Bestselling book launch tactics for fiction authors (Q/A chat)

Today I chatted with Michelle Madow and Leia Stone about their recent book launches – since we all launched a book on 1/26th, it’s been fun to see how our different marketing choices, platform and audience has impact the success of our books.


Here’s a list of topics we cover:

  • Pricing – free, 99cents, 2.99?
  • Summary description (keywords, categories)
  • KU kindle unlimited
  • Getting people to know about it, how do you spread the word?
  • Preorders, yay or nay?
  • Advertising
  • Book tours, cover reveals, blitzes
  • Getting book reviews quickly
  • Building an email list
  • What will you do differently for your next launch?

I started recording late, so you missed the first part about pricing. I’ll add brief notes below the video so you can skim.

Michelle is a hybrid author who is choosing to go indie with her new series based on Greek mythology, Elementals. This was her first book in that series, although she has other books published. She launched at 3.99, after being on pre-order, has 62 reviews and is still in the top 10,000 after 2 weeks.

Leia is an indie author whose books have crushed the young adult category for the past several months. She released the 3rd book in her Matefinder series at 3.99 as well, and is still in the top 500, and #2 in the paranormal & urban fantasy category, with 36 reviews. (Part of her success is the momentum from the first two books, and people following her on Amazon – she hasn’t even started building her email list yet so it’s amazing to see her do so well with very little marketing).

And for my first book (starting with zero platform) mine has done pretty well also. I built a big email list with giveaways and research, and have been in the top 8,000 or so since launch – but that’s price at 99cents and I feel like I’m hanging on by my fingernails. I also have 66 reviews. I feel like I’ve had to work harder, because it’s my first, but I’m happy with how things are going.

Discussion Notes (coming soon)

  • Pricing – free, 99cents, 2.99?

I’m a big fan of free or cheap books to build your platform. If nothing is working and your books are invisible, pricing free is easier and cheaper than a lot of other things you could do to market your books. I launch all my books with a free campaign, then a 99cent campaign, and will probably keep doing that until I have a hundred reviews. But maybe not. Leia has done phenomenally launching at $3.99, and Michelle’s has done really well too – they have some traction on Amazon already and some followers, but I have a theory that 99cent pricing might even be hurting me, because people will assume a $3.99 book is a better book, and 99cent books are crap. I’ll test it out soon.

SO – try a higher price if you want to, but the main thing is visibility. If you don’t stay above 10K or so, you’ll stop getting any sales, your sales rank will plummet, and the price of the book totally doesn’t matter. Which is why free and 99cents are easiest for book launches and you’ll see more success – not to mention, more reviews faster. When people love your books, you can charge whatever you want.

  • Summary description (keywords, categories)

In general, you want to be in the top 20 of your category, because that’s all that will fit on the first page. So find a category where you can beat out the #20 place, somewhere you’ll “stick” – if you can’t pull that off, change to a smaller category.

Tip: The “Keywords” section on KDP is actually where you would list your categories, by matching the category name. Don’t put random keywords in their that your readers won’t use – only put in keywords people will search for. If I’m writing a paranormal romance that takes place in a zoo, I won’t use “zoo” as a keyword because nobody is looking for books about zoos – or if they are, they aren’t looking for my paranormal romance.

You want keywords in your book description as well – I started out with a bolded sentence full of keywords, like “Fans of mermaids will love this dark fantasy romance.” But I deleted it when I saw that Leia’s very simple description was working so well. I changed my summary 10 times during launch week, and finally just changed it to a first person excerpt of the book, and then added another long excerpt under the “editorial reviews” section.

The trick is, you have to be found, but your page also has to convert. You need a balance of both. My suspicion is that readers don’t like being sold to with salesy copy or name-dropping (similar to these other famous books…) They don’t want to be TOLD it’s a good book, they want to be SHOWN with great writing that catches their interest. I could still do much better, but you want sales copy that’s gripping, so they read it and it has their attention.

  • KU kindle unlimited

Leia and I like KU. I especially like that you can see the page reads, so you know which of your book is actually getting read and how many people are reading it (as opposed to just buys/downloads). Also it seems like, if your book is doing well, Amazon will do more promotion for you if you’re in KU.

The disadvantage is exclusivity – and some authors say they make a big chunk of money on other platforms. In general, I recommend starting with KU because it’s easier – direct all your marketing to one platform, try to push sales on one site and become a bestseller on Amazon, rather than split sales up and be a mediocre seller on all platforms. Forget about that $50 you might make. Go big on Amazon and make $5,000.

After your book is successful and has a lot of reviews on Amazon, you can put it on other platforms (after 3 months) and reach a bigger audience.

  • Getting people to know about it, how do you spread the word?

This is the tricky part. Leia’s first book didn’t sell too well for the first 4 months, then it took off – it was probably mentioned by a blogger or something. Michelle has published before and already has some fans, as well as other author friends. I used contests and giveaways to build a big list of YA readers, and then tried to get them interested in my book.

The question also came up – “What is an author platform.”

An author platform is something you control. So it’s not advertising or putting your book on someone else’s website – it’s your website, or Facebook page, or Twitter account. But you email list is the king of your author platform, followed, I think, by your website, if you do it well.

With an email list, you can email people directly whenever you want, and build a relationship. With Twitter, most people aren’t going to see your Tweet (but it’s there). With Facebook, Facebook won’t even show your message to most of your fans (how many fans depends on the average amount of engagement your posts get).

So in all your marketing, you want people to be signing up on your email list. You can giveaway a free book or short story, with an offer for more if they sign up. You can giveaway a big package of books or a prize.

I love Facebook advertising for putting my offers in front of the right readers. I’m running a giveaway this month where I’ll giveaway a custom corset to promote two dark fantasy books. So I can advertising to people who like young adult + dark fantasy + paranormal romance + corsets. There may only be 20,000 of them, but that’s great – they are the perfect audience for my offer. They’re more likely to comment, share and sign up. Then my contest rewards them for sharing, liking my books, adding them to Goodreads, following me on Twitter and Facebook, etc. With one big prize I can drive thousands of individual actions. And, unlike advertising, these are cumulative effects that will help sell books long term.

I do another big contest every launch.

  • Preorders, yay or nay?

I wrote recently that preorders screwed up my sales rank, which made it hard to track my launch plan carefully. But the value in having preorders up is that people can see what you’re working on early. For example, instead of just seeing my one book, now they can see 5 books on Amazon, which makes me look more established, even if those books aren’t out yet – and it could generate some sales and get my rank high, especially if I did things right with a contest or giveaway for people who preorder the book.

It’s kind of like a “coming soon” sign so people can start finding you. The other problem is, you can’t post reviews on a preorder, so you have to wait until it’s live, hurry and get some reviews, and then start marketing or promoting it. Still, we mostly agree that they are a good idea.

  • Advertising

Depends what you’re advertising – it’s great if you’re reaching the right readers, as long as you can get them back on your site to sign up for your list, or follow you. It’s easier to advertise a free book, offer or contest.

  • Book tours, cover reveals, blitzes

Can be a good idea, as you’re basically paying to access someone else’s list. But try to get those people to follow you or sign up on your email list so you don’t have to keep paying every time. Also, be careful their list is a group of readers in your genre, not just “anybody.” Those big accounts that promise to reach a million people with a Twitter blast… those things don’t work and are annoying.

  • Getting book reviews quickly

The easiest way to get reviews is to

A) Give the book away for free to thousands of people

B) Build up a big list of readers/fans and give them a free ARC copy

C) Run a contest or giveaway, encouraging reviews

D) At the very least, ASK for them, either in the back of your book, or by emailing book reviews in your genre. You can also go through the reviews of 10 bestsellers in your genre on Amazon, and pull out the websites (about 1/3 of them will have a website or email). Contact them as say “I saw you reviewed x, I’d love to send you a free ARC copy! If you email 100 people, you’ll probably get around 25 responses, and 10 reviews – this will depend on the quality of your book cover, and the quality of your book.

  • Building an email list

I love KingSumo and UpViral for building an email list quickly. Be careful not to give a prize that has cash value like a kindle. Keep it something that will only appeal to your audience (or, keep it short so only your audience and their friends has time to respond and enter).

  • What will you do differently for your next launch?

Michelle is going to try out KU.

I’m focusing on Wattpad, and may also test high prices and getting to people to preorder rather than download the free copy.

Leia is building her email list so she can hit the bestseller lists (she’s already been really close, with no email list).

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • Thanks Derek, Leia, and Michelle. I’ve been following Derek’s launch with great interest, but it’s really helpful to hear the different approaches and thoughts all in one video 🙂

  • By the way – the “Elementals” link isn’t working.

  • The Soul of Gary Collins

    Lotsa interesting info and insights there. Thanks guys. It’s like a grand experiment where we’re the subject and scientist all at once.

    Although it was somewhat disheartening when Michelle zipped up at the 34 min. mark. Oh well, we each have our cross to bare. I’ll be ok.

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