Diary of a Book Marketing Novice: Keywords

By Randy Ross
(Originally published on Randy's blog, The Loneliest Planet.)

For months, agent blogs have been exhorting writers -- even fiction writers -- to build a massive online platform of potential readers. So, last week I took the plunge and borrowed Online Book Marketing by Lorraine Phillips from the library. (If I had the dough and could be guaranteed this would get me an agent, I surely would have paid for it.)

Note: The book is geared toward non-fiction writers, but it was one of simplest, most clearly written books on online book marketing that I'd seen. I decided to see if it would work for fiction writers.

One the first steps: Figure out my brand, my audience, and find keyword phrases that will entice readers to my site when they perform online searches. (Key part of successful platform is a Web site that gets lots of traffic.)

My brand is supposed to be me. But that made no sense and I had to get to the gym in six hours, so I decided that my brand would be my novel in progress, The Loneliest Planet: A Handbook for the Chronically Single. The book is about a never-married hypochondriac who takes a trip around the world looking for love.

In describing my book, a few keywords came to mind:

- weird travel
- lonely single guys
- failed relationships
- personal growth through suffering
- puerile humor

And a few possible audiences:

- men seeking naughty massages.
- women who think all men are pigs.
- politically-correct men who think all men are pigs.
- people who like the Three Stooges
- other writers who might take pity on me and buy my book.

(I'm not saying these are great search terms, but I had to start somewhere. Plus, I still had book to write, I couldn't spend a week on this, and the gym closes early on Sundays.)

Then I read the first couple of chapters and decided to take the following steps:

1) I went to Amazon and looked at comparable books' pages for keyword phrase ideas.

Comparable book: About a Boy, by Nick Hornby:

A section called "Inside this Book" listed "Key Phrases" that included:

"Kurt Cobain," "Dead Duck Day," "Macaulay Culkin," "Planet," and  "Upper Street."

At the bottom of the Amazon page, under a section called "Tags Customers Associate with This Product," I found "too expensive for kindle," and "contemporary fiction."

Not so useful.

Comparable book: Portnoy's Complaint, by Phillip Roth:

In a section called "Inside This Book," "Key Phrases" included: "The Monkey," "Uncle Hymie," "Puerto Rican," and "Bubbles Girardi."


The customer tags for this book were equally worthless.

Comparable book: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

"Key Phrases" included: "Baby Dolls," Silicon Valley," "Red Bull," and "The Skank."

"Tags" included" "drinking," "stupid," and "swamp donkey."

Beyond worthless.

I gave up on the Amazon idea.

2) Then I looked at comparable authors' websites and websites on similar topics, and then ran those URLs through a slick Internet marketing tool called Abakus recommended by the book. (The tool tells you what keywords those sites use.)

3) Finally, I took this whole mess of keywords and ran them through Google Adwords keyword research tool to find related terms and to pick the terms that Google claims get the most hits.

Elapsed time: about eight hours. I'm not sure why it took so long, but it did. And I never made it to they gym.

Results: a spreadsheet filled with terms ranked by how popular they are. See my keyword spreadsheet

For more questionable author promotion and platform building tips, see "Bad Advice for Writers."

Randy Ross is a Boston-area writer and former executive editor for PC World magazine. His fiction has appeared in The Drum and Side B Magazine. His non-fiction has appeared in the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. He is completing a novel with working title, The Loneliest Planet: A Handbook for the Chronically Single. He plans to circulate the novel to agents in 2012.

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