The book launch. Whether it’s your first precious baby leaving the nest or number double-digit joining a long line in your series, the launch is always stressful… but each one is also a great opportunity.
If you talk to ten different authors, you’ll likely get ten different launch strategies they feel work best. They may all be right. Genre, time of year, timing after last release, and dozens of other factors play a part. Especially for those of us focused on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited (KU) readers, the biggest needle mover of all is your relevance. The more books you sell, the more The Great Zon promotes you. In the past, Harlan Coben, Colleen Hoover, and Gregg Olsen have been voraciously consumed, so guess what happens when they release a new book? The Zon shows their shiny new cover to everybody.
But for the rest of us trying to make our way in this crazy business, we’re always looking for more ways to enhance our launch. I began using BookBub’s New Releases for Less promo back in 2020… and frankly, at first, I was disappointed.
I’d heard about the success generated from BookBub Feature Deals — which I’d been applying for but hadn’t been accepted for a US promo at this time — and had the notion that the New Release version would now soar me into the stratosphere of sales. I applied and was accepted for Queen of the Island Skies, the sixth book in my AJ Bailey Adventure series.
It didn’t soar, but it did garner more sales than my previous book, and I noticed my Kindle Unlimited page reads were growing nicely. At the same time, I was also gaining traction in the marketplace, so in theory, my page reads were growing organically. With that in mind, three months later when it was time for my next release, Valley of the Rays, I decided not to spend the extra cash and skipped the New Releases for Less promo.
Talk about deflated. Book sales were down and so were page reads compared to my prior release. I built a spreadsheet tracking the performance for the two weeks after release. I ran through the numbers and based on the head-to-head comparison, it appeared the New Releases for Less promo had paid out in KU alone. For my next release, Neptune’s Wall, book eight, I applied again and was selected.
Below is a chart comparing units sold and Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) performance from all three releases. The difference is clear.
Many factors have changed over the past two years, and I now have two series, releasing alternately every three months with six-month preorders. I’ve been fortunate, and everything has grown, but I’ve also continued using New Releases for Less for each launch. Below, I’ll share with you all the tools I’ve been using for my ever-evolving new release strategy.
Part I: Reaching Your People
Our golden arrow in the quiver, without question. This is a direct message to Your People who want to know about your latest novel.
I prefer to grow my list as organically as possible, but that’s a choice I employed after reaching a reasonable number of subscribers through newsletter swaps or Bookfunnel events. What’s that number? One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling, so as with all of this, opinions and successes will vary greatly, but mine was 1,000. I spent a long time at the 800-subscriber level as I weeded out the freebie grabbers from past Bookfunnel promos and my organic sign-ups grew. Once I inched across the 1,000 threshold, I became more particular and the list has grown steadily from there.
I send a short newsletter containing only the new book and the next one going on preorder. That’s it. Two calls to action — which some will tell you is one too many, but I get a nice start to the preorders from it, and I don’t think it hurts me in any way.
I resend unopened emails two days later. For my latest release, Anchor Point, I even did a third unopened resend. I average a 50% open rate on my newsletters, and the unopened resend gains another 10%–12% of the original list. The second resend gained another 5% for a total of 68%, which is pretty good I’m told.
Okay, we’ve fired our golden arrow three times and reached 68% of our subscribers, which leaves all the people who dodged the arrow… plus the people who were hit but too busy to remember to buy the book… plus those who love your books, but haven’t or won’t subscribe to a list. So what’s next?
Whether we like it or not, part of the business is having a social media presence and building a following. I use Facebook and Instagram. I use them both as they’re linked, and I can post on both at the same time. If they weren’t, I’d probably ignore Instagram. I have a Twitter account and I even tried TikTok for five minutes, but neither gained traction for me and they now sit idle. I know they work well for others, so pick your poison and focus on the outlet where your buying audience spends their time.
Regardless of which platform you use, creating a buildup to your launch can be very effective. I made graphics for 10 days out, seven days, three days, tomorrow, and day of launch (I use Corel Graphics Suite, but Book Brush is a great, affordable option). I’ve used book trailers as part of this, as well as still images capturing the vibe of the book. A catchy teaser line, a few emoji thingies, and with Facebook’s new Ad Manager platform, I can set up everything on a schedule… job done. Sort of.
All this is certainly part of my strategy, but as I’m sure some of you know, Facebook is determined not to show Your People anything the algorithm decides might be a promotion. As soon as you add a link to an outside source, forget it — your mum and Auntie Gladys might see it, but very few of your book-buying followers ever will. Putting the link in the first comment gets you a few more eyeballs, but I’ve heard the Facebook algo machine is getting wise to that too.
So, we still have a ton of Your People who’d love to read your latest novel, but we’re not reaching them all. Here’s what I do next.
I run a Facebook ad targeting my own newsletter subscriber audience plus my Facebook crowd. This usually gets a good clickthrough rate (CTR) for three to five days, then I shut it off. I often use the book trailer again for the ad content (FYI, I make my own trailers using Adobe Premier, and I’m not sure if I’d use them if I was paying a professional as I haven’t investigated that cost).
This appeases the Facebook Gods, and as I’m targeting my own people, I hope I’m serving the ads to the folks who missed the newsletter and my social posts, as well as those who may already have bought. It’s not wasted on them, as they tend to be the people who leave positive comments and buyers like to see recommendations.
Employing the same thought process as Facebook, I run BookBub Ads targeted to my own audience. Depending on my spend, I’ll usually exhaust my audience in three to five days then shut it down when the CTR dips.
The bonus with BookBub Ads is that you’ll notice your target audience is much bigger than just your BookBub followers. Your Ads audience also has anyone who has interacted with your prior Ads, Featured Deals, New Releases for Less, etc. So you’ll reach Your People, but also make a start on an expanded audience of New People.
Part II: Reaching New People
As I mentioned at the beginning, a new release is a great opportunity. It’s your chance to take advantage of the action and hoopla around your brand, and cast a wider net, bringing in New People.
A game changer for me was running a promo stack on book one during launch time. Some folks see a shiny new novel and jump right in, not caring that it’s book X in the series. My series can be read as standalones, so I make sure to state that at the bottom of my blurb for this very reason. But for some, there’s a mental line in the sand where they see book number X in a series and they immediately look for the beginning of the series. For those folks, I want to give them an excuse to jump in.
Setting up book one on a KDP Countdown at $0.99, I start the promo two days before the launch, and run it for the full seven days allowed. Starting a few days early gets the ranking up before the big day, so book one, Twelve Mile Bank, looks like an appetising morsel at a great price.
I’ve also dropped the prices on books two and three before, but I’m not wholly convinced the other two make much difference. I stairstep my pricing through the first three books anyway, so my guess is that if you’re at a higher price on them to begin with, then dropping books two and three will likely reap more rewards. Using a box set as the promo also works really well.
The coup de grâce is landing the elusive BookBub Featured Deal within spitting distance of your launch as part of your stack. I apply aggressively, including a note mentioning my new release date, starting with $0.99 then reapplying with free. If I land a Featured Deal which coincides with my release, I scramble to adjust the Countdown dates and align the other promo sites in my stack, switching to free if necessary. I’ve found the other platforms I use to be accommodating when this happens.
In December 2021 I was fortunate enough to align the stars. It was my best month to date. In mid-2022, I landed a Featured Deal on my box set the week prior to the launch of Wrecks of Key Largo. I built a promo stack for the box set around the Featured Deal, then a KDP Countdown on book one during the release the next week, followed by a BookBub New Releases for Less.
Between the two events, both in early June, I hit a new personal monthly record — one I’ve yet to top since, despite continued growth.
Below is a chart of monthly gross revenue for 2022 with labels pointing out key events. I’m sure you’ve noticed your own monthly chart has a waveform based on release months, declining over the following two months, then spiking again for the next release. Generally, that’s been a constant upwards trend, but as you can see, for me, June 2022 was an exception. Combining a Featured Deal with a New Releases for Less lit the rockets.
All of this serves up some good ole relevance with The Great Zon (or whoever else’s algorithms you’re trying to tickle). That click-stimulating action, the relevance booster I’m looking for around launch time, nudges my series into more emails from the Zon and wins me more impressions on my Amazon Ads. And speaking of ads…
I’ve also run ads on Facebook and BookBub for the discounted book during the promo stack and release, but remember, when you’re looking at the stats, your CTR and cost-per-click (CPC) aren’t the only game in town. Every click and visit to your book’s page is another coin in the relevance slot telling Amazon that your catalogue is active and in demand.
I’ll usually run these ads for the duration of the KDP Countdown or even a few days less if the CPC goes too high or the CTR too low.
I run Amazon ads all the time, advertising my first-in-series books against my chosen targets, so there’s not much to do differently during a launch, except add my new book to my ad with automatic targeting. I let Amazon’s automatic targeting option advertise whichever book it chooses whereas I only advertise book one everywhere else.
Okay, that’s the promo stack and ads, so what does that leave?
New Releases for Less Promo
As I covered earlier, I’m sold on this promotion working for me as an author in KDP Select. My sales from New Releases for Less promotions haven’t been huge, but I get ROI from my page reads within a few weeks according to the back-to-back test I shared. With the healthy read-through rate I see from Kindle Unlimited readers, New People into my series pay a large return, and with 60% of my income derived from Kindle Unlimited, this moves the needle.
It would be nice to see a few more sales. But it so happened that I was working on this article the week of my launch for Anchor Point, for which I had a new Releases for Less scheduled the following Tuesday. In the first draft of this article was the following paragraph:
I’m releasing at $2.99 and $3.99, so I bet sales would be a lot stronger if I priced at $0.99. Why don’t I? Because I don’t want to have my preorder at $0.99 for six months, and I don’t want my preorder crew to feel screwed if I drop my price the day after launch. One day I’ll try it at $0.99 and see if it gains me three or four times the launch sales, but I haven’t yet.
After I’d sent this off, I began asking myself: why not try a price change now? The promo is a week after the launch so My People have already bought a copy, and the New Releases for Less promo is all about finding New People.
It also just so happened that Amazon had an algorithm malfunction, or chicken sacrifice gone awry, or whatever causes these things to happen, the week of my release. For the first three and a half days of the launch, my new book was invisible in terms of ranking. I had solid sales on Anchor Point, book one was doing great with the promo stack, and even my latest preorder, The Oro Verde, earned my best preorder numbers to date that week. Based on sales numbers, three of my books should have ranked in the top 10 of Sea Adventures and International Mystery & Crime, my two main categories, but instead, they floundered aimlessly (in terms of ranking).
It was the proverbial straw. I dropped the price of Anchor Point from $3.99 to $0.99 for four days starting from the promo date, emailed BookBub so they’d be aware, and watched with eagerness. Amazon fixed the algo over the weekend and Anchor Point magically appeared in the charts in time to slide up to the number one spot in my categories a few hours after the BookBub New Releases for Less promo went out.
Below is a chart comparing Anchor Point to Wrecks of Key Largo, my prior release in the AJ Bailey series and star of my magic June of 2022.
As you can see, sales greatly increased and the loss in revenue from the price drop was made back in quantity. But what’s the point if I only broke even on the cost of the promotion? It’s two-fold. I landed three times the number of New People, who’ll hopefully go on to buy more of my books, plus the increased sales kept me towards the top in my categories for longer, which means… bonus relevance!
Based on these results, I’m revising my launch strategy for my next release with a price drop for the New Releases for Less promo.
In my experience, using the New Releases for Less is a proven winner as part of my launch strategy. I’ll keep using it as long as BookBub keeps approving me for them. The rest of what I do is simply an accumulation of strategies gleaned from the usual suspects, mainly David Gaughran, as I find he’s more current and on point than most.
Ultimately, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there’s no “one strategy fits all” program, but I hope there’s a nugget or two in here which might help someone else find their best launch strategy.
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