My first novel has been the #1 bestseller in its category in the UK, and it has made it into the top 10 of nine Amazon bestseller lists worldwide. My sense is that when most US authors post their book to Amazon, they don’t think twice about their overseas or international sales. This is a mistake because there are a lot of big markets outside the United States. You can fall further behind or you can ramp your sales. About 10% of my volume is now coming from non-US Amazon sites.
I have not translated my novella into any other languages, and I have spent less than $10 on advertising outside the United States. Here are a few things you can do in about an hour to help ramp your own international book sales…
First, make a decision to do it. Just paying attention to it will help you do better. As you obsess about how to ramp your sales outside the US, you will have some sudden “Ah ha!” moments and realize you have ways to help ramp your international sales. For instance, you might remember your old friend from college got a two-year expat assignment in the UK. You can ask her to write a review and post it on the Amazon UK site. Maybe you are going to be in Australia in a few months for a training event for your company. Why not spend an extra day and do a book signing in Sydney?
Second, ask Amazon to help. Let me be specific: Because I was thinking about it, I was staring at the UK site for my book a couple months ago wondering about what I can do to help ramp my sales via that site. As I was doing so, I was aware that the editorial reviews I loaded in my US Amazon site via Author Central did not show up on the UK site, or any other non-US site. That is just the way it is.
Or is it?
What if I asked? So I sent Amazon a note asking them to copy the editorial reviews from my US site to my UK site. The email bounced around a few times, but eventually it got to the right person, and they did it. Wow. That was easy. And I saw a bump in sales as a result. I have just asked Amazon to add the “Editorial Review” content to 5 more of their sites (not all Amazon sites worldwide support this feature).
Third, get your pricing right. Hint: It needs to end in “9”. When you set your book price on Amazon, for instance, $1.49, Amazon’s system will automatically default to a comparable price in other countries based on the exchange rate. For instance, in Europe, $1.49 might be 1.31 Euros. In Japan, an equivalent price might be 1.61 Japanese Yen. In Canada, your book might cost 1.93 Canadian. Those are all “bad” prices that will not help you sell your book.
The research is overwhelming that consumers are more likely to buy something that has a price that ends in “9”. There is even some evidence that people will buy more of a slightly higher-priced good as long as the last digit is “9”. For instance, in a large enough sample, a store will sell more of something priced at $1.59 than at $1.56 in carefully controlled experiments. It is just something about how we humans think. So don’t fight it. Instead, use it to your advantage.
Instead of letting Amazon set your price, you can override this default setting and establish your own prices. I suggest you go down to the next “9” from whatever number Amazon calculates. For instance, if you want a US$ price of 1.49, if Amazon concludes they would price your book at 1.31 Euros in Europe, manually set your price to 1.29. If Amazon wants to set it as 1.93 Candian in Canada, roll it back to 1.89 Canadian. Once you do this, you’ll actually sell more, so your sales rank will be higher, you’ll pocket more money, and you’ll eventually get more reviews.
Here is either a proof point or a really strange coincident about the importance of having your price end with a “9”: In over a year of it being available, I’ve never sold a copy of my book in Japan (I’ve not translated my book, so it is available only in English). Within 12 hours of me manually changing the price so it ended in a “9”, I sold my first copy in Japan. And because it is such a small market, that one sale propelled my book into the top 10 in its niche in Japan, so one more top 10 list I can claim, and the odds are that I will sell more now precisely because it is getting more visibility by being on the lists that Amazon shows to customers.
Fourth, consider using non-English keywords.
For instance, check out this screenshot from the German site for my novel:
Notice the word “Krieg”. That is German for “war”. My book is about the Vietnam War. My book is about the Vietnamkrieg. So I added “Vietnamkrieg” to my Amazon keywords. Again, a small sales bump, and at the time I took this screenshot my book was #10 on the bestseller list for “Vietnamkrieg” in Germany. Not bad!
So think about any powerful words in other languages you can add to your list of keywords. Of course, you can only load so many keywords in your Amazon metadata, but if there is a word that has high and relevant search volume in a large market, then consider adding it to your Amazon keyword list.
Fifth, let’s talk about my sales in five more countries…which I can’t explain:
Canada… #2 (and #2,536 for all Kindle ebooks)
How about that — I’ve broken into the top 10 of bestseller lists in the UK (screenshot at the top of the blog), Japan (screenshot a few lines up) France, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and India. Nice!
In these small markets, I have been averaging one to three books per month (in the UK it is more like 10 – 15 per month). Sometimes they come in little spurts, other times I won’t sell a thing for a month or more.
It is important to realize that you may never know why your book starts selling in a given country. But it won’t get any sales if your book is not available there. You will benefit from wide distribution even if there is no particular driver. Buyers could be expats or anyone else. You’ll never know. So when you set up your book via Amazon, unless you have a specific reason not to, I encourage you to enable it for sales in all possible countries (this also applies to CreateSpace).
Sixth, leverage local reviewers if you can. For example, one of the early reviewers of my book was an Australian, which he makes very clear in his screen name. Australia played a significant role in the Vietnam War, so when I saw this review come in, I took advantage of the fact that he was a self-identified Australian, so I added “Australia” as another of my keywords. Again, it was valuable space to give up, but I am gaining some sales from “down under” as a result and have made it to #3 on an Amazon list there.
Seventh, a few of the fields you load in your US Author Central site will be replicated to all Amazon sites worldwide. One that will be is the “About The Author” section. The more appealing you make yourself to an international community the better you will do internationally. For instance, if you used to live in France, and speak fluent French, you might throw in a line in French calling out to your friends there.
Eighth, ask your reviewers to post on other Amazon sites. Though I’ve only recently realized this was possible — by posting a review I wrote on someone else’s book on another of Amazon’s international sites — this seems like it could be to our benefit as writers. Yes, it is true that Amazon shows reviews from Amazon.COM on all sites, but they are listed below reviews that are posted to that site by natives of that region. My guess is that potential buyers are more responsive to reviews posted to their national site rather than those Amazon imports from other sites.
So when a reviewer wrote me the other day after posting a 5-star review, I thanked them and then asked them if they would be so kind as to post their review to two other international sites. …and they did.
Ninth, take advantage of the free advertising that Amazon gives you. Set up your reviewer name in Amazon as the author of your book. This way if someone reads one of your reviews – to include on international sites – and is interested in learning more about you, they will see that you are an author of a book. Odds are you are probably reviewing books from the genre in which you write, so you might pique their interest enough that they get to your sales page and buy your book.
Tenth, and last, take screenshots when your book makes it on to the top 100 of international sites. Obviously, some of these lists don’t have a lot of books on them, so selling only a few can land you in the top 100 or even top 10 of some bestseller lists, which is what has happened to my book in a few instances. You want these screenshots, though, for your own marketing and proof.
Remember that Amazon updates sales ranks frequently, as often as every hour. So when you do see that you have sold another book, don’t just smile about it, go to the bottom of your KDP page and see where the sale came from. In the screen shot below, I narrowed the search to the last few days. You’ll see that I’ve highlighted a few sales in the UK and in Canada.
Once you see sales outside the US (or your home country), go to your “Bookshelf” on your KDP page, and then click on “view on Amazon” (see screenshot below). When you do this, you’ll see a drop-down menu that lists all the Amazon sites worldwide at which your book is for sale. When you see a “Royalty” value other than “0.00”, click on these sales pages for your book to see how the ranking has changed as the result of your most recent sales. Sometimes (in my experience) it may take an hour or more for these pages to update, so you may have to come back a few times to see any changes. When you do see changes, take screenshots for your records when you see your sales in the top 100 (which is how I got the screenshots I used above).
I’m not getting rich as an author (yet), and my international sales are just a fraction of my total. But it is real sales and real money and does increase my international exposure. It is also more “social proof” that my book is worth buying and reading, which helps get more sales. The best part? It was easy to do.
To summarize, with very little effort, I can honestly report (and show the screenshots as proof) that my first novel has made it into the top 100 of multiple Amazon bestseller lists worldwide, and it has made it into the top 10 of eight bestseller lists in seven countries (including two in the US).
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have seen any other tactics or techniques to help you ramp sales outside the US. And please share with other writers because we all need help ramping our sales!