How Will Readers Discover Your Self-Published Books? Sobering Numbers Impact Today’s Authors

by Karen Jonson

Discoverability is the First Step in the Book Sales Process

Pile of books with reader searching

The number of books is expanding into the millions. How will readers discover your books?

“Discoverability” is the biggest buzzword in the world of book publishing today in social and traditional media. One publishing organization even held a conference recently exclusively on this subject recently.

Most authors realize they cannot just publish a book; they also have to market it. In order to read a book, readers first have to discover it, either through articles, public speaking, blogs, advertising, or other means.

Helping readers find your books is squarely in the hands of self-published authors, because there is no publishing company doing any marketing on your behalf. But discoverability may be the most significant hurdle on the road to publishing success.

900,000 Versus 32 Millions ISBNs!

It is not just self-published authors concerned with how readers today will discover books. Traditional publishers, with years of experience in the game, are also worried. Now, I know why. I read an article this week with two startling numbers regarding ISBNs:

•  In 1990, there were about 900,000 ISBNs.

•  In 2012, there are 32 million ISBNs, plus an unknown number of books without ISBNs.

These numbers are beyond sobering. Today every new book is just a drop in an ever-growing sea of books.

Clearly, when traditional publishers were in control of book publishing they were major gatekeepers, just as we all suspected. Obviously, with fewer books in the marketplace, it was much easier to get books discovered in the past.

Today, there are no guards at the gate and we can all publish as many books as we want. But with this freedom comes new challenges — first and foremost, getting your self-published books discovered by potential readers. (Getting readers to purchase their books is a whole different problem.)

Are You Buying the Book Sales Hype?

As today’s indie authors struggle to figure out how to market our books, we are bombarded by business people purporting to have all the answers to “selling thousands of book,” “publishing bestsellers,” or making “six figures with out first book.” They tell us that if we would just purchase their sales strategy (a book, training program, or conference), we could be wealthy authors — just like them.

However, even if these hucksters really did sell thousands of their own books, they were the rare exceptions. After listening to or reading the sales strategies of many of these salespeople I found they had something going for them that most of us do not, such as a legacy bank of readers, abnormally aggressive sales skills, or super social skills. As a result, most of us could follow their programs to the T and never achieve the same results.

What the majority of self-published authors need instead of a book-marketing pipe dream is a hype-free strategy that helps them create discoverability campaigns based on a solid foundation of promotional activities. Elements of this strategy should include essential basics such as:

•  Book websites and/or blogs

•  Social media outreach

•  Press releases

•  Public speaking

•  TV, radio, and blog interviews

•  Blog and magazine articles

•  Targeted advertising

What other promotional activities do you think need to be included in an independent author’s book discovery campaign?

Future posts on this blog will go into detail about each leg of an author’s book discovery journey.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria Cisneros Toth October 19, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Found this blog post on FB. Glad I took a few moments to click on the link & read. Excellent post! Will be sharing with my critique peeps.

All great suggestions! The one thing I would suggest is creating a Youtube channel. The videos I post don’t necessarily have to do with my books. I do, however, include my Web site link if anyone is interested in learning more about me. So far, my vids range from crafts to Halloween fun stuff. Youtube might not be for everyone, but like everything else, it’s like you’ve got to give it a try and see what works best for you and your personality.

All the best and success to everyone and their writing careers! 🙂


Stephanie Jefferson October 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm

I so understand this, but am working hard trying to make the right choices and get it done. Being a children’s author adds another twist to the whole marketing and promotion equation.


Karen Jonson October 19, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Hi Stephanie,

It’s difficult for everyone. I’m thinking of starting a group for people who want direct help with book marketing. Stay tuned here for an update on this.



Stephanie Jefferson October 19, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Will do. Waiting with baited breath. 😉


Jennifer October 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Excellent post! I’ve been a pr professional for years and am exploring this self-publishing experiment. This blog is a gem. Jennifer


Karen Jonson October 20, 2012 at 6:41 am

Thank you Jennifer.

I’m happy to hear you like it so far.

I hope you’ll share some of your PR expertise her with us.

Best Karen


Tamian Wood October 20, 2012 at 5:47 am

Thanks for posting this hype-less bit of information. I really enjoyed the reasonable tone of the article. It’s tiring reading all those “get rich quick” by doing these 5 simple steps that I’ll charge you $40.00 (plus tax & shipping) to reveal. All great reasonable suggestions. I’m looking forward to the future posts with details on those bullet points.

The only thing I can add is kind of a preface. Part of your marketing starts even before these suggestions. Before your book is “discovered”, before you are ready to point them in the right direction, your product must look marketable. It’s a bit of a shameless plug, (but still free advice) be sure that you hire a professional cover designer.

With all the millions of books out on the market today, it’s more important than ever to have a compelling cover design. Studies have shown that readers spend roughly 2-8 seconds looking at each book cover, before choosing one to click on or flip over. My job, as a cover artist, is to get the reader to pause, click or flip and read the author’s words. Whether you are a self published author, or a New York Times best selling author, your book cover art should grab your reader and tell them, in an instant, “Take me home! I am just what you need!”

Once you get ’em there, don’t loose them with a DIY cover.

Tamian Wood
Professional Cover Designer


Karen Jonson October 20, 2012 at 6:45 am

Hi Tamian,

I agree completely about the book cover. You rarely see ugly book covers in the bookstores!

I’ll go into this in more detail in an upcoming post — and hope to share some insight from you!

As for the $40, some of the “sell books quick and get rich quick” schemes I’ve seen cost way more than that. I’m mean hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Truly ridiculous.



Tamian Wood October 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Down right insanity! I agree. My point was, it was nice to come to this page and see some actual useable advice for authors instead of a ploy. Kudos!

I’m happy to share any info/insight. Feel free to contact me.



Brenda November 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I am currently working on putting one together on But I am still having trouble about blogging. My book is a memoir about growing up in one of the infamous housing slums in the United States. I wrote about what it was like to live there I don’t want it to go on the shelf under African American Urban reading, I want everyone to read it, it is not just AA that struggle, I want those who have gone through those struggles to talk about them I just don’t know how to get that out or where to start. Also how and where could I get a radio or any kind of interview? All suggestions will
appreciated. By the way you should be VERY PROUD of your site. It is so good to hear from someone who proclaims to have the answers to help you but then want to charge you an arm and a leg. I did this and after receiving this so called great info had a book that I had taken out from the library sitting in my lap with the exact same words. I’m sure a lot of people including me are grateful that you are willing to help and not have us mortgage our homes to get it. I have gone to a lot of other peoples websites and have gone to even more blog sites but I just can’t seem to get it. what am I doing wrong? How do I start?


Karen Jonson November 26, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Hi Brenda,

Thank you very much. I’m trying to help as much as I can. However to really learn the ins and outs of the indie book publishing and marketing business takes deep immersion into this world. That said, I am starting a community for indie authors who want to immerse themselves in this world in 2013. Over the course of the 52 weeks, we’ll cover the 52 topics related to book marketing — including the issues you are struggling with. While there is a fee to join the community, it’s very low — especially for the first year. Take a look at it on my Indie Book Marketing Community page and see what you think. Get on the mailing list if you think you’d like to receive the updates. Registration will begin in December.

I will of course continue to publish my blog, on which I will share information with everyone. I’m glad you like it — that is very encouraging.

As for you book, that topic sounds fascinating. I definitely think you have could leverage many opportunities to achieve your goals. One idea that comes to mind is trying to write an article about your book for a print or online magazine or blog. But that’s just one idea. Perhaps joining the community will be a huge help to you, because we’ll explore all kinds of marketing strategies, tactics, and processes — all with the support and motivation of a indie author community.



Jeffrey R. Orenstein, Ph.D. October 20, 2012 at 9:20 am

Your list is excellent. Covers and “back cover” endorsements and descriptions are also effective.

I would only add that we have had success with both SEO-researched titles and subtitles and targeted emails to our professional and entrepreneurial clients’ contact and association lists.


Karen Jonson October 21, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Hello Dr. Orenstein,

Thank you for sharing. That’s great that you cracked the SEO code. That’s the Holy Grail for all of us self-published authors, I think.

Sending emails or direct mailers to a targeted list also needs to be on the list. I’m happy to hear that worked for you.

I’ll add both of these to the list.

Thank you for sharing.


Walter Danley, Jr. December 18, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I liked your comments to SEO and book covers and backs to Karen’s list. Sorry to be a bit dense, but how does one go about doing SEO-researched titles and subtitles? I would appreciate your help. Thank you,


Karen Jonson December 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Hi Walter,

SEO is a vast topic and not easily explained in the comment section of a blog. I think to full share the essential information about SEO as it relates to authors requires a more educational setting. I’ll be covering that in-depth in the Indie Book Marketing Community.



Harvey C. Jones October 20, 2012 at 11:13 am

Thanks for putting this information out for us small self published poets and writers who like what they do. It has been a rough road but I will not give up on this dream of mine. I am a poet or a put together of rhyming verses of a positive spin for all to enjoy. It is hard to get your work out when your funds are tight but if you enjoy this as a passion then keep going forward. I applaud all who are doing what they do so God bless. My book Life’s Reality”Everyday Poetry” is available at my publishing company Xlibris,,, borders, most of your local bookstores so check out these sites and read some excerpts. Thanks and keep life flowing. Harvey C. Jones. My cover is of myself with a special simple pose without complication.


Karen Jonson October 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Hi Harvey,

Thanks for sharing. I just heard a poet talk about her book marketing strategy last week. I’ll share here tips, along with other writers’ tips, in an upcoming blog post.

Never give up your dream.



Ronald Destra October 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm

This article and tips were helpful.Thanks,Karen.


Karen Jonson October 23, 2012 at 8:03 am

Hi Ronald,

Thanks. I’m glad it was helpful to you. Stay tuned for more information that I hope is also helpful.



Lori Howell October 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm

I too am glad that I found this website. My novel “Reflections” is self-published and I feel what everyone is going through. We have to become SME experts, editors, formatters, and keep the creative writing flowing through us. I have two more novels that I am writing.
Look forward to hearing from you and your success as well.


Karen Jonson October 21, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Hi Lori,

And thank you!

I hope I provide some useful insight. Please let me know what you think and if what works for you.



Bill October 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Karen, please include me in your group when you get it up and running. Most of my on and off-line writing is aimed at giving useful content to my readers. But it sure would be nice to get something ($) back from all that giving! And I have several books that won’t see a wider audience until I sort out the pros and cons of self-publishing. Do you have any opinions/experience with e books? Is that another one of those pie-in-the-sky schemes? Thanks,



Karen Jonson October 21, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Hi Bill.

Sure thing on the group. I’m hoping to launch it soon. I’ll share details in upcoming posts.

I’m not sure what you mean about ebooks being pie-in-the-sky. I put my book on my website as a PDF and on Amazon as a Kindle, as well as a POD paperback. Let me know what you mean.



Okon Eren October 22, 2012 at 5:16 am

This is excellent post by all standard.


Celia Hayes October 22, 2012 at 6:49 am

Besides the above – always have on your person some information about your books and you – like a business card with a thumbnail of your book on it, your website, and email contact/phone number. When you’re out and about, and you can work it gracefully into a conversation, tell people you’re a writer, and distribute cards. Favorable word of mouth takes a while, but it’s worth waiting for. Cherish those fans of yours who love your books and will tell their friends!

Explore non-traditional (that is, venues other than bookstores, like craft fairs and community festivals) for direct sales. Take full advantage of your author page on Amazon/B&N, on Kindle Boards, Goodreads, Shelfari, etc. Network and do joint events with other writers in your local area … and don’t forget about internet radio interview shows, either.

I started as a blogger, in 2002 – and began long-form writing in 2005 or so. Now I have six novels out there – historical fiction set on the American frontier, all independently published by a tiny local press – all of them available as e-books.


Karen Jonson October 23, 2012 at 7:58 am


Excellent ideas. I will add them all to my list.

I have a business card for my book with the cover on one side and my contact info on the other. I highly recommend it. It’s an easy way to share your the details of ordering your book.

I’ve heard that word of mouth is the top-most important aspect of selling books.



Will Lutwick October 22, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Yes, it’s an awful time to be selling books. I’ve found some success for my seriocomic memoir, “Dodging Machetes.” Even with stellar reviews from the likes of Kirkus, I still have to go to a lot of effort just to sell a few books. You have to really seize those unexpected moments and then milk every drop out of them. A radio talk-show host, Starla Faye from Two Talk Books on LA Talk Radio saw my comment on a blog and based on that alone she offered to interview me on her show. The interview lasted 53 minutes and is on the LA Talk Radio website. A few days ago, I accidentally came across a press release online for the social network UmeNow. I noticed they recommended books and so I asked if they’d recommend “Dodging Machetes.” This morning they put it in their five top recommendations along with Stephen Colbert’s #1 NY Times Bestseller, “America, Again.” As you can imagine I am milking that cow so much she has turned inside out.


Karen Jonson October 23, 2012 at 7:55 am

Hi Will,

What a great story. That proves that serendipity counts a lot. However, you were out there doing things that made luck happen. I think that is the most important lesson of all.

Good for you to make hay while the sun shines. 🙂



Dipika November 20, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Wow! Really?

I’ve gotten two ebooks out, with good reviews. Mostly I’m learning as I go, was this how it was for you, too, Will? Thanks for sharing.


Ian Miller October 22, 2012 at 7:41 pm

This is a good post, but it still largely restricts discoverability to those who have some contact with the author. Consider the reader who thinks, “I would like to read a book about . . . ” or “a story with these sort of characteristics”. The search engines so far are too crude (or at least the ones I know about are). One route might be with agreed tags. I know when I self-published three fictional ebooks, my tags were words I came up with, but would the general reader? Quite possibly not. If there were a list somewhere of tags available to both readers and writers, searchability might be easier.


Karen Jonson October 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

Hi Ian,

Thank you for the idea. However, I’m not quite sure what the concept is. Do you mean tags on your website or blog?



Mary Schiller October 23, 2012 at 8:13 am

I’m starting to think that knowing how to capitalize on Amazon’s search engine — as much as we can understand from the outside — is essential in helping one’s book be discovered, maybe more than any of the other marketing tools we have. I’m brand new to self-publishing and am planning my first two-day free promotion. My hope is that any results I generate will give me valuable insights into marketing and, even more importantly, whether my short fiction can actually satisfy a specific audience segment.


Karen Jonson October 23, 2012 at 9:09 am

Hi Mary,

Please let us know your results.

I’ve been reading about the free promotions on Kindle Direct. A couple of writers who had success on it earlier this year, said they would not recommend it now. I accidentally signed up for it, before I knew what I’d done. I’m not planning to use the free days at all. So your experience will be very interesting to hear about.

I think that marketing our indie books is a moving target right now.



Simon Denman October 23, 2012 at 9:17 am

I have found that KDP Select ‘Free days’ are there best way of getting discovered – providing you register with all the free promo websites first and then tweet / Facebook the hell out of it while it’s running. This has several effects:

1. It creates buzz / word-of-mouth which will help sales

1. It will get you reviews (I include a polite little message at the end of my book thanking them for reading and, if they enjoyed it, explaining how much a review would help me as a début author. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one review for every 3 – 400 downloads or so – at least that’s my experience.

1. Assuming you achieved several thousand free downloads over the few days you ran it, you’ll see a surge in sales volumes anything from 10 to 30 times what it was before and which should last for at least a couple of weeks – maybe longer depending on whether more reviews come in at the same time (a good review will boost rank even in the absence of sales).

The reason you get this surge after the promo is because Amazon’s recommendation algorithms kick in based on parameters which seem to include:
* The daily download volume over a couple of days

* The number and quality of reviews you receive

* The rank

* The price (I’m not sure, but I think they favour slightly higher prices)

* Possibly the number of likes / category tags – can’t confirm this though.

* The conversion ratio (how many sales they get for x number of recommendations

* + probably other data – such as the number of readers to finish the book and how long it took them – yes Amazon collects this data via Whispernet.

Besides KDP, I have found guest blogging to be the most measurably useful thing you can do.

I have tried advertising a few times and found its efficacy to range from total waste of money to very poor return on investment. This may just be because my ads sucked, but I don’t think so.

Obviously, as somebody already pointed out, you have to be sure that the product is the best you can possibly make it, which means good editing as well as good writing.

To maximise your volume of free downloads (my last one got 13,500 in 3 days) the cover and description is even more important than the writing, but of course you’ll only get the reviews if the content meets expectations too.

If you’re interested, I wrote a couple of blogs on this subject a few weeks ago:

Hope that helps a bit:)


Karen Jonson October 23, 2012 at 10:22 am

Hi Simon,

Thank you for posting this here as well as on Linked In.

I’m very interested in when you had success with Kindle Direct, because I have read some interesting articles about it recently. Some authors say they had great success up until Spring of this year. Things changed when too many authors were involved. The two authors I read highly recommended KDP earlier this year. However, they no longer recommend it, stating that it lost its potency.

Let us know.



Tai Goodwin October 24, 2012 at 6:51 am

There is no one thing or one masterplan that works for all authors. As a social media coach I run into many authors who think social media is a magic wand. There is no overnight success when it comes to social media. It takes time to build an audience and a community. My recommendation to authors is to invest time learning what’s out there – and figure out what works or doesn’t work for THEM. Bottom line/reality check: you are going to have to up your marketing game.


Karen Jonson October 24, 2012 at 9:01 am

Hi Tai,

Thanks for the reality check — that reality settled into my life over the summer. It’s painful, but it’s the truth. Authors have to take many steps over time to get their books “discovered.”



Marc Vun Kannon October 25, 2012 at 5:01 am

One technique I use that not many other authors do is fanfiction. Not only is it great practice for writing, it’s also a way to show it to others who have the same interests as you. I also use it as a motivator, by ‘ransoming’ myself. I don’t let myself write another fanfiction chapter until I write a thousand words in my MS, or a blog post, or something.


Karen Jonson October 25, 2012 at 8:59 am

Hi Marc,

Fanfiction is what propelled “50 Shades” to megawatt stardom. I’m not sure there is a fan site for my nonfiction topic — cults. But that is an excellent avenue for fiction writers.

I am, however, looking for websites, blogs, and other sources that fit my genre.

Let us know the results of publishing fanfiction.



Joe Raben October 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I have developed an interactive marketing tool for ebooks and need a business-oriented partner to help me promote it. Anyone interested?


Thom Reece October 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm

After 40+ years in the trenches of the marketing consulting industry I have come to one very simple conclusion… “Marketing Is Marketing”.

Yes, there are always some quirks with promotion of anything… consumer products, travel, health, etc. But, when the smoke clears, what works in one industry… will work in most, if not all, industries.

If you want to know how to market books… learn the concepts behind ‘direct response marketing’. The one skill most writers claim to have is the ability to communicate with the written word. Most, however, fail to understand how to “sell” with the written word… and that means you need to study the elements of direct response copywriting.

Writing sales copy is simply “salesmanship on paper”. How can you possibly write a compelling headline, design a strong selling cover, or describe your book in a way that makes readers rush for the order button or the cash register… if you do not understand how to write sales copy? I believe that all authors… especially those of us in self-publishing… could increase our sales and profits by quantum leaps almost overnight… simply by learning how to generate strong selling copy.

You put on a publishers hat the moment you made the choice to self-publish… like it or not, you have taken on the tasks and responsibility of marketing your books. That said, how can you possibly expect to get “discovered” without a solid understanding of all the skills and techniques that go into the selling process? The lesson here is that if you are not ready, willing, or able to accept the role of “Marketer In Chief”… then be prepared to outsource those functions.

You have no other choice… if you ignore the marketing function… your chances of earning a living in self-publishing {or any other business} are almost nil.


Lucy Cleary October 27, 2012 at 8:47 am

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. As a new Author there is so much to learn regarding promoting and marketing your book. Any suggesting or insight is apreciated.


Karen Jonson October 28, 2012 at 7:11 pm

You’re welcome Lucy.

Please keep reading. I hope to answer many questions here about book marketing for self-published authors.



Doc Briley November 3, 2012 at 9:48 pm

If you go to, an excellent POD publisher, they have an excellent book on How to Promote Your book. It’s especially good for non fiction. I write middle grade fiction. An eight year old wrote a delightful review for, and I ask anyone who reads the book and likes it to write a review on or…. Would be interested in you group to help each other promote. Aloha nui, Doc


Karen Jonson November 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

Hi Doc,

Thanks for the tip. But what is the book’s title? There are a lot of books there on book marketing.

I will keep you posted on the author marketing group I’m starting before the end of the year.



Dipika November 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm


What is your advice to people asking about pricing? I’m really very curious to hear.



Karen Jonson November 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Hi Dipika,

Regarding pricing our indie books, I don’t have the answers. I don’t think anyone does yet. Everything is too new and changing constantly in the new world of book publishing.

I heard an established author say that she found her sweet spot on ebooks to be $2.99. She got the most sales from that number. She had a person resistance to $.99 books, saying she didn’t like the idea of her books in the “dollar bin.”

Right now I’ve priced my Kindle book at $9.99. It’s a specialty book that won’t appeal to the masses. So I figured why price it at mass consumer low prices.

However, I’m writing another book that I’m going to price cheap and see what happens.

I’m starting a new Indie Book Marketing Community to have a group of writers to help figure out what really works in indie books, including pricing strategies. Check it out to see if it would fit your needs.



Doc Briley November 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I priced mine @ $2.99 also. Children’s writer. . Good luck!



T.S. Tran December 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Writing groups are great.
Starting a community indie book fair, probably better but that will be a feat.


Karen Jonson December 10, 2012 at 8:51 am

Hi T.S.

Thank you. I think writing groups can be very supportive, informative, and motivation.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin to start a book fair. There are many book-related events to attend. I think it’s a matter of finding your genre.



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