When my first novel, The Fairy Tale Bride, was traditionally published in October of 2000, I had all the usual hopes and dreams of new writers — letters from readers, great reviews, and, of course, becoming a bestselling author.
What I didn’t know at the time was that my dream of bestsellerdom had no chance of coming true because the initial print run from my publisher was simply too small. Even if every copy they printed sold in one week, that still would not have generated enough sales to hit any of the bestseller lists. Publishers can only afford to give bestseller-worthy print runs to the top couple of books they publish in any given month. At the time, I was unaware of what went into being a bestseller besides writing the best book I could. I handled the writing end; the publisher handled the business end.
Fast forward 16 years, and I’m now an indie author in charge of writing and publishing my own books. And as of October 2016, I am a USA Today bestselling author. I have the epublishing revolution, several smart author friends, and BookBub to thank for making the list. But most importantly, I owe my success to (finally) asking for help to achieve my goal.
Setting the goal to hit a bestseller list
I’ve run BookBub Featured Deals before, and they’ve always done very well for me. In fact, I’ve been one of the lucky authors to consistently make five figures with my self-published books since 2011. However, my marketing efforts were inconsistent and disorganized. In order to bring my business to the next level, I knew I needed to run more structured campaigns. This would help create a strong marketing foundation for the books I’d already published, and free up more time for me to write the books I want to write.
When BookBub accepted my Featured Deal application for The Next Best Bride, I realized I could use that promotion as the linchpin sales boost for a campaign to hit the USA Today bestseller list. My knowledgeable author friends assured me that hitting the list was pretty simple: Sell enough books in one week in the US (Monday through Sunday) across multiple retailers. But what qualifies as “enough”? To give myself a cushion, I aimed to sell 10,000 books that week, based on the advice of indie authors who had successfully hit the list multiple times and measured their efforts.
I had about three weeks to make it all happen. Fortunately, my secret weapon (a.k.a. my marketing assistant) estimated how many readers we would need to reach to sell those 10,000 copies, and helped me figure out where those readers were “hiding” online. She follows the general assumption that 1% of the people who see a product will buy… if it’s a decent product with decent targeting. But that assumption applies to cold traffic, so we estimated a conversion rate for each audience.
For example, we estimated a 10% conversion rate for my email list, since subscribers are engaged and we calculated that half of them hadn’t bought this book yet, but may have bought the first boxed set (which contains books 1-4). We also estimated a 10% conversion rate for the BookBub Featured Deal and other supporting ads, since we assumed we’d get a higher ROI on those. However, I wanted to be conservative and estimate a 1% conversion rate for other channels. You can see the breakdown of our estimations here:
How I supplemented my BookBub Featured Deal
In order to hit the USA Today list, we wanted to supplement my BookBub Featured Deal with other marketing activities to reach as many readers as possible from Monday through Sunday. My marketing assistant and I prioritized everything, and split up the action items between us. Here’s what we accomplished:
1. Stacked ads
I took out other ads for the week of and prior to my BookBub Featured Deal to keep the week’s sales momentum going. This helped the retailer algorithms work for me. Because the lead time for a BookBub Featured Deal is not long, it’s important to begin building momentum before and during the key sales week. This can help your book rise in the retailer rankings and bring you to the attention of as many readers as possible. Being on as many retailer bestseller lists as possible for as much of the week as possible helps boost sales. I placed several ads each with Books Butterfly, Kindle Nation Daily, and Bargain Booksy. The stacked ads quickly moved The Next Best Bride up in rankings, making it more visible to readers looking for a good historical romance.
2. Got help from retailers
I reached out to retailers to see if they might have any help to offer getting the word out about the sale price. This strategy helps show each retailer that you care about promoting your work, because they benefit when you sell lots of books. You won’t always get a major boost, again because of lead time. I was lucky enough to get a Romance Daily Find with Nook.
I also got support from iBooks which moved my book onto a Top Paid Books list.
3. Recruited help from author friends
I asked author friends to help me spread the word to their readers about the $0.99 deal. This helped me directly reach relevant readers who may not have discovered me yet. I know how busy my author friends are, so when I got a “yes” to my request, I sent everything they needed to offer support: images, links, and sample text for a tweet, Facebook post, and newsletter announcement to make their support less time-consuming.
4. Sent email blasts to my mailing list
Prior to this price promotion, I already implemented email automation sequences for my email list in an attempt to engage and delight my subscribers. There are a few calls-to-action within those sequences asking for reviews from subscribers who read the book. To promote this discount, my assistant and I also scheduled a sequence of emails to my list asking for help with getting the word out about The Next Best Bride‘s promotion. These emails also asked for reviews, and kept those who helped up-to-date on what was happening.
We specifically sent these emails on days when we were using fewer other tactics to “fill in the gaps” and maintain some sales consistency. I have a relatively small email list of 2,500, so I sent the initial email to everyone on my list, and followed up with those who took action. My current email strategy is to build a list of highly engaged readers and surprise and delight them with interesting and relevant tidbits, so I felt comfortable taking the chance I would get some unsubscriptions.
5. Created a Twitter campaign
People often need to see your promotion seven times or more before they actually remember to take advantage of it. To save time, I used automation and amplification tools like MeetEdgar, CoPromote, Buffer, and Hootsuite to get as much scheduled in advance as possible.
6. Recruited help from family and friends
I reached out to readers, family, and friends via Facebook. Again, I asked them for specific help, like sharing a Tweet or Facebook post, or even giving my story a try.
7. Tracked the results
I used analytical tools such as Google Analytics, KDSpy, and SumoMe to track what was happening during the sales week. Data tells you what works and what doesn’t. We knew we had made enough sales on Barnes & Noble before the BookBub day to meet the “sales on multiple retailers” criteria because we were paying attention to the data.
This was the most organized promotion I’d ever run for any of my books, and the results were obvious immediately. I was at the top of the rankings for all ebooks on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play. Readers on my email list were not only buying The Next Best Bride, they were reviewing it if they already owned it (thanks to the calls-to-action in my emails asking for reviews).
Thanks to my BookBub Featured Deal and other coordinated marketing activities, I sold 8,000 copies in the US that week. While I fell short of my goal of 10,000. It turns out that was enough to land me at #87 on the USA Today bestseller list.
The best part was that I confirmed something I have long believed — every good book can be a bestseller if it has a strong marketing campaign to capture readers’ attention and make it easy for them to spread the word with their friends. The Next Best Bride is the fifth book in my Once Upon a Wedding series, and it was not a new release.
I have several more books planned in my Once Upon a Wedding series, and now that I have experienced the power of a good plan, I will launch each one of them with much more confidence.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BookBub.
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