How to buy your way onto the bestseller lists (it’s not that hard).

UPDATE: This post was hypothetical, but I’m not actually going to do any of these things. The reason is, it’s important to keep your “also-boughts” clean; which means, you want people buying your books who are buying other books in your genre. There are lots of ways to make that happen. But getting a whole bunch of fast sales or downloads isn’t a great idea if they’re random people buying random books or junk.

It’s so much better to build a huge list with giveaways, then use them to get a ton of downloads and book reviews; or encourage them to buy your book along with some other bestsellers in your genre (I’m going to do both, using different lists for each).

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A client is launching a book and asking about the KDP free campaign; I’m writing a long email so I thought I’d share my comments. Some people get riled up about “gaming” Amazon or doing things they consider sketchy. They want their success to be natural and accidental (that almost never happens). Personally, I think it’s fine to engineer success – I treat writing and publishing like a business. I’m willing to advertise and pay for services to make sure my books get visibility.

You can’t buy CONTINUED success. Even if you buy 100 fake reviews (which I never do, nor do I endorse, though many people have misinterpreted my advice to mean so), and get robots to download 5000 free copies of your book to hit #1 so you can call yourself a bestseller, your book will quickly be brutally destroyed with negative comments until your sales slow down if it isn’t really good. You’ll still sell a lot of copies, but you’ll kind of destroy your credibility as an author.

Still, a bad book with 1000 negative reviews is almost better than a good book with 5 reviews that nobody sees. At least the author gave it his best effort. If you’re going to publish, publish hard. After all, you believe in your book, don’t you? That’s what matters. You can’t find out if it’s any good until you get a few thousand people to read it.

SO, this is how you buy your way onto the bestseller lists.

I’m using KindleSpy to check out the category the book is in, “Legal Thrillers.”

It looks like this. Right away I see a problem: that first book, Hostile Witness, has 3550 reviews and is getting an insane 30,000 downloads a month.

legalthrillers

 

sales1

 

They did that by making the book permafree (I’m pretty sure) which is the most amazing, powerful book marketing tool in existence, especially because most authors refuse to do it.

There’s no way a new book with few reviews can get that many downloads and steal the number one spot. Which is why, probably, my author should pick a different category, with less competition, to get number one. It’s nice to hit #1 so you can say you’re an Amazon bestseller, but personally I wouldn’t sweat it much. I’d stay in the category – really you’ll be fine if you get on the FIRST PAGE of your category. Which means you only need to be out the 20th spot, which has a ranking of 25,370 and is getting around 200 downloads a month. That should be super easy – use KDP and submit the site to all the “free kindle” websites and Facebook pages and you should get at least 1000 downloads.

I’m using Kindle ROI now to submit books to free sites.

You can also hire a few Gigs on Fiverr to post your books everywhere, or use Ebookbooster’s paid service. This is all for the free version of the book. I haven’t tried it yet but I’m also going to test this service soon – 15000 downloads in 24 hours for $379. That should get you to #1 in your category (most categories… not this one unfortunately because that one book is doing so damn well).

What about the paid list?

I strongly urge you to do a free campaign first because you’ll reach more readers, wait a couple weeks to get some reviews, and then switch to 99cents and try to hit #1 again. This is what the “Legal Thrillers” paid category looks like.

paid1 paid2

 

That number one slot is crushing it, with 105,000 sales at $1.99 for about $208,950.

The next two books are making twice that even though they’re selling much fewer books per month (these figures are estimated, by the way, not exact). Right under “To Kill a Mockingbird” is “The Good Lawyer”, which is probably self-published (because it’s .99 cents) and has over 2000 reviews – so my guess is they went permafree for awhile but may not have. It’s not earning much money, but a respectable $6K or so a month and it’s in good company. With that many reviews, I’d set it up at $1.99 at least and start earning more… but when you raise the price your sales usually go down and the rank may fall. Still, I’d test it.

So again, we could switch categories and put it in something more obscure to hit #1, or just keep it here and shoot for the middle – about 5000 downloads will get us in the top ten. At .99cents each, earning 35%, that would make us $1732.50. So in my mind, I’d be very happy to spend at least $1000 bucks to make sure I got that many downloads. You could spend it on targeted Facebook advertising, or ebookbooster’s 99cent paid services, or ads on book review sites… for me one of the safest options is Mike Balmaceda’s Rank Superstar: for $497 you’d get into the #1000 – #3000 rank on Amazon, which is probably equal to about 2000 sales. That should put you on the first page at least, and I’d spend the rest on Facebook ads or other things.

If you don’t already have an amazing cover that looks JUST AS GOOD as all the other bestselling books on the first page of your category, don’t bother spending this kind of money…

But if you do have a great cover, and you’re confident your book is just as good as the others on that page, and it’s been edited and beta-read and you’ve gotten some great unsolicited reviews from strangers, then buying your way up the rankings is simply the best use of money (much better spent than money wasted on a press release or a billboard or something like that).

Once your book is ON the first page, it will get a lot of visibility; Amazon will start sending out emails on your behalf encouraging more sales. If you have it on Apple too, they might feature it in a banner on the ibooks store. Success begets success.

Personally… I’ll probably do a KDP free campaign and then a 99cent campaign and buy some of these services for my own books, but only because I’m also building a big platform and can get a lot of reviews quickly because I have an email list of fans. But otherwise, I’d launch it at permafree for a couple months until I had 1000+ reviews, then set it at 99cents and do some promotions to get to the first page, and then a more comfortable 2.99 to try and earn a lot of money (unless it’s part of a series, in which case I’d leave the first book free or at 99cents and make money on the other books).

Isn’t that cheating?!

There is success, and not success. If readers discover your books and love your books, will they be upset that the first 5000 “sales” that brought you to the first page so they could find you weren’t real?

Possibly, maybe. Readers are funny like that. A lot of them are idealistic and passionate about integrity and moral causes. To me it’s like tasting a pie that won a famous award and thinking it tastes amazing, and then finding out it didn’t really win the award… and suddenly the pie tastes like shit because the quality was in our minds only. I think people who are so easily swayed by external factors that they care more about what other people think about a book (or a pie) than what they think about a book (or a pie), probably aren’t people I’d enjoy hanging out with.

You could spend far more and buy an advertisement in a famous magazine. Publishers get famous authors they work with to write blurbs for other famous authors they work with. Book marketing is about perception and presenting your book like a bestseller. It’s your responsibility to make the book look good so that people want to buy it. There are lots of different ways to do that. The ones most authors use aren’t actually effective and waste time and money. And that’s too bad, because maybe readers would have liked those books, but they never discover them.

It’s fine to leave your (thoughtful) comments below, but keep in mind I’ll probably delete them if things get heated or the conversation gets personal. This is my site, and I’m writing articles to try and help writers be more successful. My intentions are good, even if you don’t agree with my methods.

Edit: I didn’t mean to imply that Mike B.’s service uses robots – it doesn’t. He doesn’t guarantee sales, just an estimated boost in rankings. The other service, with exact downloads, may use robots, but I’m not sure. It’s also been pointed out that using a service like this, if they are using robots, would be a big risk because Amazon could flag your account.

I may not have made this clear, but there are loads of much better ways to build an author platform, attract readers, and sell books. But they take time, and you have to learn design, branding and marketing – most authors continue to take “easy” tricks and shortcuts because they can’t figure out how to do it right.

So then the issue becomes: the only books that succeed are the ones with authors who know about design, branding and marketing. Is that a fair qualification? Personally, I’m just fascinated by this stuff and like to test things out and see what happens, but you need to make your own decisions.

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me

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