How to get AI’s attention

“This approach of Visibility Marketing is not a new way of reaching readers per se, but a way of positioning yourself and your books for maximum impact.”
David Gaughran, Amazon Decoded: A Marketing Guide to the Kindle Store

Theoretically, anyone who writes a book can publish it on Amazon. Practically, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to send a copy to those who want to read the book than to go through the process of publishing it. Even if one doesn’t intend to make any money off of it (e.g. by offering it for free), when an author makes their book available for the public, they probably want to it be read. Amazon’s Kindle store, with its millions of readers, sounds like the ideal venue. But with millions of books available, the odds that strangers will find a book by an unknown writer (indie or not) are dishearteningly small.

The book Amazon Decoded tackles this problem and provides indie authors with tools which increase the odds that their books will be discovered by readers. A hint – getting the “giant recommendation engine powering the Kindle Store” (the AI, for short) to put one’s book in front of potential readers is neither simple nor cheap. Nevertheless, David Gaughran argues that this is possible, and shows the pieces of puzzle involved in the process.

Amazon Decoded starts with a background about Amazon’s recommendation engine. Without going into technicalities, Gaughran outlines how the system works, how it adjusts its recommendations to show different customers books which the AI assesses they are most likely to buy. After mapping the battlefield, Gaughran details the “armor” a book needs before it even reaches the Kindle Store. Next, he addresses the crux of the problem – how a book can gain visibility, when Amazon’s AI only boosts the visibility of books that are already popular with customers.

On its face, it looks like Catch-22: a book cannot become popular if no one sees it, but few would see it if it’s ‘invisible’. Amazon Decoded does not provide magical solutions, but it gives specific strategies for skirting around obstacles. The general approach is straightforward – focus on increasing the visibility of a book to those who might actually want to read it, namely, its target audience (Gaughran tackles the topic of the target audience in another book). Once authors have zeroed in on these readers, their promotions will be more efficient, because these people are more likely to buy the promoted books. Sales, broadly speaking, lead to an increase in popularity. However, the cycle, as explained in Amazon Decoded, is more complicated and more nuanced. Once a narrowed-down subgroup of people likes a book, Amazon’s AI, trained to take notice of what is popular, starts recommending the book to other members of this subgroup.

Amazon Decoded describes the various steps of the process and provides strategies to maximize the impact of promotions and other marketing methods (clearly, random advertising is a very inefficient and costly way to put out a book in front of potential readers). Gaughran doesn’t give guaranties, yet he argues that with a sufficient budget, a well designed marketing campaign should boost the promoted book’s popularity. In the best case scenario, the process might snowball.

In all, Amazon Decoded is both an informative and interesting read. One of the things I like best is that while Gaughran shows the possibilities he doesn’t gloss over the probabilities. In reading the book, it becomes evident why it’s so hard (and expensive) to get visibility. On the other hand, Amazon Decoded offers systematic, practical guidance for making this more feasible. It gives authors tools to assess how much money and effort it might take to increase these odds. A recommended read for indies and those sitting on the fence about self-publishing.

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