We launched a book. Here's what happened
On Friday 26 June, we released a book: Getting Published, authored by me, and a major update on a book I first wrote ten years ago. (You can take a look at the book here, if you want to.)
You might think that releasing a book was an occasion for a little hoo-hah and hullaballoo, but in fact we released it in perfect silence. We didn’t tweet, didn’t blog, didn’t post on Facebook, didn’t send an email.
The one thing we did do was ask our Advance Review Copy team to submit their reviews for the book. Amazon, for obvious reasons, doesn’t permit reviews prior to the moment of publication, so you can only start to gather reviews in the day or two following launch.
Over that weekend therefore – the 26, 27, 28 June – we quietly nudged our ARC folk to submit reviews. Those reviews built gradually over the weekend, to a total of more than 50. We didn’t solicit only five-star reviews. We didn’t even do the “if you hated this book, tell me; if you loved it, tell others” thing. We just asked people to report their honest opinions via Amazon.
The result was that we got a mix of reviews. Mostly five-star. Some four-star. One three-star. Every author wants all five-star reviews of course, but the fact is that a mixture of opinions and comments lends absolute authenticity to the overall verdict. In the US and the UK, the reviews are knocking around the 4.7 to 4.8 level – highly positive, but just mixed enough to be real. Perfect.
We had some launch weekend issues, of course. Amazon started randomly and aggressively deleting reviews for absolutely no reason at all. It has form on this, of course, and there’s nothing much you can do except complain.
That wasn’t the only niggle.
The book cover didn’t show up properly for a while, because we’d inadvertently uploaded one that was marginally too large. It also took us a bit of time to get the paperback uploaded and available for sale.
But though we were working away behind the scenes, no one really noticed any problems – because the book, though published, was effectively invisible.
At this early stage, Amazon didn’t know who to market the book to. It made virtually no sales. Our beloved book was simply buried in a pile of 8 million other titles. By the end of the weekend, we had sold precisely four books: none on Friday, one on Saturday, three on Sunday. Four books across the entire English-speaking world.
But we didn’t care.
We wanted to make sure that when people did finally start landing on our book page, there would be plenty of reviews telling them what to expect – and basically validating the impulse to buy. (No one loves being the first idiot to buy an un-reviewed book.)
So over the weekend, we just sat tight and let our reviews build. Then, on Monday afternoon, we finally broke our weekend of silence. I started emailing you guys with a short email telling you about the book and inviting you to buy it. Some of you got the email on Monday, some on Tuesday, and so on through the week. As an extra little “buy it now” kicker, I told you that the price would double in a few days’ time.
The aim of this staggered email campaign was to build a gradually swelling mass of sales. If we’d judged it perfectly, sales would have run something like this:
Monday – 100
Tuesday – 110
Wednesday – 120
Thursday – 130
Friday – 140
The aim in seeking to build that kind of profile is to send three messages to Amazon. Those messages are: (1) this book is selling, (2) there is steady demand for the book, not some temporary one-off spike, (3) that demand is, if anything, increasing.
And crucially, because you guys are all writer-types who love writer-stuff, we were in effect sending a critical fourth message too: (4) Look at the people who are buying this book; it’s that sort of person you need to market it too.
In effect, the purpose of our launch campaign was less about actually selling books and more about teaching Amazon how to sell our book – and making sure that it wanted to try. The sales campaign was all about prepping the machine.
How did we do? Well, I suppose we succeeded in achieving our aim, at least approximately. Our actual ebook sales profile looked like this:
Monday – 125
Tuesday – 141
Wednesday – 95
Thursday – 92
Friday – 145
(Paperbacks, for some reason, started selling on the Wednesday, then increasing each day.)
That sales profile showed Amazon that the book was selling, that it was selling steadily, and taught Amazon’s bots about the kind of people who were its most likely buyers. It didn’t quite demonstrate a steadily increasing demand, but our strong Friday finale probably did enough on that front anyway.
On Sunday, we changed the ebook price from $2.99 in the US to $7.99. In Britain, we changed the price from £1.99 to £5.99.
Obviously enough, the reason for launching at a low price (but one that still delivers 70% royalties) was to maximise sales in that launch week and to give the book the best possible start in life.
The reason for switching to the $7.99 pricing was to give us a much better royalty on each sale - $5.59, in fact. At the same time, our book is still cheaper than its natural competitors (the ebook version of Writers Market retails at an exorbitant $19.99, for example.) So we’re both earning a good royalty on every sale – and making ourselves the easiest, cheapest entry-point in what is not a particularly cheap market.
Good. Some ebook pricing decisions are complicated. This one feels relatively straightforward.
We can’t play the same kind of games with paperbacks – printing costs just set a relatively high floor price – but we don’t really need to. Since ending the promo week and changing the price, we’re selling about 10-20 paperbacks a day and about half that number of ebooks daily.
In the UK, we’re still nestling at or near the top of the relevant category bestseller lists. That means the book will pick up sales passively, without any especial love from us.
In the US, we didn’t quite achieve the sales mass we wanted to in that first week, so the book’s visibility now is less than we wanted. For that reason, we’re about to start supporting the book with sponsored listings on Amazon. The purpose will be to drive sales to the point at which natural, organic sales can largely take over.
And that’s it. That’s pretty much you need to know about launch week and where it’s left us.
The key point from all of this? The absolute key? Simply this:
Selling on Amazon isn’t so much about how many books you can sell yourself, it’s about teaching Amazon how to sell your book – and making sure that it wants to.
That’s the trick. That’s the whole deal right there. If you really internalise that message, everything you do in terms of Amazon-selling will be easier and more fruitful than if you don’t.
This email has yabbered on long enough. Me? I’m off to make a hashish and rose-petal jelly, which I will serve with mint tea and a dish of almond biscuits.
Reminder: If you want a free review e-copy of 52 LETTERS - a collection of these blog posts and emails from me - then email my colleague Rachael via email@example.com. Put 52 LETTERS in the subject line, and please don't forget to tell us which Amazon store is the one you generally use. We have only a limited number of copies to give away, and it'll be first-come first-served.