Writing for Robots?

reading robotAs writers and authors one of our main goals is to attract readers, preferably ones who will actually buy our books and not expect to get them for nothing. To that end we try to figure out how to reach those readers and, once we do that, entice them to buy.

One of the most common questions asked among writers is, “How do we find our audience?” The advice on how to network, and which media sites will help us best, keeps shifting as new ones emerge and existing ones change for the better – or not. It’s almost impossible to keep up with all the information, let alone make the best choices that will work for our particular offerings. Opinions about what works and what doesn’t are almost as plentiful as authors.

One of the more complex strategies involves SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It is a technique which helps search engines (computers) find and rank your site higher than the millions of other sites competing with yours for attention. In theory SEO helps direct traffic from search engines to you. It does this by having little bots crawl through every word ever posted on any public site. It then finds matches to what human fingers type into their keyboards when they are looking for something they want. The better job you do of getting those words into what you post, the more likely it is that someone wanting what you have to offer will find your product. At least that is how I understand it, in lay terms so to speak. In order for this to succeed we must embed words (called keywords) into whatever we write online so that they draw prospective buyers to where they can buy our books.

I am no expert on SEO (Oh, you figured that out already?). But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the vast majority of writers and authors aren’t either.

So the question that arises for us is whether SEO can help drive traffic, or more specifically buyers, to our books and, once there, will what they see there entice them to buy?

It has come to my attention, and that of several other writers I know, that many authors are attempting to use SEO in their back cover blurbs, synopses and book descriptions. The problem is that SEO is dependent on algorithms to search for those keywords. Those change regularly, making it impossible to know what works. The general consensus seems to be that, even if you could stay on top of the changes, SEO works minimally for non-fiction and is mostly useless for fiction. We write books. We do not manufacture physical items like rivets or socks or blenders or … well you get the point.

But here’s the real kicker. The description needs to entice a reader, not a computer. Humans don’t read the way computers do, not yet, anyway.

Why is that important? Because books are read by humans, and humans look for a connection that a computer cannot predict. Even if you succeed in making a link to a seeker via the keywords in your blurb, if it is not written in a way that reflects your writing style, your story or your genre, if your blurb looks mechanical and contrived, it will send that prospective reader right back where they started. You have lost the sale.

Now I am not going to say that you must ignore SEO entirely when writing your blurb, etc., but if you try too hard to include as many keywords as you can, you run the risk of losing the appeal of your book. The bottom line is that you must connect with your reader. Your description must give the reader a glimpse of what they can expect. If you force too many keywords into your blurb you risk making it stilted and losing that next five star review. So make your blurb match the book, not those fickle bots.

Author: Yvonne Hertzberger

Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, with degrees in psychology and Sociology. Her Fantasy trilogy, ‘Earth’s Pendulum’ has been well received. Learn more about Yvonne at her blog and her Amazon author page.

24 thoughts on “Writing for Robots?”

  1. I think you’ve raised an important point, Yvonne, we do connect to real people, and ultimately they are the ones who will decide the value they place on our work. In the rush to market it’s all too easy to forget that what we want is readers, not just the ka-ching of cash registers.

  2. When the doors opened for the indie and self-published author the complexities increased in finding readership. Four years ago there were 4 million writers in the USA alone trying to get noticed. Basically we have created our own slush pile. I am a firm believer in visual connection; I think we have to develop a new way to grab the attention of readers making our work(s) the one they want to buy. I’m with you on the SEO, and books are read by humans It is up to us to make the change in the game. Hint, writers need to pay attention to what is going on in nano technology; there are real treats for us to facilitate to our market.You know (lol) my struggles with technology. If I can get some of the cool things that are close to market anyone can. Good post, thank you.

  3. Great post, Yvonne. I’ve read on several different sites that including keywords in a blurb is one way to help readers find a book. Overall, (now I’m going out on a limb!) I think tips and tricks like that probably don’t have more than a very short-term effect, if they have any effect at all. I completely agree with you that SEO-packed blurbs may help readers find a book, but unless the blurb is compelling, it won’t keep them there.

    1. Thanks, Melinda. And that’s the rub, isn’t it – finding that balance that will send readers to you with a few keywords but still creating a blurb that will appeal to readers and give them a sense of the story.

  4. This is spot on, Yvonne. I see so many authors now loading keywords into 400- and even 700-word book descriptions on their Amazon.com book pages. No one wants to take the time to read that. 150 succinct words about the story are going to have more impact. The place to use that kind of SEO is on their website or blog – to draw readers there via searches and to then send them to the Amazon.com book page where the slick book description seals the deal. But even on their website or blog, the book description has to be “endearing” enough to make readers want to click through. Thanks again for a great article. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kat. I agree. For myself, if I read a blurb and it doesn’t reflect the style of the author’s writing, or voice either the blurb will turn me off or, if it is too different from the inside style, then the book itself will not be what I expected. Either way it is a disappointment.

  5. Agree completely, Yvonne: The bottom line is “connecting with the reader.” We’d all like to appear on the Internet Radar, but that alone will not draw people to our books. Thanks for the insight!

  6. I get the impression you are “righter than you realize” here, Yvonne.
    SEO has a kind of magic cachet for many who don’t really understand it, and SEO warlocks try to convince you that it will “drive” readers to your books. (Actually there is no way to “drive” anybody anywhere… use of that term is in itself a big BS flag.)
    Fact is SEO is almost totally useless for novelists. Non fiction is another story. Used to be my Mexican Slang 101 book would always be on the first page of Google for any sort of Mexico slang or language search. But the Google algorithms changed and I haven’t bothered to pursue it. But that is non-fiction, where keywords count.
    The idea that you can get your civil war romance to come up ahead of the many, many other such novels that carry the massive weight of big publisher links is absurd, frankly.
    And here’s the REAL magic bean… the most effective SEO stunt is not keywords, it’s backlinks. The more links out there TO your book or site or blog, the better it does in SEO.
    Bad news is, that still isn’t enough to boost your rebel romance over GWTW and all the others.
    GOOD news is, a backlink, uniquely among SEO gimmicks works on its own power, without worrying about search engines. A backlink is a sign pointing to your book, clickable to get them there. No joojoo required. So instead of screwing around with keywords (and risking a big turnoff from Google if your overdo it) concentrate on placing links to your book. Getting them on other people’s sites and blogs, getting them on book sites, etc.
    By putting up all those Burma Shave signs to your target page, you are working on human eyeballs and pleasing the robots at the same time.

      1. It’s just a fancy word for “links to you”. You place them however you can. Ask friends to have your link on the sidebar of their blog, add them to signature on forums (like this one), place author profiles with links on writing sites… etc.

  7. I’m going to pop in here for a couple of comments. I just learned when I refer to a blurb, I’m talking about comments from reviewers. Book description is where I put my ‘blurbs’. As for experts, I’ve never found one listed in the Yellow pages under Expert. Something is happening with one of my websites. It has an Alexa rank today of just over 31,000, about 64 sites linking in. The other thing is, I put a link to that webpage in my Amazon bio and in July Alexa told me that 4300 (14% of the total traffic to the site) people on Amazon ticked that link and came to the website. The questions was: Where do visitors come from? Alexa told me. Alexa also told me that visitors stay on the site for up to 14 minutes. That might or might not be Social Engine Optimization. Right this minute IU has an Alexa Rank of 15,024. 525 sites linking in. It is why IU is the #1 Blog for indie authors. I am not gonna try any SOE tricks on my books. The ‘book description’ and the cover are gonna have to get that sale for me–or not.
    Good post Yvonne.

    1. Jackie, if you are interested in where visitors come from, I’d suggest you use StatCounter. It’s a free site. You place a snipped of code on each of your pages and it tells you how many people hit the page, where they came from, how long they stayed, where they went next, what country they’re in, and much much more.

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