I greatly value good writing, and I will always consider myself an “aspiring” writer no matter how many books I eventually publish. So far I’ve published one novel. From this experience, I’ve gained insight into book marketing and promoting that I am happy to share. Most importantly, I better understand that there are specific tactics and techniques that can help me — and you — ramp your sales faster.
For reasons too long to detail here, I have decided to self-publish. Additionally, I have been in hi-tech marketing for 20 years, so I’ve learned a thing or two about that, and I often think in “marketing” terms, but marketing enterprise-class SW to CEOs is a bit different than pitching a dystopian Sci-Fi yarn via the internet. I’m also firmly of the opinion that good writing — even great novel writing — is not enough to get a book noticed and ramp sales. Even if we write brilliantly, if no one notices…well…no one notices.
So given all of this, I endeavored to educate myself about how to promote my first book before I published it. The good news is that I did some things well, but there were many things I did not know to do. The result — and I’ll be perfectly honest for better and worse — is about two paid transactions a day through the first three months (transactions = KU borrow, ebook purchase, paperback purchase). My goal with this first book was 365 copies in the first 365 days, so I’m on track to reach my modest target so far, but it is apparent to me that there are a lot more transactions out there that I’m not capturing. (Update 13 months after I first published: I’ve now sold 1,600 copies…far better than my original goal and am now averaging about 4 transactions a day.)
Two transactions may not sound like much. And compared to bestsellers, it is not. On the other hand, when you realize that the most indie authors struggle to sell ten books in a year, two per day for 90 days is a damn good. (If you would like to see a very detailed, statistical analysis of Amazon sales, see this article.)
I’ve spent less than $150 promoting my book, which from a purely ROI perspective on this first book, is not so good. So far I’m about breaking even. But in addition to what this spend has done to help me generate sales, this spend has allowed me to try a number of things (giveaways, a couple FaceBook ads, etc.) that I could learn from. Which is part of what I wanted to do with this first book — learn by doing. Next time I’ll be a lot smarter. At some point in the future, I’ll do a blog on my entire budget, how I spent it, and what I learned from it.
One thing I have done particularly well (if I say so myself), is secure 5-star reviews from Amazon’s top reviewers for my novella. In addition to the other reviews I have gotten, from Amazon’s “Top 10”, “Top 100”, “Top 500”, “Top 1000”, “Hall of Fame”, “Vine Voice”, other novelists, etc., I’ve gotten ten reviews, of which eight were 5-star reviews, and two were 4-star reviews. I would like to think writing a good story got me the high ratings, but figuring out how to engage these specific reviewers was decisive, and something I’ll soon blog about in detail. I believe that these high ratings have contributed to my sales, and will continue to contribute to my sales long-term. For more info, check out this article on how to get reviews from top reviewers.
Getting quality reviews from reputable — not to mention highly regarded — sources is becoming much more important because of how Amazon is taking on fake reviews and will more heavily weight quality reviews. So this is something you need to figure out. See more details on that here.
There are other people, though, who have a lot more experience than I do generating sales…
Your First 1000 Copies
I recently picked up a copy of Tim Grahl’s Your First 1000 Copies. There is lots of noise (and scams) about how to sell more copies of your own work. Like books on the craft of writing, this is one of those books that you could view as another self-help scheme being pushed by a self-serving huckster. I’ve perused a lot of such books on Amazon via the “look inside” feature over the last months.
I’ve purchased three: Jelen and McCallister’s Build Your Author Platform, Penn’s How to Market a Book, and now Grahl’s. I don’t think any one of the three could be considered definitive, but all are highly rated (though Jelen and McCallister’s book only has 21 reviews, which is not a good showing for a team touting they know how to market books…). But collectively they provide some good insight and guidance. All three are honest and though some of the specifics and areas of focus differ, the guidance between the three is consistent.
Specific to Grahl’s: His “system” can help you sell more books. It is not, of course, magic. I do like that Grahl warns (as do the other authors) that success will take work, but that with hard work, the right system, and a good product, you will be able to achieve market success.
The book is long (to the extent that ~137 pages is long) on general lessons highlighted with anecdotes. It is not a detailed project plan or step-by-step outline. If that is what you want, this is not your book. And in fairness, things change so fast in this market that we can’t expect a detailed task list. For instance, Amazon could change the rules for KDP, Google could change how they evaluate sites, etc. With his “system” he stays close to human behavior, so in that regard, the book and his system will endure.
In fact, I take his title to be a bit of misdirection precisely because he does NOT detail specific steps to get to 1000 books. He focuses instead on how to build trust and relationships, how to gain the support of fans and influencers (two different groups), and how to be “relentlessly helpful”. Perhaps most important, he emphasizes that we must have a plan for how we go about all of these things. Doing these things, as he describes them, will result in sales of 1000 books and more (assuming, of course, that we write well).
Ramping Sales on Amazon
In this age, when there are literally hundreds if not a thousand new books hitting Amazon every day, writers need help. You need much more than good book ideas, good writing and an understanding of how to write a book to be noticed because, as Grahl quoted Doctorow, “Obscurity is Hard to Monetize.”
If you are getting close to publishing your first book and are interested in such things, take a look at Grahl’s book (and the other two) and use the “look inside” feature at Amazon to get a sense of what they cover. See if the tone and chapter summary would appeal to you. In turn, I would be interested in hearing about other books or blogs with good insights on such things.