It’s one thing to decide to self-publish “wide” across retail and library platforms, versus being exclusive to a single retailer. It’s quite another to adopt a mindset that can help you grow a larger base of readers.
Pushing the right buttons to launch your book onto these platforms is only one step of the process. If you want to succeed in growing your sales and finding new readers globally, then you must not only embrace a more inclusive mindset, but you need to take definitive action to benefit from the many streams of income available to you.
Below are 10 tips to help you grow your global readership, including strategies that work for each platform and pitfalls to avoid.
Tip #1: Put in the time, love, and tenderness
One of the most fundamental things you can do to grow a global reader base is to recognize the value of nurturing something over time. Patience and persistence are among the most powerful traits when it comes to long-term author success. It usually takes multiple exposures of seeing an appealing book to turn a browser into a reader and a reader into a fan.
This takes time. Often much more time than the typical 90-day “tour of duty” in KDP Select, Amazon’s exclusivity program. It can take upwards of nine to 18 months for an author to gain traction on the average retail platform. So, an author who tries publishing wide beyond Amazon, hoping to see results within the first 90 days (the exclusivity period of KDP Select), will most often pull down their books before giving them a fighting chance.
But every time you unpublish a book from a platform, it not only resets that book to absolute zero — in terms of both ranking and the hidden algorithms retailers rely upon to present Also Bought items to new readers — but it disappoints customers. Think of a customer who downloaded your book on this platform but doesn’t start reading, or doesn’t finish that book until months or even years later. Imagine them loving your book and looking for the other books you mention in your end matter, only to find there’s nothing else for them on that retailer. That potential for a longer-term relationship with that reader was cut short.
Tip #2: Share broadly and inclusively
Be inclusive in your sharing and promotions — whether that’s in your end matter, on social media, in your author newsletter, or even on your author website.
Yes, Amazon is the world’s largest bookstore and is dominant in the US and UK. It’s easy to share a link to your book listed there and assume that’s where everyone shops. But Amazon is only available in about 50 of the 195 countries in the world. A customer in one of those 145 other countries can’t buy your book on Amazon. But they might be able to purchase it on Kobo, Apple Books, or Google Play.
An interested reader could be the owner of a Nook ereader who only reads ebooks purchased at Barnes & Noble. Maybe they only own a Kobo ereader. Or a Tolino ereader in Germany, or a Vivlio-branded ereader in France.
This is why leveraging a universal book link, inclusive of multiple retail and library platforms, is important. There are paid and free options available, including Books2Read (powered by Draft2Digital), Booklinker, 1Link, and StoryOrigin. These tools also often automatically incorporate geo-targeting. This means that if someone in the US clicks the link, they go to that store in the US. The same rules apply wherever. This gets the potential buyer more quickly to their preferred platform in their own country.
A single universal link for your book can also save you time when adding retailer links to your website. It removes the need to create several dozen buttons or brand icons linking to the many different global storefronts. And it can lead to a much cleaner look and design, thus less overwhelming for a potential reader.
Tip #3: Be inclusive and accessible in format and availability
In the same way that not all readers use the same platform, don’t forget that people also have their own preferred methods for reading. Some read only print. Others read only digital. Still others might prefer audio. In addition, some readers might do most of their discovering of new titles on a platform with a solid search engine like Amazon, but then go seek out those books at their local library. Perhaps they can’t afford to buy as many books as they’d like to consume.
That is why making your book available in multiple formats and via multiple platforms increases your chances of selling more books to more readers globally. And yes, it’s understood that every new format brings an extra cost. Currently, creating an audiobook is cost-prohibitive for many authors — hiring a narrator can cost several thousand dollars. However, those costs are likely to come down. With Google Play and Apple Books now offering free digital voice narration, which sounds more human than ever before, authors can experiment with this new opportunity — making books available to a broader swath of readers.
Remember, there may be customers who aren’t able to consume a book in a particular format. Availability in more formats is more inclusive and allows the broadest possible readership.
A reader contacted me recently about one of my books, asking if it would be available in audio due to their inability to consume it in other formats. I couldn’t produce the audiobook in a reasonable time frame so I asked if they would be okay with a digital voice-narrated version. They were fine with it, so roughly three hours later, thanks to Google Play’s AI tools, I had an acceptable format ready for them. The key here isn’t the convenience of the technology (though I still think it’s a pretty cool anecdote). It’s that most potential readers will never take the time to ask. So you’ll likely miss out on sales you never know about.
Tip #4: Learn, celebrate, and leverage the uniqueness of each platform
Just like no two readers are alike in where and how they prefer to consume your books, no two retail platforms operate the same way.
It makes sense to actually go to each of the major retail platforms with a shopper’s eye. Pay attention to the way each storefront is different, how their search and discoverability works. You’ll be amazed at how even the main five retail platforms differ in their approach. But the more you can understand how books (including yours) might look to potential readers, the better equipped you will be in developing promotions that appeal to readers on those platforms.
At a high level, Amazon and Google Play are the most algorithmic-based platforms. They rely on solid metadata and complex algorithmic calculations to present automated suggestions to their customers. But even so, each platform functions and presents products differently.
Apple Books, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble operate more like traditional booksellers, with a significant amount of human curation from internal merchandising teams. This isn’t to say that algorithms aren’t at play, but there are more human-made decisions on which books to place in the “front window” of various pages.
Some retailers also allow you to publish direct to those platforms, and may offer promotional opportunities to do so. Others might also work with a distribution partner to curate titles for special promotions. Following a platform’s blog or podcast to learn more about how they operate, or attending in-person presentations or meetings with the reps from retailers and distribution platforms, can go a long way.
Tip #5: Promote as widely as possible
When it comes to paid promotions or offering giveaways to your newsletter subscribers, be inclusive and open here too.
If you offer an ereader as a prize in a giveaway, instead of only offering a Kindle, for example, offer readers a choice of a Kindle, a Nook, or a Kobo ereader.
When you are applying for a newsletter promotion, such as a BookBub Featured Deal, be sure to include links to all the available platforms.
If you are doing CPC (cost per click) or CPM (cost per thousand impressions) advertising, look at the opportunities to either set up parallel ads for different retailers or drive readers to your website or a universal book link. BookBub Ads, for example, is a tool that not only enables linking to your book on the major retail platforms, but you can also include custom links to other retailers (in the countries BookBub supports) or to your own direct sales site.
Tip #6: Take advantage of built-in promotional tools and opportunities
Many retailers and book distribution platforms have price scheduling tools for setting up a promotion. So if you want to, for example, drop a book’s price to $0.99 for a week-long price promo, you don’t have to go and set it up the day the promotion starts. You can schedule the price to update at 12:01 a.m. local time, then switch back to the regular price at the end of the last day of the promotional period.
But some platforms also let you generate unique coupon codes for customers. Coupon codes are great because you can offer a discount on a book without having to change the price on all retail platforms.
For example, if your book is selected for a 30% off promotion on Kobo (you can apply for promotions through Kobo Writing Life or one of their distribution partners like Draft2Digital or PublishDrive), you can use coupon codes to offer the same deal to other readers who buy on other platforms. So, in your author newsletter, you can include a link to purchase the discounted book on Kobo, but you can also share a 30% off code for Barnes & Noble, or Google Play, or the Smashwords store. This way, your single email blast about a 30% off deal is accessible to even more readers across four different platforms.
Tip #7: Focus narrow to succeed wide
Ironically, success in wide publishing isn’t about mass broadcasting or reaching the widest possible audience. It’s about understanding your audience in as narrow a manner as possible.
Sometimes this means trying to find the tightest, most relevant niche subject categories for your book. Is it a romance novel, a historical romance novel, or a Victorian romance novel? It’s easier for the right readers to find your novel within a smaller, more specific category. On Amazon, getting into those niche categories usually means strategically choosing your keywords. You can use tools like Publisher Rocket for this. If you publish direct to Barnes & Noble via B&N Press, you’ll find categories so unique they’re not available anywhere else.
Just remember that the narrower your marketing, the more likely the right readers will be able to home in on your book.
Speaking of narrow focus, be sure to set custom prices in global currencies. All the major retail platforms and distributors allow you to control pricing in a dozen or more currencies. If you price a book at $4.99, the exchange to CAD might be $6.78. Round that to $6.99 to make the price look normalized to that country. It not only looks more natural but also results in a few more pennies in your pocket with each sale — which can add up over a year.
And while understanding all the prices around the globe might be unmanageable, at least focus on the following currencies and adjust where applicable: USD, AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, and NZD. Draft2Digital makes this easy with the Territorial Pricing option, which applies a combination of automated exchange rate plus normalized rounding to either $0.99 or $0.49 in those aforementioned territories.
Tip #8: Experiment with your IP and be OPEN to the possibilities
It’s important to remember that your book is a single IP that exists as a result of your unique creativity. But there are other ways to share stories; and other ways to earn revenue from all that you’ve put into your writing.
While we often focus on the major retailer platforms that currently exist, don’t forget that the world is changing and evolving. Twenty years ago, ebook reading wasn’t a common thing. Sony’s ereaders didn’t come onto the market until 2004, and the first Kindle wasn’t introduced until 2007. And in less than 20 years, tens of thousands of writers are now able to earn a full-time living selling ebooks. So there will always be new options, opportunities, and platforms. Consider the subscription-based platforms, serial reading apps, and GPS-enabled storytelling of today. You won’t be able to take every opportunity that comes along, but be open to exploring and learning.
I was open to experimenting with a GPS-driven platform called VoiceMap to create virtual walking tours inspired by a series of “true ghost story” books I licensed to a traditional publisher. The timing for it worked — during the first couple of years of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the only ways ghost walk tour advocates could safely take part in one of their favorite activities was on my virtual walks of downtown Hamilton, Ontario. Sales took off, and continue to this day.
Tip #9: Leverage preorders
Readers don’t care how a book is published. They just want a book they are going to enjoy. And they are likely used to the typically long preorder periods of traditionally published books. Extending your preorder period might enable more people to discover your books over a longer period. But another advantage is that some platforms offer rewards for strong preorder sales.
Apple Books, for example, gives the book a ranking boost on the day a customer clicks the preorder button, plus a second boost on the book’s release day. That’s a lovely two-birds-with-one-stone impact. Kobo offers any book up for preorder two times the ranking bonus that a regular sale would receive. This means its climb up the ranks is given — to use a phrase from Dungeons & Dragons — a magical 2X power bonus. In either case, this gets more eyes on your forthcoming book.
Tip #10: Encourage reviews and follows everywhere
Regardless of how you publish, it’s important to own your author branding. Don’t leave that important part of your marketing up to your publisher or the retail platforms you publish to. A branded email address is a fantastic tool for communicating directly with readers. But don’t forget the many places you can have an author profile for readers to follow and keep track of your new releases. Leverage as many of these tools as you can:
- Amazon Author Central
- BookBub Author Profile
- Books2Read Author Page
- Goodreads Author
- Smashwords Store Author Profile
These sites (and more) allow you to include links to your website, social media accounts, and even RSS feeds. You can create detailed “about the author” listings of your own books, recommend other books you love, and more, creating a rich and robust experience for readers. And very importantly, there’s a “follow” option on most of these platforms to alert readers to new books and promotions you are participating in. Think of these platforms as digital members of your virtual street team.
If the seeds of going wide have been planted and you want to watch your sales flourish across global platforms, don’t forget the importance of nourishing them. You don’t just plant the seeds and walk away. You need to tend to them. Provide water, shine a light on them. And while you’re at it, remember to cull the weeds that get in your way — the options that don’t work for you. This can help you find your way to a bountiful and thriving global garden of long-term sales.
Want to share this post? Here are ready-made tweets:
Click to tweet: Authors: considering going wide? Read @MarkLeslie’s tips on how to grow a thriving global garden of long-term sales 🌱 http://bit.ly/3ShNj3w #pubtip
Click to tweet: “Success in wide publishing isn’t about reaching the widest possible audience. It’s about understanding your audience in as narrow a manner as possible.” — @MarkLeslie
Mark’s tips on how to grow a global readership: http://bit.ly/3ShNj3w #bookmarketing