If you’re like me, a relatively new author without a strong “platform,” no real fan base yet, and no influential connections so far to help promote your book, trying to put together a plan for selling it can be daunting. And if you manage to put something into action, how many copies should you expect to sell? A thousand? Twelve? None?
The goal I set for my novel Where the Hell is Tesla? was 1,000 copies sold in three months. And I did it. Here’s how.
First, though, a couple of thoughts:
- If 1,000 copies in three months doesn’t sound like a lot, you’re right. It’s not. You can’t live on the profits from selling 11 copies of your book a day. But the average book now sells only 250 copies in an entire year, so my goal was actually pretty aggressive.
- I’m not a book marketer. I’m a writer and a publisher. I’ll leave the marketing thinking to people like Tim Grahl, a book marketing consultant who’s helped New York Times bestselling authors for years.
- Since I’m not a marketer, this is not a how-to-sell-1000-copies tutorial. This is my story, so far, for one book, and if you’re in a similar situation, I hope this post can help spark some ideas and sell a few more copies for you.
- My goal was copies sold, not money earned. I spent money to sell copies. I still came out ahead. If you’re looking to launch a book without spending money, here’s a better way to do it.
- My goal was copies sold, not copies given away. Free promos, through Amazon’s KDP free promotions for example, can get a LOT more copies into readers’ hands. But my opinion? Meh.
- If you read this and get the idea “hey, everything this guy did worked,” you’re wrong. Most of what I tried didn’t work. Some did. If you want information about the stuff that didn’t work, contact me and I’d love to regale you with the 99 things I’ve learned not to do when launching your book.
Okay, let’s move on with the “pre-launch” stuff.
1. I wrote the book.
Before you can sell any copies, I’m going to assume you’ve written your book and published it. And I’d like to emphasize written. Where the Hell is Tesla? took me a year to write. It went through numerous revisions. I was correcting typos until the day before it launched. So make sure your primary goal, even before selling copies, is to craft a well-written story that will connect with readers, and make them laugh, or cry, or shiver with fear, or whatever. That’s the real point.
2. I set up my website, book landing page, social media, and Amazon pages.
I’d tell you all about how to build your own website in an hour, but Tim Grahl has already done that. So if you need to, check out his post and go to town. For my book, I use Goldfinch Publishing and RobDircks.com to help promote it, both WordPress sites. Contact me if you have any questions.
In addition to these sites, I’ve set up individual book landing pages I used when I needed to point to the book from a promotion — for example, my Facebook ads point to this landing page. (Notice that the only link on the entire page is to buy the book on Amazon. No navigation, no distractions.)
For social media, I’ve heard many people advise this and I’ll tell you the same thing: don’t overdo it. I have a full time job, I write and publish on the side, and even with just Facebook and Twitter, this book promotion thing was at times testing my productivity limits. So I stuck with those two, and I’d say go with the one or two that feel right for you. For example, if you’re creating a graphic novel — very visual — maybe Facebook and Pinterest would be your thing. Journalist writing non-fiction? Twitter.
For my Amazon author and book pages, I could get very detailed, but here’s the quick: Use the spaces Amazon gives you. Don’t leave things blank. Put plenty of key phrases in your book description and keywords list on your book sales page on Amazon. Hook up your author page to show your latest blog posts and tweets. Use what they give you.
Then I started blogging, posting, and tweeting. I’m not the best at this, but I’m trying, and I’m getting somewhere. And I think it’s helping sell copies.
3. I got more active on Goodreads.
Goodreads.com is a great site for authors and readers to connect. I joined new groups, contributed more often, and as you’ll see below, shared copies with groups, including print, digital, and audiobooks in exchange for even more reviews.
4. I lined up 25 Amazon reviews before launch.
- Contact 75 people you know and offer them a free advance digital copy of your book in exchange for an Amazon review.
- Remind the people who say “yes” a couple of times, giving them time to finish reading it if they’ve procrastinated.
- On launch day, send these people your book page link with instructions. If it works, you’ll get 25 reviews. I did.
- Get a few close friends to upvote (honestly) some of your favorite reviews, so they stay on the book’s sales page as “most helpful,” not buried.
5. I published my book.
I plan to post a crash-course on formatting and publishing your book for print and digital editions, but I haven’t written that post yet, and I might never do it because there are a million resources out there that explain how to do it already. Of course, if you’re not the self-publishing type, that’s sort of the reason for Goldfinch Publishing. Contact me and I can help you edit, publish, and promote your book. Even if you want to do it completely on your own, I’m here to help.
Now, on to the “post-launch” stuff.
6. I enrolled in KDP Select to take advantage of Countdown Deals and KU/KOLL.
KDP Select (the KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing) incentivizes you to sell digital copies of your book exclusively through Amazon, in exchange for the ability to run their free promotions and Countdown Deals. From my first book, Unleash the Sloth!, I learned that 95% of my sales were coming from Amazon. So for this book, I decided to go exclusive and take advantage of the KDP Countdown Deals. My book is priced at $3.99, and the Countdown Deal allows you to price it temporarily at a discount – I chose $.99. I was able to time it so I got two countdown deals in the first three months, and timed my book email promotions (see #9) to sync with them. These represent, unsurprisingly, the two largest spikes in sales in those three months.
With KDP Select, I also earn royalties (counting as paid sales) on Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which is not an insignificant number.
7. I gave copies away.
I know I just said that my goal wasn’t to give away free copies. And mostly I’m not sure what they do for me. But the Goodreads Giveaways are great. The site is for serious readers and authors, and you will get thoughtful reviews, likes, friends, and even enough of a rapport to get some fans onto your email list. (Oh, the email list thing — I’ll get to that in another post. It’s a work in progress.) And when one of these Goodreads members posts a review, all their friends see it.
In addition to the official Goodreads Giveaways, I’ve offered both free ebooks and free audiobook codes to the folks on Goodreads, inside groups. Posting a free offer in exchange for a review (in the appropriate places, not spamming the whole site) has worked wonderfully in getting reviews, and has definitely helped sell copies (even more so for the audiobook).
8. I begged for exposure.
9. I used paid promotions.
- BookBub – actually, I haven’t been able to get on this one yet. They only send out a small number of books in each email, and they’re very selective. Boo-hoo. I’ll keep trying.
BookGorilla.com – Cost $50. Sold lots of copies. Made money.
- FussyLibrarian.com – Cost $15. Sold a bunch of copies. Made money.
- BargainBooksy.com – Cost$35. Broke even.
- Facebook ads – Cost up to $5 a day. Great for exposure. Sold some books. I wouldn’t bet the house on it.
- Google ads – Cost up to $5 a day. Great for exposure. Sold some books. I wouldn’t bet the house on it.
- I won’t list the ones that tanked, as I don’t want to slam a service that might just not have worked for me. But if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll give you the dark details.
10. I created an audiobook.
This one’s kind of funny. I really created the audiobook just to see if I could do it, and to make my Amazon book page look more complete. But boy was I surprised! It has sold way more than I expected, with no direct promotion at all. (Although I did offer free audiobook codes on Goodreads.com and got a terrific response. Have I mentioned that Goodreads is great?) If you’re interested, here’s my post about how you can produce your own audiobook.
Why is the audiobook performing? It turns out that audiobooks are on the rise, big time. And readers over at Audible are some serious readers. Check out this review from a recent reader/listener:
★★★★★ “Best Tesla-inspired Story In the Audio Stacks” — Fictionalized Tesla stories were in vogue a couple of years ago, but after listening to a few of them, I decided to forego purchasing any others because, far too often, they seemed overworked and boring. They took themselves, science, and Tesla wayyy to seriously. Tesla’s real life story held more intrigue than many of the fictional versions did. When I found the Dircks story, I listened to the excerpt out of a strange compulsion, possibly from mental programming from all the past Tesla tales. I’m glad I pushed the play button on this one. In my opinion, and despite all of the obligatory “dude” vulgarity, Dircks has written a laugh-out-loud, can’t stop listening story in which Tesla is given his due as a futurist and scientist, well ahead of his time. Chip and Pete are also fun characters with the type of “bro” friendship that would play well in a feature film. This is a slick, well-told tale. Could it have been told with less use of the “F” word? Absolutely. The potty humor was a bit overdone too. However, a real argument can be made that the characters are people we know and they certainly ring true to life, no cardboard stereotypes here. So,it’s all a matter of staying true to the characters, and the author did that. I’m hoping this is the first in a series. Would love a “What the blank Is Einstein Thinking?” or “Don’t Trust Edison!” If he could pull off the same kind of madcap, LOL intellectualism that he managed in the Tesla story, Dircks might just be the inventor of a new and very popular genre.
11. I celebrated.
There you have it. If you’re on a similar path, I hope this post sparks some ideas. And if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me. I’m here to help.
I love reading “what worked and what didn’t” post-mortems. Helps me avoid some of the potholes!
On the topic of using Goodreads giveaways, did you use the $100 version of the $600 version? Or was it free back in the olden days? 😉
Hi, Rob this is a great work you put. Am glad I read this. Actually an doing a research on how to start my book publishing career on Amazon.
I would like you brush me up for great work in the future.
hi Rob! Wow, great article! About audio books – im surprised people are so into them now, I’ve always assumed these are for blind people. I guess it’s becoming a next hit! Did you use a special recording device and used a soundproof room or just edited later removing outside noise? Also, do you have any experience with YouTube advertising? I have a promo book video there with tons of other videos, I’m thinking – should i focus on promoting on YouTube better than on other platforms right now? What would be your advice? Also, I’m a book translator, would you recommend to translate a book and promote it internationally in 2+ languages? thanks again and best of luck with your writing career!!
Hi Tia, Thanks for writing! To answer your questions:
Regarding recording devices: For my microphone, I use an AKG C3000b ($250, https://www.amazon.com/AKG-2785X00230-Performance-Large-Diaphragm-Microphone/dp/B002E0P0WW). And I use a DUET2 audio interface that the XLR mic plugs into ($650, https://apogeedigital.com/shop/duet). If I was starting out again, and wanted to keep the budget trim, I might go for the AKG P120 microphone ($79, https://www.amazon.com/AKG-P120-High-Performance-Recording-Microphone/dp/B00M9CUOKI), and for an audio interface I might do the Focusrite Scarlett Solo ($119, https://www.amazon.com/Focusrite-Scarlett-Audio-Interface-Tools/dp/B07QR6Z1JB).
For the studio itself, it’s literally a closet under the stairs (a la Harry Potter) in my basement. I’ve hung acoustic foam ($250, https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0007P34Y2/). All you really need is a small, quiet space and lots of blankets. You can remove some noise in Garageband, but I HIGHLY recommend aiming for the most silent environment possible.
Regarding YouTube, I do not have experience with their advertising. I’m sure there are tons of better resources than me to investigate that possibility (which sounds great, btw).
Same with the translation, I’m not versed in that part of the industry, so you’d have to look around for a resource.
Good luck! – Rob
Hi Rob. I have been working on an audiobook for nearly a year and after countless missteps and responding to wrong advice I finally found what I was looking for: your sight on audiobooks. I am new to computers period. I am a senior citizen who keeps running into walls because I don’t Know computer lingo. My problem: I have successfully recorded 70 chapters, each on its own track. Do I go forward from here or do I need to send an mp3 chapter to Amazon? ANYTHING you can offer will be greatly appreciated Alan
Hi Alan, It seems from what you’ve said that you need to set up an account with ACX (the distributor for Amazon/Audible/Apple books). In brief, here are the steps:
1. Publish an ebook or paperback version of your book on Amazon if you haven’t already. (It might not seem logical, but that’s just how Amazon/Audible works: in order for you to start an audiobook project with ACX, you need a book published in Amazon’s database.)
2. Set up an account with ACX.
3. “Claim” your book to start your audiobook project.
4. Once your audiobook project is begun, you can use ACX’s “audiolab” tool to check that it passes quality control (https://www.acx.com/audiolab).
For a bit more on this, if you haven’t already watched it, you can see my video on the audiobook process here: https://robdircks.com/yes-you-can-record-your-own-audiobook-heres-how/
Good luck! – Rob
Thank you for posting this. I’ve been writing for a while, but just got into the book game last year with the first novel I’ve published. For that one, the goal was more to write the book, make it available, and count that as a success.
For my next book, which is non-fiction, more in the personal growth genre, I have that same goal as you did here: 1,000 copies sold.
Anything you would update id you were doing it again this year?
A LOT has changed since this post. Unpaid, organic ranking in Amazon is, as far as I can tell, almost non-existent, replaced by paid advertising. So on that front, if Amazon discovery is important to you, you’d need to educate yourself on Amazon ads and be ready to spend money to make money. There are so many resources out there on getting to know and use Amazon ads, but right off the top of my head David Gaughran has a fantastic site that he updates constantly, and books on everything self-publishing/marketing — https://davidgaughran.com/category/amazon/
I’d still focus on reviews. To me, they’re the number one way people get convinced to read my books. I STILL, several years later, solicit reviews whenever I can.
Audiobooks continue to be a solid area for me, and if you’re doing personal growth, it seems to me that genre is exploding over on Audible, so you’re getting in at a good time.
Overall, I’d humbly say that as I’m a bit outdated on this post, look for authors who are keeping more up-to-date blogs on self-publishing (I already mentioned David Gaughran, but another fantastic one is Joanna Penn — https://www.thecreativepenn.com).
Thank you for your straightforward post. I found it quite helpful and will certainly apply some of your strategies to my novel, There Is No End to This Slope, as well as my new novel that I am shopping around to agents.
The advice is generally great, however, I see so many people recommended that you give free books to get reviews in order to get your sales going. However, people don’t seem to realise that this breaks Amazon’s terms of agreement. You’re not allowed to do it and furthermore may be banned from selling on Amazon if you do. It’s considered bribery in Amazon’s mind.
Hi Kim – yes, thing have changed, and as others have said this post/video is from 2015, so the rules were more lax then. But there is definitely still a way to work within Amazon’s rules without “cheating.” Here are Amazon’s latest guidelines: “You may provide free or discounted copies of your books to readers. However, you may not demand a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.” I think the key words in there are DEMAND and INFLUENCE. SO… what I’ve been seeing from reviewers of my books lately is a disclaimer in the review to the effect of “I was given a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave this review. It’s my honest, unbiased opinion.” So when I ask for reviews now, I’m very clear that it would be nice if they could leave a review, but they are NOT required to, and if they decide to leave a review, they should include that little disclaimer at the bottom.
hi Rob! awesome job on your books and your life! sounds fun, im a writer of middle grade books Max the Magician series and have some large fb groups and 1k subs on youtube, but still i cant understand who that guy you reference in your video is? lol please help!!
Hi Nita, I think you’re talking about Tim Grahl. You can get started with him at https://booklaunch.com. He offers lots of free resources, and paid programs too. They’re all great. And here are a couple of other sites (of so, so many) that offer more free, excellent guidance: • Joanna Penn (https://www.thecreativepenn.com/marketing/). • David Gaughran (https://davidgaughran.com). Good luck!- Rob
Which paid promotions did NOT work, please, so I know which ones to avoid?