It’s almost every author’s dream: become a bestseller and hit those elusive lists. I’ve been chasing this dream in one way or another since I was a kid and started penning my first stories for my little sisters. But there’s more to becoming a bestselling author than just writing a book.
The February publication of my debut novel, The Night Olivia Fell (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books), was good — strong foreign rights and domestic sales, reprint demands, positive reader and reviewer reactions — but I didn’t hit any lists. As the months went on and sales plateaued, I sat down and came up with a plan to:
- Hit the USA Today bestseller list.
- Increase my readership before gearing up for publication of my second book, Behind Every Lie.
Here’s how I implemented this plan and (spoiler!) successfully hit the USA Today list with my traditionally published book.
1. Submitted my book for a BookBub Featured Deal
I knew from seeing other traditionally published authors who got BookBub Featured Deals that it could generate thousands of sales and help launch a book to the bestseller list. But as a traditionally published author, the first thing I had to do was get my publisher on board. This is essential not only because they’re in charge of pricing, but also because I wanted their support in coordinating anything else that could amplify the BookBub promotion, like email sends, weekly deals blasts, social channel posts, etc.
Once they’d decided when to drop the price, they submitted The Night Olivia Fell for a BookBub Featured Deal on my behalf, and I paid for the promotion.
We decided to run the promotion at $1.99 in the Psychological Thrillers category. We chose $1.99 as we’d seen other bestselling authors hit the USA Today list at this price point, and my publisher noted they hadn’t found a significant benefit in dropping to $0.99 vs. $1.99. The BookBub Featured Deal was scheduled for a Thursday, but my publisher agreed to drop the price for the entire week so I could coordinate other promotions throughout the week.
2. Ran BookBub Ads campaigns
The first day the price of The Night Olivia Fell dropped, I tested three different ad variations using BookBub Ads in order to find the one that worked best. I designed the ads using Photoshop, but there are other software programs, like GIMP or Canva, which are free alternatives to Photoshop, or you can use BookBub’s own built-in ad designer. I used very simple designs so I didn’t overwhelm the user with unnecessary information.
Ad #3 had the highest click-through rate, and therefore the lowest cost per click, so I ran that starting the very next day throughout the rest of the week of the discount.
For initial targeting with the three ad variations on BookBub, I targeted authors whose writing I thought would closely match The Night Olivia Fell. Once I had a winning ad, I expanded the audience and targeted the Thrillers and Psychological Thrillers categories, as well as specific authors in my genre.
BookBub gives you a suggested cost per thousand (CPM) bidding range and I set my bid on the higher end of that to get as many impressions (views) as possible.
To hit the USA Today bestseller list, you have to sell books on more than one platform, and it only counts for US retailers, so I focused my entire budget on US e-tailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Google.
3. Stacked promos
I knew that to hit the bestseller list, I’d have to run more than one promotion. Since I was paying for the promotions out of my pocket, I had to be smart with the amount I spent. So I researched sites in my genre (suspense/thrillers) that targeted my audience and ran reasonably priced book discount newsletters.
Several of these promo websites only accept requests if you drop the price to $0.99. Mine was $1.99, but I still found some great ones that were reasonably priced, included both newsletter and website promotions, and/or targeted relevant readers (mysteries and thrillers). The book discount newsletters I used were:
- Book Adrenaline
- Book Cave
- The Fussy Librarian
- Bargain Booksy
Since the BookBub deal was going out on a Thursday, I stacked the other promotions to occur during the three days prior. This helped The Night Olivia Fell climb the book rankings so that by the time the BookBub Featured Deal went out, it had a launchpad to take off from.
4. Spread the news and thanked readers on social media
As soon as the price dropped, I posted on Twitter and Facebook, letting my audiences know that the price had dropped. I also sent an email to my newsletter subscribers letting them know about the price drop with a link to my Facebook post, asking them to let me know if they’d ordered the book so I could thank them. This meant I a) got more engagement on the post, which increased its visibility without costing me a penny, and b) could interact with people and genuinely thank them for buying my book.
As The Night Olivia Fell climbed the charts, I regularly kept my social media followers updated and thanked them throughout the week, reminding them that they were a part of my journey and the success of my book.
5. Ran a giveaway
I ran a Goodreads giveaway during the month leading up to the BookBub deal in order to get as many people marking it as Want to Read as possible. I also bought Goodreads’s premium giveaways feature, which lets you send a customized message to all the entrants who didn’t win. This message allowed me to say to everybody who’d entered: “Sorry you didn’t win, but to thank you for entering, my publisher has dropped the price, so grab it now.”
Thanks to a number of social media posts, an email to my list, and featured placement of the giveaway on Goodreads (one of the perks of a premium giveaway), I had nearly 16,000 people enter the giveaway with over 8,000 new readers marking The Night Olivia Fell as Want to Read. All of those who didn’t win received my email saying the price had dropped.
6. Got publisher support
I was very lucky because my publisher, Simon & Schuster/Gallery, agreed to include the discount of The Night Olivia Fell in their weekly email blast. This is why it’s really important to get publisher support and buy-in when you do a promotion.
7. Asked friends to help spread the word
When you want to do something big, it’s best to have all the support you can get. Maybe everybody won’t be able to help, but it’s important to tap into those who can. My fantastic agent, Carly Watters, and agency, P.S. Literary, shared the discounted price all over their socials. I’m also a member of a wonderful debut author group that is really supportive and helped share the price drop in order to get more exposure.
Did it work?
My editor emailed the Wednesday after the promotion to let me know The Night Olivia Fell had hit the #30 spot on the USA Today bestseller list, sitting just above To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Everybody at my publisher was absolutely thrilled and I spent the evening jumping around like a monkey in celebration.
From the day the price dropped, The Night Olivia Fell jumped to the #1 bestseller slot, even above Stephen King on Barnes & Noble.
It was a #1 bestseller in multiple categories on Amazon throughout the week, and overall got up to #13 on Amazon.com. It also ranked high throughout the week on Kobo, Apple, and Google.
While I don’t have data showing exactly where the clicks or sales came from, I can definitively say that my ranking jumped up hugely during the evening after the BookBub promotion went out. Of course, the previous promotions and ad stacking laid the groundwork for this campaign.
Looking back, I see this campaign as a huge success and I would employ every one of these strategies again. Not only did The Night Olivia Fell reach #30 of 150 on the USA Today bestseller list, I now have thousands more readers who are aware of me as an author before the publication of Behind Every Lie.
The week after the promotion ended, the price went back up, but there were still five times as many sales as normal. Between the discounted sales and the residual full-price sales, I made back more than I invested in promotion costs.
Don’t be deceived: Hitting the USA Today bestseller list isn’t easy. You need your publisher on board if you’re traditionally published, and you have to be willing to give it all you’ve got, including investing a lot of money and time into marketing. I spent over a month preparing for the few days I hoped to increase sales.
But what I will say is this: Even if I hadn’t hit the bestseller list, I know that getting those sales and increasing my readership paid off in terms of broadening my audience and strengthening my author brand, and getting the BookBub Featured Deal was an integral part of that.
What marketing strategies and promotions have worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!
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Click to Tweet: Dream of hitting a bestseller list? See how traditionally published author @Christinamac79 hit list thanks to her stellar marketing plan! #pubtip http://bit.ly/31CqYBK
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