Why preorders killed my book launch (and other lessons I learned marketing my first fiction)

Please read to the very end – right now, 1 week after launch, Shearwater is #1 in its Paid category (#2,683 in all of Kindle) with 46 reviews. There is a ton of information here… we’re going to LIVE CHAT about my book launch on Blab on February 6th – click here to join!

Firstly – this isn’t actually my first book or book launch, but it is my first fiction. 

I developed a pretty epic launch plan and things have been going well. I wanted to get some fiction out this year so I could really test things out. I haven’t so far asked my existing platform (Creativindie, which I’ve been building for 5 years) to buy my book. Instead I built up entirely new platforms, websites, traffic and email lists just for my fiction launch, in the last two months, to prove that it’s possible.

Here’s a blow-by-blow report of how the launch process has gone.

This isn’t exactly a model to be copied, because I screwed a lot of things up (I’m experimenting with everything) but it will give you an idea of what to expect, and my first book launch has already gotten better results than many authors see in the first year. If you have comments or questions, just ask down below!

PS) You can check out the book on Amazon here.

PPS) Some of this stuff is pretty advanced, so you should read my more basic articles on book marketing, or start with Book Marketing is Dead.


First, I set up a new website for fiction at www.urbanepics.com.

Then I made a list of best YA book bloggers, and best YA mermaid books.

This lets me start building relationships with authors and book reviews, without our first interaction being “please share my book!” Actually, I never asked any of those people to share or review my book, at least not directly, although some of them did anyway (thanks!!).

I also started the YA Author Alliance and a new site just for YA Book Reviews.

This is all because, I want to create community hubs that provide value to the genre. I don’t want to just be talking about myself or marketing my books. (People will be eager to support your book if you’ve made an effort to help them.) Provide value to others before you ask for anything. That’s kind of the point I made in Book Marketing is Dead and I don’t want to become a hypocrite by using spammy book promotion tactics.

SEO, keywords and categories…

Also, I Googled my keywords to see what came up. I didn’t use broad keywords like “paranormal romance” – I focused on small categories: “YA mermaid romance.” I made note of all the results, and figured out how I could get on those pages (or rank better). Some of the results are Goodreads lists – so I added my book to them and asked people to vote my book up in as part of the giveaways I’m running. I can get up to one of the top books on Goodreads and show up there, pretty much forever.

I can also get my Amazon page to rank well directly in Google; so I used my keyword phrase and linked it straight to my book (using the direct link that ends with the ASIN – not the full link with in the browser bar because it has identifying information – that’s probably why authors books are getting deleted! Watch a video about that here.)

I chose less competitive categories – fairy tales and folklore – to make sure I can show up on the first page (top 20 in the category). The top books in those categories are selling around 5000 a month, as opposed to make 50,000 a month in other categories.

And I added in keywords to my subtitle and description (although, I took some out later… more on that later).

I already show up in Google search results for “how do mermaids have sex”… and when people search for YA mermaid romance novels, for the next year or two, it won’t be hard to discover my book.

January 26th – Launch Day

Right now, the book is available, has only 2 reviews (not positive ones) and the sales rank is low. Nobody is buying it. I posted something on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram but I’m not selling any copies.

Here’s some thoughts on the first day.

#1 Preorders suck

The argument for preorders is that you can get a lot of sales to count on launch day… but that doesn’t work on Amazon.

I knew that already.

What’s funny though, is the sales did show up on launch day – or just before – but didn’t affect the sales rank at all. So those 70 sales are kind of worthless. If I’d have gotten them on launch day without preorder, it would have driven me up to the top of my category.

Instead, it didn’t make a dent.


In fact, even though people kept telling me they bought the book throughout the day, my sales rank never jumped! It was like the needle was frozen at #29,738 in the Paid Kindle Store (sold 3 more copies, KDP shows me the sales, but the page rank doesn’t flicker!)

To put this into perspective…

A friend of mine launched a book at $3.99 and is ranking at about 1500, with zero reviews. She has previous books and followers but not a huge list. She has sold tons of books though. Kiera Cass has a mermaid book that was on preorder and launched today – she’s in the top 500’s at $12.99. But she’s a traditionally published, mega bestseller; and because it was previously self-published she already had about 250 reviews.

And another friend of mine had a book on preorder at $3.99, but her rank hasn’t gone up much either (still under 50K).

So, WTF? It doesn’t seem like ranking is tied with sales.

In retrospect… sales rank probably doesn’t update minute-by-minute, and I was just being hasty. So there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly bad or good about using preorders, except…

#2 No reviews on launch day

This one is kind of dumb, but publishing a book and then telling everybody about it doesn’t work because it has no reviews. That’s why I usually do a soft launch – publishing but only telling some people, so I can start building up reviews before doing any real marketing.

And that’s still kind of what I’m doing, I’m not actively promoting this book much until it has more reviews up – although I did share already, it felt weird not to. That was a mistake though: I shouldn’t share “launch”…I should share “success” – something like “wow 50+ reviews in 2 days!” That kind of post should have been my first post.

By 8am on launch day I had 2 reviews, and they weren’t positive. By 10am I had 7, and they were pretty good. Keep in mind I’d given away over 500 ARC copies of the ebook to early readers (an email list I built to several thousand by giving away packages of bestselling books in my genre, and advertising those giveaways to the right readers on Facebook).

A couple hours later I had 10 reviews. Sales rank still not budging, and I was starting to get a little desperate.

I contacted two mermaid themed Facebook groups and asked them to share the mermaid giveaway I’m running. They might have said no… but since my launch plan was to raise money and awareness for oceanic conservation, it made it easier to say yes. I should have done this better and included them into the launch earlier, but I did plan it right to make it something that they’d want to support. (I don’t think they’ve shared it yet, anyway).

#3 Facebook ads

I’m running two Facebook promotions, one is for the giveaway of cool mermaid stuff, where they can do promotional stuff for my book to get entries, the other is for my “Save the Mermaid” campaign which goes to my launch page.

Both are doing well, costing an average of 25 cents per click to my website (and I’ve also gotten lots of likes and shares). About 300 people have signed up to my email list. I’m ONLY targeting girls aged 16 to 28 who like mermaids AND young adult books, so it’s super selective.

facebook marketing facebookmarketing



The problem is probably overwhelm – my launch page is messy and has too much information, I’m asking them to do too much, and the contest has too many options. I probably should have just done a simple giveaway with sign up + share to win (with KingSumo, or UpViral). Then I’d have them on the list and could get them to take other actions one by one.

#4 Thunderclap

Part of my giveaway/book launch is Thunderclap – they can sign up to Tweet or Share one message on a certain day. Thunderclap is a bit confusing. I had it set for the 26th (launch day) but changed it to the 31st, because I’m still running ads and more people will sign up. But… sharing it on the 31st isn’t really fair if I’m promising the free book, and so I just changed it to the 29th, when the book will be free. I’ll stop my Facebook ads then also and see how just the Thunderclap campaign goes.

Right now I’ve pointed the Thunderclap campaign to my launch page, but that might be a mistake (in the future… I should point them to a signup contest with UpViral first, get them on a list to win a big prize, then run another contest with Gleam for smaller prizes and smaller actions (liking me, following me, social media, etc).

It might make more sense to point the Thundclap straight at the book on Amazon, but I’ll try it this way first.

#5 Email list

Because it’s my first launch, I don’t have a big list of fans ready to buy my work. But I do have some big lists I’ve grown with giveaways. Today I emailed the list of people who had signed up for the mermaid giveaway (310) and the people who had signed up to hear about my fiction (about 300). But, since most of them already got an ARC copy, and the book is at $2.99 still even though it should be .99cents, they probably aren’t going to buy it.

I’m waiting  until the 28th, when the book is free, to email everybody and try and get them to download the book and leave reviews. I’m itching to email them anyway, and talk about a bunch of other giveaways and things, and mention my book casually, then email them again in a couple days. I might do that still. That’s what I made the list for after all.

#6 A real free campaign

After all that I’ll wait about a week, wrap up the contest and see how many reviews I get. I’m shooting for 100.

I’ve only used 2 of my 5 free days, so now I can do a bigger free campaign with my remaining 3 days, and actually tell all the “free Kindle” sites. I’ll probably pay for a couple paid slots, and I’ll run some more Facebook ads. Probably something like “Free today, over 100 5 star reviews on Amazon!”

Because it’s my first book, so I’m not focused on sales. I want exposure, fans and reviews.

Ideally I’ll hit 10,000 free downloads and 100 reviews.

I’d also like 1000 sales in between the free days, but that depends on whether Amazon is going to bump up my sales rank, which seems frozen right now.

UPDATES *I’ll expand this as I go so you can watch it develop

#20,745 Paid. So my rank finally changed a little.

But I need to get that orange “Besteller” sticker, and I need to get to the top of my category.

Time to step it up.

I broke down and emailed my list of YA readers on the 26th… I didn’t make it about my book. Instead I shared all my author friends’ giveaways, which included 2 Kindle Fires and about 13 bestselling YA books. Other people’s contests, so I don’t even have to give the prizes away – but it’s still good for my audience because they know I’m sharing great stuff.

I also gave a very gentle reminder to review my book, with a link. That email went to about 12,000 people, but I think half of those are junk emails (I need to go through and clean it to remove the junk).

Also, I didn’t link to everyone’s giveaways separately; I shared them on my Facebook page and got people to go to the Facebook page to see them. That, plus all the advertising that was tied to my Urban Epics facebook page, has resulted in about 500 new likes this week (almost 2000 likes, and I started it 2 months ago).

My page, incidentally, is “Urban Epics: Free books for YA readers.” That’s something that’s pretty easy to like and support – much easier than a “Derek Murphy, Author” page would be. For more on Facebook pages, read this.

End of Day 1 = 15 reviews, and the rank is lower, #16,239.

Also got my first negative (2 star) review… which sucks, but it’s actually one of those reviews that will probably help sales.

This book is described as “Twilight with mermaids”. I’d say that’s pretty accurate: the pacing, love interests, and so on are similar. So if still like Twilight and are frustrated that nobody writes books like it anymore, try this one.

I wrote this book to be similar to Twilight, and it’s true it’s probably too similar.

I got another email saying, in effect, “The world doesn’t need a Twilight + Mermaids book – that’s a stupid idea.”

But I had to start somewhere.

Need sleep. I’ve spent the last 2 hours arguing with indie authors on Facebook.

1.27 – Goodreads giveway

Woke up at 4pm in the afternoon (I was up reaaaally late).

21 reviews and the book is up to #12,621 Paid. Another review likening my book to Twilight. But better than Twilight, which is pretty awesome.

“…an evil part of me says that it’s almost Twilight minus annoying Bella. But whilst I thought of Twilight as an extremely fascinating trainwreck, I’m curious to know where Murphy will take Clara in Part Two and what wonderful discovery – and dangers – awaits our lovely protagonist.” -Anna Tan

I can even use that review in my marketing – by putting it in front of people who like Twilight and Mermaids (will try that soon and report back).

Also, I signed up for a book blitz/blog tour with Starting to see a few shares from book bloggers like this.

They made the graphic.


I decided to do a blog tour because they have an email list of YA bloggers – even though I’ve built my own list and probably have the same contacts, I don’t have the same trust/relationship. It’s better to do it this way first, and I’ll do several more books with other blog tours, to get my name out there. After that I might be able to just email them directly and set up my own events or tours (if I do something fun and different).

Blog tours probably won’t work for all genres, but are OK for YA and maybe romance. It’s easy, because they’re organized, and done right you can get a lot of free links back to your site and social media profiles.

Although I’m doing a whole bunch of mermaid-stuff giveaways, I realize my mermaid picture for the giveaway may not be strong enough, so I decided to post a link to that first Blog Tour (here it is) with an actual picture of the thing to be won – the cool mermaid bookends.

I boosted it for $15 on Facebook to YA readers, and posted on Twitter. That’ll probably make a very decent ad, because the casual ones that look like posts tend to perform better than salesy ones. And it’s kind of the perfect thing, because people who love books and mermaids will really want it (and those are ideal readers for my mermaid book). I’ve been planning massive, expensive giveaway prizes, but really cool little stuff probably works just as well.


I’ll see how that does for 1 day and repeat if necessary. It’s also kind of nice to send traffic to somebody else’s site, that’s talking about my book, so it doesn’t seem like one lone author talking about himself. Also, it’s nice to send the bloggers some traffic for hosting my blog tour – it lets them know they should sign up to future promotions with me because I can send them traffic.

Oh and the book is STILL at $2.99 – it was supposed to be 99cents on launch day. I raised it up previously and then my KDP “froze” for a couple days before the launch, and it still hasn’t gone down yet. That kind of sucks because my contest on the launch page still says “buy the book for $0.99.” Hope it goes down today.

Also, I’m giving away 5 print books on Goodreads and that kicked in today;  it looks like this. I grabbed the code to add to my launch page. It just started, but these typically get a couple thousand signups – and those are people finding the book on Goodreads.

Goodreads is a very active platform, where people can add your books to their lists and have all their friends see them. When I email my list tomorrow about getting the free book, I’ll mention this giveaway as well.



End of Day Two – #13,555 rank (higher than it was this morning) and 23 reviews.

My Facebook ads are working. I can tell because my Thunderclap reach keeps climbing. I set it to go off the 29th, so I decided to double my spending. I was spending $30 a day for two ads, I changed it to $60 a day – there’s only two days left so it’s not a lot of extra money. I also changed the age group… I had been focusing on young readers, up to 28. But I realized, if my book is like Twilight, a lot of young readers probably want a kick-ass, don’t take no shit heroine (the kind that always argues and storms off by herself) rather than my slow and thoughtful protagonist. So I set the bar up higher, to 36. Even that might be too low. Time will tell.

It’s finally at 99cents… but:

Shit – now it’s #17,564!

Goal of tomorrow is to get up to #1 in the Free category.

It’s at about this time that I question my sales copy.

I led with several big reviews, then a bunch of keywords in bold, then a description, then more information… I’ve done everything right. I have a lot of keywords that should be good for ranking.

But the books I’m trying to model, the ones that are selling thousands of copies a day and sticking in the bestsellers, don’t have any of that stuff. They have 2 paragraphs of simple description, and that’s it.

I shouldn’t change things until people are actually seeing it (when I get higher in the rankings)… but fuck it. I cut back the hype and left a simple description, using Author Central – they say it will take 3 to 5 days, but in my experience it usually just takes an hour or two. Actually it only took 5 minutes.

The cleaner description looks better, even though it isn’t very gripping. Needs to be better.

Going to sleep…

Lightbulb: my friends who are making money seem to be doing really well with KU: probably they just flip through looking for free stuff to read. Maybe I can do targeted advertising JUST for people who like mermaids AND Kindle Unlimited, and show them an ad that says ‘free for Kindle Unlimited’.

Set up a new ad, only for people who like Bella Swan AND mermaids AND Amazon Kindles AND Ireland. That’s pretty specific. Going to show an ad that ticks ALL those boxes. Set it for $15 for 2 days… we’ll see how that goes.


For more on Facebook advertising, and using the “AND” feature (which is amazing and necessary) read this.

1.28 – First Free Day

#7,670 Paid in Kindle Store, 27 reviews.

384 people have entered the Goodreads giveaway.

My Thunderclap reach is 203,094.

Now that I have some reviews, it’s time to take it up a notch.

And those ads I set up yesterday aren’t even running yet, Facebook is being slow to review them.


First success: Amazon showed me my book under “hot new release.”

I sent that Tweet, and since Facebook is being so damn slow, I promoted it for $30.

Meanwhile, my book has disappeared from all categories on Amazon. Previously I was already #11 in legend and folklore – on the first page – but now that it’s free it’s nowhere to be found. I can’t even see the category listings on the book page. So that blows. I’m going to hope it’s just because of changing it to free, but still, the switchover means zero visibility at a critical point during launch.

Damn you Amazon.

Granted, it’s 6:57 AM in the USA and the book only went live on the 28th. So nobody has even seen it yet. But still.

At this point, I signed up for Amazon ads.

Even though everybody says they don’t work, or aren’t a good ROI.

The minimum budget is $100 – but you only pay for clicks. So obviously you need clicks that get people to do things. If you’re getting clicks but they aren’t buying, then the price is too high or you haven’t justified it yet. However, what I find most interesting about Amazon ads is that you can target people who liked certain books. I already developed a list of similar books I want to appear next to, so this part was easy. I believe, even if the $100 in Amazon ads doesn’t directly lead to enough sales to justify cost, by getting people who have liked those certain books to see my page and buy my book, I’ll be improving my “also boughts” section for more visibility on Amazon.

I could have probably done it for less, with Facebook advertising, but they rarely have every specific book or author as a interest unless it’s a major bestseller. On Amazon I can pick all books, even some low selling indie ones. There are books on Amazon that may not sell well, but have great visibility for keyword searches. If you search for “mermaids” in Amazon you’ll see some – the top ones that show up aren’t well known, aren’t reviewing well and so don’t show up in the bestseller lists, but still show up when people search for mermaids – I want my book to show up next to those books! This will be something I’ll pay more attention to in the future… getting next to the books with most keywords visibility, not necessarily bestsellers.

I’ll tell you how the ads do later.

I also changed one of my Facebook ads to a “Free today” campaign to drive downloads.

I wasn’t going to email until later but… screw it. I emailed about 10,000 people. I tried to make it fun by setting a group goal – get the book to #1 in its categories and I’ll donate $100 to save manatee. After I get 100 reviews I’ll donate another $100.

I emailed people who signed up for my fiction list, and YA readers who had signed up for giveaways.

I also emailed a list of YA bloggers, which I hate doing because it feels spammy, but hey it’s my first book.

Go big or go home.

Then I emailed the list of YA authors I built – I didn’t mention my book at all; I just told them about the platforms I’ve been setting up and tried to get them involved in the YA Authors Alliance Facebook Group.

5 minutes later, I had 137 free downloads. That should  already put me at #1 in my categories, but I won’t know for sure until Amazon refreshes its lists.

Tip: I used KDSPY to check the top books under “Free” in my category – the first book has an estimated 6000 downoads a month, which means about 200 downloads a day; the rest of the books have 1500 or less, so I only need about 84 books in a day to beat them. Ideally, of course, you’d stay up there long term – that’s what permafree is for. Hundreds of downloads a day. Perennial marketing without any effort or expense. I’ll probably do that for all my books at the end of this year… for now I’m just testing things.

Note to self. Amazon is so infuriating. There are books with less than 30 reviews, that launch at $3.99 and are selling thousands of copies a month… even if the authors has zero Twitter or Facebook followers and isn’t doing much promotion.

Even if you do everything right, it’s hard to know what will perform best, and quality doesn’t seem to be a very important factor (story telling is. And the writing can’t totally suck. But I’ve said before, a story that keeps readers reading, even if it’s written badly, is better than a well-written story that just isn’t that exciting).

Down to #3,995 now, in Free.

#7 in my category.

#791 Free in Kindle Store

Not #1 yet though… but I should be there by the next update.

OK, finally made it.


should have posted in Reddit’s “Free books” sections, or on all the free book sites, but I’ll do that next time – remember I saved 3 of my free days to use in a couple weeks, when I have more reviews. I should have also posted to all the free sites… I use KDROI to submit to a bunch of them… John Kremer has a huge list of sites to promote your free Kindle books here. Doesn’t matter, since I hit #1 anyway, but next time I’ll do it without using a list (to reach new readers, which is important – that’s why I’m doing two different free campaigns).

1.29 – ThunderClap Day

Shearwater is #136 now in the whole Free section of Amazon. That means, not only am I #1 in my categories, it’s also #3 in the whole “Fantasy” section. That’s a lot of visibility.

1500 free downloads so far, 33 reviews. Still going strong.


136free 136free2

I also got a migraine today… so I spent most of the day nauseous and throwing up.

Migraines suck balls.

I got to about #108 in Free, but now it’s going back up again.

I turned off all the ads, redid my page a bit, ThunderClap is going out in a couple hours.

Thundclap didn’t seem to do anything.

Not many extra sales or downloads, not a boost in site traffic… even though it went out to 200,000 people. It also seemed to use the original message (I’ve changed it several times) or maybe the message it was when people signed up, which makes sense, rather than the final message I set that would’ve worked better.

Social reach = 214,081

Total clicks = 87

Out of those, only 37 clicked on my Amazon link.

So that’s something I won’t try and do again.

It’s in paid again at 15,000.

After being sick all day yesterday, vomiting and watching season three of Ray Donovan and a Katy Perry special, I’m not feeling much enthusiasm and want to be working on my next book.

If I could stay at 15,000 paid, that’s about 300 sales a month. Not bad at all, actually, even for a 99cent book. But I’d still like to get up higher.


1.30 – Day of Rest

It’s Sunday, and I have a ton of work to do with cover design clients. I’m way behind (sorry!).

I was trying to not take on much work this year but I have a lot of returning clients or older projects that need finishing, and I needed to catch up. So I mostly ignored my book today.

I’ve been spending some money on ads. Only $15 a day.

And my paid ranking is down to 8,000 now, and I have 38 reviews (thank you all so much for the reviews!).

It’s hard to know if the ads are what’s making the sales, but I thought I better double down. So I set it for one more day at $35 a day. I should really just set it at $350 and be done. I’m spending way too much time and energy on little tweaks, mostly because I want to see what’s the bare minimum it will take to become a bestseller.

I know most authors don’t have a lot of cash lying around for book promotion (I don’t either actually, but promoting my own books is a business expense, because people trust me to figure stuff like this out and share the results with them, so I kind of have to pull it off).

I’m going to pull some strings today and see if I can hit #1 in my paid categories at 99cents.

Small tweaks

I googled “mermaid books” again. The first 5 results were from Goodreads. That’s crazy. In my understanding, Goodreads “tags” are kind of the same as “shelves”… so I created a couple “shelves” called “mermaid books” / “YA paranormal” etc. and added my book to it.

I also checked out how my books are doing on the handful of “mermaid books” – pretty good, all on the first page, with only about 28 votes. If I ask readers later to vote, I could get up to #1 there.

Then I figured out “quotes”: you can go in and add quotes from your books to Goodreads, which is pretty awesome especially if you can find quotes with your keywords (and even if not, you can add tags to your quotes). I added 10.

This is the link for adding quotes.

The book needs to be on Goodreads first; then pick your author name and select your book before adding.

I also posted my book in the subreddit for mermaids. Only about 350 people there, but every bit helps. I also found a couple lists of YA mermaid fiction and got in touch with the blogs to see if they could add mine.

Then I got on Facebook and answered some questions, posted some useful tips – nothing promotional. Just increasing visibility.

ALSO – I decided to stick with preorders.

Since I’m doing all this marketing anyway, I think it’s probably a good idea to have more books on Amazon, so I put the next two books up as well – that way when people click on my Amazon author profile/name they’ll see more fiction, instead of just the non-fiction stuff. Even if they don’t pre-order those books, I think it will probably help my credibility.

Preorders do wreak havoc on sales ranking, but it’s not insurmountable, just unexpected.

Furthermore, I believe getting people to “Follow” you as an author on Amazon is important for ranking (though I can’t prove it) so in the future I’ll focus more on that.

As of right now…

When I search Amazon for my keyword phrases (mermaid, mermaid romance, mermaid fantasy) Shearwater shows up on the first page of results; but that’s probably because it’s new, and it might only be showing that to me, not to everybody.

OH – and I’ve been rejected for my first BookBub ad~! A right of passage for sure.

1.31 – Hacking the Bestseller Lists

By this point I’d pretty much already used my lists. I could’ve/should’ve just emailed again and asked for a boost but I hate doing that. So I posted on Facebook and Twitter instead – simple message and link to the book.

I think I need about 10 more sales at 99cents to hit #1 today, if anybody wants to grab it I’ll do you the same favor for your book in the future!

I need (according to my calculations) about 70 sales in one day to hit #1 in Paid of my category – the top book is selling about 2100 copies a month, estimated. I hate asking this way but I’m getting a little desperate. It would have been better to just increase my advertising budget, but I don’t have that set up well enough to track conversions.

I bumped it to $55 a day, and at .23/click I’m getting about 228 clicks a day. Those should be turning into sales but they aren’t (which is a problem…). Maybe I need to go back and add in some of the hype I took out of the sales description to match the adverts better.

Edit: I just changed up my description… the two paragraphs I have are really plain and obviously not working for conversions, this is too much work. I added in the full prologue, which is kind of the hook – I put it in Editorial Review section, something I’ve seen a few authors do successfully. This gets them reading without even clicking the ‘look inside’ feature.

Advertising is better because I’d be getting real readers, not just random friends.

On the other hand, my message is simpler – if they buy my book at 99cents, I’ll buy theirs in the future. Even if you don’t have a big platform, that’s an offer you can make in Facebook groups, on Reddit, anywhere and probably get some takers.

should’ve also done some advertising in the big book sites.

Ereadernewstoday.com or Thefussylibrarian.com have big lists of readers – but they needed to be booked several weeks in advance, and I’d rather use them as a free offer, to get as much of their list as possible (if I’m paying to reach their list, I want more of them to download my book and maybe sign up to my list… free will probably get at least triple the number of readers). So I could use it for a sales bump but that wouldn’t be very valuable, I’d be trading thousands of readers for a few dozen sales.

I also sent out a link to THIS post, to my other lists… about 20,000 authors and publishers. I wanted to be careful not to market my YA mermaid romance to them, but I think this article is a pretty detailed guide to launching a book that I thought they would appreciate. It won’t directly lead to more sales, and I’m not asking anybody to buy my fiction, but a few of the people who read this post might be interested enough in the actual book to buy it. That’s content marketing.

Since I’ve done other stuff on marketing before, like “How to make your book a bestseller” – I figured I’d have more luck playing the fear card. The negative title of this post, “Why preorders killed my book launch” is enough to get most authors’ attention.

Out of 20,000 emails, I got about a thousand clicks. I need to go through my lists soon and delete people who don’t open my emails, since I’m paying way too much to keep that many people on my lists. That’s good for traffic, and I like providing helpful, free information like this to indie authors. But like I said, probably not many actual sales (still, a few – I could have waited and finished this post first, after I’d hit bestseller, but I didn’t, because I need the extra sales).

Obviously, most authors don’t have a backup list of 20K they can email.

So let’s say you’ve exhausted your options and you still want a bump in sales.

Now what do you do?

With only 30 sales a day you can usually get into the top 5000 range of the paid Kindle store. That’s probably enough to rank on the first page. For #1, I would shoot for 100 sales in a day, but that depends on your category. You could do a bunch of promotion, or ask all your friends or relatives to buy it, or do Facebook advertising.

But wouldn’t it be easier if you could just buy your own book 100 times?

Some authors will say that’s not fair, or that it’s cheating.

I can understand those feelings. It is cheating.

But it’s also possible.

WARNING: we’re getting into “gray-hat” territory so sensitive readers might get upset.

Firstly, you should read these posts:

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

How many books does it take to become a bestseller


You should also be aware that in the big leagues, there are companies that will buy ten thousand copies of your book from actual stores to get you on the bestseller lists.

There are services out there that will do the same thing for your ebooks.

Yes it’s dodgy, but it’s out there.

By “dodgy” I mean “questionable” or controversial – I’m not saying it’s wrong.

It isn’t like buying 30 fake reviews. Fake reviews are misleading. They aim to take advantage of readers.

And this can be too – but only if you buy your own book to hit #1, and then say “#1 Amazon Bestseller!” at the top of all your marketing material. That’s sketchy. Don’t do it. I see people saying things like “Top 20 on Amazon During Launch!” but their actual rank is 6 million something.

Never try to mislead readers. It will hurt you.

I want to hit #1 bestseller just so I can prove it can be done, and also because I want more visibility for my book. I want my book to get in front of readers so they can take a chance on it. It isn’t a long-term solution. And it doesn’t really mean anything.

But… if it’s a good book, with good reviews, and the sales page is converting well, sometimes getting up higher in search results or bestseller lists is all you really need to reach your readers.

The problem is cost.

Two services recently emailed me and gave me a great deal that I couldn’t pass up.

One is Mikey Lightning’s bestseller service. I’ve worked with Mike before and we did a webinar together, so I trust him and he knows his shit. For $397 he can get you in the range of 3000-5000 sales on Kindle with a 99cent book (which is about 25 to 70 sales).

The other is Kindle Book Promotions, which offers 33 sales for $650 (which might get you around the 3000 mark… I think it’s about equal to Mike’s $397 package). However, in my understanding, not only can you use this for a more expensive book, up to $2.99, but it will also generate more reviews. For just 99cent sales, they have this lower priced option.

I know what you’re thinking… this sounds expensive.

33 x 99cents = $32.67

So you’re paying a lot extra – at least 10x the cost of the books – just because they have a big team (or a lot of Amazon accounts) and can do some fancy computer stuff. Both claim these sales will result in more book reviews, but I’m skeptical on that front (unless they have a list of readers for different genres, like Bookbub). I’m definitely open to being proven wrong though.

Ethics aside (I’ll come back to that later), financially it may not make sense to use a service like this, because as I said, hitting #1 for a day doesn’t mean anything. However, if you’re selling a non-fiction book as a lead generator for your course, coaching packages, speaking gigs, etc, then being able to claim “bestselling author” might be worth it.

If it’s very important for you to hit #1 bestseller, a service like this is worth the money, because it’s just about the only way to make it happen – unless you spend a month building relationships, and even then you might not be able to pull it off alone.

And, although the line is very, very thin, I think it’s OK to convince people to do business from you as long as you can overdeliver on your promises and exceed their expectations (this does not mean I endorse flat out lying, like having fake reviews or testimonials, or claiming you went to medical school if you didn’t).

But everybody pads their resumes to present themselves in the best light.

If you are a bestselling author on Amazon, it’s OK to say so… unless you’re saying it to sell more of the book that you’re citing as a bestseller. And even then… if people buy the book and like it, you aren’t cheating them or misleading them. But if they buy the book and hate it, because you’ve raised their expectations with over-hyped claims, they are more likely to leave a negative review which will eventually hurt the book more than the bestseller claim is worth.

Obviously, this is dangerous territory and many people will disagree with me.

But I’m an explorer, and a bit of a pirate.

Because I have a large platform and this site gets traffic (wahoo!), both services offered me a deal. In the spirit of taking risks and testing things out, I didn’t think it would be fair to you if I passed on these offers, instead of trying them out so I could report the results.

I’ll be testing both services out soon, at different times, and will post the findings here.

OTHER hacks I don’t recommend

I was also contacted by a freelancer who says he can get similar results, and do a bunch of other cool things for me, for much less. I’ll probably use some of his services, but other services veer into sketchier territory.

Another thing this provider offers is an upvoting or downvoting of book reviews. That’s actually something I wrote a post about earlier (and got some very angry, negative comments about). Reviews are a sensitive topic. My main argument was that, even when a book has 500 positive reviews, it tends to be a handful of bad ones that get the “most helpful” votes, often by people who haven’t read the book because they agree with the tone of the review and decided not to purchase.

Which means a book’s Amazon’s page is covered in negative reviews that feature the opinions of people who haven’t read the book. I think that’s actually misleading, and I think it might be OK to get your fans or followers, people who have read your book, to upvote more positive reviews so they show up on the front page – because most people are only going to read the reviews on the front page and they massively influence sales.

The provider also offers upvoting on Goodreads Listopia lists. Here’s where it gets dangerous – while I also think it’s OK for an author to get their fans to add their books on Goodreads, or upvote their books on a Listopia list, paying to have a stranger with multiple accounts do it is misleading and sketchy. Also, if, for example, I wrote a post about gaming Goodreads and getting people to upvote your book, there’s a good chance I would see a massive backlash against me, or a boycott of my books by angry readers.

So this kind of thing is very dangerous.

My book, Book Marketing is Dead has a negative review on the first page saying I recommend paying for reviews – everybody votes that one as “most helpful” because everybody hates the ideas of paying for reviews. Actually I only said you should pay for honest, authentic reviews from trusted providers (Kirkus, Foreword, etc.) and that, when asking for reviews, you should consider that you’re asking for a major favor: basically 5 hours of someone’s time, and that you should find a way to make it worth their while. For example, when reviewers review my books on their sites, I try to thank them by sending them a bunch of traffic. Of course the best reviews are free and unsolicited, but as an author, you are also responsible for seeking out reviews actively.

But like I said: dangerous. If you feel uncomfortable with this stuff, that’s good. This stuff should make you uncomfortable. It’s risky. Some readers might get upset about it. You shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize your reputation or author platform. But on the other hand, if your book isn’t selling at all, and it’s not visible, and readers can’t find it, you’ve got to do something. If some readers loved your book, it’s your responsibility to get it in front of more readers so they can enjoy it.

2.1 – #3 in Paid

I’ve been stuck all day, just under 5000 and #3 in my category. Sales are slow, even with everything I’ve done, asking friends, paying for ads… feeling tapped out. In retrospect, I could have done much better in the paid section.

I’ve sold nearly 200 books already, if I could have just organized it better and gotten those sales on the same day it would have boosted me to #1. And I still have some huge lists, but like I said I don’t like emailing frequently or begging people for help. It’s tempting at this point to just Tweet constantly or post in indie author promotion pages on Facebook but that reeks of desperation. Those are marketing tactics that might get a sale or two but aren’t good for long term platform growth.

I’m convinced now that my description sucks… I just redid it completely. My book has some great writing, and my description made it sound like a lame love triangle. I changed the “description” to a first person monologue, something I’ve seen work really well for YA fiction. It’s much better now, though probably not perfect.

People need to read the description and be hooked, and want to read the rest of the book. It’s hugely important, and mine was failing… If you’re doing promotions but they aren’t sticking – if you’re driving traffic with ads to your page and it isn’t working, you have a problem. I know my cover is good; I already have great reviews, so I knew my description wasn’t working.

2.2 – #1 in Paid… FINALLY

I was sure I wasn’t going to make it. Thanks to a bunch of friends buying the book at 99cents, the Facebook ads and some last minute services, I got 64 sales yesterday which just put me over. I’m at #2,683 in the Paid store… with 46 reviews.


I got the orange badge I wanted, which is a nice little award I can share. It gives it a sense of group achievement. I was dreading telling everyone, “Thanks for your support, but we didn’t quite make it…).

I’m kind of fed up with this book already, but we got there…



Lessons Learned

So technically, not a bad launch, for a first book by an unknown author. But I’m exhausted, and it was expensive, and it didn’t earn much money back (yet). If this was my only book, I would still count it as a failure. But because it’s part one of the first book in a potential series, and since I’m trying to finish 10 more like it this year, it’s only the very beginning.

I understand why most authors will throw up their hands and say how impossible it is to do all this stuff with a full-time job. Incidentally, authors also usually say things like “I don’t write for the money” or “I don’t chase trends” – authors write what they want to write, so it isn’t about the money or the “success” of a book. That’s bullshit. If you’re writing books, you care about getting people to read them. You’re just using statements like that to excuse lazy marketing. You hope things will just take off and you’ll be discovered and maybe you’ll earn some money, which would be a nice bonus. And sure that happens for some people.

But I don’t want to put stuff out and grow slowly, and still be working my ass off a year from now without earning any money (it’s not about the money, it’s about having my work be recognized and valued by readers). Even if 50% of what I do fails, and even if a handful of people get annoyed by my tactics… a lot of what I’m doing will still work. Of course you don’t want to piss too many people off: there’s a story about an author who “cat-fished” BookTubers recently, pretending to work for a big publisher and wanting to send them free books – including one of her own. She got slammed so hard in the backlash she had to delete her author site and basically disappear. Don’t do anything phony or fishy. Never lie or even bend the truth. Follow through on your promises. Be HONEST. But also, it’s your book, and you need to put in some effort.

Don’t focus on selling your book at first. Focus on getting people to read it. 

That’s more valuable long term. Don’t over promise or over-hype… readers don’t like to be sold to. On the other hand… you’ve got to let them know it’s there. It’s a weird balancing act. But be nice to people and things will be smoother.

But the other things is, I definitely don’t want to be doing all of this stuff for every book launch!

But that’s why I’m building my platforms, traffic and email lists. Because I won’t have to.

In retrospect, it was probably too much work to try and hit #1 in the Paid category. A much easier way – the way I’d planned to do it originally, was just launch all of these books on permafree, let them build up hundreds of reviews with very little marketing, and get people on my list to sell future books in the series. That’s easier, and smarter (I’ll probably do that anyway, after the first 3 months for each book).

2.3 – Paid Advertising

Now that the pressure is off I’m experimenting with advertising. It’s VERY hard to advertise a paid book and make your money back… but if I can figure it out, I’ll do it. Usually it’s more effective to advertise a free giveaway or offer, and earn later when they buy more of the series.

My book is 99cents right now. I wanted to test out some things with Instagram ads.

Instagram advertising is new, and I didn’t want it to be promotional. I decided to one more with Facebook too.

Now that I don’t need the sales, I can advertise from strength, not weakness or desperation.

This is a boosted post, not an ad. The crazy thing is, this is only costing $0.08 per engagement!

That’s because, unlike ads, people are more likely to like and share a message like this – if they like or share, it drives the price down. BUT “post engagement” doesn’t mean “click” – all those engagements could just be likes. That’s probably why people say “don’t use boosted posts.” They don’t measure as well, and may be targeting people who ‘engage’ but don’t click.

Instagram is weird. 

I set this ad up in Facebook (which is the only way to do it), and turned everything off except instagram. You can ignore the text limit, and add in hashtags – Facebook’s previewer won’t show all the text, and they’ll warn you, but it will all show up in instagram. And there should be a special little button there to click and buy.

I can’t actually see that on my instagram but I guess other people can. It’s gotten LOTS of hearts (likes) but only 14 clicks at $0.78… so I’ve spent over $10.

Altogether, I spent $30 yesterday but sold 50 copies (wahoo!) however, since I just launched and have been doing so much stuff, those 50 copies could easily have been from some blogger mentioning or sharing my book, rather than the ads. I leave them one more day and then stop. In 10 days it’ll be free again… until then I need to finish the next two books!~




What’s next?

In the next launch, hopefully in February (the two books I’m working on I haven’t even finished a clean rough draft yet), I’m going to focus mainly on Wattpad. After that I’ll use each launch to target one platform or outlet. If you have any super success stories, things you’ve done or easier ways to make a bestseller than this stuff, I’d love to hear them!

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
  • Jenetta Penner

    Thanks Derek… by the time August rolls around and I release mine, maybe you will have all the answers 😉

  • Debbie Young

    I love this quote, Derek: “Don’t focus on selling your book at first. Focus on getting people to read it.” Wise words indeed. Good luck and keep at it – and thank you so much for sharing all this details, which is fascinating stuff!

  • Lawrence Ambrose

    Thanks, dude, for sharing all that information. Much appreciated (and I purchased your book;-)!

    • Thank you! This is my sneaky form of content marketing… I didn’t want to market this book directly to my Creativindie list, but every sale helps!

  • Dear Derek, I’m glad I found your blog. 🙂 Thank you very much for breaking all this down – it helps tremendously. Good luck, things will get better!

  • Tony Lavely

    Sorry. I bought your book from the link above, not to do with any of your advertising.
    Hope I enjoy it! I did the blog post; very informative.

  • Siff Frederiksen

    Hi Derek Thanks for sharing your Work. What does “YA” Means?

  • Katherine Hayton

    Thanks for this great, informative post. One tip I’ve learned for pre-orders on Kindle is to release a paperback through CreateSpace at the time you put your book up for pre-order. It means all the reviewers you send ARC copies can leave reviews on your paperback copy and they’ll combine into your Kindle book when it releases so you start off your Kindle launch with reviews in place. It gives you a lot more social proof in the first few days of advertising. And in defence of pre-orders at least they place you in the sales rank and category searches prior to launch so you don’t spend half of launch day with no ranking and not showing up anywhere while waiting for Amazon’s algorithms to catch up with you 🙂

  • Derek, this post is fantastic. Your efforts echo mine, and others; but having it all — even with the fails — together this way adds so much to understanding what works and doesn’t. Believe it, I’m watching you and your experiences. And now, off to buy your book! Yay Mermaids!

  • Devyn Dawson

    Derek – first question (I’ve never read your blog before, I’ve tweeted with you though) – you said you’re tired and argued with indie authors for two years. Is there a reason you would do that? Second (not a question) – I would suggest you broaden your reach on your Facebook ads. I’m a firm believer and have run some successful campaigns. Young adult books are read by many ages, and I’d say your average reader will be in their thirties and forties. I’m not sure what you targeted, but here are a few tv shows to add to your targets, the people who watch those shows will typically read those type of books. Shadowhunters, Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, Reign, The Originals, American Idol, The Voice (and many more)… I’m older than your target group and I write YA books, read YA books, watch all those shows and my non-writing friends read those types of books as well. Good luck with your launch. I hope your blog hop is successful. I did them for each book, but now it isn’t as lucrative as it once was. Release day blitz are usually a huge hit, so consider doing that for your next book. Another hint – if you want YA readers, contact your local high school librarian and see if you can come out to the school and talk about writing books. I like to invite other authors to join me, and we have a blast. Some schools don’t let us sell books, but that’s okay, most teens like e-books. Later that day, you’ll get a boost in sales. It happens every time. Nothing is better than being at dinner and a teen walks over to you and tells you how much they loved your book. Good luck! PS – I love your cover.

    • Thanks! Appreciate your comments. I argue with authors because
      A) sometimes I suggest things that are ethically gray, or I get excited about marketing tricks that work but don’t consider fully.
      B) indie authors are opinionated and passionate, even if their advice is wrong or they don’t know very much about the topic (especially concerning book cover design).
      The problem with broadening the reach is you can’t test the ads as well, but I agree I should test out different age groups (I would want to test different age groups of every 5 years… to see what kinds of ads work, or who is responding). If you just run one ad for everybody, you don’t really discover who is clicking or reading.

      Thanks for the TV show recommendations, I agree those are good ideas, but even so I would want to use those with other interests, +YA fiction, for example. Otherwise my ads are getting shown to tons of people who like those shows but aren’t readers.

      As far as live events/schools, I don’t think it’s effective. It might be fun and rewarding, but you’re reaching 20 or so students. I’d rather write a great article and guest post it somewhere thousands of readers (specifically book buyers) will see it… and it will take far less time and effort. I might do major events like Comic Cons in the future, but only after I have 10 books or so and can do it really well.

      Thanks again for your comments!

      • Devyn Dawson

        Of course I use books in my targets, I was just giving you some other ideas. I am 100% disagreeing with you about the schools. Each school I go to I speak to about 900 – 1300 students. I’m there from the beginning of the day to the end. Giving back to your community is more than just “fun”. Those of us who are passionate about young adult books and the readers, we want to be right there for them. If your just doing it for money than you’re going to miss out on the good parts. Comic Cons aren’t that lucrative after you spend the thousands of dollars to have the best swag, the best spot. One of my dearest author friends did one and was two booths down from Ann Rice, prime location to get exposure, it failed. I wish you nothing but the best of luck. Indie Authors are amazing people and it sounds like you’re talking down about them, however you’re doing it yourself. Happy writing!

        • Thanks – yes I need to be careful about talking down to indie authors. I agree they’re amazing, and I find it sad that so many are frustrated or not earning any money with their books; that’s pretty much why I try so hard to help. Indie authors are supportive of each other, but still doing a lot of things wrong. I’m glad schools work for you.

    • Oops – I just realized what you were talking about…. I meant “I’ve been arguing on Facebook for two hours, not two years.” 🙂

  • C.P. Murphy

    I didn’t see anything when searching Mermaids on Amazon. But, searching “mermaids young adult” your book was on the first page. Rank 8181. Thank you for showing this to us in real time!

  • Regina

    I started following your posts and some of your youtube videos. This particular post did, in fact, lead me to buy Shearwater (I bought it yesterday). I also bought Book Marketing is Dead (which I’m almost done reading). I have the same goal as you — to publish at least 10 novels this year and make my career as a fiction writer. Published my first one a few weeks ago, and haven’t had nearly the traffic you’ve had in just a few days. I’m very impressed and since you really seem to know what you’re doing, I’m going to take a lot of your advice. I have no idea how to do any of this stuff regarding building a website and using social media, I’m just not tech savvy, but you’ve inspired me to not use that as an excuse. I can learn these things. I didn’t know how to format my books at first either, and spent several painful days learning the process, and now I know how to do it. I imagine I’ll be spending several painful weeks learning all the things you talk about regarding marketing, but it’ll be worth it. Thank you! Wishing you much success!

    • Great! Formatting was a huge challenge for me…it took me months to learn… and it took me months to get over my fear of being on video. Everything is a challenge, but nobody will do it for you (unless you pay them) and you don’t want to have to pay for everything, every time. Figure out what you can do and what you can’t. It’s better to do something badly and fail fast than waste a lot of time avoiding it… you learn by failure. 🙂

      • Regina

        Thanks! You’re quite right, failure is a learning experience. I am going to attempt my own book cover, following your advice on the best ways to do that. I hired someone for my first book cover, but I think it is perhaps too boring, especially after seeing yours and reading through your advice on covers. It might take a while, but I think I’d like to learn how to do that myself. If I have to, I will go to Fiverr and perhaps have someone look over whatever I come up with and see if they can punch it up, if need be.

        oh yeah! Your YouTube video on formatting, combined with India Drummond’s video, were the most helpful sources of info for formatting that I found. I followed the advice you both offered and got my print book formatted and my ebook as well (though I think the ebook may need a small amount of tweaking still). Thanks!

  • Melissa A. Craven

    Great information here, thanks! I have found that the YA audience is much more responsive to ads running on Instagram than just on Facebook. I bought Shearwater (even though I already have the ARC) and I’ll post a review tonight.

    • Thanks – I know Facebook has the instagram advertising feature, but I’m not very comfortable using instagram yet: do you have any examples of ads that have worked well for you?

      • Melissa A. Craven

        I’ve only used Instagram since December, but I find I prefer it to Twitter. I’m still experimenting so I haven’t done a bigger budget yet, but my ads typically pay for themselves. I usually run them a few days each week and I will still see results even after I stop the ads. I get a huge amount of likes (for me its huge) on my ads, which tells me I’m reaching the right audience. I feel like the more they see it the more results I will have in the long run. I’ve even had several users message me to ask about the book. It doesn’t look like I can post photos here but I’ll post some examples on your YA FB group and tag you.
        I just started a new ad last night using an image I took with my iphone. Those tend to be more subtle and blend with the user experience. It’s had 114 likes on a $5 budget in the first ten hours overnight in the US. I’ve done ads like this before, but the CPC is usually higher.
        My best performing ad has been running off and on for over a month (just a few days each week) and has had about 2,000 likes on a very low budget with a CPC of 0.08 – 0.11, performing at a relevancy score of 8 or 9. That’s a lot of eyes on my cover without much effort or expense on my part.
        This is the best way I have found to promote my book on a tight budget at it’s regular price between promos.
        When doing the same thing on FB ads only, the results weren’t worth the expense. Adding Instagram made a big difference for me. And I think part of that is that the Instagram ad allows you to use more hashtags in addition to your targeting.
        But to be clear, I’m not selling hundreds of books doing this on a $10-$25 weekly budget. I’m selling enough books to cover the expense and keep my sales consistent. I’ve also noticed a nice jump in KU Pages Read.

        • Thanks – I’ve been trying some. So far, I get a lot of likes but not that many clicks. I think it may work really well for a big giveaway or contest/free stuff; I’ve seen more of that on Instagram. I’m going to try soon.

  • Owen Banner

    This is a priceless insight into the amount of work that goes into marketing a book. Thanks for penning all this for us. I’ll be following your rise closely.

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