I promised it, and now I deliver. How I got Incorporated to #61 on the Kindle Bestseller list.
Going viral isn’t random, magic, or luck. It’s a science.
Last weekend I did something unprecedented for me. I launched the most successful book campaign of my career so far, and I should probably mention that I didn’t make a penny from it.
In fact, I spend a little money, but I still consider it a success. If you think that getting 3,000 downloads isn’t a success, then you might need to realign your perceptions about building an author following. Either that or you are so far ahead of me on the numbers game that you should be writing this article (or maybe adding some tips to the comments?)
The Prep Work
Austin Dellamano designed the cover for Incorporated First Strike, and he did an amazing job. An eye-catching cover is absolutely essential for attracting attention, and somehow, by the grace of God, we nailed it. For all the hell I put him through with my countless revisions and updates, everything turned out fantastic. Most of the tricks I’m going to show you are a good start, but they aren’t going to get you to the finish line alone. I outperformed all of the other free books that went out with my Riffle day, and that isn’t by accident. It boils down to the cover and the blurb, and possibly Amazon’s look inside feature, so the first few pages are important as well.
The book was professionally edited by Jeri Walker, who is amazing. I wish I could include her on every book, but money gets tight sometimes. If I have money to tighten up the prose on an important project, she’s the first person I email. A tight, professional read is important not so much in the promotion part, but in the reason for running it. If 10,000 people download your book and all hate it, then it won’t gain any traction, and all this effort will be for nothing.
Overall, a book is a complete project. Fancy packaging is important, but the whole package is what will make it spread to new readers once you establish your base. The story has to grip, the formatting clean, the blurbs and slug lines attention getting, and the cover needs to jump off the shelf and take an unsuspecting reader by the throat. In a nice way, of course 😛
I knew what I was trying to do, and I had a pretty good idea about the strategy I was trying. After getting some preliminary information from other author blogs that posted some results, I set a lofty goal of 3000 downloads for this promotion, and a budget of $200. The principle goal was to get my new book in front of as many new readers as possible, and see how many of them come back for a paperback or spread it to their friends. I expect one review from roughly every 1000 downloads, so if reviews is what you’re after, this might not be the course for you. I also wanted to clutch a spot in the top 100 overall on the Free Kindle list.
On that note, the book had been out for a week when I ran this promo, and didn’t have a single review. Reviews aren’t as necessary when pushing a freebie, exposure is. And a new book isn’t always going to get reviewed quickly…and I don’t want to spiral into a rant about Amazon reviews, so I’ll leave it at that. They’re nice to have, but not a necessity when doing this post-launch.
My contact list:
I told the subscribers to my author email list about the promotion a month ahead of time, and reminded them a few days before. Email subscribers (not the wordpress list, the other one) get first dibs on everything from new stickers to knowing about upcoming releases and promotions before they run. I only have 40 subscribers, but I’ve no doubt that this boosted the first day of my promotion.
The second list is actually already on this website. It’s under Resources in the menu. There are several sights out there that love showcasing books. Some (most good ones) have some matter of vetting process for the promotions they will run. I tried them all with my 99 cent deal on Viral Spark, and they generated nothing. I didn’t track them as close this time, but my first day downloads seemed a bit high for my own social reach, especially since the first 10 went before I woke up Thursday morning. They might give you a little boost in the freebie department, and every bit helps.
Another reason I didn’t measure them this time: it took about an hour to send my book to all of them. For an hour, any extra publicity is worth it. Call it a backup plan if you like.
My big hitters were Riffle, FreeBooksy, and Free99books. Now, they all have a vetting process. This is another reason to keep the book as professional and sharp as possible. Silly little things like a crappy cover or a bunch of negative reviews will likely get your book flagged, so beware. Since I worked with them on the Viral Spark deal, I think that gave me a bit more push, but these are reachable audiences, even for a new author. Prices vary based on a lot of different things, but Riffle and FreeBooksy announcements ended up costing me $85 a pop after the book made it through their screening processes. Free99 doesn’t cost anything, but you need to stand out from the crowd if you want in. They only pick so many books for each promotion, so you will be competing directly with other authors for those spots. Make sure to check out your competition on their website and see how your cover and tag-line stack up.
If you want a real treat, and you have the funds, check into a company called OR/M or any other professional advertising agency. Usually, that kind of scheduling needs to be done months in advance of the release date, and be prepared to throw down a few grand. That said, these people sell books, it’s what they do. I can’t give any advice there, but figured I would toss it in. OR/M backs some of the biggest and best book promotion lists out there. Sorry, I don’t have their contact info at the ready, so both you and I will have to hunt for them when we’re ready for that. This kind of company is not a “fill out the form” or “automated response” process. You need to write them an email, tell them who you are, what you’re doing, etc., and establish a line of communication. It’s not something you can slap together at the last minute.
Some of the free listings will run all five days of your amazon promo. Others will only run on one day, and some only go a few days per week. It’s good to spread things out a bit. I set up all my promo for the 4th, 5th, and 6th even though the free deal ran from the third. Riffle on Friday last week, and Saturday was my Free99 and FreeBooksy, as well as a Riffle Round-up email feature. Remember, part of Amazon’s statistics is based on historical sales, so it’s important to have a little ramp up.
On the 3rd, I got 45 downloads from alerting my list and sending out little nuggets to social media. I offered up free signed paperbacks to encourage my followers to produce creatives for their own follow lists (and none of them tagged me in any of those clever posts, lol, so that idea failed). I don’t like blasting social media, so even on twitter, I was limiting my reach. While a blast of ten tweets can encourage a larger scattering, I made the decision last year to tone down the promo for my books and my blog. I’m taking a hit to keep my content meaningful and interesting. Altogether, it didn’t take many downloads to put in the top 3000 on the freebie listings, and I was still in the top 4000 before heading to work the next morning, with 45 downloads. How many friends do you have with a Kindle? Can you organize them toward a day of targeted freebie downloads? Just sayin.
My cover and book blurb were probably responsible for the fact that I outsold the other free books in that Riffle email. Yes, I checked how they were doing in the rankings too. Lee Child had a promo announced, but not in the free department, so I was right there beside a bestselling author, but we were marketing in two different spaces. It says something else about these email lists. You aren’t just going head-to-head with other indies, you’re mingling with bestselling books.
The 4th. Riffle day. The email was sent out while I was at work, so I had a limited view of what was happening (no cell phones on the clock). It went out just before noon, and by the time I checked in after my shift, I was #222 on the Kindle Free Bestseller list, and ranking #2 in both of my Amazon categories. I continued to watch through the night, and closed the day out with 631 downloads, making my running tally 676. About 1/5th of the way to my goal.
Cinco de Mayo Book Promo. 1919 downloads, and attacking the bestseller charts all day. FreeBooksy and Free99 put me up, and that meant more readers and more reach, topped off with a Riffle Roundup email. Now I was on a roll. 2595 total units moved, and if 1/100 of those result in a positive read, then I’ve done my job. I met my target and my novel got the push it needed. My job at this point is done, and now it’s up to my words to carry the torch. But that isn’t the end of the promotion push.
When I woke up on the 5th, my numbers were hovering around the #200 mark, and by the time I finished work in the early afternoon, they had climbed into the top 75. Movement slowed drastically, from 72 to 68 to 64, and then bumping about one rank point every two hours after that. The top 100 spots on Amazon are a soupy place. No more numbers bouncing up and down like a super ball. Your book will find a spot and nestle in, for me, the number was 61, and it stayed there most of the night while I went to my local Cinco party. I was also number 1 in both of my chosen categories (military thrillers and espionage thrillers).
In the top 100, another magical thing happens. My book showed up on the front page of several categories on the free list. My search results were bolstered, leaving only a television series ahead of my on my primary keyword: Incorporated. At this point the paid promo was finished, and I passed the torch to Amazon’s readers. They would like it or hate it, or ignore it, or whatever, but it’s out of my hands. Just as over the next two months, my words will have to do the work to the audience I created for them, now my cover and blurb would have to fend for themselves through the last few days of the free kindle deal. 61 isn’t a bad spot, and a lot of the tension about getting “up there” fell away. Normally, I’m a stat junkie, but there were no more stats to be had. Check in every few hours and see how it’s doing.
371 downloads all on its own, likely with a little help from the bestseller status. The ranking dropped as expected, but not nearly as far as I thought it would. By the end of the day I was down to #147, and miraculously, it bounced back up in the night to #114. I assume this had something to do with other promotion periods ending before my own. Amazon gives everyone 5 days on a freebie deal.
The end result was 2966 downloads realized in total for this little promotion, so close to my target but still trying to leg it out. Amazon Marketing Services started recording more clicks as well, so someone out there is seeing my humble ads and taking a closer look. Hopefully that pays off after the promotion finishes. If they are getting copies, they’re getting free kindle ones, as no “sales” have been recorded. Even so, this might be an indicator of a successful marketing campaign through AMS, which I haven’t seen on a fiction book yet.
My hope at this point was focused on the goal of 3000 downloads. I’ve accomplished everything I wanted with this promotion except that, and it’s so close I can taste it.
May 7th, closing out.
And done! 40 more downloads by 9 am, and I’m still hovering at #117 on the bestseller list as I finish my editing time on the monster book that I have slated for October. This is not a bad place to be, and overall, I’m super happy with this campaign. I spent a total of $180 and my book has found a home on over 3000 Kindle accounts (3093 to be precise). From here on out, everything depends on the text itself. The promotion has done it’s work. 10,000 would be better, but I’ve lost sight of that, I think. I closed the promotion while still in the top 200 of the bestseller list.
I’ll keep the AMS thing running for a while. It’s at $10/month, so we’ll see if the paid version will bring in enough to cover that. With any luck, people will like my story, tell their friends, and paid units will begin moving. Promo time is all about finding readers. If one in ten downloads results in a read, that’ll be 300, and I think that’s a fair estimate. They’ll either love it and it will begin to spread from the little push, or they won’t. At some point in every book’s life, it has to stand on it’s own, as I’m sure I’ve said elsewhere in this post.
Word of mouth is the best form of advertising, and it’s free, as long as you can get an initial group to try the book.
After a book is released, many authors will drop the ball and fall back on regular advertising tactics. I haven’t been successful with marketing campaigns for fiction, but I’m hoping the advertising, the writing, the story, and the little fire I started with this freebie campaign will earn some momentum for not only this book, but all of my fiction work.
If no reader has ever heard of you, you aren’t going to sell books to them. A big promo push, and even a high spot in the rankings doesn’t guarantee future sales. Like I said, complete package. Promotion is a way of getting your book into the hands of new readers, so that they can tell their friends about it. Maybe it was the custom chapsticks that pushed the number of books that I sold? I mean, everyone does love free things, so I wouldn’t be surprised. Once you have an established fan base, 99cent deals and other discounts will find their place, but if you want a lot of reach for a new book, a freebie promo is probably the best way to get it. Then watch and see what happens as those readers finish the book. It’ll also tell you how eye-catching your book is, based on the number of downloads.
The Free Kindle Store makes a solid testbed. You won’t make any money, but it will be quite revealing about which books are worth further effort.