How to publish anthologies, boxsets and run multi-author promotions

It’s December, and I’m on a cruise ship cruising the Atlantic (with surprisingly good wifi). We’ve been in Europe three months and are heading back to the Americas. We left from the Canary Islands, the night sea is dark and the steam from the boat is white. There’s a very Titanic feel. I’m hoping to (finally) finish my first full novel this month, update another, finish a non-fiction book, and also publish my PhD thesis. I just put those up for preorder and now I need to get shit done (the cruise ship is amazing for writing, I can just order room service and write all day).

But enough about me. I want to tell you how to organize boxsets and anthologies. Recently I’ve been involved in two big multi-author projects.

6x9-boxset-covervaultFirst, I organized an anthology of young adult fiction for my Facebook group (the alliance of ya authors). We decided to publish it as permafree – it’s basically just for visibility. The benefit is, it’s really easy for 40 authors promoting a book together to get that book to the top of Amazon.

I did all the formatting and design, set up the Kindle and print books, and then published with Draft2Digital to get Kindle to price-match it.

For promotion, I made a big post on my fiction blog here, with all the links and a link to all of the authors’ websites – then I shared the html code so they could repost (they should edit and rearrange, not post identical content… but, having us all link to each other’s sites and having lots of keyword-anchored links to the book on Amazon is great for long term visibility.)

I also made some graphics they could share, like this.

young adult anthology

young adult fiction anthology

PS… like these graphics? I made some templates you can use for your own books!

With all the links from our sites, and with us all sharing to our lists, we can get it pretty high and it will probably stick there. 1000 downloads gets us into the top 100.

10,000 downloads might get us to #1 – which is my goal, but if we get into the top 10, that would be great too. However… getting up to the top of Amazon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’ll get a lot of freebie seekers who aren’t your target audience, and they might review it badly.

You really want to be up at the top of your category (for us, “young adult”) but not much higher. Update: we launched a week ago and just barely cracked top #100, now it’s hovering under #200 most of the time – which is still enough to be #1 in 2 categories.

anthology1

As a comparison, my permafree books, without any promotion, usually stay in the 2000 range. If we all put it in our sidebar it should continue to stay pretty high with minimal effort. Especially for those authors who don’t have a permafree book already as part of their funnel, it should be good for a lot of visibility.

I took out ads in FreeBooksy, ENT and ChoosyBookworm, which I’ve found to provide the best results for free downloads. If we need more, the next three I’d recommend are AskDavid.com, Book Barbarian and Robin reads.

We want lots of free downloads on launch because the reviews will start to trickle in faster, and once we get 100+ reviews the book should be pretty sticky without any promotion. Here’s a video talking about some of the stuff I’m doing to promote it. (Normally, you’d also have to hire a formatter and cover designer; usually authors will split the costs).

 

Boxsets and the NYT or USA Today Bestseller lists

The other project I’ve joined is a boxset of 20 authors, organized by Rebecca Hamilton. Rebecca does a lot of amazing book marketing, but using very different tactics than I do (which is why I wanted to participate, using only the same methods will get you the same results). The boxset is called “Dark Legends” and it’s a great fit for my book Scarlet Thread which is based on Greek Mythology.

In this case, all the authors pitch in advertising money. With a paid book, even with lots of promotion, it’s hard to keep getting consistent daily sales (especially on a preorder with no reviews). Marketing to our own platform doesn’t work, so I try to reach new readers with natural traffic or advertising.

But still, it’s fun and I’m enjoying feeling like I’m part of the team – we all bring our own unique strengths and ideas and do end up selling lots of books.

Marketing boxsets and anthologies

Here are some suggestions for doing “teamup” marketing, and also some things I think will help you sell more books.

  1. I recommend publishing a print book, and then making it unavailable, which allows reviews to be posted on a preorder book (reviews are posted on the unavailable print book but show up for the Kindle preorder book). We can’t *actually* do this because 20 full length novels would be huge… but we could publish something with the first 3 chapters of each – people wouldn’t actually buy it, we’d just use it as a hack so we could get reviews posted early, which would boost conversions and keep our rank higher.
  2. Barring that, we could get a bunch of early reviews from beta readers and post them in the “editorial reviews” section (one of the hardest things about selling a book on preorder is lack of reviews…) Preorders are important because on most platforms, preorder sales count the day of launch – and all the sales need to be in the same week to hit the big bestseller lists. But on Amazon it doesn’t work like that, sales are spread out. So I’d put up preorder, get reviews up on the book to improve conversion, and advertise ibooks/kobo but not Amazon, until launch day – that’s when I’d tell the authors to share really hard, after launch, when the rank can spike. But, that’s also a short window. Generally, I do these for visibility and not to hit the lists, so I’m not an expert on that process.
  3. I made some nice graphics with a big Benefit (20 books for 99cents). Tried to keep it clear and clean. Some people think this doesn’t work or seems spammy… but images need to convey clear benefits. I’d rather position it as a flash deal, than “please support me and buy this boxset.”

dark legends anthology

4. But really, the best thing I can do is make the book more visible in search results, because even though there are lots of boxsets and anthologies out there, there aren’t many authors who know how to make a book as visible as I do (which means, there isn’t actually that much competition for keywords). When people are searching for “best fantasy boxsets” or “best books based on mythology and legend” or whatever, I want our boxset to show up somewhere. So I’ll be posting content on YouTube, LinkedIn, Medium, several of my sites (which have a pretty strong domain authority), and I’ll also make a big post with links to all the authors to share with them, like I did with the YA Anthology. You can view it here. Later I’ll link all the books to their respective amazon page, which is good long term for sales of each individual book.

This will make a strong “blog network” of similar and related sites, all linking to each other, and all linking to the boxset on Amazon (and using anchored keywords for search terms.) If that sounds complex, just take a look at my post and see how I’ve done things.

Book marketing

I’m not a fan of posting boxsets like this in random Facebook groups, because I think conversion is low and it will dilute also boughts. (I’m generally against posting in Facebook groups… however, for a free book, if done well, it can still produce a reasonable # of downloads, so it can be useful if you’re really trying to boost rank or sales).

I usually prefer to:

1. advertise the book with Amazon ads, using targeted keywords for the books/authors we want to show up in our also boughts. Focusing on this more, earlier, will make the book more visible on Amazon. (I’ll probably spend $5 to $10 a day the month before each book launch, just to boost my also boughts before launch).

2. If the book was already live/had reviews, we could do an Amazon giveaway and giveaway 100 copies (if claimed in 24 hours, it should boost rank).

3. I can “gift” 100 copies by email, by setting up a simple giveaway. Will probably do that soon, even though it’s kind of a pain to gift that many copies manually – in the same giveaway I’ll include a price to get people sharing/talking about it and linking to the Amazon page.

With the free anthology, all of my methods will work to make the book sticky enough to be visible long-term. With the boxset, however, it’s more difficult to get the book to stick in paid without advertising (it will be easier after it’s live and has reviews). But I’m doing what I can.

I made a PDF flip book with all the covers and an Amazon link. Generally, this type of content isn’t very valuable because you still have to get people to see it – but, putting it all into a PDF means I can add it to slideshare, and also makes it easier to make videos (I can just record a video of me flipping through this book and it will look pretty good – video gets more engagement than just posts.) And it gives us something a little bit fun/different from all the other anthologies out there.

 

Group marketing

One of the other easy things we’ve done is support each other’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. Instead of just sharing the book on our own platforms, we share and then post the link to our post inside our private Facebook group, so that we can go to everyone else’s posts and like and comment. That boosts the natural reach on each platform so every post will get more visibility.

Soon I’ll run a giveaway/contest where people have to share a Tweet to win a prize, and the Tweet will be a link straight to the anthology. That will reach a lot of new people, depending on the size of the prize. You can use KingSumo to build an email list, but you need gleam or rafflecopter and another giveaway to get those people to Tweet about your book – hopefully producing more sales. Probably, for my own books, I’d do this weekly for a month, with different prizes every time they can win by sharing.

The hardest part..

The hardest part about organizing an anthology is the editing, formatting and book design. Luckily those are skills I already have so I could take over for the YA anthology. After that, if you’re publishing it for sale, you need to figure out the legal stuff and how to send payouts to everyone (something I really didn’t want to do, which is why the one I organized is free).

Organizing your own

You can do a lot of good just by being the one who tries to put something like this together, however it can be hard to get people to trust you if they don’t know you. Firstly, I’d write some posts about the best indie books in your genre and let authors know about it; and also review their books; and follow them and interact with them online. Participate in genre-specific book groups and forums. This doesn’t have to be intense or take up a lot of time, but you do need to be a little visible. Also if you post an invitation to join your boxset or anthology, you should have enough experience publishing to put together something of good quality.

That said, everybody has to start somewhere. Try it out, see if you get any takers, form a group, get help. See how it goes. My main point is, often it’s much easier to market a book as a team and get much bigger results, which is good for everyone involved.

How to reach 1 million people for $50

Today I’m trying to maximize the hell out of my giveaways and promotions, and think I’ve come up with a way to reach over a million people on a small budget. I might write a post about that soon, or else I’ll just add it into Guerrilla Publishing, which is available for preorder already.

guerrilla publishing

 

“Scam” controversy

Some people abhor the idea of boxsets that aim at the USA Today or NYT bestseller lists, because it’s a way for lots of potentially unsuccessful authors to “earn their letters” and use them in promotional and marketing material. Personally I think it’s interesting that 20 indie authors can team up and use indie marketing strategies to hit the lists – it’s often a lot easier for them to do it than for traditionally published authors who have no idea how to sell books.

But there are been some discussion about whether the whole process is a scam.

Personally, I wouldn’t call it that – though I do think getting letters this way and using them is misleading to readers (that’s why I don’t use them). It doesn’t bother me if other people use them, because I don’t think it will actually help sales much (although some authors say they’ve seen sales quadruple since adding them to their covers so I am curious about testing the effect).

But it is true that the value of the letters are probably being reduced now that they’re being used by authors who didn’t earn them with their own book (which is why some of the lists are talking about removing an ebook section all together).

I don’t think the boxset authors or organizers are doing anything wrong, and I do think the idea of boxsets and working together is powerful; but I can also understand how things like gifting books to inflate rank seems like “buying your way” onto the bestseller lists (which is something many traditionally published books have done with a huge advertising budget).

Anyway, please don’t judge me for not judging.

Just make sure you read both sides of the debate and really understand the issues before becoming indignant.

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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