Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Self Publishing: Employing Emissaries and Spies for More Profit

Spying is probably the oldest profession (well, excepting maybe one other). The most widely reprinted book on warfare (Sun Tzu's Art of War) has a whole chapter on spies and spying.

Spying is really just gathering intelligence. That's why embassies are constantly found out and "embarrassed" when it's "discovered" they've been doing this - over and over and over. For governments, it's just part of doing business.

For corporations, it's big business, and a big part of their budget. For marketers, it's called "market research" and "demographics".

If you are a self-published author (and don't have a huge marketing budget) you can still have spies working for you.

Like embassies, you can have emissaries - in every book you publish. The problem for so long has been that books were considered the end product. Once you sold them, you were done. Or so conventional wisdom said.

Your books are actually emissaries because they spread the word about you. They can also gather intelligence for you.

Any brick-and-mortar shop owner knows that their local repeat traffic comes from word-of-mouth - and this is gotten by providing incredible service to everyone who comes into their store, regardless of whether they buy anything or not. Local shop owners learn all sorts of things from their customers.

That fact is lost on the traditional publishers. They have been so long in the business of having books as a final product that they miss the fact which our modern "native commerce" model exposed.

Your book is no longer a finite printed work. It's in many formats, delivered through multiple platforms. It can be updated at any time (although print versions are harder).

You book is no longer an end point of your production - factually, it's just the beginning.

Books now are your emissaries. They tell everyone about what you think, how you act, what you think of them, how you can help them - even how much you respect them (or don't.)

Intelligence your distributors don't want you to know

Books-as-emissaries are also spies. The best ones have embedded links which bring potential buyers back to your site. And those embedded links can tell you more about that customer than they want to tell you. Well, mostly, anyway.

Right now, there are no really good tools to find out what your readers want - except what they actually buy. And that is limited, unless they are buying directly from you.

When you publish your books via distributors, they pay you royalties - but they don't tell you all the intelligence they are gathering from getting people to buy through them. All of them have various algorithms which give you "also bought" and "related books" to get you to spend more money with them. As you spend, they keep records of everything you bought - just business.

Your books are probably on at least a half-dozen distributors now, and each of these have different audiences. Google seems to sell more nerdy books, not surprisingly. Amazon sales are filtered through their algorithms, so they are basically bargain hunters and fans. iTunes has artistic types, but also business people and early adopters. Nook could be described as hard-core anti-Amazon. Kobo is international in scope, so purchases here range across a wide field of cultural differences.

From the little data the distributors reveal, the author up to this point could only say - hey, I got more/less book sales this month! Because that's all the data you're given (other than maybe what continent they came from, which is hardly better data. "10 from the U.S., 2 from Italy, and 1 from France - cheers.")

If your business was a local book shop, one of your spies would whisper when that person came into your shop: ((Psst - this guy is basically a nerd. He came from Google.)) or: ((Psst - this is a gal looking for a deal, she came from Amazon.))

And you, being a good spy-master, can arrange your shop to offer that new potential customer just what they are looking for. You take them over to that particular case of books that has what they probably want... And get the sale, and get a loyal client from there on out - since they think you can read their mind.

How Do You Get Such Great Intelligence?

It's that link you have front and back in your ebook, your PDF, your print book, your audiobook, your videos, your podcasts. (You do have links back to your site, don't you? Good, I thought so - we have such brilliant people who listen to this podcast and read this blog...)

The secret is to have a specific link for that buyer everywhere you distribute your book.

The link they use to find your site also says where they came from. No, this isn't magic or even black hat. This has been known since people started selling stuff online. (The earliest I was able to find was about 1995.)

These links are called "Redirects".

Affiliate marketers have been using this as least that long, while mail-order marketers such as Claude Hopkins used "coupons" in his Scientific Advertising since the 1920's.

That link in your ebook can tell you where their copy came from, whether it was an ebook, a print book, an audiobook, or video. That link will answer: did they come from Amazon, Googke Play/Books, iTunes, Nook, Kobo?

The cheap way to do this is to create these links on your server - so when a person clicked on http://[yourdomain.com]/[your-redirect] they would show up on a page they were probably interested in. And that is why affiliate marketers used them - to take them to a specific page just for that type of people who were looking for a specific product.

As an author, you do this to find out what type of buyer is coming to your site from what version of book.

And - being the brilliant person you are - you then give them a page which is closer to what they are looking for.

In Rainmaker, this is made simple. You create the redirect, and the landing page, and then link one to the other.

But you say - hey, I've got over a dozen books. There are nearly that many distributors. And just where am I supposed to get the time to spend in creating all these links and pages?!?

Relax. The Rainmaker folks have you taken care of. They keep track of the clicks while you can make simple variations of links, and landing pages can be simply copied and tweaked as a new version. Of course you could be satisfied with just knowing which distributors are best at sending you what type of traffic - even if you send them all to the same page. Later on, you can invest in specific pages for viewers coming in from specific areas.

With Intelligence, You Can Offer Specific Viewers What They Already Want

What if you followed a link in a book you got from Amazon, only to find a page which said, "Thanks for getting [Book Title] from Amazon. Here's some related books and material readers of [genre/niche] have found valuable." And then you show them other books you have on in that area - not just the ones you have on Google. The buy links go to your site, though - and the viewer is able to get not only .mobi or .azw versions, but also PDF's and links to the audio and video versions.

Meanwhile, you are pocketing 100% royalties from every sale. Or you can also send them to a Print-On-Demand outlet like Lulu, or an indie bookstore where they have your hardcopy book in stock. More book sales, more royalty income, happier customers.

Yes, you can also offer them a free membership which gives them an automatic 25% non-expiring discount coupon on everything they buy from you. And an additional 50% discount if they tweet or like that copy their interested in to their friends.

Now you have a devoted client - who's wondering how you read their mind.

All you did - was put a specific re-direct link in your book that was only in your Amazon versions.

A buyer who types in your print book link would be met with a page that gives them print versions, but also helps them buy ebook versions for their smartphone or tablet. Or that audiobook version so they can listen to the book on commutes when reading a print book would be difficult.

Improving Sales, Improving Royalties

Do you see how this could improve your sales markedly? (Thought I saw a few light bulbs go on over there...)

Since you're selling on your own site, you're improving your royalties - and now

I've talked about this before. And I've put bit.ly links in my books to take care of this function. The problem with bit.ly links is that they are only one web address per link. You can't have several links going to a single page.

Being able to set up your own re-directs is how you get intelligence. Send all your buyers to a single page to see if its worth creating a specific landing page for them. When you do start getting a flood of viewers coming in from a certain distributor's book, then create a variation of that page - maybe with a special discount for buyers of that book from (certain distributor goes here).

On Amazon, you can use redirects on their individual author pages you're supposed to set up on every continent. You can also do this with every bio page you set up anywhere. They can redirect to a specific page for that nationality or region.

You don't have to change the ebook and revise all the time after you've done this once. Redirects can be changed to point anywhere you want, any time you want to improve your sales from a decent flow of viewers. You can even run A/B tests through Rainmaker, so you tweak the page to convert best.

Quite simple. Quite powerful. 

And while this was another "secret hidden in plain sight", it's a good one. If you've subscribed to Rainmaker, you already have these tools available.

Otherwise, just access your own domain server and cobble your own scene together. With your server-redirects, you can even do this on a Blogger blog. Just takes more time.

I say that, as I say always - that you start from scratch or less, and make your site pay for itself as it goes. Costs you more time, but not money you don't have. If you're already getting great income from your book sales and want to take it to the next level, I'd suggest Rainmaker.

But then, I'm right in the middle of my transition over to this - so you can expect me to be a bit enthusiastic.

However, as far as I know - no one is telling authors to do this.

So I've just given you secrets even the top corporate spies won't disclose.

- - - -

Show notes:

...picking up where we left off in the podcast.

How to Implement Redirects

1. Take your bestsellers, probably in order of actual sales - not what you wish were happening.

2. Pick your landing page, even if they all go to the same one for now. What we are looking for is which books from which distributors actually show up.

3. Create redirects for the 5 main distributors:

  • Amazon (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/amzn)
  • iTunes (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/itun)
  • Google Play/Books (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/goog)
  • Nook (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/nook)
  • Kobo (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/kobo)
  • (and Sellfy, Ganxy, Leanpub, Overdrive, e-Sentral, BitTorrent, Rainmaker itself, and anywhere else you are actively uploading your book for distribution or sales.)

How to set a redirect as an internal link within your book, to enable emissaries to spy for you.
Note: these redirect links all go to the same landing page, and only give counts of traffic by distributors.

4. Split out Lulu (or your hardcopy POD distributor) by book type - again, only if you've gone there:

  • tradepaperback - (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/lulu-tpb)
  • pocket paperback - (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/lulu-ppb)
  • casewrap hardback - (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/lulu-cwhb)
  • dustjacket hardback - (such as: http://livesensical.com/books/lulu-djpb)

5. Now, replace the links in your ebook (and other versions) with these new links.

A blurb like:

Visit Midwest Journal Press for more materials and related books.

Sign up today for a free membership and instant access to an expanding library of books and materials ready for immediate download – all to help you improve your quality of living.

now uses that link both front and back of every book (just mouse-over to see the link).

6. Rinse, repeat from 1-5 for all distributors where this book is getting sold.
7. Rinse, repeat from 1-6 all books which are actually selling, by order of personal sales rank.

Simplest is to do this as you update the marketing for any book.

a. Grab the .odt (or .doc) file and update for Lulu with appropriate link.
b. Have Lulu create the epub.
c. Edit the hard links as appropriate (Calibre has an internal epub editor) and save as [title]-[distributor]-version.epub
 - ie. "SunTzuArtOfWar-amzn.epub"
d. Upload that epub where it's needed.
e. Generate the PDF from the original .odt/.doc file (embed fonts) for each version and rename similarly, according to anywhere you are selling the book. Lulu hardcopy versions would also get individual versions. (It is possible to edit PDF links, just not as easily.)
 - ie. "SunTzuArtOfWar-lulu-tpb.pdf"

You can and should definitely do this for every PDF preview you create, regardless of sales - as this is part of book promotion. TIP: you can also include a coupon in that PDF for a discounted purchase.

Note: if Lulu is distributing your ebook, you're stuck with one redirected link for the single epub they post everywhere. That's a trade-off - like the royalties you lose in that process. As you can, get accounts with these other distributors and start uploading your ebooks directly, turning them "off" in Lulu's distribution.

Work from the ones which are your bestsellers, so your increase in royalties would pay for the time you have to invest to make the switch. If you're losing 50 cents per book, but only sell 3 in 6 months, well... You probably have other issues with that book and would be better putting it on your "ready to be re-marketed list" (meaning start from scratch with market research.)

You'll also probably have some books which never sell on certain distributors - so you tailor your links appropriately. Saves you time, which is worth more than money.


  1. A point to be clear on - when you make a redirect link once, you never have to update that ebook again (for the link, anyway.) You can change the page it directs to anyway you want, any time you want.
  2. Theoretically, Google Analytics could help with this - but it's way beyond my pay grade. Adding editable redirect links to the ebook as you submit it to the distributor would be a simple, elegant solution.
  3. I've done a fairly thorough check to see if Amazon has any particular policies on links within ebooks. The safest route is that the ebook links to your own site. Some have links that go elsewhere and haven't been penalized (with the exception of one spammer who had hundreds of links in a "book")
  4. And boy, does this give me a lot of work to do - but again, it will pay for itself by working in order of current bestsellers down. All this is a way to build audience, which is the exact point.

Bonus Lightbulb Concept: 

I mentioned Rainmaker's ability to create digital coupons above. You can also set links up so that they show in the Kindle Preview - such that a person could send people to their site without that person even needing to buy that book. I've checked a preview of one of my earlier books and this is indeed the case. Look up any of my books with a link in the front, click on it - and you'll wind up on one of my sites. You don't even have to buy the book.

This means you could use the Look Inside feature to get people directly to your site. A redirect link would tell you which preview they had clicked on to get there.

Imagine a boxed text which said something like: "Up to 50% discounts on this and related books in all formats - Click Here Now." Or maybe something like: "Limited bonus for book readers - Click Here Now." As long as any price on that link wasn't lower than Amazon (with the discount) then you'd be fine. Of course, if that book-discount was only available behind a free membership paywall, then Amazon's bots wouldn't be able to find it...

Digital coupons come into play, much as in Scientific Advertising, to tell you more about the client, and as well, what text gets them to buy. While A/B tests aren't really possible with ebooks, they are with landing pages. Those landing pages could also enable people to tell their friends about that offer, to make it go viral - giving them a different redirect link, which itself was shortened with bit.ly or similar.

Isn't bit.ly an overkill? Considering the analytics they have, it's a nice backup. You can customize it as well, for any mouseover. None of the bit.ly links I've used have ever caused a flag - as they simply go to one of my sites, in any case. Bit.ly has better analytics than the next closest contender in this, Goo.gl. But if you don't want that extra complexity, your redirect link itself can be plenty short.

    • original redirect link: http://livesensical.com/go/aow-lulu-djhb/ ‎
    • rainmaker's shortlink: http://livesensical.com/?p=7325
    • bit.ly's custom link: http://j.mp/AOW-lulu-djhb
If word got out that people could get a free membership with multiple downloads - just by clicking on Amazon preview links - perhaps that would drive business to your site. Of course, such people might only be lookie-loo's - but a little work would then show you whether this was working, since signups from a special landing page would tell you if you were only getting freebie-seekers who opted out after downloading everything they could. (The joke is on them, though - since all your PDF's also have links in them which are redirects. If they post them elsewhere, they'll still be able to bring you buyers even years later.)

This prompts another post (on my list of to-do's) which tells of a new strategy for beating Amazon by employing their own tactics against them - commodity pricing and instant delivery. So do stay tuned - make sure you're subscribed by email or RSS feed. 

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