Hitting a bestseller list is no easy feat, but with the right budget and coordinated strategy, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. While there’s no single formula for hitting a list, we’ve seen several authors successfully hit the USA Today or retailer bestseller lists by promo stacking — running multiple marketing campaigns within a short timeframe to maximize the volume of sales within a bestseller list’s reporting period.
In this post, we’ll share how a number of authors stacked promotions to hit a bestseller list using several different strategies:
- Launch a bestseller by promo stacking the preorder
- Launch a bestseller by discounting your previous book and promo stacking
- Drop a book’s price and promo stack the discount
- Bundle books and promo stack the box set
Within each strategy, we’ll include at least two examples, with links to articles where each author reveals what their marketing campaigns looked like.
We hope this post inspires authors wishing to hit a bestseller list. Also, our partners often ask how to supplement their BookBub Featured Deals to get the best results possible, so we hope this post addresses those questions as well!
You can stack promotions for a book as early as its preorder period to boost its chances of launching as a bestselling book. If your goal is to hit a list during launch week, driving preorder sales can help since many retailers count all preorders as launch day sales. You might also try to build early buzz and momentum to help you hit a list a month or two later, depending on your goals and strategy.
Example #1: A full-priced preorder
Cheryl Bradshaw aimed for her book Gone Daddy Gone to hit the USA Today list a couple of months after launch, but started building its platform during the preorder period. While the book was on preorder, she kept it at full price at $5.99 and stacked promotions pre-release. Two months after launch, she felt she had enough reviews (thanks to this early promotion) to apply for a BookBub Featured Deal. After her Featured Deal ran, she hit the USA Today bestseller list. During the book’s three-month preorder period, she:
- Updated the back matter of the previous book in the series to link to Gone Daddy Gone
- Distributed ARCs
- Updated her website with a cover reveal, banner, and excerpt of the first two chapters
- Ran a giveaway for people who preordered
- Promoted the giveaway to her newsletter subscribers (over several days)
- Promoted the preorder to her social media followers
- Ran Facebook ads
- Sent a BookBub Preorder Alert one month before launch
One tactic that was particularly effective for Cheryl:
Approximately one month before the book released, I ran a BookBub Preorder Alert. They sent an email notification to my US BookBub followers, informing them I had a new book that was about to be released. The email alert was a success, had an excellent ROI, and it added an additional few hundred sales on top of those I already had, bringing my preorder total close to 1,000 sales for a full-priced book.
Example #2: A low-priced preorder
Before Kathryn Le Veque released Warwolfe, she stacked promotions for the preorder, which was available for three months at a discounted price of $0.99. She hit the USA Today list at #110 on release week after she ran these promotions over the course of her three-month preorder:
- Promoted the discounted preorder to her social media followers
- Sent a BookBub Preorder Alert
- Blogged about the upcoming release on her website
- Ran giveaways
- Ran a BookBub Ads campaign
- Ran a Facebook Ads campaign
- Outsourced marketing activities (e.g. with LitRing)
Kathryn’s words of wisdom:
Advertising dollars are dollars well spent when it comes to a preorder and new release. Don’t waste your time on small blog tours or Facebook parties. Spend your money where it will do the most good — on ad sites like BookBub. It works!
Another strategy for launching a book as a bestseller is to drop the price of a different book (to as low as you can), such as the previous book in a series, a connected standalone, or a prequel, to drive a high volume of follow-on sales to the preorder or new release.
Example #1: A traditionally published later-in-series book
Brenda Novak traditionally published her Evelyn Talbot series (books 1-4) with Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press. While she didn’t have control over those books’ pricing, she self-published a 200-page prequel called Hanover House. With this title, she had complete control of the discounting strategy. About a month before launching Face Off, book 3 of the traditionally published series, Brenda discounted Hanover House to $0.99 and ran a BookBub Featured Deal to promote the discount. Thousands of new readers bought the prequel, made their way through books 1 and 2, and were eager for book 3 upon launch — and it launched as a USA Today bestseller. In addition to the prequel discount, Brenda also:
- Sent a BookBub Preorder Alert for Face Off
- Plugged the preorder in various newsletters
- Built buzz via social media posts and giveaways
- Ran a BookBub Ads campaign promoting the preorder
- Chose Face Off for her Facebook group’s monthly book meeting
- Sent a BookBub Featured New Release for Face Off
- Hosted a launch party and posted a video from the event on Facebook
Example #2: A self-published first-in-series book
Jules Barnard wanted to sell as many copies as possible of Tempting Levi, the first book in her Cade Brothers series, to introduce the series widely and hit the USA Today bestseller list. The protagonist in Tempting Levi was in the last book (Cocky Prince) of a different series, so Jules made Cocky Prince free and stacked promotions for the discount. She also priced Tempting Levi at $0.99 during the preorder and first week of sales to reduce barriers to purchase. Using this strategy, she sold more copies of Tempting Levi in the first week than any of her other titles sold in the first month, and made it onto the USA Today bestseller list. Here’s how she promo stacked during Tempting Levi’s release week:
- Updated the back matter of Cocky Prince to advertise Tempting Levi
- Ran a BookBub Featured Deal on Cocky Prince
- Ran BookBub Ads
- Ran Facebook ads
- Ran Amazon ads
- Sent a newsletter to her 20K subscribers
- Swapped newsletter placements with other authors who had at least 4K subscribers.
- Sent ARCs to reviewers
Jules tested her ads before the promo-stacking week so she could ensure she was using the best ads possible during the key week:
I spent time and money running display ads for the preorder on BookBub, Facebook, and Amazon. I wanted not only to build preorder sales, but also to test out different ad copy and designs… I tested out ad copy and images and tried to maintain a steady flow of downloads. My goal was to break even on spend versus getting a positive return on investment for the entire campaign, given this was a readership-building endeavor.
Many authors have been able to hit a bestseller list after discounting an already-launched book by pricing it low ($0.99) and heavily advertising the discount.
Example #1: Discounting a self-published book
Kelly McClymer had already run several BookBub Featured Deals when she secured one for The Next Best Bride, but this time around she wanted to use the promotion to specifically hit the USA Today bestseller list. She aimed to sell 10K books in one week (Monday through Sunday). All told, she sold around 8K copies, hitting #87 on the USA Today list, thanks to a coordinated promo-stacking strategy over a one-week period:
- Ran a BookBub Featured Deal
- Stacked ads with Books Butterfly, Kindle Nation Daily, and Bargain Booksy
- Asked retailers for help promoting the sale (and secured a Romance Daily Find on Nook and landed in the Top Paid Books list on iBooks)
- Created designs and sample texts for friends to promote the discount in their newsletters
- Emailed a newsletter to her 2.5K subscribers
- Ran an organic Twitter campaign
- Asked friends and family to help spread the word
Kelly’s words of wisdom:
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.
Example #2: Discounting a traditionally published book
Christina McDonald’s debut novel, The Night Olivia Fell, was published with Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, and although she got strong foreign rights and domestic sales, reprint demands, and positive reader and reviewer reactions, she didn’t hit any lists and sales plateaued. So Christina created a plan to hit the USA Today bestseller list, and convinced her publisher to drop the price of the book and run a BookBub Featured Deal, which Christina paid for herself. She ended up reaching #30 of 150 on the USA Today bestseller list! In order to make the Featured Deal as successful as possible, here’s how she supplemented the promotion:
- Ran a BookBub Ads campaign, A/B testing several variations of the design first
- Stacked newsletter discounts using various vendors
- Used social media to promote the discount and thank readers
- Ran a Goodreads giveaway
- Got her publisher to promote the discount in a weekly newsletter blast
- Asked friends to help spread the word
Christina’s rationale for getting her publisher’s support:
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.
Example #3: Creating a replicable strategy across books
Vanessa Vale has hit the USA Today bestseller list three times thanks to her coordinated marketing strategy, using a combination of paid ad-stacking and other cost-free promotions after dropping a book’s price to free or $0.99. Each time she hit the bestseller list, she ran these promotions over the course of a week:
- Ran a BookBub Featured Deal
- Sent a newsletter to subscribers
- Asked friends to promote the discount in their newsletters
- Ad stacked up to 30 promotions on the day of her BookBub Featured Deal
- Ran social media promotions
- Asked friends for signal boosts on social media
- Cross-promoted her books in the back matter of the discounted book
Vanessa’s words of wisdom about ad stacking:
I’ve been asked where I find these promo companies in the past. It involves a fair amount of legwork, but here are some suggestions:
- Ask around. Your other author friends may have suggestions. Join Facebook groups that talk about promotions. There’s a trove of hard-learned info in them.
- Google it. “Free book promo sites” is a great place to start.
- Determine the value. Evaluate each site for worthiness to your genre, and even subgenre. Join the mailing list. See what they send you. Rule them in or out based on YOUR needs.
- Compile a spreadsheet. Yes, the dreaded spreadsheet. Track after the promotion which ones are good for you — or not.
It’s hard work, and requires constant feeding and upkeep! But combining these great resources with BookBub works.
If you’ve published a series or have an extensive backlist, bundling some of these books into a box set, discounting it, and promo stacking the discount can help you hit a bestseller list. And since box sets generate high purchase rates (since it’s so appealing to readers to get multiple books at a low cost), you can consider discounting them at a higher price point ($1.99 or $2.99) to drive high revenue and ROI, even before follow-on sales start rolling in.
Example #1: Discounting a box set to $0.99
When Andrew Watts’s box set The War Planners Series was accepted for a BookBub Featured Deal (at a $0.99 price point), he decided to use the opportunity to try to hit the USA Today bestseller list in a noble quest to impress his wife. By promo stacking during a one-week period, he sold over 8K copies of his box set during that week and accomplished his goal of hitting the list, coming in at #97. He had a well-coordinated campaign:
- Ran a BookBub Featured Deal
- Updated the box set’s back matter to drive mailing list signups and promote his next preorder
- Ran a BookBub Ads campaign (and A/B tested the design prior to promotion week)
- Stacked ads using three other discount book email services
- Ran Amazon AMS ads
- Promoted the discount in several Facebook groups
- Ran Facebook ads
- Sent a newsletter to his 11K subscribers
- Cross-promoted with other authors in his genre
Andrew’s pro-tip on where to run promotions:
I ran the BookBub Featured Deal on all retailers in all regions. However, since my goal was to make the USA Today bestseller list and they only take US sales into account, I only ran OTHER (non-BookBub) promotions to the US retailers.
Example #2: Discounting a box set to $1.99
When Mari Carr and Lila Dubois were launching book 8 of their Trinity Masters series, their sales were stagnant. So they decided to bundle the first four books in the series to try to draw more readers. While the box set launched at $6.99, they discounted it to $1.99 and ran a promo-stacking campaign over a 10-day period that let them hit multiple retailer bestseller lists:
- Updated the back matter of the box set with retailer links to the other books in the series
- Ran a BookBub Featured Deal on the box set
- Sent a newsletter to both of their mailing lists five days after the Featured Deal
- Ran Facebook ads
- Ran organic social media promotions
- Asked fans in their Facebook group to help spread the word
Mari’s experience on choosing a price point for the discount:
On April 10, we promoted the box set with a BookBub Featured Deal, pricing it at $1.99. Lila and I were a bit anxious on the day of the promotion, suffering the usual author concerns about earning back the promotion cost. That anxiety was quickly put to rest as we earned back the cost by noon on promotion day, and sold 2,500 copies during the promotion. Since then we’ve more than tripled the earnings! We were very pleased with the results.
As you can see, there’s no single formula for hitting a bestseller list. However, there is a lot of overlap between the promo-stacking strategies, whether the author was promoting a preorder, a new release, a backlist book, or a box set. So if your goal is to hit a bestseller list, prepare your marketing plan well in advance to find the right channels, copy, and creative to best reach your unique audience. Then you can coordinate multiple campaigns to have the most effective promotion week possible!
What other promo-stacking strategies would you have added to these authors’ checklists? Let us know in the comments below!
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This post was originally published on December 13, 2017 and has been updated with new examples.