Joe Konrath has been featuring guest posts by writers who have made the leap of faith he has been urging. The latest comes from Blake Crouch, who stopped shopping his latest novel around and released it himself. The whole post is worth studying, but one point in particular explains something that had puzzled me:
Having a book integrate into Amazon’s system makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE. For some reason, it took two weeks, but literally the day that RUN hit the “Customers Also Bought” system, it dipped under 1000 and never looked back. I truly believe that those connections Amazon builds between ebooks are the single most important component to a book’s success. Which means you have to have a concept of what books and authors are hot and selling that are like yours. Keywords and tags are crucial in achieving this.
"Of course!" I cried, as I smacked my forehead in astonishment. How many times, I winced, have I looked up a book (or anything else) on Amazon, then idly started clicking through the “Customers also bought …” list on the page, only to stumble across the thing I really wanted?
Seriously, this has happened enough that I now treat that feature as a research tool. A few days back I was wondering if someone had written a good book on the history of consumer credit in America. My Googling skills, which are considerable, utterly failed me. So I turned to Amazon, looked up a book that was vaguely about consumer credit, and within four or five jumps had landed on Financing the American Dream, which is often used as a college text. (I proceeded to buy a copy for $1 from AbeBooks, but that’s another story.)
Now I am not a consumer of series fiction, or fiction of any kind. But I think that the “Customers also bought …” feature must be invaluable to those who are. If you enjoyed a book and want more of that kind of reading, it helps to know what other people who enjoyed the book have bought. And as Crouch points out publishers have known this for a long time:
This is what legacy publishers did for years (and still do). They try to position new books in the framework of known quantities and bestsellers to give readers and booksellers the confidence and perspective to buy and sell the book. This is also why my pitch (see below) begins with “For fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris…” These are big names, but my work truly does share a lot of common ground. I think readers like familiarity, and the comfort of being told, “This is kind of like that.”
But the “Customers also bought …” recommendation is more powerful, being not just a claim to similarity but a demonstration of it. Anyone can write “For fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris” on the cover of their book. But with the Amazon feature you know when a book attracts those fans.
One other thought. If I were a writer with an audience who was thinking of going this route, I would implore my readers to buy a copy—not to make money from those purchases, but to reach people they know, people who aren’t my readers but who like what my readers like. Social networking, indeed.