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AND THEN I WOKE UP… HOW I BECAME AN AMAZON BESTSELLER OVERNIGHT





The backstory (I know, info dumps, eh? I’ll keep it short…) Inish Carraig is my second book, and it’s self published (my first, Abendau’s Heir, is part of a three book deal).

Inish has been around a few blocks and back again – that whole story is in this blog list in lots of places – but it came out in August 2015 and did… okay. Not as well as my first book in the equivalent time and, to be honest, I had it pegged as a build-my-name-a-bit title.

One thing, though, was that it was getting good reviews – great reviews in fact. I decided to consider it my critically-acclaimed-bomb of a book and told myself every starving author in a garret has one of those.

The book is listed in Kindle select which means it’s exclusive to Amazon online, although I have it in a couple of bricks-and-mortar stores, too (and any device can read it with a quick conversion).

Kindle select allows, once every 90 days, to list a book at a reduced price and retain 70% of the selling price. It’s a nice boost to sales, it normally gets a book up the kindle charts for a day or two, it’s a useful thing to do.

My first 99p week had done okay, but this time I decided I’d focus on a promotional week. (This was one of my principal reasons for going self-published, to learn how to do all this.)

One of the things I explored were promotional websites. It quickly became clear that, whilst there were many to choose from, one reigned supreme and that was Bookbub. Like every author, I wanted to be in their single daily email but there are two catches:

They are hard to get listed on – I tried on my last 99p promo – and they’re expensive. Very expensive. Like a couple of hundred quid expensive. A month before Christmas for a writer who’s not making much money from the gig yet.

I mused and weighed up and researched, and I discovered I could do a Bookbub for the UK only for a lot less – about £50 for science fiction. Since my book is set in the UK (Belfast to be exact), I wondered about going for the UK only.

I also looked at how other writers had got their book selected, and how the business model worked (um, did I mention in another life I’m a management theorist nerd type person? I try to not to keep my anorak on in public.)

And here’s what I sort of figured out (do take with a grain of sand, however.)

Bookbub works by not having its emails treated as spam. To do that, it looks to offer a quality product. (And, hey, I specialise in Quality Management. Music to my ears!) To offer a quality product a company needs to offer the consumer what matches their needs – in this case bargain books, tailored to the readers’ interest, and assured of a certain standard. Bookbub rejects (or so the story goes, and it’s borne out by what little I know of it) 4 out of 5 submissions.

Now, the first rule of write-club is that reviews rock. Big time. They are the only thing you have to tell others about your book. I can jump up and down and tell everyone I’ve written a great book, and it means nothing. A million other writers are doing the same. But someone else saying it – that has kudos.

My reviews on Inish Carraig are good. In the US I’m on 4.7 stars, same on that notoriously choosy platform Goodreads. That’s a good average. But on Amazon UK I was on 5 stars. And they were good reviews, not just a few words but some detailed ones that said lovely things that made me catch my breath and pinch myself and wonder if they were about my book. All of which made my mind up – I’d hit the UK only.

I subbed, mentioning my reviews and linking to two external reviews, one on Sffchronicles, one on sfbook, and mentioned I’d been longlisted in Ellen Datlow’s 2015 recommendations. Then, I waited. The rejection didn’t come like it had before, a day later, so I waited another day and the acceptance came.

I also really wanted to get listed on Book Barbarian. Like Bookbub they send out a daily email, but they only do genre books. I needed 10 US reviews and I only had 8. All seemed doomed. Except, at the last minute, 2 new reviews came in and I sneaked the last date available in my range.

All right, then. Promo in place. I got some great guidance from the very generous Tim C Taylor, author of the Human Legion series of books, and tidied up what I could in advance of the promotion starting. And I hoped, hoped, hoped a one star review wouldn’t land over the run-in.

Overall, I reckoned I needed to sell 90 books to cover my costs. In reality, I hoped for maybe 30-40 sales and the spike from that – I understand this is a slow game and I need to invest in the future.

Monday of the promotion went okay – a cluster of sales that put me up the UK chart a little.

Tuesday came, the day of the Bookbub, and… nothing. Having invested in a couple of promo sites that didn’t give back I nodded sagely and decided the gamble hadn’t worked, that it was too good to be true. Then I remembered America is 6 hours behind the UK and the email gets sent from America. That was at 4.30. By 5 o’clock I had 6 sales, all in the Uk.

The sales kept coming all Tuesday night. My kids were tracking it, cheering each time it went up. By 8 I’d passed 50 sales; by the time my eldest went to bed I’d broken the 100 and was staring stupidly at the screen. It continued to climb and I went to bed thinking my sales would peak during the night, and I’d probably never know how high I’d gotten up the charts, but not expecting too much – the categories I’m in are hard ones to break the top 100.

Anyway, sad me – when one of the kids woke me at half four, I went online, took a screen shot of where I was – about 1000 in the UK Kindle store and well into 2 top 100s, and went back to bed thinking I’d facebook it in the morning. A little bit of posterity, my highest ranking ever.

By the time 9am rolled in I was up to #400-odd in the entire UK kindle chart, #10 on the Science fiction chart and #2 in two categories after the awesome Nick Webb’s second book. I did some postings and went to work, a meeting that needed my concentration, with a warm feeling in my stomach of having done so much more than I hoped to, and that was that.

Except that I got home to a facebook message from Gary Compton, who publishes my trilogy, saying ‘do you know you’re number one in three charts?’ I didn’t. I had no idea it was even possible. (Because, you know, who ever believes in these things happening?)

Book Barbarian hit on the evening of the Thursday, and they picked Inish Carraig as one of their top picks, and another flurry of sales came in, this time across both the UK and the US. It’s now Friday and the book has been selling steadily all day, and people are recommending it in all sorts of places. I think staggering the promotions really worked as it gave several hits of promo and each one bounced off the last ranking increase.

All in all, I spent $90 on the promotions – which works out about £65.00. I’ve doubled that already, and then a little more. But, perhaps more importantly, my book is being read by people who would not run across me otherwise. Hopefully there will be some reviews from it (remember the first rule of write-club) and, if so, hopefully some will be good. If I’m really lucky people will recommend it to other readers.

Either way, I’m a bit stunned. After the deal ends on Monday, I expect a lull. (Another rule of write-club is that after a promo things usually die for a while). But I don’t care. I’m an Amazon Bestselling Author. I even have a sticker for it.

Here’s the book link. I’m sure you should buy fifty of it:

Comments

Linnea said…
Had a look at your Amazon listing. Enjoyed what I've read of it so far but I'd have liked a description of the story and there wasn't one. You might think about adding that so anyone new to your work has a grasp of your storyline. Just a thought.
Joanne Zebedee said…
That's a really good thought, thank you. At the moment I have this:


Post-alien invasion Belfast. Earth has been defeated. Pity the locals aren't listening.

Belfast teenager John Dray will do what he must to survive. When he's offered desperately needed food in exchange for dispersing a mysterious compound over the city, he takes the job. The compound turns out to be a virus lethal to the city's invaders, and John is charged with xenocide.

He's sent to Inish Carraig, a forbidding prison, where he uncovers the secret behind the virus - a secret that threatens Earth and everyone he loves. He needs to unveil the conspiracy.

He just has to get out of prison first



What more would have made it define the story? Or is it that this is too hard to find? Blurbs are so hard when I'm close to the story, I'd appreciate any feedback. Jo
Linnea said…
That blurb reads fine to me, it's just not on the amazon site. I looked at it again and there isn't anything there. Where did you put the blurb?
Joanne Zebedee said…
Thank you for coming back to me. It is on Amazon but needs the Read more option to be used, so it may be a little too buried. I will play around and see if I can fix that (me and tech have the odd issue...).
Allen Stroud said…
Thanks for writing this Jo, I've had a look at Bookbub for a while, but I'm very glad to see you take the plunge with it, particularly as I can learn from your experience.
Joanne Zebedee said…
Thanks, Allen, I'm glad it's useful. I think it's hard, sometimes, to find true experiences out there so as not to get lost in the maze. And people have been so generous towards me - yourself, Tim, PP Corcoran and too many more to mention- it's nice if I can share something useful.

On a follow up, in the UK, Inish is now well up the Amazon search vehicles and can actually be found by browsers and is still selling more each day than I hoped to do in the whole week. So, for me, it worked.
Ross Marnie said…
Excellent information Jo. Thanks for posting this. I've just published my first e'book' (slim collection of short stories and random silliness) and been a bit disappointed by my 28 sales in a month. You've given me some great pointers for promotion. Thanks again and many happy months/years of strong sales to you. Oh aye, and Merry Christmas! Too early? Cannae be, it's December :)
Joanne Zebedee said…
Thanks, Ross (Bonnie Scotland, I'm assuming :)) - I'm glad it was useful. It's soul destroying when sales are hard to come by - the model is hideous. I hope it gets better.

And too early? Not a bit of it! Have a great Christmas. :)