An Inspiring Tale of Moderate Success
I self-published a novel a little over a week ago, to very moderate success, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
These days it seems that the self-publishing success stories that are picked up and shared are the blockbusters and the breakouts. $1 million in sales on the first day! Fox and Time Warner competing for the movie rights! Let me tell you how I did it.
Here’s the problem: dig beneath the surface of those stories and you’ll usually find a professional writer with half a dozen or more books already published, an established audience of loyal readers, and in some cases a marketing budget or open doors with established marketing channels like Bookbub promotions.
All of that takes hard work and dedication to achieve, and this isn’t meant to demean it in any way.
But what about the rest of us? What about authors like myself, who just finished their first full novel, and want to release it successfully but don’t have the established list or back catalog to really light a fire under their launch week?
When I started preparing to release my novel I had no email list, a barely active Facebook account (I’ve always shied away from social media, more on that later) and no connections in the industry to help me spread the word. But within the first three days of my launch week I had 500+ downloads, 25+ reviews, and the #1 and #3 spots in my book’s two categories.
If I can pull that off, I am 100% certain that you can too.
Let me walk you through what I did.
- Define What Success Looks Like For Your Launch
This is an easy thing to skip over, but it’s absolutely critical. There are a great many launch and promotion strategies out there, but the truth is that no strategy is perfect. They all come with advantages and trade offs, so it won’t be possible for you to decide on your approach if you aren’t clear about what you’re trying to accomplish in the first place.
For example, I decided to launch this book as the first step in a three year plan to build towards making a full time income as an author.
That means that my top priority during the first week wasn’t sales, exactly, but overall exposure and audience engagement. I wanted to get the book in the hands of as many new readers as possible, and ideally to get their contact information in the process in the hopes that when #2 in the trilogy is available they’ll be excited to go buy it to continue the story.
What does success look like for your launch? Be as specific as possible.
2. Start Early
I started my book launch efforts about 4 weeks before I released the book on Amazon, and that even that felt far too rushed. Next time I’ll start focused promotion efforts two to three months in advance.
Marketing research has shown that most people when it comes to digital marketing most people need to see something 5 to 10 times before they actually follow up on it, even if it’s something they really want or like.
Think about it, how many times have you received an email, or even worse, noticed something on Facebook or elsewhere on the web, and though “oh that looks interesting, I should check that out.”
Multiple touches are key to driving audience engagement, and you don’t want to cram all of that down people’s throats in the week before your book is released.
I’ve had other authors tell they don’t want to start promoting too far in advance of their book release because they don’t want to wear people out by just telling them about the book over and over for weeks on end. The solution to this isn’t to start later, but to get more creative with the way you promote, which I’ll cover in just a moment.
You’ve invested months or even years of effort into writing the book. Don’t sell it short by only allotting a few days or weeks to get it in front of its audience.
3. Create an Advanced Review Team
One big reason to start your promotion efforts well in advance of the launch is that it gives you time to pull together an Advanced Review Team (also called Beta Readers). The idea here is that you give your book for free to as many people as possible before the launch in exchange for asking them to post a review during the first few days.
A decent number of reviews is a really important factor both in terms of your book’s ranking within the Amazon store, and especially in convincing other readers to give an unknown book a shot. Your Advanced Review readers will also talk about your book and share it with their friends who like the same genre if they enjoy it.
I created a list in Mailchimp and customized the signup form, then shared it in as many places as I could think and recruited friends and family to do the same. I gathered around 80 advanced review readers, and about 35 or so posted a review within the first few days. I’m confident that number would have been higher if I had started the process sooner, as I think a lot of people who signed up didn’t have enough time to read the book before it was released.
One note on reviews: Amazon has gotten very strict about removing reviews by anyone they think might be biased in your favor. While I’ve had about 35+ reviews posted, only 14 are showing currently because Amazon continues to remove reviews posted by close friends and family.
Personally I think it sucks that Amazon does such a great job at undercutting new authors while scammers and pirates continue to circumvent their systems, but that’s the way it is. The take away here is that you can’t just rely on your closest circle for reviews. Have them go ahead and submit them just in case, but focus even more on asking them to share the Advanced Review offer with their friends so that you connect with a wider circle.
4. Generate Reader Interest and Ownership
So, you’ve started early and you’re getting people to sign up and read your book in advance, but what are you supposed to post and share to promote your book?
I’d suggest that you save the direct appeal to “go and get my new book” for the first few days after it hits the store. People quickly grow tired of being “pitched to”. Instead, focus on asking for input or sharing interesting things that people might actually enjoy as a way of generating attention for your book.
In the weeks before launch I shared polls for various titles I was considering for the book, posted sample book covers and asked for feedback, shared quotes from the book, and a custom map of the fantasy setting that I had commissioned. All of those things drew a lot of interest and attention from more distant friends that I doubt would have noticed or cared if I had just posted “I have a book coming out” over and over again.
5. Run A Free Promo
If you enroll your book in Amazon’s KDP select program when you publish it you get a number of important benefits in return.
The first is that your book becomes available through the Kindle Unlimited program, which means more new readers who will take a chance on an unproven title because they’ve already paid for the KU service. I’ve had more people read my book through KU than have bought it directly so far, and I still get paid a royalty for those reads, so its a win win.
The second is that Amazon gives you five days of free promotion which you can schedule in at any point during the 3 month exclusivity window.
I used two of those days to make the book free for its first two days on the store, and focused all my promotion efforts on getting people to download the book during that time.
Now, that means I gave up a number of guaranteed sales. My close friends and family who would have bought the book downloaded it for free instead, but I was happy with that because my strategy here wasn’t to make a few extra dollars now, but to lay the groundwork for the next two to three years of building an author career.
500+ people downloaded the book during those two days, which pushed it to #1 and #3 on the free lists in its two categories. When the free promotion ended that left the book at #18 and #29 on the paid lists for those categories, and I got sales through the rest of the week from readers I don’t know that I doubt would have come through if the book had been buried further down those lists.
There are dozens and dozens of newsletters and services that promote free Kindle books. I only had time to take advantage of five of them, but I plan to use the remaining 3 days to run another free promotion in June and will do a much more thorough job of scheduling broad promotion efforts to make the most of those days.
One final thing about free promotions: Make sure you include an offer in your book to sign up for your newsletter or mailing list. Ideally you should do that by offering something for free in exchange. In my case I offer an in-depth guide to the fantasy world that the story is set in for people who are curious to learn more about it. It’s great to get a lot of free downloads, but if none of those people connect with you directly then how will you tell them when you have another book available?
So, that’s what I did to launch my book. It wasn’t perfect, and it didn’t make me an overnight success, but I’m happy with the results. I have a long road ahead of me, and lot of work to do to continue to promote the book while I work on the second title in the trilogy, but I love knowing that there are things I can sit down and do that will actually move the needle and help my work find its audience.
To me, knowing that I can work towards my goals instead of sitting back and hoping that someone else decides my book is worth promoting is the best part of being an indie author.
What about you? What strategies and tactics have proven successful in your own promotional efforts? What questions do you still have about launching your book? Let me know in the comments.
A prince in hiding. An empire in turmoil. A gathering storm.
Kyren e’Cania is the last son of a fallen House, raised in secret in the shadows of the city his family once ruled.
Trained by his father in the ways of his people, Kyren has avoided the notice of the tyrant who murdered his family by never giving anyone reason to suspect he is anything more than a nameless peasant.
But when an ambitious noble sets dangerous events in motion, Kyren must find a way to reclaim his heritage and unite his people, before everything he loves is swallowed by fire and sword once again.
“A beautifully written story with strong descriptions, penetrating characterisation, and considerable imaginative power.”
- Sam Thompson, author of Communion Town: A City in Ten Stories