Author SEO: Easy First Steps for Improving Your Book’s Chances for Discovery

This is another installment of my I Want to Self-Publish: Now What? Series.

According to the United National Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2.2 million titles are published each year—and that figure is based on data pulled from 2013, so it’s likely even higher by now.  This means if you do decide to self-publish, it isn’t enough to write a great book, you will need to put in some effort to ensure it is discoverable and enticing.

Ultimately, this means creating a marketing plan (and then executing said plan) and establishing an author platform, but that’s a whole other series. However, there are also a few things you can do during the setup process as good first steps.

Don’t Neglect Your Book Description

Your book’s description is also often referred to as a blurb. This is the text that goes on the back cover of a print book and next to an image of your book’s front cover on the retail site. The retail sites let you use things like bold or italic text to catch the eye, but be careful to use this formatting sparingly. If you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing. In addition, as a best practice, keep it between 100 and 250 words.

Fiction Descriptions

In fiction your blur should contain a short introduction of your main character and status quo, inciting action that launches the plot, the stakes—or reasons readers should care about your character and his or her journey, as well as a hook that incentivizes the reader to buy your book. If you are writing genre fiction, you want to be sure to sprinkle in words or phrases that make the genre clear to the casual browser.

Non-Fiction Descriptions

In non-fiction, you should use the description to establish what your text is about, how a reader will benefit from reading it, and why you are a credible expert on the topic. In this case, it is also a good idea to use words or phrasing that gives the reader an indication of the overall tone of the work. For example, if you write your non-fiction with a humorous slant, it is a good idea to include a joke or pun. If your non-fiction is data-driven, consider including a statistic that supports why your text exists.

Research Potential Categories

Next, research your book’s potential categories. Think of these as the sections of a bookstore. Does your book belong in the science fiction section or the self-care? If you aren’t sure what category your book belongs in, go to the retail site and see what the top sellers are in each of the categories your book could belong in. Ask yourself things like:

  • Does my book’s cover look similar to the top sellers?
  • Does my description match the tone / style of these top sellers?

If the answer to these questions is no, consider another category or consider re-writing your book’s description so it is more in line with what readers in that category expect to see. Ideally, you want your cover to look similar to other books in the category as well, but as that can be costly step—I consider it more of a last resort.

Most retail sites limit you to one or two categories, which you establish during the book’s setup. However, your book may be listed in additional sub-categories if you use certain keywords or if you contact the retailer directly. Kindlepreneur.com provides a great summary of what these specialized keywords are.

Use Long-Tail Keywords

You will be asked to add your book’s keywords during the setup process. The word, keyword, is misleading because it makes it sound as if you can only pick a single word. In truth, you can use a whole phrase as a keyword. This is known as a long-tail keyword. Keywords are also the terms and phrases people type into a site’s search bar.

A way to come up with keywords is to pretend you are a book shopper who doesn’t know your book exists. Ask yourself, what questions do your book answer? Should your book be the number one result on the page when a person types in the phrase ‘writing craft books’ or ‘stories of personal resilience?’ The phrases I have bolded are examples of long-tailed keywords.

Some keywords have more competition than others. This means that there are more authors attempting to get their book discovered using the same word or phrase. Longer keywords tend to have less competition than short words or phrases, which is another reason to use them. However, you don’t want your keyword to be so specific to your book that only one or two people are searching for it.

You can test keywords by entering them into a retail site’s search bar and paying attention to how many results the search returns. That said, I highly recommend a tool called PublisherRocket, which can help you analyze how competitive a keyword is while also providing you an estimate as to how many people are searching on a word or phrase.

Purchase an ISBN

If you are only publishing an ebook, then this last step isn’t as important. However, if you want brick and mortar stores (or libraries) to discover and order your book, you want your name (or publishing company) to be listed as the publisher of record—not KDP, which they view as a competitor. To do this, you will need to purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).

Why ISBNs Matter

ISBNs are the ID number that booksellers use to track sales of your book. The other reason purchasing an ISBN is a good idea is it allows you to set up your book with multiple printers and still be able to centralize reporting of your sales. If you do not own your own ISBNs then you will have to regularly review multiple sales reports and track your performance on a spreadsheet.

While you can use a single ISBN with multiple printers, be aware you have to have a separate ISBN for every print book format. That means that if you want to have a paperback and a hardback version of your book, you will have to purchase and use 2 ISBN numbers.

Where to Purchase ISBNs

You can purchase an ISBN from Amazon or IngramSpark, but this will cost you more than if you’d bought them directly from the source. In the US, the source for ISBNs is Bowker (www.myidentifiers.com). Canadians get these numbers for free. Lucky them.

You can buy a single ISBN or bulk ID numbers.  I take years to publish books because I keep getting distracted by other shiny objects, and yet I have yet to regret buying 10 ISBNs at the same time.

If you are starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the setup process, don’t be. As a self-publisher you can change your book’s description, cover, categories, and keywords at any time. You can even add or revise the subtitle. So, don’t lose sleep if you don’t get it right, right away.


However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

2 thoughts on “Author SEO: Easy First Steps for Improving Your Book’s Chances for Discovery

    1. SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s a term often used to describe ways to improve your position in search results on Google or Bing. However Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble all also use algorithms to determine which books to feature on the first page of results when someone types in a term in the search bar. Publishers who optimize their book’s description and category selection are more likely to be featured higher in results, which makes it more likely their books will sell.

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