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The Top 10 Ways to Market & Sell Your Books Online

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Even before people felt comfortable actually buying on the Internet, they’d read about titles there, become intrigued, then go to their corner bookstores for copies. Today, as the Net continues to be a powerful place for generating book sales, statistics usually have two measurements. One tells how many people shop online, and the other tells how many people actually complete an online purchase. Fortunately for publishers and authors, books are among the best online performers.

Still, marketing online is largely misunderstood and underused, although some companies are catching on. Based on a full year of testing, for instance, PeopleSoft, the human resources corporation, is shifting 25-50% of their supply chain management software marketing budget from trade shows and direct mail to online marketing… because it works.

So what are the best ways to market online? Here’s one take:

#10. Promote via listings at online bookstores.

If your books are sold through Web sites such as Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com, you can leverage the high traffic on these sites by encouraging everyone you know to review your books as favorably as possible. But don’t stop there. Dan Poynter, author of the classic Self-Publishing Manual, recommends reviewing other books in your niche as an excellent way to promote your own books. In your attribution, mention you are the author of [the title of your book] and include your e-mail address.

#9. Get your books onto other sites your audience visits.

Let’s say your books are about getting a good night 146;s sleep. Brainstorm for sites where your potential readers might go. Sure, book sites, but also how about Web sites that sell mattresses? Sites that sell relaxation tapes? Snoring aids? That discuss pain management? You see where this is headed. Use search engines to discover the possibilities.

Next, determine your offer. For sales, do you want the Web site owners to link to your site or a bookselling site? Or do you want them to sell from their own site? And if handling the shipping yourself (“drop shipping”) for a percentage is an option, does that appeal to you?

Note that an affiliate program makes it especially easy for other sites to sell your products. You can use affiliate programs such as Commission Junction at www.cj.com or ask your site host if it provides such a program. Or you can provide a page of titles for other sites, perhaps “mirroring” your own site’s book page, with links from their site to your order form. Finally, you can provide the covers, text, and HTML code to other sites so they can include your products on their pages.


#8. Develop your own Web site.

A Web site offers many ways to market and sell books online. Entire books have been written about the subject, but there are some key things to remember:

People don’t care about your books; they care about the information. Make your site about the information, giving visitors some content, and thereby enticing them to get more by buying your books.

• Ask for the sale–use “calls for action” to lead people to purchase.

• Stay focused on your goals and your audience, and bring them together to achieve success.

Find excellent insights about online marketing by visiting Dr. Ralph Wilson’s site www.webmarketingtoday.com. For usability information, see Jakob Nielsen’s http://www.useit.com.

#7. Use search engines effectively.

Online, people who want books usually go to a book retailer. Most people are really looking for information (see above), which they track down through search engines. To increase your ranking in the search engines, consider these key points:

Search engines search text, not images. Make sure there is text on your homepage, especially above any images. If you’re not knowledgeable about these concepts, work with your site designer (who should be).

• Focus on the top search engines, which are the ones that most people use. At this writing, they are Yahoo, Inktomi, Google, Open Directory Project, LookSmart, Northern Light, AltaVista, and Fast.

• Research your competition by finding out which sites the search engines list first when you put in your search terms (for our sleep book example, that could be “sleep aid”). Go to these sites and look at the page title, URL, page text, linked terms, sites linked to them, and metatags so you can benefit from their experience. At the very least, get a link from those successful Web sites’ link pages to your site!


For more information about search engines, visit Danny Sullivan’s site www.searchenginewatch.com.

#6. Use paid search engine listings.

Just as publishers pay to have endcap displays in bookstores, Web site owners can actually pay to improve search engine position. Several services now let you “pay to play,” but the great-granddaddy is GoTo at www.goto.com. GoTo lets you bid on certain search terms on various search engines (at the time this article was written, they were America Online, Lycos, AltaVista, HotBot, Netscape, and Cnet, and you should bid on the same search terms that people use in the search engines to find you).


#5. Use content linking.

Reciprocal linking” (“We’ll give you a link if you give us one.”) is a long-time, worthwhile technique. Publishers and authors have a distinct advantage because they can also use “content linking,” which actually puts information on a site (for instance, an excerpt or article). Offering articles and excerpts to related sites (which generally need content) is a great way to promote online. An identifying paragraph at the end of every piece, complete with links to sites and sales venues, makes the online approach that much more valuable.

#4. Appear in online chats.

Like book signings, these appearances help you most through the promotion of the chat rather than through the actual appearance itself, according to online marketing expert Gwendolynn Gawlick. That’s why she recommends booking events on major sites instead of having them on your own site. Tying your chat to current news events increases the chances that they’ll book you.

It’s essential to give the host site some material that will help them promote your appearance (blurbs, book covers, head shots, etc.) and to supplement their efforts with your own marketing tools and channels–such as ezines, electronic and print news releases, organization newsletters, etc.–to let people know about it.

#3. Promote in ezines.

While banner advertising has lost much of its allure, advertising in “ezines” (electronic magazines) reaches an interested audience. Find ezines related to your subject matter at sites such as EzineCentral.com and EzineHub.com. Better yet, contribute information-rich articles to targeted ezines and reap the additional benefits of greater credibility… for free!

For more information about ezines, also check out ezine-tips.com/.

#2. Establish your own ezine.

Having your own ezine gives you complete control of what information goes out and when. Use mail-list software to make it easy for people to subscribe right from your site, to manage subscriptions, and to send out your message to all subscribers with a single e-mail. You can send your ezine as frequently and irregularly as you wish (“Sign up for our occasional newsletter”). Focus on information, supplemented by sales and marketing material.

For more insights about ezines, read “Amazing Ezines” at www.bookzonepro.com/insights/articles/article-74.html.

And the #1 way to market your books online: Use mail lists and newsgroups!

It’s more labor-intensive than some techniques, but a 1999 BookZone survey indicates that participating on mail lists and newsgroups is the most effective way to market online. Find your audiences at www.liszt.com and http://groups.yahoo.com. Sign up, then spend a little time monitoring the groups. Finally, start answering questions and participating–NOT baldly promoting–on the lists that you feel will help you reach potential customers. This is an excellent activity for authors.


Bonus tip: Have a plan.

A plan is a roadmap to your success. You can always tweak the route, but plotting it invariably makes the trip faster and smoother. Download BookZone’s free Internet Marketing Toolbox at www.bookzonepro.com/mkttoolbox.html for help.


Mary Westheimer is CEO of BookZone–the Net’s largest publishing community

(wwwbookzone.com), and a former freelancer who has written for “Publishers Weekly,” “USA Today,” and “Columbia Journalism Review,” among other publications. BookZone has helped 3,500 publishing professionals with Web site hosting, development, and promotion services. For more information, call 800/536-6162 (480/481-9737). Contact Westheimer at mwestheimer@bookzone.com.

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