I found out something yesterday, and it made me sad. I’ve recovered, thank you, but I am still not sure what to do about this.
It all started when I was reading through my subscribed blogs and came across a post by Evangeline Holland on her blog, Edwardian Promenade. This is a wonderful and entertaining blog, all about the Edwardian era – fashion, culture, food, manners… it should definitely be on your list if you have an interest in this period.
So yesterday, Evangeline posted a list of Titanic books that she compiled by searching Amazon. I was excited when I saw her post – “Oh boy, my book should be on that list!”
Already being in a fragile state of mind due to other circumstances, I nearly cried. How could my book not come up on a search? “Titanic” is my first keyword!
Such an innocent, I was.
Because of the aforementioned fragile state of mind, I immediately left a response on the post, bemoaning the unfairness of the universe. Evangeline responded with a very kind reply, and she added my book to her list!
That was exciting, and way above the call of duty. I told her so and left her many thanks. A happy ending to that part.
But the experience opened my eyes, for I went to Amazon and did my own search, using the keyword, “Titanic.” Thirty-nine pages into the results… my book still had not shown up.
One problem: All the books that did show up on the search results had “Titanic” in the title. Yeah, mine doesn’t. And while Amazon’s search algorithm might include keywords, words that appear in the title are going to get first ranking. So the 500 or so books with “Titanic” in the title (whether it has anything to do with the ship or not) are all going to trump my book.
So I searched under Thomas Andrews, also one of my keywords. Fewer books, but same problem. Mine did not appear in the first twelve pages, where I stopped looking. What did show up was anything with either “Thomas” or “Andrews” (or Andrew) in any order or combination, or singly, in either the title or author fields.
Sigh. Yeah, mine doesn’t have any of that either.
When I searched for both “Thomas Andrews” AND “Titanic,” ah, then I got lucky. But you know, that’s not a very efficient search term. How many people are going to use those? A few will (I did, when I was doing research for the book), but I think it will be reasonably rare.
From a marketing perspective, this brings up some cautions. One is that search engines are tricky devils, and I don’t have much hope of winning a pitched battle with them. Okay, fine. But the other thing sort of gets my goat.
When I browse for a book online, I’m not looking for a specific title. I’m searching by subject. I think most people do this if they are just looking for something interesting to read. So if I want to read a book about Titanic, then I’ll search under Titanic. There is no way to tell Amazon that I want Titanic fiction only, or worse, Titanic science fiction. This would be useful, as most of what’s out there is, quite naturally, non-fiction.
So I feel cheated, as both an author and a reader, that Amazon does not bring up books whose subject is whatever word I’m searching under, unless that word is in the title. This shouldn’t be impossible. Libraries have cataloged books by subject for centuries. It’s not rocket science.
So authors, add one more item to your list of Things To Do To Sell Your Book: Make sure your title is searchable. If people are browsing for a book, and yours would meet their criteria, what search term will they use? Figure that out, and make sure that term is in your title. Because using it as a keyword is nearly pointless.
My title is not a good one, in this sense. “Time Travel Journals.” People may search under “time travel,” but there are a million hits for that phrase. Ditto for “time travel journals” because guess what? You get journals in return – as in diaries or even scrapbooks. Oh and “time travel” is a disaster for another reason. You get books on travel, for heaven’s sake. Or even how to manage your time while traveling.
The rest of my title? “Shipbuilder.” Yeah, you can see the problems with that, starting with why the heck would anyone use it as a search term? Just for the record, “building ships” and “shipbuilding” did not return my book, either.
Terms that did return my book were “time travel” and Titanic” when they were used together. That’s not too farfetched – I can see some people using those terms to find something to read. But it’s awfully specific, so probably not many people will do it.
I don’t know if there’s a way to fix this mistake, which will be compounded when the next book in the series comes out. Time Travel Journals: Bridgebuilders is not going to reach very high in search rankings either.
Live and learn, right?