How a First-Time, Self-Published Author Got 92 reviews on Amazon Within One Month

I self-published Solarversia, my first novel, on the 31st August 2015. By the 30th September, one month after launch, I’d amassed 92 reviews across various Amazon sites (US, UK, CA & AU.) Here’s how I did it.

Background

In 2010, after ten years of searching for meaning in my life, I had a vision about a year-long game played in virtual reality. The vision was so captivating that I left my (well-paid) job in finance soon afterwards to learn everything I could about tech startups in order to build the kind of company that could create the game I’d envisioned.

I soon learned a hard truth about startups. They’re really, really difficult. Some of the brightest minds on the planet are being given a lot of money, a lot of support, and access to incredible networks - and still failing, every single day. I learned that I had zero chance of attracting the kind of money I needed for my own idea.

Except I had a plan B. Virtual reality was different. The nature of the medium meant that I could write a book about the game and the company behind it, and get people interested that way.

A quick summary of my commercial strategy looks something like:

  • Write a book that shows the game I envisioned people playing
  • Incorporate the company behind the game for real (it’s called Spiralwerks by the way)
  • Put money from books sales, traditional publishing deal, merchandise and movie rights into the company
  • Get funding from investors in order to build Spiralwerks for real
  • Launch Solarversia in 2020 so that people can actually play it

I’m still on the third step at the moment — raising awareness of the book leading up to the launch of the Oculus Rift headset in Q1 of 2016. Here’s how I got a load of reviews on Amazon to help with that:

1) I defined My USP

I was clear about my USP (my Unique Selling Point) from the beginning. This is the thing that makes a product or service stand out from the crowd. My point of differentiation was simple: “I’m writing a book about a game played in virtual reality in the year 2020, and plan to make the game for real, so that you can actually play it.”

This, I believe, is the Holy Grail of entertainment. To provide a way for people to become the heroes in the stories they love. It’s part of the promise of virtual reality and one of the reasons it’s going to change the world.

Always know what makes your product / service different. You need to be able to communicate it clearly (in a single sentence).

The Holy Grail of entertainment is to provide a way for people to become the heroes in the stories they love

2) I defined My Target Market

Solarversia is a book about a game played in virtual reality. The target market is “gamers”. More specifically, it’s “people who enjoyed Ready Player One”, which is a book about … a game played in virtual reality (it’s currently being adapted for the big screen by Steven Spielberg). Knowing this allowed me to target those people on Twitter, Facebook and reddit.

How did I know who to target? Because they self-identified as fans of Ready Player One. Here’s a Twitter search for “Ready Player One”. I reached out to the people who mentioned the book in a favourable light (followed them, tweeted them, retweeted them etc.) What did I say to them? I communicated my USP to them.

Know who your audience is. Know where you can find them and how you can identify them, in order that you can communicate your USP to them.

3) I Made People a Great Offer

When reaching out to the people in my target market I made them an offer: if they signed up to my newsletter I’d give them a free copy of the book once it was finished. If you love one type of book you’re likely going to be interested in similar books, especially if the genre (litRPG to be precise) is fairly new and not yet over-populated with titles. Still, I only ever heard back from about 30% of the people I reached out to. Others were either too busy to reply or not interested. No problem. 30% is a very respectable figure in terms of digital marketing response rates.

Make people a great offer in order to get them onto your distribution list.

4) Bringing The Book to Life

In the book, 100 million people start playing Solarversia on the 29th February 2020. It takes the form of a knock-out game where the last person standing is guaranteed to win a Grand Prize of £10m. Those 100 million people each have a unique Player Number (from 1 to 100m) and those numbers are located in something called the Players Grid. Squares act like profile pages for players. Nova is Player Number 515,740 (she’s the protagonist by the way). Here’s her square:

Nova’s Square in the Players Grid

The Players Grid performs a central role in the book. It acts like a giant scoreboard and even comes to life in one of the later rounds. Number ‘1’’ is in the very centre of the grid, and the other numbers spiral away from it, all the way to 100 million (hence the name of the company, Spiarlwerks).

The numbers spiral outward from the centre of the Players Grid

As discussed in the book, the more central a player’s number, the higher esteem they hold in the gaming world (it usually means they signed up to Solarversia early on, or won a place in a gaming competition). In order to promote the game, Spiralwerks (the company behind the game), selected a 10 x 10 area of the grid, called it the Golden Grid, and assigned the squares within it via a series of innovative competitions.

Because I’ve created Spiralwerks for real, I’ve created the Golden Grid for real:

The Golden Grid

Here’s the location of the Golden Grid with respect to the centre of the Players Grid:

If you take a close look at the Golden Grid you can see that the square in the bottom right corner is different. That’s square number 993 and it was the first square in the history of Solarversia to be assigned to a player. Readers needed to write an honest review the book on Amazon within the first month of the book going on sale. Anyone who submitted their review to me by the 30th September was eligible to play.

It’s this game that helped me attract reviews for the book. Readers were incentivised to review it in order to play. Please note that I wrote to Amazon a year ago (at the start of this project) to confirm that my game complied with their terms of service.

If you’re playing on someone else’s platform, ensure that you play by their rules.

5) The Results of the Amazon Reviewers Game

You can find the reviews I’ve received in the following places:

  • Amazon US (66 reviews, 4.3 average at time of writing)
  • Amazon UK (25 reviews, 4.4 average at time of writing)

Of the 92 people who reviewed it on Amazon by the 30th September (one less UK review, plus a review in Canada and one in Australia) 58 people sent me their reviews.

Those people were invited to play the “Lowest Unique Number” game, which is one that Nova (the protagonist) plays in one of the final rounds (the real world competitions are all going to be themed to the book, bringing it to life). Of the 58 people that sent me reviews and were eligible to play, 52 submitted their guesses to me. Here’s a video showing the results of the game:

I provide a full analysis of the guesses on my website here.

If Solarversia sounds like an interesting book you can find it on Amazon here (audiobook to follow in November). The second of the Golden Grid promotional games is scheduled to take place in December. It will feature a Solarversia Quiz, bringing to life the ‘Knowledge’ element of the Science of Solarversia. The best way to stay informed of upcoming promotions is to join the newsletter.

You can follow Toby on Twitter here, and Solarversia on Facebook here.

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