Tagging, discoverability and #ebooks

hashtag for indie authorsAs Indie authors, all the work we do in marketing and promotion goes toward just one thing: discoverability. If readers don’t know our magnum opus exists, how can they buy it?

Sadly, the flip side to that question is how can we make our work more visible?

The stock answer is always ‘social media’, but getting noticed on social media is just as hard as getting your book noticed on Amazon – after all, you are still one amongst millions.

All sorts of strategies abound purporting to increase the likelihood of success, but honestly…success is still largely down to luck, and we all know it.

But what if there were a better way of connecting readers to stories?

According to Michael R Underwood, the solution has been under our noses all along in the form of the humble hashtag [ # ]. In his article entitled Everything is miscellaneous: why publishing needs tagging, Underwood advocates using the hashtag to create an organic, bottom-up way of categorizing fiction.

I recommend reading the entire article, but basically Underwood is saying that the current system of genres and sub-genres was imposed from the top down by book publishers and book sellers to make life easier for themselves, not us. [By ‘us’ I mean both readers and Indie authors].

Unfortunately, that old way of organizing books has carried over into the digital era, and in a lot of ways, we Indies and Amazon have only made the problem of discoverability worse. Before, a book only had to compete with the other books in the bookstore. Now, that same book has to compete with thousands of others in the same category!

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Imagine if you could type in the keywords [plural] to the type of fiction you wanted to read? For me it would be: science, fiction, social, aliens, future, culture. Now imagine a Google or Amazon search coming back with just those books that best match your search criteria?

Reader heaven. And Indie heaven too because those keywords would do a better job of connecting us to potential readers than all the posts and tweets in the world. Sadly, even Amazon won’t let us connect to readers in that way, yet.

But don’t despair! This is a snowball we can begin building on our own because hashtags already provide a way for us to categorize our work in a more useful, grassroots kind of way. Instead of spamming ‘buy my book’ on Twitter, perhaps we should just tag the important features, add a link and allow readers to search for us when they are ready.

And yes, I know you already use hashtags but do you make keywords the hero as in the following tweet?

#Indie #publishing #tutorials #howto @IndiesUnlimited https://indiesunlimited.com/

I’m no expert when it comes to Twitter but I think that would work. Or if that’s not your style, how about putting hashtags in the title of your blog posts? Or in the blurb of your book?

You see, although we all use hashtags, our focus is almost always on ‘the book’ instead of on the keywords that could lead readers to the book. It’s a small shift in thinking that could have huge consequences for discoverability. And the best part is that once we get this ball rolling, Amazon will want to get involved. After all, if it can track which reader wants are ‘trending’, it can recommend better books for those readers to buy. Win-win.

28 thoughts on “Tagging, discoverability and #ebooks”

  1. I’ve been using hashtags, but not often enough or as many as I should on a single post. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Nate, I agree with your article in that some people always abuse a system and eventually (usually sooner than later) it becomes a quagmire like the Amazon tags did. (I also enjoyed your Neil examples.) I like this idea for use with social media, though, and am pretty sure it’s already being used by more savvy tweeters and Facebookers. It’d be nice to see it used across the platforms, making it easier for readers to find the types of books they want if they frequent those sites. Thanks for dropping by, it’s always a pleasure to see you here.

      1. Thanks!

        The problem with talking about tags in terms of pitching books on social media is that the first rule of social media is no pitches (or so I thought).

        So aren’t we talking about how to improve on an activity which is frowned upon?

        1. Well, my entire Twitter feed is jammed with book promos. Instagram has less, but still has them nonetheless. Google+ – more there, too. Facebook gets them, too, but at least has groups for book promos, and I think in groups that tags would be really helpful to readers and reviewers (since there is a search function available in groups) instead of having to sift through every post.

        2. I don’t think that promoting your book is always frowned upon, it’s just a matter of degree. I do a ton of posting on Facebook and around 85% of those posts have nothing to do with my writing directly – they are memes, or jokes, or observations, etc. I believe that by delivering quality content at such a high percentage buys you a certain amount of goodwill that allows you the freedom to occasionally promote without negative repercussions.

    2. Hi Nate, just read your article and your make some compelling points – a paragraph full of every keyword imaginable would be less than useful and yes, I’m sure the system has been abused – but Amazon is not the only place where you can run a search and every system is open to abuse. Nevertheless, Twitter still works, as do its hashtags. We all need some way of finding the conversations we want to join.

      The one point I disagree with completely, however, is the one about readers not needing or wanting the system changed. I read a lot so finding new books to read is always an issue as the major categories swamp me with choice where all choices are equally random. As a Reader, I would LOVE this. Of course, I may not be a typical reader, but anything would be better than the current system. 🙁

    3. I don’t think the article care about Amazon. He’s talking about my ability to reach readers on social media who aren’t already subscribed to my feeds. I recently learned the trick so I agree with the article. I started ditching pics of my book cover and adding hashtags for readers who search by the tag. #ChristmasReads has already generated new sales from my Tweets.

  2. Great post. I myself struggle to promote my book. Posting on twitter makes me uncomfortable. I like the straight forward idea of hash tagging the key words. I will try it.

    Also, I have never used hash tags in blog posts but I think I may start hash tagging some of the key words. It took me a long time to understand how hash tags worked and I avoided twitter for a long time. Thanks for the post.

    1. I’ve actually started putting ONE hashtag in all of my WordPress posts and I’ve had quite a few new people tell me they found the post[s] via the #. The trick is to find the right tag for the right title.

  3. #Helpful #Promo #Tips! Copy what Yvonne said: I have as much difficulty choosing hashtags for my posts as I do book categories on Amazon. Time to read Michael Underwood’s article. Thanks!

    1. Yeah, choosing the correct hashtags is tricky because we have no guarantee that anyone else will ever search on them. But if they do…. 🙂

    1. -grin- Me neither. Took me ages to work out that ‘someone’ didn’t create the list of hashtags and that they were a bottom-up way of categorizing things!

    1. Hah! Thank YOU. 🙂

      Left Hand of Darkness is one of my all-time favourite science fiction novels. I wasn’t thinking specifically of that story when I chose those hashtags but the sub-conscious is a clever beast. 🙂

  4. Apologies for not replying sooner but the powersupply on my computer blew up and I’ve been non-digital for days. 🙁

    Thanks to everyone for a lively discussion!

  5. I struggle with this every day. Social Media—on a solo scale—has limitations. I keep trying to push the envelope using searchable hashtags, increasing my use of photos, creating my own categories for posts to increase followers but… there is no recipe that brings book buyers, blog readers and fans. It’s a ll a mishmash and every strategy runs its course eventually.

    1. -sigh- As with everything, we can only try. I personally believe social media is best for branding rather than sales, but that’s as much guesswork as anything else.

      For example, I wish I knew how often you should use these keywords. Do they disappear after 5 minutes? Or do they hang around, ready for someone to search for them?

  6. I was sceptical at first but have become a hashtag convert via Instagram. In these times of over-communication I love how a few words get to the essence of it 🙂

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