Penny Sansevieri’s Tips for Selling Books by the Truckload

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9-29-14 Frances Caballo Social Media Just for WritersWhile attending the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers/Colorado Gold Conference where I was teaching a session, I decided to sit in on Penny Sansevieri’s workshop, How to Sell Books by the Truckload. 

I heard her speak on this topic more than a year ago, but as she told me just before the session, all of her information was new due to big changes at Amazon and Goodreads.

She was right. If you’ve seen her before, make sure you attend a new session by her even though the name of her talk doesn’t change her data does.

Publishing & Selling Books by the Truckload

She started with some mind-blowing facts. First, 3500 books are published every day on Amazon. That’s every single day. No wonder rising to the top of the bestseller list is challenging, right?

Secondly, Amazon says it has about 4 million books but Penny believes the number is probably closer to 6 million or even higher.

Finally, Amazon doesn’t discriminate between old and new books. While we tend to like to push our newest books, it’s nice to know that our previous books receive equal billing. Or don’t you agree?

There’s more.

Amazon Is the Indie Author’s Google

Penny encouraged everyone to think about Amazon as a search engine. The website SEOMoz expressed this thought more directly: “If you’re an author, you don’t really care about Google, you want to rank on Amazon.”

Amazon’s algorithm is based on categories, search terms, and book reviews, and if we want to rise on the bestseller list, that’s what we need to pay attention to.

It’s a new way to look at our virtual publishing world, isn’t it?

What SEOMoz says makes a lot of sense. I always advise clients to test their book titles on Amazon. It’s always interesting to see how Amazon will try to complete your keyword string (the words you type in the search bar).

Amazon’s suggested wording for your search will tell you what keywords readers most often use to find books like the one you just wrote.

Keyword Strings Make Books More Discoverable

This brings me to another point that Penny made. Instead of thinking of singular keywords, think about keyword strings.

It turns out that people rarely type in just one word when searching on the Internet or Amazon. They use phrases and those phrases, are your keyword strings.

Not sure what your keyword strings are? Here are three tools to help you find them:

  • Free Keywords – This is Penny’s favorite tool.
  • Uber Suggest – Penny says that Uber scrapes Google daily for searches, and it shows you the top searched words alphabetically.
  • Amazon’s search bar

Don’t bother to use your genre as a keyword. According to Penny, readers rarely type in mystery or romance or memoir into the search bar.

When you upload your book to CreateSpace, you’re allowed seven keyword strings  (not just individual keywords) so focus on keyword phrases.

9-29-14 Penny Sansevieri“The difference between keywords and keyword strings is like night and day,” Penny said.

You can change your keyword strings as often as you’d like, but this isn’t recommended. Test your keyword strings for three to 36 weeks. If you write Romance, leave your keyword strings alone for at least six weeks.

There’s a marketing tab under Author Central with suggested keyword strings for categories. So be sure to check that out.

Here are some places where you should be using your keywords on Amazon: book title, subtitle, book description, and the back-end of Amazon.

Previously, authors could use the names of more famous authors as some of their keywords or even in their book descriptions. Don’t do this. If Amazon realizes you’ve done this, it will remove your book without warning.

Narrow Categories Can Help Sell More Books

Penny noted that the Amazon algorithm is based on categories, search terms and reviews. So you want to be careful which category and subcategories you use to describe your books.
To see Amazon’s complete list of categories, follow this link:

When uploading your book to CreateSpace, you’ll want to find a narrow market within two broad categories. That is the best strategy to use.

If you select a category and later determine you made an error, the only way to change your category is by emailing Amazon through its Author Central department.

Penny had another great suggestion. Let’s say you want to change your subcategories. Go to and to Kindle books where you will highlight the Kindle Store. Don’t add any words to the search bar. You will find here a list of subcategories that you won’t find anywhere else.

Select a subcategory for your book by clicking on it, and then copy the URL. Next, send an email to Author Central, give them the URL, and tell them that’s the subcategory under which you’d like your book listed.

Narrow categories work best for showcasing your book so select two.

To change your categories on CreateSpace, send an email to [email protected]to make your request. Note: Last week I discovered that the categories on KDP aren’t identical to the categories on CreateSpace.

To change your categories on KDP, sign into your account at, select your book from your Bookshelf, scroll down to Target Your Book to Customers, and make your adjustments.

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 4.11.02 PM

About two months ago, Amazon changed how it creates categories. It uses themes, which can be defined as search keywords. Here is an example that Penny gave: murder stories by murderers.

However you traverse the Amazon landscape, endeavor to position your book on Amazon by targeting your book to your readers. In other words,incorporate into your descriptions, title and subtitles they words that they would most likely use to find a book like yours.

While we tend to think of our books as our personal Field of Dreams, just because we write a book doesn’t mean that it will become a bestseller.

Amazon Book Descriptions

Your book description on Amazon is another place to insert your keyword strings, however, Penny cautions against using more than seven.

However, don’t forget to include your keywords in the headline; don’t bury them in the bullets.

Amazon lets you have 1200 to 1400 words in your book description. Incredible, right? Don’t overdue your keyword inclusion but include some here.

Has your book been reviewed? Add that review to your book description. Although you want to include keywords in your description, don’t change the wording of the review.

Penny shared information that I didn’t know. If you return to change your description, Amazon will lock you in at 400 words. So write your description carefully and thoughtfully.

Enhance Your Book Description with HTML

Have you ever wondered how other authors managed to create bold and orange type in their book descriptions? Here’s the answer: you need to insert HTML code when you write your text in CreateSpace or KDP.

The HTML code is the same that you would use for your WordPress website. Here are some key codes:

  • Bolding: <b>The text you want bolded</b>
  • Italics: <i>The text youk want italicized</i>
  • Headline: <h1>The text of your headline</h>
  • Amazon orange headline: <h2>The text you want to appear bold and orange</h2>

Traversing Amazon’s publishing arms can be tedious but the work is worth it.

To receive a copy of Penny’s Amazon Optimization Checklist, click here.

Related posts:

Finding Alternatives for GoodReads: Riffle, LibraryThing & BookLikes 

How Authors Can Reach 20 Million Readers on Goodreads


Twitter Just for Writers

About the Author: Frances Caballo is an author and social media strategist and manager for writers. You can receive a free copy of her book Twitter Just for Writers by Clicking Here. Connect with Frances on FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterest, and Google+.

Practical Tips for Marketing Your Books on the Social Web

Photo Credit: Aleksi Tappura via



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  1. Thanks a lot for this article. It’s concise and very useful. Much better than a lot of the similar stuff I have read on this issue. I subscribed and look forward to the Twitter book.

  2. Thanks for this blog. I plan to order the books.

  3. KB Gardener says

    Great article, Frances. As I’m just about to self-publish for the first time, you have provided a wealth of information. I did notice some things that might need to updated, however. When I followed your link for “Free Keywords,” I discovered that the service is no longer free–it is at least $29 a month with a paltry seven day “free” trial. Also, the Uber Suggest link goes to a 404 page for this blog.

  4. Thank you for these really useful tips Frances. I will be bookmarking this page to refer back to.

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