Should being an Amazon bestseller be the goal for new authors? It may be more important to focus on Amazon’s algorithms and how you can make it work for you rather than vying for a title. Today’s guest is Polly Letofsky, a motivational speaker, award-winning author, and owner of My World Publishing, where she guides authors in publishing their books seamlessly. She joins Robin Colucci to break down how the Amazon algorithm works and why authors should focus more on getting their book in front of the right demographic rather than getting a title with vague criteria. She offers tips on optimizing your keywords for the Amazon search engine starting from the backend and how you can stand out from the crowd with your titles. Get more practical advice on how to get your book in front of the right people by tuning in!
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Forget The “Amazon Bestseller”: Polly Letofsky Explains How You Can Power Up Your Book Sales By Helping Amazon’s Algorithms Bring Ideal Readers To You
We are going to tackle the question of Amazon and becoming an Amazon Bestseller. I have invited a perfect guest to discuss this. Her name is Polly Letofsky. Polly and I have known each other and have been friends and colleagues for years. I love working with Polly. I have sent Polly to all of my self-publishing clients when they are ready to produce and launch their books. I send them straight to Polly because she’s a woman of impeccable integrity in a world where there are many predatory-type businesses and service providers in the self-publishing world. Polly has been consistently delivering quality work with integrity.
This is rooted in Polly’s past because after she, herself, had frustrating experiences with dodgy publishers, Polly launched herself into learning every aspect of the publishing industry so that no one would ever own her rights and decisions again. She went on to set up her own publishing model, where she guides authors through the publishing of their own books seamlessly, swiftly and professionally.
In her model, this is when you shop around and you will see how unique this is but her authors uphold all the creative control, maintain all the distribution rights, and they get to keep all the profits from their book sales. She’s so author-centered. What we are going to talk about with her is these different tactics that people use to create an Amazon Bestseller.
She’s going to compare and contrast for us the different strategies, what the real benefits might be, and where you might be missing out on certain benefits if you take a route that might seem easy on the outside but when you get into it, you realize you are missing out on a lot of the benefits. I don’t want to steal any thunder here. We are going to launch right into the interview and be ready because this is going to rock your world.
Polly, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Robin.
I am excited to have you here on so many levels and for many reasons. First but not least is our friendship, which has been years. Also, what we are going to talk about, and you have so much deep expertise in this area, and especially with self-publishers but there’s so much confusion around bestseller campaigns and Amazon Bestseller campaigns. There are a lot of confusion that we are going to do our best to clear up.
I have already told them a little bit about you and who you are. Let’s start talking about this idea of the Amazon Bestseller and go back in time in terms of people helping authors achieve bestseller status when this concept first began and some of the ideas around how that was approached and the methodology around that.
The definition of Amazon Bestseller according to Amazon is three different things. Number one, there are 7.5 million books on Amazon overall and you are the bestselling one. That’s not what I talk about, and then that’s not what anyone is selling either. If someone is selling you that, please run the other way. It’s not a good marketing campaign and not worth the money anyway. There’s the second one, which is to be number one in your category. These days, Amazon allows us up to ten categories. You can be number 1 in 16 categories. Weren’t you number 1 in 14 or 16 categories or one of your clients was that I worked with?
One of my clients was. I was only nine.
They allow you various categories that you can market yourself on Amazon, and then hit number one in that. There’s the official definition of a bestseller. It’s the top ten in a category. That’s not what we are after either, so we are after that second one that I talked about, number one in your category. We don’t even call it a bestseller campaign. The objective of doing a “bestseller campaign” is a marketing campaign. In my world, we call it a Power Boost Campaign because you are giving Amazon a power boost into getting in front of your targeted demographic. That’s why we don’t call it a bestseller campaign. Are you number 1 in 16 categories? Yes, but that’s a byproduct of getting in front of your target audience.
Before we get into the details on that because that’s the good news, I want to talk about some of the ways that this has traditionally been done, which is necessarily helpful to the author, which I have been done. Authors have been charged $10,000 to $15,000 or more to execute these kinds of campaigns, where you are not necessarily marketing your book and you are not even seen better by Amazon.
If you don’t mind, I’m going to start with doing it the old-fashioned way. It’s to get as many people in your world to buy your book on the same day, you rise up through the ranking and hit number one. From that point on, you can always market yourself as someone who hit number one in Amazon. Why is that a bad thing? That’s a bad thing because we love your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues but they are not necessarily your target demographic. What they are doing we have discovered since then, is the way that the algorithms work on Amazon. It’s that you are training Amazon to get in front of those people.
Let’s say my friend, Robin, is doing historical fiction, fantasy, thriller or whatever. All Polly has ever bought is chick lit. Let’s say Polly buys chick lit all the time and Amazon knows how to market to me. I’m being facetious for the record but let’s say, I buy chick lit and they know how to market. They will drop a new chick-lit book into my email inbox and Facebook thread. That’s where they are going to drop it. All of a sudden, my friend Robin is doing his drug fictional, fantasy, thriller. I want to support my friend Robin so I’m going to buy her book. How the algorithms are reading that is, “I see people that love chick lit then also would love this fiction, fantasy thriller.”
To make it even more dramatic, let’s say it was my book about High Profit Book Blueprint, and then people who love chick-lit, all of a sudden, want to know how to write a high-profit book. Amazon knows you as almost exclusively buying chick-lit.
You are just getting in front of the wrong people but more of that, you are screwing with Amazon’s algorithms. Amazon is then putting your book in front of the wrong people. We have to get away from that. God bless us, we still want to support our friends but the right way to do an Amazon campaign is to not bother your friends and family at all. In fact, to get in front of the right people, so that’s a matter of the difference.
I remember when you did my campaign, you very specifically said, “Do not email your list, friends and family. Let us do our thing so we can get the algorithm working properly.”
Frankly, your friends and family should be buying your book at full price.
That’s a whole other thing. Can we talk a little bit about categories because this is something that has been a beef for me? I don’t even know if this is still true but I remember, in the early days, when people realized that you could literally be a number one Amazon Bestseller for a minute and then call yourself an Amazon Bestseller forever because Amazon ranks in real-time. Essentially, you are very close to real-time.You get seven keywords and you want to make sure every single one of them is working for you. Click To Tweet
What a lot of people started to do was create a category or find a tiny specialized category, so they either had a category of one or a category that maybe had 2 or 3 other books in it that someone else had created, and then had their ten other friends and family buy their book in the same hour. All of a sudden, they are a number one bestseller. Has Amazon changed its policies around creating categories or anything like that? I apologize if I’m throwing this question at you and you haven’t had a chance to prepare.
I hadn’t seen that around years ago and in a long time, so who knows? It’s diving deep if it still exists.
That was something that got under my craw.
I can see that but the way that they have their categories, there are so many. You can dive deep and narrow that niche, even if it’s slightly related. Let’s take my book. I’m not pimping myself. I’m just telling you.
Your book has been out for many years now.
My book is about a walk around the world. I walked through certain countries, obviously. Some of my categories would be travel/South Pacific. My book is not about traveling in the South Pacific but it’s slightly related and I regularly hit number one all these years later. This is the strategy. What I do is if I have ten, some of those categories I want to hit into the bull’s eye. This is exactly what it is. How many categories are there about a walk around the world? There just isn’t. They all have to be slightly related. Some of them are a good marketing piece because of the way the algorithms work. Again, if you hit that top ten and certainly if you hit number one in a category, they start working more on your behalf. I don’t mind having one that is not a perfect bull’s eye.
That’s something because you are legitimately looking for something where it might fit and you can have up to ten categories. One thing I appreciate about the campaigns that you do is you are not putting these books into tiny obscure categories. As I recall, some of the categories that my book was in, we are on the bigger side like marketing, business or things like that.
That’s part of that strategy. Some of them may have been smaller and slightly related and some of them have to be a bull’s eye even if they are bigger. That’s what we did with you but I didn’t put you in how to carpet your basement. There’s one person in that category. It’s got to be related to some degree. It’s how to use those categories certainly.
That was one method. That is to tell your friends and family to all buy it at the same time. The other method that people have done, at least in this case you are selling books, is the joint venture method, which seemed to burn out because there were too many people wanting help promoting their books and not willing to burn their lists out with so many offer.
That’s another one I haven’t heard about in a long time.
This is the definitive show on Amazon Bestseller. That’s what we are going to do for this episode. What are your observations around that strategy? Do you have any thoughts on why it’s fizzled out?
One reason is that you can’t mess with the beast. They are on to you. I have to teach my clients because they all come up with the same thing, “Can’t I buy 1,000 books, and then cancel the order in two hours because the ranking goes hourly?” You can’t beat the system and the beast. That’s one. First of all, they know your IP address. They are very Big Brother-ish, granted but they are onto you. If you have the same group of people, twenty people buying each other’s books from week to week, they are on to you.
What happens is they protect the integrity of their very authentic reviews. I had that sit so strong about 30 reviews taken down that were valid reviews. I don’t mess around with my reviews. I don’t play games with it. They have taken down 30 reviews and when I tried to contact them. I’m like, “Why did you take that review down? It wasn’t my mother.” Anecdotally, it’s known that they know who their friends are via social media. It’s very spooky.
Get a load of this. I do book clubs a lot as an example and I am answering your question. I swear to God, I’m not going off on something. People have me over to talk about the book. They get the book wherever they get it. It could be at the library or an eBook, etc. I don’t know these people. I go to the book club. Historically, it has been in-person.
A bunch of girls who are having some wine, telling the stories, and having a good time, by the end, I know all these people. They are my buddies, “Facebook friend me.” Now you have all these Facebook friends, and then they leave a review. My point is they were authentic reviews but now, they are my Facebook friends because the book put us together. Now, Amazon was taking them down. Can I not my posse of friends on social media because the beast is going to come after us?
Even if it’s a verified purchase, the fact that you are Facebook friends and validated.
The verified purchase definitely helps. All of a sudden, I was getting all these taken down and they were all from that one book club, so that started making me twitchy. There’s also the case that happened years ago before I understood what I understand now about the algorithm and Amazon, which by the way, we will never know. All of this is anecdotal. Years ago, I loved this book that this client put together. I read it cover-to-cover. It was a fantastic book and I went to leave a review and they said they wouldn’t post it.
Maybe it’s because I know this person and they can tell from the IP address that I have helped that person from my computer upload their files and do all this work for them. They won’t let my review of their book up. You can see where that could get taken advantage of so I send it to my mother. “Mom, can you put this review up on Amazon?” She couldn’t put it up.
They can tell that my mother is related to me and my IP address, and she would not or could not put that review up. It’s very Big Brother-ish the way this is all connected now. They are very authentic with their reviews. Coming back to your question, full circle, that’s why that didn’t work. It was probably fizzled out. Amazon is onto you.The title’s job is to create curiosity. It shouldn’t even make sense necessarily. Click To Tweet
If you were somebody with a big list and you have done a couple of Amazon promotion campaigns for somebody else, then Amazon might start to realize because what would happen is there would be all these gifts and prizes for buying the books. The people would still have to buy the book, but then there would be all these incentives for them to buy the book if they are all coming from the same link to purchase, for example. It’s so interesting.
There is a way to get a clean link. That means you don’t just take the link that’s at the top of your Amazon sales page. You can clean it up, meaning get rid of the metadata that leads it back to you and your IP address. There is a way to create that clean link if you are going to use your book in promotions.
I noticed that was the hottest thing for a few years. Peggy McColl was the pioneer of that, and then it was gone.
Amazon went on a hefty campaign to make sure that they have authentic organic reviews and you can see where they are coming from. I respect that. On the other hand, like anything, it can get out of hand. It’s like why did you take these 30 reviews down? They are your friends.” Now, they are my friends.
It’s sometimes tricky too because if I want to review a book that I bought in a bookstore but I would like to put a review on Amazon, then it’s not a verified purchase because I didn’t buy it from Amazon.
I will tell you another thing about ranking. We are not quite talking about ranking but this does help. The way that they keep track of their stars is like a 5-star and 4-star review. Let’s say, you’ve got that book at the bookstore you are talking about. You didn’t get it off Amazon but you go to Amazon and you leave a review. You give it a five-star. They recorded it as a 4.85, not a 5.
We get this a lot. “I understand I can’t leave a review if I didn’t get it from Amazon.” That’s not true. You can leave a review. It’s docked a little bit and you continue to get docked. Let’s say you are an author and you don’t get a review for three months. Your star ranking comes down a little bit, so you have to consistently get reviews to keep that ranking up. Isn’t that crazy?
That is crazy.
One of our authors had ten reviews. They were all 5 stars and she had a 4.85 ranking. That’s why we had to look into it.
Let’s now talk about your methodology. One of the things I like about how you do an Amazon Bestseller campaign is that you are putting books in the hands or on the screens of people who are already interested, who are likely to read the content. I’m going to allow you to share with our readers a little bit about your process and what makes it so powerful.
I’ve got to tell you what we do with this new Amazon Power Boost Campaign. You get to number one status but that’s not why we do it, honestly. Amazon is a huge search engine. In fact, I have been told it’s the biggest search engine for products in the world. It’s bigger than Google. We have to treat it like a search engine.
The first step is that we have to thoroughly optimize it like you would optimize anything like your website or anything else. How do we do that? We have to get those proper keywords and categories. The keywords and categories we have learned a lot about we have taken all these courses. I am not a techie person. You may not know that about me. For some reason, I’ve got so excited about this. Did you know you can optimize the ISBN? That got me all excited.
I didn’t know that.
I’m telling all my colleagues, “There’s this class on how to optimize an ISBN. Who wants to take it with me?” They are like, “Yes, have fun with that.”
I don’t want our readers to get lost here. An ISBN is that code on the back of a book that gets scanned when somebody sells your book to somebody else. That tracks how many books you have sold.
It’s a book’s identification number is what it is.
That was a much better way of saying it. Thank you.
My point in bringing the ISBN optimization up is that it all helps. All these itty bitty things help. You will be found in this search engine, Googleverse. The first thing we have to do is optimize someone’s Amazon page. By the way, the only way to do that is if in fact, you have published with KDP. KDP is Amazon’s print-on-demand arm because we need access to the backend of that to put in the keywords and the ten categories that we have researched and found. We have to tell KDP what those are and give them time to do that. This is full optimization. I can’t do it if you have published with whatever, BookBaby, Wiley, or HarperCollins. I can’t get into the backside of that Amazon page. They have access to that.
In order to do what I’m telling you about, you have to have a published through KDP print-on-demand. The very first thing we do is fully optimized. That is for your paperback and your eBook because they might have the same keywords but they don’t have the same categories. Remember the objective. This campaign is we are trying to find you new readers, super readers and super fans. That’s what we are trying to do.
I think of marketing in three levels. There are three levels. The first level is your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. You launch your book to them and that’s what you do. The second level is the six degrees of separation. The third level is everyone else in the world that would be served very well by your book and message but you have no access to them. That’s who we are going for.Optimization is far and away the best marketing, because what you're doing is getting into your bull’s eye demographic. Click To Tweet
You are going for the third level, and deliberately avoiding level 1 and level 2.
What we do is we pay to give our book away for free. This is an eBook campaign. What we are paying for is their subscription services that you can pay. What they have done is collected a database of people that love this genre and just this genre. You can pay to get in front of all those people for a day. It could be 50,000 or 80,000 people here.
We did a historical fiction campaign where she got in front of 350,000 people that love that genre. I will pay for that to help start creating super fans so remember the objectives of this campaign. What we do is we optimize, and then we go in and do the homework on these various subscription services to see someone who has the best audience for my book, and then we run it on a specific day.
Getting it in front of all those eyeballs but obviously, not everyone is choosing that particular book.
For those who don’t know this, I’m sorry if people know this and they think I’m being condescending. I’m not. KDP is Amazon’s print-on-demand arm with their eBooks, which comes with a program that we can opt-in to. It’s called KDP Select. The bottom line of what that program is it doesn’t cost anything. You opt-in in exchange for exclusively having your eBook on Amazon, you get more exposure. You are opt-in to that program for 90 days at a time. Within that 90 days, your more exposure includes what’s called Kindle Unlimited.
If you are familiar with Kindle Unlimited, you can pay as a reader. You can go pay Amazon just like you would Netflix. For $15 a month, I get all the eBooks I want. If you are paying Amazon $15, and then you get all the eBooks you want for free and they download my book, how do I get paid? I get paid per page read. When you are giving away all your eBooks, the majority of those people belong to Kindle Unlimited. You, in fact, are getting paid per page read. You are getting paid but not the normal way. If someone buys your eBook, you get 70%. End of the story.
That’s what we do. We get in front of the people. There are strategies. I like to plan these campaigns 3 or 4 weeks out. One strategy is if there are ten companies, we find the top 2 or 3 for your genre, who has the biggest list for your genre, and we will line them up. Let’s do this company on Wednesday, this company on Thursday, and this company on Friday. With KDP, one of the programs for more exposure that you get, you can give your book away for free for five days total out of that 90-day commitment. We go put your book for free on that same day and we give your book away.
The objective here is to get a new audience. It’s especially good for fiction. This campaign works for everybody but fiction is the runaway winner on this. We did this campaign for one of our fiction writers, a woman who’s 82 years old. She hit number one in a few categories, nothing to brag about but she got over 5,500 downloads in two days and she was getting 1,000-page reads a day for months after that, so you are getting super fans. Here’s the big reason we would like to do this. We are training Amazon as to who to get in front of. It’s not your friend that likes chick-lit. It’s these people that love your category.
One thing I love about that and this is powerful for non-fiction authors. There are a couple of different ways you can get a number one Amazon Bestseller status but aside from selling a lot of books at full price, if you have a great platform and a great publicity strategy, you certainly can do it. We have had clients who have been number one on all of Amazon. For most authors, what I love about your approach is you are getting in front of tens of thousands of people who are already interested in your topic who never would have known who you are most likely.
Let’s say you are getting 2,000 to 5,000 or 6,000 downloads. Now, all of a sudden, you have all these people who are exposed to your work and ideas who never would have known who you are. I feel like this has a real legitimacy to it, not just in terms of the algorithm but in terms of connecting your message to a broader, interested market.
One of the other objectives is these readers because they are the right readers, they more than likely will leave a review. If I’m going to read historical fiction, fantasy thriller, more than likely, I’m not going to read it. I will buy it to support my friend but I’m probably not going to read it. I certainly won’t leave a review. If these aren’t getting in front of the right people, it’s going to correspond with the page reads and then a review.
It’s like the gift that keeps giving because you can follow along on your reports page too and see how many pages reads and reviews you are getting. When it starts slumping again in a couple of months, it takes people a while to then start reading the book, and then finish the book. Some of these subscription lists are more expensive than others but even to give it a little boost once a quarter is what I do. With my own self, I find one of these new lists. I’m like, “I will try it. I will be the guinea pig.” Off it goes, you might get 200 downloads as opposed to 5,000.
It’s like a little booster shot for your Power Boost Campaign.
I don’t like that though. For the 2nd and 3rd campaigns, we will call it the booster shot. Thanks for that great marketing.
I love that idea, so that’s a great way to continue to tap into new audiences, but also to keep that Amazon algorithm looking for your readers and putting your book in front of your best potential readers.
I’m thrilled with this. By the way, this is a campaign that nothing here is rocket science. It’s not like I’ve got a patent on something. People know how to optimize their Amazon page. There are tools to find the right keywords and categories. People know about these subscription lists but it’s looking at the s’mores saying, “Now there’s a grain cracker over here and there’s a Hershey bar. I will put them all together.” That’s what we have done.
Polly, you are underselling yourself because you are an absolute genius at picking categories, and putting the right keywords in because there are also some backend keywords as I understand because it is a search engine. It’s about helping the algorithm bring you the right people.
Frankly, the keywords, let’s say one of yours. Writing might be a keyword, so we go look that up, see how it’s doing and on Amazon specifically, as opposed to the whole Googleverse. What are people putting in that Amazon search bar? Writing, as opposed to writing books, how to write a book, a book on how to write a book, or whatever, let’s look at all of those and see who’s doing the best at it because you get seven keywords. You want to make sure every single one of them is working for you. You’ve got to put a lot of time into that.
This is bringing me to another thing I learned from you, which is you don’t need to have the great keywords necessarily in your title or subtitle because you put them in that backend side and that’s what’s going to help people find your book.
Thank you for bringing that up. People get so wrapped up. There’s got to be a keyword in the title. It doesn’t. Calm down. Everything has its job. The title’s job is to create curiosity and it shouldn’t even make any sense necessarily like, “What? It creates curiosity.” The subtitle then tells you what the book is about. They all have their job and the way the Amazon algorithms work anecdotally, they will never release the algorithms.
The actual way but what you have observed and inferred what you have seen.
It’s the front cover and the back cover. Everything is considered a keyword on there and the table of contents if, in fact, you have a table of contents because fiction books generally don’t. What I have noticed and maybe you could let me know if you have too, especially with self-help books and business books, people are taking these keywords, mixing them up and around for their titles. You go through Amazon and all the books sound exactly the same. The title isn’t doing its job, which is to create curiosity and stand out from the crowd. They are just rotating the words, so stop it, everybody.
I have certainly never coached that behavior, although I did use to think that if you could have a good keyword in the subtitle, that would be helpful. It’s nice to know that if you are building the backend and optimizing your Amazon page for your book, you can stick with the purest approach to a title and a subtitle. As you said, the purpose of the title is to get their attention and the purpose of the subtitle is to answer the question, “Why should I read this book or what’s in it for me? What are they going to get out of reading the book?” Of course, this is primarily in the non-fiction space that we are talking about here.
The back blurb as well, the back cover content. For people who aren’t self-publishing on KDP, those will still all work for you. Remember that all the words on your cover are considered a keyword and everything on your table of contents, which is great for everybody.
That’s like getting free keywords because then you can add seven.
They give us seven, so we want to make those things count and then we get our categories as well.
This has been so helpful and informative, and as always, I have even learned some things as I always learn something every time I talk to you, which is wonderful. Polly, first of all, is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have?
At the risk of sounding like I’m pimping myself but honestly, I help people with book marketing consultations. I don’t do the marketing for people but I have found this to be the most powerful marketing campaign out there. I’m going to give a code for you, guys. Can I do that?
Yes. That was going to be my next question. How can people find you?
I created this online course to do. Use the code HAPPY2021, and then you will get it for $47. I should have created a fun one. You can get that on our website, MyWordPublishing.com and you can go to the Amazon Power Boost Campaign.
By the way, it is very reasonably priced, so I’m not going to say the price in case you ever want to raise it a little. It’s very reasonable and way under what a lot of people are charging and not delivering this value. I would reach out to Polly for your Power Boost Campaign before she figures out she should be charging more.
Mum is the word.
She’s too nice of a person. That’s all.
It’s one of these things that it’s not difficult to do. It’s not brain surgery or nothing like that but it does take time. The time is the research of the optimization portion. It’s far and away from the best marketing plan because what you are doing is you are getting into your bull’s eye demographic. How powerful is that? That’s what we all strive to do and because when it’s in front of the right people, they are the people that get excited about it, start spreading the word and leaving reviews. Don’t bother your friends on Facebook.
Don’t bother your friends’ friends either, just dial in the algorithm and let it do its thing. Polly, you are the master of this. I have no question in my mind.
It’s just a s’more, a marshmallow and the Hershey bar.
By the way, it’s one of my favorite desserts of all time. I have had to back off the s’mores as I get older but I still get at least one a year.
Now is the day. Go for it.
Thank you again for all this amazing information and thanks to our readers for tuning in. Be sure to join us next time for another episode of The Author’s Corner.
About Polly Letofsky
After frustrating experiences with dodgy publishers, Polly Letofsky launched herself into learning every aspect of the publishing industry so no one would ever own her rights and decisions again.
Polly went on to set up a new publishing model that guides authors through the publishing of their own book seamlessly, swiftly, and professionally; a model where the author upholds all creative control, maintains all distribution rights, and all the profits end up in their hands.
My Word Publishing has now produced hundreds of books and has since gathered a team of professional, and was honored with Colorado Business Women’s Business of the Year 2012.