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By Robert Bidinotto (Intro by Simon Denman)63 comments
For some time now, I've been looking for a suitable candidate for a real-time book promotion case study. For this I wanted both a book with a proven track-record (but currently slow sales), and an author brave enough to share campaign details before as well as after the event.
This search ended a couple of weeks ago amid correspondence with Robert Bidinotto, author of hit novel, HUNTER, which as a Kindle Editors' Pick back in November 2011, sold 24,000 copies in a single week, propelling it to No. 4 overall in the US Kindle Store (all paid titles) and changing Robert's life forever.
So with both criteria met, the relaunch of Hunter this week should provide important insight into just how much control we Indie authors really have over the fate of our books. Of course there will always be factors outside our control, such as the quantity and quality of other books on promotion by Amazon during the same period, but if our assumptions about Amazon's ranking algorithms are correct, within the next five days, Hunter could be blasted into orbit.
So without further ado, but with my sincerest thanks for accepting this challenge, I give you Robert Bidinotto:
An intriguing experiment, by Robert Bidinotto
Thank you for the opportunity, Simon.
First, a bit of background.
I entered the self-publishing world in June 2011 with the release of my debut crime thriller, HUNTER. I was lucky in my timing, because back then, in the Gold Rush days of “indie” publishing, it was far easier for a book to get noticed. It was a time when just a few thousand pioneers were publishing ebooks, and a mere 750,000 titles competed for the eyeballs of Amazon customers—a fraction of the current three million plus.
HUNTER sold decently right out of the gate, with sales topping 500 in the first month, then rising steadily to over 1,000 in October. I didn’t even know what an Amazon ranking algorithm was back then, but it was working invisibly to give HUNTER nice visibility on a number of genre and sub-genre lists.
That same visibility worked for me in another pivotal way. The book—which was also blessed with stellar customer reviews and ratings—caught the attention of the Kindle editors. In November they invited me to enter HUNTER into their week-long, post-Thanksgiving, “Big Deal” sales promotion, along with about 200 other titles. I figured I had little to lose, except perhaps a week of lower royalty income, because its $3.99 price would be discounted to $1.99. But maybe, I thought, I might pick up a few new customers . . .
Well, that sale certainly turned out to be a “Big Deal” for me. In fact, it changed my life. Amazon didn’t have as many competing promotions back then, so this one got a lot of attention. Moreover, it turned out that they selected HUNTER as a “Kindle Editors’ Pick.” I didn’t know that until I went to bed on the night of November 26, with the book’s Kindle ranking at about 2400. By the end of the next day, November 27, it was ranked at #24.
The effect of Amazon's algorithms
This rapid rise caused HUNTER to appear in spotlighted positions at the top of more than a half-dozen Amazon promotional pages, soaring past the latest offerings from Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Lee Child, James Patterson, John Grisham . . . even one of the hot-selling “Hunger Games” trilogy. It ultimately crested at #4 on the best-seller list, selling between 2,000 and 5,000 per day and remaining in the Kindle “Top 100” for a solid month.
So, at the tender age of 62, this lifelong professional writer was suddenly an “overnight success.”
For authors, it’s just a lot tougher out there, now.
As I said, those were the Gold Rush days for indie authors, and stories like mine were getting a lot of media attention. But that very attention—coupled with the ease and low cost of indie publishing—enticed thousands upon thousands of aspiring writers to jump into the self-publishing marketplace.
Today, as a consequence, the quest to achieve “discoverability” for one’s work is far more challenging. An author must somehow find ways to make his book stand out amid a daunting, ever-growing mass of competitors. The unrelenting torrent of new titles makes it much harder for any book to retain traction on the bestseller lists, too. New titles surge onto those lists each day, in a continuous churn, displacing current bestsellers much more rapidly than in the past.
This turmoil in the ebook marketplace certainly has affected my own sales, as it has for almost all writers. HUNTER, which sold solidly for three years, was finally on a precipitous downward slope until this past May, when I released the sequel, BAD DEEDS. The new book’s visibility generated collateral benefits for HUNTER. But while reader reviews of the new book are even better than they were for the first, early sales of BAD DEEDS have not kept pace with those of HUNTER during its own initial months.
Hypothesis - Experiment - Observe - Repeat
In response, some indies have been experimenting with creative marketing tactics and trying to gain insights into the mysteries of the Amazon ranking algorithms. And they’ve been passing along whatever they discover to their writing colleagues. Recently, some have been testing book promotion sites and email lists, such as Readers in the Know (this site) and longer-established ones like Bookbub. They’ve also been trying out various combinations and timed sequences of paid ads and sale prices.
Some of the more interesting experiments seek to determine if the Amazon algorithms tend to favor sharp one-day sales spikes over more gradual increases that span days and weeks—or vice-versa. One theory is that the algorithms don’t give much weight to sales that took place more than 48 hours in the past. But a competing theory is that they reward, in various important ways, sales that build over the course of five to seven days.
After watching some of my author friends generate impressive results from paid book promotions, I’ve decided to join in these experiments. I strongly suspect that the Amazon algorithms reward longer sales trends more than short-term sales spikes—and I want to test that hypothesis.
The Plan for relaunching Hunter
So from Thursday, November 13, through Monday, November 17, I’m conducting my own first-ever sales promotion for HUNTER, in both the U.S. and U.K. During those five days, I’ll be running a Kindle Countdown Deal (KCD) on Amazon, slashing the ebook price from $4.99 to only 99 cents (99p in the UK).
That alone will generate a sales surge. But to amplify it further, I’ve also lined up advertising with ten different book promotion sites, including Readers in the Know and Bookbub. Some maintain only an online presence, via websites and social media; others also send out daily email blasts, notifying subscribers about new book bargains in their favorite categories.
My campaign’s success will rest in how I’ve scheduled the promotions. I’m starting the KCD and lowering HUNTER’s price late Wednesday evening. That should result in a small initial spike. On Thursday, the first full day of the sale, I’ll also run ads with two popular book promotion sites, as well as heavily promote the book on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog. That should considerably build the sales volume. On Friday, I’ll add Readers in the Know, plus six or seven more sites and email lists. That should sustain and, I hope, further boost the sales momentum. The culmination of the active part of my promotion will occur on Saturday, with a large email blast on Bookbub plus one other popular site/email list. That day’s efforts will reach the greatest number of potential customers.
If my hunch about the Amazon algorithms is correct, then this four-day escalation of ads—climaxing in a Saturday email promotion to well over a million thriller readers—should propel HUNTER sales into orbit. Based on past results achieved by my indie colleagues, that day’s purchases alone should exceed 2,000 copies.
And if all goes according to plan, HUNTER should easily enter the Kindle “Top 100 Bestsellers” on Saturday. By Sunday, it should be well down into the “Top 50.” If I’m very lucky, it will hit the “Top 20.”
To hold these bestseller rankings as long as possible, I’ll continue the 99-cent KCD through Monday. I do expect an inevitable purchase fall-off from late Sunday through Monday. However, if my hypothesis is right, the decline shouldn’t be abrupt and steep. HUNTER should stay in the “Top 50” into Monday, and in the “Top 100” for another day or two—perhaps longer. That’s because its visibility on a multitude of Amazon promotional pages and genre bestseller lists, plus a “tail” of tardy purchases from subscribers to the various sites and email lists, ought to sustain good rankings for a while.
Among my other expectations, I believe that the print and audiobook editions of HUNTER will get a big bump, and BAD DEEDS will benefit from the “halo effect,” too. That’s been my colleagues’ experience. Finally, I think both books will settle in at new daily sales plateaus considerably higher than they are right now.
Simon has invited me to return here in the days following the campaign to let you know whether it has met, exceeded, or dashed my hopes and expectations. I think many of you will want to know the results, as you contemplate your own future marketing efforts.
So, please wish me luck . . . and stay tuned!
Learn more about Robert Bidinotto and his books.
What is Readers in the Know?
- Social Media Puzzles & Solutions for Writers
- The Listen Inside Podcast - Book Discovery via iTunes!
- How to Get Book Reviews - Insights from an Indie Reviewer
- Beyond Blogging - Creating your own Author Podcast
- How to time your book promos to create the perfect campaign
- The Ultimate List of Book Promo Sites and Free Submission Tool
- Are you an Ethical Author?
- How to engage Amazon's algorithms to sell more books
- Book Competition with Free Enhanced Listing for RITK members
- Kindle Countdown Campaign Results - Hunter in Orbit
- Countdown Commencing - A Real-Time Case Study in eBook Promotion
- Riding the Review Roller-Coaster
- 6 Tips for Book Discoverability with Readers in the Know
- A 24-HOUR 100-BOOK FACEBOOK PARTY
- The indiePENdents - A response to "The New Gatekeepers of Quality"
- The risk of trying a new author and how I became a fan of Peter James
- How to Reach More Readers by Harnessing Amazon's Algorithms (with and without the elephant)
- The New Gatekeepers of Publishing Quality
- Discount Promos and Goodreads Giveaways
- Why we shouldn't judge a book by its cover price.
- How Richard Bard, author of critically acclaimed bestselling action thriller series “Brainrush”, got noticed by Amazon's Thomas and Mercer.
- Who really controls the publishing industry?
- How to sell more books outside North America
- New Features! Video Trailers and Bookbuzzr "Read Excerpt" widget.