Here's an interview I did recently with Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur about selling books on Kindle. You can listen online by clicking the play button above or read the transcript below. If you'd like to download the audio to listen to later, click this button:
Q. Could you tell me a little bit about your background?
Well sure, I used to be in the US Military and I did a whole bunch of jobs there.
One day I realised that I was not heading towards what I defined as success. To me, success was being able to be home with my family and kids and live comfortably instead of being on the other side of the world without my family trying to do some type of military operations or negotiations.
When I realised that, I started getting into online marketing, and creating websites, and writing books, and today I am now home with my family here in Nashville, Tennessee.
Q. What kind of books do you write?
Well, a lot of what I do is finding out exactly what people want to read on Amazon.
I've never called myself one of those amazing writers that can write anything and people would read it. Nor at the time when I first started did I have this large following or huge blog or people even knew who I was.
Instead of just writing a book and hoping that it would work, I started doing a lot of research to try to figure out exactly what people were typing into Amazon and whether or not there was an opening in the market for me to be able to write.
Once I started doing that, that's when my Kindle writing really took off.
Q. I saw your background is in SEO and building up sites with a lot of traffic.
Yes absolutely, that was something I started with. I used to do niche websites, it was the same principle.
Instead of writing a website about what I wanted, or what I was feeling, or anything like that, I would go to Google and I'd find out what people were typing into Google. Where are there opportunities to write about subjects that I could either learn about or that I knew about? I started building up these websites that way.
Now at that time, the only thing I was making money from was from Google AdSense, having Google pay me every time somebody clicked on an advertisement or through affiliate links. It wasn't bad, it was really cool because every time I built a website it would build me a certain amount of money every month.
It wasn't that much money and it was a lot of work to build those websites.
When the day came that I realised that Amazon is just like Google, where it's a search engine where you can rank at the top for a word or phrase that people type in, that's when the lightbulb went off. I was like “ah-ha”. I started really applying a lot of the things that I learned in Google to Amazon and that's where I made that little pivot.
Q. My understanding of SEO and Amazon, before I used Kindle Rocket, is that you look at the most popular categories and the most popular authors and then you maybe use the auto-complete tool Amazon has when you're in the search bar. Is that a fair say or is there another way you would look at it?
Back in the day yes, that was kind of the way that a lot of people were doing it.
But the problem with doing that is what you're seeing is all the books that are super successful. You're seeing the ones that are either successful because the author is famous, or successful because the person has a giant email list.
Sometimes you'll find that rare one where there's no reason except for it's just a highly demanded book.
You're immediately going after a market that's proven to be super good and guess what? There are a lot of people doing that.
A lot of people get burned out because when doing that one tactic they're not finding anything that's either new or opening a new trend or something that hasn't been mined already by a lot of people.
Instead, what I started doing was I would add Google information as well into my research on Amazon. The idea was is that if people were typing it into Google there's a chance that they might turn to Amazon and start typing it into Amazon as well.
That one thing helped me to kind of figure out if there was a potentially new market. You can look at the results in Google and say look, that's a Google search term, that's something only somebody on Google would type in, but sometimes you find one that would make a really good book subject. I started using that data back in the day.
Finally, it wasn't until I really got into understanding the Amazon best seller rank, the ABSR number and how the A9 algorithm worked for Amazon that I started to find other ways to look at books. I could know immediately that this book is making money not because the person is famous or any of that stuff, it is making money because it's the only book on this particular term and people are typing that in.
Then that was when things really took off for me.
Q. Is that a term you would put into the keywords on the Amazon tool or is that something that you should have in your book title?
No, so when you do find a term or a phrase that you really like you can put it as one of your seven Kindle keywords, so when you go to publish on KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing, they'll ask you for seven.
Back in the day that would be all you needed. About two plus years ago you could just put in any word and you would show up for it.
Now because there are over 4.8 million different ebooks out there, just because you selected it as one of your keywords doesn't necessarily mean that you're actually going to show up for it. This usually happens for very competitive terms. In this case, then it really helps to also bolster that claim that you should show up for that term by putting it in your title and or subtitle.
Another thing too is having it in the description.
There are some people that disagree with me on that but I have a long reason as to why I still think that it really helps in the description.
Then there's also things like people using it in the reviews, that usually comes about if it's in your title and subtitle as well.
Those kind of things send the signal to Amazon that you should at least show up for that term.
Then there's a whole other set of steps to be able to make sure that you rank better for that term.
Q. If I picked out my seven keywords on Amazon do I put all seven in the subtitle or I just pepper them through the copy and the subtitle?
No, so here's exactly what I would do:
First I would do the research and I'd make sure I found seven particular terms or phrases that have people typing it into Amazon, are willing to buy books that show up for it and isn't too competitive.
When I've nailed those seven, then what I want to do is I want to know what the true target is. Which one of those seven is the best representation of my book and is that the one I believe will bring me good traffic? What I mean by good traffic is the right kind of person.
Then I will go ahead and put those seven into my KDP, the seven keywords, but I'll also try to weave them into the subtitle.
Now I don't recommend stuffing all seven in there unless you can naturally do that, but remember these seven terms, these are the things that are inside the minds of the shoppers of Amazon. When they're describing their pain point these are the words they thought of when they were typing it into Amazon.
That is a clear insight into great sales copy.
If I'm thinking how to stop smoking and super fast, say it's just super fast and there's a book title that's called How to Stop Smoking Super Fast I get a feeling that that's the book for me because that book is truly addressed exactly what came to mind when I was shopping.
A great example of this is back in the day when Evernote was a big one. A lot of people were writing about how to use Evernote.
Well if you are a book writer and you type in Evernote and you see that there's an Evernote book that's Evernote for Writers, which one do you think you're going to buy? The one that's addressed to you.
So this is all about making sure you choose the right keyword that connects that searcher to your book. Don't hesitate, don't think this is about stuffing as many keywords into your title or subtitle.
This is about understanding your market and getting your book in front of them and making sure they know this is the book for them.
Once you've done that and you can either do that with a couple of words, you can do it with just one particular phrase or so forth; you hit publish.
Now it's time to check Amazon and see if they actually put your book in those results. Go ahead and type in your seven keywords into Amazon, hit enter and then keep clicking until you finally find your book. If you don't find your book then it means they didn't index it.
If you truly want to show up for that keyword you either need to add it to your subtitle or put it in your description, things like that.
Once you've found out that you've got all these things showing up, my book is showing up for those seven, now it's time to convince Amazon that you should be ranking higher.
According to our statistics, the book that ranks number one for a search term gets 27% of the clicks. The book that ranks number two gets only 13% of the clicks.
If 1,000 people a month type in how to quit smoking super fast, the book at number one is going to get 270 clicks a month just from that term, whereas the book under it will only get 130. That's potentially double the sales.
It's important not to just show up for the word, it's important to make sure that you can get up to the top and that's why, when you're selecting your keywords, you want to make sure it's not so competitive that you're never going to get seen. That's why a competitive score is super important.
Q. How do you get the book from two to one?
Well, there's a lot of things. One is to make sure you really do have a good cover.
I mean let's face it, if your cover looks like it was thrown together on Fiverr for five bucks and it's being held together with duct tape nobody's going to click on yours. They're going to click on the better-looking cover below you.
Same thing with the title, we talked about making sure that your title addresses the right market.
So here's a great tip for you. If you have five or 10 people that you know, that you absolutely know will buy your book, and let's hope that you have been developing a good relationship with potential readers while you write your book.
When you have those five or 10, instead of just sending them the link and saying, “Hey my book is ready to be bought, will you please go ahead and buy it?” What you do is that you tell them, “Can you please go to Amazon, type in how to quit smoking fast or super fast, whatever it was, find my book, click it and buy it?”
That's it, you're just telling them to find it that way because what that does is it sends a direct signal to Amazon that hey, look at this, when people type in the word quit smoking super fast they don't choose all these other books that we had all the way up here, they chose this one down here.
Interesting, let's raise it up and see how it does, and then the next time the person does and so forth. What this is is telling Amazon that your book is a higher converting book for that term, which means it's the better book for that term.
Naturally, Amazon will put you up to the top and you will get to enjoy that traffic.
Here's the thing, this is why I'm not cheating the system or gaming the system as some angry writers will say. If your book isn't better than the other books then clearly when a normal person who doesn't know you or your work types in that phrase and then they look at the books, they're not going to select yours because your cover is terrible or your title is terrible.
They're going to select the one under you and when that happens enough Amazon's going to be like all right well I guess this one is actually the better one and you'll just continue to drop until you settle at where you deserve to be.
Q. How many people do you need to do that for it to work?
Ten's a really great number to have in your pocket because I've worked with a bunch of authors and I've never seen it take more than 10, especially for something super competitive.
I don't know if I have permission to use this author's name, so what I will say is that it was a book on how to write a blog or start a blog, which is a really competitive one and all it took this writer was 10 people and she was right at the top. She actually hung there because it's a really good book and a great cover, so really happy to see that for her.
Again, it could just take two, all it depends on the competitiveness of that keyword.
Are you going to rank number one for entrepreneurs with 10? Of course not, I mean you're not going to beat the big time guys that are selling hundreds of books a day, but will you rank number one for how to make money online with 10? Probably 10, maybe 15 on that one.
You see what I'm saying, it all depends on the competitiveness and I hope that you did your research right and that you're not choosing that uber, almost near impossible keyword that you're never going to show up for.
Q. I'm wondering then for non-fiction I can definitely see how this work, but what about for fiction?
Absolutely, well see the thing about any book on Amazon is how do people buy books on Amazon? They go, they type into Amazon and they look. What exactly are they typing?
There's another way that people do it which is they find their favourite category and they search for the top 25 books in that category but again it comes back to how do you get in the top 25 for a category people like? Well, you've got to make sales.
How do you make sales? You either have Amazon send people to your book or you go find them and you bring them to your book whether that's all these other hustling moves.
How do fiction authors take advantage of this?
Well, again we're looking at the numbers. We're looking at what's the best thing for your book. One of my favourite examples: I'm actually writing an epic sci-fi military book, I'm a die hard sci-fi military guy, I love it, and when I did the research the thing is there are a lot of people that type in science fiction, a lot of people.
You know what, books that rank for science fiction actually aren't that great of a sale, because people who type in science fiction have no idea what they want, they really don't. When you type in science fiction in Amazon you're just kind of like I don't really know what I want. There are so many different types of science fiction.
Then I go a little further and I type in sci-fi military and now it's a lot less competitive, it's bringing in some pretty good money, but again that's still pretty vague.
Then when I went down to space marines I found out that it really wasn't competitive at all, it should be very simple for a new writer like myself to break through and I saw that books that were showing up were doing pretty well.
The most important part was that they would be books that I could beat out.
I'm going to go hardcore on my cover and it's going to look like something epically awesome, but now I know that that will give me a start. It will give me some discoverability to true space marine fans.
Again, there was only one book that had a title of space marines and it was a God awful cover, it had poor reviews and guess what, that terrible book was ranking number six because well there's not much competition there.
For me, that's a good beginning. Now is that going to make me a million dollars? No that's not, but what I hope is is that it gets me discovered, it gets me in front of a couple more people that it normally wouldn't if I hadn't have done some of that key research.
It's sort of like a spark to your book and hopefully your writing and your artistic capability and all the things that come into making a great book, those play into your sales taking off.
Q. Does this strategy work for other sites such as Kobo and so on?
I've actually never really gone deep into Kobo's algorithm or how they rank things.
Like I said, whether you go to Barnes and Noble or iBooks or anything like that, people begin by typing something into the search bar and seeing what Apple or Barnes and Noble shows them.
They have something going on, I've just never spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure them out. Although, I have heard that authors that actually optimise for their Apple or for their Barnes and Noble page they do a lot better, I've heard it's a really good return on your effort. I'm just too lazy to do it.
Q. Which type of book will get a better return for an author? A long book like 60,000, 70,000 words or a short book 15,000 to 20,000 words?
I think it really depends on the genre.
I also think it depends on the level of competition. If your competition is all 90,000 and you try to pass a 10,000-word book in that group they're going to destroy you.
Again, that's really one of those where it truly depends on a lot of factors so I can't really answer that very well.
Q. What about pricing?
For a bunch of my books, I'm able to get away with a $9.99 pricing because of the little to no competition so it allows me to set that price.
Sometimes though authors will find that setting their book at $2.99 isn't as good as when they set it at $3.99 or $4.99 because just by increasing the price a little bit you put more value into your book and therefore it makes it more worthwhile.
You put it too cheap and people might just pass it over, but again that really depends on the competition around you, the genre, the subject matter, the importance of the information.
Q. What would you say to somebody who's struggling to balance doing this with writing their book, marketing their book versus writing their book?
The truth is I believe that marketing and writing should go hand in hand because I believe you learn so much about your target market if you are marketing as you write. You'll find out what their true pain points are, what they truly care about, you'll find out what ticks them off in science fiction books. You'll truly learn things about what drives your audience to love, to share, to promote.
It can also help you find new chapters and new things.
I believe the process of researching your market can easily be known as marketing as well. You build legitimacy, you build relationships, and when you go to publish you can actually use all of that right at that point. I don't think it's these two separate things, I think they're symbiotic or should be.
Q. How do you balance the actual act of writing with what you've just described there? Do you do it at different times in the day or during the week or do you wait until your book has reached a certain draft?
Actually what I like to do is I like to write in the morning, early morning, I'm an early guy. I reward myself with a really nice coffee but I do it in the morning because there's nobody to bother me. The kids aren't up, the wife isn't saying, “Hey can you help me with this?”, nobody's on Facebook because everybody's snug in their beds, there's no distractions.
I can get my writing done, but then after that, I understand that there's going to be a billion things happening during the day. If you have a day job you're going to have to go do that, you're probably going to be wasted by the time you come home, too tired to think clearly, so get it done immediately without distractions. It'll allow you to write a better book.
I know that all that marketing research that we just said is very scary, it's very number intensive, and as you've mentioned we created software that's actually able to do all of that.
It takes care of everything we just talked about in terms of you start with writing in your book idea and the software called KDP Rocket will go through and give you all of that vital information so that you can understand those three important things that we talked about.
What people are actually typing into Amazon, how many people are typing it in, and whether or not they're willing to pay for a book, and how hard is the competition?
That's pretty much all my questions. Where can people find you online?
You can find me at kindlepreneur.com, that's Kindle entrepreneur, Kindlepreneur. I don't know, it sounds terrible when you say it fast because it sounds like Kindle printer. Kindlepreneur.com and if you go to the contact page you can always click there and send me any questions or if you have any comments or concerns.
About Dave Chesson
After his family, his real passion is books, but more specifically the new world of Kindle e-books.
If Dave had to describe himself, he’d say something like this:
“I’m a husband and a father first and foremost. But when I am not playing dress up or chasing the Bogey Man out of the closet, I am an online entrepreneur specializing in Kindle e-book marketing.”
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