So you can read my books

Monday, February 4, 2013


{Alice courtesy of the genius of Leonora Roy}

Vision is an odd thing:

What did you notice first?  Alice's clothing-challenged condition or Excalibur in her fist?

Depends on your sex in many cases.

At the Pikes Peaks Conference early last year, Donald Maass, an author and top tier literary agent,

said:  "If you don't care to reach readers, then by all means self-publish."

And for many of us, he is right.  The wind is against us.

But ships for centuries have set their sails differently against the prevailing winds and still made for the distant horizon.

Every one of us holds the power to change our destiny by taking actions today that enable the future we desire.

 Our actions mirror our aspirations, which means the future of e-publishing will be determined by our collective and sometimes competing aspirations. Readers are our gatekeepers.


There are simply too many great books worth reading,
and not enough eyeballs or hours in a lifetime to read them all.


Search engines in a nutshell

Let’s first look at how search engines work. Once we understand this, we’ll better understand what we should do to improve the chances of our BOOK pages popping up early on the results pages.

  • It all starts with keywords and search terms.
         Search engines match the terms people key into the search box with what they know about billions of pages on the web. They rank those pages around search terms. So your starting point for any search marketing is: Which words and phrases will potential customers use to find me?

  • Those algorithms, again.
          Search engines send out automated programs called ‘spiders’ or ‘web crawlers’ to examine every website and page, and index them in their search databases.

         They apply secret algorithms to give each page a rank against those search terms. Its page rank determines where it appears on the search results pages – near the top, or buried many pages deep.

  • The visible and the invisible.
          When a spider examines your BOOK pages, it looks at what is both visible and invisible as it searches for clues to what the page is about.

          The invisible clues are buried in the HTML code that makes up the web page. If a page includes the visible phrase, ‘the secret life of spiders’

           it might pop up on Google when someone is searching for ‘life of spiders’. It will pop up much higher on the search page if that phrase appears in a ‘Heading 1′ tag. That’s a style tag you apply in the HTML code to make the letters bigger and bolder on the page and, in the code behind the scenes.

         Its prominence means it’s reasonable for a search engine, just like a visitor to the site, to take this as clue that the page talks a lot about spiders.

        {Chapter Eight of MAKE A KILLING ON KINDLE will tell you how to optimize your
         book description to draw search engines your way:}

         {See my book page for THE LAST SHAMAN to see how it is done: }

  • Link popularity.
      To return the best search results, a search engine has to figure out what a page is about and how good it is.

       One of the most powerful ways of doing the latter is to look at how many websites and social networks have linked back to it.

        So when a search engine examines your website, it looks beyond what’s on the actual pages to its connections to the rest of the web. Those spiders it sends out follow links to see where they lead.

         The more places that link to you, and the more important those sites — or more influential those social network users are — the higher your pages are likely to rank.
  • Getting to the top. Being in the top three or four results on the first page of search results makes a huge difference to whether your page will be clicked on.
        There are two ways you can get to the top: by optimising your web pages and by paying. The first is referred to as organic search;

        the second, logically enough, is paid search.

        Organic search results appear in the search pages, and paid results appear above and beside those results as ads

(sorry, search engines like Google will not let you buy a better ranking in organic results).
  • Measuring and analysing. Everything is recorded and measured. Successful search engine marketing is very analytical. This is quite alien to a lot of authors and publishers but the most successful digital practitioners roll up their sleeves and dig into the data.

An essential tool for search engine optimisation

At the heart of search optimisation are keywords. You optimise a web page for specific keywords and phrases that searchers use in their queries.

Google AdWords Keyword Tool

Good SEO practice starts with putting yourself in your readers’ shoes and trying to guess which words and phrases they’ll use to search for you or your book.

A pencil, paper and a brainstorming session is a great place to start, but Google helps by providing a keyword research tool which you can use to find, refine and test, likely words and phrases.

Using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool,

you can either enter your own keywords to test; or enter a link to a web page

(such as a high-ranking competitor) which Google’s tool will analyse for keywords.

This tool will show you how many search queries use the terms, suggest new phrases, and show you how much demand there is for these terms by other marketers.

A phrase with high searches and low demand, for instance, might be a good one to optimise for if it’s relevant to your page. You should optimise for exact phrases and you should use longer phrases, often quite narrow, not just one or two words.

How to boost your search results

Now that you’ve seen how search engines work, I’ll show you some specific things you can do that will improve your search engine rankings.

1. Use keyword tools to test search terms

Once you’ve researched words and phrases your readers might use to find you, you should test them using one of the keyword checking tools available online. A good place to start, as we’ve noted, is the free Google AdWords Keyword Tool.
Using a CMS editor (WordPress) to create search-friendly pages (Click to enlarge image).

2. Use keywords in the page title and headings

There are two HTML tags that search engines rate very highly: Title and Heading 1.

So one of the biggest SEO paybacks comes from adding keywords to these tags.

How do you put them there?

A web designer can add the tags but a content management system (CMS) like WordPress makes it easy.

WordPress places the title you give the post into the Title tag. And its editor includes a Paragraph style button you can use to apply the Heading 1.

The most important tag is the Title.

It’s the link you click on in the Google search results;

it’s also what you see in the top blue bar of your web browser when you’re on the page.

As well as the Heading 1 paragraph style, you might also use Heading 2, 3 and so on, in diminishing order of importance.

3. Add keywords in the first 50 words of copy

Google and other search engines place higher importance on copy that’s closer to the top of the page.

4. Use categories and tags

If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, don’t post your story until you’ve added categories and tags. These are used to classify your stories. As well as making it easier for visitors to find related stories on your site, search engines love them as keyword matches.

5. Get in-bound links from other sites

Google’s search algorithm, called Page Rank, counts the number and quality of links coming into your site from other sites. So getting more in-bound links is one of the best ways to improve your rankings. Here are some ways you can do this:
  • Add your site to public directories.
          There are quite a few sites that index various parts of the web so ensuring your site is known by them will help.

One of the most important is the Open Directory Project (, the largest human-edited directory of the Web and one that search engines such as Google reference.

Many countries will have local directories, too.

Directories have online submission forms you can use to get your sites considered.

           Submit stories to sites.

           There are many sites that accept press releases. They often require registration first but submission is free and the best ones, like BusinessWire, also distribute stories to a network of other sites and media.

For non-fiction, you might offer excerpts in exchange for a link back to a relevant page on your site

         Guest post for a blog.

         Some bloggers will run guest posts from other writers. These should be personalised to the blog (you can pitch the story idea before writing it). This will also be useful as part of building a relationship.

  • Distribute your links through social networks and encourage their re-posting by other users
         Negotiate reciprocal links. If you have a blog, see if bloggers you like will list you on their blogroll and to do the same with their blog on your own site.

         Comment on articles on other sites with a link back to your article or site. But use with care and be respectful.

      Has your head burst yet? 

      It is a lot to take in, but we must fight smart to get our
books discovered ...

      Or Mr. Maas will be right in relation to our eBooks.

{If you are a glutton for more head-bursting details, go to }


  1. That's a fierce picture! Yes, discoverability is key. It's hard, but it can be done! Thanks for the great tips and links. I was at the PPWC last year, but missed Donald Maas's discussion about e-books. I'm thinking I'm glad I did. I got to eat with Mark Coker and he was fabulous. :)

  2. Lara:
    I envy you that dinner with Mark Coker. He was at that particular discussion Donald Maas gave. Obviously, as head of Smashwords, he disagreed! :-)

    I'm glad you got something useful out of my post. Have a great Feb. Roland

  3. Donald Maass was one of the best presenters at the writing conference I attended.

    There is a lot to know about keywords and SEO. I only know a bit more than average from a previous job and I look at what searchwords have been used to get to my pages and photos.

    Great information.

  4. You nailed it on all the technical stuff.
    Yes, I noticed Alice's lack of clothing first. So sue me.

  5. Shared! This is one I will be back to read again and disect.

    Thank you, Roland.

    Lovey-love-love and chocolate hugs,

  6. Thanks Roland, some very good advice!

  7. D.G.:
    Mr. Maas' latest book is a very insightful and helpful read, too. I pray he is wrong about self-publishing.

    Sometimes the technical side to our dreams makes my head throb, but we have to make an attempt to utilize all the tools at our disposal! :-)

    I would never admit it to Alice, but I noticed her clothing challenged state first, too! LOL.

    Thanks for sharing this. The tech stuff is so important for our success, and yet, it throbs my brain to understand! :-)

  8. Siv:
    I've missed you. I'm so happy you got something useful out of this.

  9. Oh, man... all this stuff makes my head spin. I have listened to people... writers and marketers, talk about all this and it just makes it all... feel like WORK. erm... I might be whining. I mean I get, and agree that it can all be important, but it is why I am hesitating on the self-publishing thing... for the time being letting somebody else do the legwork just fits my personality.

    And I noticed Alice's abs. I want abs I can show off.

  10. Hart:
    Good to see you here again! I am so glad that my virus scanner now allows me to visit you, too, once more.

    I want abs I can show off, too. Maybe Olivia Wilde's as she strolls on the beach here with me! Hey, I can dream.

    It is a lot of work, but so is writing and editing a novel. But with self-publishing, the cover, the title, and back cover blurb are all in your control -- a nice thing!

  11. I continue to be amazed by what you've learned, and how willing you are to share it with us. Thank you for this information! :)

  12. David:
    I know that when I was first starting out, I would have loved to have been told all this. I thought I would be there like that for those just starting out.

    I am saddened to see folks charging $75 to $100 to desparate beginners for this information. Hopefully my posts will help these beginners and guide them further along the path of their dreams. :-)

  13. This is too much work for me. I'm impressed with authors such as yourself who have taken the plunge, made their publishing dreams come true, proven themselves a success. The world is changing; maybe soon all books will be self published and on e-readers, and maybe "covers" won't make a difference at all.

    I love that picture by the way; and my eyes were first drawn to the headdress.