taking a non-scammy tangent from Saturday"s post, I’d like to talk about what happens when you target the wrong readers, because being too scattergun with promo can really hurt your book.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few months. Currently, I’m in the process of both updating Let’s Get Digital for a third edition and writing a book on the topic which is tentatively called The Reader’s Journey: From Strangers to Superfans – as well as working on a third, secret project for writers that is all about using a certain kind of targeting in a very specific way to build audience and drive sales.

And I’ve been putting all these theories into practice too, working with a bestselling author on their launches and promotions, with some pretty amazing results. More on that when I can share, but the cool thing is I’ve had the opportunity to test all sorts of fun things and play with a much larger catalog than my own puny collection of books.

In future posts, I"ll share some great examples of reader targeting and ideas on how to improve your own, but first it’s important to identify the problem – or where you might be going wrong.

This initial example is an extreme one but it’s illustrative nonetheless. I don"t know about you, but I learn just as much from looking at when something goes wrong, and why it goes wrong. Kind of like reading a bad book – sometimes I learn more from a bad one than a great one. Sometimes when you can see the seams, it’s easier to figure out why a story didn’t come together, and perhaps how it should have been done instead. At least for me, anyway.

(I won’t link directly to the book I"m going to talk about here, and will endeavour to make it unidentifiable, so forgive me for being vague.)

I stumbled across a novel on Amazon recently which had rather inartfully shoehorned the phrase “Game of Thrones” into its subtitle. This is what’s known as title-keyword stuffing – when you take what you think might be a popular search on Amazon (anything from a big genre to a famous author to a hot new release), and then shove it into your own subtitle somehow. The main reason people do this is that they hope it will give them more visibility when readers are searching for something insanely popular like Game of Thrones.

I"m pretty sure that kind of trick is against the Amazon Terms of Service, but that’s not what this post is about. Rather, it’s about targeting the wrong readers. Because the book using this wheeze was a historical novel. It wasn’t even fantasy.

Now, the ruse didn’t work – this particular book doesn’t appear in the first five pages of searches for “Game of Thrones” (I gave up after that). But let’s imagine for a moment it did, and lots of epic fantasy readers had purchased this historical novel.

What would have happened?

That’s right, his Also Boughts would have been filled with all the other things that epic fantasy readers buy, namely epic fantasy novels. I dove into Also Boughts in detail a couple of months ago in two posts called Please Don’t Buy My Book and Who’s Pointing at You?

If you haven’t read those posts you should do that now, but the short version is that Also Boughts are central to Amazon’s recommendation engine… and probably the least understood part of that system.

My current theory is that when Also Boughts re-crunch – usually twice-weekly – Amazon’s system takes the temperature of your book and decides whether to start pushing it on-site, and by email to customers, and also by how much. The level of that support is probably determined by your current sales level at that moment, and the velocity of those sales.

Where having inappropriate Also Boughts can screw you is that the Also Boughts help Amazon decide which readers to recommend your book to. Therefore, in our thought experiment above where the Game of Thrones wheeze has worked, this author will have his historical novel recommended to all the wrong readers, epic fantasy readers, who will inevitably purchase in lesser numbers, if at all.

I"ll give another simple example: when most self-publishers release their first, they often excitedly tell their friends and family about their book, hoping to get the ball rolling in terms of sales. I did this. Most people do this. But it"s not the best idea.

Because it means that your Also Boughts will reflect the tastes of those purchasers, and those people aren"t necessarily your target audience – and Amazon will then recommend your book to the wrong people.

In both of these examples, the lower conversion rate that will ensue from being recommend to a sub-optimal audience will then damn the book in the eyes of Amazon’s system and they’ll stop pushing it altogether. Worse than that, the system will decide your book is one that doesn’t convert and you will slip down the rankings, because your visibility will be curtailed.

A death spiral of sorts.

Some of this is guesswork, I’ll admit. Amazon is a black box in many ways, and all we can to is observe the inputs and outputs and then apply a little bit of fuzzy logic – trying to come up with some kind of coherent explanation of how it all works. And Amazon changes too, complicating matters further.

I had one reasonably successful stab at it a few years ago with Let’s Get Visible, and I’m having another go at it now, but trying to come at it from a different perspective – the reader’s perspective.

It’s less of a paradigm shift than a POV switch, but it does help you analyze things in a different way. We are always looking at our books and our audience and our platforms that it can be incredibly illuminating to jump over the fence and try and look at it all from the reader’s shoes.

This attempt of mine mirrors a general shift in the world of marketing, where the focus has shifted from things like sales funnels (and associated talk of your company and your products) to looking at what they call The Buyer’s Journey – ensuring you look at your marketing efforts from that perspective and that your strategy recognizes each stage buyers go through, and, crucially, that the right customers are getting the right messages at each stage.

There’s a lot we can learn from this approach and I’m having fun applying this template to the world of book marketing. What this framework which I’m developing will ultimately teach you is how to:

  • identify your ideal reader
  • design marketing from the perspective of that ideal reader
  • recognize the different stages your ideal reader goes through – from being completely unaware of you or your books to being a passionate advocate for your work
  • tailor marketing to target your ideal reader at each stage of that process
  • optimize your approach to increase conversion at every step

The cool thing is that once you have this framework down, it doesn’t just let you set things up the correct way right from the start, but also provides you with a toolkit to see where your existing process is borked.

Sometimes when you have lots of books out, or your books have been out for a while, it can be really hard to know where the fail is in the chain. Is it the cover? Maybe it’s a slick cover, designed by a pro, but designed for the wrong readers. This is quite a common trap!

Could it be the description? The keywords and categories? The book itself? Or the end-matter? Is it your website? Your email marketing strategy? Your price? Or could it be more simple: that you just aren’t getting enough eyeballs on your work.

With so many variables, it can be impossible to know where you are losing readers. And guessing can have you running in the wrong direction. To give a very simple example, if you think the problem is traffic and spend money bringing lots of readers to your page, but the real problem is your categories, or your cover, then you have just made a very expensive mistake. I’m hoping that The Reader’s Journey framework will allow you to both identify the exact problem plus how to fix it.

And I’m aiming to release it at the end of summer.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

41 Replies to “When Reader Targeting Goes Wrong”

  1. I"m looking forward to the release of "Reader"s Journey". Since I"m just getting started, and I kind of jumped the gun with my first book, it might be a good idea if you said something about authors making sure that they have other material underway if they"re doing a series, as I am. Also, a search for genre-specific blogs by people they consider a target audience is a good idea. You can always ask a blog owner to review what you"ve done, or ask about posting a sidebar ad. Self-publishing seems to get people all excited, but after the book goes up and sits there, you still have the legwork of PR to do.
    Please advise when you have "Reader"s Journey" available. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for your advice – much appreciated.
    So glad I"ve found you!
    Looking forward to the "ride," and to "Reader"s Journey."

  3. I am looking forward to reading more of David"s articles. I just hope I can follow them and they are easily applicable. I"ve tried reading too many articles that use too much technological jargon. Then I get lost in the language and give up on them entirely.

  4. PS: I have seen amazon delete valid author reviews for no good reason. They truly want to take over the world. They just bought out WHOLE FOODS organic store chain.

    1. and immediately shot themselves in the foot with a TV ad aimed at the rich and privileged, before further putting off customers with an advert for their staff free stores, your every feature, movement, and purchase, recorded, logged and digitally analysed, along with the clothes you wear, their value, labels etc etc etc

  5. Very much looking forward to this – I already know my problem is not enough eyeballs, but it"s hard to fix. So… hoping to learn much more. (I love your “Let"s get…” books. They totally encouraged me to go indie.)

  6. Sound really promising. I could be a good example. In my case, I"m writing in 2 genres (soon to be 3) all different. My WW2 spy thrillers are moderately successful (about 50,000 sales) and they continue to sell, year after year (touch wood!). But my 2 detective thrillers don"t sell, and I haven"t yet found a way to get them moving. Obviously, the WW2 readers have no appetite for detective thrillers. Recent redesign of the covers may help, and I"m working on a new approach using AMS ads. And I"m planning a major move into Science Fiction – probably next year.

  7. Relaunching gets you a clean slate – if you change something about the book. But it also loses you what reviews you might already have, and you"re not going to get those reviewers to re-post.

    I"m pondering whether it"s worth the try – as the also-boughts are hugely inappropriate (all those nice fellow indie writers – of many different genres – who tried my debut novel).

    Hope your book addresses that.

    1. I"ll go through the options to rescue a book from the mire, and particularly the situation where it is in the telephone number rankings and the also boughts are screwed, meaning your in a double vice – struggling for air and then getting pushed back down when you do manage to get a spike.

      Republishing would be the nuclear option but there are lots of others. The good thing about also boughts is you aren"t stuck with them forever. You can clear them out with brute force – putting together a promo campaign big enough to dislodge what is there. But if you are going to spend on marketing, then you need to make sure your targeting is great this time around so you aren"t saddled with a new set of unhelpful books.

      1. I really, really hope you mean double VISE – can"t afford any more vices!

        If you have all that in the book, I can"t wait.

        Remember, I"m the REALLY slow one working on Book 2 of a trilogy – and won"t be finished for at least another year; Book 3 will probably take 2-3 years as well, even though I"m MUCH faster than when writing Book 1, which took 15.

    1. While I"m quite a bit further along with Let"s Get Digital 3, I"m actually writing both it and The Reader"s Journey at the same time and bouncing between the two. I"m toying with the idea of releasing both together anyway, so if one gets done first, it might be held back a short period to launch with the other. Still deciding on that. That"s a long way of saying: probably end of summer too.

  8. Hello, again, David. Sharing this: I read Let"s Get Visible four years ago as my entry into indie authorship. I recommend the book not less than once a week and mention it in my blogs. The info in the book works for me. I use it.

    I was under contract for 20 years. Two key things I learned: 1) The producer of the product brands the product. 2) Every element surrounding the book has to be reader centric. This means a well-crafted book description–often several. It also means composing a reader centric author bio that does not read like a jobs resume or an obit. Front of book matter in a digital book is different from front of book matter in a print edition in which the reader can and will page to the first word of story text. I do not load up/compose front matter that gets between the reader and the opening of an e-story. Back of book is prime real estate. A thank you to the reader and a gentle plea for a review must come right after THE END and ON THE SAME PAGE…otherwise, Amazon bots grabs the reader to recommend other books. If the author has more back matter, we have to tell the reader: “Turn the page” for more or a note from the author or whatever else is back matter or the reader won"t see it.

    After these things, it is all about savvy promotion–that"s where we target our readers. In my short four years as an indie author I"ve learned no books sells or gets visible without promotion. You said it. I believed you. I just looked at the also boughts stream on a unit I have in promotion today. 7 of my titles appear in the stream along with two Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Kate Perry and Barbara(s) Bretton and Freethy, among others. Right where they ought to be.
    Looking forward to your new and revised editions.
    Jackie Weger

    1. “Every element surrounding the book has to be reader centric.” Exactly. A classic example is the book description/blurb, where authors have a strong emotional tie to their story and often aren"t great at writing an effective blurb for it. They try and cram in every secondary character and sub-plot, and it can read like a synopsis or report. And then a reviewer comes along and sums the whole thing up in a catchy couple of sentences.

      If we focus on what really hooks readers in a great blurb, it"s usually something boiled down to the core elements of a hero, who has a compelling flaw and who wants something, the obstacle which stands in her way, and what"s at stake if she doesn"t get it. Or some form thereof. And then sprinkled with whatever author stardust you have to seal the deal (bestselling, award-winning, juicy quote from a review, whatever).

      Okay, that"s a fairly basic one and most authors will figure that out. But we can apply that kind of thinking to all sorts of aspects of our marketing.

      To give a better example: let"s say you manage to get a BookBub and you organize a bit of promo around it and run a 99c Countdown Deal, and it goes pretty well – but don’t quite get the halo that your friend did the week before, and then a week after the promo your book has dipped below his and is sinking fast, while he"s holding on quite well at a higher rank

      What went wrong? Well, this could be a sign that you haven’t optimized your keywords and categories as fully as possible. Maybe you haven’t taken full advantage of the expanded keyword categories so you aren’t appearing on all the places you could be around the Amazon site during a sales spike. Or maybe you went too far and thought your book would fly in Action & Adventure also, but the cover didn’t speak to those readers. Or maybe you are only using single word keywords and are not as visible on Search as you could be.

      This sound like small things but when you are talking about thousands of readers seeing you in the charts, or tens of thousands of readers clicking on your BookBub ad, or hundreds of thousands of impressions on Facebook or AMS, the smallest increase in conversion can have a great effect on your sales.

      1. David, I agree that key words are critical. I wish I knew more about them. If you are telling us about key word in your new book, I"m first in line buy it. I have had excellent halo effects when I snag a Bookbub, running up to 45 days. Sans a Bookbub, perhaps a halo of 8 to 10 days. But here"s a funny: I just looked at also boughts on several authors I co- promote with…and none of my books are in their also boughts. Their also bought streams run to 3 pages. Mine run to a dozen. I don"t get the anomaly. And those authors have up to a 30 unit list. Again, thanks for the clarity. Jackie

  9. Also Boughts are tricksy beasts and hard to pin done. What you are pointing at isn"t so important for your book – just as sign that things may be off if your Also Boughts are scrambled with all sorts of other-genre books, or non-comparable authors. What"s really important is the books pointing at you.

    When it comes to big name authors, selling in much higher volume than you, it can often be the case that they will appear in your Also Boughts, but you won"t appear in theirs (I"m not sure why they only have 3 pages of Also Boughts in total though, they should have lots more – but Amazon is laggy and glitchy today).

    One way to see what is pointing at you is Yasiv.com – just make sure to change the default search from Books to Kindle Store, or you will be searching the print side. And keep in mind that it"s most definitely not 100% accurate so don"t freak out if it shows nothing or only one or two books pointing at you. It can do that, quite incorrectly. It"s just to give you an idea really.

    In terms of increasing the connections between your books and those loved by your target audience, this can be a great way to decide your targeting for things like Facebook ads and BookBub ads and AMS ads. I"ll get into those in detail in the book, and probably here too, I imagine.

  10. In a way, this might be applicable to anyone who wants to grow their blog audience. What tags you use, who you follow, where you leave comments, all are reflective of who you are and what your blog is about. I write humor essays about life in a small town and my adventures as a husband – and while I love travel, trains and beer. I probably am not growing my audience by spending time on blogs devoted to those subjects – not that there is anything wrong with doing what a guy likes to do – but if one wants to build an audience, then one must build an audience.

  11. I"m sharing this to my Facebook page and spreading the word. I"ve been thinking of relaunching my debut novel, or changing the keywords (which would be easier) or maybe even coming up with a savvy marketing idea.

  12. I"ve read your other posts on also boughts, took that advice and created a few Facebook ads directed at fantasy readers only, and now almost my also-boughts are fantasy books. So thank you. I"ll keep pushing toward fantasy readers and see where that takes me.

  13. Hi David, I"m loving your posts, as I write in two genres, Comedy and Dark Fiction would it be wise to have two separate author accounts so as to not mess up my "Also boughts?" Many Thanks!

    1. This is exactly why some authors use pen names, although it"s a fine line to decide whether you need a whole new name (and the potential loss of recognition that goes with it) for changing from one subgenre to another.

      However, it"s against Amazon"s TOS to have two author accounts – just use another name for publishing on your main author account. It"s set up to allow for pen names.

  14. Great post as always. Like others, I write in more than one genre but since I have a lot of crossovers (if not a lot of readers) it doesn"t seem like there"s much to be done about the also boughts…. Though I"m interested to be proved wrong 🙂

  15. I"ve been watching my also boughts and using Yasiv. I can"t find my books in ANY other also boughts. And that is a book with a 20,000 to 30,000 ranking, paid and in KU. And I have to look REALLY hard to find any book in any also bought that has a ranking worse than 9,000. I suspect that that is something that Amazon changed a few months ago that is really negatively impacting the stickability of my books. I suspect they are using the 80/20 rule and putting that 20% in almost all also boughts. In the past you would see a lot more variety in any given genre, but now the also boughts in say paranormal romance (the genre of the book I"m referring to) seem heavily slanted to the same books over and over. Have you or anyone else noticed this?

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