How to Self-Publish a Bestseller
The Book Marketing Strategy I Used to Sell Over 400 Books in 10 Days
I used to think that I could just write a great book and publish it and then the sales would roll in. I was wrong.
I’ve self-published over twelve books, but it wasn’t until recently I realized how to market books properly. Since then, I’ve launched three bestselling books.
Marketing your book isn’t difficult. It doesn’t have to be, anyway, as long as you do it correctly.
Now, before I dive into the strategies I used to market my most recent book, “Your First Bestseller: How to Self-Publish a Successful Book on Amazon”, to the top of the bestseller list, I want to give you the two underlying objectives. Actually, these are the only two things that matter for achieving success self-publishing on Amazon. These two things are traffic and conversion.
Traffic means the people visiting your book page. Conversion means the people actually buying your book once they are on your page.
Everything I will be talking about for the remainder of this case study serves to accomplish one of these two objectives.
Now, there are a million and one ways to market a book. You could spend hours on social media, blogging, trying to get press, etc. But most of them simply don’t work.
Building an email list and marketing to your fans is one of the most effective ways to drive sales in almost any business. However, you do not need a massive email list to achieve success self-publishing books on Amazon.
Your First Bestseller: A Case Study
As I write this, I have fewer than 5,000 email subscribers. Of these 5,000, only a tiny portion are interested in self-publishing, so I knew I could not rely on my email email list alone to market my book. So, I set out to acquire readers through what I think is the most efficient and effective marketing channel for authors: Amazon itself.
And it’s worked.
Here are the results I’ve achieved:
- #1 bestselling book in Direct Marketing and #2 in Small Business
- Over 400 kindle books sold within 10 days of launch
- Top 3,000 book ranking on all of Amazon, ahead of books like The Lean Startup and Zero to One
- Over 150 new email subscribers
- 24 Reviews, all 4 stars or higher
So, how did I get Amazon to promote my book to its millions of shoppers? To best explain, I will pose four questions so that you can see the underpinnings:
1. How does Amazon make money (as it pertains to its book business)?
Don’t overthink it: it sells books and takes a commission.
2. But how does Amazon sell books?
Think of a bookstore. Do they put their worst selling books in the front, and hide their best in the back? No. Most people would walk out of the store without buying anything. Instead, they put their best books in the front.
Similarly, if Amazon puts its best books in front of its users, it will get a higher conversion rate and ultimately sell more books (and make more money).
3. How does Amazon know which books are the best and which to promote?
Do they have a team of people reading every book and deciding which are good?
No, of course not. Just like Google, it has a series of factors it evaluates to determine if the book should be promoted (using an algorithm).
By understanding what these factors are, you can market your book to trigger these factors and indicate to Amazon that they should be promoting your book to its masses.
4. So what are these factors?!?
Ok, getting into the good stuff now, here are two of the biggest:
- Reviews. Positive reviews from verified purchasers, that have actually read your book, indicate to Amazon that your book is good.
- Downloads. A large number of purchases, not all at once or in total, but within a short time period (about a week), indicates to Amazon that people will buy your book.
The second one, downloads, seems to be the more weighted factor of the two.
So, before I can get Amazon to start promoting my book, I need to do a little marketing myself to indicate that people like my book and will buy it. Only then, will Amazon realize they should be promoting it.
But before I start sending traffic to my book, I want to make sure it will convert. Sending traffic to something that doesn’t convert is like filling a leaky bucket with water…it’s a waste of time and money! Here are the six factors that will make sure your book converts well.
1. Write an amazing book
Why does writing a great book matter? It helps with both traffic and conversion. Here’s how:
- People who see your book will be more likely to buy it. People don’t want to spend their time and money on things that don’t provide value to them.
- You will get more reviews, and therefore:
- Increase your conversion rate. As you can imagine, when people see a five star rating and dozens of people vouching for the quality of your book, it encourages them to buy.
- Increases your traffic from Amazon. Reviews are one of the factors Amazon looks at to determine if they should be promoting a book.
- More likely to be promoted by outside sites. (more on those later)
A great book leads to happy readers, leads to great reviews!
Here are the two most important factors that make a great book and what I did to write my book accordingly:
First, it’s on a topic that people want to read about. Something that’s going to help them achieve some goal and/or provide entertainment.
The idea for this book came as a result about consistently being asked about how to write, produce, and market a book from my target audience. I use email autoresponders to engage with people on my email list so that I’m getting viable topic ideas in my inbox on autopilot.
In addition, I did some research on the Amazon platform to see how other books on self-publishing were performing. By looking at the product details section of relevant book pages, I could see that many were ranked highly on Amazon, indicating that there was demand for content on this topic.
Then, I made sure to write a book that is engaging and easy to understand. I hired an editor to proofread and give me feedback on the content. Lastly, I asked a few people within my target to provide feedback.
Once I was confident I had a book on a topic that people have demand for and that it was well written and edited, it was time to start producing the design assets for the book.
2. Design for success
I used to think I could just write an amazing book, publish it on Amazon, and then write a few blog/guest posts and watch the sales roll in.
But I was wrong.
See, it’s not enough to write a book on a topic people want to read, write it extremely well, and market it effectively…
You have to design the book so that when people find it, they are compelled to buy it. This means having a great:
- Cover design
- Book description
- Title and subtitle
Read on to learn best practices for each of these three key items.
3. Craft (and split test) the perfect title
I try to find a balance between having an engaging title that will encourage people to click through to the book page and ultimately buy, and having keywords that will make it more likely to appear in Amazon search results.
For this book, I erred on the side of writing an engaging title. To start, I brainstormed a bunch of ideas. Then I narrowed them down to the two I was most excited about.
But I’ll admit it, I’m really not that great at crafting titles or deciding which is best, so I outsourced it…to readers. I used PickFu to split test these two titles and get qualitative feedback.
I thought it would have been cool to title my book “Pimp Your Book” and give it a 70’s porn motif, but the market didn’t agree. Based on the test, I finalized my title and was ready to get my designer started on the cover.
4. Get an awesome cover designed
Yes, people judge a book by its cover. Not only does a great book cover have a direct impact on how many people will buy your book after landing on your book page (conversion), it also has an impact on how many people will land on your book page in the first place (traffic).
People see your cover in places like the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” of related book pages, category bestseller lists, and search results. Your cover, in addition to your title, will in part determine whether or not they click through to your book page.
As you can see (second from the left), I chose a bright yellow background and the title font really stands out.
I’ve worked with several different designers. Including making the rookie mistake of using Fiverr expecting to get a really exceptional cover made. Now I’ve finally found a designer that I’ve been consistently happy with. I pay $200 per cover, but I know several authors who get great covers made for less.
On top of having a great designer who can use his creativity to determine the best design for you, it’s important to give him/her clear instructions and feedback along the way.
Some design best practices for book covers include having bold colors, large font, and big graphics.
I provided the designer with color suggestions, a description of the “look and feel” I was going for, and, importantly, examples of other book covers I liked. I also included the specific reasons why I liked the covers and the aspects I liked and disliked.
In the past I’ve tried having two different versions designed so I can compare them or split test them. Designers will likely charge more for that, but I believe it’s worth it.
Once I received a draft back from my designer I provided detailed feedback regarding the color, font, design, etc. After two or three revisions, I had a great book cover. Once I’m confident people are going to love it, then it’s time to move on to the next factor that increases conversion rates.
5. Craft a description that hooks
The book description is the final straw in the buying process. However, sales copywriting is a unique skill, and quite different than writing educational or entertaining books. So, I work with a copywriter to have my descriptions written.
Some of the key elements that I like in a book description include clearly displaying the benefits the reader will receive from reading the book (I used bullet points), making it clear who the book is for and tailoring the language accordingly, using HTML code to make it more visually appealing, beginning with an attention grabbing headline, and ending it will a motivating call to action to buy the book.
Your book’s description is NOT a summary, it’s a sales page. People will read it and then think, “Should I buy this book?”, so you must take it seriously.
6. Get reviews (not fake ones)
Amazon wants to continue to provide the best books to it’s users. In order to do so, they need to make sure the reviews are genuine and not written by robots. They’ve even been implementing measure to ensure that books are not just receiving a given quantity of reviews, but that the reviews are genuine, from people who have purchased and actually read your book.
So of course, writing an amazing book that will make people want to leave a review on their own is essential, but I didn’t want to sit back and wait…
But since I’ve written over a dozen books, friends, family and fellow authors for reviews gets a little worn out after a while.
So for this book, I tried something new…
To build my email list, I offer readers a free download of a self-publishing checklist that will further help them with publishing and marketing their book. To download, they simply enter their email address. Once they sign up to download the checklist, they get an automated email from me asking them to leave an honest review of my book.
This has led to at least 5 reviews so far. And these are from people who have bought the book and opened it on web or Kindle, which indicates to Amazon that the review is genuine (and it is).
Now The Marketing Begins
Now that I’ve produced a book that I’m confident will convert, it’s time to start sending traffic to it.
At the beginning of this article, you learned about how to get Amazon to promote your book to its millions of users. And that one of the most important triggers for that to happen is having a lot downloads of your book over the period of about a week.
But I knew I couldn’t get enough downloads to get promoted across Amazon just through my email list…or guest blogging, or social media, or any other channel.
Fortunately, there are a number of websites that promote self-published books and have built huge email lists of people who like to buy them. Most offer advertising packages that guarantee placement in their newsletter and on their homepage.
There were a few other marketing strategies I tried during this launch, but these sites delivered the most significant results by far.
Price during launch
The goal of this launch was not just to make money during the week long launch period, but to make the book an asset that will continue to provide passive income for months and years into the future. So, rather than just optimize for revenue during the launch period, I optimized for downloads.
If you enroll your book in KDP Select, you run promotions on your book that enable to give your book away for free. Free downloads do trigger the Amazon algorithm and can give you a boost in sales when it returns to paid, however based on my experience and the data I’ve seen from other authors, paid downloads are weighted more heavily than free downloads.
So I chose to price my book at $0.99 during the launch.
After receiving hundreds of downloads during the launch, I increased the price to $2.99 and I will soon raise it to $4.99.
By pricing it so much lower during the launch, I may have lost out on some revenue in the short-term, but by making up for it in volume, I was confident it would pay off, particularly in the long run.
7. The Product Hunt Debacle
Previously when someone posted one of my old books to Product Hunt, it lead to about twenty sales, and given it is free to post there, I thought I’d give it a try at the start of my launch, before most of the promotion sites were scheduled.
What started as a quick promotional activity, quickly went downhill when Ryan Holiday, one of the most well known marketers in the world, called me out.
I was freaking out. I had just self-published a book on how to self-publish a book and I was barely under the top 20k books on all of Amazon. To make matters worse, someone I really admire called me out for it.
I was worried the launch would not live up to my expectations and that I would look like a fool.
Fortunately, it all started to pick up over the next few days.
8. Paid Promotion Site Tsunami
Once sites like Reading Deals, Robin Reads, and Fussy Librarian started promoting my book, as I had arranged, sales really started to take off.
Having a great book with all the important factors discussed at the beginning of this case study will increase your chances of being accepted to these sites, and the results you can glean from them.
Here are the results I achieved from each of the sites I was accepted to:
As you can see I spread the promotions out over the course of about eight days to provide consistency, but isolated one or two sites per day so I could measure the results of each.
Towards the end of the week the book finally breached the top 3,000 on all of Amazon and #1 best selling status in Direct Marketing.
Buck Books in particular drove a significant amount of sales.
You can see again how having strong and attention grabbing cover design can help you get more traffic and sales.
9. Ongoing Content Marketing and Amazon Optimization
Now that I’ve signaled to Amazon that their customers want to buy my book, it continues to be promoted across the platform. This should drive the large majority of my sales going forward.
However, I can keep driving more sales, and continue signaling to Amazon that they should be promoting it, by doing some additional marketing to send traffic to the book.
I am using content marketing to continue to market the book. In particular, blogging and guest blogging. This case study included :)
By blogging on my personal site, and guest blogging on sites that reach my target audience, I can continue to build my email list and sell more books.
Beyond downloads, genuine positive reviews will help me to rank in Amazon search results and increase conversions.
By selecting categories that are likely to be browsed by my target audience, and not too competitive, I can continue to get additional exposure.
What I would do differently next time
While I am extremely happy with the results of this book so far, it was by no means the perfect launch. I think there are two things I could have done differently, and plan to next time, to get even better results.
1. Write a more game-changing book
While I was quite confident that my book would be extremely valuable to readers, the topic itself isn’t the most earth shattering. My book is comprehensive, but self-publishing is a relatively niche topic, and there are other books that cover it.
I’m interested in spending a lot more time researching and writing a more innovative and comprehensive book. If done right, I think that would help me both with getting distribution (traffic) and conversion.
A lot of the promotion sites have more broad audiences so I suspect if my book had more mainstream appeal it would have performed even better.
By producing a book on a less competitive topic, I think I’d have more consistent sales over time.
Just like there are websites with extremely large email lists, there are also individuals that have large email lists, often with very focused interests.
I know authors have had great results with getting people in their space to share their books with their email lists. I think this could be especially effective if I were to do a free launch.
During my next launch, I will try creating win-win relationships where people who are followed by my target audience promote my book and I provide their audience with free content and promote something of theirs.
My book, “Your First Bestseller”, became a bestselling book with over 400 downloads in 10 days by using the marketing strategies in this case study. Here are the most important and actionable lessons learned from the experience:
- Write an amazing book on a topic that people want to read about and will leave a positive review after they do.
- Have an awesome title, cover design, and description, so that when people land on your book page, they will be compelled to actually buy it.
- Use your book to build your email list, so that you can get reviews, up-sell or cross sell other or future products/services, and have more power behind your next book launch.
- If you don’t have a massive email list, one of your best acquisition channels will be Amazon itself. By understanding how and why Amazon functions, and then acting accordingly, you can get Amazon to promote your book to its millions of shoppers. Once Amazon starts to promote your book to its users, you will see another spike in sales for days and weeks to come.
- Submit your book to sites that promote self-published books and have a large and engaged audience of people that buy books in your genre. Spread them out over the course of a few days to signal to Amazon that you have staying power.
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