Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Taking a Closer Look at Your Amazon Product Page; Guest Post by Bruce Fottler

While we were off yesterday, I assure you, that time was well-spent preparing an extremely helpful guest post (our first!) by our dear friend of Hunt to Read, Bruce Fottler. You might remember Bruce as the first author to dare stray inside the hard-hitting arena that is "Know Your HTR Authors." He was fantastic then, and he brought the heat in his guest post, as well. Enjoy!


Taking a Closer Look at Your Amazon Product Page

by Bruce Fottler (accord64) You spend countless hours writing and polishing your literary masterpiece. Then, after exhaustive research, pondering, and probably more pondering, you decide to bypass traditional publishing and self-publish. You'll go on to craft a marketing plan, sign up with KDP, and put your hopefully-soon-to-be-bestseller up for sale on Amazon.

Now that it's up for sale, and you take a long look over your Amazon product page, have you wondered what really stands out most to readers who come across your book?

With the help of some rather interesting data from a June 2013 reader survey (from the article “Readers Sound Off. How They Read, What They Like, and Where They Find Us” by Marie Force), I'd like to explore what elements on your Amazon product page have the most impact on readers. According to this survey, the sad fact for us self-published authors is that 68% of readers are “less likely” to buy a self-published book from an author who is unknown to them. So, unless you're fortunate enough to be a well-known author, it becomes even more important to make sure you're making the best possible impression on your Amazon product page.

Amazon is currently the kingpin of online booksellers. 80% of the June survey responders report buying their books from Amazon. Barnes & Noble came in a distant second with 23%. But these critical product-page elements can easily pertain to any other online retail product page, because they all basically present the same information.

I want to stress that while I'm going to identify critical product-page elements, I don't profess to be an expert at maximizing your success with these elements. Many books and articles have been written for each of these. I'll leave which methods and approaches are best for you to decide, because I'm still learning more about them myself.

So, let's take a closer look at what stands out to readers when they see your Amazon product page.

It's All About the Cover

Never judge a book by its cover. Most of us were taught this and it's generally good advice – except when you're actually trying to sell a book. The June survey asked readers what elements of a cover design most impacted their decision to purchase a book. A majority (52%) considered the professionalism of the cover design was important. Only 32% claimed that covers rarely influenced them.

Your book cover is the first visible element any reader will come across. It's the wrapping on your product. Think about the last time you were looking over the cereal isle at a grocery store. Product placement might have a lot to do with where you look first, but it's ultimately the packaging that attracts your attention. A nicely designed box may not sell the cereal to you, but it's crafted to entice you to take a closer look.

That's what a good book cover will do for you. It'll get you that closer look. A poorly-designed cover will probably be the reason a reader won't continue looking deeper into your product page. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a perfect work of art, but it needs to convey two things: A sense of what your story's about, and that you have a quality product to offer.

Oh, and your cover should look good as a thumbnail image, because that's probably how readers will first encounter it.

Whether you do it yourself or outsource it, the lesson here is to pay attention to your cover. Don't just throw something together because you think it won't really matter that much to a reader. It does matter; it matters a lot. Just as a nice exterior helps to sell a house, a good book cover is equally important to selling books.

The Blurb Sets the Hook

Once you've drawn them in with your well-designed cover, a reader will likely look over the product description (or “blurb”) next. They want to know what your book's about, and if it will interest them. But they also don't want to read through a novelette in order to find this out. Think of your blurb as an elevator pitch. John Grisham implored that if a book can't be described in a couple of sentences, then it's not a story worth telling. That may seem rather extreme for an Amazon blurb (or maybe not), but his point is to keep it concise.

Blurbs also give readers a reason to consider purchasing your book, or at least to create a desire to give it closer look. There are many styles and strategies out there to help you write an effective blurb, but it's important to understand how critical it is to the overall purchase decision. It's wise to invest the time and effort to get it right (and have it proofed)!

There's also one interesting June survey conclusion that might affect your idea to seek out an endorsement: “Author endorsements don’t matter as much as industry insiders think they do. Most readers don’t care about them.”


Oh, those rating stars. They seem to be placed at key focal points on any given book-product page. Amazon puts them square at the top so they're nearly impossible to miss. Someday, I think they might even make them sparkle. They're also something you have no real control over, and yet it's one of the most visible elements on your product page.

But how much influence do they really have on readers?

The June survey results indicate that 43% of readers will wait to purchase a book if they see a low star rating. However, it's interesting to note that 38% will still try a low star-rated book if they like the book cover and sample.

So, while rating stars seem to matter to some readers, others might be willing to look beyond a low rating. The curious readers will inevitably move on to read over the reviews.

Like rating stars, reviews are something we have scant control over (and you should NEVER try to assert control over them). Despite that helpless feeling the review process gives us, here are a couple of interesting facts from the June survey that might make you feel a little better:

Only 18% are “very much” influenced by reviews, while 53% are “somewhat” swayed by reviews. That sort of surprised me. But on second thought, if you consider the ongoing controversies over sock-puppet (or paid) reviews, it may not be so surprising that readers don't put as much faith in them anymore.

It's inevitable that we'll all see our share of bad reviews. They can seem unreasonable, pick on things you think are irrelevant, and generally raise your blood-pressure. You'll be tempted to respond. I strongly recommend you don't. I've seen way too many author/reader interactions over a bad review, and it hardly ever ends well for the author.

The best thing you can do is to learn what you can from it and move on.

The Price is Right

How much is your book really worth? Price it too high, and it could scare readers away. Price it too low, and readers might think it's priced low for the wrong reason. Here's what the June survey article concluded about eBook prices:

“More than half don’t care how much a book costs if they want it badly enough. Most expect to pay $4.99 for a full-length novel (80,000 words or more) and between $0.99 and $1.99 for a 25,000-word novella.”

Besides writing a book people will want badly enough, pricing it correctly is part of yet another key element on your product page. Be sure to do your research. Find the sweet spot for your book length (and genera) and continue to monitor pricing trends.

The Rest of the Product Page

If readers are on the fence, they'll likely look over the book sample and maybe your Amazon author profile. I'd say the book sample is the next most important thing. If a reader has come this far into your Amazon page, the sample needs to seal the deal. If not; no sale. Simple as that.

I'll go back to something I've heard many times (including from John Grisham): You must hook readers within the first few pages or you'll lose them. Hopefully, you've incorporated that philosophy into your writing. It's also important to make sure your book was properly edited, because according to the June survey, only 32% of readers aren't bothered much by typos.

Setting up an Amazon author page is always beneficial, particularly if you have more than one book for sale. It'll help lead readers to your other books. They also like to know a little bit about you, so please make sure you post a good picture of yourself. I know I might sound like Captain Obvious by pointing that out, but you'd be surprised over the number of haphazard mug-shot's I've run across. Oh, and those scowling or odd gimmicky shots featuring your favorite Star Trek prop don't usually work well, either.

What Hunt To Read Brings

Now that we've seen that covers and blurbs are the top elements on a product page, getting feedback on either is often difficult. Book reviews rarely mention them. Amazon (or any other book retailer) doesn’t supply separate ratings (or analytics) for these items. So, how do we know if they're effective? Critique groups could help. Perhaps that popular writer-forum you regularly post to could vote on them (good luck with that). But what do readers think? You know, those people who are going to buy your book?

I've found that HTR can be a great resource for this, as they allow readers to separately rate covers and blurbs. I've actually come to a decision to upgrade covers based on input from these ratings. As the site grows, and more ratings are left, I'll always be using HTR to help reassess the effectiveness of my covers and blurbs.

Well, that's my take on Amazon product pages. I wish the best of luck to my fellow authors. It can be a tough and unforgiving marketplace, and I'm happy to share my thoughts and experiences. Keep on writing!

* * * * *

Bruce Fottler is the author of three books that are featured on HTR. Stop in, take a look, and leave a rating (and keep racking up those points!):

The Juncture (I have to admit, Bruce's new cover for The Juncture is quite stunning!)

Check out Bruce's Amazon Author Page.

In case you missed it above, Bruce was also our first author to be interviewed on "Know Your HTR Authors."

Oh, and according to the June survey, if an author had to choose one social media platform, it should be Facebook. So, please feel free to visit Bruce's Facebook book pages:

Chasing Redemption Facebook Page

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