Authors are always on the hunt to find more readers, but to do so, we sometimes have to look beyond the end of our own nose and expand our horizon. While there are many ways to discover those elusive readers who've just been waiting to read your book, one of the most important aspects of being an indie author is to think global. Ebooks enable us to reach people from all over the world, so we need to make sure that we're ready for those international readers.
First of all, “international” is relative. For me as a Scottish author, it means every country besides the UK. For an author in Australia, it will be every country and continent except for Australia.
Your aim as an author should be to target all readers, no matter where they are. It may seem harder to reach audiences who aren’t in your own country, but with a few simple methods, you’ll be able to increase your international readership.
1. Use universal links
Universal links, you say, aren’t they just for people who’re wide? I only sell on Amazon, I don’t need them.
As someone living in the UK, this attitude is a particular pet peeve of mine. Many authors only post Amazon.com links when they recommend their books. When I follow that link, I can’t just click the ‘buy’ button to get the book. When I’m at my laptop, it’s fairly easy, there’s a redirect option and the the Amazon UK page is just one more click away. If I’m using my phone, however, it’s an entirely different matter. The only way I can then get your book is change the URL from amazon.com/yourbook to amazon.co.uk/yourbook or open the Amazon app (or open Amazon.co.uk in a new tab) to search for your book. Both of that uses time. If I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d like your book or not, I might not go through all that effort and forget about it.
To the rescue, universal links. They transport readers right where they want to go: their own local storefront where they can one-click your book.
I personally use Books2read because it works for all ebook retailers as well as audiobook shops, plus it’s free and easy to use, but there are many other options, both specifically designed ones for authors like Booklinker (Amazon only) or generic URL redirect services (make sure they have a geographic redirect option).
By the way, it’s only Amazon that gives you this much trouble. Kobo, iTunes and Google Play all redirect to your own country’s storefront.
2. Adjust your prices
£3.62 doesn’t look very pretty, does it. Research into psychological pricing tells us that buyers prefer prices that end in .99, although customers in some countries are also okay with .49.
One study conducted by the University of Chicago and the MIT gave a group of women the choice of buying an item of clothing at either $34, $39 or $44. Even though $34 was the cheapest, most sales happened at $39. Nine is the magic number, so use it!
If that didn’t convince you, take a look at this Gumroad blog post showing that the conversion rate of $1.99 items on their website is twice as high as $2.
All retailers allow you to adjust individual countries’ prices. I know some authors want to make it as fair as possible to international readers by relying on the retailer’s exchange rate – but as a consumer, have you ever gone and compared how much a book costs in other countries? I highly doubt it. British readers won’t care what Canadian readers pay for the same book. What counts is that the price they see on the product page looks enticing.
3. Think of time zones
Imagine your best friends meeting every time you are at work (or putting your children to bed or having your daily tantric massage) so you can’t join them. Not very pleasant feeling, right? Fear of missing out, FOMO, is very real and very unpleasant.
If you have a social media presence, think about your audiences worldwide when you decide at what time to post. This is not to say that you always need to post in the middle of the night, but to be a little conscientious of where your followers are from. If you organise a group takeover, for example, make sure that at least some of the slots will be suitable for people from the other side of the world, and ensure that giveaways stay open for at least 24 hours to enable everyone to see the post and take part.
On Facebook, you can use the inbuilt scheduling function, while for other platforms like Twitter and Instagram you can use a scheduling app like Hootsuite.
4. Make prizes and offers available to all readers
“This giveaway is open to US readers only.”
As a reader, this would make me immediately turn away from an author, or at least leave a bad taste in my mouth that could develop into something more if this happened again and again. It feels like discrimination, like the author doesn’t value their international readers.
Yes, it’s not easy to send books and swag abroad. It’s expensive and a lot of work. But there are other options. If you don’t want to send a signed book, order the book in their country and send them a bookplate with your signature. If you want to send swag, upload your design to sites like Redbubble or Zazzle and order it from there – they ship to most countries in the world.
(Take a look at the cute space octopus face masks I’ve been using for swag!)
Gift cards are a little trickier. While Amazon and Kobo let you buy gift cards in other countries, Apple and Google Play don’t. Barnes & Noble is only available in the US, so not very suited for using in international giveaways.
Gifting books via Amazon or Google Play is only available in your own country, but you can use Bookfunnel or similar tools to gift books to readers abroad. If you publish directly with Apple, you can request review codes for your books which you can share with readers worldwide. On Google Play, you can send books to readers with their slightly hidden at the very bottom of your book’s Content section on your Dashboard.
If your prize really can’t be changed, offer an alternative prize of equal value if the winner is from another country.
5. Avoid brand names
Before using a brand name in your writing, think whether international readers will know what you’re talking about.
If I mentioned my kilted Highlander snacking on Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, will all readers know what that is? Very unlikely (although everyone should try Tunnock’s at least once in their life). I can either replace it with a generic ‘I ate a chocolate-covered marshmallow treat’ or I can use the brand name but then describe it.
I nibbled on a Tunnock’s Tea Cake, enjoying the crunch of the biscuit while relishing the velvety softness of the marshmallow and the slowly melting chocolate coating my tongue.
There you go, now you kind of know what it is, at least the main ingredients.
If you’re in doubt whether your international readers will be familiar with a specific brand, ask them. Readers love being asked for advice and feedback.
6. Go wide
You will have noticed that I’ve mentioned not just Amazon, but many other retailers in this blog post. This is because I’m wide (= available at many retailers, not exclusive with just one) with all my books and passionate about it. Amazon may have the biggest market share in most countries, but it’s not as dramatic everywhere else as it is in the US (depending on what statistic you use, Amazon seems to rule up to 85% of the US ebook market).
Being wide with your books will help you reach new audiences and diversify your readership. When I started publishing in 2017, I was in Kindle Unlimited and about 77% of my sales came from the US. The year I went wide, this sunk to 66% (but total sales increased). Last year, it was 63%, but if you add audiobook and print sales, it’s likely even lower.
That’s not to say that I don’t want US readers, not at all. I want them and others. My aim is to be as inclusive as possible, reaching readers worldwide. Again, that’s where being wide comes in.
If you’re exclusive to Amazon, it’s likely because you’re in Kindle Unlimited and that you earn most of your royalties from page reads. KU is available to readers in the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, China, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and Australia – a lot of countries, but some English-speaking countries like New Zealand and South Africa are missing.
Kobo is great for reaching readers primarily in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but I have sales from all over the world there. They offer a (non-exclusive) subscription model in Belgium and the Netherlands, with plans to extend that to other countries soon.
Tolino dominates up to 40% of the German ebook market (figures vary a lot on that) – and I sell a surprising amount of books in Germany, even though my first translations are not yet live - while distributors like Draft2Digital and Publishdrive let you reach smaller retailers and new markets like China.
A few other random bonus tips and tricks that have helped me in the past:
I hope this wee guide has been helpful. Let me know in the comments what your experience has been and if you have any tips on how to reach international readers!