The Long Tail
And Self-Publishing Filters

You’ve learned what The Long Tail is in general terms and the place self-publishing has in it.

Now it’s time to see how technology is making self-published work available to the masses. That’s important, because for material to sell to The Long Tail, the masses need to know the material exists.

In The Long Tail theory, the means of putting material in front of a consumer is called a filter. The filter makes a recommendation to the consumer. (I’m using consumer to mean consumer of information, as well as of good and services.) When a filter works well, it sends the consumer all the way down the tail to the specific item that is just right.

Technology is making The Long Tail more effective than ever before.

Of course, if you’ve written a book like my friend Ellen has about wheelchair accessible places to visit on the Sunshine Coast, your biggest marketing push will be local and filters won’t be as important. . .

. . .although I’ll show in the next article how Ellen could take advantage of The Long Tail in cyberspace.

But if you’ve written about garden pests and you can keep deer out of gardens and away from roses, and beans, anyone who lives where there are deer, roses and beans could buy your material.

The Long Tail Filter For Hard Copy Books

Hate it or love it, is here to stay.

And in spite of protests from all and sundry, Amazon has been good for obscure books. Here is how it can help you as a self-publisher of a book.

If I go into Amazon’s Web site and type in deer today, number 6 is Gardening in Deer Country. If I click on that title, Amazon, like a good store clerk, sensing my needs, suggests a companion book under “Better Together.” Then it goes on to offer me a list of five related items under “Customers who bought items like this also bought.”

When I click on “Explore similar items,” I get eight more choices, including Wildlife in the Garden: How to Live in Harmony With Deer, Raccoons, Rabbits, Crows, and Other Pesky Creatures and The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost his Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden. Those last two really appeal to me. The first because it will help me deal with the raccoons, too, and the second because I suspect I’m going to feel comforted by a fellow sufferer.

The point about the filter is that Amazon can dredge up the most obscure offerings and suggest them alongside more popular choices. Millions listen to Amazon and in so doing, discover writers they would never meet in the local bookstore.

Before you shout “Hallelujah!” and dash off to produce your book, two brief warnings. . .
  1. Amazon asks customers to rate products. Do not expect to sell substandard books through Amazon. People tell people.

    Only on the Web. . .
    . . .they tell the world.

    You do not need that bad publicity. Be a professional. Get your book edited.

  2. Do not rely solely on Amazon to market your book. They will get you some sales that wouldn’t have come your way otherwise, but you must have other ways to market your book. Dan Poynter’s book on self-publishing is worth many times the price for its information on marketing alone.

The Long Tail Filter For Web Sites

Web sites are the new self-publishing medium. In order to sell an e-book, you need a Web site. So, what I say about Web sites in general will help with e-book sales.

Blogs are a special form of Web publishing and although a few people are attracting advertisers with blogs, in August 2006, when I’m writing this, most of us cannot use a blog alone as means of successful self-publishing.

(I’m assuming here that you want to make money from your publishing efforts. If you simply want to admire your words on a screen, you can blog your heart out for free. No one will read your blog so you can’t hurt anyone.

For most of us, a blog is a useful adjunct to a Web site for reasons I’ll explain below.)

So although e-books and blogs are on the Web, this discussion of filters is about Web sites. E-books and blogs will reappear in the next article in this series.

The best-known filter for Web sites is Google. Of course it has compatriots: Yahoo search, msn search, and All of these serve to offer up information to those who want it.

Search engines do that by gathering information from all Web pages published (billions of pages, that is). Electronic “spiders” (It is the Web after all.) travel from link to link, picking up information and bringing it back to the home “nest.” There, the information is analyzed by powerful computers running complicated algorithms.

So when I type in ”drill bit” +masonite the search engine quickly sorts through those billions of Web pages and tells me that there are 587 relevant pages on drill bits and masonite.

If you’re the guy with THE Web site on drill bits and masonite, you’ll be high on the page of results I get from my search.

Why Writers’ Web Sites Are Not Effective
OR How To Be A Spider Tamer

Most writers are not good spider-tenders. They don’t have a clue how to encourage spiders to come along, or how to keep them coming back.

Writers think that a Web site will magically get them noticed in cyberspace.

Forget that right now! A site about you and your book will be dead.

Oh, yes, your mom, grandma and best friend will visit. But tell me how that will increase your sales.

The problem is that no one is typing your name or the name of your book into the search engine because they don’t know your name or the name of your book!

The sad truth is, online,
no one cares about you and your writing.

The good news is,
you CAN learn to tame the spider.

Here’s how I did it most recently. . .

Writing a Web site, a profitable Web site, is like publishing a magazine. You need a topic, you need some content, and some advertising would be good. You can choose to ask your visitors to pay, but online, people are used to free, so you need someone else to pay you – that’s the advertising bit.

In July I decided to start a Web site on retirement. My purpose was to alert people to the possibilities of working online after retirement.

I’d already created this site you are on now, so I knew the process.

I used a powerful research tool called Brainstorm It! to help me figure out which spider food would be best for that topic. To my surprise, Brainstrom It! showed me that people facing retirement were not typing in searches about working, online or otherwise.

They were typing in queries about where to retire.

Whew! Good thing I checked that out! I just about made a Web site almost no one would find.

Instead, I created If you look at it, you’ll see that it has sections on several aspects of retirement. As I write this, it still doesn’t have the part I most want to write about – working after retirement. But that’s fine with me.

I’ll be scooping up those folk who want to know where to retire and some of them will wander into the section on working during retirement. First, I wanted to get those spiders trained to come to my site, taste what I have on offer and recommend it to visitors.

Imagine my delight when I found one of my pages listed at the number 1 spot in msn search last week before my site was even one month old!

You can use The Long Tail principles to create your own Web site that would make you real money. Just remember to do your research. (This link opens an audio file.)

Oh yes, and as in all writing, when you write for the Web, write well. Remember how Amazon lets its clients report on how they liked a product. Well, that happens with search engines, too. Often, without even being aware, one site will give a little nibble from another site to a spider.

I promised a word on blogging. Here it is in a nutshell. My blog passes bits of my site on to spiders. That's it. That's the main purpose of my blog.

And here’s a tip on the care and feeding of spiders. . .

. . .They like regurgitated tasty bits even better than they like original food. Links in and out of sites are how the spiders get that food.

Any one of the venues I've explained (book, digital product, or Web site) can help you as a self-publisher. Imagine the power of putting them all together!

Part 1: An Introduction to The Long Tail
Part 2: The Long Tail And Self-Publishing
Part 4: The Self-Publishing Kangaroo On The Long Tail

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.