A river in South America?

A term used to describe a tall, fierce woman?

An online market place selling everything from pogo sticks to novels?

It’s all of those things, but in the 21st century that last definition probably springs to mind first. In 1994, Amazon (the company, not the river), opened its digital doors to online shoppers. In 2009, they launched their own publishing branch, and since then have begun spreading into the bookseller market as well. This year they’re opening their first physical location in the Pacific Northwest. It seems this behemoth will never run out of steam.

For authors, their “over 30,000,000 active titles” (yes, that’s 30 million) statistic can be overwhelming, depressing even. And it is true that navigating the currents of Amazon is no pleasure cruise. But there are ways to navigate this treacherous river that make the unknown digital flood a bit more manageable, and a bit less frightening.

We’ve gathered our Top 3 Tips to improve your Amazon experience and to help you learn how to put the resources of this powerful marketplace to work for YOU.

1. Wanted: Reviews: To put it simply, reviews matter. Although sources vary on how many reviews comprise the “magic number” for Amazon to start paying more attention to your title, most estimates fall in the 50 range. Amazon operates on an algorithm, so it makes sense that even if 50 isn’t some magical threshold, it’s not a bad idea to set yourself a target. Let’s set our target at a hypothetical 25 reviews.

Author Tim Grahl recommends putting together a list of three times the number of reviews you’re shooting for, so one-third can say “No” and one-third can forget entirely without impacting your goal. In our example, we’re looking at 75 people on your list. E-mail each of them and keep track of who says yes. This is a great time to use your own copies of your book that are often part of Deep River Books’ partnership agreement by offering to give them away in exchange for an Amazon review.

“Don’t worry that the people you’re sending free review copies to would have otherwise paid for a copy. Most of them probably wouldn’t have bought a copy anyway — and now you’re getting a review from them!” –Tim Grahl

A free book is a nice incentive. Just be sure you set a firm deadline for them to post their review!

Finally, once you’ve put together your list and mailed out copies, be diligent about sending reminders (and consider using a service like MailChimp, so you’re not e-mailing these out individually).

Make sure you include the correct link on these reminders—one that ends before the “-ref” (see below)—to ensure that Amazon does not get confused, think all your reviews are coming from one person, and start taking down your reviews. Here’s an example of the wrong and right way to link to Julie Hall’s book Huntress (the subject of our Author on the Rise piece this month):



One week after the deadline, e-mail an individual thank you to each reviewer. They’ll appreciate the personal touch, and it will make them that much more likely to remember and share your book elsewhere.

2. “I Swear to Tell the Whole Truth”: One of our 5 Twitter Tips last month was to fill out your profile completely, and this will be an echo of that. As an author with a book on Amazon, you have an Author Page. Fill it out. Completely.

Once you sign up, you can update your Author Page through Author Central (bearing in mind it takes a few days to register changes, so be patient). There you will find areas for just about everything relating to you as an author. Be sure to “claim” books you have written or contributed to, fill out your biography section thoroughly (with at least one high quality photo), post your latest Tweets (because you’re definitely on Twitter now, right? Right?), and include your latest blog posts.

“Claiming books on Amazon is like collecting chips; you’re building your little empire and making your bio page more robust. Amazon Central is an extension of your author platform and should be tended to as such. Update your photo, bio, and other information as regularly as you would your website.” –Brooke Warner

There are also bonus features that you may want to look into. For instance, you can post eight videos, which could be a good opportunity to post footage of an interview, or a quick thank you vlog to your readers.

Amazon also provides a lot of resources and tips in this area, so make use of their input as well. Keep in mind that because of the complexity of Amazon’s platform, not all of the information they provide is quite how it may appear. For instance, from Author Central Amazon provides a way to “track sales.”

However, according to writer Brooke Warner, “Bookscan is not a measure of Amazon sales, nor is it a measure of overall sales. It accounts for approximately 70 percent of through-the-register sales. It’s not something authors can or should use to compare their sales against, though it can be a good general gauge for how well your book is performing.”

3. Get Some Perspective: While using Amazon’s internal structure to make your book easier to find or more appealing is a great idea, the fact is that Amazon sales will usually come from external marketing efforts. Once your page is filled out and looking great, the most beneficial thing you can do to help your book on Amazon is building your social networking platforms and growing your “tribe” of readers. Cultivate a group of followers that care about what you care about, and who are passionate about your mission.

One tactic that has helped some authors crack the top 100 on Amazon in their genre is setting up and promoting “buy days” with their readership. Although the algorithm for Amazon’s top 100 lists is tightly under wraps, through trial and error authors have discovered that selling many books in a short time is more likely to boost you than selling many books over a protracted period.

In the end, it all comes back to consistency, diligence, and that personal touch that people crave. Treat your book like a business and market it accordingly.

Of course, you can’t do this if you don’t establish a following that is ready to hop on board. If you already have this following, wonderful—now set up a creative, fun strategy to get them all buying your book around the same time (like a blog tour, awareness raising effort, or holiday related activity)! If you don’t, check out some of our other articles for tips on growing your base through blogging, Facebook, and Twitter.

In the end, it all comes back to consistency, diligence, and that personal touch that people crave. Treat your book like a business and market it accordingly. And remember that just as there are no guarantees in business, there are no sure things in publishing. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not topping the charts in one day flat, but rather take heart that God will use your words no matter the reach of your audience.