Marketing Your Book for International Sales

The third page of setting up your book includes distribution options for 13 different territories:

  • The United States
  • India
  • The United Kingdom
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • Japan
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Australia

When you publish on KDP, your book becomes available (in its original language) in each and every one of those markets. If you’re not getting some sales overseas, you’re missing out on potential income. In this article, we’ll talk about what international sales through KDP means for your books, and some of the best ways to increase them. We’ll start with…

Understanding Your Primary Market

In most cases, your default market on Amazon will the United States. They base that, by default, on three factors: your chosen primary marketplace, your selected language, and your keyword selections.

  • The chosen primary marketplace is what you select at the top of the Edit Pricing page. It will be the country your account is registered in (meaning that if you publish while on vacation in Belize, it will still default to the United States), but you can change it if you think that’s a good idea.
  • The selected language is in your book setup page, and matters for obvious reasons. 
  • Your keyword selections, also in the book setup page, get attention if they’re not in a language that matches your primary market. If you select a primary market, but include several German keywords, Amazon will emphasize the book more strongly in german-speaking markets. 

Generally speaking, all of these factors will combine to set your primary market to your home country, with a side order of promotion in strongly linked countries (like the UK and Canada for the US, or Mexico with Spain). If you want to go beyond that, it will take effort on your part to break out in those other markets. 

Is it a Good Idea to Market Internationally?

Although it can be profitable, and fun, to see your book sell in another country, it requires resources to do so. That time, effort, expertise, and money could be spent improving your sales in your primary market — and usually gets you more sales per resource expended when you do. That said, there are some circumstances in which international marketing can do you some good:

  • If your book is already getting a sales spike in a foreign market
  • If your book is doing well in other markets where they speak the same language
  • If your book was quite popular in your primary market, but sales have begun to lag

If two or three of these are true, you have a lot to gain by marketing your book internationally. If just one or none of these are true, you’re better off spending your efforts improving performance in your primary market. Once you get those sales up, you’ll probably start to see more of these factors becoming true as well. 

4 Powerful International Book Marketing Techniques

Once you decide to market your book internationally, your next question is how to do it. If you have the available time and other resources, it’s best to take on all four at once to create an upward spike that makes your book rank in the new markets. If not, just prioritize one and do it really, really well. 

1. Change Your Keywords

The good news is that keywords can help improve your book’s performance in other markets just as powerfully as they do in your primary market. The bad news is you have just the seven keywords across all markets. You can’t change them just for one country.

Your best move is to replace between two and three keywords with choices that are better suited for the territory you’re targeting. Simply take the top keywords you’ve selected and translate them into the language spoken in the territory you want to enter. 

For example, if your keyword research for your fantasy novel found that you get good traction with the keyword phrase “Knights in Armor”, you would replace a less powerful keyword in your setup with the phrase “caballeros con armadura” to attract readers in the Mexico and Spain markets. 

You can also do this for other english-speaking markets, by minding the spelling. You would change Knights in Armor to Knights in Armour to boost your performance in Canada and the UK. 

As with your initial keyword research, do this carefully and with thought. Consider using our Push Button Research tool to help you find out exactly which new keywords you should insert into your book’s description. 

Optimize Your International Categories

The good news about categories is you can change them for other markets and make a real difference in your book’s performance there. The better news is you can set up different categories for each of the markets you want your book to perform in. 

The process for getting those new categories is more involved than changing categories for your primary market, but it’s still pretty simple. It starts with researching the best categories for your new market, the same way you did when researching your initial categories. After that, follow this link to contact KDP publisher services.

Once there, choose the “Amazon Product Page and Expanded Distribution” option from the left-hand column. On the new page, pick “Update Amazon Categories”. In the message window, enter the following information:

  • Instruction to update the book’s categories
  • The specific market to update the categories in
  • Your book’s title
  • Your book’s ASIN number
  • The full category string for each category you want, starting with Kindle-Shop and drilling as far down as necessary

Send a different message for each market, and for each book, but include all the new categories you want to rank for in that particular market. Generally, Amazon will make the changes in 24-48 hours. 

Run International Amazon Ads

Amazon ads, like all ads, cost money. If you do them right (check this article here for how to do them right), they can sell enough books to bring in more money than you spend. In theory, this is true of advertising in foreign markets…but it can be harder to break even and profit on that marketing budget. 

Skilled advertisers have found that far less money is spent on advertising in countries other than the US, meaning your advertising dollars will go farther and get more attention there. Further, English is a fairly common language in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, and the Netherlands (and of course, Canada, Australia, and the UK.) So there’s definitely potential benefit there. 

To reap that benefit, you need to first understand two things:

  • How to make Amazon ads work in your home market
  • How your books are already performing in the foreign market you want to get into

If you have those two things well in hand, you can get some strong sales from expanding your advertising to those new markets. If not, take the time to learn them before taking this step.

Get Language-Appropriate Reviews

This may seem like it’s too simple to work, but it’s exactly the opposite. People who read reviews want to get opinions in their native language. Additional reviews help your book perform across all markets. The real challenge is to get those reviews from the countries and in the language you want. 

Start by reaching out to your fan base, asking who’s fluent in the language. Somebody will be, or will know somebody who is. Ask them to leave a new review in the target language to get things started. Once that’s up and running, use all the techniques you use already (or those in this article on that topic) to approach foreign language reviewers for the market you want. 

To Translate or Not to Translate?

The ultimate move on a new territory is to have your work translated into the primary language read there. This can be a very risky proposition. Good translation costs real money, sometimes a thousand or more dollars for an average-sized book. Bad translation can cost less, but you won’t be able to check their work. If they do shoddy work, you’ll only find out when the rash of one-star reviews starts. 

As a general rule, use translation to boost an already successful move into a new market, instead of to try and start one from the ground up. You’ll have some extra money from sales to ensure you work with a good translator, and you’ll have an established fan base in the market who are ready to buy and recommend the translated version. 

Bonus points if you tap that existing fan base, who are fluent in the translation, to become a beta reading team for the translation job. That gets them even more excited, just as joining the beta team is for your english-language fans. 

You can also save a little money by using a machine translation service to give you a rough translation, and then hire an editor to polish that translation to make it readable. In this case, you will want a second editor to check their work or at least a few fans fluent in the language to give you feedback.

Foreign Rights and You

One way to break into international markets is to work with a publisher in that region. Many smaller publishing companies make some or all of their income from translating popular books from the english-speaking market, and paying the original author a percentage of the income. 

This arrangement can have many potential advantages. You’ll be working with professional publishers, who will have translators, copy editors, layout people, design experts, and similar people on staff who are experienced with that particular market. They will understand their client base and how to reach them better than you can. They will have established marketing and distribution chains to helps sell the books. Best of all, they will have a direct, financial incentive to make the book succeed. 

The downside of this arrangement is that not all such publishers are on the level. They might present a contract that means you get far less in royalties than you would from going on your own, or even use a contract that is intentionally predatory. Even if the contract is fair, it can be hard to handle (let alone win) any disputes when the company is based thousands of miles away, in a country with an entirely different legal system. 

If you are going to license your rights in a foreign market, it may be worth finding an agent to work with or an attorney with experience in selling intellectual property across international lines.

It’s a buyer beware situation, but if you can get a good deal, with a strong contract, backed by happy references, it can be the best option for marketing internationally for your books. 

Image by Mohamed Hassan.