How to (quietly) launch a bestselling vampire book on Amazon

I haven’t published a *new* book for over a year. Possibly, Amazon took the wind out of my sails when I overextended myself and failed to meet preorder deadlines (thus losing my preorder privileges for 12 months).

I have gone back and fixed up or completed some other titles – so I’ve probably written and published about 100,000 words in the last year (which is a depressingly small number, compared to a lot of my author friends who are cleaning up on Kindle).

For years I’ve been telling people that what you write is more important than how your write, because market demand determines the majority of success.

Assuming you write good books, sales will depend on how many people are searching for what you’ve got.
That’s why I’ve been telling people to just write vampire books.

I was joking, kind of, but also not really.

I did start my own vampire novel series, based on an early book cover design I liked (I’ve now gone through half a dozen potential covers).

 

This book was originally called “Taste” and was inspired by a few stories based on the “choosing ceremony” motif, such as Exceptional and Hunger Games: these were popular circa 2012, when I started to think seriously about writing fiction. But as I learned more about publishing, I realized very obvious, keyword-heavy titles work well, especially for something as popular as vampires.

At the beginning of 2017, I also tried to partner with a few co-authors to increase my writing production. That experiment went poorly, as even when the writing quality was really good, it just wasn’t my writing style, or the way I would have told the story. But I published the first few chapters as a permafree book anyway, almost exactly a year ago.

First it was OK, but not amazing.

Then, when I started working on it again and looking for better covers, I found the design on the far right, which is gorgeous (royalty, crown, emotional angst)… it inspired me to revise the story and add some really interesting features and twists, like poisonous ash that turns people into monsters. I revised the first six chapters and it’s much stronger – it’s a better beginning than any of my previous novels.

Probably because I’ve been working on it so long, the story keeps growing and shifting, and I haven’t been 100% confident I’d be able to get it done (which is frustrating because vampires are way out of fashion now and I should be writing about dragons!) Even though 2017 was a crappy year for me in terms of writing, I did map out 2 or 3 whole new series, with perfect plotting and intrigue, and I’ve bought dozens of amazing covers for new projects – I know these new projects will be successful and I can’t wait to start on them, but I also want to finish up some of the projects I’ve already begun, like this one.

To force myself to finish the book quickly, I’m giving myself some challenges and deadlines.

 

I also want to start planning my book launch

My first (fiction) book launch was for Shearwater a couple years ago. I did everything, tried everything – and found that most things don’t work.

This is also what I’ve heard from friends recently: most promotions don’t work.

What does work is advertising – but it’s hard to be profitable without a series.

I’ve spent the last year growing my traffic, platform and email list (though I haven’t been warming them up, emailing or building the relationship like I should have been). Still, I think when I launch this book, I’ll be able to get it into the top #1000 pretty easily. My GOAL is top #500.

That will take a few hundred sales.

However, I’m going to try NOT to do a free campaign with this book, at least not for awhile, and to preorder/launch at full price.

This isn’t something I’d do if I were a beginner; because I’ve tested things out and built a platform, I can now launch stress-free and do pretty well… however, I also want to commit to some promotions just so I have a firm deadline (I work well under pressure. I only work under pressure).

  1. Leave the permafree sample book up.
  2. When I have a clean rough draft done, put the full book up on preorder.
  3. Link the permafree sample to the full book.
  4. Promote the free book hard, push for signups and preorders.
  5. Email my list that the full book is ready. Send out 200 ARC copies. Possibly use a waiting list feature with viral loops.
  6. Tell my list they can preorder or get the book for full price. Anybody who buys at full price will get a bonus or something.
  7. Tell them they can wait and buy it at 99cents after a month
  8. Spend on $500 on AMS and Facebook ads to popular my also boughts WELL.

GOAL #1: get 1000 sales and preorders at full price. Break into top 500. Also hit #1 for “YA vampire” category.

GOAL #2: stick under 5K for six months and earn $1000/month from THIS book.

 

I’m not going to stress over this book launch, because I know the most important thing is still having more books and more completed series; it doesn’t really matter how well this will sell; it matters how quickly I can put up books 2 and 3 and make a boxset (which I may not do… because DRAGONS.)

I should/could also be advertising, but again, I’m not going to – because ads won’t work as well until I have a full series out. Then, running ads will become my full-time job. But until then, I still need to get much better about writing, sticking to a consistent schedule, and getting more books out so I can finish some completed series instead of just having a ton of story beginnings that don’t go anyway or resolve (I keep my readers in continuous angst).

 

GOAL #3: while I’m making goals, let me make this one:

I CAN write 50K a month – a little less than 2K a day. Since my 50 minute sprints are generally only good for 500 words or so, that means working roughly four hours a day. Yes, I wish/should be able to write faster, and my speed will improve with time, but can’t only work one hour a day and get frustrated because I can’t write 5000 words an hour. I just have to put in the time. I quit when I hit my word count or when I’ve put in four hours of hard effort.

I wanted to publish 12 books in 2018, now I’m unsure whether I’ll even finish six. But nobody will make that decision for me, I need to push myself and make a choice (do I WANT to be the kind of author who can write a book a month and publish 12 books a year – so that I can get to 100 novels in under a decade? Do I want to make six-figures a MONTH publishing on Kindle?

Yes, I want that. I want to be THAT guy.

UPDATE: I’ve actually been reflecting over this idea. I don’t necessarily want to be the guy cranking out 100 books. I want to be the guy that writes one, perfect book, gets it translated into a hundred language and a huge movie franchise. BUT – I also don’t think writing slower makes my books any better (in fact my fastest-written books are my big earners, and I’ve had books take more than a year that don’t sell).

I also believe that quantity leads to quality – as in, I may need to write 20 more pretty good novels before I can write ONE PERFECT BOOK. On the other hand… I already pretty much know that my next series is going to be a smash hit, and outperform even this vampire one, because I’ve so carefully mapped it out with more action, drama, tension and tropes and I know readers will love it… but I gotta get it out THIS YEAR.

 

RESULTS (A VERY QUIET BOOK LAUNCH)

That was my plan. Here’s what I did and how it went.

First, after not finishing for months, I gave myself a 30 day deadline, put the book up on preorder, and just barely finished in time to upload the final draft. I only had about 50 preorders, so I didn’t announce the launch until a week after the publishing date – that gave me time to clean it up some more and make sure the right file was uploaded.

Then I sent a message to my list, letting them know it was available. I also told them I’d do a 99cent deal in a few weeks, and that there were a few ARC copies in my private street team. This was new: usually I just sent out a Book Funnel link to everyone. But now I want them in my VIP facebook group first, so I can screen them a bit and set expectations. The idea is, these would only be real fans who are more likely to review quickly.

EMAIL ONE: emailed list and gave them three options:

  1. Buy the book
  2. Join the private Facebook group
  3. Wait for it to go on sale

Went to bed. Woke up, it’s at #10,224 – but not ranking well in any categories, even though I already emailed KDP support to list the book in extra categories. So, I emailed them again. If it were in the right categories it should already be in the top 20 with this rank.

I set up an Amazon giveaway: 50 books at $2.99 = about $150, but I should earn $100 of that back. I set that giveaway to 1 in 3, for following me on Amazon, mostly as an easy way to gift books to my audience so their reviews will show as verified (I set it to private, then shared the link in my VIP readers group).

I may also test a giveaway with much worse odds: I could have a public giveaway always running, and Amazon would promote it in the giveaways section, and I could get a ton of followers or shares or retweets for something, virtually for free.

Posted a video to my page, asked people to like/comment/share to win a free copy (simple FB giveaway).

Reviews are trickling in.

This one is probably my best review ever. It shows that not only am I developing a loyal fanbase, but I’m also getting better.

It’s at around 11K in the store now.

I did also get my first orange tag, for bestseller in new releases.

At this point, 10 days after I’ve published, I’m still not in any of the right categories.

KDP sent me this message.

Upon checking, I can see that your book “Vampire Magic 1” is already added to the romance category “Kindle eBooks > Romance > Paranormal > Vampires”. I can also see that category paths you requested are Science Fiction & Fantasy category paths.
 
We’re unable to add Science Fiction & Fantasy category. Romance books cannot be added to the Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Children’s categories. If your fantasy or science fiction book contains erotic content, you are allowed to place it under these browse paths:
 
Fiction > Romance > Science Fiction
Fiction > Romance > Fantasy
 
You can add the categories “Romance” and “Science Fiction” to the same book if the book is a non-erotica Romance book. You may also assign erotica books to these categories:
 
Fiction > Romance > Erotica
Fiction > Erotica
 
Learn more about Romance categories and keywords:
 
Regarding adding your book into the Teen & Young Adult category “Teen & Young Adult > Education & Reference > Social Science > Politics & Government”: Please note that, I have added this category to your book, but to have a Teen & Young Adult category added to your Kindle book, you’ll need to choose one Juvenile Fiction category with the minimum Age level between 13-18 years.
 
Thanks for your understanding.

In other words, they can’t put my teen and young adult scifi/fantasy book in either teen and young adult nor scifi/fantasy categories.

So… that’s a slow start. Back at about 20K now.

Tomorrow I’ll set up some ads and start running them. Free in KU.

*Raised the price to $3.99 for now.

*Fixed about 40 typos and spelling issues.


BookBub ads:

This is kind of the point where I feel, “OK I finished the novel. Now I want to stop thinking about it, catch up on business, or start working on the next book.” I super don’t want to have to keep emailing my fanbase about it, or fouling up social media, or actually TELL anyone about it.

But that would be dumb, because the first month is important and I worked hard on this book. So I’m going to run some ads. BookBub ads are 300x250pixels. You can target by author or category. I’m trying just one single author per ad. You can also choose CPC (cost per click) or CPM (cost per 1000 impression). I made some graphics based on the cover…

Two of these are too busy. The one of the far right is amazing (but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will perform.

A huge mistake I’ve made with the cover is A) added too much specific detail and decoration B) it’s pretty but not TOTALLY obvious what genre it was. In contrast, the simple girl in black dress with red and white text looks so much like True Blood, that all you need is the word “Vampire” and it’s done.

 

With ads, you want to as quickly and easily as possible:

  • A) Attract the right reader
  • B) Screen out the wrong reader

So “free in KU” or “Buy Now” should screen the wrong readers a bit (which means, less clicks, but hopefully more conversions because they’re pre-screened.)

Unfortunately, by creating these ads I’ve already figured out my cover isn’t great, and “A Taste of Vampire” is a way better title (but it’s taken). You want congruence between the ad and the landing page, so even if I get clicks to this ad it may not convert… especially because my description is super mediocre and I only have 7 reviews right now.

Wait a second – what if you don’t HAVE $500 to throw around testing ads. First off, that’s a great question. I should be starting slowly, testing $1 per ad, testing dozens of ads and targeting and images, to make sure one is working. Most of the time, it won’t, because your sales copy sucks. But if you can find one that’s getting clicks, then you can update your Amazon description with the winning sales copy. (Amazon ads is great for that, because it’s just cover + a sentence or two.)

I’m OK spending $500 on ads because I know this is a good book in a hot genre, so I should make it back – but yes it’s a risk. Ideally, you’d spend $50 to get it right, then scale up. But also… yes, this isn’t super great business: I SHOULD have book 2 on preorder and start working on that, so I could afford to spend on ads because my ROI would increase.

Facebook Ads:

Generally you want some genre-specific stock photo (not a book cover!). Just a pretty, arresting image that attracts your audience. But, you also want to prequalify them so the picture and book cover shouldn’t be SO far off. I also made some nice graphics (quote excerpt, and a square image featuring the cover and a blurred background).

I’ll use these for boosted posts (which aren’t awesome, because you’ll get engagements not clicks) – but paired with some more regular ads they’ll be unavoidable. You want to show up – sometimes people need to see an ad 7 times before clicking it.

 

I almost immediately got these comments:

 

Which is great to know – I thought I was featuring my best writing… actually it could be my worst. Maybe best not to focus on this passage.

At this point, keep in mind I’m basically paying to sell books to total strangers, rather than emailing the list I’ve been building for the past 3 years. This is what the list is for.

THIS book launch. Actually asking for the sale (instead of just giving out free copies). It’s OK to be a little annoying.

*** But also, assume a lot of them aren’t really fans yet. Give them the first chapter to read… Get them to CLICK and start reading.

The description

My description wasn’t great so I tightened it up. Cut one paragraph. Avoided repetition. Tried to make it more gripping and hit key features without giving too much away. Also: took excerpts of my new 5 star reviews and added them into the description. Also edited my first review so my entire description starts on the word “Vampire.”

AMS ads. 

Turned on some new ones with high bids ($1.15). Not affordable in the long run but I’m aiming for massive visibility (even if people don’t CLICK).
Will also: set up two new Amazon giveaways for 50 copies but with a 1 in 5 chance to win. More Amazon followers. One will be public, one will be private (there’s an argument to be made here… you don’t necessarily just want more people following you on Amazon, because Amazon will show your book to those people and monitor conversions. You want to make sure the people who follow you also buy your books.

I did all the different ad placements, with high bids I want to be EVERYWHERE, but only to HIGHLY relevant searches (Twilight, Vampire, Hunger Games). So I’m not using my massive list of 2500 young adult genre and author keywords, trying to get maximum reach at lowest bids.

*** On advertising – this is the point where I’m tempted to freak out and say f*ck it, I’m too lazy to spend time organizing all this stuff, I’ll just bid high and see what happens. And I probably will do that. But that’s dumb, because if I want this book to actually continually selling, I need to figure out what ads work so I can keep running them long term. You can only afford to do that if you’re at least breaking even or close to it. If you’re burning through ad money and not earning it back, you’ll need to work harder at your “real” job to pay for this money furnace.

I made FOUR ads. That’s not really enough to figure out what works.

Also, I realized I was missing the MAIN category fit for this book: teen and young adult vampire novels. So I asked KDP support to add that one… that will probably be my MAIN benchmark, to see how high I get on that list (If I were in that category, I should already be in the top 100, but I want to be on the first page/top 20 for the first month of launch. (This also gives my list a visible goal – help me get to number one in THIS category…)

Thai food, Handmaiden’s Tale, walk to Trader Joe’s.

 

Frustrations

It’s frustrating at this point to think that content doesn’t really matter. Other books in my genre are selling MUCH better because A) they hit more popular keywords B) they have a more colorful, obvious, badass cover C) they have a tighter description.

So what if my book is much longer, that readers enjoy it more. (This is meglomania speaking: the assumption that my books are higher quality or more enjoyable than those others that are selling… don’t fool yourself).

It’s also a reminder than content doesn’t matter as much as positioning and placement. Getting more products until the right shelves to fill the insatiable demand matters more than perfectly crafting one book (which again, I’m not saying I did: I’m proud of it, but it’s still rough and not as good as I hoped it could be).

The giant unicorn of death

At this point I got excited about Portland’s annual “Goth Float” – wouldn’t it be awesome, I wondered, to buy a huge inflatable unicorn and turn it into the most epic float of the event? This is one of those things that doesn’t make business sense (spending a lot of time and money on a one-time thing that doesn’t directly lead to sales and isn’t measurable). BUT it would be super fun to do, and having done it and adding it into my personal author brand with pics would be great too.

So that might happen.

More ads

BargainBooksy, RobinReads, Reign of Reads (I love vampires). Not all of them could fit in my promo dates so I went ahead and scheduled a second 99cent deal for a month later.

I’ll do 99cent deal, another one, then a free promo using my KDP days in the 3rd month (before my KU benefits end).

 

EMAIL TWO: (5 days later) 

This was my plan:

  1. Remind them to review
  2. Offer more copies via Amazon giveaway
  3. Thank your supporters for helping hit #1
  4. Remind them it’s in KU.
  5. Tell them it will be on sale next week.
  6. Give them a long Excerpt
  7. Remind them it will be on sale.

I also SHOULD offer a cash prize to get people sharing stuff. I might set that up before I email.

INSTEAD… there’s a great prime day deal where they can get 3 months of KU for $0.99 – so I shared that offer with them and asked them to join and then get my book. I also told them it would be $0.99 if they waited, but also

  • Shared a LONG personal vulnerability story

Because: I know some of my readers don’t really know me or care about me as a person. They don’t WANT to hear from me, they just want free books and deals. But that’s my fault, because I (still) haven’t set up an onboarding email sequence for my fiction list. So I may lose some… but it’s worth the risk because I want a more engaged list that gives a shit. I also included some fame-anchoring by mentioning my favorite YA authors and their advice on writing.

  • Gave a shared challenge

I said I wanted to hit #1 in “teen and young adult vampire fiction” and if they helped I’d do something crazy. 

I also asked them to review, and to upvote the book in some Goodreads lists for YA vampire novels.

***Of course sales are slow, if I’m telling them it will be on sale next week. But… I think that’s OK as long as they buy at 99cents.

Migraine day. Woke up at 7pm. Went for mediocre sushi. Diet Coke, chips and Trader Joe’s salsa.

Also internet SUCKS.

Took a break to read the K-lytics report on paranormal romance.

Added a couple new keywords.

 

At this point it’s around #7000 in the Kindle store. Better, but not amazing.

UNSUBSCRIBES: They hurt, but you really want them gone. Ideally you should have already built off enough value and good will that they won’t bail on you when you’re launching something new… but I haven’t done an amazing job of that (I’m still learning) and a LOT of people sign up on my lists for free stuff and don’t actually buy anything (I don’t mind, if they’re reading my emails and can support me in other ways… but if they want to leave, fine.)

In May I ran 8 campaigns and got 794 unsubscribes. In June somehow I only sent 1 campaign and STILL got 206 unsubscribes.

+ about 5% of those were spam complaints in addition (not great, but that’s about 1% unsubscribe and .05% spam complaints).

At the same time, I have about 10,000 people opening my emails and about 1000 actually clicking… which is great.

But only about 20% of them are buying. That’s all stuff I can work on, with better headlines, more community building, more stories and better content.

And MOSTLY – a better offer. This is the time to hard sell a little.

 

DAMAGE CHECK

I’m the type of person that hates numbers so I haven’t been keeping track of ad expense and earnings… but it’s stupid to work this long and this hard only to LOSE money, so I should check in and make sure my ads are kind of working (even if they aren’t breaking even, I’ll be happy if they’re kind of close).

Right now I’m getting clicks but not so many buys – one problem is probably because my call to action is “download.” On Instagram, people probably click assuming it’s free, then don’t buy. It would be better to screen them a little, with “buy now”. Less clicks, but better conversion.

I’m at around 10K in the store now, which seems to be my “holding rank” based on the ads I’m running. If those are profitable, I could spend more. If they aren’t profitable, I should cut them and let nature take its course and see where the book ends up.

And the results are…

Oops – my bookbub ads never turned on. More on that below. My Facebook ads are doing well at about .15 per click – I’ve gotten 1000 clicks for $150. But it seems like it’s not converting well; I have “free in KU” but it’s hard to measure conversion. Sales and page reads are up slightly, but nothing major… around 10 sales a day. IF I was getting $2 per sale, that would just about cover my Facebook expense. It’s possible nobody likes the cover (more on that later) or that people won’t buy a standalone if they don’t see the rest of the series.

UPDATE: I spent about $200 on ads last week and got around 1200 clicks, roughly.

In the last week this new book earned $208 (39 sales + 30K page reads). If you divide 30K by 250pages (the book) that’s about 120 borrows. So sales + borrows is about 150. That means my Amazon page is converting at around 12%.

That’s a rough, messy estimate, but it’s important to keep track – YEAH! At this point I’m just barely profitable.

Which means, after spending hundreds of hours writing, designing and marketing this book, I’ve made $8.

***I was supposed to send a big promo yesterday for Write and Grow Rich, but Mailerlite had an unscheduled update and all my subscribers disappeared. It took about 48 hours for them to come back so I could send the promo. Not the end of the world, but it can feel like it if you don’t have access to your own platform. So I’m feeling a bit let down and unenthusiastic about sending emails.***

 

COVER DESIGN

At this point I’m sticking at around 10K but am worried about the cover. Especially since this book is cross genre, I need to choose a market and make the cover obvious for them: the biggest demand is Vampire, so this should be a super obvious vampire cover. The second demand is probably not dystopia/scifi (because they don’t like cross genre fantasy as much and probably aren’t looking for vampires)… instead I’d probably go with Royal Wedding/Royalty.

With this cover I got way into the details (which don’t matter)… and it loses the immediate effect. So tonight I spent a few hours looking through premade sites, stock photo sites and deviant art for inspiration and came up with these. I was reluctant to switch covers because I had art for a trilogy, BUT you always want to use the BEST cover you have for book one, not just the one that’s convenient. But I did find enough other stuff to put three covers together, so I’ll probably use the best of them on book one (she doesn’t actually get a crown in book one, and she wears a white dress… but the red is more powerful, more obviously vampire).

So the other consideration is, I have a 99cent promo this weekend but everyone will use the original cover… if the new cover/amazon page doesn’t match the emails, readers may get confused and not buy. So that’s risky… but it’s also important to use the best possible cover. I’ll decide later.

UPDATE: Spent the day in photoshop and came up with these. the left and right are both really strong covers, but I think the middle one hits the genre harder (gothic vampire). It’s not subtle, and the vibrancy is almost cartoonish… but that should help a lot when running AMS ads because the thumbnail is much stronger.

I’m still working on this, make sure to come back and read Part Two!

I’m up to 19 reviews. The new cover when up SUPER fast, in just a few hours – last time I did it took days. So I’m preparing to send the first 99cent deal. Also just noticed my BookBub ads never turned on (I meant to check before but didn’t) I had a budget for $100 x 4 ads, and got zero clicks. I’m going to vary cost per impression and cost per click; change targeting; and also set some to a daily spend rather than a total spend. 

Going to try those again with the new cover art.

 

LIFE HAPPENS

In the meantime, my nieces are in town, I stayed up late on a publishing mastermind so I missed my 2pm meetup with them, a reporter wants to chat about me Kindle Unlimited experience for a story, I can’t pay rent with AirBnB because the charge is more than my daily withdrawal limit, and it looks like the Write and Grow Rich anthology got pulled from Amazon (which happens sometimes, if a new book gets tons of downloads too quickly it may get flagged and removed until someone can manually check it).

So there’s all of that… I set the book to 99cents and today I’ll fix my ads and then do the big 99cent push. 
Also today’s a work day; I need to catch up on some cover projects and checking in with the authors in my private group.

I WANT to be working on my next book/series, and I’m doing some of that too (I spent some of yesterday making covers that are awesome).

 

Categories: after all this I’m STILL not in the MAIN category I want to be in, Teen Vampires:

Books > Teens > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Paranormal & Urban > Vampires

So I need to ask KDP support again. (Maybe that’s just for books, not ebooks – and I don’t have the print version up yet… but still I see all my competitor’s ebooks in that category so.) Frustratingly, they replied that this category is for print books, even though ACTUALLY it displays the ebook versions – if if I had my print book done and uploaded I would be ranking really well in there. I could get it formatted and up this weekend, but… I’m not going to.


MAKING PROGRESS

Today I noticed there’s an upcoming related event: the longest “blood moon” in over a century. That’s great content, so I can use a heading with this email like “don’t miss the biggest blood moon in a hundred years” or “largest blood moon in a century is THIS month!” That should get the most opens, I’ll have a related giveaway and 99cent deal.

“The July 2018 Blood Moon will kick your emotions into overdrive. If you can stay home and pull the covers over your head July 26 to 27th, that would be ideal.” -Bustle

What better way to spend it than reading my new vampire romance?

I upped my Facebook ad spend; I’m still getting about .20 per click. I also had some schedule promos and list trades today… I’m at about 5K in the store now with 20 reviews. 

BookBub 2: My BookBub ads are terrible. The ones I set to impressions are getting lots of impressions but few clicks, which means I’m paying about $5 per click. The ones I set to clicks are not getting any action or clicks. I’m going to widen my targeting and up my click bid. (Highest suggested bid was .65 so I bid .66. This is NOT good longterm marketing, especially for a 99cent book, because I’m losing money even if they buy the book – but I’ll just do it for a few days and see if I can push the rank up).

EMAIL THREE: (10 days later) 

  1. 99 cent deal, with timer
  2. Teaser quotes
  3. Ask them to retweet or share the deal
  4. Facebook giveaway
  5. Ad-stacking for discount
  6. List-trades (goal: shared by 20 authors).
  7. Reading incentives (enter to win by finding X word, quote). who the quote is by.
  8. Recommend followup books to boost also-boughts

 

Keep in mind, my Amazon page was converting at around 12% and it was profitable at full price $3.99 – going into the 99cent promo I should have better conversion (because it’s on sale), but I’ll make a LOT less per sale so it will be harder to stay profitable. However, at this point Amazon should start automatically putting me in front of the right readers, which means I should get more sales with less advertising.

I WANT to get about 100 sales a day, for 3 or more days, which should put me around the 1K mark in the Amazon store and in the top 20 (first page) of most of my categories. Since I’m converting at about 12%, that means I need to get about 1000 clicks per day. Since I can’t get AMS or BookBub to spend my budget, that leaves Facebook. Instead of increasing the budget for my ads, I’ve just duplicated them and changed the graphic and sales copy (I want them to see my message multiple times, but not get so fatigued by it they’re annoyed). There is a way to clone your ads but keep the social proof, and I should figure it out, but for this I didn’t bother.

RESULTS:

I finally sent this email… it’s an indirect call to action. I started out with the “Don’t miss the blood moon!” and a related 99 cent discount. I tried to make it personal by sharing the astrology tattoos I’ve given myself and the heirlooms I wear to protect me from planetary influences. A lot of subscribers probably just want great deals and I’m being too subtle.

 

I also featured a couple of my main competitors to strength also boughts, and I shared my current rankings for credibility boosting (associating me with bestsellers in my genre). I also asked for help reaching #1 and promised to dress up like the grim reaper and ride a black unicorn for Portland’s goth float.

 

 

I DID have a big orange button with a clear call to action this time, but I forgot to link it so the button doesn’t work. Not a huge deal, since I had my cover image and a couple other links. Mostly though… although I want them to know and like me, this email would have been more effective as a VERY simple, ONE call to action, clear missive with only one thing you want them to do and one piece of information.

Also… it’s the weekend and I sent last night, now it’s Sunday morning, so my opens and clicks are down because a lot of people probably aren’t checking email yet. I have a whopping 1% clickrate so far which is about 100 clicks. With my 12% rate that’s about 12 sales, out of an email list of 14K…. so not great. But my fans probably preordered, or they’re used to waiting and getting my books for free.

As a fun thought experiment:

I’m paying about 15 cents for Facebook ads. I pay about $50 a month for 15,000 subscribers on Mailerlite. So for those 100 clicks I’m paying about 50cents each. HOWEVER, done well, I could have been using my list to engage and tell stories. I should be offering incentives or challenges, or a quiz or competition, or more contests – I could get my audience to teamup and DO something to get more visibility and engagement. But at this point I’m kind of running out of steam on this promo.

I’m at #3209 in the store, which is pretty good, and the book has made $643.15 so far – page reads are kicking in so I think I’ll hit $1000 by Monday. Then I’ll turn off most of the ads and see if I can keep the book at a low rank for a couple weeks at full price.

At this point I’ve spent about $250 in ads. My BookBub ads never took off. My AMS ads are slow to start. I could increase the budget of the Facebook ads more – open the valve so to speak. It seems so far I’ve earned about double my ad spend, which is great actually. I’d feel more comfortable spending less than that, but I saw yesterday someone on Facebook who made 50K a month off a 25K ad spent. If you have ads that are profitable and can scale up big…

FACEBOOK ADS: One other thing I noticed on my FB ads is that a BUNCH of my clicks came from under 18year old girls – which is the right market, and it’s possible they have KU subscriptions, but there’s also a good chance those clicks aren’t converting to sales (especially because I didn’t have a price on my early ads). Now that my new ads say “$0.99” that shouldn’t be a problem. When the price goes back up I may keep running this ad a bit with “Kindle Unlimited” on it. 

Of my ads, the one on the left with generic stock photo picked within the FB ads manager is performing better (cheaper, better conversion) – which is not surprising, that’s what everybody says to use instead of the cover art. But it could also be because of the better “OMG” sales copy/review which sounds more natural and authentic.

 

 

 

However I did have the ads set to “automatic placement” which is probably a mistake, because most people on mobile may click the ad but probably won’t actually buy/checkout on their mobile devices… so I switched to to desktop only which should boost actual sales to clicks ratio. I also increased the daily spend for the best ad.

I also tried to fix my BookBub ads: I still wasn’t getting ANY clicks or impressions, even though I was bidding high. So I set it to $100 budget, and instead of leaving the dates open, set it to start and end in two days and “spend as quickly as possible.” Results = they finally took my money, but clicks were few – about 30 clicks per $100 bucks.

Category Epiphany

I probably should have known this, but figured out today that Amazon’s bestseller lists are based on the print version; I can’t get my ebook-only book added to these lists without the paperback version, even though the default view is actually ebook. 

So I’m missing out by not being on the Teen and Young Adult Bestseller Lists. I usually say just do the ebook first, and put out the print book later. And that’s not bad advice. Especially if you can launch the paperback later and still get into those Bestseller Lists (even if the ebook has been out a couple months). But generally, right now, it does seem to be better to get the print version done too if you can.

EDIT: You CAN get into these categories with just an ebook, but you need to keep trying different KDP support staff until someone friendly helps out.

 

EMAIL FOUR: (2 days later) 

This is the LAST email I’ve been avoiding. It’s basically a final call to action. Even though I know most sales come on the last day, the “price is going up” “last chance to get it for $0.99” etc, since I’ve been emailing so much this one is likely to burn my list. I’ll probably get higher unsubscribes than usual. But the goal is to get people on the fence to either take action and buy the book, or unsubscribe. Ultimately you WANT a tighter, smaller list, and if they aren’t going to buy your books at all, they can unsubscribe. If they like you and support you, or if they want free books, they should be in your smaller private street club (and actually engage and review).

I’ll probably also let them know this is my last email about this book, and I might tease the next project. But probably not. Simple, short, ONE call to action, clear and direct message…

I’m going to send one more, super simple, zero images, “last chance to get the book at 99cents” email on Monday. 

  1. Last chance to get it for 99cents
  2. Remind to review

 

MISTAKES & CONCLUSIONS

All in all, I got to just under #2000 in the Amazon rankings, which is pretty good but not amazing. Today I set the price up to $3.99 and will turn off the Facebook ads. With any luck it’ll stick below #10K for a few weeks and earn some money. 

  • I spent $432 on Facebook ads for 1,659 clicks.
  • I spent about $250 on BookBub ads (for 50 clicks) and $100 on AMS ads.
  • I waited another few days after stopping my ads and just crossed $1000 and about 500 sales.

I hope to demonstrate a few things with this post.

  1. #1 this stuff is complicated, and nobody gets everything right, so you need to be willing to pivot and tweak.
  2. #2 even with this much work and this much going right, I didn’t make tons of money.

There are a couple major things I should have done differently:

  • preorder bonuses or incentives (even though this is a controversial issue, you need some reason for people to buy rather than wait.)
  • added paperback EARLIER to hit the bestseller lists
  • cut spending to nonprofitable ads faster
  • had book two up on preorder with a link from the back of book one (this alone would have kept the money rolling in and made it much easier to keep spending on ads. Ideally you’d put one out every three months and keep the next one one preorder. Yes it’s possible. I’m just lazy and I enjoy writing book ones.

MOSTLY, all this stuff is kind of a waste, because even though it’s a pretty good launch, I don’t have anywhere for readers to go and it’s hard to keep advertising profitably. I know when I have full series done I’ll be able to really scale up big, so my focus is writing. HOWEVER, if I had print and audiobooks up, that would increase my profit by around 25% (not to mention more sales, since some readers wait until series are complete before they start reading book one). 

Also I feel like a $1000 launch where I spent $500 on ads isn’t all that great – that means I got paid $500 for all the time and effort I spent writing the book (I can make that much in an hour consulting with other authors on how to do all this stuff when people join my Guerrilla Publishing program).

I set a bar for myself to earn $10,000 per book, which would be a nice starting advance from a publisher; but actually my platform is big enough now that I should be shooting higher. Rather than experimenting, I should just pay for the best work (I’ve seen some crazy good paranormal romance covers recently).

But I’m not advising YOU to do that, because to get everything right the first time is difficult, and expensive, and most books don’t earn money – so going bigger with a first launch can be a recipe for disaster, especially since, as I’ve mentioned, most books aren’t written to market and don’t satisfy readers. 

Also remember we haven’t calculated the life-time value of getting this book done. Eventually I will finish a sequel and relaunch, then a third and maybe four book. I’ll put them into a boxset. I’ll redo all the covers, and start advertising hard. It’s not unlikely that this book will earn $10K altogether. Even if it sells moderately and earns $300 a month, that’s $3600 a year. It’s frustrating that I’ll need 10 or 20 more books like that to earn a living wage… and I know some of you are shaking your heads.

“10 or 20 books!? I just want to write ONE book!”

Are there easier ways to make money? Sure, but none as as challenging, and ultimately rewarding, as writing. But that doesn’t mean you should do it for free (it also doesn’t mean you should ask people to support your writing hobby).

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned 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 write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.
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