How to Get Discovered When Nobody Knows Who The Heck You Are

by James Scott Bell


Recently one of our regulars, RLM Cooper, posted a comment, to wit:

What I’d like to know is not how to avoid critics, but how to get your book noticed in the first place. My book has great reviews (all handful of them) but Amazon makes it nearly impossible to find even when you key in the exact title of it. Unless you know the author and the book title, you are toast. I’ve tried advertising (on a small scale – I’m a writer, not a billionaire). I’ve tried having someone “promote” my book by placing posts on their book promo site with “thousands of followers.” And each day, new books are published and mine sinks down a bit in the Amazon ratings….You all know how much work, sweat, time, tears, effort, love goes into your work. How do you cope when almost no one notices? … How do you keep going when nothing seems to help? … I’m becoming discouraged even with the great reviews my book has gotten. Is it worth it to keep on keeping on?

To which our own Steve Hooley offered foundational advice: “Don’t give up, RLM. Remember PERSEVERANCE. This is a topic worthy of a future discussion.”

So let’s discuss.

First of all, indeed, perseverance is the key to success in any field—from business to art to sports. Heck, to life. A famous quote from Calvin Coolidge sums it up:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Now that we’ve established perseverance as the baseline, let’s discuss getting discovered when, frankly, nobody knows who the heck you are. I realize RLM is working with a small publisher. So take the following as discussion points to take up with your publisher as partner in getting your book seen. For those about to go indie, attend:

  1. The three rules of discoverability

The three rules of real estate, as we all know, are location, location, location. The three rules of discoverability are eyeballs, eyeballs, eyeballs. You want as many new eyes on your pages as possible.

That’s why you should never consider your first book as a money maker but as a loss leader. This is a common strategy in a new business. It means selling a product or service at a price that is not profitable but designed to attract new customers in order to sell them more products down the line. Indeed, this is exactly what Amazon did in its early years (when the know-it-alls were calling it Amazon dot bomb!)

In the same way, you want your first book in the hands of as many readers as possible, even if it means little or no income. And the best way to do that is via:

  1. Kindle Select

For book distribution there is nothing more powerful than the Amazon algorithms. Which means putting your book into Kindle Select. We’ve had many a discussion about going wide and going exclusive. But since we’re talking about a first book and no name recognition, Select gives you the best shot and attracting readers in the world’s largest bookstore. See my going exclusive post, especially the part about working in tandem with a deal-alert newsletter like BookGorillaENT, and The Fussy Librarian (a list of other deal-alert sites can be found here).

  1. Start growing your email list

In the back matter of your book (and on your website) have a way for readers to sign up for your “occasional emails” with deals and updates. I don’t offer a “newsletter” because I believe newsletter fatigue is a thing. What you want are emails that look like messages to friends, not sales brochures to customers. And offer something free in return for signing up. I do it this way.

  1. Produce books as fast as you comfortably can

Your career, recognition, and income are tied to your ongoing productivity. Of course, your books have to be quality, a hazy concept that basically means the kind of book a wide swath of readers will enjoy reading. This is a matter of craft, which is why TKZ is around. Your continuing education in the craft should run on a parallel track with your output. Never stop learning.

Always have a new book you’re working on and one or more in development. Be like a movie studio.

  1. Killer covers

Cover by

We all know the importance of covers. This is no place to skimp. Spend the money to commission a cover that looks every bit as good as anything put out by a Big 5 publisher. Your teenage son or a Fiverr guy is not the way to go.

Go to Amazon and start looking at covers by bestselling authors in your genre. Find designs that jump off the screen. Save them as examples.

Then find a designer. One I have used with happy results is Damonza. Expensive yes, but you get what you pay for. (A list of cover designers can be found here.)

Your designer should look at the examples you’ve saved from Amazon and put that together with your ideas for the book.

If you’re working with a small publisher ask for cover input. You might consider paying for your own designer and asking the publisher to split the cost.

  1. Book description

You need to become a master copywriter for your own books. See the great post by Sue and the comments thereto. Write three or four descriptions, trying different angles. Show these to some people and get feedback—which one creates the greatest desire to read the book?

  1. A+ Content

As Terry pointed out recently, Amazon now offers all authors and publishers the addition of A+ Content. It’s another level of sell that costs nothing. If you’re conversant with Canva, design is pretty simple.

  1. Your author profiles

Set up your Amazon author page and BookBub profile. No cost for creation and easy to nurture.

  1. Price

A lot of digital ink has been poured out on pricing strategy. The current wisdom is that an ebook price of $2.99, $3.99 or $4.99 is the sweet spot. For a new author, $2.99 might be the place to start. Anything from $5.99 on up starts to trigger customer resistance. There’s no reason for that. Remember, loss leader and eyeballs.

  1. Social media

So much has been written about this topic (see the recent Ben Lucas TKZ post). I’ll just summarize my own feeling: social media is not a good place to sell books. I may, however, be behind the times. I probably should be doing dance videos on TikTok. (Or maybe not. There are some things you can’t unsee.)

My standard advice has been to find one or two platforms you enjoy and use the 90/10 rule: 90% of the time provide helpful or entertaining content, and 10% on promoting a book or a deal. Just don’t overuse social media to the detriment of your main task: producing books.

  1. Advertising?

Advertising on Amazon, BookBub or Facebook is a bit complicated. You can spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out what works best for you.  I therefore cannot recommend it for new authors because the EROI—Eyeball Return on Investment—is too low. If anyone has managed to crack the code on this kind of advertising, please tell us about it in the comments.


Getting noticed in the roiling sea of content can seem a daunting task. You know why? Because it is. There are over 3,000 new books that come to market every day. It’s therefore crucial that you manage your expectations and keep moving forward. There is an inner power in being action-oriented. (That’s why I like page-count quotas. I can feel accomplished every day.)

Andre Dubus once said, “Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years.”

Ten years from now you can revisit your decision to become a writer. Until then:

h/t Terry Odell

51 thoughts on “How to Get Discovered When Nobody Knows Who The Heck You Are

  1. Thanks, Jim, particularly for #8 and #9 (#9…#9…#9…some of our younger readers may not get that one). I agree with you on #10. Fatigue sets in after a bit.

  2. Very true. And even when you’ve managed to get a bunch of books out there, there will be up months and down months. When you hit a good month, you can’t count on in as a baseline for the next month.

    • The writing life has never had a “steady paycheck” feel. That’s why it was always unwise for a writer under the old system, who got a big advance, to quit the day job. The rule of thumb was to get five books under your belt that all provide positive royalties before even thinking of writing full time.

  3. Good post, Jim. If I may….

    “How do you cope when almost no one notices? … How do you keep going when nothing seems to help? … Is it worth it to keep on keeping on?”

    Okay, first, only the individual can decide whether continuing with any endeavor is “worthwhile.” Once that’s decided, I can offer a few tips to the few left in the room:

    It’s been said that the best promotion for a novel is to write the next novel. I agree wholeheartedly.

    I’m a writer, so I write. Shrug. Writing is the most fun I can have with my clothes on. If it wasn’t, I’d find something else to do.

    What the reader likes (or not) is up to the reader, not me. Beyond studying to improve my craft, and beyond writing the story to the best of my current ability, there’s nothing I can do to affect that other than make my book attractive.

    To attract readers in the first place, I study appropriate genre covers and create an attractive, attention-grabbing cover. Then I write the best, most enticing sales copy possible. (I recommend Dean Wesley Smith’s inexpensive How to Write Fiction Sales Copy.)

    Then I publish the thing, forget it, and go write the next story or novel idea that occurs to me. Given a good, well-written story, a good cover, and good sales copy, sales come when they come.

    If you’re a writer, the writing/storytelling is the thing. My first “payment” is being the first to be entertained by the story. Everything else is gravy.

    PS: According to my wife, there’s quite a lot of gravy these days. I pay zero attention to that. I’m a writer. My job is to have a ton of fun every day while convincing everyone else I’m “sweating blood in pursuit of my art” or some such nonsense. (grin)

  4. Jim,

    Discoverability for books is a huge issue–especially with over 4,500 new books coming out every day (including the self-published books). Your article is loaded with links and insights for others. Thank you. Killer Covers (#5) is critical as well as the content of your book must be excellent. Then keeping on keeping on–what we do as authors. With gratitude,

    author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition)

  5. Thanks, Jim for doing this post and leading this discussion. Excellent! I have my homework cut out for me this afternoon, with following some of the links you provided.

    I might mention that another of the Kill Zone community, Patricia Bradley, is doing a guest post on this subject on December 4th. She will be approaching the subject from the vantage point of using various social media platforms and working with a traditional publisher. Between your fantastic post, Ben’s recent post on use of Twitter, and Pat’s post, we should have this topic well covered.

    Have a great day!

  6. Highly relevant topic, Jim, and I totally agree with every point. How to get eyeballs? Six years ago, I pondered this question and decided to turn to 9 successful writers in my genre and quiz them in a poll/blog post titled The Tipping Point For Best Selling Authors – – One of the contributors was our own John Gilstrap. The results were not surprising. “Success” came to all after persistently writing many books and experimenting with exposure. Their bottom line was, like you say, persistence. BTW, Happy Halloween!

    • Great idea, Garry, to query those writers. And to find out there is no “magic” pill. You have to write and keep on writing, and market in an efficient manner without getting caught up on a hamster wheel.

  7. This is great, Jim. Copied and pasted it, papered my office walls with it.

    Right now, I’m still waiting on an agent to get back to me on 2 WIPs that she requested to read. I feel like I’m in a small boat with no oars, floating on a vast ocean of books. Waiting for rescue.

    It didn’t help when I read a SM post by an author who was finally signed-after 10 years. I’m not sure I have 10 years left.

    Indie again…? Don’t know.

    In the meantime, I’m working on authorish stuff. And writing more.

    • I hear you, Deb. Waiting is the pits. But you’re doing the “write” thing by staying “authorish.” That’s the foundation for everything else.

      BTW, to stay inspired while “in the boat” on a vast ocean, check out the Redford movie All is Lost. Quite good!

      • I’ll do that! Thanks for your encouragement.

        It occurs to me that instead of replying to the question, “Where do you work?” with “I’m retired”, I should say, “I’m an author.”

        *Cue forehead slap. 🙂

  8. Jim, this is a terrific, information-packed post on a key issue for authors. I agree with all of your points 100%. #4 can be aided by writing in a series, because you’ve already laid a lot of developmental groundwork in Book 1. And a series can aid in discoverability, since you have can then do promotions on Book 1 via sites and paid newsletters like BookBub, FreeBooksy/Bargain Booksy, etc, discounting Book 1 to free or 99 cents for a short time, and setting sweet spot prices for the rest of the series. So, series also tie in with #9 and #11 🙂

    Managing expectations are key, as is perseverance, and having fun in the process, as Harvey noted in his comment.

    Thanks for posting these keys to discoverability! Have a wonderful Sunday.

    • Thanks for mentioning series, Dale. You’re right on about the promotional advantages. How many series does Michael Connelly have now? Baldacci? Think they’re on to something?

  9. As always, great info, Jim. With seemingly endless options to increase discoverability, three factors are crucial to me:

    1. The service must be recommended by someone I TRUST who has vetted it and used it successfully. When TKZers review a service or product, I listen.

    2. Ease of use. Based on your mention of BookGorilla, I just submitted to them. Took five minutes, no learning curve. Amazon and FB ads are too daunting for me to tackle. I’d rather spend that time writing.

    3. Repetition, repetition, repetition. When I read about a service that sounds good, I put it on my to-do list. However, that list keeps growing, dropping the item lower and lower. I have to be reminded and reminded and reminded. If trusted people nag me enough, I’ll eventually get around to accomplishing the task. Here are several examples where TKZ finally pushed me into action:

    Advertising – Garry Rodgers’ post finally convinced me to try stacking ads.
    Going wide – I thought about it for several years until Terry Odell’s post about Draft2Digital gave me the final nudge.
    Updating blurbs – Sue Coletta *nagged* me enough that I finally did it.

    Thanks to your reminder, today’s task is creating Amazon A+ content.

    But my all-time fave advice is yours: Write more books.

      • My brother the chef pointed out to me that if you’re cooking a pot of spaghetti, all the strands will reach the same point of doneness at the same time, so if one sticks, they all should stick.
        Maybe it should be “throw the spaghetti at the wall until it sticks.”

  10. Thanks for this great information, Jim. I’ve been learning a lot of these lessons over the past few years. Perseverance is definitely the key. It reminds me of the old “10,000 mile journey” adage. One step at a time, one reader at a time.

    I found the book promo sites like Book Gorilla, Book Sends, etc to be good for sales. Of course, a Bookbub feature deal is the best way to get boosted to #1 in your category, but it’s expensive. I did not have any success with Facebook or Amazon ads. I suspect you need to go to school to figure out how to best use those.

    I also found a blog tour was a good way to get reviews and that results in more readers.

      • Deb, I’ll tell you my experience. There may be other ways to do this.

        I paid a company to send my book to about 25 bloggers who read it and posted a review on their blog. More importantly, most of them reviewed the book on Amazon and Goodreads. For me, it was a great way to get the word out about my books and to get unbiased reviews.

        I’ll be happy to share the information about the company I used and more detail about the results. Send me an email if you’d like to know.

  11. Mr. Bell, do not dance on TIK Tock! Please don’t. Unless you’re using a pole and back up dancers. Then again, please don’t.

    In all seriousness, I have enjoyed watching you on YouTube and was inspired by your Tweets. Also, you are so right that Twitter and social media posts are overused. It’s a hinderance for sure.

    This is such a timely post for myself and I enjoyed your advice. Someone thirty years younger than me would say – SOLID! I know my opinion might not amount to much, but I think all NEW authors need to understand “Branding” and how to develop your online presence. It boils down to having a businesslike approach – professionalism – guiding your career like you are the CEO of Coke Inc.

    BTW – lots of good things have happened to me since my TKZ interview with Debbie. I have had some great people reach out to me and the future is looking brighter than before. I should add that having confidence is also key and you need to erase your shyness to push yourself ahead. If you holdback, that’s going to hurt you too.

    One last thing, I was writing Debbie a thank-you letter this week, and I mentioned I was extremely happy to have many TKZ regulars follow me on Twitter. It thrilled me to have yourself as my writing hero connect on Twitter as well. Makes me want to be a better writer and try harder. As the goof-ball Charlie Sheen says, “Winning!”

    Thank you everyone for your support.

    • Great to hear, Ben. Good points, esp. about a business-like approach, and also the need to “push yourself ahead” (I would add without being annoying.) Carpe Typem.

  12. You’re playing my tune, Jim. Should we do a TikTok dance together?

    I’m 100% Indie and do/follow all the points discussed. On the issue of Advertising (since you ask)… I do CPC (cost per click) advertising on Amazon and BookBub (and do an occasional Facebook “Boost” for heck of it). My Amazon ads are ongoing and always in the black. BookBub is for a limited time launch or promotion. Ads work if you know what you’re doing, which takes time and trial.

    • Harald, I’m afraid if we teamed up like that the internet would break. But hey, any publicity is good publicity…(or maybe not).

      Glad to hear you have “in the black” ads at Amazon. I guess it can be done…but it does take a long time to get it right.

  13. Thanks for the shout-out, Jim. It just dawned on me that I’m coming up on ten years. I had no idea it’d been that long. What a beautiful, amazing, gut-wrenching, heartwarming, soul crushing, exciting journey it’s been so far. I can hardly wait to see what happens next!

    I feel for RLM. The desperation in her tone is all too common for creatives in any field. But we keep on keepin’ on. It’s not always easy. Nothing worthwhile is. When friends have talked about quitting, I ask one simple question: If you never wrote another word, would you be happy? If the answer is yes, maybe it is time to move on. I can’t even fathom the possibility. Ink flows through my veins. 😉

    Happy Halloween, everyone!

    • Wow, Sue, ten years! Congrats. And you describe it perfectly: a beautiful, amazing, gut-wrenching, heartwarming, soul crushing, exciting journey.

      Here’s to your next ten!

  14. Fabulous bookmarkable post. I have been using a small Indie publisher and various social media to meh effect for my eight books pubbed/six years. Going indie for the completed ninth.
    I have just started offering a free mystery story to new and present subscribers to my “occasional emails.”
    I see a bump in “subscribers.” Unsure yet about its sales effect.

    However I cannot VO pelted YOUR free book download, James, in actual readable English rather than text/code gibberish. Ifdeas?

  15. Sort of an aside, Jim, your “newsletters” are great. You put the personality in it, not the flash, and I always like when I see one land in my inbox because I know I’ll end up smiling.

  16. Great tips. Thanks.

    And, off topic from today’s post, I just really feel it strongly in my heart to say THANK YOU to TKZ contributors and commenters in the TKZ community. In a world that is in many ways upside down, in a world where many things change, I sincerely mean it when I say thank you for the expertise represented here and for the fact that while other writing blogs have come and gone off my radar over the years, TKZ has been at the top of my list since I discovered it several years ago.

    Thank you all.

  17. Great post, Jim…it’s going to be a hard act to follow! lol. It will be a real honor to be here…even now I’m gulping as I think about it. TKZ is my favorite blog and the one where I’ve learned the most.

    • I look forward to your post, Patricia. You have a different perspective on social media and working with a traditional publisher. It should add to the discussion nicely.

  18. Super article. Very informative. Jay Heavner, author of the Florida Murder Mystery Series. Thanks, I always find something useful in your posts.

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