Thursday, March 24, 2016

Amazon and Oranges

Photos by Cara Lopez Lee

An arborist came by our house yesterday to diagnose our ailing orange tree, and he informed me that the aging tree has too much unplucked fruit, too many branches, and not enough food. I never met a citrus fruit or a metaphor I didn’t like, so let’s see if I can untangle my thoughts on Amazon the way I untangled excess branches on my little tree today:

When my memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands, was first published in 2010, I listed more than 50 promotional ideas, all of which one pro or another insisted were musts for authors who craved success. I knew I’d never get to it all, but I did what I’m doing with my orange tree: starting with one task today, scheduling another tomorrow, another next week, and so on.

Perhaps the most critical thing I’ve learned about marketing is that if you and your product are not yet famous, your first task is to narrow your targets: target audience, targeted marketing ideas, targeted networking, etc. You cannot be all things to all people, but if you become an expert at a few things, you can become the go-to person for a group of people. When you hit the same few targets often enough, to your primary audience you appear to be everywhere. This is how growth begins.

I’m not growing an orchard, I’m seeking to invigorate one backyard tree. So I need not become an arborist, but can do a few targeted things an arborist suggested: prune, pluck, feed. I now know to prune dead branches because the tree will still try to draw water to them, wasting energy. I now know to pluck dying oranges to avoid attracting pests, and to pluck oranges when they’re ripe to promote vigor. I now know to feed roots the right fertilizer to promote the tree’s overall health. These are simple things I can do without becoming an expert or spending a lot.

There are also simple things I can do for my book without becoming a marketing expert or spending a lot. With Amazon, as with my tree, sometimes my efforts bear fruit, while other times the fruits of my labor look dark and desiccated. Here’s how I handle it:

1) Feed the tree:
I strive to keep my Amazon author page, book pages, bios, photos, book covers, synopses, and other information up-to-date, because this is the marketplace where people who want to buy my book online are most likely to end up. This is the first place most people will first spot my “fruit” and decide whether or not to sample it.

2) Pluck fruit when it’s ripe:
Some authors suggest not to check Amazon rankings regularly because it can be crazy-making, but I ignore this. I keep an eye on Amazon, and when my rank goes up (meaning the number goes down) I immediately post tweets with links to buy my book on Amazon. I like to take advantage of the momentum, building success on success. I’ve sold enough books over the years that my Amazon numbers fluctuate a lot when just one person buys.

Love Amazon or not, if it weren’t for this venue, fewer people would find my books because it’s published by a small press and most stores focus on major publishers.

3) Remove bad fruit so the whole tree doesn’t suffer:
When my Amazon rank goes down, meaning the number goes up, I tend to avoid pointing people to my direct Amazon link. Like my orange tree, my memoir has been around a while, and I don’t want my marketing efforts dragged down by Amazon numbers past their peak. During down times, I send people to Goodreads.

Amazon owns Goodreads, so readers can still link to Amazon if they decide to buy the book, however my memoir maintains a more consistent, meaningful rank on Goodreads, based on starred reviews and not on comparative sales to other titles. Amazon has star-rankings too, but the sales rank can overshadow that—comparing my book to other books based on algorithms that may have little to do with quality or the interests of my audience.

4) Prune the branches:
Although I flit around the Internet, I don’t spread myself thin. Yes, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and the blogosphere, but I primarily promote my book on Facebook and Twitter.

My book is available not only on Amazon but also IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Conundrum Press, Tattered Cover, Boulder Book Store, BookBar, and more. However, I primarily send followers to Amazon and Goodreads. This way, when I water the tree that is my marketing program, I focus on the branches most likely to bear fruit.

That’s the care and feeding that works for my Amazon marketing. Pluck what you like, throw out the rest, and maybe pop a couple in the juicer to give them a whirl...

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation PressRivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.


  1. Good advice, Cara ... however, I've managed to kill every plant that has ever had the misfortune to come under my care ... pretty much the same for my book marketing campaigns.

  2. Hahaha, Christopher, I should have known I could count on you to take the metaphor and go all Charlie Brown on me. :) I'll admit I'm no expert, but I think as long as we keep putting the word out there somehow or other, then something or other will grow. Even weeds sprout flowers now and then. ;)

  3. Marketing is the hardest part. Thanks for the terrific tips!

  4. For me too, Diana. I prefer the writing part of being a writer, right? But I notice that when I lean into the aspects of marketing I enjoy most - writing, teaching, communicating, traveling - that spoonful of sugar helps the fertilizer go down. ;)

  5. Such wisdom- and such a smart analogy. Covering your bases, staying calm and creative about balancing out social media- in order to stay sane, yes! I appreciate your realistic relationship with Amazon too. While they are the big box evil to many, I don't think they're going away anytime soon.
    Hope your orange tree is soon thriving too!

    1. "Big box evil" - great phrase, Karen. Remember when we thought Barnes & Noble was the "big box evil" killing all the mom & pop stores? Ah, those were the days... Thanks for the well-wishes for my little tree. I'll pass that on to her. :)

  6. I like your analogy of pruning - it immediately made me think of temporarily cutting out those things I just don't have time to do right now but might be great ideas for later (like some marketing tactics). Those "branches" will grow again - i.e., the opportunities will come around again.

    Great post.

    1. Indeed, Elle. You get my intent exactly. I like the idea of writing all the ideas in one place, then knocking those pins down one at a time, so I don't have to juggle everything at once and don't get overwhelmed. We're more likely to do what actually feels doable.

  7. Great analogies, Cara. I like pruning my writing, cutting off those excess dead sentences. As far as marketing, I'd like to cut that out all together.

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  9. I particularly appreciate the idea of not spreading myself too thin. Focusing on a few things at a time reduces the "overwhelm" and leaves some energy for "follow through." Great post, Cara!

  10. When life gives you oranges, Cara makes orange juice! Thanks for the helpful analogy and marketing advice. A toast of the sweet stuff to you!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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